Speech to the 87th National Party Conference: ‘Fixing our Economy’

Welcome to wonderful Wellington. Party President Sylvia Wood, National Party Leader Chris Luxon, parliamentary colleagues, fellow candidates, National Party members, it’s great to be together.

Welcome to wonderful Wellington.

Party President Sylvia Wood, National Party Leader Chris Luxon, parliamentary colleagues, fellow candidates, National Party members, it’s great to be together. 

When I look at this room I see friends, colleagues and supporters from so many different regions and walks of life.

I see people who’ve been working overtime to stop our health system falling over. Farmers who’ve been slogging it out to pay the bills and keep us fed.

Entrepreneurs who started a business from scratch and now employ dozens of people.

Shift workers who wake up early each morning and get home when it’s dark, saving for a home or a business of your own.

Young Nats investing in your education and your future. Superblues whose energy to keep working, keep volunteering, and keep looking after grandkids holds families and communities together.

I see new New Zealanders who left your country of birth to follow your dreams here and I see those whose ancestors bravely set out in waka from across the Pacific Ocean to discover this place we all call home.

You are people of aspiration, of grit and determination.

We are all here because we want to help forge a good future for our children, our grandchildren, and our fellow New Zealanders. 

We won’t accept a future where being aspirational means moving to Australia. 

We want a future where aspiration is rewarded here at home.

Together we share a powerful commitment to our Party values and a mission to deliver on New Zealand’s great promise.

Thank you, members, for everything you do for National and for New Zealand.

To our Party President Sylvia Wood: thank you for your tireless efforts to renew our Party and lay the foundations for a winning campaign.

To our Party Leader and my friend Chris Luxon: You are the Leader our country needs right now. You have the intelligence, the integrity, the practical real-world experience needed to pick New Zealand up from its funk and turn it around.  To take our broken economy and struggling communities and lead them back to growth, safety, and progress.

You’ll do it in your practical, methodical, disciplined way.  You won’t stand for fluff, you’ll set high standards, you’ll demand high performance, and you’ll deliver results. You’ll do it with heart and with your inexhaustible smile. Bring on Prime Minister Luxon.

Let me say one last thank you to the five people who are most special to me and who’ve come along to hear Mum speak today.

To my husband Duncan and to our four children; James, Harriet, Reuben and Gloria. Thanks for everything. You give up so much for me. You are my greatest supporters.  When the going gets tough it’s you that keeps me going. You are my heart and my reason. I love you.

This election comes at a critical time for our country.

Kiwis are struggling because the economy has been damaged.

The price of food, rents and mortgages have skyrocketed, while wages have struggled to keep up, creating a cost-of-living crisis.

Across the country families, superannuitants and workers are feeling hardship in a way they’ve never experienced before. I thank everyone who has been brave enough to share their situation with me.

Your cost-of-living stories have humbled me and made me so very determined to win this election.

If you feel anxious while you wait for the total at the supermarket checkout, if you dread the two days before pay day because there’s so little money left in your account, if you’ve had to give up on your plan to buy a home, then know this: you are not alone.

Even Kiwis who are doing everything right, who are working hard and being incredibly careful are struggling. You are struggling because the economy is failing you.

The cost-of-living crisis is dragging into its third year. Economic mismanagement has driven New Zealand into recession, even while Australia, the US, and our Asian neighbours are growing.

New Zealand’s current account - the difference between what we spend in the world and what we earn in the world - has hit a record-breaking deficit.

Interest rates have risen so fast that a ticking time bomb lies in front of us.  In the months ahead, hundreds of thousands of mortgage holders will have to move off a home loan with a 2 or 3 per cent interest rate to a loan with 6 or 7 per cent interest. Many homeowners will be left scrambling for the hundreds of extra dollars they will need to make their mortgage payments each fortnight.

When that mortgage bomb goes off, the whole economy will shudder.

The Government books are loaded-up with debt, with net debt up from under $6 billion pre pandemic to around $71 billion today.

Last time I shared these figures at a public meeting someone politely told me I must have my figures wrong. Sadly, that’s not the case. So let me say it again, New Zealand’s net debt is around $71 billion today, more than ten times what it was just four years ago, having risen around $37,000 more for every household in New Zealand.

The great shame is that there’s so little to show for this increased debt – instead we have potholes all over the roads, declining school attendance and achievement, growing health waiting lists and escalating violent crime.

