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What Has The Alliance Achieved In Government?

What Has The Alliance Achieved In Government So Far?

Speech notes for Otago Alliance AGM
Kevin Campbell, Alliance MP

2nd March 2002

When we think of the Alliance in government we dream about seeing a full Alliance government. One where we don't have to compromise, where we can fully afford to do everything we would want to do.

That's understandable. We all want to make New Zealand a land of security and opportunity.

But we too often forget that we are making very good progress towards that goal even though we only had 7.8% of the vote at the last election. I have to say that I believe we are getting more than 7.8% worth of changes to what would otherwise be only Labour policy, or worse, National-Act policy.

On a proportional basis, you truly get your votes worth out of having the Alliance in government.

Before being elected the Alliance put out a statement on what we would want to achieve in the first 100 days of government as an Alliance government, understanding the budget constraints upon us.

The top priority was to be to form a strong, stable new government as quickly as possible. After the last election the public waited for nine weeks before a government was even formed, and most of the first 100 days had passed. The Alliance was committed to forming a new government as quickly as possible.

We wanted the anti-party hopping bill to be the first new law introduced into Parliament to protect democracy.

We said that before Christmas, the Minimum Wage must be reviewed, by law and it should be increased by at least 50 cents an hour ($20 per week). And young people should no longer be paid a lower minimum wage for the same work.

For students we would remove interest on loans.

For our elders, we would increase superannuation by $20 a week, which would again restore the base rate of Super to the band of 65-72.5% of the average wage.

Employment and job creation had to be a priority in the new government. Within the first hundred days we wanted an Economic Development Fund established and ready to make its first investment in a job-rich new enterprise.

Twelve weeks paid parental leave and four weeks annual leave would be introduced.

That was what we would do in the first 100 days if we gained over 50% of the vote ourselves. And don't forget our campaigns to create 80,000 new jobs and give our poorest people a $20 a week boost.

The good news is, while we received less than 10% of the vote, we have now achieved all of these goals and then some more. Here are the key policy objectives which have been achieved already.

Key Policy Objectives Already Won

Super - increase $20 a week.

Housing - Income related rents brought in for state house tenants. This is worth much more than $20 a week to many.

Minimum wage - Adult minimum waged increased by $20 a week.

Youth - reduce age to receive adult minimum to 18 (down from 20), and increased youth minimum wage rates.

Pay for trainees - Removed ability of employers to pay young trainees either nothing or below minimum wages. Laila Harre's bill introduced last year ensures all youth trainees will at least receive the minimum wage appropriate for their age.

Jobs and economic development - this year we have had the lowest level of unemployment for 13 years (since 1988) at 5.2%. It rose slightly recently to 5.4%. 79,000 new jobs have been created since the election. That's almost the 80,000 we promised in an all Alliance government. - the Ministry of Economic Development and Industry New Zealand have been set up and are assisting communities all over the country.

Apprenticeships - we will have 4,500 by the end of the first term.

Education - $692 million of new spending in last years budget.

Tertiary students - No interest charged on student loans while studying. No increase in interest rates/fees.

Jobs for Students initiative - The Ministry of Economic Development has found some money specifically to help students find work over the summer.

Health - We now have democratically elected boards and have shorter waiting lists with people spending less time on waiting lists.

Youth Suicide Prevention package - several government departments are working together with community groups on prevention.

Conservation - We have devoted $55 million to saving the Kiwi, established the Stewart Island National Park and a new tussockland park for Canterbury.

Paid Parental leave is on its way - and we have 12 weeks, when Labour's policy was for 6.

These are by no means the only things we have achieved but they are an example of what work has been going on to put Alliance policy into place within this coalition government.

For example we also have made great gains in: - restorative justice, addressing Norm Withers, Sentencing and Parole, - ACC reclaimed as a public service, not an insurers profit creator, - end ECA, brought in ERA, - stopped sale of state assets.

Alliance as mediator or watchdog

Bill Ralston wrote in the Independent last year about how powerful the Alliance has been in government "as a filter mechanism, extracting more conservative initiatives from the government policy mix, the Alliance has had considerable impact in preventing Labour from drifting into the centre and centre right spectrum. Indeed, the Alliance can claim to have actively dragged Labour further to the left in this administration than Helen Clark or Michael Cullen might have wished." You can be sure of that point.

He goes on to say that "part of the price of coalition is that Labour has claimed a share of the kudos for some Alliance-led reforms... eg renationalisation of ACC, tax increases for the rich, repealing the employment contracts act, restoring pension levels, increases in the minimum wage, state house tenants income related rents and the industry development package."

Some portions of these policies were part of Labour's program but on their own, Labour would not have gone as far, or as quickly, without the Alliance pushing hard behind them. Without the Alliance there, even Bill Ralston knows that there would have been further erosion of workers rights and rewards.

The Alliance can also claim significant credit for the jobs created and the jobs and business generated by this government through Jim Anderton's jobs machine, the Ministry of Economic Development.

Job creation has always been a key plank for us. The Alliance is the only parliamentary party that believes in full employment. As I said before, during the last election said if we were the government, we would create 80,000 new jobs. We've helped create 79,000 so far.

