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Restoring the faith and realising the vision

Hon. Michael Cullen
19 November 2000
Speech Notes
Sunday 19 November 2000

Restoring the faith and realising the vision

Hon. Michael Cullen
Keynote Speech to the NZ Labour Party Annual Conference 2000, Wellington Town Hall

Fellow members and supporters of the government.

This conference has been a time to celebrate and a time to move on. We have celebrated our first year in government, a few weeks early but who's counting. And we have recognised the need to move on to build the New Zealand we want to see.

Our first year has been an enormously vital, challenging and fulfilling one. Fulfilling most of all because, let us say it again, we have done what we said we would do. We have kept our word.

Every single pledge has been carried out. We have restored the pension. We have introduced a limited tax increase for higher income earners. We have set up new structures and programmes to support business and export development. We have increased funding to fight crime, especially burglary and youth crime.

In two weeks time, income related state house rentals begin. We have put more money into surgery and also mental health. We have made the student loans scheme fairer and reduced costs for 80 percent of all graduates.

And we have done so much more than we said we would do. We have returned accident compensation to a proper public scheme. We have done it at reduced average costs and shortly I will announce further substantial reductions in average costs to employers and taxpayers.

Six months ago we were told we were wrecking New Zealand by doing this. In fact we are lowering the costs to the great majority of New Zealand businesses.

Barely six weeks ago we were told the repeal of the Employment Contracts Act would be the end of the world. Well, we repealed it. In 1992, when leading the debate on the final stages of the Employment Contracts Act, I promised we would. We stuck to that promise in 1993, in 1996 and in 1999. And, finally, we won a mandate to do it.

It is done. The world has not come to an end. It is true the spectre of socialism still haunts Roger Kerr but then it always will. All those people who publicly promised to go to Australia are still here. And business leaders and trade unionists are sitting down and eating together.

The world has moved on and so must we. We have done the major parts of the rebalancing we promised to do. Now we need to build a sustainable consensus for a social democratic state which delivers real social and economic gains to working people and their families.

Our political opponents wish to play no part in building that consensus. They lie in wait like the French aristocracy during the Revolution hoping for a restoration of the old regime. Mrs Shipley and Mr English spend their lives crisscrossing the Auckland Central Business District hoping to avoid each other in case they are wearing the same make-up. But neither has a single new thought rattling around in their head, simply the same tired, failed, discredited agenda.

National's backbenchers seem to be preparing philosophically to defect to Act as they talk of a flat tax of 20 percent. Of course the fact that means a $7 a week tax increase for someone on $20,000 a year, a tax cut of about $140 a week for an ordinary MP, and a tax cut of about $360 a week for a Cabinet Minister no doubt has nothing to do with their enthusiasm!

But let them also explain where the savage cuts in government spending are going to come from to pay for such self-interested generosity.
Meanwhile Act itself has undergone one of its regular makeover jobs. That's when Richard Prebble goes and pays for a haircut. As a result we can expect it to resume its traditional behaviour of running around in ever decreasing circles until it disappears up its own fundamentalism.
National and Act are stunningly irrelevant. They will always be dangerous because of their single-minded desire for power. But they are stuck in a timewarp in the 1980s and 1990s and will become less and less significant as time moves on unless they start to move with it.

So the future is ours as long as we are prepared to grasp it. That means taking a long term view of what we do, when we do it, and how we do it. We do not have to try to do everything in one term; that will be one of the best ways of increasing the risk of being in for one term. What's built in a day can be pulled down in a day. The job for a Labour-led Government is to be there for the long haul, to build carefully a more just society so that it can endure.

For the next couple of years, that means recognising that we will need to run very tight budgets with very limited additional spending. Fulfilling our core pledges within the first year of government has been a crucial exercise in restoring faith in government itself.

None can say of us that we have said one thing and then done another. The problem for some has been the shock of the new - that we have said one thing and then done it.

But those pledges cost money - considerably more than the additional tax revenue we have raised. Add in the other new spending in areas as diverse as biosecurity and the arts and new spending in each of the next two years will be a little less than half of what it has been in the first year.
It is crucial to our fiscal and economic credibility that we deliver on the
budgetary framework we have announced. By spending more we may buy a few friends - often fairweather friends. When it comes to the crunch, the average Kiwi who decides elections wants to know we can manage the government's accounts properly.