Billions of dollars have been wasted on consultants, centralisation and ideological projects instead of bolstering the frontline services we need like more nurses, doctors and midwives and ensuring out kids are taught the basics.

It’s time for the excuses to stop. New Zealand needs solutions to fix our broken economy and help you get ahead once more. Most of all, what our country needs right now is hope.  That’s what National will deliver.

Other Parties might like to tell you they can fix New Zealand’s problems by robbing Peter to pay Paul. That they will drag the bottom up by tearing the top down. Or that we’ll all feel better if they punish the wealthy hard enough.

The truth is those reckless tactics would only further weaken our fragile economy, scare our best and brightest away and divide us one against the other.

As my Mum says, you won’t make your own candle burn brighter by blowing out another.

National has a better way. 

We know that only a strong economy can fix the cost-of-living crisis, lift incomes and fund the world class public services Kiwis deserve.

Our plan is about making the most of the huge advantages New Zealand has with practical, common-sense policies that will help businesses grow and help people get ahead.

Our country has so many of the raw ingredients we need for a growing, wealthy economy.

We have trade ties to the fastest-growing parts of the world, abundant natural resources and the best food producers on earth, the capacity for abundant renewable affordable electricity, oodles of entrepreneurial spirit, innovation in our blood, great employers and small businesses, smart hard-working people with such very deep hearts.

But right now, our country is not converting those ingredients into the opportunities New Zealanders deserve.

We’re being held back by wasteful government spending, high taxes and red tape that has made it far too hard to build things, invent things and grow things.

National’s job is to turn all this around.  And we will.

We will end stagflation, solve the cost-of-living crisis and get New Zealand growing again.

We will stop the wasteful spending and put the Government books back in order.

We will stop the despair and start the great repair.

Today I want to share with you the seven specific steps National will take to fix New Zealand’s economy:

1.            We will stop wasteful spending, move resources to the front line and get the books in order 

I give you this guarantee: In every Budget National delivers we will invest more in essential frontline public services including our schools, hospitals and police.  Our focus will be on driving money out of bureaucracy and into the places it is needed most.

We know that simply spending more on public services will not be enough - it’s delivering better results that really counts.

We will bring back accountability for Government spending by setting transparent targets and measuring the results we achieve for your money.

The targets we set will be for things that make a difference to you and to our country’s future:  like reducing waiting times for health services, lifting achievement in schools, and making our communities safer.

We will report against these targets every six months.

We will demand accountability from Ministers and public servants for driving the improvements and progress you expect to see.   

If they don’t deliver, they will be answerable to Chris Luxon, and most importantly they will be answerable to every New Zealander.

We will take a social investment approach to intervene earlier in people’s lives, using innovative and community-based approaches that are proven to work and that can change lives for the better. The Right Honourable Sir Bill English spent decades developing this new approach: we’ll use it to drive change for people with the most complex needs and to make progress on the most complex problems.   

2.            We will reduce the income tax you pay on the wages you earn.  

National will always be the Party of lower taxes. That’s because we trust you to spend your own money wisely and in the ways that make sense for you, your family and your own values.

We will deliver tax relief for lower- and middle-income earners by adjusting tax brackets to help compensate for inflation.

We have already set out in detail the minimum inflation adjustments we will make to tax brackets.

We will pay for these adjustments by bringing more discipline to Government spending - stopping wasteful programmes, reducing funding for some back-office functions and improving the efficiency and productivity of Government departments and agencies.

At a minimum, our tax changes will make an average wage earner $960 a year better off.  They will make someone on an income of $60,000 around $800 a year better off.

If National can responsibly offer more tax relief than that, without compromising essential public services or damaging our economy, then we will.

We will also deliver the FamilyBoost childcare tax rebate to lower the cost of childcare for families with young children.  This tax reduction will be worth up to $75 a week.

We will remove unfair taxes.  No more Ute tax.  No more Auckland Regional Fuel Tax. No agriculture in the Emissions Trading Scheme. No more App tax on your Uber or your Deliver Easy.

We will stop the tax attack on landlords and renters by restoring interest deductibility and taking the brightline test back to two years.

3.            We will cut red tape and complex regulations that are strangling our economy and making it too hard for New Zealanders to get things done.  

Here’s some examples.

