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Celebrating the Alliance in Government - Speech

Hon Jim Anderton
14 October 2000 Speech Notes

Celebrating the Alliance in Government
Opening of Alliance Conference
Saturday, 14 October 2000.


Delegates

For the first time in our short history as an Alliance of parties, we are meeting as a part of the Government.

It has been a tremendous achievement for the Alliance to come as far as we have since we first signed the Alliance declaration on 1 December 1991.

We fought the battle for MMP and won.

We fought general elections in 1993 and 1996.

We fought by-elections in 1992, 1994 and 1998.

Along the way we gained a few friends. And we lost a few, too.

And now, we have arrived in a position where we can turn some of our principles into reality.

It has been a generation since there was last a voice at the Cabinet table representing ordinary working New Zealanders. Now we are there, and without us, this Government would almost certainly not exist.

I strongly believe that we have to do two things at this conference:

We have to celebrate our achievement in becoming part of a Government that we can be proud of.

Second, we have to emphasise the Alliance vision and develop ways to bring the achievement of our ideals closer.

No one else stands for all of these things: Full employment. Rising incomes for all New Zealanders. Stronger regions. Free access to education and health care and opportunity for all.

The election of the Alliance into a coalition with Labour showed that New Zealanders want to see balance restored to Government.

It showed that New Zealanders want a Government prepared to govern in the interests of all New Zealanders.

There are forces that have a vested interest in hammering this Government.

There are also people who appreciate this Government’s partnership approach.

I want to quote to you some of the messages I have received from the public.

And I want to start with a very simple note. It arrived after Pete Hodgson and I went to Alexandra in September to announce a flood relief package.

I made a promise during the election campaign. I said the Government of New Zealand had a responsibility to stand with the community of Alexandra. The previous Government stood on the sideline and invited the community to sue. These were families with young children who had lost their homes in the floods. Families who couldn’t get insurance for their homes, who couldn’t live in their homes but had to pay the mortgage. I promised that if I was in the Government after the election, then the Government would not abandon that community.

In September the Government and Contact Energy formed a partnership. We’re spending $22 million in Alexandra to repair flood damage. We’re compensating those young families.

And I received this fax from an ordinary member of the public:

“Dear Mr Anderton

“Thank you.

“There is a positive and optimistic feeling within our community. You have made a difference and followed up your promises. It is greatly appreciated.”

Delegates, that is why the Alliance is in the Government.

This is a Government that keeps its promises. Honours its commitments. We are different from the discredited and failed Governments of the last fifteen years.

I meet almost every day with the leaders of some of New Zealand’s largest businesses. I visit every single week the premises of some of our smallest and most innovative companies. I went to see one of New Zealand’s leading industrialists last month. He sent me a note, and I want to quote part of it:
“Dear Jim,

“A brief note of thanks for the conversation on Wednesday. It was the most useful conversation I’ve had with anyone from the Beehive over the last thirty years.

“If you can lock in place some of the changes we talked about you will go down in industry history as the one politician who actually did something other than just talk. Good luck.”

Our opponents claim that this Government doesn’t speak to business. I suggest it’s time that some of our critics got out of Wellington and tried listening to some real New Zealand entrepreneurs.

This Government is taking a partnership approach to the economy, and those businesses that are prepared to engage with the Government believe in what we are doing.

Many of the extremists attacking this Government are out of step with their own membership. I spoke at a meeting of one of these groups. One of the most militant, anti-government lobbyists in the country. Its spokesperson made some negative comments about the Government both at the meeting and subsequently in the news media. A senior member of his organisation immediately wrote to me to record his embarrassment, and to offer a personal apology.

That person said:

“I have a position in business. I work all over the country and I am encouraged with what I see. I do not have the same negative feelings as those aired and I am happy to work with whoever is managing the affairs of this country.”

Some of our critics are badly out of step with their own people. They are kiwi bashing. New Zealand deserves better than that.

There is no point singling out individuals by name. But the militant anti-government extremism of some of the kiwi-bashers talking this country down can not and will not go unchallenged forever.

If they continue to try to damage the country, then it is our job to defend New Zealand. I promise you: I will.

I want to challenge the double standards of many of our critics. They are happy to dish out criticism. But they don’t like it when the Government defends itself. The Business Roundtable went out and covertly organised and funded an anti-New Zealand propaganda campaign. At first it denied it was involved! And then when the Government exposed the Roundtable’s involvement, it complained that the Government was stifling free speech!

They can’t have it both ways. They can’t attack the Government one moment and then complain the next moment when the Government defends itself.

Almost every day in Parliament National and Act try to tear this country down. They like nothing better than to try to undermine its success. I have a message for Mrs Shipley and Mr Prebble: New Zealand is not the biggest country in the world – just the best country in the world. If Jenny or Richard don't believe that, they should go out and try to find a better one. They should stop bashing their own nation and the quality and cultural heritage of their own people.

We must remember that National, spurred on by ACT, broke up the publicly-owned electricity assets. What happened? The price went up and the lights went out in Auckland.

