A Time for Choice

14 August 2011

Don Brash's first major speech of the 2011 election campaign, delivered at the ACT Upper South Regional Conference.

 

Keynote address to the ACT Upper South 2011 Regional Conference
14 August 2011

On November 26 this year, New Zealanders face a choice.

That choice is often couched as “left” or “right.”

The ACT Party and I are often portrayed, by those who don't like us, as "far right."

Allegedly, we'd find Attila the Hun collegial company.

This of course is a shabby smear of a party that stands for individual freedom, by those who don't.

And in fact, as Ronald Reagan once famously observed, the choice today is not so much between left and right as between up and down; between a future … and no future worth speaking of.

America faces that choice again now.  So do we.  And it was never so stark.

In essence we can move up to a future where we have choice ... or down to a black hole where we don't.

Up to a future where the state exists for people … or down to a black hole where people exist for the state, as depicted in such frighteningly realistic novels as George Orwell’s 1984.

Up to a future unshackled by Big Government … or down to a black hole where communism and fascism have won politically what was denied them militarily: the subjugation of individual citizens to Big Brother.

Up to a future where enterprising New Zealanders are free to prosper by their own efforts … or down to a black hole where prosperity is something we're supposed to be ashamed of.

Up to a future where tall poppies flourish … or down to a black hole of Tall Poppy Syndrome, triumphant.

Up to a future where governments spend responsibly … or down to a black hole where we and our children are lumbered with involuntary debts foisted on us by governments borrowing recklessly to finance their bribes.

Up to a future where industrious New Zealanders are free to keep most of the money they earn, to spend (or save) as they choose, or down to a black hole of ... Phil Goffism: "If it moves, tax it.  If it doesn’t move, pass a law to make it move.  And then tax it."

Up to a future where people are free to do as they  please on their own property provided it doesn’t damage the property of others … or down to a black hole where little Hitlers tell you what colour you may paint your house.

Up to a future where Kiwi kids come out of school fully able to read and write and equipped with all the skills needed to flourish in an open economy … or down to a black hole where too many teachers are themselves ill-equipped to teach.

Up to a future where all children are born because they are wanted … or down to a black hole where breeding unwanted children is a taxpayer-funded meal ticket.

Up to a future where all New Zealanders are genuinely equal before the law … or down to a black hole of racial separatism, where people have special statutory status based not on the content of their character but on the colour of their skin.

Up to a future where New Zealanders are free to air their differences in robust and fearless debate … or down to a black hole where free speech has been shut down by the stifling constraints of political correctness.

Ladies and gentlemen, this last is the most ominous threat from those who would take us on the downward path to a black hole.  (Let's call them "Downers."  If that makes the rest of us “Uppers” … well, I can assure you it’s an entirely legal high!)

By an insidious process of attrition, the Downers have achieved a double-whammy in recent years.  By dumbing down education and the media, they've trivialised political debate to the point where it’s no longer a contest of ideas but a quest to establish which politician is the most "cool."  That leaves the Downers free to get on with their agenda.  That’s one whammy.

Then, if someone  does rise above the mush and say something meaningful and challenging, he or she gets chopped down for being "polarising."  That’s the other whammy.  Polarising!?  For Heaven's sake! Isn't the whole idea of having political parties that they put forward differing ideas – even radically differing ideas – and fight them out?  That they set out  precisely to polarise?  That we take it in our stride as intelligent adults and choose among our competing suitors?!  

Salman Rushdie, himself the object of an ayatollah’s  fatwa, pointed out that freedom of speech is nothing without the right to cause offence.  Of course, this is not to say we should go round causing offence all the time; just that being offended is not a licence to censor.  

I urge you to immerse yourselves in the spirit of Voltaire: "I disagree with what you say but defend to the death your right to say it." 

I'd also commend to your attention Section 14 of our own Bill of Rights, which says:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form."

That includes my right to say separatism is wrong, even if supporters of separatism are offended by my saying so!  Let me say in passing I shall go right on saying it whether it causes offence or not.  But I shall also defend to the death the right of separatists to disagree with me.  May we please just have the debate without all the infantile umbrage, without people trying to close it down by whining that they’ve been offended?!

The right to impart opinions of any kind in any form even includes the right to say women are less productive because of their periods.  The statement might be wrong, and the hapless Mr Thompson produced not a shred of evidence for it, but one shouldn't be able to be so readily destroyed by the Ayatollahs of Screech for expressing an opinion that is wrong.  Voters should ask themselves what has happened to us as a society when such lynch-mobbery can prevail by sheer decibel power.  

In this regard, I was reassured by news that several businesses had pulled out of the Employers and Manufacturers Association  not  because of Mr Thompson's comments but because of his dismissal for them.  Of course the EMA had the absolute  right to dismiss Mr Thompson – don’t get me wrong about that – but it augurs very badly for a future of "up" if it did so less out of genuine conviction that Mr Thompson's comments were wrong and reprehensible, than out of fear of the Ayatollahs of Screech.

I could, and shall, make similar comments about Lord Monckton's recent visit here.  His Lordship is a distinguished critic of the view that climate change is man-made.  He thinks we're being had by the Global Warmers, and produces powerful arguments to that effect.  Astoundingly, almost no  one in New Zealand was prepared to front up to him!  The Greens initially agreed to debate with him on TVNZ's Q&A programme.  Then they pulled out, prompting me to comment that the Greens had turned yellow.  Being unable to find anyone who would debate Lord Monckton,  Q&A itself pulled out, apparently not confident that its interviewers were up to the task of playing devil's advocate with someone they already disagreed with.  Same deal on Close-Up. 

