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Methodist Church Congregation - Anderton Speech

8 July 2001 Hon Jim Anderton Speech Notes

Address To Methodist Church Congregation

20 Yaldhurst Rd


Sunday, 8 July 2001 10:30 am

Last week the Government was famously described as being “Presbyterian’.

Perhaps my appearance today at a Methodist church is not so much a refutation of that description as a sign that the churches are working more closely.

You have asked me to talk about contemporary social and community concerns in New Zealand, and I want to begin by looking at some contemporary concerns in other developed countries.

Recently I met with a prominent Nuffield College economist, Tony Atkinson.

He specialises, among other things, in income distribution and the problem of poverty in Europe and we talked about the Social Agenda emerging in Europe.

Europe has adopted a goal of becoming “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustained economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion".

Europe's Social Agenda, which lies behind its economic goal, stresses the importance of linking economic, social and employment policies.

For many years New Zealanders were told that economic policy and social policy had to be separated.

But in Europe today, in pursuit of the goal of becoming “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world”, economic policy and social policy go hand in hand.

For most of us, that is a pretty straightforward goal - more jobs means a stronger economy and more ability to afford essential social services like superannuation.

But it is a very controversial view in New Zealand.

For example, there is a prominent economist who is travelling around the country right now promoting a referendum to get rid of MMP and reduce the size of Parliament.

And he said publicly before the last election, “unemployment is good for the economy.’

Great minds like this have been running New Zealand for a quarter of a century.

If they can link social policy, economic policy and employment in Europe, then why can’t we do it here?

There are six headings for future policy that have been adopted in Europe.

They are all goals that are equally applicable to New Zealand.

They are:

1. More and better jobs.

Not just any job will do - the commitment is to promote high-value, high-skill jobs, and to ensure there are opportunities for groups such as the long-term unemployed.

2. Changing the work environment to create a new balance between flexibility and security.

This means ensuring there is adequate provision for social needs in the workplace, such as paid parental leave and child care.

It means ensuring that working people have some involvement in industrial decisions, through collective bargaining and dealing with workers in good faith.

3. Fighting poverty and all forms of exclusion.

Just because overall economic standards are increased, doesn’t mean that poverty will automatically disappear.

For New Zealand, transforming the economy has to also mean transforming the distribution of wealth and ensuring that everyone benefits from the improvements.

4. Modernising social protection.

This means reducing poverty traps in welfare assistance.

It also means ensuring provision is made for an aging population, and that health and education systems are adequate to meet changing populations, and changing technology.

5. Promoting gender equality.

We need to recognise that women overwhelmingly bear the brunt of poverty and of reconciling work and family.

Even though we have women in most of New Zealand’s top jobs - including the Prime Minister, the Governor-General, the Chief Justice, and the chief executive of one of our largest companies - there are still not enough women in senior positions, and women’s pay continues to lag that of men.

6. Strengthening regions.

In Europe, regions are entire countries.

If they can strengthen regions as big as that, then surely New Zealand can strengthen our regions.

We cannot have a strong national economy if the regions are weak.

Every year the European Commission has to report on the initiatives it has taken to promote and achieve the six goals.

I’ve mentioned them at some length because they comprise an economic and social agenda that has been discarded in New Zealand for a generation.

And yet they are an example of the positive achievements that can be made through government.

I believe this Government is making advances on all of them.

For my party within the government they are core policies.

It is our job to hold them up as beacons, as stars to navigate by.

And I believe they are demands supported by the majority of New Zealanders.

But it’s not enough merely to make the demands and identify the problems we face.

As New Zealanders, we all have to own the solutions.

When I was young and starting out, people of the age and comparable income to mine now accepted they had a responsibility to young people.

They paid their share through the tax system and the Government would help young and old, sick and needy.

New Zealanders would contribute when they had the means to contribute, and receive help when they needed help.

The government cannot help without citizens taking responsibility and making their contribution.

It’s a bit like prisons. Everyone wants more prisons, but no one wants one built near them.

Everyone wants hospitals, but when we ask people who can afford it to pay a fairer share of tax, there are not too many volunteers.

The Government doesn't wave a magic wand to provide services.

New Zealanders need to own the solutions to our own problems.

This is almost a Christian message, but it is one that is applicable to the whole of New Zealand.

We need to take pride and a sense of public service in fulfilling our responsibilities and being good citizens.

Ideas like public service have become unfashionable since the days when John F Kennedy invited his people to “ask not what you country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.’

These days the Alliance in government is sometimes accused of putting the future of the coalition and the country ahead of the future of the party.

And yet what greater calling can there be, than working tirelessly to make our country better?

Public service and selflessness are the highest standards that we can aspire to.

Being in government to do the best we can for our country is noble.

Government can deliver gains for New Zealanders collectively that cannot be achieved by individuals, each abandoned to fight alone.

We have made advances in Government, and we can be proud of them.

We can celebrate our successes.

- Super, $20 a week.

- Securing the future for retirement incomes; Super Fund.

- Housing - Income related rents ($20 a week)

- Minimum wage - Adult: $20

- Youth: reduce to age 18 and ultimately remove.

- Remove NIL or below minimum wage for trainees.

- Education - one third of new spending this year ($200 million out of $400 million).

Tertiary students: No interest charged on student loans.

No increase in interest rates or fees.

- Health - Elected boards - Lower/ less time on waiting lists

- Kiwi Bank - lower fees, more branches, profits retained in New Zealand.

- Apprenticeships - 4,500 by end of first term.

- Jobs. Lowest level of unemployment for 13 years (since 1988) and getting lower. (Dannevirke).

- Jobs Machine. We have created the Ministry of Economic Development and set up Industry New Zealand.

I’m proud of our successes in Government.

And I’m proud of New Zealanders.

New Zealanders are the most creative and innovative people in the world.

Last week I visited the set of Lord of the Rings.

It’s being filmed in a few anonymous buildings in Wellington.

I see a movie every week, and I am certain that Lord of the Rings is going to be an astonishing film.

It is ultra-high technology, with special effects the equal of anything that’s ever been done before.

And it’s all being done on kiwi ingenuity.

I met Peter Jackson and the Los Angeles movie moguls who are under-writing the film.

And they told me that Hollywood would not have been able to make a movie anything like the one Peter Jackson is making in Wellignton.

Most of the staff making props and costumes have never worked on a feature film before.

They came from farms where they’re used to solving problems with pieces of number eight wire.

One of the Americans said to me, “The concept of "impossible" is unknown to New Zealanders.'

This is a message I wish I could spread to every young New Zealander.

We have this legacy of talent and creativity, and every New Zealander has a unique contribution to make.

If you don’t do it, nobody will.

On Wednesday I attended a presentation for Alan MacDiarmid, the Nobel Prize winning scientist - a New Zealander.

We need role models like him and like Bruce McLaren.

My vision for New Zealand is one where we embrace successes.

Where every young New Zealander starting out has confidence to aim high, to be the next Alan MacDiarmid or Bruce McLaren.

And the self-assurance that comes from knowing that they are unique, that their contribution cannot be made by anyone else.

It can be achieved in the sort of society the European Council is talking about, where social policy and economic policy are integrated.

Where no one is left behind.

Where the aim is for the most dynamic economy in the world, and the strongest social policy because the two go hand in hand.

It’s for others to lower expectations.

It’s my intention to aim high and to keep alive the possibilities.

If we choose to climb any mountain, then we can, if we have the courage and the dedication and the vision, individually and as a country.

And I think there are worse things we could aim to do.


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