Speech to Labour Party conference

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Speech notes for keynote address to the New Zealand Labour Party Annual Conference. Bruce Mason Centre, North Shore, Auckland

It’s great to be back at the Bruce Mason Centre in North Shore City for the annual conference of the New Zealand Labour Party.

I was in Albany, further north on the Shore, just two days ago, for the official opening of a new mega shopping complex.

The investment there was a $210 million vote of confidence in the local economy.

That investment was made because there is optimism and growth on the North Shore of Auckland.

And similar confidence is being expressed by business large and small and by households across New Zealand.

During close to eight years of Labour-led governments, New Zealand has turned the corner.

During that long run, we have delivered remarkable gains for New Zealanders – and we’re proud to have done so.

We’ve led on transforming the economy.

We’ve led on rebuilding social policy and essential public services.

We’ve led on building New Zealand’s identity as an inclusive nation projecting its values of peace, reconciliation, and social cohesion to the world.

And now we are leading on sustainability.

We are the first nation on earth to see the light every day.

At this conference last year, I set out the challenge for New Zealand to become the first nation on earth to be truly sustainable.

In that sense too we can be the first nation to see the light.

In the past year we’ve taken big bold steps in that direction – and they’re attracting attention around the world.

But the really good news is that they’re striking a big chord at home too.

Our people believe in sustainability. And through steps at every level of our society they’re doing something about it.

Our children at school learn about the importance of recycling and living in harmony with the environment.

Our families are looking for what they can do to lower their power bills and minimise their waste.

Among our businesses we have fantastic examples of leadership from the smallest to the largest.

•Air New Zealand is trialling biofuels.
•The wine industry wants all its businesses in accredited sustainability schemes by 2012.
•Sustainability is at the core of the new tourism industry strategy I’m launching next week.
•Our agricultural industries are supporting the research and innovation which will help lower their greenhouse gas emissions.

Just last week at the Registered Master Builders’ Awards I saw two fantastic examples of leadership.

The first was from the main sponsor, Placemakers, which announced a recycling scheme with EnviroPaints for left over paint to stop it going to the dump.

Together they will take thousands of litres of paint out of the waste stream every year, so that it doesn’t seep into the water table and damage our water quality and environment.

The second was from the inspirational Nelson builder who won the show home award for the sustainable home he had built.

Sustainability is an issue whose time has come – and we in government are giving leadership and support to everyone in our small nation who wants to help.

And that’s most of us.

New Zealanders don’t want us just to be fast followers – they want our country to lead.

Just as New Zealand led the world on :

•Votes for women,
•Social security and,
•Workers’ rights for most of our history ;

Just as New Zealand has led on reconciliation of injustices going back to the time of colonisation ;

Just as New Zealand has led the world by being nuclear free and supporting peaceful conflict resolution ;

So we now lead on the journey towards being a truly sustainable and carbon neutral nation.

We are the first nation to see the light.

Six weeks ago I launched our proposal for an emissions trading scheme for New Zealand – across all sectors and all greenhouse gases.

That’s world leading.

Others have schemes – but they don’t include all gases.

The EU scheme only covers around thirty per cent of their emissions of greenhouse gases.

Yet it isn’t credible for us or anyone else to exclude the pastoral agricultural gases – for us they are 49 per cent of our emissions profile, and they’re not insignificant for others.

We will be world leaders in finding the answers to reducing those pastoral emissions.

Already our brilliant scientists have found ways of cutting the nitrous oxide emissions – and how to increase on-farm productivity by doing so.

Our world leadership on emissions trading has seen us invited into the International Carbon Action Partnership – alongside Britain, Germany, and other European nations, and states within the United States.

That’s fantastic recognition of the part our small nation can play in developing the important carbon trading markets of the future.

And it’s recognition of our leadership role on carbon neutrality.

