Regional Conference Speech - Jim Anderton
1 July 2000
Speech Notes, Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton
Address to Alliance Western and Bay of Plenty Regional Conference
10:45AM Saturday, 1 July 2000
Western Bay Lodge, Ngongotaha
The most important discovery I make as I go around the country is the level of pride and passion that New Zealanders have at the local level.
It's almost humbling.
I visited Moerewa earlier this year.
Moerewa is a small town in the far North, which has had more than its fair share of tough times.
It lost the freezing works, it lost services.
There is not much left.
But there is the fiercest pride I have come across anywhere.
The people of that town have decided that their town can only go up.
They're looking at the stars.
As far as Moerewa is concerned, Moerewa is the best place in the world.
They want to have a future there.
And why shouldn't they?
The mood is the same in Southland.
Here in the Bay of Plenty.
The Alliance has put its stake in the ground for regional development.
What it means is this: If you live in Opotiki, or Moerewa, or Hamilton, or Rotorua you have a future.
And it doesn't have to be in Auckland.
It certainly doesn't have to be in Sydney.
It should be right here where you live.
There is fashionable view in some parts of New Zealand that regional decline is inevitable.
That it just happens naturally, and there is nothing that politicians can do, or should try to do, to turn back the inevitable march of history.
The Alliance rejects that view.
What we are here to do is to provide a future for the regions.
You cannot have a strong national economy if you have weak regions.
In the Budget we unveiled a major regional development programme.
Industry New Zealand will enter partnerships with the private sector and with local communities to transform the economic base of New Zealand.
This Government’s commitment to industry and regional development is a commitment to more jobs and to rising incomes.
The economic development initiatives of this Government were a centre-piece of the budget.
The other important theme of the budget was the commitment to Closing the Gaps.
Every New Zealander who cares for their country feels pain at the rise of inequality among us.
Gaps are the legacy of the free market.
The last government ignored them at best.
It even created them at its cynical worst.
A lot of Alliance people have told me they were pleased with the government's first budget.
I've been encouraged by the warmth Alliance people have felt.
Because I know how hard you worked to get the Alliance into Government.
I know the persistence and resilience that it took to build our movement.
I want the whole Alliance to feel that it's been worth it.
The budget is going to make a real difference to people's lives.
Income related rents for low-income state housing tenants have been agreed to.
The future of Superannuation is safe and the level has been increased by $20 a week.
The minimum wage has been boosted.
For the first time in 15 years the government has accepted it has a role to play in creating jobs.
Asset sales have been halted.
We have halted the commercial release of genetically engineered foods and we've got a Royal Commission under way.
There is $412 million of extra health funding.
The profit motive has been removed from the health system.
Elected representatives of the community rather than company directors will be running our hospitals.
Education gets almost $300 million more next year.
Bulk funding has been abolished.
Schools are to get an increase in operational grants and a huge injection of new capital.
Apprenticeships have been reintroduced and we are increasing funding for Maori and Pacific Island education.
Interest on student loans has been removed for full time students while they are studying and repayment levels have been reduced.
There is money in this budget designed to halt further fee increases.
Budgets are the ultimate test of a government.
This Government passed effortlessly.
The Coalition made the major strategic decisions constructively and cooperatively.
The issue for the Government is not that the Alliance and Labour have different policies.
Of course we do, and we always will.
That's why we are separate parties.
The issue is: Can the Government resolve those policy differences constructively?
The answer is yes.
We have to recognise the relative strength of the parties.
We have to recognise that this is a minority Government.
We have to take the public with us in our entire policy programme, instead of imposing policies against the will of the people as the last Government did.
We have to recognise that policies should prevail on their merits and in the best interests of all New Zealanders.
We have to work in good faith to make the government work.
Last week the Government faced the controversy over the position of Dover Samuels in Cabinet.
As I said in the House, Dover stood firmly and proudly for Maori, and indeed for all New Zealand in his six months office as Minister of Maori Affairs.
That service remains and there will be many who will be grateful for it, including Sandra Lee who worked closely with Dover as Associate Minister.
There are times when continuing in office becomes very difficult.
I understand that and I understand why he felt it was not appropriate to resign.
He did not want to give credibility to the suggestion that he had acted unlawfully fourteen years ago.
Equally, the Prime Minister has an undisputed duty to make a judgment call about politics.
This is a political environment and it is the Prime Minister's obligation to assess the broad political impact of issues.
Not to make a judgment about morals, but to make a judgment about political impact.
The Alliance is supportive of the decision the Prime Minister made on this question.
Of course, attention will now turn to the question of who will replace Dover Samuels as Minister of Maori Affairs.
The Alliance has a contribution to make here, too.
Sandra Lee is a very strong candidate to be the Minister of Maori Affairs.
I mean no disrespect to the other Maori MPs in parliament.
But Sandra Lee is widely known and respected.
