General Debate Speech 11 November 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The biggest divide in New Zealand politics these days is not really about conservatism vs liberalism, or rural vs urban, or even left vs right.

The real divide in Parliament is about what New Zealand’s attitude should be to the outside world the people in it.

Does New Zealand’s future lie as an open, confident trading nation connected to the global economy, knowing that welcoming foreign capital and labour drives increased prosperity and lift our living standards? 

Or does New Zealand’s future instead lie in trying to put up the shutters to the outside world; denying even the reality or benefits of globalisation, and practicing a form of protectionism that manifests itself at worst as economic vandalism and at worst as a form of bigotry and even racism?

For 30 years – since 1984 – there has been a degree of consensus from political parties on both sides of the House that our country’s future lies in active and enthusiastic participation in the global economy.

The progressive dismantling of Fortress New Zealand started under Labour. It is one of their proudest legacies.

How times have changed.

Labour has spent the past seven years becoming more and more hostile to foreign investment and to free trade generally.

They started back in 2008 with the outrageous decision to change investment rules on a whim to try and gain political advantage out of blocking the Canadian Pension Fund from investing in Auckland airport.

Then in opposition they turned their sights on foreign investment in farm land, even though when they were in government land sales to foreigners were four times what they are under National, and even though foreign investment in farm land brings jobs, growth and benefits to New Zealand.

The nadir of this was Phil Twyord’s utterly disgraceful attack on Chinese migrants to New Zealand. How far they have fallen since Helen Clark’s 2002 apology to Chinese New Zealanders for our shameful 60-year poll tax. It is a modern tragedy.

It is not surprising Labour has stopped talking about this – at least publicly.

In a way Labour’s capitulation to its own worst instincts was probably always inevitable. Under heavy attack from its far left flank by the Greens, Labour has given up the centre ground of politics and given up any claim to be a responsible party of government.

The modern day Labour Party is little more than the political wing of the organised protest movement.

The type of people who think an argument is just saying “neo-liberalism” over and over again.

The type of people who think mentioning “Crosby-Textor” as often as possible wins a debate.

The type of people opposed the China free trade deal, opposed to dismantling agricultural subsidies and tariffs back in the 80s, the people who no doubt opposed CER in 1983 as well.

The type of people who want to shut down the TPP – something that is apex of trade and diplomacy for 30 years.

And that brings me to the nub of the issue – which way is Labour going to go on TPP?

The stakes could not be higher and it is a big test for Labour.

Is it a party of government or a party of protest?

TPP is a deal encompassing 40% of the global economy. Our first FTA with the United States – as well as Japan, Mexico, Canada, and Peru.

Tariffs will be eliminated on 93 per cent of New Zealand’s trade with its new FTA partners, once TPP is fully phased in.

TPP is fundamentally in our interests. It was started by the Labour Party and Phil Goff. They knew it was in New Zealand’s interest back then and the smarter people in their caucus know it now.

Helen Clark still knows it. Asia is fast becoming the growth engine of the world economy.

As she says, it’s “unthinkable” that NZ would not be part of TPP.

Will Labour’s leaders retreat into the 1970s era nostalgia of Fortress NZ, or will they back NZ as a country earning its way in the world?

We are a small trading nation of 4 million sitting at the bottom of the world. Though we are a tenacious people living in one of nature’s truly pristine lands, we will not make it in a global world selling to ourselves. We have always embraced the concept of being a global citizen, punching above our weight and contributing more to the world than we take in.

The question we each need to ask ourselves is which side of the divide do we fall on? The one building walls, or the one building bridges?