Don Brash

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Parl. Electorate List Pos. Party
47th List 5 National
48th List resigned National
Dr Donald Thomas Brash (born 24 September 1940), New Zealand politician, served as the Leader of the Opposition and parliamentary leader of the National Party, the country's main opposition party from 28 October 2003 to 27 November 2006. Before entering politics, Brash served as Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand for a period of fourteen years.

At the New Zealand general election on 17 September 2005, National under Brash's leadership made major gains, and achieved the party's best result under the new MMP electoral system, compared to their worst result ever in 2002 under the leadership of his predecessor, Bill English. It took nearly one month of negotiations by the two major parties (Labour and National) with minor parties for a government to be formed. Final results placed National two seats behind the incumbent New Zealand Labour Party, with National unable to secure a majority from the minor parties to enable a National-led government to be formed.

In late November 2006 Brash resigned as leader of the National party and then a week later resigned from parliament.


[edit] Early life

Born in Wanganui, the son of a Protestant minister, Brash moved with his family to Christchurch at the age of six. He attended Christchurch Boys' High School and the University of Canterbury where he graduated in economics, history and political science. He then continued his studies in economics, receiving his master's degree in 1961. The following year he began working towards a Ph.D. at the Australian National University.

In 1966, Brash went to Washington to work as an economist for the World Bank. In 1971, however, he returned to New Zealand to serve as the general manager of Broadbank Corporation, a merchant bank.

Brash's first entry into politics came in 1980 when the National Party selected him to stand as its candidate in the by-election in the East Coast Bays electorate. Brash's attempt at the seat, however, failed — some believe that this resulted from the decision by Robert Muldoon, National Party Prime Minister, to raise tolls on the Auckland Harbour Bridge, an important route for East Coast Bays residents. The seat went to Gary Knapp of the Social Credit Party. Brash again failed to win the seat at the general election of 1981.

In 1982 Brash became managing director at the New Zealand Kiwifruit Authority, which oversaw the export of kiwifruit (he still grows kiwifruit as a hobby). About this time he started a relationship with his Singaporean secretary Je Lan, although they were both married at the time. Eventually he separated from his first wife Erica and later married Je Lan. In 1986, he became general manager of Trust Bank, a newly-established banking group.

[edit] Reserve Bank Governor

In 1988 Brash became Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, a position which he held for the next 14 years. Most commentators praised his performance in this position. Others said that Brash paid too much attention to the strict control of inflation - though the Reserve Bank legislation and policy targets specifically establish price stability (i.e. low inflation) as the Bank's primary goal - leading to increasing unemployment as a result. Other critics argue that his management of monetary policy contributed to an excessively strong exchange-rate during the mid-1990s. However, Brash consistently met Government targets to keep inflation within 3% during his time as Governor, and during his tenure interest rates dropped from double digit to single digit percentages.

Aside from monetary policy, Brash presided over significant changes in banking supervision, with the New Zealand approach emphasising public disclosure by banks regarding the nature of their assets and liabilities. Under his Governorship, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand became the first central bank in the world to be independent of direct Government control. The Reserve Bank Act 1989 established a contractual relationship (based on price stability targets) between the Bank and the Government, rather than direct control by Ministers of Finance.

Major changes also took place in the currency used in New Zealand during Brash's tenure, notably the introduction of polymer bank notes, and the replacement of Queen Elizabeth's face on most of the bank notes. Many bank notes in circulation as of 2006 still carry the signature of Brash from his term as Governor.

[edit] Entering politics

On 26 April 2002, shortly before the general election, Brash resigned as Reserve Bank Governor to stand once more as a National Party List candidate for Parliament. The Party ranked him in fifth place on its party list — exceptional treatment for a newcomer from outside the House of Representatives, and all but assuring him of a seat in Parliament. Most unusually among National candidates, he stood as a list candidate without running for an electorate seat. Though National had its worst performance ever, gaining only 21% of the vote, Brash entered Parliament to occupy a front bench seat for National.