Take this letter in the New Zealand Herald on Friday:
"Ms Lee has earned enormous respect across the political spectrum, largely because she has managed to remain a human being first rather than just another self-serving politician."
I could not agree more.
Sandra Lee is easily the most senior Maori MP.
As Associate Minister she has a very strong mastery of the portfolio.
On merit alone, Sandra Lee is a strong candidate for the position of Minister of Maori Affairs.
We have the first elected woman Prime Minister.
There is a woman leader of the Opposition.
A woman Chief Justice.
A decade ago we had the first woman Governor-General.
But there has never been a woman Minister of Maori Affairs.
Sandra Lee was the first Maori woman ever to win a general seat.
She could on merit also be the first woman Minister of Maori Affairs.
It is obvious to us all that Sandra Lee is the senior Minister in the Government, seventh in Cabinet and that she would be a great Minister for Maori, for the Alliance and for Mana Motuhake.
On the other hand it will be equally obvious to all of us – and Sandra herself has often said in public and in private – that Labour won all the Maori seats.
This gives Labour a strong mandate for the portfolio of Maori Affairs.
I have spoken with the Prime Minister since Dover Samuel's departure and strongly advocated the case for Sandra Lee to be appointed.
The Prime Minister will consider closely whether the Government could best be served by having Sandra Lee as Minister of Maori Affairs and she will consult with me when she is ready to make a decision after the Labour caucus has elected another person to serve in Cabinet.
Equally, Sandra herself has said that she will serve loyally as an Associate Minister of Maori Affairs if she herself is not appointed.
The Alliance should be proud of the contribution it is making to this Government.
Without the Alliance, this Government would not exist.
And therefore there would be no regional development programme underway.
There would be no rescue package for mental health.
There would be no visionary biodiversity package.
There would be no income-related rents for state housing.
No one should be under any illusion about the importance of delivering on those policies.
It has been a generation since a Government introduced a budget that was designed for the ordinary New Zealander.
It has been that long since New Zealand had a Government that didn’t deliberately harm a section of the community.
New Zealanders have almost forgotten what it is like to have a Government that honours its pre-election commitments.
The last Government I was a member in didn't.
The National Government, which replaced it, didn't.
The first coalition following the 1996 MMP election didn't.
This Government has set out to restore the faith of the public in the process of Government.
That means doing what we said we would do.
It means governing in the interests of the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders.
Not just the top five per cent.
I believe these last six months have gone a long way towards rebuilding New Zealanders’ faith in their system of Government.
We have almost single-handedly saved MMP.
If anything should be reassuring Alliance activists that your long efforts in putting the party into Government were worthwhile, think of what things would be like if national and Act were in government now.
I'm not fond of quoting from Rodney Hide.
But I came across one of his recent speeches, and I thought that as Alliance members you would enjoy some of it.
Rodney was invited to Fiji earlier this year.
He spoke at some kind of conference organised to sell investments in pyramid schemes or some other ACT party economic policy.
This was back in January, when Fiji still had a democratic government.
Here's what he said.
"I am an MP. A Member of Parliament. I'm part of the Government."
That's news to me, because I thought Rodney was in the Opposition.
But in fact he is so proud of the Alliance-Labour coalition Government that he goes overseas and claims to be part of it.
He continued like this. I'm not making this up:
"I'm a politician. Today I stand before you and I represent the gun.
"This past century that we live in has been a terribly destructive century. Millions killed because of the gun, because of politicians and because of government. And that's what I stand before you, to represent."
So that's what Rodney said when he went to Fiji in January.
No wonder they had a coup!
Rodney told them that's just what Members of Parliament do!
Seriously, the policies National and Act would be implementing if they were in government now would be intolerable.
Yet another cut in superannuation
Tax cuts for the most affluent, and huge user charge-tax increases for low and middle income earning New Zealanders.
The sale of New Zealand assets.
New Zealand Post - not a people's bank initiative.
The remaining baby-ECNZs.
The public hospitals.
Even the roads.
Overseas owners would be on a spending spree at the National-Act fire sale.
There would be another round of vicious and divisive attacks on beneficiaries and the low paid.
Tariffs would be on an express train to obliteration…along with the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on a fair and reasonable balance in trade.
What else would National and Act take away?
There would be no income-related rents.
There would be more hospital closures and privatisations.
No more money for waiting lists.
National and Act ran down the hospitals.
They ran down the schools.
They forced students into mountains of debt.
They laid waste to the natural environment.
They left New Zealanders doubtful that Government and democracy itself could deliver what they needed.
Parties like National and Act and NZ First want to take us backwards.
Back to the failed policies of the eighties and nineties.
They're stuck in the last century.
We can’t go back.
We need a new beginning.
And that is just what this budget and this coalition Government have set out to achieve.
As Alliance activists, you deserve your share of credit for helping to bring it about.