We will stop compulsory and costly centralised wage bargaining and the risk it poses to thousands of small and medium sized employers and workers across NZ.  We will repeal the legislation that compels it.

We will fix the spaghetti of regulations created through the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act and that have made it too difficult for people to borrow for their small business or first home.

We will fix farming regulations that defy practicality and that, according to a grower I met recently, are making it impossible for him to expand his operation to grow the affordable vegetables our country so badly needs. We will never turn our back on farmers.

We will fix the rules holding back investment in renewable electricity: it can take up to eight years for a business to get permission to build a wind farm.  That’s just crazy: we’ll set a one year limit.

We will fix the Reserve Bank Act to restore the Reserve Bank’s focus on delivering price stability by busting inflation - that means getting back down to 2 per cent and keeping it between 1 and 3 per cent over the medium term.

4.            We will grow skills and attract talent 

We will equip young New Zealanders better for their futures by doing the basics brilliantly in our schools.  An hour a day of reading, writing and maths for every primary-aged child.

We will say yes to the migrants New Zealand needs to fill acute worker shortages on our farms, in our hospitals and businesses.

We’ll train and retain more of the workers we are so short of, including bonding graduate nurses and midwives by helping pay off their student loans for the first five years of their career – provided they stay here in New Zealand.

We will reverse the Te Pūkenga disaster.

Our Welfare that Works policy will help more New Zealanders off welfare and into work by targeting better support at young unemployed people, and sanctioning those who repeatedly refuse to meet their work obligations.

Because we believe in a strong safety net for those who fall on hard times. But we also know this: those who can work, should.  

5.            We will drive technology and innovation to solve problems and create more value.

New Zealand faces major challenges in a rapidly changing world.  We must respond intelligently, making the most of new technology from other countries and coming up with breakthroughs of our own.

Climate change is here, bringing more extreme weather events and making it obvious we must reduce the emissions that are causing it.

National will embrace the science and innovation needed to do that.

New Zealand has some of the best farming science in the world: we should be the country that comes up with world-changing solutions to reduce the methane emitted by farm animals.

National will remove the ban on Gene Editing so we can get it done.

6.            We will build infrastructure for growth

A growing country needs future-ready infrastructure to keep us productive and to improve our quality of life:  more housing development, renewable power schemes, better broadband, more resilient highways, reliable public transport options and quality water services, all are essential.

National will deliver a complete revamp of the way infrastructure is delivered in New Zealand. Not by removing local democracy and centralising control: we will repeal Three Waters. Not with pretty pictures of trams down Dominion Road either.

Instead, we will work with local councils to plan and drive regional investment, by creating a fast-track consent process for getting projects built faster and using modern finance and funding tools to help pay for the big nation-building projects New Zealand needs.

7.            We will encourage trade and investment 

New Zealand’s future is global: we must be open to the world, its people, ideas, and opportunities.  National will make it easier to attract the international investment our local businesses need to grow. We will seek out a new trade agreement with India and we will drive more value from the powerful trade agreements we already have.

My fellow members, these are practical policies that will fix our economy and get New Zealand back on track. They are grounded in National Party values: encouraging effort, achievement, entrepreneurship, investment and innovation.

National understands that a strong economy is created through the efforts of every day New Zealanders choosing to work here, to create new jobs here, to start a new business, to take a product global or to create something new.

We will never take those choices for granted. Nor will we resort to the lazy politics of envy that seeks to blame our shared problems on the success of a few.

We know that success is good for the country, it’s good for the Government and it’s good for every New Zealander. 

This election the choice is clear. 

New Zealanders can vote for Parties that use tax as punishment and that seek to load more and more cost on fewer and fewer shoulders or they can vote for a National-led Government that will always strive to let you keep more of what you earn, that will value work and celebrate effort. 

You can vote for careful investment that grows stronger families and communities or you can vote for more growth of Government agencies and the red tape they create.

You can vote for policies that will push more and more of our kids to become citizens in Australia or for a National Party that will fight to ensure this is a country our kids can live their dreams in.

New Zealanders can stick with what we have today: a damaged economy that is failing its people, or you can vote National for a stronger economy that delivers for you and your family.

Faced with these choices I have faith that New Zealanders will choose a better way.  They will vote to change the direction of this country and elect a National Government that will fix our economy and put New Zealand back on track.