The following address was delivered by David Seymour, leader of the ACT Party, at a function on Waitangi Day, 6 Feburary 2021.
Thank you very much to everyone who's here this morning and watching online. Happy Waitangi Day.
It's a good day for New Zealand. We alone celebrate a country founded by a voluntary agreement. A Treaty that guarantees each person - no matter their origins or ethnicity - their full, natural rights and equality before the law.
There is no perfect country - no perfect model to follow. Every country must learn from the wounds of the past. And we are no exception. But I'd argue ours are lesser, perhaps, because we began with the principle that all people are alike in dignity.
I reflect on those values when I think of those who have needed our protection and support this year - Especially those small business people and self-starters who so seldom ask for help. I'd like to thank my mate Sang Cho, who owns Eden Bistro. It's been a very tough 12 months for everyone in hospitality. Last time we hosted an event here, his business was vandalised. Some people might have said it's too much trouble to do the event again.
But Sang insisted. What a great New Zealander. Thank you Sang.
Now. I've always wanted to say this. My fellow New Zealanders. The state of our nation is... free.
It's true. In the last three months, two global comparisons have judged New Zealand the freest society in the world. Neither of them was reported by the New Zealand media.
We're number one.
The Human Freedom Index measures things like freedom of speech, the rule of law, free trade, and freedom of religion, and property rights, among other things.
New Zealand is consistently judged the freest country in the world. Normally our media would be thrilled to report New Zealand being number one at anything, but human freedom? Not a peep.
Then the Global Index of Economic Mentality was released in November by my old friends at the Atlas Network. Atlas is an umbrella organisation for free-market think tanks all over the world. It is based in Washington, DC, and chaired by a New Zealander, Debbi Gibbs.
What did it find? Two things.
Number one, we're number one. New Zealanders believe in free markets, keeping our own money, and personal responsibility more than people in any other country.
Number two, New Zealand has one of the biggest contrasts between what over 40s think and under 40s think. Our commitment to freedom is being lost.
One of the questions for the state of our nation is: how can we make sure the next generation wants to preserve freedom?
Freedom and COVID
The COVID period showed why freedom matters. COVID has been a game of two halves. Massive success by free enterprise. Business and community carried the day. Massive failure by Government and politicians. Nearly everything they did was a bad idea, badly executed.
Supply chains: Ashley Bloomfield couldn't explain where all the PPE had got to, but supermarkets kept their supply chains going under extraordinary conditions.
Kindness: The Police Commissioner tried to scare us and the Government set up a snitching website, but the Student Volunteer Army set up a network so that strangers could collect groceries for the elderly and disabled.
Job creation: The Government shut down whole industries, but business created so many jobs that unemployment stayed below five percent. Government took the credit, naturally.
Hard and early: When the Government went hard and early, retirement villages had already been locked down for weeks, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives.
Lawmaking: Businesses everywhere had to put new processes in place, but the Government hadn't even signed the paperwork to make the lockdown legal.
Pharmaceuticals: The world's pharmaceutical companies created vaccines in record time, but the Government appears to have made a mess of contracting them.
With all of this, our isolation, and a hundred billion dollars of net core crown debt, we've come out okay. The thing is, the Government is now taking the credit for the overall outcome instead of its own performance.
The lesson of COVID should be that Government is hopeless but instead the politicians in charge are taking the credit and using it to justify more state control.
We need honest conversations about the real crises that are building up under this Government.
If there's a climate crisis, then there is also a crisis in education, a crisis in public order, with productivity growth, housing and Oranga Tamariki.
The Government declared a climate crisis. It has now put in place the least effective climate legislation possible... That only ACT opposed.
The Zero Carbon Act created the Climate Change Commission. The Climate Change Commission just released its first budget for New Zealand's climate emissions.
The bureaucrats have got busy. It demands industries be shut down, herds be culled, and technologies be banned. The Zero Carbon Act says that the Government must either adopt the plan by the end of the year, or come up with its own plan.
The Government is taking more control over how we live than at any time since the Muldoon era, and here's the thing... It won't stop one gram of carbon being emitted.
Why is that? There is a cap on the amount of CO2 equivalent gases that can be emitted from New Zealand. Every time banning one thing or subsidising another reduces emissions, it simply frees up credits for someone else to emit.
There is a better way.