In other words, one of the key figures in the debate on one of the pivotal issues of our time came to New Zealand … and was ignored by our main television network!  Again, it's their prerogative, but it bodes ill that the state-owned channel is so beholden to politically correct theology.  I congratulate TV3’s The Nation, and Leighton Smith’s programme on Newstalk ZB, for showing that, once again, it takes private enterprise to do the job.

Actually, freedom of speech should be indelibly etched into our DNA via the Treaty of Waitangi.  Freedom of speech is foremost  among the "rights and privileges of British subjects" bestowed on all New Zealanders by the Treaty of Waitangi.  In the nineteenth century, the British prided themselves on valuing eccentricity over conformity, on untramelled freedom of speech.  Thousands of New Zealanders went on to give their lives for this freedom.  We should rage, rage and rage again against anything which threatens its demise.

What else, then? What else does ACT New Zealand say is necessary for a Future of Up?

Since this is a speech about the basic principles which alone can secure such a future, I can do no better than quote from ours:

The […]Party seeks a safe, prosperous and successful New Zealand that creates opportunities for all New Zealanders to reach their personal goals and dreams.

We believe this will be achieved by building a society based on the following values:

•   Loyalty to our country, its democratic principles and our Sovereign as Head of State

•   Equal citizenship and equal opportunity

•   Individual freedom and choice

•   Personal responsibility

•   Competitive enterprise and rewards for achievement

•   Limited government

Oh, wait!  That doesn't seem to be the one.  It sounds like us, but ...

Ah! In fact it's the  National Party's statement of principles!  No wonder I had something to do with the National Party at some point!  It's an excellent statement of principles.  I absolutely endorse those principles.  The problem is, the National Party itself too often ignores them.

A government whose spending is 36% of GDP, higher than at any time during the Clark/Cullen Government, can scarcely be called "limited."

A government that continues to tax at punitive levels can hardly be said to be promoting competitive enterprise and rewarding achievement.

A government that is contemplating forcing us into KiwiSaver can hardly be said to be upholding personal responsibility.

A government that denies young people the right to work at youth rates can hardly be said to be upholding individual freedom and choice.  Nor can a government that forces parents to send their children to the local  school, even if it is poorly performing, or is single sex when parents would’ve preferred co-ed, or vice versa.

A government that appears to have no intention of honouring its promise to scrap the Maori seats and that tolerates the continuation of other race-based statutory privileges can hardly be said to be promoting equal citizenship.

And so on.  You get the picture.

Of course, ACT's statement of principles is very similar to National's.  And we actually mean them. 

We start from the classical liberal premise that individuals own their own lives; government doesn’t. Self-ownership means individuals have certain inherent rights and responsibilities; government's role is to protect those rights … and not assume those responsibilities. 

Now, since this proposition bucks the statism inculcated by stealth in our schools and other institutions over generations, it's not possible to achieve a society that conforms fully to it overnight.  But the upward path is one that goes in that direction: individual freedom and responsibility, limited government.  ACT is wholly committed to that upward path.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be outlining policies that will help get us on it.  In fact, I’m happy to announce some of them right now:

* We'd make serious inroads into government spending, so that we don’t have to keep borrowing $300 million a week, and can reduce and flatten personal and company taxes.

* We'd scrap the ETS.  Whatever you believe about the human influence on the climate, why should New Zealanders be lumbered with an all-sectors, all gases, tax on greenhouse gases when none of our major trading partners is?

* We'd make sure schools were places of learning, not social engineering.  Learning would include the basics, including grammar, spelling and punctuation.  Parents would be given vouchers with which they could choose which school, state or private, they sent their children to.

* We'd radically reform the welfare system so as to provide a simple, sensible and secure safety net for those in genuine need, but not a hammock for those who could support themselves.  We'd change the rules around the DPB, to avoid its being used as a lifestyle choice by under-educated  young women to their own enormous detriment, and the detriment of thousands  of children born unwanted, often to be abused and even killed.  That cannot go on!

* We'd abolish the Maori seats in Parliament and get rid of all other forms of race-based statutory privilege.  All New Zealanders would have the equal rights guaranteed by Article III of the Treaty of Waitangi. 

* We'd overhaul the RMA so that the current presumption that property owners must seek permission to do anything on their own land was reversed.

* We'd amend the Bill of Rights to include property rights.  This is an old idea whose time has certainly come.

* We'd restore Youth Rates, and the 12,000 jobs that have been denied youngsters by their absence.

This list is not exhaustive.  It is indicative of the approach ACT New Zealand takes toward the parlous situation confronting the country.  We opt for freedom rather than coercion.  We treat causes rather than symptoms.  We know that, at this critical juncture in our nation’s history, boldness rather than timidity is needed.  

We already have some significant runs on the board  from our time in partnership with our National Party colleagues: Three Strikes, slightly more business-friendly employment law, the 2025 Taskforce, the Productivity Commission, nudging the Government toward liberalising ACC, regulatory reform, and so on.  But there is much more to be done, and the need is urgent.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am passionately ambitious for our country.  I don't want to see it simply catch Australia; I want it to give Australia the same trouncing it does on the rugby field!   I don’t want it to be a place where our children come to visit from time to time, but a place where they choose to live because here they can get rewarding job opportunities, a world-class education for their children and a safe environment.

Once, we were such a place, with policies that rewarded the pioneering initiative for which we are rightly renowned.  We can be so again.  Free people are unstoppable.  Together we can restore Paradise.

Down with Down. Let’s choose … Up! 

 

14 August 2011.
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