by Peter Dunne
Through all the upheavals, false innuendo, and sleazy unfounded gossip of recent months, one thing has not changed.
My commitment to serving the people of the Ōhariu electorate is as strong and undimmed today as it was when you first elected me back in 1984.
I am not going to rehearse recent events this evening, although, suffice it to say, it was – to put it mildly – an extremely strange feeling to be hit by several out of control express trains coming from different directions at speed, and all at the same time.
One thing I do want to acknowledge though is the spontaneous and generous support that my wife and I have received from so many people in the electorate over the last couple of months.
Times like this are certainly difficult for everyone involved, but the impact on their families is often overlooked. That has made the warmth of the local reaction we have received so much more special, and we appreciate and treasure that.
Tonight, I want to move on and talk about a couple of current issues that have major importance for the future of our country.
All of us recoiled in horror at the various recent revelations regarding Fonterra and the possible implications for both our cherished clean, green image, and our international trade. Not only has the contamination crisis been a huge wake-up call for Fonterra, but it has also raised the question of how complacent we may have become about our 100% pure, clean green image.
I do not want to pre-empt the work of the official inquiry now underway into Fonterra’s actions, other than to express the genuine hope that it be conducted fairly, with more professional integrity and a less gung-ho, voyeuristic, lynch mob tone than the recent ill-fated Henry Inquiry.
Rather, I want to concentrate on the second part of the issue – the implications for our clean, green brand, and the things we need to be doing to retrieve that.
My starting point is that what has been revealed is an unacceptable, although I think understandable level of environmental complacency – at virtually all levels.
Yet New Zealanders, by our very nature, are environmentalists. All of us, Maori and Pakeha alike, have a special bond with our natural environment – whether it be
· as farmers and stewards of the land and the seas surrounding it;
· hunters, fishers, trampers, climbers and those who like to confront its physical challenges;
· or, those who simply take inspiration from its grandeur and beauty.
Whatever the reason, we are all environmentalists – it is simply a part of being a New Zealander today.
So naturally we are appalled when something like the Fonterra situation occurs, or when we hear that over half our rivers are unsafe to swim in, or when our national environmental credentials are challenged overseas.
This is not the New Zealand we imagine or want to be ours.
But how has it come to this?
I think part of the answer lies in the fact that we have allowed environmental policy to be hijacked by the political left, and have accordingly succumbed to the notion that unless you are a Green, you cannot have any concern for our environment, or that such concern as you do have is horribly compromised by the rest of your life, which is course, complete nonsense.
In an open society, there is a place for the Green Taleban, but it is at the fringes, and not centre stage.
Mainstream New Zealanders who care about unpolluted water ways or the impacts of climate change are tired of being ridiculed for the general nature of their concern, and for not being single issue zealots.
And they have also tired of a lot of the social baggage that seems to be expected to be borne by those who profess a concern for the environment.
One does not have to be a social activist to have a legitimate concern about the environment.
So faced with an arrogant intolerance that, for example, sees people who work in the energy or minerals sectors lambasted as pariahs and worse than vandals, or that considers it acceptable to abuse business leaders to their faces as corrupt, because they try make an economic profit to keep people in jobs, it is no great surprise that many who do care, simply walk away and leave it to the extremists, because they do not want any part of all the other claptrap.
And while all the talk goes on, and the sanctimonious political campaigns are waged, the overall state of the environment goes backwards, until something like the Fonterra crisis occurs.
But I think the mainstream giant is stirring from its slumbers.
I sense that an increasing number of people in business and the wider community who genuinely care about the environment are turning against the notion that the only way to show your environmental credentials is to support the Green Party.
These are people who understand that good economics often make for good environmental outcomes, that there can be win-win situations developed, and that being pro-business and jobs is not automatically anti-environment.
They are people who enjoy being out and about in our great outdoors, who enjoy the bush and our waterways, and who are tired of being sneered at constantly for the pursuit of their legitimate pastimes.
The Fonterra debacle has alerted them to the challenge of not just resolving that particular issue, but more broadly, also addressing their underlying concerns and the impact of the perception of Brand 100% Pure New Zealand as now somewhat tarnished, because it affects their ability to sell their products and earn the export dollars the country needs.
I hesitate to say any good will come from the Fonterra debacle, even though no link to botulism was found, but it may well prove to be the catalyst for a more fundamental reconsideration of the way we think about environmental issues and our response to them, which can only be positive for the longer term.
The second issue I want to address this evening is an equally important one for our country’s future – superannuation.