Brash immediately became National's spokesman on finance. This placed him opposite the Labour Party's Michael Cullen, the Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister. Commentators generally praised Brash for his knowledge of economics, but expressed criticism of his inexperience in terms of political leadership.

In October 2003, Brash publicly challenged Bill English for the position of Parliamentary Leader of the National Party. English had gradually lost vital support from within the party, but Brash's victory in a leadership contest against English seemed by no means guaranteed. Brash's decision to make his challenge public caused considerable criticism, as party supporters perceived an open leadership dispute as highly damaging to the party's image. The challenge also appeared as a break with tradition, and according to critics, an indication of Brash's political naïveté.

Brash won a caucus vote on 28 October 2003, making him leader of the National Party Caucus and Leader of the Opposition after one year as a Member of Parliament. He remained National's finance spokesman, appointing newcomer John Key as his deputy spokesman, and eventually appointing Key the primary spokesman after a Caucus reshuffle in August 2004.

[edit] National Party Leader

On 27 January 2004 Brash delivered his first Orewa Speech on "Nationhood" at the Orewa Rotary Club, expressing opposition to perceived "Māori racial separatism" in New Zealand:

The topic I will focus on today is the dangerous drift towards racial separatism in New Zealand, and the development of the now entrenched Treaty grievance industry. We are one country with many peoples, not simply a society of Pākehā and Māori where the minority has a birthright to the upper hand, as the Labour Government seems to believe".[...]

Though the sentiments expressed in the Orewa speech differed little from established National Party views (as voiced previously by Bill English, for example), these comments quickly gave National an unprecedented boost in public opinion polls. National gained 17 percentage points in the February 2004 Colmar Brunton poll for Television New Zealand, taken shortly after Brash's Orewa speech. So startling was the turnaround that TVNZ instructed Colmar Brunton to double check the figures. It was the biggest single gain by a Party in a single poll in Colmar Brunton’s polling history. In the months that followed, changes of emphasis in Labour's policy agenda became apparent as Labour attempted to recoup the ground lost to National in the February poll.

Shortly after the delivery of this speech, the National Party Māori Affairs spokesperson Georgina Te Heuheu lost her portfolio due to a conflict over policy.

After the February peak, National suffered a steady decline in the public public opinion polls, leaving it 11 points behind Labour at the end of 2004. Some commentators put this down to Brash's lack of national media exposure while he had embarked on an extensive rural and provincial travel programme, regularly taking him away from the main centres. Others criticised him for vagueness on other areas of policy and alleged a series of policy "flip-flops" by National.

In 2004, following a political speech given by the Prime Minister inside the Christchurch Cathedral, Brash wrote to the Dean of the Cathedral, Peter Beck. In his letter he criticised Helen Clark's use of a church venue for delivering a political speech, and he raised questions over her views on religion and the institution of marriage. After Clark retaliated, Brash apologised for any offence that his comments had caused to her.

On 25 January 2005 Brash made his third speech to the Orewa Rotary Club (his first was in the final week of January 2003, while still National's finance spokesman). This time Brash's focus for his speech was "Welfare Dependency: Whatever Happened to Personal Responsibility?" Brash pledged to reduce the number of working-age beneficiaries from the current figure of 300,000 to 200,000 over ten years, and he dedicated a significant part of his speech to the Domestic Purposes Benefit. At the time approximately 109,000 single parents were receiving the DPB, costing taxpayers about $1.5 billion a year. He noted that since the inception of the DPB in 1974, the population of New Zealand had increased by 30% while the numbers receiving the DPB had increased almost nine-fold. Brash used the speech to highlight his views on both the fiscal and social costs of entrenched welfare dependency:

How can we tolerate a welfare system which allows children to grow up in a household where the parents are permanently dependent on a welfare benefit? Our welfare system is contributing to the creation of a generation of children condemned to a lifetime of deprivation, with limited education, without life skills, and without the most precious inheritance from their parents, a sense of ambition or aspiration. Nothing can be more destructive of self esteem.

