Delivering For Working People
Hon Jim Anderton
Deputy Prime Minister
Address to the NDU Delegates Conference
Portage Peninsula Hotel, 18 Elm St., Avondale
3:15PM Tuesday, 7 November 2000
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
The last time I came to the NDU’s delegates’ conference the Alliance was in Opposition.
We were fighting a general election.
You remember what it was like.
The Shipley government was a shambles. Each day you woke up you wondered if the government was going to make it to the end of the day.
It was a government with no moral authority, propped up by MPs who had left their parties.
It was a Government that refused to listen to working New Zealanders.
It was a government that presided over a recession in 1998 and in 1999. The real incomes of working New Zealanders were falling. There were more than two hundred thousand jobless and there was no prospect of getting the number of jobless down.
And before the last election I came to this conference and asked for your help to get rid of that Government. To replace it with the first Government in a generation that governed truly in the interests of ordinary working New Zealanders.
And I’m proud to say that the NDU played its part in bringing about that change of government.
The NDU contributed in equal parts to the coalition partners. I acknowledge the efforts of NDU members.
The contribution you made was motivated by a concern not only for working people who belong to the NDU, but also out of a sense of responsibility to your fellow New Zealanders.
The idea that we all have a responsibility to the well-being of New Zealand, and we all have voice in its development, is a guiding principle of the Labour-Alliance Coalition.
Over recent months the Government has gone to great lengths to assure the business community that it, too, has a role.
The reality is that no Government can hope to deliver jobs, rising incomes, security and opportunity for New Zealanders without the co-operation of the business sector.
The willingness of the Government to co-operate with business doesn’t mean that the union movement is excluded. Nor does it diminish or undervalue your role.
There was a high-profile forum involving the business community here in Auckland two weeks ago. It was valuable. We learned a bit about each other and developed some good ideas.
It’s an approach to governing that we can do more of.
I know that the NDU has wanted to strengthen its relationship with the government. Today I can announce that the Government is holding three forums in Auckland Wellington, and Christchurch. The first will be here in Auckland on the 17th of November.
Unions and community organisations will be invited to discuss the issues that the government is working on.
Not only that, but I want to go further, I want to announce to you today that I intend to host a few forums myself – informal get-togethers at my state house, Vogel House.
I want to bring together informally unions and community organisations – as well as businesses – to look at how they can contribute to economic development and to develop their ideas for the government.
Unions recognise they have a legitimate place at the table with business leaders as they make decisions affecting workers. So, too, the Government wants to work alongside productive New Zealanders.
It’s a matter of balance, co-operation and good faith in the interests of everyone.
Those were the principles the Government adopted when we introduced the new Employment Relations Act.
That new law shows that this is a Government committed to a modern economy and fairness in the industrial workplace.
It was only a few months ago that our opponents in Parliament were predicting the Employment Relations Act would signal the end of civilisation.
With each passing day, their prophecies of doom look more ridiculous.
Good employers have found that their constructive behaviour is rewarded. So it should be.
The old Employment Contracts Act was simply incompatible with a modern economy. It was based on the principle of driving down wages. Of poorer quality jobs. National and Act could never explain how they expected workers to be better off if they were paid less!
The economy we want to build is based on a platform of rising incomes and better quality jobs.
We have to compete in the world by being more creative and more innovative. By developing skills and rewarding them – not by paying workers less. It’s a New Zealand where the rewards would be spread more fairly.
Under the ECA, the cake hardly grew, while those at the top helped themselves to larger and larger slices.
The Employment Contract Act is one example of the difference a new Government has made.
But working New Zealanders are more secure because we are moving on many fronts.
One of the first things the Labour-Alliance coalition did was to increase the minimum wage.
We have put ACC back together. And in the next round of ACC reform the scheme will be restored to one that provides working people with genuine compensation for their injuries.
Later this month I hope the Government will agree to a business case for a kiwi bank to be established by New Zealand Post.
We are introducing income-related rentals for state house tenants.
We are making retirement more secure through the superannuation fund. By putting aside some of the surplus today, a government in the future will be better placed to meet the needs of the retired work force. You can plan for your retirement with some security that the Government has the means to pay New Zealand Superannuation.
This will be a defining issue at the next election.
National and Act are preparing to go to the election saying they will wipe out the certainty the Labour-Alliance Coalition is delivering.