But they also want to see from us a clear social and economic vision about the kind of New Zealand we will be building in the 21st century.

Above all they want to see us realising that vision in a way which meets the two core demands the people have in terms of what government can offer: security and opportunity.

The two are, of course, intertwined. You cannot have real security without the kind of economic success that ensuring there is real opportunity creates. And you cannot have opportunity without that base of security which gives all a real chance in life.

The modern world faces us with real challenges in both respects. Much of the attack on this Government has come from those who falsely and selfishly argue that security for others means lack of opportunity for them.

If by that they mean the lack of opportunity to exploit and to treat others with contempt, they are right. But if they mean a lack of opportunity to succeed and flourish, then they are wrong. There is nothing more revolting than unjustified self-pity on the part of the rich and powerful.

On the other hand, the process of globalisation presents us with pressing challenges and opportunities. It is a process and one we cannot turn our backs on. We cannot stop the world and try to get off. But the awful fact for a party of our sort is that a good proportion of our people can fall off. Indeed, they are falling off.

It is all very well for those who are on the right side of the gaps to sneer at attempts to close them.

We know that in terms of social justice we have to ensure all can participate in the new economy. We also know that if that does not happen then the economy will be less efficient and productive in any case.

For too long we in this nation have failed to realise our full potential. We have fallen behind in terms of our relative standard of living and therefore also in terms of many key social indicators, such as quality of housing and life expectancy. We are towards the bottom end of the first world when we should be at the top. That is the real gap we have to close.

So, as a nation, we have to be in the first division of knowledge-based producers of high quality goods and services. That is what being a top end first world country means. It is what the Labour Party must ensure we become.

We are laying the groundwork for that transformation now but there is a lot to be done.

What we need to keep telling ourselves is that this new world we are in makes more relevant, not less relevant, many of our traditional beliefs and attitudes.

To succeed in this new world, both as a nation and as individuals, we need more, and more equal, access to education - not less. We need it at every level.

We need to ensure that everyone acquires a firm grounding in the basic skills of listening and numeracy. Jobs which were once simply expressions of muscle power now require keyboard skills. We do not yet succeed in that respect.

We need far more people to be trained with technical and technological skills than we are producing at the present time. We cannot afford to waste a single young person's talents through failures in our education system.

Education is no longer just the public good we have always proclaimed it to be. It is a public necessity. It is the most important path to opportunity and security that we can lay.

To succeed in the new world, both as a nation and as individuals, we have to ensure that all New Zealanders have access to health care and housing which enables them to participate to the maximum extent possible. People raised in poor housing and with poor health can scarcely be expected to reach their full potential. And the new world demands that we reach our full potential.

To succeed in this new world, both as a nation and as individuals, requires us to recognise that we must work together as well as compete. New Zealand is too small and too distant to afford to pull itself in every direction. We need a common vision and a common purpose.
We need to respect and value success. But we also need to relish our common citizenship, our essential equality as New Zealanders. This is not a party that believes that any one group of New Zealanders is superior to any other.

Above all, to succeed in the new world, both as a nation and as individuals, we have to have our people in work, in jobs that pay well, provide satisfaction, and give people dignity. That is why we are called the Labour Party.

And that means we must assert and express the crucial role that government retains in ensuring a strong rate of sustainable development and an integrated
strategy to achieve that.

As I have said, we are laying the groundwork. The economy is switching from growth based on consumption to growth based on exports and the tradeables sector.

We have boosted substantially support for research and development. We are providing new programmes to support business development, export growth, and investment. We are producing a new strategic approach to land transport. We are moving to reform and improve our tertiary education sector.

We are reexamining how immigration fits in to our economic needs. We are moving to improve our capital markets, reduce compliance costs, and lift our savings levels.

This is a new government for a new century. We are not the prisoners of dead ideologies or the slave of defunct theories. New Zealanders now want to move beyond the past battles. They want the chance to succeed, the right to respect, an assurance of reasonable security and a nation to be proud of.

It is our task to deliver on those aspirations.


ENDS

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