•By 2025 we will have ninety per cent of our electricity generated from renewable sources.
•By then our electricity sector will be carbon neutral.
•By 2030 our whole stationary energy sector can be carbon neutral.
•By 2040 we can reduce our per capita emissions from transport by half, and be carbon neutral in that sector too.

These are phenomenal steps forward for New Zealand – and I thank every single Kiwi and Kiwi company and organisation which has been prepared to act.

Eighty five per cent of New Zealanders surveyed said they want the government to act on climate change.

That’s an overwhelming mandate.

That’s why I know that we New Zealanders will pick up the sustainability challenge and make it part of our nation’s unique identity and personality.

Being sustainable will be integral to being a New Zealander.

This is but one of many areas where our Labour-led Government has given strong leadership.

We haven’t sat around and relied on pure market forces to run the economy.

We are leading the transformation which has to happen.

It’s no accident that our country is enjoying the second longest run of economic growth since the Second World War.

It’s no accident that a third of a million more Kiwis are in work.

It’s no accident that New Zealand’s average growth rate over our first seven and a half years in government is greater than Australia’s, Britain’s, America’s, Japan’s, the EU’s, and the OECD’s.

It’s no accident that our unemployment rate at 3.6 per cent is among the lowest in the OECD.

Under Labour, New Zealand has a plan – to lift the value of the economy, to drive our innovation forward, to upskill our workplace, and to embrace world markets as our markets.

Our plan sees us working collaboratively with all stakeholders – across business and unions, local government, iwi and community, education and science.

Forget the politics – Labour does what works for New Zealand.

We will work with anyone to take our country ahead.

Look at the achievements on upskilling – the numbers of trainees in industry have almost doubled on our watch, and apprenticeships for young people are becoming a career of choice.

We’ve achieved that with the full and willing support of both unions and employers.

And I believe business will help deliver the goods for New Zealand with the support of the big tax breaks in this year’s Budget.

The cut in the company tax rate, the incentives for R & D, the grants for exporters – all these empower Kiwi entrepreneurs to help drive our country’s prosperity.

We are committed to working collaboratively to make that happen.

And we’ve got more plans to drive economic transformation.

This week’s Cabinet reshuffle created in effect a Minister of Innovation.

Pete Hodgson is Minister of Economic Development, Tertiary Education, and Research, Science and Technology.

Bringing these hugely important areas together under one Minister is a statement of how critical education, science, and research are to building a strong sustainable economy for the long term.

On skills, we need to step up to an even higher level.

Recent international research suggests that only around half our current workforce has the education and skills needed to function fully in a knowledge economy.

We have to break out of the mould of the low value, low wage, low productivity economy by using our brains and developing our talents.

We’ve virtually eliminated youth unemployment – but now we must look at what jobs our young people are leaving school competent to do.

The age to which young people should be required to be in formal education or training, boosting the level of their achievement while in it, and how to upskill the existing work force are all under consideration for the new plan we are developing for the next stage of New Zealand’s economic transformation.

And so is the faster roll out of high speed, competitively priced broadband.

We’ve made the big changes in policy and regulation, but we can and must do more.

Watch our major Digital Future Summit in late November for more fresh thinking in this area.

Our commitment to better ICT infrastructure is just one part of our huge commitment to infrastructure overall – including energy and transport.

Unprecedented levels of government funding are going into rail, roading, and public transport.

That’s especially important for Auckland – which has to be a major driver of New Zealand’s economic development.

But it can’t drive if it’s gridlocked and dysfunctional.

That’s why we want a fresh look taken at Auckland’s governance.

That’s an idea whose time has come too.

Few believe Auckland can carry on as it is with the current level of fragmented decisionmaking – I certainly don’t. Some suggest the same may apply to other metro regions too.

Labour has led by setting up the serious and weighty Royal Commission on Auckland Governance.

Its announcement and personnel have been well received.

I look forward to their report – and to change which can be implemented before the 2010 local elections to help make Auckland a truly great international city.

Labour’s plan for the future rests on strong social policy too.