Working people should be very wary of their plans. What they want to do is to cut entitlement to superannuation so that they can give tax cuts. It is your super they will be cutting, but it will be income earners at the top who get the tax cuts.
All of these will make a material difference to the lives of working people.
Of course there is more the Alliance would do
We would remove the barriers to education and get rid of the student debt burden. Entry to university or polytech should be on the basis of a student’s ability – not their ability to pay.
The Alliance would invest in a free public health system, so that New Zealanders who need a doctor or who need medicine can get the care they need when they need it.
The Alliance would have more ambitious policies to improve conditions for working New Zealanders -- a minimum of four week’s annual leave for everyone.
To those who have asked what happens to these policies – my message is simple: Give the Alliance the strength in Parliament we need, and we will deliver them.
We are able to deliver on many of our core policies now.
The Alliance put paid parental leave firmly on the agenda and we will see a paid parental leave scheme introduced by this Government.
My colleague the Associate Minister of Labour Laila Harre is working on the details with our Labour coalition partners.
It will ensure that working parents are not penalised for their decision to start a family. And it will ensure that employers who want to employ young parents are not penalised.
Our first challenge is to deliver more jobs and rising incomes for working New Zealanders.
The statistic that I am most proud of since I became Deputy Prime Minister was the unemployment announcement last week.
It showed that unemployment is at its lowest level for twelve years.
Jenny Shipley and Bill English said we were just lucky. Maybe they’re right. But isn’t it interesting that in nine years in government, they never managed to have the same luck?
There is still a long way to go. The Alliance could never be satisfied with unemployment still at the level that it is.
That is one of the reasons why today in Parliament we will vote against the Singapore Free Trade Agreement.
Not because this particular agreement will have much of an effect one way or another on unemployment. It won’t. It doesn’t make much of a difference overall.
But because trade agreements should always include protections to ensure that jobs are not lost and working conditions are not eroded.
However the Jobs Challenge is about much more than opposing things. It is about putting together the economic development policies that will create more jobs. Building a partnership-economy where the Government works with the community to create advantages.
The economy has not delivered for working people for over 25 years. We have been falling steadily behind other developed countries. The debt has been growing. Unemployment has remained high. Incomes for working people have dropped away.
The Coalition is investing in the regions and helping innovative new industries and businesses to grow.
I believe our commitment to stronger regions, more jobs and rising incomes is a credit to this Government.
The Government New Zealand has now is working smoothly and co-operatively – but it could easily have been different.
Don’t forget, this is a minority Government. We have to find someone else in Parliament to co-operate before we can do anything. Yet you would hardly notice that because of the sure, constructive and stable way that the Government functions.
I believe the Alliance has played a crucial role in ensuring that stability.
Yes our Labour colleagues deserve credit too. But this government would almost certainly not exist without the Alliance.
And imagine the alternatives.
Remember the shambles created by Winston Peters when he was in Government? Remember how the tail tried to wag the dog? How the country was repeatedly held to ransom. The brinkmanship. The chaos.
And if you think that was bad, could you imagine New Zealand First and the Greens trying to co-operate? I don’t want to personalise the issue – but imagine a government that had to try to deal with those potential time bombs day in and day out.
The alternative to that is a Government of Jenny Shipley and Richard Prebble.
Think of those two every time you feel some disappointment over this government. Imagine what a government of those two would be doing.
The Employment Relations Act would not have been repealed. It would have been toughened.
New Zealand Post would not be getting a kiwi bank. It would be sold, along with TVNZ, the remaining power companies, the hospitals and even the roads.
I don’t think that is a New Zealand you even want to contemplate.
Only the Labour-Alliance Coalition will be stable and govern in the interests of all New Zealanders. And the only way to deliver that Government is to ensure that the Alliance continues to have a strong role in it.
I want to close by assuring you that I am available to this union to work co-operatively in improving security and opportunity for working people – just as I am available to other organisations, to community groups and to business.
In fact I have a challenge for you. If you believe there is something I can do, or the Government can realistically do to create jobs, or lift the incomes of working people, I want you to bring your ideas to me.
I’m a pragmatist. If things aren’t working, I say we should stop doing them. When they do work, we should consider doing more. I think working co-operatively with organisations such as the NDU does work – and I’m always available to do more.