If the Government was interested in lowering emissions - rather than looking like it was doing something - it would just set a cap on the amount of CO2 New Zealanders can emit. It would let the price of credits be set by the market... if you want to go to a restaurant that cooks with gas, it might cost more, but at least you'll be free to choose.
But most of the Government's policies have nothing to do with reducing emissions... They just give the state control, instead of you - the People. It makes you wonder what really motivates the supporters of the Zero Carbon Act.
Remember, every other party voted for this enormous transfer of power over your life from you to the Government.
The Government should have declared a crisis in education.
Even as NCEA scores keep going up, our students' performance on objective international tests have been plummeting all century.
Take the Trends in International Maths and Science Study. For year four maths and science, our students rank between 19th and 40th out of 64 countries in every category, but they have dropped in every category compared with students four years ago.
Then there's the Program for International Student Assessment. 15-year-olds today have three terms' less knowledge than 15-year-olds in 2009.
Parents know how rapidly the world is changing. And one thing we know about the 21st century is that skills won't become less valuable for their kids. More people than ever risk dropping out of the workforce completely. That our New Zealand students are going backwards at exactly this time is a real crisis, but not one the government wants to talk about...
Why not? Charter Schools were working. They made sure that students attended and achieved. Standards went up. In return for these requirements, they didn't have to use union contracts. In some cases, if the teachers didn't do a good job, they were fired.
The Labour Government, that supposedly puts children at the centre of everything, closed the schools down one day and opened them the next. The only changes? They were no longer contracted to get results for students, but they DID have to use union contracts.
Child-centred learning is the idea that teachers don't know more than children, and each generation of children should reinvent the knowledge of humanity for themselves.
The problem is we now have teachers who came out of the same system. The chain is broken and knowledge is being bred out of our society. Child-centred learning is slowly taking us back to the stone age.
No parents who have a choice would choose this system. In fact, we know well-off parents with choice go for schools that do traditional teaching. Child-centred learning has been forced on the public by the education bureaucracy.
ACT's student education accounts would put education funding back into the hands of parents. Parents could take their share of the education funding to any school of their choice, public or private.
I predict that EVERY parent would demand the same education that wealthy parents do with exclusive school zones and private schools already. That is genuine fairness - not seeking to give special interests special privileges.
A crisis in Oranga Tamariki
The Government should have declared a crisis of displaced children.
The holy grail for CYPS then CYFS then Oranga Tamariki has been to put children at the centre of the process.
Then this Government comes along and says children are important... but so is the Treaty of Waitangi.
So now, picture it, you're a kid who's been kicked from pillar to post but finally you've been found a 'Home for Life.' Except it's not a home for life. You're now subject to a reverse uplift because the Government thinks the Treaty of Waitangi is more important than a child's welfare.
The simple truth is this: Nothing is more important than a child's welfare. And those who have least must come first.
Our MP Karen Chhour has lived the life of a kid under CYFS. She knows it's hard enough for the system to put children first at the best of times.
Next week Parliament will hear one of the most powerful maiden statements ever made, as Karen tells her story and brings new hope of solving the Oranga Tamariki crisis. If we are to solve this crisis, it will be because we hear the voices of real people... Not just the political class.
The gang crisis
The Government should have declared a crisis of lawlessness.
All this summer, law-abiding New Zealanders have been treated to the spectacle of growing lawlessness.
Gangs shooting each other. They mustn't have heard the Government fixed the gun laws. Actually, come to think of it they did, and they openly said they would defy the buyback.
As part of a pattern, the Government did nothing. When a publicly owned street is closed down for days, they do nothing.
Perhaps part of the problem is that gangs are recruiting faster than Police.
In the last three years, police numbers have increased by 1300. Gang members that are registered on the National Gang List have risen 2200 in the same period.
The result is people who work hard, follow the law, and do the right thing watch on as thugs run riot with no consequence.
ACT has a simple solution. It's not the kind of policy we normally advocate, but we want to raise their tax rate.
The P-trade is half a billion dollars a year, but Civil Asset Forfeitures are only $50 million. That's a tax rate of 10 percent.
How many law-abiding New Zealanders would love a tax rate of 10 percent?
The ACT Party would change the civil asset forfeiture law to make it easier to take gangs' assets. If you are on the National Gang List, you're dealing drugs, and you have an illegal firearm, it would be open season on everything you have.
