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Opportunity and Security - Jim Anderton Speech

Hon Jim Anderton
15 October 2000 Speech Notes

Embargoed until:12 Noon Sunday, 15 October 2000


Opportunity and Security

Leader’s Address
Alliance conference


Delegates

We have spent the weekend talking about our achievements in government.

We have discussed many of the problems New Zealand faces.

The problems are real. There are plenty of them.

Our economic performance has been falling compared to other developed countries.

The real incomes of New Zealanders have been falling for thirty years. Real wages are ten per cent lower today than they were in 1984.

We have a huge overseas deficit. Massive overseas debt.

Unemployment is locked into the economy. Inequality has grown enormously.

Our social services are under enormous pressure.

The challenges are huge.

We can and we must do better – at a local, regional and national level.

Today I want to talk about our vision for the future of our country. Our vision for making things better.

Full employment, rising incomes for all New Zealanders, free health care and education for everyone and sustainable use of our resources.

Those are core principles that only the Alliance is committed to.

We believe in them because we want a society where everyone has an opportunity, and a secure future.

I firmly believe that there has never been a time when our principles were more relevant to the needs of our country.

Full employment is an example. The Alliance is the only party committed to the ideal of full employment.

Other parties call full employment ‘unrealistic’. They have given up on it. The present implementation of monetary policy by the Reserve Bank does not allow for a fully employed economy. Control of inflation is seen as the single important goal. The sacrifice of six per cent of the workforce at the very least to achieve it is seen as an acceptable trade-off.

The Alliance in government has achieved modest alterations to the Reserve Bank criteria for measuring and controlling inflation - but with less than eight per cent of the total vote at the general election, we have agreed to live within current policy for this term.

But our vision for economic stability and growth is much greater. Our hopes for New Zealand are for economic, social and environmental sustainability. That is the vision we will put to the people ate the next election.

If we want a modern social security system, then we need to recognise that it was never built to withstand mass unemployment.

We want to give families the best chance of improved living standards. The only way is through an economy that delivers enough good jobs for everyone who can work.

Sustained social and economic progress can only be built on a base of full employment.

It’s been a long time since anyone in Government talked of a vision for full employment. It’s time the vision was restored.

The present structure of the economy is incapable of providing full employment and rising living standards for most New Zealanders.

The economy is too dependent on commodities alone for our export income. We have to import too many of our capital goods. We sell products to the rest of world that are largely undifferentiated from the products of our competitors. Although we are good at it, over time, the price we can achieve for commodities is slowly falling. At the same time we buy the complex manufactured goods that command prices set by sellers.

If we want rising incomes and more good jobs then we must produce more – far more – products and services that depend on the skill, imagination and creativity of New Zealanders, and not just on our sunshine, rainfall and clean soil.

Transforming our economy is not an easy task or a particularly quick one. To do it, we have to mobilise the resources we have.

It’s almost a truism to say the world is changing around us.

Some of the most profound changes will have far-reaching effects on New Zealand:

 Developed countries – including our own – have aging populations.

 International trade is growing quickly. Complex and powerful global trends have emerged.

 Technology has never advanced as rapidly. The Internet is changing nearly everything.

New Zealand is not a natural winner from these changes.

Whether we like it or not, the major impact of these trends is a much stronger international marketplace for certain services, particularly for skills and talent. Capital has always been mobile. Skilled labour is now becoming much more mobile too.

Fewer people left New Zealand this year than last year -- despite suggestions of the Business Roundtable’s covert campaign against the Government. But there are far too many leaving. The growing global marketplace for skills and talent helps to explain why they are going.

The challenge for New Zealand is to be a country that is attractive for skilled, talented individuals to live in. Attractive to invest their energy and resources.

What does it take?

The Alliance has long been committed to the kind of country that we need to be.

We need a strong, diverse economy. One where skills, talent and creativity can be developed. Where there will be rewards for success and for skills. Where those who try will be encouraged and supported. Where working people can look forward to rising real incomes.

Of course, incomes alone will never be enough. There are important quality of life issues as well.

Individuals need to feel personal security. Security from being left without life’s essentials, security in ensuring personal safety and the security of property. It means feeling secure from crime.

Security in the form of some assurance about the future. The Government is looking to boost security in retirement with a super scheme that protects entitlements.

The country we want to create is one where there is access to world class ideas and the ability to use them. Our success in the America’s Cup was achieved by sailors who looked at the best that the rest of the world had. And then they added kiwi ingenuity. This is also a country where young people of almost all social strata can go sailing. It is the opportunities that exist for all New Zealanders, and access to the widest possible pool of talent that makes New Zealand so good at water sports.

We need a country that is confident in its own unique culture. We need to see New Zealand performers on the world’s stages. We need to be proud of what we do and the unique, distinctive way we do things.

When we think of Australia and Ireland right now – they are confident, successful countries. And they celebrate that in front of the world, in film, television, music…

It is critical for us to develop our own cultural confidence. We have, I believe, mostly lost our national cultural cringe. But we cannot replace that with a National and Act cultural whinge. Positive, confident arts policy requires positive, confident government.

