New Zealand has become a divided society

Speech prepared for the debate on the Prime Minister’s Statement, 15 February 2022

So here we are debating the Prime Minister’s Statement after her Government has been in power for four years. The speech was riddled with platitudes, self-congratulation and hyperbole.

This is not to say the Government hasn’t achieved some things – it has and I acknowledge that.

But I think there is something that has occurred under this Government which is much more insidious. In fact it is much more invidious. It is undesirable and unwelcome.

It has seeped out and spread widely throughout our country. The Government doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge it, but I think it is imperative that it is addressed.

It is the issue of how divided a society we have become.

Prime Minister’s approach

The Prime Minister has become very accustomed to delivering edicts to New Zealanders.

From the Podium of Truth she has happily proclaimed “these are the new rules” – and then an army of public servants has set about implementing them.

And while that may have been necessary in short sharp bursts during times of crisis, over the long term this approach has left many New Zealanders feeling steamrollered, confused and alone.

Prime Minister Ardern has made it plain that her Government knows best, that Wellington is the centre of the universe, and that there is little that she won’t centralise.

What this serves to do is alienate a great number of Kiwis.

Never in my life have I seen the division and the splitting of communities that this Labour Government has stoked. At times the anger is palpable.

The Prime Minister persists with using the phrase “Team of 5 million”. But only someone wilfully putting their head in the sand could be blind to the dysfunction of this so-called team.

And the gaps are widening. New Zealand is divided because the things we once all thought were what New Zealand stood for have been tossed out the window. They are being contested, leading to unfair outcomes.

There are the haves and the have nots. The gaps have widened and we have watched while these huge divisions have emerged.

Kiwis overseas

For a start, the Prime Minister is excluding the million Kiwis who are currently living or working overseas. The so-called ‘flightless Kiwis’.

We have all seen the callousness of this Government. We have our elderly superannuitants stuck in places like Australia and starting to get demands from the Ministry of Social Development to repay their super because they have been locked out of the country for more than 26 weeks.

They don’t feel like they are part of the team.

Then we have had the really cruel outcomes. We have families split apart because members can’t get through the ‘House of Misery’ called MIQ. They have been unable to see their loved ones before they die or even attend a funeral after it is too late. It is totally unreasonable that a person has to go on a hunger strike in order to see their dying father.

Is it any surprise they do not feel like they are part of the team?

Unlike the Government, the National Party believes that a Kiwi living abroad is no less a Kiwi than the day they boarded the plane.

Vaccinated and the unvaccinated

The division between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated – those that accept the mandates and those who do not – is evident outside these very walls today. Do the hundreds of protestors on Parliament’s lawns feel like part of the team? I don’t think so.

There are those that would like NZ to remain closed to prevent the spread of Covid and ensure our health systems aren’t overrun and death rates to soar. Others want to open the borders for trade and immigration to boost the economy, reinvigorate tourism and get businesses back on their feet.

There are those working from their home offices calling for greater restrictions while hard-working Kiwis are going out to work every day in our supermarkets, petrol stations, and hospitals.

But when the Government “centralises” – sorry forcibly takes – rapid antigen tests that forward-thinking Kiwi businesses ordered while ministers were still quibbling about if we should use them ...

And when Sir Ian Taylor has to speak in the media because New Zealand businesses are too scared to criticise the Government ...

Is it any surprise people do not feel like they are part of the team?

Workers vs those on benefits

Then there are those who work and those on benefits. Why is it that there are about 187,000 people on the Jobseeker benefit when many businesses are crying out for help? What is the Government doing to support these people back into work?

Instead, we have a Government that is in the business of growing benefit dependency. One in nine working-age Kiwis are currently dependent on the state for an income. This is not kindness. It is shameful.

Is it any surprise these Kiwis do not feel like they are part of the team?

Old vs young

Then we come to the old and the young. The elderly are fearful that they will get Covid, but mainly they are angry.

