Speech to the Clubs New Zealand 2016 Conference

Friday, March 18, 2016

Why Clubs are Important in our Communities



Thank you John and thank you delegates and Clubs NZ members for welcoming me to your 2016 Conference and AGM.

It is a real pleasure to speak to you today and can I say what an additional pleasure it is to have NZ sports broadcasting John McBeth MNZM here today – the unmistakeable timbre of John’s delivery stirs many memorable sporting moments and I can only say how appropriate it is that you have someone of John’s calibre as your MC for this Conference.

Can I also acknowledge Upper Hutt Cosmopolitan Club President Wayne Henshaw and the Cossie Club for hosting this event.

The Cossie Club do an amazing job hosting a wide range of events and functions here in Upper Hutt and do so without fear or favour – I can recall only recently they hosted a public meeting on housing with Phil Twyford and will shortly be traversing the other end of the political spectrum by hosting Trade Minister Todd McClay on the topic of the TPP, so we can safely say the Cossie Club well and truly serves all sides.

I’d like to acknowledge His Worship Mayor Wayne Guppy, one of the wisest elected officials this end of the Valley.

Can I also acknowledge my colleague the Honourable Chris Finlayson, a great admirer of Upper Hutt’s golfing facilities and I believe the owner of a hole-in-one right here in the Hutt.

I’d like to acknowledge all the speakers on your programme, including the Hon Peter Dunne who will be addressing the conference later this morning on the sustainability of pokies, which I think gives me a get out of jail free card on that topic; and Dame Jenny Shipley who doing great things for New Zealand in business and in promoting women into positions of leadership – we are a blessed country to have the likes of Dame Shipley still contributing strongly to our wellbeing.

Finally I’d like to acknowledge and thank outgoing Clubs NZ President Tom Fisher who retires from his leadership role after over 40 years of service to clubs in New Zealand.

Tom first joined the Matamata Club in 1969 and hasn’t looked back, I’d like to thank Tom for his contribution and for the good health he leaves Clubs NZ in.



The question posed to me today, slightly rephrased, asks “Why are clubs important in our communities?”

To me the question begs the answer.

Clubs are communities.

They are inherently part of, and thus integral to, how we function as a community and as a society.

What are communities?

It’s a belief of mine and of the party whose principles I adhere to, that we are first and foremost individuals.

We are autonomous, individual agents, but we are also inherently social creatures.

Thatcher of course used to say that “there is no such thing as society – there are only individuals and their families.”

While we exist as individuals, we function as a community.

And to me the ideal community is one where we are free to make our own choices and form our own support networks of people who will support us in those choices.

Providing choice and support are clearly identifiable anchor points in society which bind people together.

Family is one anchor.

Your church or faith group may be another.

Your workplace is another.

Comrades in arms another.

And the interests, hobbies, ideologies and philosophies that you hold as an individual provide another.

We naturally cluster in groups of common interest.

The formation of clubs, societies, sports teams, RSAs, trusts, charities – these are the practical expression of our common interests.

People coming together, under no central directive or order, to join in the pursuit of a shared interest – whether that be the love of darts, the experience of combat, or the simple pleasure of the company of others, clubs provides a physical manifestation of our desire to choose for ourselves and be supported in that choice.

Now if I can descend from the Olympian heights of political moralising, I’d like to come to the three components of my speech today that will hopefully outline to you why I believe clubs are important in our communities.

I’d like to share with you first my thoughts on how clubs form anchor points in communities around which people gather, interact, and contribute to the wellbeing of our community.

Second, I wanted to traverse some of the challenges facing clubs and why these should be seen as opportunities, rather than threats.

Third, I wanted to outline my commitment to clubs and hopefully demonstrate through that commitment the importance of clubs to me and to our communities.

I’m very happy to take questions at the end.


Clubs as pillars of strength

Let me start with the idea that clubs are pillars of strength in our communities.

Nobody has ever made millions running clubs.

Members, managers and volunteers aren’t in it for the money.

You contribute to your clubs because of the outcome you have in mind: the betterment of your communities.

Clubs are where friendships are forged and connections made concrete.

Some offer an escape from the daily grind, others offer an opportunity to keep your mind and body sharp, and others serve as a focal point for community events, offering structure and routine.

I graduated from Vic Uni with a History degree along with my Law degree so I hold a keen interest in the historical value of any organisation.

