It is such a pleasure to be addressing you as leader of this amazing party, which I’m proud to have been a member of for 25 years.
I want to begin by thanking each and every one of you for giving your time to support us. For putting in the hard yards, raising money and knocking on doors.
You are the beating heart of the National Party.
Your commitment was put to the test following the last election.
It’s been a tough adjustment.
But National is strong.
National is vibrant.
And if we work together, National is going back to the Beehive in 2020.
We’re a fantastic team. And that is in large part down to our tireless President, Peter Goodfellow. Thank you Peter.
And can I also thank someone who never lets me forget my Westie roots. She has been an incredible support for me - my deputy Paula Bennett.
Paula and I lead a team of 56 talented, driven MPs who are truly committed to New Zealand.
From Invercargill to Northland, they live in, love and fiercely represent their communities, so let’s give them a big round of applause.
I also want to thank one particular MP who left Parliament this year after nearly three decades of service.
It is a great privilege to follow in the footsteps of a man I respect and admire so much, Sir Bill English.
Delegates, I want to tell you about a woman who moved to New Zealand 13 years ago.
She has never lacked aspiration or a commitment to hard work. Through plenty of perseverance she now has her own successful business and does pro bono work for charities and community groups.
She is a mum to three young children that she is home alone with on far too many nights.
So many working mums are like her up and down this country.
But alongside all of that, she is also my biggest supporter, my wife, my partner for life
Could you please join me in welcoming Natalie on to the stage.
And these are our three children Emlyn, Harry and our baby Jemima.
Everyday this family amazes and delights me. They inspire me to do all I can to make New Zealand a place we are all proud of.
I love you. Thank you so much.
Ladies and gentlemen.
I am proud to be a New Zealander.
We are all lucky to live in this beautiful country, tucked away in our corner of the South Pacific.
We are a successful, prosperous, confident nation that can and does foot it with the best in the world.
I love this place.
New Zealand is filled with so many opportunities.
It wasn’t always the case – ten years ago 30,000 people were leaving New Zealand every year to move to Australia, because that’s where the opportunities were.
Well, last year there were more coming the other way.
We’ve made great progress – because of the principles National bought to government.
The belief in personal responsibility, that if you put in the hard-yards, you deserve to reap the rewards.
The belief in an individual’s freedom to choose how to live their life.
The belief in enterprise as a way to create jobs, lift incomes and drive prosperity for all.
And the belief in a shared sense of social justice – a desire to give a helping hand to those in need.
These are my principles. They are National’s principles. And they are New Zealand’s principles.
There is a perception that on the right of politics we don’t care as much as on the left.
Our opponents do their best to make people think that, but they’re wrong.
Actually, if I think where I’ve come from, and everything about my upbringing, from my mum’s role as a teacher to dad’s work as a Minister – it’s all shaped me into someone with a strong sense of justice.
It is what drives me.
I want everyone to be given the best opportunity to live life to the full – and that’s especially important for the most vulnerable who need the extra support that New Zealanders as a fair minded people want to give them.
I mentioned personal responsibility earlier. Because there’s two sides to that coin.
We should do all we can to help people lead amazing lives.
But if people choose not to fulfil their end of that social contract, I believe there should be consequences.
If you commit a crime, you do the time. It’s for our safety, and victims deserve justice.
If you’re on a benefit and can work, you should be actively looking for a job.
But this Government sees things very differently.
They want to drastically cut the number of people in prison, regardless of the amount of crime committed.
They want to remove all benefit sanctions, so there’s no consequence if you fail a drug test or skip a job interview.
That’s just wrong.
It will not happen in a government I lead.
Delegates, this new Government had 9 years to get ready.
They did nothing.
Now they’ve set up 130 working groups at well over $1 million a pop – because they don’t have ideas of their own.
They’re incapable of making decisions and nothing is getting done.
Taxpayers are paying for Labour’s laziness.
Well, National will be the hardest working opposition this country has ever seen.
