18 May 2008
SPEECH: Lower North Island Regional Conference
Speech to the National Party
Lower North Island Regional Conference
Thank you for your welcome.
It's good to feel the election-year buzz in the air. That's a buzz born of excitement, but also, I hope, a sense of the size of the task ahead of us.
2008 represents a huge opportunity for the National Party. But more importantly, it's a huge opportunity for New Zealand.
As I travel up and down the country, from places like Palmerston North to the suburbs of Auckland, from schools to small businesses, from public meetings to marae, I am hearing a consistent message from our fellow New Zealanders: they're ready for change, they're tired of this Labour Government, and they sense that Labour is simply tired and unfocused.
New Zealanders are looking for a government which puts their needs first and which can give them real hope for the future of this country.
They want a government which is thinking about how to make the most out of tomorrow, not how to cover up the mistakes of yesterday.
They are looking for fresh leadership with fresh ideas, which is focused on tackling the problems they increasingly confront in their everyday lives.
National's task over the coming months is to prove to Kiwis that we are ready to form the government they hope for and deserve.
There is no doubt in my mind that our MPs and our candidates are ready. We have the ideas. We have the determination. We have the energy. We have the vision. And we're hungry for the opportunity to give this country the fresh leadership it so badly needs. We're going to campaign hard and we'll be relying on your help.
Each and every National Party member, volunteer, and supporter is needed to make this year's campaign a success. So let me take this chance to thank all those who will play a part in ensuring that election 08 delivers Kiwis the positive change they deserve. Your contributions are essential and I am very grateful for your efforts.
I'd like to express my particular thanks to National Party President Judy Kirk. Judy works tirelessly for this party and I am hugely appreciative of the experience and energy she brings to our team. I'd also like to thank Lower North Island Regional Chair Patricia Morrison for all the work she does for the Party.
And, of course, our National Party Members of Parliament. Our caucus is in fighting form. I'm privileged to be leading a team of men and women with talent, determination, and a real understanding of the communities they are in Parliament to serve: Simon Power in Rangitikei. John Hayes in Wairarapa. The boys from the Bay – Craig Foss in Tukituki and Chris Tremain in Napier. Chester Borrows in Whanganui. And our hardworking list MPs: Christopher Finlayson, Nathan Guy, Katrina Shanks, and Mark Blumsky.
I'd like to take this opportunity today to thank Mark for his contribution to the National Party caucus and to wish him well as he pursues his career outside Parliament.
Finally, let me welcome on board this region's new candidates: Stephen Franks in Wellington Central, Hekia Parata in Mana, Malcolm Plimmer in Palmerston North, Paul Quinn in Hutt South, and Richard Whiteside in Rimutaka. The best of luck for your campaigns.
The case for change
Let's be clear about what we're all campaigning for this year – we're campaigning to make Kiwis' lives better.
By and large, New Zealand is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. But right now, thanks to Labour, everyday Kiwis are really hurting. The past nine years have been a story of lost opportunities. Labour has failed to turn the years of good economic weather into increased financial security for Kiwi families.
Labour should have used the good times to lock in real improvements in our economy, to cut tax, to improve economic productivity, to build effective public services. If it had done that, Kiwis wouldn't be feeling the pinch so badly now.
Instead, Labour has seriously mismanaged the economy. The results of its failure are everywhere to be seen, from interest rates that have doubled, to sky-high taxes, to squeezed household budgets.
Helen Clark and Michael Cullen can dream up as many excuses as they like, but the results of their economic management speak louder than their rhetoric ever will.
If this is what Labour can deliver after eight years of good global economic conditions, then why should voters trust it to turn things around in the bad times?
Everyday we are seeing more signs of a Government in decay.
The issues at the Immigration Service have again dominated headlines this week. The most alarming factor in all of this is that Ministers were told about these serious allegations more than a year ago, but it was hushed up. It wasn't until the media got onto the story that the Ministers involved started to admit what they knew.
Remember that it was Helen Clark who promised higher standards of ministerial accountability. Yet here we have confessions from not one, but two Cabinet Ministers that they knew about these allegations and did nothing. Labour was more interested in avoiding a scandal than it was in doing what's right.
Helen Clark and Michael Cullen are now desperately hoping their Budget this week will turn things around. But the truth is there is nothing they can do that could possibly excuse them for the mess they've already created.