We need a country that offers world class education and health care. That requires free access for all our citizens, not just access for those who can afford it. And it requires a commitment to excellence and quality.

One of the singular quality-of-life advantages New Zealand can offer is the physical beauty of our natural environment. That doesn’t mean turning the whole country into a museum. We’re more inventive than that. It’s using resources sustainably. It’s protecting our unique flora and fauna.

We are so far away from the rest of the world that we enjoy one of the richest and most diverse natural environments in the world. It is part of our unique appeal. And, as Conservation Minister, my deputy Sandra Lee has the crucial role of protecting and enhancing it.

Our natural environment. The opportunities available for all New Zealanders. Our use of technology. Our security. Our national skill levels. Our health care, education and training. Our cultural confidence.

We need to be the envy of the world in all of these things. That is my vision for New Zealand. That is the Alliance vision. It has never been more important.

We have some important competitive advantages in the world.

We have a stable, democratic government. That puts us far ahead of many parts of the world to begin with. It puts us ahead of the shambles we had before the last election. Then, democracy was being undermined by MPs leaving their parties. The Government was so unstable you hardly knew each morning if it was going to last the day.

We have a solid infrastructure of roads, ports, clean water.

We have a competent education system. New Zealanders are quick to adapt to, and use, new technology.

We have significant natural resources and an exciting natural environment.

We have a cheap cost structure. That is the upside to low income levels, and the low value of our currency. Low cost helps to give our manufacturers and exporters an edge. Eventually we have to compete by providing better value, and having better ideas, not cheap labour. But we have to start from where we are.

Yesterday I mentioned some recent research by the giant international sharebroker and investment banker Merrill Lynch.

Merrill Lynch looked at qualities such as the supply of capital, the education and skills of the people, the availability of technology. Is the Government free from corruption? They looked at the social structure of countries and deducted points where they found wide inequality.

They ranked New Zealand seventh in the world.

Not a bad place to start.

So there is a solid base to build from.

There are also weaknesses that we have to acknowledge.

The last fifteen years saw the development dimension almost completely eliminated from economic policy in New Zealand.

We need to take a partnership and a whole-of-government approach towards our problems. We have established the Ministry of Economic Development as the instrument. There is a long way to go. But we have begun to work in partnership with the private sector, local government and local communities.

We need to have a Government that is responsive to the needs of the people and the regions of New Zealand. One of the clear needs that has been spelt out over and over again is the need for a user-friendly publicly-owned bank. A bank that doesn't treat its customers with contempt. I have taken the responsibility on behalf of the Alliance to deliver a People's Bank to the communities of New Zealand. And I will.

We have to be responsive to their needs and work together to deliver the services and infrastructure New Zealand needs.

We need to invest in people.

Our education and training systems need to foster confidence, innovation and very high levels of skill. They need to be world class and they aren’t.

In particular we need to see more people in tertiary education, especially at advanced levels.

We need far more scientists, engineers and designers. We need far more pure research and we need research linked specifically to commercial opportunities. We need tertiary institutions much better equipped to meet the teaching, learning and research needs of New Zealanders.

The Alliance opposes tertiary fees. We support universal student allowances. The absence of allowances and the high fees charged for advanced education is a barrier to education. As a country we cannot afford to place barriers in the way of education.

I was at a business meeting in Tauranga nine days ago. That audience questioned me about the frightening level of student debt and the high fees for education that our young people have to pay. They demanded to know why I hadn’t got rid of fees. I said to them, ‘there was only one party at the last election that promised to abolish tertiary fees. How many of you voted for us?’

If New Zealanders want to improve skills, lift incomes and create more jobs then we have to make education free and pay students an allowance to study.

The reality is that there is only one political party committed to free education. It’s the Alliance.

We can’t achieve free education with the level of voting support we received at the last election. But perhaps we can make some progress.

For example, we could offer far more scholarships in some of the specialist schools. If we can’t make all tertiary education free just yet, then maybe we could make at least some of it more available. Perhaps advanced learning in science and engineering. We could offer scholarships to everyone qualified for entry, and invest adequately in the teaching resources and equipment that would be needed.

We would need to link the universities and polytechs up with CRIs. With industrial clusters. With anything else that works.

By starting with a small niche of the education system, perhaps we can successfully aim to turn it into a world class centre for excellence. We need to be the very best at some things, not merely average at a lot.

Can we produce the best scientists and engineers? Perhaps. Just last week a New Zealand chemist, Alan MacDiarmid - the brother of NewLabour Party member Rod MacDiarmid - won the Nobel Prize. William Pickering was a New Zealander. Ernest Rutherford was a New Zealander. Bruce McLaren was a New Zealander. Bruce Farr is a New Zealander. They served or entertained the whole world – and there is nothing wrong with that.

Investing in people is a matter of much more than just investing in education and in skills training, of course.

It also means investment in our New Zealand identity. Support for New Zealand artists is crucial. So is the development of a distinctively New Zealand identity in our broadcasting system.