Under MMP, government is not about dictating policy, it is about wielding influence, especially for the junior partner. The Alliance is doing well on that note.

But we know that this isn't getting through to the public and our members. Because we are in a coalition we can't go to the media bragging about every little step we make because it would make the government unstable. We would end up with an unworkable coalition where Labour may decide not to give us any of our demands because they didn't want us crowing about it.

Another NZ First situation where the government can't work together would mean the end of MMP. People simply got sick of it and the polls on support for MMP showed a big drop at the time of the last election.

Surely it's more important to make positive change for New Zealanders than to destabilise the coalition and endanger the positive changes we are able to negotiate.

We will of course make sure people know more about our contributions and any conflicts with Labour over them, during our election campaign as that is the right place for it. We will do more and more of it this year. You can be sure of that. And we are currently letting the media know of all our achievements as we make them.

I do understand that it is very hard to see the extent of our influence, especially when we have had to argue it out in Cabinet, but I and our other Alliance MPs try to let you know as much as possible. Most of our work promoting Alliance policy goes on around the cabinet table, in Ministers offices, in negotiations between Labour and Alliance Ministers and some changes also get made around the select committee tables.

If you look, listen and read between the lines you may start to recognise the left leaning sections of new legislation which goes beyond what Labour would do on their own.

Key philosophical differences between Labour and the Alliance

We will need to remind people during the election just what the key differences between Labour and the Alliance are so they can see why it's important to have us in the government. There are some fundamental differences between us of course.

Labour were responsible for bringing in an unfettered free market approach to the economy and reduced the role of the state as provider and funder for the people. The destruction of our economy didn't start with the National Party, it started with the 1984 Labour government. But it's now clear that the free market approach simply didn't work. Our people have said that all along. We've proven that there is a better way.

Our fundamental belief that community responsibility is the best way to care for our people is a grounding principle to all of our policies. We do not support the law of the market jungle. The market will not provide for all and it certainly will not provide equity, security or equal opportunity. The state must balance the inequities of the market.

Progressive taxation is the best way to rebalance the economy. Those who can afford to pay, should pay more. One dollar means more to a beneficiary with 3 children to feed, than it does to a chief executive or a Vice Chancellor.

We have consistently said that the Alliance wants to do more to improve health, education, jobs and the environment. People want us to make as much progress as we can, as quickly as we can on key issues. They understand that this costs money.

Clearly, we believe the government has a key role to play in the economy.

The Alliance has brought a philosophy of 'partnership' to government.

You hear the word partnership a lot these days in relation to economic development. Although it is often spoken of as partnership between government and business, it also refers to partnership between government and the unions, iwi, community organisations and local government.

Partnership is a philosophy of the Alliance and actually comes from our own development plan 'Partnership 2000'.

We believe in truly representative democratic government. Remember that many Labour MPs, including Helen Clark, didn't support MMP, they were happy to hang on to their power rather than allow full and proportionate representation of the people in parliament.

Another philosophical change that the Alliance has spearheaded in this government is 'sustainability'. Our development package, our environmental policy and our social policies are all based on sustainability. We do not promote policies which will negatively affect our communities' ability to sustain themselves either economically, environmentally or socially.

We are the party which has brought planning and foresight back into government. This is not only about supporting industry and regional development but partnership with environmental and social groups too.

We have brought the word sovereignty back to our people. We believe in New Zealand ownership and are the first government since Norman Kirk to actually establish a new government owned asset, the Kiwi Bank.

The Alliance presence has changed the ideological contest in each general election, dramatically increasing public support for progressive taxation, and a decent welfare state.

In an ironic way people have taken up our philosophies to a much greater degree than can be demonstrated in our poll rating.

It is our philosophy which has turned the tide against the new right. It is our belief that collectively we as a society should provide full employment, state-funded housing, free health care and free education.

The existence of the Alliance, and the hard questions that it has asked, has forced Labour and National to address and reverse their positions on issues like privatisation, deregulation, and big cuts in welfare spending.

Without the Alliance in government we could lose the extensive economic development programs, the Kiwi bank, increased minimum wage, 12 weeks paid parental leave, superannuation boost, income related rents, youth rates, jobs and apprenticeships.

There would be reduced education spending, fewer jobs for students, we may not have instituted a democratic health system, had such a strong commitment to suicide prevention work and the concept of sustainability in the interests of the community, not just the economy and environment.

It is important that the Alliance increases its influence to ensure that Labour does not return to what it started; deregulation and privatisation.

What else does the Alliance contribute?

Securing the democratic system with MMP

We have secured MMP into our government, shown that it can work well with mature coalition partners. Many Labour MPs didn't support MMP. People will no longer associate MMP solely with the farce created by National and New Zealand First.

The new coalition agreement introduced a transparent process to manage differences between the two parties. It was important that we use this only on major issues. The Alliance used this process to vote against the controversial Singapore Free Trade Agreement.

The Alliance has invested heavily in the MMP system, but without that investment we may have lost MMP altogether.