New Zealand doesn't need a set of Band-aid solutions. New Zealand needs a Government that is dedicated to addressing the big economic challenges our country is facing.
National has a practical, carefully considered economic plan for this country's future. Our economic plan will deliver the step change New Zealand needs in order to deliver our children and grandchildren the wages and living conditions they have a right to expect.
One, National will deliver an ongoing programme of personal tax cuts.
Two, National will take a disciplined approach to government spending, so interest rates track down, not up.
Three, we will stop the massive rise in head-office bureaucracy that Labour has encouraged, and we will deal with the regulatory and compliance issues that smother Kiwi businesses and families.
Four, National will have an unwavering focus on improving education standards.
And, finally, number five, National will invest in the infrastructure that this country desperately needs to grow.
Last month, I was very pleased to announce a vital part of National's infrastructure commitment: our ultra-fast broadband plan. This $1.5 billion plan will be a growth-enhancing investment that will help New Zealand take a step up. It will provide positive returns to the economy as a whole, which will benefit all taxpayers.
This broadband plan vividly illustrates just how different National's investment approach will be from Labour's. While National will invest in the technology that will dominate the next century, Labour has chosen to invest in the technology of 150 years ago, in the form of a train set – which was already there.
National's infrastructure goals, like all the elements of our economic plan, are focused on future-proofing the economy. We are ambitious for New Zealand and we are focused on the things we need to secure our future prosperity.
Climate change policy: the Emissions Trading Scheme
In realising these ambitions, National will be careful to balance our economic opportunities with our environmental responsibilities. And it's that subject I want to focus on today.
At our regional conferences last year I spoke of the important role that a clean, green environmental brand will play in New Zealand's future. I singled out what I think is the most important environmental challenge of our time: global climate change.
I said then, and I repeat today, that as a responsible international citizen, New Zealand must do its best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
National has made three major policy statements about our intended approach to achieving this:
1. National has set an achievable emission reduction target for New Zealand. A 50% reduction in New Zealand's carbon-equivalent net emissions, as compared to 1990 levels, by 2050. 50 by 50.
2. National believes New Zealand must act decisively on the world stage to support international efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. That is why National is committed to honouring our Kyoto Protocol obligations. That is why, in government, we will work to achieve further global alliances that build on the goals agreed to at Kyoto.
3. National believes that New Zealand must pursue sound, practical environmental policies to achieve emission reduction. We want to reduce emissions in ways that result in the least cost to society and the economy.
It is to that end that we consider a well-designed, carefully balanced Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to be the best tool available for efficiently reducing emissions across the economy.
We believe that such a scheme must be accompanied by complementary measures, including government investment in developing and promoting new technologies that will lead to lower-emissions. We have advocated, for example, government investment in science to reduce emissions from agriculture, increased grants to assist families to install solar water heating, and government investment in broadband infrastructure to reduce Kiwis' carbon footprints.
In recent months, it's been good to see many of New Zealand's trading partners take a similar policy approach.
In Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has proposed a goal of reducing Australia's emissions by 60% from 2000 levels by 2050. He ratified the Kyoto Protocol within days of taking office, and his Government will publish a Green Paper on an Australian ETS in July, with legislation planned for December.
In the United States, presidential candidates from both major parties have advocated a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, at home and abroad. Senator John McCain has announced that, if elected President, he will submit a proposal for an emissions trading scheme to Congress, with a goal of reducing emissions by 60% by 2050.
Meanwhile, in the European Union, countries continue to set emission-reduction targets and further develop a robust and effective emissions trading scheme.
In line with the policy approach I have just outlined, National supported Labour's Climate Change (Emissions Trading and Renewable Preference) Bill at first reading, when it was introduced before Christmas.
We made it clear we would carefully analyse the legislation and listen to New Zealanders' thoughts about it. And that's what we have set about doing.
For the past few months, our MPs have been scrutinising this bill, they've been listening to Kiwis' views at Select Committee and in their electorates, and they've been analysing the likely effects of the proposed ETS on the New Zealand economy and environment.
National hasn't leapt to judgment on Labour's legislation. We don't think New Zealanders need or want rash decision-making or inflated rhetoric about decisions with such serious long-term implications.