Our people need to have the abilities, the competencies, and the security to give them real choices in their lives.

New Zealand today is a land of opportunity.

Our country’s stronger economy is delivering more opportunity.

People’s aspirations are rising.

Our job is to support people having the skills and support they need to :

•make those choices
•reach those aspirations, and
•grasp those opportunities.

That’s why getting our children off to the best start in life is so important – through :

•paid parental leave which enables our working parents to have more time with their new baby,
•four weeks holiday so more time can be spent with family,
•Working for Families tax credits which have delivered big dollars into hundreds of thousands of family budgets,
•eligibility for twenty hours free early childhood education for three and four year olds – saving families a lot of money, and preparing our children for the future,
•the smaller class sizes for new entrants at school – starting next year,
•the affordable doctor’s fees and prescriptions – a stitch in time always saves nine in health.

And let no one say we have a failing health system. Any of us who have experienced critical illness in our families knows that our health system spins wheels to do the very best it can, and that overwhelmingly its service is worldclass. Our thanks are due to the dedicated people who staff our public health system at every level for everything they do for us.

Our government has virtually doubled health spending in nominal terms. I’m proud of that, and I’m proud that our nurses, along with our country’s low paid workers in public hospitals and elder care are getting better pay as a result of our efforts.

Then there’s the importance of secure, warm, and affordable homes for our people – young and old.

Labour led on the return of income-related rents for state houses.

Labour’s led on helping families buy their first home – more than 3,000 have picked up the Welcome Home loans for first home owners.

We will lead next year with the launch of Shared Equity.

We are leading on affordable housing with the groundbreaking development of housing at Hobsonville with thirty per cent of sections set aside for such homes.

And we will this year introduce legislation giving our councils clear powers to require either affordable housing as part of developments or a contribution towards it.

So many things have been done to ease pressure on our families through many policies – and near full employment has helped.

The benefits have been spread to every community, including by bringing new hope to Maoridom, our Pacific communities, and our other fast growing ethnic communities.

The benefits have included a hand up for all those wishing to save for retirement. KiwiSaver with its mandatory employer contribution and the personal tax credit for savers has been a runaway success.

Within its first three months more than 200,000 New Zealanders had joined KiwiSaver, with the take up exceeding expectations.

This tells us that Kiwis know the importance of saving – and given half a chance to invest in a credible scheme with an employer contribution and a tax break, our people will save.

Just think how large our nation’s pool of savings would have been today if the Muldoon National Government hadn’t destroyed Norm Kirk’s savings scheme in the 1970s

Collective wage bargaining, higher skills, and greater productivity remain the keys to the size of the pay packet for most people in the workforce.

Everyone looks for and is entitled to expect a dividend from a stronger economy and from the efforts they make themselves to upskill.

Government finances benefit too when our economy grows and strengthens.

Our big priority has been to reinvest in the basics – like our health and education services, our support for families and superannuitants, our police and prisons.

Remember how run down every single area of public provision was when we were elected almost eight years ago.

But along the way we’ve also funded tax cuts – worth $2.5 billion per annum as of April last year, rising to $4 billion per annum from 1 April 2008.

The National Party’s voted against every single dollar of those tax cuts for families, for business, and for savers.

Their only policy is tax cuts – but they never vote for them.

Over the years we’ve been in government, Labour has been blessed, or is it cursed, with rising surpluses.

Every year officials have sought to explain them away by one off factors. Now they concede that the surpluses are structural.

They have to be – eight years of growth can’t be just good luck based on one offs.

So that gives Labour more choices – not to break the bank and sacrifice our country’s stability, but to deliver Budgets which continue to strengthen the economy and services, and deliver hard working New Zealanders a direct dividend through a personal tax cut.

That will happen under Labour.

It will happen under Michael Cullen who has built the economy up so it can happen.

It will happen in a way which is fair.

It will happen because the time is right and the money is there to do it without cutting services, and without borrowing for tax cuts.

