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Speech Notes: Maharey - UN Gen. Assembly

29 June 2000 Speech Notes

United Nations Special Session of the General Assembly on the Implementation of the Outcome of the WORLD SUMMIT FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT and Further Initiatives

E nga mana
E nga reo
E nga iwi
Tena koutou katoa

(Explanation of Maori text, above: Distinguished guests, people of other languages, people from the four corners of the world. Greetings to you all.)

Mr Chairman, fellow delegates, I am delighted to represent the New Zealand Government in this important forum.

The themes of eradicating poverty, promoting employment and fostering social integration and development strike a strong cord with the people of New Zealand.

We are a small nation, but one that prides itself on its creativity, its compassion and its leadership.

We have a long history of progressive social policy stretching back over a century ago when we introduced basic support for the aged.

More recently New Zealand has developed a reputation as an equally enthusiastic economic reformer, as we have moved from a protectionist to an open economy.

We now enjoy a strong economic base and a positive outlook. Growth is forecast to average 3% per annum over the next three years, and unemployment is predicted to fall to about 5% by March 2002.

But we have not found the process of reform or the pressures of globalisation to be painless.

Changes in the labour market have impacted on some of our people's ability to participate.

Those with few educational qualifications, those in unskilled occupations, and those in industries that used to be subject to trade tariff protection, have experienced dislocation from the work force or lowered incomes.

The indigenous Maori population and New Zealanders of Pacific Island origin, both groups that have historically lower levels of educational attainment, have been disproportionately affected. And some regions of the country have fared worse than others.

Over the past 15 years we have gaps widen between the skilled and unskilled, between employment rich and employment poor communities, and between Maori and Pacific people and others.

It is in this context of strong economic growth but growing disquiet about disparities, that the newly elected social democratic Government, which I represent today has set itself six goals which closely reflect the aims of the Summit.

These are to:
 Develop an innovative economy which creates jobs and provides opportunities for all New Zealanders
 Foster education and skills development for all our people
 Close social and economic gaps in our society
 Restore trust in government and promote strong public and social services
 Treasure and nurture our environment, and
 Celebrate our identity as a people.

A thriving and sustainable economy is central to our vision of a vibrant social democracy.

But it must be an economy in which every New Zealander has the opportunity to participate.

This means that as a Government we will continue to pursue sound economic management and policies to encourage and support our business sector – as this is where opportunities for participation are created.

But we will also pursue active social policies to lift the capability of our people to take up those opportunities and to ensure that all areas of the country benefit.

This is the basis of sound public policy, enabling all citizens to feel that they belong to, and can actively participate in society.

Investment in human capability is the foundation of our strategy to close the gaps in New Zealand society.

This means investment in education.

Some of this investment will be through traditional channels: pre-school education, schools, polytechnics and universities. And in the precursors to attainment such as public housing and health services.

It will mean more investment in Maori and Pacific designed and delivered educational services, often based on their own language skills, and in getting more teachers from these groups into classrooms.

We are also looking to develop smoother pathways from school to work or training for those who do not wish to go on to tertiary study. At present, more than a quarter of all 16 and 17 year olds are not involved in either education, training or work – a sure recipe for later exclusion from society.

But if we acknowledge that education is critical to human capability development we cannot afford to only consider education for the young.

Like many countries we are experiencing an aging population and therefore an ageing workforce. In fact over 80% of the people who will be in the workforce in 10 years time are already working.

Our knowledge society must therefore be based on life-long learning.

Providing opportunities for education and training on the part of the existing workforce not only increases productivity, it also increases the adaptability of individuals (and their families and communities) to future changes in the labour market.

The development of people's capability through adult education and training is also vital if the jobless are to be successfully reintegrated into the work force as our economy continues to expand.

Three out of four of the long-term unemployed, amongst whom Maori and Pacific people are over-represented, have a literacy level below that deemed necessary to be effective contributors to the workforce. Unaddressed, this is social exclusion in action.

And the world of work must be a fair one for those who enter it. The Employment Relations Bill, now going through Parliament, is designed to bring New Zealand labour law into conformity with ILO standards and to restore fairness to the workplace.

It is not radical legislation, and the New Zealand labour market will still be lightly regulated by world standards, but unlike the previous Employment Contracts Act it is fair legislation.

But greater social inclusion will not be found just in better education services or a fairer employment relationship.

Social inclusion is about people and communities and many of the answers will be found in communities.

We need to reinvigorate our communities.

This means closer partnerships between central and local government and with the non-government sector and communities themselves.

Communities have high aspirations, they also have the closest understanding of their members needs and abilities. In New Zealand we are investing heavily in building the capacity of communities, and particularly Maori and Pacific communities, to give them the capability to devise their own economic and social programmes.

This capacity building is an investment in the future, helping communities develop what they need, and assisting them to provide for their people.

Social development is also an integral element of New Zealand’s overseas aid programmes.

Official Development Assistance continues to be primarily focused on the Pacific Island states, and on the developing countries of East and South East Asia.

The Government intends to progressively increase the percentage of gross national product devoted to aid towards the goal of 0.7% with key assistance focused on education and health partnerships.

In Conclusion:

As a small egalitarian society we have shown social policy leadership in the past, and I am determined that we will do so again.

The spirit of co-operation and commitment at this Summit reflects the importance New Zealand and the other nations here attach to its goals.

There is much in the Declaration and Programme of Action for us to reaffirm and build on, and New Zealand will continue to fully play its part to achieve the desired results of the World Summit for Social Development.

Ma pango ma whero
Ka oti nga mahi

Tena koutou katoa

(Explanation of Maori text, above: People, Government and community working together will achieve their goals.)

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