Politics and the Social Democratic Project - Spch.
Hon Steve Maharey
Minister of Social Services and Employment
Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)
Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector
MP for Palmerston North
Social Democratic Project
Address to the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Labour
Regional Council Conference.
Waiariki Institute of Technology, Rotorua. 25 March 2000.
Check against delivery.
Let me at the outset thank you for the opportunity to meet and talk with you at your Regional Conference, and to congratulate you on the superb organisational effort within this region that contributed so much to the 1999 election result.
What a difference it makes to be in Government.
What a privilege and a pleasure it is to be in a Government led by an individual who brings intellect and integrity to the office and to the process of government.
What a pleasure it is to be a Minister in a Government that has done so much in its first 100 plus days in office.
What a pleasure it is to be part of a Government that sees itself as a vehicle to realise the historic mission of its Party.
What a pleasure it will be to state with pride that we were part of the Fifth Labour led Government, and that we were members of a Party and a Government headed by one of the truly great Labour Prime Ministers.
Your conference is soon to break up into a series of workshops organised around the theme of partnership:
Our Coalition partners
Tangata Whenua partnerships
Communication for partnership
Today I want to talk about what partnership means in the context of our mission as a Social Democratic Party.
I want to spend the time talking about political ideas and ideology.
I am acutely aware of the danger of selecting a topic such as this – there is something in the New Zealand political culture that resists ideology as such, and I sense that in our own party we have, and I might add for largely understandable reasons, an aversion to ideology and a preference for doing the business. The electorate has heard us talk the talk, and now they expect us to walk the talk.
Those of us who have been Party members for some time have other reasons for being wary of ideology. Some would say that those who drove some of the more extreme elements of the neo-liberal prescription within the Fourth Labour Government did so from a clear ideological position.
Moreover they assumed that the problem was never with the ideology or the theory, it was just that the real world had this terrible propensity to act in a counter-theoretical fashion.
And after too many years in which politics and public policy have been the hostage of ideology the people who put us into office might legitimately say - "get on with growing the economy, fixing up the education and health systems, dealing to the outstanding Treaty issues …"
But it is important for us as a Party to make the connection between ideas and action, between principles and policy – to articulate a shared world-view, and to articulate a well grounded vision of where we want to take our country.
At one level some might say, "what's the point – we know what we stand for – we stand for social justice", or "we stand for the rights of working people" – and that's right, as far as it goes.
But I would stress the need for us to have a comprehensive and consistent frame-work for our project as a Party and a government.
And I would stress the importance of taking the time to share our individual views – as Party members, activists, Members of Parliament - about why we are in politics, and what we hope to achieve. In other words we should spell out our mission as a Party.
Of course we have our manifesto, and we have the core commitments or pledges which were so very important in building that personal relationship between Helen and the electorate during the election campaign.
I am absolutely certain that our commitment to the core pledges, and our resolute performance as a Government in delivering on the 100 day programme that Helen identified at the Wellington pre-election rally have gone a very long way towards restoring a sense of trust, a sense that there is accountability, and that manifesto 'commitments' are not made to be broken, or drafted to be so platitudinous that they allow any one to read anything at all into them.
I am pleased that as a Party we no longer draft policy with a view to being able to drive bus-size holes through it after the election.
So what are some of the principles that
inform the specific elements of a manifesto and a programme,
and which provide a context within which specific parts of
the programme make sense as part of a total project?
Partnership through process
I want to concentrate most of my comments today on the first workshop topic – 'partnerships through process'. I want to do this because I feel quite strongly that the new politics that we will encourage as a Government will be about partnerships that open up government and politics to the governed.
In the campaign our slogan was, "The future is with Labour". That future may well be a future of partnerships, and I want to focus on what partnership might mean for us as a Government, and how the notion of 'partnership' is central to a coherent social-democratic project for Aotearoa/New Zealand.
This doesn't in any way diminish or detract from the importance of the other workshop topics – they are all vital, and I am absolutely convinced that they central to the development of that project.
It will be a new way – some people talk about a 'third way' approach in which we take the best from the community and the market – but it will be 'our way'. It will build on the proud traditions of our movement and our party, it will build on the relationship that our Party has had with the first people of this land – the Tangata Whenua – and it will build on the founding document of this place, the Treaty of Waitangi.
Simply rehabilitating politics and government – restoring trust in the political process and in the institutions of government - is something that it is fundamental to what we are about as a Party – it is a core part of our world-view, of our social democratic project.
Let me explain why I see that as being so fundamental.
The great US economist Professor John Galbraith captured the essence of the issue when he said that:
"Once the great dialectic was capital versus labour. Now it's the conflict between the comfortable and the deprived. And the comfortable see government as a threat, because it is the only hope for the deprived"
If we unpack this we get a sense of why 'government' and 'politics' are in and of themselves so important to us as a Party.
Government really is a threat to some – that's why we see the emergence of anti-government parties like ACT. It's not as if the problem is big government, or intrusive or heavy-handed government, any government is the problem.
The anti-government ideology has been a very persuasive one in this country over the past 15 years.
It's based on the assumption that what drives politicians is the quest for power and the trappings of office – that politicians will do and promise anything to get into office, and once there will exploit any or all of the levers of power to stay there.
It's based on the assumption that bureaucrats aren't really interested in public service, but only in the perks of office and growing the size of their departments.
Part of the problem with these assumptions of course is that you can find some support for them – Rob Muldoon made the case for those who wanted to take politics out of government with his propensity to exploit any or all of the political levers that he had at his disposal.
It wasn't the left that made the case for bad government in this country, it was the right.
And it was the Fourth Labour Government that lost its way in trying to find an alternative between the heavy handed statism of Muldoonism, and the free market anti-statism of the new right.