Superannuation has been a political football ever since the Kirk Government proposed the compulsory contributions based New Zealand Superannuation Scheme in 1974 and Sir Robert Muldoon responded a year later with the taxpayer funded universal National Superannuation available to all from age 60.
The battle lines have been drawn ever since.
Today, almost 40 years later, we have settled on an effective hybrid – universal taxpayer funded New Zealand Superannuation from age 65, supplemented by voluntary Kiwisaver contributions, also maturing at 65.
While the fundamentals are broadly settled, the issue of long term affordability is a matter of debate.
At the last election National committed itself to retaining 65 as the eligibility age, while Labour proposed moving over a 10 year period to shift the age up to 67.
Both policies placed the respective parties on high horses.
The Prime Minister said he would resign rather than shift the age from 65 – and Labour voters made it clear that they did not appreciate being told by their Party they had to work for two years longer before they could pick up their New Zealand Superannuation.
In this context, UnitedFuture’s FlexiSuper policy provides a way through the impasse.
Under FlexiSuper, the basic age of entitlement remains 65, but a person can take up their superannuation at a reduced rate anytime between 60 and 65, or at an increased rate if they defer up to 70.
So the choice of when to pick up superannuation becomes a decision for the individual to decide according to their personal circumstances, not one for the state to impose upon them.
There will be many who will decide to defer uptake until nearer 70 because they are fit and in work, and happy to keep on going.
Others, especially those in hard physical employment, may well welcome the idea of being able to take up a reduced rate from 60, and either retire then, or switch to less demanding work.
For groups like Māori and Pasifika who have shorter life spans, FlexiSuper offers dignity in the sunset years that is not there now.
The bottom line is whatever their individual circumstances, FlexiSuper gives people more control over the own lives and retirement destiny.
I fail to understand the social commentators from the left who decry the plan, claiming it will simply make the rich richer, and increase the social divide.
Do they not realise or dare to appreciate that presently manual workers, Māori and Pasifika have no early retirement option?
They simply have to work till they drop, or enjoy a very short life span after they retire.
Where is the social justice and dignity in that?
What possible harm is there in giving them a little more choice, a little more flexibility, and a little more control over how they spend their sunset years?
The left’s pathological fear of letting people make decisions for themselves seemingly knows no bounds.
The feasibility of FlexiSuper is increased considerably by Kiwisaver.
In the years to come, for many, the choice about when to pick up their New Zealand Superannuation will be influenced by the fact they will also have a significant Kiwisaver payout due at age 65.
That will become more pronounced in the years to come, with it being very likely that at some point the government of the day will move to make it a compulsory national savings scheme, as I believe it should be.
Over time, the effective age at which people pick up their superannuation is likely to rise, but that will be as a matter of public choice, rather than state compulsion.
I was pleased after the 2011 general election to get the government’s support for the preparation and release of a formal discussion paper on the pros and cons of FlexiSuper as part of the National/UnitedFuture confidence and supply agreement.
And I was even more pleased to be able to release the discussion paper last week, and to see the generally positive reception it has received.
But there is still a long way to go.
Formal submissions close on 11 October, and the government will then consider these before making a decision about what to do.
However, I note the interest the Prime Minister has been showing in the proposal, and I appreciate that.
I also note that FlexiSuper is a popular policy.
A Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll in February showed 49% of people favoured FlexiSuper, as opposed to 29% who supported the status quo, and only 15% wanted an increase in the age to 67.
Ever since the days of the Kirk scheme, New Zealanders have craved certainty in superannuation policy, and an environment where they can make choices about their retirement plans, without the prospect of being disrupted by arbitrary government policy changes.
FlexiSuper empowers them like never before, and that is why I firmly believe it is an idea whose time has come.
I am a liberal democrat, with a fundamental belief in the right of people to determine their own destiny.
I came into politics to do things, to give people more choices about how they live their lives– not to wallow in the trough of scandal, or the negativity of perpetual opposition.
The FlexiSuper initiative, together with the other policies I have been able to achieve through UnitedFuture’s various confidence and supply agreements and my service as a Minister in successive governments, are about doing just that.
They are the real stuff of politics for me.
I do not mind admitting my confidence took a severe knock a couple of months ago, but the support and encouragement I have received from so many – in Ohariu and across the country – has restored that. So, now I am reinvigorated and ready to play a full part once more in what lies ahead.
Peter Dunne is MP for Ohariu. He gave this speech tonight to the Johnsonville Lions Club.