My research for today tells me that Clubs NZ began with Workingmen’s Clubs in 1896.

Gentlemen of the time met to discuss affiliation and management of all Clubs of the kind, and of particular interest to me, to watch pending legislation affecting Clubs.

I raise this as an example of how even though society can change – the core values and purposes of clubs remain.

They remain places for people to gather and connect, socialise, fundraise and support each other.

That’s not to say that they can’t adapt, innovate and modernise – they do.

You only have to look at the diversity of modern clubs compared to 40 or 50 years ago.

The idea of a club environment which changes to suit the social values of the day is inherent in the word “cosmopolitan”.

Clubs in this sense are a community asset.

They provide space for meeting, members for volunteering, and events for socialising.

Clubs provide a family friendly space where common interests bring a common understanding of the challenges those families face.

The final pillar involves the fundraising and charitable aspect to clubs.

The reality is that gaming trusts provide a lot of financial support for a lot of worthwhile things in our communities.

Growing up I was involved in a lot of debating and various sporting trips, almost certainly a lot of that would not be possible without grants provided by gaming trusts.

I know there are challenges with the whole gaming sector, challenges that I’m certain the Minister will speak about later, but for now I’d like to turn to some other challenges and the opportunities in front of clubs.


Challenges and opportunities

I’m regularly invited to speak to schools and groups of young people in the Hutt, and often I am asked to talk about the challenges facing our young people.

On every occasion my message to them is the same.

It is an amazing time to be alive, and despite the prominence of negative stories about the future for young people, the future has never looked brighter.

The advancement of technology is improving and changing our lives at an astounding pace.

Human ingenuity and and the digital economy has created profoundly disruptive new companies and industries.

The world’s biggest accommodation provider, AirBNB, owns no accommodation.

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, own no taxis.

Ali Baba, the world’s most valuable retailer, have no inventory.

And the world’s most popular media owner creates no content of its own.

You all know what it’s called – Facebook.

Now I’m a realist.

The disruptive technology is causing challenges for many industries, including for clubs.

You’ll know intimately the worrying trends.

Declining memberships.

Reduced patronage.

Threat of liquidation.

There are a few reasons for this, and I think technology only plays a small role, but it is making an impact.

We’ve never had as many alternative ways to connect with each other than we do today.

The competition for our attention has never been as fierce.

The American scholar Robert Putnam describes the decline of social capital, the in-person social interaction used to found, educate and enrich the fabric of our social lives.

He gives the example of declining participation in bowling leagues in his book “Bowling Alone”.

But these concerns are not new.

The fear of technology destroying our way of lives, our important social structures has been around for decades.

First it was the printing press threatening to eradicate the importance of personal communication.

Then radio seducing us with one-way communication.

Then it was television.

Then the Internet.

Now it’s specifically social media.

Yet these are all just tools we can use to supplement traditional forms of face-to-face interaction.

Nothing will ever replace the value we get from in-person social interaction.

In my view, clubs need to look at the opportunities which technology affords.

Mass communication tailored to the individual member is possible now.

Each of your 270,000 members could receive e-newsletters tailored specifically to their interests.

Coordination of activities is seamless with collaborative document creation, online calendars and RSVP tools, and discussion between members across the country.

There are opportunities online for clubs competing in Euchre, 500, cribbage, chess – last year I met with NZ’s only chess grandmaster Murray Chandler, who said online chess was revolutionising access and engagement with chess.

Using online advertising and marketing to widen the range of consumers who hire club facilities and equipment.

The many cost savings that come with reduced travel and administrative needs meaning more money can be pumped into the grass roots activities of clubs.

The ability to fundraise across the country through Givealittle and PledgeMe.

Clubs must be wary of the opportunities which arise from some of the more significant challenges facing managers.

And yes, Government needs to play its part in ensuring a regulatory framework which helps the growth and development in clubs.

That leads me to my commitments to you.


My commitment to clubs

Let me close with a couple of comments about my commitments to clubs.

I hope it’s obvious from my speech today that I’m very interested in the things that tie individuals together in society.

And I know first-hand about the important role that clubs play in the Hutt Valley community.

So my commitment is to be engaged with you and your members; and to always have an open door as a politician to hearing your concerns, queries, and views.

After all, members of clubs put people like me in Parliament – so the least I can do is engage with them.

Thanks for having me and I look forward to your questions.