14 March 2009
Speech to the Act Party National Conference
It's good to be here today.
It's good to be amongst my friends from the Act Party.
And it's good to be joined by a group of New Zealanders who also have a vision for a more prosperous New Zealand.
Let me begin by acknowledging two of my much appreciated and hard-working Ministerial colleagues.
Rodney Hide. Minister for Local Government. Minister for Regulatory Reform. And Associate Minister of Commerce.
Rodney is leading the charge for ratepayers. He's cutting through the red tape that has for too long smothered New Zealand. And he's making a big contribution to this Government's economic growth agenda.
So thank you Rodney. It's great to have you on board.
Heather Roy. Minister of Consumer Affairs. Associate Minister of Defence. And Associate Minister of Education.
Heather is a forceful advocate for New Zealand consumers. She's a champion for choice in our education system. And she's making a real difference for our country.
Thank you Heather.
Together with the rest of the ACT caucus, Rodney and Heather are providing the ACT Party a strong and effective voice in this Parliament.
I enjoy working with them.
And I think that you, the ACT Party membership, are well-served by them.
The question remains.
Why am I, the Leader of the National Party, speaking at your Party Conference today?
It's a fair thing to ask.
After all, it wasn't too long ago that the National Party was on the campaign trail, actively competing with you for party votes.
The answer is simple.
I am here today because on the 8th of November 2008 New Zealanders voted overwhelmingly for a change in their country's direction.
They voted to turn the page on almost a decade of missed opportunities under a Labour-led Government.
They elected a new Parliament that could bring a new approach to our country's challenges.
They voted under MMP.
Their votes did not give the National Party a mandate to govern alone.
Their votes invited National to reach across the Parliament to provide stable and inclusive Government.
So that is what we did.
We reached out, and we forged agreement with parties representing a broad range of New Zealanders.
Within 10 days of the 2008 General Election, National and Act announced the details of a Confidence and Supply Agreement.
That agreement, together with National's agreements with the Maori and United Future Parties, brought New Zealand's new Government to life.
We reached these agreements in record-breaking time.
We did so because we knew New Zealanders were impatient for change.
We did so because we knew our parties could achieve more for this country by working together than by standing alone.
And we did so because we knew that failure to work together would mean more of the same.
We've been going for it ever since.
Thanks to these agreements we've completed our first 100-days action plan and have made progress on the issues that matter to New Zealanders.
We've taken overdue steps to strengthen the economy and reward Kiwis' hard-work, through a Jobs and Growth plan.
We've begun improving public services by focusing on the frontline, cutting bureaucracy and getting more out of existing resources.
We've taken some of the overdue steps needed to tackle the long tail of underachievement in our schools.
And we've introduced tough legislation to confront law and order issues that have plagued New Zealand in recent years.
These moves were made possible by the co-operation of ACT and other parties that support the Government.
The National Party is grateful for the constructive and effective working relationships we have with the Act, Maori and United Future Parties.
Each relationship is progressing well.
But they are all quite different.
There are differences of policy, of process and of personality.
We have different things in common, and different things we disagree on.
But together, we are providing stable and results-focused Government.
That is just as well.
The world is experiencing the worst global economic downturn seen in more than a generation.
While New Zealand is in a better position than many other countries, we are facing significant economic challenges:
Falling growth rates.
Lower commodity prices.
Falling demand for our exports.
In the face of these problems, I am determined that this Government will keep the economy running as strongly as possible, take the sharpest edges off the recession and prepare our economy for future growth.
It's a time for New Zealanders to come together to meet the challenges we collectively face.
It's in that spirit that our two parties' Confidence and Supply Agreement was written.
Our Agreement speaks of the shared goals and beliefs that our parties bring to Parliament.
Our desire to grow the New Zealand economy in order to provide greater prosperity, security and opportunities to all New Zealanders.
Our belief in the right and capacity of individuals to shape and improve their own lives.
And our knowledge that only a strong economy can deliver New Zealanders the higher incomes,
better living conditions, greater financial security and stronger society that they deserve.
The Agreement sets a number of shared goals for the years ahead.
It acknowledges some of our differences and it gives us room to disagree.
But most importantly, it builds common ground.
- We both want to close the income gap with Australia. Your Party is more bullish about the speed at which we can do it. Together we've agreed to set up a taskforce to help us get there as fast as possible.
- We both agree on the need for stricter parole, sentencing and bail laws. You've gone further with your Three Strikes proposal, and we've agreed to give the idea a fair hearing and that legislation is now before a Select Committee.
- We agree on the need to balance our environmental responsibilities and our economic opportunities. We advocate for an emissions trading scheme, you have opposed one. Together we've agreed on a Select Committee inquiry into the best way forward.
- We campaigned on reducing spending on government bureaucracy, while ACT wants bigger spending controls across the Board. Together, we're taking a series of steps to achieve better value for taxpayers' money, and each week Rodney is joining us at the Cabinet Expenditure Control Committee to help eliminate waste.
- We both want lower taxes while you want to get to a flatter scale, faster. Together we've already passed legislation to lower rates and thresholds and we agree more should be done.
- We both want to reduce the red tape that is slowing our economy down and depriving New Zealanders of jobs. Together we're cutting red tape as quickly as we responsibly can.
- We've both had enough of the handbrake the Resource Management Act places on growth in this country. You've voted for our Bill to reform the Act and we will work together over the coming months to design further improvements.