The housing crisis
The Government should have declared a crisis in housing.
Labour did declare a housing crisis. When they were in opposition.
Labour Governments are supposed to govern for labour. For people who work over people who own.
Imagine you are an idealistic young Labour MP. Let's call you, say, Grant, or Chris, or Jacinda. You realise you've just overseen the greatest transfer of wealth from those who work to those who own in the history of our country.
The average wage for a worker is $55,000. In 2020 the average house price went up more than twice that, by $121,000, from $628,000 to $749,000.
Now, I know there's a whole lot of arguments about whether owning a home has got harder. Money is cheaper so servicing costs are lower... young people should eat fewer avocados..., and so it goes on.
But the fact is, homeownership rates are in freefall. Homeownership peaked when the Resource Management Act was passed in 1991. Back then 79 percent of people in their thirties owned the home they lived in. Now it is 59 percent.
For Maori of all age groups, it's only 31 percent. Less than half the average. At least soon we'll have a day off in June to think about it.
We know what the problem is. We know what the solution is. Brooke van Velden spelled it out eloquently in her very well-read New Zealand Herald column this week.
We have a country that's practically uninhabited, but somehow it has a shortage of land you're allowed to build on. Only Governments can manufacture famine from plenty... they're like a reverse Jesus.
Zoning means there isn't enough land, and poor infrastructure funding means if more land was zoned, you couldn't get to it.
The shortage of housing is at the centre of this country's difficulties. Take our main theme: How do you persuade the next generation that effort leads to reward when you get paid twice as much for owning a piece of paper as you do for working every day?
The extraordinary thing is that despite announcing a crisis in opposition the Government has done nothing to change the situation. There has been no change to planning and infrastructure that will actually make it easier to build a home in New Zealand under this Government.
This does nothing to protect the people that Labour claims they do... And it is locking a whole generation out of participating in the housing market.
The productivity crisis
The Government should have declared a crisis of low wages.
Some countries have low wages but are growing quick. Others are growing slower, in part because their wages are already high.
New Zealand is one of a small number of OECD countries with both a low level of labour productivity and low productivity growth. Countries with productivity records similar to New Zealand are Mexico, Greece, Portugal, Israel, and Japan - so a mix of struggling economies. We are a country of independent spirits... Pioneering and productive. I believe that we can do so much better.
We once wanted to be in the top half of the OECD. For productivity we're now 30 percent below the average of the top half of the OECD. We've made no progress on this since 1996.
It also matters for our culture. Wage growth doesn't just mean more money for life-saving drugs... It means that our actions today deliver a better tomorrow for all New Zealanders.
The next generation won't believe in freedom if their efforts today make no difference tomorrow.
Sewerage on beaches
The Government should have declared a crisis or urban infrastructure. Nearly every day we hear of sewerage on the beach, in our major cities.
Not only can we not build enough houses, we cannot plumb the ones we have.
On one day last month, 50 beaches were deemed unsafe for swimming. So much for our clean, green "100 percent pure" image. We cannot do the basics right, such as getting the number of pipes and toilets to match.
Once again, the Government has done nothing that will fix this issue.
ACT's infrastructure policy would get to the heart of the problem. Councils plan but have little money, central Government has most of the money but is not in charge of planning.
Also, nobody trusts councils with more money.
Our policy would mandate 30-year partnerships where Government funds councils to build infrastructure to high standards. It removes the funding, planning, and accountability issues all at once.
The Government should have declared a crisis of bad lawmaking, but I can understand why not. They are probably not even aware they have caused the crisis.
But they have, and it is this. They use lawmaking as a populist tool rather than a way to help people resolve conflicts.
For this Government everything is marketing. People who try to produce anything are subject to constant... damaging... vanity lawmaking.
The pattern is anyone who puts their head up gets beaten down. Anyone who tries to make an effort has their reward confiscated.
Take the farmers, constantly demonised as environmental pariahs.
Take landlords. One summed up the way they are treated recently, when they said they're treated like a terror group, for daring to offer someone else a place to live.
Employers too constantly have costs put on to them. The Government just gave the country a day off at the expense of employers. Politically masterful, economically futile, morally bankrupt.
Licensed Firearm owners have been made to feel like they are responsible for our nation's worst-ever crime. A series of new laws have made us no safer while gun crime by real criminals is out of hand. Again, the PR is in direct contrast to the results achieved.