Labour's record on climate change has showed us what that results in. Their ill-considered climate-change programmes – such as the negotiated greenhouse agreements, animal emissions levy, and carbon tax – have all fallen apart. Those poorly thought-out policies have created uncertainty in the economy and have not resulted in better outcomes for the environment.
In fact, far from heading toward carbon neutrality, emissions have gone up every year that Labour has been in government. Far from leading the world, New Zealand's emissions growth has been among the worst in the developed world. In aiming to fly to the moon, Labour has failed to get airborne.
It's against this background that the Emissions Trading Scheme has been put together. For Labour, responding to climate change has become an issue of political branding. In line with Helen Clark's bold rhetoric, Labour must be seen to be acting. It wants a bold piece of legislation to point to. It wants to be viewed internationally as a world leader. In short, it wants to keep up appearances.
Clearly, National does not think this is a responsible approach.
We want to ensure that the wider economy, and the financial security of Kiwi families, aren't sacrificed in pursuit of a poorly thought-out and grandiose emissions trading scheme.
After all, these decisions will have serious implications for the New Zealand economy for decades to come. Their effects will live on long after Helen Clark has left Parliament.
So, in recent weeks and months, National has been very concerned at the approach Labour has taken to this historic piece of legislation:
• Submitters on the bill have had their speaking time cut drastically short.
• There's been little transparency about the effects the ETS will have on already struggling Kiwi households. Frightening reports have emerged about the likely economic effects of the scheme's 'lead the world' approach to cutting emissions.
• Officials have admitted that the Government will profit by between $6 billion and $22 billion from the tendering of emissions permits.
• There's been no clear analysis of exactly how much the scheme will reduce emissions, and
• The scheme has been subject to last-minute changes, including the decision to push out the date for inclusion of the transport sector. This decision has flow-on effects that the Select Committee has been given no opportunity to analyse.
Labour has been racing towards a political deadline – the 2008 election – and has been prepared to cut corners to get there.
National is not prepared to cut those corners. Not when the financial security of Kiwis is at risk. Not when getting this wrong means exporting jobs, ratcheting up inflation, and viciously squeezing household budgets.
We believe that the current rushed timetable for the design of the ETS and the Select Committee process is reckless, given the importance of the issue. National thinks that this process, left unchecked, is likely to lead to an ETS that will meet neither New Zealand's economic needs nor our environmental obligations. In particular, it could well have negative and unintended consequences.
So today, I am calling for a delay in the passage of this legislation.
National will not support the Climate Change Bill going to a second reading in Parliament until we are satisfied that it has been revised to meet a series of key principles, which I will outline in just a moment.
National does not expect to be the sole judge of whether the revised bill meets these principles. We believe that the views of New Zealanders must be heard and responded to. For that reason, significant amendments to the bill should be tabled in Parliament, referred to the Select Committee alongside the Bill and be subject to public submissions. This will ensure that New Zealanders' views on the revised ETS legislation are adequately heard and responded to.
Yes, this will most likely mean carrying the legislation into the next Parliament. National believes that's a small price to pay for ensuring New Zealand gets the best ETS possible.
Further, this call for slowing the process should not be read as National giving up on ETS legislation.
Let me state clearly: National has not given up on this legislation. We are committed to a well-considered, carefully balanced Emissions Trading Scheme for New Zealand. We believe this bill can be amended and progressed to that end, and we believe it can be done in a timely fashion. But the New Zealand Parliament must take the time needed to get it right. New Zealanders' livelihoods depend on us taking that time.
National believes that getting it right means adhering to the following principles:
1. The ETS must strike a balance between New Zealand's environmental and economic interests. It should not attempt to make New Zealand a world leader on climate change. Kiwis simply can't afford to pay the price for that particular experiment.
2. The ETS should be fiscally neutral rather than providing billions of dollars in windfall gains to the government accounts at the expense of businesses and consumers. National does not think it's responsible for government to use green initiatives to pad the Crown coffers while thinning out Kiwis' wallets.
3. The ETS should be as closely aligned as possible with the planned Australian ETS, with common compliance regimes and tradability. In my second speech as National Party Leader, I called for close co-operation with our biggest trading partner on this issue, and I continue to call for it. Given the Australian timetable for developing an ETS, I believe it's still possible.
4. The ETS should encourage the use of technologies that improve efficiency and reduce emissions intensity, rather than encourage an exodus of industries and their skilled staff to other countries.