I don’t want to win in 2020 just because the Government is incompetent.
I want to win a contest of ideas, to demonstrate that National has the vision and the team to deliver a better future for everyone.
We’ll have the best ideas on the environment, how we can clean up our waterways and protect our beautiful country for our grandchildren.
We’ll have the best ideas for supporting the most vulnerable, to help them turn their lives around.
We’ll have the best ideas on law and order, on how to keep you safer by keeping our most violent predators locked up.
We’ll have the best ideas on health, on education, on housing, and on infrastructure.
And we’ll have the best ideas on the economy, because frankly, that’s an area where the Government has no idea at all.
Actually that’s not fair. Their plan is to tax and borrow more, so they can spend it – or at least ask a working group how to spend it.
Cancelling National’s tax cuts, and increasing costs by raising fuel taxes and housing taxes. All so they can spend billions more on diplomats, a tertiary fees policy that doesn’t deliver any more students, and a slush-fund for New Zealand First’s pet projects.
They’re out of control.
Unlike Grant Robertson, I believe hardworking Kiwis should keep more of their own money.
Now sometimes people can think the economy equals boring, or it means we’re focused on balance sheets rather than people.
But when I talk about the economy, I’m talking about jobs for new workers.
About wages for our families.
About the local sparky as much as the big corporation in the CBD.
About the opportunities we can give our kids to move into work and follow their passion.
About our ability to invest more in education and infrastructure and health.
All of this flows from the economy.
But those opportunities aren’t created by accident.
They’re built on the hard work of people who get up early in the morning to go to work, or who stay up late the night before to make the school lunches.
They’re built on the entrepreneurs who take a risk and hire their first staff member, or their hundredth, and the workers who produce world-class exports.
They’re built on a nation of innovative, passionate Kiwis who back themselves to succeed - the farmers just out of town, the butchers down the road, and scientists and teachers and IT whizzes.
National backs every single one of them.
Under National, we built one of the best performing economies in the developed world.
We dealt with the Global Financial Crisis and the earthquakes and we were getting ahead.
But we need to keep it going to ensure all New Zealanders can share in the gains - not everyone has yet.
But it is becoming increasingly obvious that the Government doesn’t have a clear plan for the economy.
They’re slowing New Zealand down, not speeding us up.
Whether it’s transport, with higher taxes and fewer new roads.
Whether it’s back to decades-old labour law changes which give power to the unions and just add compliance costs.
Whether it’s the cost of living, where changes such as higher fuel taxes, rent increases and higher income taxes are costing some Kiwi families over $100 a week more.
And whether it’s the decision to shut down oil and gas exploration.
Each of these policies on their own are bad.
Together, they’re going to see more New Zealanders head overseas because there’ll be fewer and fewer opportunities here.
New Zealand can’t afford this Government.
National’s approach is very different.
I believe in sensible, consistent economic policies that provide clear direction and encourage businesses to grow.
Policies that deliver new infrastructure, support investment, drive exports and help grow skills - because that is how opportunities are created.
Those opportunities are hard won, but easily lost.
I talked earlier about the 30,000 people that were leaving for Australia every year just a decade ago – because Australia was where the opportunities were.
I’m proud we’ve been able to turn that around, by creating opportunity for our kids here at home.
But I tell you what, other countries aren’t sitting still waiting for this Government to get its act together.
Other countries want what we have, and we can’t afford three years lost to working groups and inquiries and uncertainty.
We certainly can’t afford six.
Under this Government, business confidence is already at its lowest level since the Global Financial Crisis – while in Australia it’s the highest it has been in 20 years.
We can’t let Australia beat us.
We need to keep pushing. Otherwise it is all too easy to become an also ran, a place where our kids don’t see a long-term future.
I worry all we’ll export to Australia is our young people.
I want my kids to raise their kids here. And I know you do too.
I’m always thinking about how we can make this country better for our children.