The Government banned oil and gas exploration to reduce emissions, even though our only meaningful alternative is coal. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment said: "The absence of a strong evidence-based case for the ban, coupled with suggestions that it may even increase global emissions, has done the ban few favours."
Does this Government care? No, for them everything is marketing.
A Trifecta for Better Lawmaking
ACT's solution to bad law-making is to supercharge our constitutional infrastructure. ACT will be campaigning on three initiatives to improve the quality of our lawmaking:
We have the constitutional arrangements of a teenage nation. It is time for us to grow up. We need some real checks and balances on our Government so we are not subject to banal and damaging vanity laws.
The regulatory Responsibility Bill was first introduced in 2006. It is to Parliament what broccoli is to a teenager. We know it's good for us, but we haven't had the courage to put it in place.
The Bill requires the Government to answer basic questions before making a law:
What is this law for, what problem is it supposed to solve?
What are the costs and benefits of the law?
Who pays the costs and reaps the benefits?
Do existing laws already solve the problem?
Does the law restrict property rights?
I will be putting the Regulatory Responsibility Bill back in the Member's Bill ballot. When it is drawn I'll be urging all of my fellow MPs to eat their broccoli and improve the quality of lawmaking by all parties.
We need select committees to be independent. I don't blame people for thinking that Select Committees are just puppets of the Government. The majority of Select Committee members are from the same party as the Government.
They want to be promoted and it's wise to obey the senior members of their party. Who are the senior members of their party? The Ministers who wrote the bill they're supposed to be scrutinising.
Then along came the Epidemic Response Committee. The majority of the members were Opposition. The Chair of the Committee was set by the opposition.
Now, it might just be that the population were under house arrest with little to do, but people said they actually enjoyed watching a Select Committee!
The questions were real, the Government was scrutinised, and the guests chosen by the Committee were not the ones the Government preferred.
Because of this, those giving evidence sometimes said things that made the Government very uncomfortable. But these, 'difficult' conversations have never been more necessary.
Last year I wrote to Parliament's Business Committee asking that the opposition be given a greater share of Select Committee seats. They obviously didn't agree. But ACT will not give up. We will campaign for and deliver independent select committees so that new laws and Government officials get real scrutiny.
Our three-year term is almost unique in the world. Nobody else tries two years on, one year, off, with the year off being election year. The coherence of our lawmaking suffers.
Lately it's been compounded by the Labour Party getting into Government with no ideas for anything but 'Working Groups'. Can any of you think of the last time something useful or memorable emerged from a 'Party Working Group'?
But even a prepared Government needs time to implement its agenda. I challenge a Government of any stripe to do robust policy work, consult the people affected, draft a law, pass it through parliament, and implement it in the two years between elections.
These three initiatives go together. We cannot trust a Government for four years with no checks and balances. We won't get anything at all done if we try introducing checks and balances on a three-year term.
They're a trifecta of improvements to our teenage democracy that spews out damaging vanity laws on people who just want to make tomorrow better than today.
What all these crises have in common is solving them really matters to huge numbers of people. Addressing them takes real commitment. Vanity legislation won't do the job.
So here's the question. Why will the next generation believe in freedom when everyone who tries to do something gets beaten down by bad laws?
Why would you bother when the schools don't pass on real knowledge, wages barely rise, a place of your own is getting rapidly out of reach, you can't swim at the beach, and the gangs make more money breaking the law than you do from following it?
Being the freest country in the world is a huge asset, but it's also an endangered status.
The ACT Party says we must improve the quality of lawmaking. And that starts with having an honest debate. A genuine national conversation.
We represent the hundreds of thousands of Kiwis who this doesn't just help make a government that is more efficient and effective... It is essential to it.
We can disagree without being disagreeable... But we never forget who we work for: YOU.
We must create an environment where YOUR efforts make a difference.
Your work must be more rewarding than merely owning a property title.
Your education, and that of your children, must give an opportunity to every child of New Zealand.
The rising tide of the economy must lift ALL boats.
ACT is a party for those who think independently. We are not here to fill-up seats. We have thought deeply about how to put back, and make our country a better place for the next generation.
We must make sure freedom survives and thrives for the next generation. The price of our liberty is constant vigilance, and that is my commitment to our nation on this most special of days.