And when it happens the National Party will be exposed as the one trick pony it is.

Because they don’t have a plan for the future – and they never have had.

They substitute market forces for leadership and policy.

New Zealand has only ever gone ahead because Labour-led or Labour-supported governments led our country into a new world.

That was true of the Liberals in the 1890s and early twentieth century.

It was true of Labour in the 1930s, 1940s, and late 1950s.

It was true of Labour in the seventies – and even in the benighted eighties when alongside dismantling our Albanian-style economy – albeit too far too fast – we also became nuclear free and introduced progressive social policy.

Since 1999 we’ve been a highly innovative government across all policy fields, leading on the issues.

And there’s so much more to do.

I’ve talked today of where policy on the economy needs to go.

I know we need to keep building our investment in health and education, and meet the new challenges there.

Look at the latest newspaper headlines about obesity or poor diet. Those factors not only condemn our people to diabetes and heart disease ; they are also driving up cancer rates. We owe it to present and future generations of our people to give them the chance and the choice to live healthier lives.

Look at the international breakthrough on cervical cancer – a vaccine is now available against the human papilloma virus, and trials show it can prevent at least seventy per cent of cervical cancers.

Britain’s Labour Government has just announced routine immunisation of all twelve and thirteen year old girls with the vaccine.

I am instructing the Ministry of Health to make haste on advising our government on these developments.

Where we can prevent deadly cancers, we should.

Where we can detect cancer early we should.

On crime, we’ve been successful in getting rates down to their lowest in over twenty years.

In the 2006/7 year, the crime rate fell again.

This must seem astounding news to the public who face a diet of sensational crime stories from news media because that’s believed to be good for ratings.

Let’s get this in perspective – no crime is acceptable, but we are not suffering from an unprecedented crime wave !

What we are experiencing is unprecedented high rates of imprisonment. Our big challenge is to support our police and judicial systems to implement more effective ways of dealing with lower risk offending – and some of the tools to do that were in the Criminal Justice Bill passed this year.

These are tough issues to lead on, but Labour does lead on them. I have full confidence in our new criminal justice team of Annette King, Phil Goff, and Clayton Cosgrove to build on the good work already done in this area.

And while we are talking about issues of crime and violence, let me refer to the arrests around firearms and other issues which have been dominating the headlines.

The police have been placed in the hot seat, but I totally defend their right to act when they believe public safety is imperilled. We employ police to make those operational judgements.

Whatever the outcome, there is a need for reflection by all of us. The mere thought of paramilitary training in the Ureweras by disaffected people of many ethnicities is abhorrent to us as a nation.

We need to be able to move forward from here in the spirit of reconciliation and inclusiveness which has largely characterised our modern nation – a nation which does face both the injustices of the past and the challenges of inclusion in a complex society of many ethnicities, cultures, and faiths.

I look forward to the work Michael Cullen will do on progressing historical Treaty settlements – many are now at an encouraging and critical stage.

Our leadership on reconciliation and inclusion brings New Zealand international recognition.

It has led to the development of a new strand in our foreign policy – through the contribution we are making to intercivilisation and interfaith dialogue.

It has supported our entry into closer relationships with our neighbourhoods in the Pacific and Asia – those nations see their peoples treated with dignity and included in New Zealand.

It has supported our role in international peacekeeping – our multicultural defence and police forces work well in troubled nations around the world.

New Zealand today is known as a nation of principle, a nation with values, a nation with a contribution to make on the great issues of our time.

Under Labour New Zealand is leading internationally ;

-on nuclear and other forms of disarmament,
-on sustainability
-on building relations across civilisations and faiths
-on peaceful conflict resolution,

and I’m proud to lead such a country.

I’m proud that we have the confidence to assert who and what we are.

I’m proud to see our unique national identity so eloquently expressed through all the creative arts.

And I’m proud to lead in bringing knowledge of our heritage to the fore.