How we can create opportunity for all, and help New Zealanders realise their dreams and ambitions here.
As a father of three young children, I feel it.
I want more for them.
More choice, more opportunities and for them to lead the best life they can.
I want all our children to see a pathway to their success, whatever that may be.
For too many, that pathway can look bleak.
If Social Investment has taught us anything, it’s that some of our children have the odds stacked against them.
That without targeted help they won’t achieve their dreams.
I want to fight for a better future for those kids.
I want to fight for all our kids.
The forgotten, the naughty, the good, the exceptional.
They all count. They all matter to me.
It’s got to be about opportunity for all, here in New Zealand.
And that starts with education.
So I want to put a few ideas on the table.
Education is the future leveller.
It was for me - from Rutherford High in West Auckland to Oxford University - and it must be for our country’s children.
If a little person’s brain is nurtured and taught how to think and work and learn, that child can go on to achieve great things.
Giving them the best start in life matters more than anything.
The early years are vital, and I believe there is a lot that can be done to improve early childhood education.
It starts with a focus on quality.
Most centres do a good job of looking after our young children, but a few not doing good enough is a few too many in my book.
We need to know what is happening in every early childhood centre in the country.
National will invest more to make sure our kids get the best quality start to their education, but we will also demand nothing but the highest standards.
Or frankly the centre should close its doors.
The next step is improving our primary schools.
With the right education we can overcome the challenges that some children face purely because of the circumstances they were born into.
The child that finds it hard to sit still and follow instructions.
The bright child that wants to be challenged.
The gifted child that doesn’t know how to channel their talent.
What they all have in common, what they all need, is attention.
Attention from a teacher that has the time to acknowledge their individual needs and nurture them.
A teacher who can set a learning programme that is suited to the child, who isn’t so busy managing a room of too many young children that they can’t recognise the individual qualities that sit within all of them.
All our kids should get the individual attention they deserve.
That’s why I want more teachers in our primary schools, to ensure smaller class sizes for our children.
Schools currently get one teacher for every 29 nine and ten year olds. It’s lower than that for younger children.
Those ratios should be reduced.
By giving our kids more attention, we can improve their education and set them up to take advantage of all the opportunities life throws at them.
Imagine the difference that would make to the children and to the teachers.
More teachers means more attention for our kids at a stage of life when they need it most.
Frankly, they need less Facebook and more face time.
Some will say that class size is less important than teacher quality.
Well I’d say they’re not mutually exclusive.
Teacher quality matters a lot, but I also believe that simply having more attention from teachers will make a difference to young children.
Sure older kids that are more self-managing can be in larger classes, but our young ones will be better off having more attention from their teacher.
After parents, teachers are often the most influential people in the lives of our children.
I come from a family of teachers – my mum, my sister and my brother. I want teachers to be highly respected professionals in our communities. They deserve that.
Part of that is pay, and it’s also about conditions such as class sizes and the investment we put into teachers to deliver quality learning to our kids.
Unlike our opponents, we will be prepared for Government in two years’ time.
We’ve got a two and a half year process to run the ruler over our existing policies, and propose new ones for 2020.
This year is about listening.
We want to hear from you - parents and pupils, families and farmers, businesses and communities.
We want your views.
We want to talk and challenge ourselves, and contest ideas.
In education, our team led by Nikki Kaye will use that input to develop discussion documents next year, and our plans and policies for the 2020 election.
Unlike our opponents we welcome different views.
And unlike them before 2020 we will have made decisions and we will be ready to lead.
My team and I will be working hard to ensure the next government is National-led.
We will make every day count.
We want to undo the damage this Government is doing now.
Come election year we will have the detailed, thought out and costed ideas to do that.
We will show you we have the plans and the policies and the people to earn your support and continue to build the country you deserve.
This country can do better.
In fact we can be brilliant.
National will bring strong leadership, the best ideas and the ability to make a difference.
I’m backing New Zealanders and I’m starting with our children.