5. The ETS needs to recognise the importance of small and medium enterprise to New Zealand and not discriminate against them in allocating emission permits.
6. The ETS should have the flexibility to respond to progress in international negotiations rather than setting a rigid schedule. This way, industry obligations can be kept in line with those of foreign competitors.
It's no surprise that these principles have not been met in the seven months of deliberation since Labour first put its ETS proposals on the table. It's hard to develop legislation with this many moving parts, that affects so many sectors, and has so many effects. It's even harder when you're not prepared to listen to your critics.
Getting the ETS right will require thoughtful and careful consideration and analysis. It will require a sensible debate and a sense of realism about the economic implications. That is as it should be.
Overseas experience has shown that developing robust, durable emissions trading regimes takes time. National believes New Zealand must take that time. That is why we will take all steps necessary to ensure that our Parliament acts responsibly on this historic issue.
Renewable energy, the thermal ban and the Biofuels Bill
In association with the ETS, Labour has promoted a target for 90% of New Zealand's energy coming from renewable sources. National supports this, and we are committed to reforming the Resource Management Act to facilitate renewable energy developments. We believe a well-designed ETS will provide a strong financial incentive for renewable electricity generation.
The Climate Change Bill also includes a ban on new thermal electricity generation. National has real concerns about this. It sounds like more of a political branding statement than a practical policy. Under Labour, 75% of new electricity generation has been thermal, but even then the Government is struggling to keep the lights on.
National believes that the thermal ban should be subject to further scrutiny and public consultation. Our primary concern has to be the security of electricity supply.
Finally today, I want to outline National's policy in regard to the Government's Biofuels Bill.
This bill would require petrol and diesel to contain a growing proportion of biofuels from the 1st of July this year.
Labour is jumping on this bandwagon just as the wheels are falling off internationally. There is now widespread international concern that biofuels do not necessarily reduce emissions, that they are driving increased tropical deforestation, and are contributing to a global food crisis.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has spoken out against the Biofuels Bill, saying it will damage our clean, green image.
National is opposed to a mandatory biofuels obligation until there is a sustainability standard. This standard needs to deal with the lifecycle emissions savings, the effects on the food supply, and the biodiversity impacts.
New Zealanders want to ensure that their efforts to tackle climate change are doing more good than harm. Paying an extra 7 cents a litre for a flawed biofuels policy is not the way forward. So National will not support the Biofuels Bill in its current form.
National's climate-change policies are indicative of the kind of practical approach we intend to take to the wide range of issues facing New Zealand.
You can be sure you will hear more examples of our approach as we head towards the election.
New Zealanders work hard, do the right thing, pay their taxes and try hard to raise their families responsibly. They have a right to a government which is focused on the issues that matter and which is committed to a plan that will build a stronger future for this country.
National will lead a better-managed government that focuses on strengthening our economy, returning fairness and incentives to our tax system, retaining our best people in New Zealand, keeping dangerous prisoners away from our communities, improving our healthcare, and ensuring standards in education that equip our children with every opportunity to succeed in our modern world.
I truly believe we live in one of the best countries on Earth, and I believe we can be far greater still. But to be as good as we can be, we have to constantly think about tomorrow, and next year, and the decades ahead. We can't get bogged down by fads, distractions, or the ideological battles of the past.
I'm just not interested in the tired old political debates from 20 or 30 years ago. I believe New Zealand's future depends on grasping good ideas, no matter where they come from, and putting them into action.
If we are elected, I promise to bring energy, fresh thinking, and straightforward, practical ideas to the job. I also promise to bring a sense of optimism about New Zealand and its future.
I know that the National Party has the energy and determination to win this election and lead this country. Over the next five to six months, between now and Election Day, we must prove ourselves to Kiwis by being resolutely focused and disciplined.
During what I'm sure will be a challenging few months, we must never lose sight of what we are fighting for. In this election, we're not just fighting for a National Party victory – we're fighting for a better future for New Zealand.
While Labour may think this election is all about another trophy in the cabinet, National is focused on giving this country a real future. Every one of us must raise our sights to that goal and resist the temptation to be drawn into petty sideshows.
National is the only party ready to deliver New Zealanders the government they deserve. Election 2008 is this party's big opportunity. Election 2008 is New Zealand's big opportunity.
Let's make the most of it and deliver change in 2008.