- We both believe parents should have more freedom to choose schooling options that best meet the individual needs of their children. Together, we've agreed to terms of reference for an inter-party working group to consider and report on policy options for expanding those choices.
These are just eight of the areas of common ground set out in our Confidence and Supply Agreement.
But while our agreement canvasses many issues, it is not, and was never intended to be, a comprehensive document.
It cannot anticipate every issue that may confront the Government over the term of this Parliament.
Neither does it attempt to.
Rather, the agreement provides the foundation for a relationship of good-faith, no surprises and mutual respect.
With those things in place, I am confident our two parties will continue to deliver for the New Zealanders who put us here.
The seeking of common ground will be a theme for this Government.
Because beyond confidence and supply, the National Party must earn the votes of other Parties to pass legislation.
We must engage on an issue-by-issue basis.
Finding a Parliamentary majority will not always be easy.
There have already been occasions where the Act Party has helped National pass legislation that the Maori Party oppose.
There may well be occasions where our friends in the Maori Party will help us pass legislation that the Act or United Future Parties opposes.
There may also be occasions when National looks further than our confidence and supply partners.
I anticipate co-operating with other parties in Parliament on issues of mutual interest.
In short, finding support for our policies won't be a paint-by-numbers business.
But, as with so many things in life, the challenge of this task will better the rewards.
After all, it is this process of co-operation and compromise that New Zealanders were seeking when they opted for an MMP electoral system.
I believe it is a healthy discipline for the Government to have to reach out and find support for its policies. After all, this is a country built on the idea of partnership and inclusiveness. So it is only fitting that those values are reflected in our Parliament.
The trick is not to let this shift the goal posts or distract us from the people we are here to serve.
So as we look ahead, the task for our two parties is to work together on areas where New Zealanders have the most to gain.
[Cutting Red Tape]
I want to highlight one such area today: Reducing red tape.
Now, more than ever, the Government needs to give our businesses and workers room to breathe.
We must do everything we can to reduce the barriers that get in the way of good ideas, of growth-enhancing investment and of job creation.
This message came through loud and clear at the Job Summit last month.
Employers, businesses and unions were united in their view that now is not the time to be introducing new or extended rules, standards or processes that create additional compliance costs for firms.
Instead, they said that now is the time for the Government to implement a package of measures designed to ensure that new and existing regulations impose only necessary costs on business.
Well, Rodney and I couldn't agree more on this point.
We know that the cost of poor regulation is investment that never takes place, jobs never created or income never earned.
Poor regulation diverts attention and resources away from growing and managing business.
It can hold back innovation, productivity and growth - the very same drivers that will help us close the gap with Australia.
Together we have embarked on the most significant regulatory review programme this country has seen in more than a decade.
The red-tape bonfire is progressing in three main ways.
The first is a round-up of low-hanging regulatory fruit.
Since forming the Government, Rodney has been hard at work identifying the silliest red-tape that can be removed as soon as possible.
He's done a great job.
He's put a paper up to Cabinet and we'll begin removing those regulations very soon.
The second part of the programme is a series of specific reviews of big groups of regulations that are holding back productivity and economic growth.
Some of these reviews are looking at individual pieces of legislation, while others are looking at sector-specific regulation.
We've already introduced legislation to reform the Resource Management Act, kicked off a review of the Building Act, and begun a serious examination of the Climate Change Response Act.
In agriculture, David Carter is examining raw milk pricing regulations. While Gerry Brownlee has begun the arduous task of disentangling electricity arrangements.
There are more red tape reviews to come.
Early next week Bill English will announce the terms of reference for a review of the Overseas Investment Act.
The purpose of this review will be to create an overseas investment screening regime that encourages investment into New Zealand, while protecting sensitive land, assets and resources.
In the period ahead, the Government will review the operation of other legislation that inhibits economic growth and job creation.
These reviews will be about enhancing firms' ability to innovate, invest and create jobs.
The third part of our red tape cutting programme is about ensuring Government does a better job of regulation in the future.
Following ACT's lead, the Government will establish a Regulatory Task Force to progress a Regulatory Responsibility Bill.
We will explore the concept of a New Zealand Productivity Commission.
And we will explore further options for enhancing the current regime of Regulatory Impact Analysis of new legislation.
Taken together, this is a substantive programme of red-tape reduction. It's a big task. But I can assure you that all my Ministers are right behind it. And we can trust Rodney to push them along.
At the same time, Rodney will be leading the Government's response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Auckland Governance.
That will be a very important job, with potentially significant implications for Auckland, and the country as a whole.
Needless to say Rodney is, and will continue to be, a very busy man.
Ladies and Gentlemen, together the National Party and the Act Party are making a real difference for this country.
Our task is to implement policies that encourage the resilient Kiwis whose hard work, tenacity and initiative will get New Zealand through this downturn.
We know that in the end it is their efforts, their good ideas, and their good will that will make our economy grow.
Our two parties have much in common.
But we will continue to disagree from time to time.
We will have different approaches to many issues.
And each of us will have to compromise on some policy positions in order to work together.
That is as it should be.
Otherwise, we wouldn't be two separate parties, we'd just be one.
One of the strengths of our political relationship is that we can each speak our minds about each others policies and approaches.
We have nothing to fear from that.
In fact I view that debate as a sign of the strength of our relationship.
So, while I will always argue for the blue corner, I'm happy to come over to yours from time to time.
It's a pleasure to be here today.
To be celebrating the relationship between our two parties.
To acknowledge the progress we have already made together.
And to anticipate the contribution our co-operation can make to the future of New ZealandTweet