In one sense the Fourth Labour Government failed to meet the challenge of finding a 'third way' beyond these two extremes.
So when we talk about partnership through process we are talking at one level about the rehabilitation of politics in this country – about imbuing the process of democratic representation with some integrity and some respect.
But we are also talking about re-building the relationship between government and the governed in other ways. The ideology that held that politicians and bureaucrats couldn't be trusted was one that encouraged less government.
But it was fundamentally an anti-democratic ideology because it suggested that people couldn't be trusted with the institutions of government – the ideology was one of capture – providers captured, customers captured – any interest constituted a vested interest.
And this ideology encouraged government through contract .
In the health system, the government contracted with the funding agency, that contracted with the purchasing agency, that contracted with providers for outputs etc etc .
But the one thing that wasn't permitted was any meaningful engagement between those making policy, those delivering health care, and those receiving it – why?, because any engagement would allow these vested interests to corrupt the process.
That's still the accusation that's levelled at Government by the right. Take the establishment of Industry New Zealand and the change of focus from a Ministry of Commerce to a Ministry of Economic Development for example. This is what the National Business Review had to say in a recent editorial:
"The trouble will be, as always, capture. Bureaucrats' specialty is to make policy, not business decisions. Politicians' specialty is votes, although decisions on where assistance is to go is to be kept out of the hands of elected officials. And the business people who serve on Industry New Zealand will have their own agendas and priorities. How those problems are to be avoided is yet to be made clear..."
What's the message? You can't trust the people with government.
We are different as a Party and as a Government because we reject the automatic assumption that any interest is a vested interest.
We reject an approach to government that freezes everything into a contract.
We want to rebuild the capacity of the community to engage with government.
In short, we want to rebuild the relationship between the state and civil society.
We want to rebuild it because it is that relationship that has been the casualty of the neo-liberal right wing policies that we have seen for far too long. And it is that relationship that will be threatened again in the event of the right regaining power.
What was ACTs slogan in the last election? – "Values, not Politics"
What did Galbraith say again – "the comfortable see government as a threat". In essence the 'comfortable' see politics as a threat.
So when we, as a Party and a Government, talk about partnership through process, we are about remaking the institutions of civil society.
And there is another reason for doing so – it's not only good politics, its sensible economics.
That's why highly respected economists like the former Chief Economist of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, have argued for a new approach to the relationship between politics and economics.
Here's what Stiglitz said in his Foreword to a collection of essays by some New Zealand advocates of an alternative approach:
"The new strategy must employ more instruments and broader goals in an effort to achieve a transformation of society, a movement from traditional relations, traditional ways of thinking, traditional ways of dealing with health and education, traditional methods of production, to more 'modern' ways"
Stiglitz talks of a new approach to economic development – he talks about partnership and he talks about the importance of democratic engagement with the policy process. For Stiglitz the strategy,
"should build a consensus, not only about a broad vision of the country's future and key short- and medium-term objectives, but about some of the ingredients for achieving those goals. And at its heart, the new development strategy must involve meaningful ownership and participation – which not only have inherent value, but also increase the effectiveness and stability of development policies"
So it's about good politics, and good policy – participation has its own intrinsic values, and it produces the goods.
And we can see that already. Partnerships are becoming a signal feature of this Government.
I see it in my own portfolio areas when I encourage the Department of Work and Income to engage with benefit advocacy groups.
I see it when I encourage public servants to break out of their policy silos and to start talking to each other.
I see it in the Prime Minister's Local Government Forum where we are talking about a real partnership between central and local government.
I see it as we develop a compact – a partnership – between Government and community and voluntary groups.
I see it in the enormous potential provided by the Mayor's Jobs Forum – the opportunities for partnership between central and local government around an employment strategy.
I see it in initiatives like the new legislation on students associations, where we are seeking not only to encourage students to organise collectively, but to engage in partnership with University and Polytechnic Councils in the governance of those institutions.
I sense it with initiatives like Modern Apprenticeships – isn't it great to see the term apprenticeship back! - when I say to Industry Training Organisations, to the unions, to employers, and to Polytechnics – 'get along side the officials as they develop the pilots and launch Modern Apprenticeships nationally'
And we will see it right through the new Government's programme :
We will see it in the health sector as Annette King provides opportunities for the community to once again take some sense of the ownership and governance of health care.
We will see it in industry and regional development as Jim Anderton and Pete Hodgson involve business, unions, and government in addressing industry and regional development issues
We will see it in the workplace as Margaret Wilson's new Employment Relations legislation opens up opportunities for workers and unions to work in partnership with good employers to improve productivity and grow the productive base and potential of this economy
We will see it in arts and culture as our artists and writers and performers once again have a sense that Government has a vision for our society and join with the Government to grow our cultural capital
And perhaps we will see it most importantly as the parties to the Treaty of Waitangi address the grievances, provide redress where appropriate, and build a basis for a shared partnership
In very practical terms we will see it as we address the causes of social exclusion and rebuild the capacity of our people to participate in the processes of politics and government – as we close the gaps, and open up the opportunities
In my office Ministerial Office we have what in management speak is sometimes referred to as a 'mission statement'. Our mission statement is, 'to make a little history'. In truth I hope that as a Party and as a Government we will make quite a lot of history.
And we will all be part of making that history.
We come from a proud tradition. It is a tradition of ideas and of action, and it is a tradition that has always been about fostering a sense of partnership between government and the governed, between the state and civil society.
This is our time – this is our chance to make a little history.
And we will do that:
because we are the Party of social justice,
because we are the Party that can realise the potential that we have in our people and our resources,
because we are good at government,
and because we have the capacity to liberate the very idea of government.