Brash proposed a number of ways to reduce welfare dependency and refocus the DPB back to its original intent of giving aid to single parent families in need or in danger. These proposals included enforcing child support payments from absent fathers, requiring single parents to work or perform community services once their children reached school age, and introducing penalties for women seeking the DPB who refused to name the father of their child. He also acknowledged adoption as an acceptable option, particularly for teenage girls, and drew attention to the growth in numbers of single mother's giving birth to additional children while already receiving the single parent DPB benefit.

Some elements of the speech put his Social Welfare spokesperson, Katherine Rich, at odds with Brash and the majority of the National Party Caucus, and she lost her portfolio to National MP Judith Collins in a Caucus reshuffle that followed.

In early 2005 Penguin published Brash: A Biography authored by Paul Goldsmith.

[edit] Five main priorities

On 5 November 2003, shortly after becoming leader of the National Party, Brash released his five main policy priorities:

  1. Dealing with declining New Zealand incomes and the gap in standards of living between New Zealand and Australia
  2. Education, specifically the number of young adults leaving school with poor literacy and numeracy skills
  3. Decreasing dependency on welfare
  4. Security, including domestic law and order and external defence policy.
  5. Ending the drift towards racial separatism in New Zealand, and the need to treat all New Zealanders equally before the law.

[edit] Views on race relations

Since the Orewa Speech, Brash's public statements on race relations have received significant attention, both in the mainstream media and online. During the 2005 election campaign, he criticised the use of powhiri in welcoming international visitors:
I mean, I think there is a place for Maori culture but why is it that we always use a semi-naked male, sometimes quite pale-skinned Maori, leaping around in, you know, mock battle? <ref name=powhiri> Crewdson, Patrick, Amanda Spratt. "Too much culture, says Brash", Herald on Sunday, APN, 4 September 2005. Retrieved on 28 September 2006. (in English)</ref>
In September 2006, he stated that:
There are clearly many New Zealanders who do see themselves as distinctly and distinctively Maori - but it is also clear there are few, if any, fully Maori left here. There has been a lot of intermarriage and that has been welcome.<ref name=full>Stokes, Jon. "Brash outrages Maori by questioning their identity", New Zealand Herald, APN, 25 September 2006. Retrieved on 28 September 2006. (in English)</ref>
These comments have received a negative response from other political leaders, who argue that focussing on blood quantum is divisive and harks back to racist laws, and that it is more appropriate for Maori themselves to determine how to define themselves.<ref name=Sharples>Dr Pita Sharples (27 September 2006). Orewa Rotary Club Speech. Press release. Retrieved on 28 September 2006.</ref>

Brash has questioned whether Māori were still a distinct indigenous group because few "full-blooded" individuals remain. This drew criticism from a range of his adversaries including Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia who cancelled a dinner with him in protest. In a statement to explain his position on 30 September 2006, Brash said that the Government has no responsibility to address the over-representation of Māori in negative social statistics. "If Māori New Zealanders die more frequently from lung cancer than non-Māori do, for example, it is almost certainly because Māori New Zealanders choose to smoke more heavily than other New Zealanders do".<ref name=Brash>Berry, Ruth. "Brash stirs up Maori 'storm'", New Zealand Herald, APN, 30 September 2006. Retrieved on 30 September 2006. (in English)</ref> It was later reported that Turia and her party colleagues had rescheduled their dinner with Brash.

The race relations debate has taken on a heightened interest as political polls indicate that support from the Maori Party may be necessary in order for the National Party to govern in the future.<ref name=Turia>Berry, Ruth. "Turia 'won't waste time' on Brash", New Zealand Herald, APN, 28 September 2006. Retrieved on 28 September 2006. (in English)</ref>

[edit] 2005 General Election

In July 2005, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced that a General Election would take place on 17 September. At that time Brash and the National Party led by a slim margin in the opinion polls. But by mid-August both Brash and National had declined in popularity. Commentators attributed this trend to a series of announcements of new spending programs by Labour, and to confusion as to whether National could form a stable coalition government with New Zealand First and/or ACT New Zealand.