There is one more asset sale I could mention. If ever the case for public ownership of vital strategic assets was demonstrated, it was when Tranz Rail announced this week that it is planning to chop up the rail network. Suddenly we have the prospect that some vital services could disappear altogether.

I say that if we are required to pump hundreds of millions of dollars of public money into Tranz Rail subsidies or lease payments, we might as well buy it back. Rail is too important to the social, environmental and economic development of New Zealand for it to be allowed to disintegrate or be unable to play an effective transport network role.

The Government will be in close consultation with Tranz Rail and local communities throughout New Zealand over the coming months to get the best contribution from rail services towards a strategic national transport network in order to achieve social (ie. public transport), environmental and economic development benefits for this country.

I believe in New Zealand. I am proud of New Zealand. I am proud of New Zealanders.

I want to quote to you some recent research by the giant international sharebroker and investment banker Merrill Lynch. It has developed a Global Ranking System. It is a very sophisticated tool. It doesn’t just look at a single simplistic measure (such as today’s value of the currency, or inflation).

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.

The bad news is the Aussies beat us again – they got a bronze medal – third in the world.

The good news is that New Zealand ranked seventh in the world. Certainly better than we did at the Olympic Games!! Ahead of countries like Germany, the UK, France, Japan. Far ahead of the countries like Poland and Russia – which Roger Douglas once helped – like he helped New Zealand.

Of course we still have much to do.

We need to put an emphasis on lifting the skills and education of New Zealanders. We need to transform the economy. To create advantages that will lead to more and better jobs, with rising incomes and stronger regions.

The Alliance is a partner in a coalition government that is trying to make a real difference to the lives of working New Zealanders.

We have not rushed headlong into another round of wholesale changes. We do not have a mandate to do that. But we are changing direction, rejecting the failed hands-off policies of the last government. We are working with New Zealanders to create a fairer society, a more prosperous country, and a fairer New Zealand.

We are looking to build a country where everyone is valued, everyone has an opportunity and everyone has security.

We are delivering on our policies. We should celebrate our accomplishments.

Sometimes we forget to do so, because there is so much still to be done and we set very high standards for ourselves – and so we should.

Never before in our history, nor in any like country that I know of, has a party been formed to the left of Labour, challenged it at successive elections and succeeded in entering government less than ten years after being created.

That single achievement – reaching Government from a position to the left of the Labour Party – is worth dwelling on. It is a unique and historic achievement.

And as part of the coalition we have achieved much that we can celebrate.

We have secured a stable government in the interests of all working people.

It is difficult to over-state the importance of that. A year ago, you could have got better money on Southland (or Wellington!) reaching the NPC final than you would have got for MMP surviving.

But since the election, I haven’t had a single letter saying ‘it’s all the fault of MMP and it has to go.’

We have changed the Cabinet rules to ensure that parties in Cabinet can retain their integrity and vote according to the policies they placed before the people at the election – even if that means from time to time that we vote against our coalition colleagues from within the Cabinet.

We have shown that the influence parties have in government is determined by the support they receive at elections.

The Alliance got 7.8% of the vote. That entitles the Alliance to a voice at the table. It ensures the Government reflects our commitment to more jobs, rising incomes for ordinary New Zealanders, stronger regions and high quality health care and education for everyone.

We have shown that MMP doesn’t mean the tail wags the dog. Nor does it mean parties have to lose their integrity once in power.

We secured a $20 a week increase in superannuation and in the minimum wage. Income related rentals will be restored for state house tenants this year.

We have established the Ministry of Economic Development – an Alliance policy commitment! For the first time in a generation there is a developmental dimension to economic policy. The Government is entering partnerships with regions and with industry to create more jobs, higher skills and opportunities for the future.

We have a long way to go after the damage done over the last twenty-five years to revitalise the regions and transform the industrial base of New Zealand.

But as I keep saying, one bad day in government is better than a thousand good days in Opposition.

There are challenges ahead. The Queen's Speech set out the Coalition government's commitment to institute a new system of paid parental leave in the term of this government. We are now in urgent discussions as to the form and timing of paid parental leave. We pay tribute to the persistence of Laila Harre. She has pushed this onto the national agenda. Generations of New Zealanders will one day record that Laila Harre took the first major steps to destroy the fiction that paid work and life-creation must be kept separate. It remains our expectation that paid parental leave will be in next year's legislative agenda.

We are working to increase the minimum wage for young workers.

We have reformed the industrial relations laws and scrapped the Employment Contracts Act. There are fewer people leaving New Zealand this year than there were last year – but we are still losing far too many of our best and brightest. And one of the obvious reasons is that incomes in New Zealand are far lower than they are in many other developed countries. That alone is one reason why the ECA had to be repealed. The Employment Contracts Act was a law designed for a low-wage economy. It is incompatible with the kind of economy we want to create.

Every single day we are part of Government we are making decisions that help to improve the lives of ordinary New Zealanders.

Is it hard? Yes.

Is it worth it? Every single day when I wake up I know that one bad day in Government is worth a thousand good days in Opposition.

ENDS

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