A month ago with many other New Zealanders I stood at Passchendaele to honour those who fell there – more in a single day than in the whole Gallipoli campaign – and there was not just a single day at Passchendaele. There were many terrible days.

Those men must never be forgotten, nor those men and women who served abroad before and after.

Their sacrifice was one of the forces which shaped our nation, and made us the special people we are today.

My parents’ generation grew up between the shadows of two World Wars and the Great Depression.

They determined that our generation and those who follow us should have a better life. I am determined to honour that legacy and be part of building a better life for every New Zealander.

I will back our people in every endeavour – whether it be economic, social, or community, sporting, or creative.

I want our young people to see their future in New Zealand – and now, with Labour’s interest free student loans, many more do.

I have a great belief and faith in New Zealand and New Zealanders.

I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else.

I expect all my team to make the same level of commitment to New Zealanders.

We are elected to serve.

We don’t get it right every time, but it’s not for want of trying.

There’s an old saying : to err is human, to forgive is divine.

Well, Trevor is human, and I am not divine, but I do have a capacity to forgive in the greater interest, and in recognition of a colleague’s overall contribution.

I stand by my judgements.

That’s what leadership is about.

And leadership and a plan is what Labour offers New Zealand.

As you know I’ve just reshuffled the Cabinet.

We have farewelled as ministers people who have been very loyal and very staunch members of our team ; Steve Maharey, Mark Burton, and Dover Samuels.

We have new ministers – Steve Chadwick, Shane Jones, Maryan Street, and Darren Hughes.

We have big portfolio responsibilities in fresh hands – not least education with Chris Carter, health with David Cunliffe, and social development with Ruth Dyson. We have our Minister of Innovation in Pete Hodgson, and our strong justice team. We have others carrying on the important work they have been doing in other areas. We have the first Pacific Island woman Minister of Pacific Island Affairs – surely a matter for celebration.

Our party is in the midst of a major programme of renewal and recruitment.

I make no apologies for leading it.

We have the privilege of being a long term Labour government.

My message from the 2005 election on has been that we must make room for new people and new ideas so we can continue to offer the very best leadership for New Zealand.

Many new Labour MPs will be elected next year, and we will say goodbye to retiring members who have made an incredible contribution to our party, to our government, and to New Zealand.

The queue is long for selection and the contests will be intense – but I hope never bitter.

Because the ethos I have endeavoured to instil in our great party over fourteen years as leader is that we should be considerate of each other, banish factions, be inclusive, and recognise ability.

The discipline our party has shown both inside and outside Parliament for many years now makes me proud to be Labour leader.

I’m also proud to lead a party which has been able to work constructively with other parties to form a stable government. My thanks go to those who’ve been prepared to work with us – our confidence and supply partners, New Zealand First and United Future; our co-operation agreement partner, the Green Party; and also the Maori Party for the support for some key legislation which they have offered.

Next year we face a great challenge.

We’ve been a strong and successful government, but it’s true we haven’t solved every problem. Nobody can.

The question I ask is : do New Zealanders want change – or do they want leadership, commitment, and continual improvement.

We know what a change of government would bring ; not least :

•privatisation,
•private education favoured over public,
•threats to New Zealand Super and KiwiSaver.
•Australian style industrial relations,
•American style private health care,
•A dependent foreign policy – not an independent one,
•Social polarisation and marginalisation of minorities of all kinds.

Forewarned is forearmed !

I will lead Labour into the next election because I believe in what we are doing.

I believe New Zealand is a stronger, better place because of us.

I have a total commitment to strengthening the economy, supporting our families, funding the very best education and health systems possible, supporting older New Zealanders, supporting the Maori renaissance which is such a strength to our country, and valuing the contribution of Pasifika, Asian, and all other peoples who now call New Zealand home.

I know the whole Labour team shares my commitment.

We have a plan for New Zealand; we are optimistic about the future; we are leading New Zealand towards that future.

With your support, and from the strong base of support we continue to enjoy, we will be able to carry on our work for all New Zealanders.