[edit] Brash's advertising strategy: Winning the Centre

The National Party advertising campaign aimed at rebutting arguments brought up by Labour about a variety of themes: Brash's stand on national security issues (he favours greater co-operation with traditional allies), his commitment to social security programmes (including healthcare), as well as his ideas on the perceived drift towards "racial separatism" dividing Māori from other New Zealanders. By far one of Brash's most significant and widely publicised policy announcements was to introduce tax cuts for working New Zealanders. Brash's party embarked on a targeted billboard advertising programme, which later won two advertising industry awards (post Election).

In his first party-political broadcast Brash mentioned a number of events in his life that he believed had attuned him to the political centre ground in New Zealand:

  • Registering as a conscientious objector at age 18
  • Serving as the patron of Amnesty International Freedom Foundation
  • Partipating in demonstrations against the racially-selected South African rugby team touring New Zealand (1981) and the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team touring South Africa without Māori team members.
  • His frugal approach, most famously washing his own laundry in his hotel room basin while on taxpayer-funded overseas trips as Governor of the Reserve Bank.
  • Voting for Labour in his early years.

[edit] The 2005 Campaign

On 22 August National unveiled its much-anticipated $3.9 billion dollar tax-cut policy. The first polling conducted after the announcement suggested that National gained some support with the announcement. However on the same day as the announcement Brash engaged in a televised debate with the Labour Party leader Helen Clark, where commentators argued that he had failed to sell the tax-cut message assertively enough. In response to questions over his assertiveness, Brash indicated that he had not countered Clark's rather confrontational style during the election debate because he did not think it polite to raise his voice and "shout" at women. This attracted criticism from some quarters: some voters saw it as patronising, while others argued that he had merely demonstrated courtesy.

On 27 August a series of stolen documents, including private emails, were published in a weekend newspaper showing that advice had been given to Brash during his leadership bid by members of the ACT party and the Business Round Table. Continuing leaks over following weeks were designed to cause the National leader embarrassment. Furthermore, confusion bedeviled National's potential coalition options: New Zealand First showed reluctance to reveal whether it would support National or Labour post-Election, whilst ACT (often referred to as National's natural coalition partner, due to the similarities in some of their policies) criticised National for not openly supporting ACT leader Rodney Hide's bid to win the electorate seat of Epsom. On 16 November 2006 Brash obtained a High Court injunction<ref name=Court>Copy of Court documents retrieved via Scoop news site (17 November 2006). High Court of New Zealand Interim Injunction & Related Orders. Press release. Retrieved on 17 November 2006.</ref> prohibiting the distribution or publication of the private emails that had been unlawfully taken from his computer, following ongoing rumours that a series of his personal emails would be published as a book by his opponents, and he again confirmed that a criminal investigation by the Police into the email theft was continuing.<ref name=Email>NZ National Party press release retrieved via Scoop news site (17 November 2006). Brash wins Court Order blocking email publication. Press release. Retrieved on 17 November 2006.</ref>

An anonymous pamphlet distributed by members of a Christian sect, the Exclusive Brethren, in early September caused further embarrassment for Brash when he initially denied National had anything to do with it. He later admitted that the Brethren had told him at a meeting some months earlier that they planned to run their own pamphlet campaign opposing the direction of the Labour Government. Brash has maintained his position that neither he nor his party had any part in the design or production of the pamphlets, and that it was the Exclusive Brethren's own initiative.

The General Election on 17 September produced a close result, with initial figures from rural areas favoring National (in accordance with tradition and previous patterns); but by the end of the evening Labour had won 40.7% of the vote to National's 39.6%. Following the counting of the special votes the gap widened, with Labour taking 41.1% of the vote to National's 39.1%. Dr Brash conceded defeat on 1 October after weeks of electoral uncertainty while the major parties sought to secure the support of minor coalition partners. Essentially National had failed to make up enough ground in the cities but swept the electoral votes in the provinces, clawing back a number of seats from Labour and unseating the long-serving MP for Tauranga and NZ First party leader, Winston Peters. Apart from in Auckland, National's support centred mainly in rural and provincial areas.