That is why the Alliance is firmly opposed to turning over our television channels to private overseas broadcasters. Rupert Murdoch may well be selling a product through Sky TV that a lot of people – including me – want to buy. But you won’t find much about New Zealand on his TV channel. If we want to see New Zealand, we need a publicly-owned TV channel.

Perhaps the money currently being poured into private TV stations through NZ On Air should be going directly to TVNZ. The Alliance doesn’t support turning TVNZ into something like National Radio – even though National Radio plays such a vital part in political and cultural debate.

We want high quality public television true – we want New Zealand identity on television of course – but if only ten per cent of the people are watching because other television channels have popular programmes then the money we spend to see new Zealand on air will not be enough to achieve our goals.

Nor is it only television that is crucial. We need to support and foster our musicians, our film-makers and our artists.

We need to celebrate the mixture of Maori, Pacific and European cultures that is unique to New Zealand.

And we need to recognise that our Maori heritage is unique in the world.

Every time Jenny Shipley or Richard Prebble attacks Maori or the Treaty, they are attacking New Zealand.

Our partnership with Maori, embodied in the Treaty, certainly causes people frustration from time to time – both Maori and Pakeha!

But look around the world at how every other nation has reconciled issues between indigenous people and those they share their country with. Compare some of the outcomes we see daily with the alternative constructive model we have built in this country.

There is no future in ignoring race issues. Australia has tried that. As much as the Australians want that issue to go away, it hasn’t and it won't – in spite of the odd Olympic gold medal!

The future is in celebrating our cultural heritage. Fostering it because it makes us unique.

We can do something about our education and skill levels. We can do something about our cultural identity. We can’t do anything about our geographic isolation.

On the other hand we can mitigate some of the effects of our isolation if we use technology well. We need to use the Internet more competently and more widely than any other nation on Earth.

The Internet removes distance, and we are the most distant country in the world. We have begun already in Tairawhiti, for example, where we have sent hundreds of old Government computers into schools there. With the help of Telecom, we have connected them up to the Internet. Community groups in Gisborne and Wairoa will increasingly be wired to the world.

We need to connect up the rest of New Zealand. The best way to do that is by ensuring we have a truly competitive telecommunications market. One where competition means there is easy entry for good new ideas.

We can overcome some of our isolation by ensuring that we process goods here intensively.

Every time you see logs on the wharfs, that is a failure in our economy. We need to have processed paper products on the wharf. We need to have manufactured furniture and wood products on the wharf. Not raw logs.

That is how we will secure the jobs and incomes we need to make New Zealand an attractive place for our best and brightest.

Above all, we have to be seen as a good place in which to live.

We need a world class health system. One where, if you suffer ill health you will receive the care and treatment you need.

That is why the Alliance is committed to free health care. The competitive model has not worked for health care. Waiting lists got longer. Hospitals closed in many parts of the country. It makes those places less viable and less attractive, when we should be working to make them more attractive places to live.

Prescription charges and charges for visiting the doctor are barriers to health care. One of the ways we should try to make New Zealand the most attractive country on the planet should be by making it the healthiest country on the planet.

Lastly, we have accepted for a long time that New Zealand is a nation of travellers. It is normal and healthy for young people to travel overseas. And some of them, of course, will stay.

We need to make up for the loss of them by encouraging skilled and talented immigrants.

Australia’s success at the Olympics was one example of the advantages of a dynamic immigration policy. Australia actively recruited many of the world’s best sporting coaches. It went to places like Eastern Europe, gave them Australian passports and set them up with a good Aussie lifestyle. We could do the same.

And it is not only in sport where we can seek out the best. It is every field where we want to achieve excellence. Sporting, cultural, scientific, financial and managerial to begin with.

Our immigration system should target skills – the skills that New Zealand needs. We should not just be open to the right kinds of people; we should go out and try to get them. And we need to make effective use of those skills and resources when they are brought here. I do not want to see highly talented professional migrants stranded in New Zealand and unable to practice in their fields because inadequate preparation was made for their arrival.

This afternoon I’ve tried to state how I believe the Alliance’s core principles are crucial and relevant to the problems New Zealand faces.

We have an exciting vision for this country.

Our vision for New Zealand is one where we will be an attractive country for skilled and talented people to live.

Attracting and retaining skill, talent and creativity is a virtuous circle. The more skilled the population, the more creativity is unleashed and the more exciting the country becomes.

Our vision is of a job-rich country. A high-income, high-skill country. A country where there is personal security for all New Zealanders. Where there is world class infrastructure and world class social services. Where our natural environment is protected. Where we are confident in our own culture, history and place in the world.

New Zealand’s development is a journey.

There will never be a time when we can sit back and say we have arrived where we want to go.

But it is a journey towards a destination.

The Alliance vision of our destiny is one where we live in a country with a very high quality of life. Where everyone has a role. Where everyone has an opportunity. Where everyone has security. Where New Zealanders flourish.

It is an exciting destination. And it is an exciting journey too.

Our role in Government is the beginning of that journey.

We’ll stay on course and we'll help to create, again, a nation that every New Zealander is proud to call home.


Ends.

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