Many can’t understand Te Reo and feel threatened and disrespected because they can’t. They don’t know how to use a computer well, are confused by robots on the end of an 0800 number, and worry about internet banking.

On the other hand, the young are angry at the older generation. They feel they are ruining our planet and not embracing climate change faster – at a time when the Government is importing record amounts of coal from Indonesia. They are upset that they will never own their own home because they have been priced out of the market by older investors.

Is it any surprise these Kiwis do not feel like they are part of the team?

Property owners and renters

Talking of property, a Government’s cocktail of policies is locking younger generations out of home ownership.

New banking regulations are making it harder for people to get a mortgage. Interest rates will keep on increasing as a result of huge jumps in inflation, and new proposed DTI levels – that Grant Robertson has allowed the Reserve Bank to investigate – will make it much harder for first-home buyers.

Weekly rents are up $125 since 2017. Almost 25,000 people are on the waiting list for a state house – that’s a fourfold increase in four years. Yet Kāinga Ora has removed more homes that it has built in the last six months.

And let’s not mention KiwiBuild, when the Prime Minister proudly promised to build 100,000 new houses in 10 years – a dubious pledge that the Government later had to recant.

Kiwis can’t even afford to build their own home any longer. In 2020, the national average cost per square metre to build a house was $2359. Some builders are estimating this is now heading towards $3500 per square metre. And building supply companies are telling customers to expect more price increases over coming months.

Is it any surprise these Kiwis do not feel like they are part of the team?

Urban vs rural

Then there’s the divide between city dwellers and rural communities.

Urban dwellers are blaming farmers for the poor water quality, while farmers blame urban development that leads to sediment runoff and poor council-owned sewage treatment systems that foul our waterways and beaches.

And don’t get me started on the regulations and condemnations being rained down on our farmers.

Is it any surprise these Kiwis do not feel like they are part of the team?

Respect/disrespect of the law

A really worrying divide is between those that respect the law of the land and those that don’t. Hundreds of law-abiding gun owners turned in their outlawed rifles and handguns, while the gangs held on to theirs.

Witness the rise of firearms incidents: dairy owners terrified by armed holdups, and the wilful shooting of police officers. Even our emergency service personnel are no longer respected.

Maori and non-Maori

We’re also seeing a growing divide by race. Proposals like the three waters have done untold damage because many people see them as a takeover of assets built up by generations of New Zealanders and the uncertain role of Maori in the management and ownership of these assets.

Rather than being open and taking New Zealanders along with them, what we have is a Government that has been less than transparent, with discussions held behind closed doors.

Small businesses

Finally, there are the many small business owners who have been prevented from trading due to Government-imposed lockdowns. In the meantime, massive multi-nationals have hoovered up their customers and trade.

These people are crying out for help. Yesterday I received this email:

I own a retail business nationwide employing approx. 100 staff both full and part time. Like many others, I am very concerned a solid business with a long history is under increasing pressure from the current Covid settings in NZ. With the fear created and instruction from government, foot traffic in city centres is alarmingly down, meaning our formerly profitable businesses are getting to a stage where it is not viable. No Government support either this time.

What’s the Government’s answer? Another minimum wage increase – a frightening thought for all independent hospitality and retail businesses – all while gathering restrictions are in place, with the spectre looming of staff being absent if they are deemed a close contact.

Is it any surprise these small business owners do not feel like they are part of the team?

The need for leadership

All of the Government’s grand announcements mean little while they continue to drive a wedge between us.

New Zealand needs leadership that unifies us so that we can tackle the considerable challenges ahead together.

National doesn’t believe in dividing Kiwis with a “we know best” attitude.

National believes in personal responsibility and improving equality through opportunities. National trusts Kiwis and works with businesses.

We need a Government that listens to those who are hurting, those who are losing their homes, and those who are losing hope.

As Christopher Luxon has said, we are first and foremost New Zealanders and we believe we are one country.

We need a Government that values everyone and where everyone has a sense of what is right.

Unfortunately, under four years of Labour, we have a country that is fracturing.