[edit] 2006

Don Brash took leave on 13 September 2006, to sort out marital troubles.<ref name=National>NZ National Party press release retrieved via Scoop news site (13 September 2006). Statement from Don Brash requesting privacy. Press release. Retrieved on 13 September 2006.</ref> Rumours of an extramarital affair also came to the public's attention around this date following a series of comments directed towards Brash by Labour MPs during Parliamentary Question Time, and after National MP Brian Connell allegedly confronted Brash in a caucus meeting about the rumours. Details were leaked to the press and in the weeks that followed the National Party's governing board suspended Connell's membership of the Party, effectively removing him from the National Party caucus.

On Saturday 23 September, Brash appeared on Television New Zealand's Agenda news programme, and acknowledged that he had met with Exclusive Brethren representatives after the 2005 New Zealand general election.

Since the election, Dr Brash had indicated his intention to remain the leader of the National Party and to contest the next election in that role. He received the unanimous endorsement of his Caucus and party board following the election, and overwhelming support from his party membership at their 2006 conference. Nevertheless, some political pundits expected a challenge to his leadership before the next scheduled General Election in 2008. Possible contenders included finance spokesman John Key, former leader Bill English, his current deputy leader Gerry Brownlee or ambitious frontbenchers like Simon Power and Judith Collins. All except Key are yet to rate in the main New Zealand opinion polls conducted to date. Asked by an interviewer for an article published in the United Kingdom on 18 November 2006 if he planned to remain leader of his party, "...the Clark Kent of Kiwi politics [Brash] turned to me and smiled gently. ‘That’s my intention,’..."<ref name=Spectator>Heath, Allister. "A Kiwi conservative's message for Dave", The Spectator UK, 18 November 2006. Retrieved on 18 November 2006. (in English)</ref>

[edit] Resignation

During a hastily called press conference on Thursday November 23, 2006, Don Brash announced his resignation as the National Party Leader, effective from November 27. This move had been foreshadowed by much speculation regarding his leadership, and the negative effect the publicity was having on his political party. This came to a crux after a book written by Nicky Hager containing leaked emails amongst other allegedly damaging revelations was due to be released to the public. This release of this book was delayed due to an injunction that had earlier been file by Brash with regard to the e-mails which he claimed were stolen, however he claimed he was not aware of and did not wish to stop the publication of the book. <ref name=resignation>"National leader Don Brash resigns".</ref> As part of his resignation announcement, he also announced he had cleared the way for the book's release by providing copies of his emails to Hager, and stated it had nothing to with his resignation.<ref>Brash stands down - ONE News, November 23, 2006 </ref>

Brash also stated that the publication of the book did not impact his decision to resign as National party leader. The book, The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception, details Brash's rise to power in the National Party as being assisted by an "informal network of people from the right of New Zealand politics", including a number of ACT members. It also documents that senior National Party figures, including Brash, knew of the Exclusive Brethren's pamphlet campaigns in May 2005, although Brash denied knowledge of this until August.<ref>Hager Book: What's in the leaked Brash emails</ref> <ref>Hager Book: Brash knew of Brethren campaign</ref> <ref>"Brash denies seeing May email despite release".</ref>

On Thursday 30 November 2006, just one week after resigning as leader of the party, Brash resigned from parliament. No official date was set but he stated he would not be back for the new year. <ref>"Don Quits Politics".</ref><ref>"Don Brash Gone".</ref>

[edit] Biography

  • Paul Goldsmith: Brash: A Biography: Auckland: Penguin: 2005: ISBN 0143019678
  • Nicky Hager: The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception: Nelson: Craig Potton: 2006: ISBN 187733362X

[edit] Notes


[edit] External links

[edit] Political offices

Political offices
Preceded by:
Bill English
Leader of the Opposition
2003 – 2006
Succeeded by:
John Key
Preceded by:
Bill English
Leader of the New Zealand National Party
2003 – 2006
Succeeded by:
John Key
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