Blue Libs

Earlier this month there was a packed room for a Blue Libs meeting, with guest speakers being Hon Hugh Templeton, MP Chris Finlayson, Businesswoman Claire Drake and Anna Nuzum.

Hugh put forward the proposition that NZ for its entire 150 year history has been a liberal country with liberal leaders, differing only in degrees. Being the first country to give women, the vote, signing the Treaty etc. I found it interesting, but wasn’t convinced myself that Muldoon was a liberal of any stripe.

Chris Finlayson asked whether could be liberal, He points to a rich tradition from inception, but says the Moyle incident in the late 70s was the start of a decline as National disconnected from urban liberal NZ especially. To define liberalism Chris rejected the US definitions and pointed to the UK and the legendary contests between Disraeli and Gladstone.

Claire Drake spoke on the challenges of being a young feminist and in National. At the 1975 United Women’s Convention she was told You can’t be a feminist unless you are a socialist” – advice luckily she ignored. Claire also spoke on how she supports much of what ACT promotes but she supports National as the place where one can most influence government. She also usefully reminded us that core NZ Labour principles remain “To ensure the just distribution of the production and services of the nation for the benefit of all people” and “To educate the public in the principles and objectives of democratic socialism and economic and social cooperation”.

The highlight for me was the speech from Anna Nuzum. Anna provided some fairly blunt criticisms of National’s record to date:

“For politicians – victory and defeat come on election night. For people who believe in ideas, victory and defeat come with each piece of legislation passed into law.”

As liberals here today – we are people who believe in ideas. I’m going to speak about how as a young person, I find liberalism relevant to me.

When National started hemorrhaging votes – we ran to the centre. Not the nice, liberal centre, but the easy votes of the socially conservative centre. We’ve appealed to ‘the base’. The moral conservatives, farmers, businesspeople, and even those who would make New Zealand a mono-cultural society. When National starts losing votes – politics beats principle.

At first impressions – sure, let’s ban the gang patches. They don’t add anything to society right? Violence, drugs, intimidation… But the thing is, if we don’t stand up for principles here, we set a precedent. Next comes skin heads – they’re tied to racism – and all of a sudden the haircut police are patrolling the nation’s streets.

Every time the government interferes with people’s lives – they disempower communities, and people lose a little more independence. They become a little less themselves, and more part of a sterile, neutered, society…or no society at all.

Now, I’ve been asked so many times recently about how National (and I) can be liberal and still support, for example, Jacqui Dean’s stance in banning party pills – and for myself at least the answer is: you can’t, and I don’t.

Do not assume that because caucus supports it, that it somehow then becomes every National Party member’s opinion. Many of us – particularly those of us who actually have seen or used a party pill have absolutely no problem with party pills,

As a liberal, applying the longstanding National principles of personal responsibility and respect for the choices of the individual – there are no grounds for banning the pills. If we applied the same level of scrutiny to cigarettes and alcohol that have recently been applied to party pills I think you’d find both of them would far exceed party pills in terms of harm to individuals.

To see any potential for harm and decide to ban it altogether is such a blunt instrument, and in this case is incredibly arbitrary. If I applied the same reasoning – I could solve the road toll in New Zealand. We would be free of that lovely advertisement with the happy family smashing into the power poles; we wouldn’t need any more policemen coming to teach kids about crossing the roads, there would be no more traffic police.

I would just ban cars. Road toll solved, no deaths – no problem.

Another issue that should be close to the hearts of any liberal wing is the failure to recognize Maori customary title to what in reality will be tiny stretches of foreshore and seabed; the line instead being that the beaches belong to “us”.

I’m still not sure who was meant by “us”.

To then join Federated Farmers in their outraged stance about public access over farmland infringing property rights whilst Maori customary rights are ignored just isn’t consistent to me. I agree about property rights. But I want them enforced for everyone. I want National to take the right stance over the expedient one. National has to explain to the public why when you protect a right for someone, it in turn protects your rights. “Property Rights Karma.”

I was born in February of 1986. I am 21 years old. I don’t remember Muldoon. I don’t remember a time when homosexuality was illegal; I’ve never had to fight for women’s rights. I don’t even remember an alternative to MMP.

The issues that face New Zealand youth today are different. We are not going to get caught up over the same issues that have polarized New Zealand in recent years. My class at intermediate was half Maori, a quarter recent immigrants, and a quarter pakeha. Young people today are used to a multicultural New Zealand. We have never known it any other way. The ‘Winston Peters’ attitude towards immigration isn’t relevant to us.

So can National be liberal? Yes. Keeping National’s liberal roots is incredibly important to me – should be to all members and supporters of this Party. We need liberals in National, and we need them to speak up. Property rights, individual responsibility, giving power back to communities – these are important values worth protecting.

I’ve quoted a lot, because there is so much good stuff there. It’s not all critical of course, and Anna also speaks of her support for National on lower taxes, free trade, better rewards for entrepreneurs and less state control of the economy.

The next Blue Libs seminar is in June on “The Role of Government” and “National Identity”. The third seminar in October will be on “Property Rights”.

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