There is a grave danger if people do not vote for the Alliance as a result of our contribution to this Coalition Government, that MMP will be seen as something that happens every three years when a small party joins Labour or National and gets swallowed up. That is not what MMP is about.

We need to remind voters that there is no Labour government, there is no Alliance government, there is a Labour-Alliance Government. If voters support the present government they are supporting a Labour-Alliance government not a Labour government. I know you will agree that a Labour government on its own would be very different from this Labour-Alliance Government.

Consultation

There is a consultation process set in place between the coalition partners so that whichever Minister is introducing legislation, must go through the appropriate consultation with a consulting Minister from the other party. If it is a Labour Minister's legislation, the Alliance adds Alliance policy initiatives to these proposals or it might take out any points which go against our principles.

In this Government the Alliance is contributing to a much greater degree than our actual percentage of the vote. The Alliance can't replace every Labour proposal with its own because the Alliance had only 7.8% support at the last election and we are working within a Labour sized budget.

We don't have the money to implement many of our policies. But with more support at the next election the Alliance can insist on more consideration commensurate with its electorate support.

Economic development:

The Alliance went to the 1999 election promising direct investment in New Zealand's regions and industries, in order to create jobs and reduce unemployment.

The first year of the coalition government has seen the Alliance make excellent progress in this area.

We now have: - A Ministry of Economic Development, - We are prioritising most depressed areas for development assistance, - We are developing infrastructure and a skills base with thousands of apprenticeships and industry trainees.

Jim Anderton, as Minister for Economic Development, has overseen 2 years of massive changes in the government 's economic development policy.

The government has created the Ministry of Economic Development to allow government to take a more active role in the New Zealand economy.

Industry New Zealand has also been created in order to coordinate the delivery of economic and regional development services and programs.

A key element of the jobs machine is a strong focus on regional development.

The Regional Partnership Program has been set up to revitalise provincial economies by boosting job opportunities and helping to promote sustainable growth.

Grants are available for strategy development, building capacity of essential services, and major regional initiatives.

The jobs machine is on the way towards creating the Alliance 's goal of full employment for New Zealanders.

Voting for the Alliance is a vote for regional development, something that this country hasn't seen from government over the past 25 years. When the select committee heard submissions as to the setting up of Industry NZ, there was only one submission against it. Submitters supporting the initiative ranged from manufacturers, employers, local governments, private enterprise and unions.

Those sectors are a good base on which to build a sound economy. With all those sectors working together for the development of our regions, NZ will succeed.

The Alliance is leading this regional development programme and a very effective way of endorsing that policy is to vote Alliance.

Sovereignty / no more asset sales or privatisations

The Alliance has made sure that the privatisation of services and the sale of strategic public assets are off the government 's agenda. This includes ending the sale of state houses to property developers.

The government has also stopped the sale of the Waikaremoana Power Scheme by state-owned Genesis Power Ltd. Privatisation of essential services has ended.

Sandra Lee has recently won changes in the Local Government Bill which prevent any further privatisation of water, a key Alliance platform.

And of course, the Kiwi Bank further enhances the value of New Zealand's public assets.

Kiwi Bank offers: - low cost banking - high branch coverage of the country - cheaper fees - NZ Post most successful Post company in the world - family focussed banking

This is a defining moment for the Alliance, the party that has stood against privatisation and the shrinking of government's role in providing services to its citizens.

The Kiwi Bank is an exciting initiative because not only will it ensure better banking service for New Zealander's but it is about New Zealander's owning NZ assets.

67.3 per cent of Kiwi Bank supporters have cited a desire for local ownership as their main reason for support and 28.5 per cent cited the desire for lower fees and better service.

That's what makes the Kiwi Bank such a symbol. For years we have seen the decimation of small communities, particularly in rural areas.

The Kiwi Bank is our stake in the ground to say 'no more'. The cycle of decline is over. The era of closures is over. We are going to build. We are going to invest in communities.

The Kiwi Bank will compete with overseas-owned trading banks, providing lower fees and better local service.

In setting up a state-owned bank, the Alliance has pushed the government to invest in one of its assets for the first time in decades, rather than running those assets down or selling them off.

If for no other reason, vote for the Alliance at the next election because of the Kiwi Bank. That will be a vote for a party that in Government, is not closing, slashing or cutting something, but is actually opening and starting something all New Zealanders will benefit from, Kiwi Bank. Fees of other banks have already started dropping.

Even if NZ Post could put a Kiwi Bank only in its existing 320 outlets throughout the country, it would still be able to reach 100 more outlets than the total of the largest network of current foreign owned banks.

Paid parental leave Our Alliance Minister, Laila Harre has been working hard to ensure that NZ women and families have access to paid parental leave.

We have been one of a handful of ILO member countries to have no national provisions for paid parental leave. More than 120 do. The ILO minimum standard was recently increased to 14 weeks.

New Zealand has lagged well behind the rest of the world on this issue. The Alliance has won the introduction of 12 weeks paid parental leave in this country. Labour's policy was only to consider 6 weeks.

Why taxation is such an important issue

- Fairness, Alliance tax scales are much more progressive, will not support flat taxes,

- Alliance tax rates would mean 95% of people would pay less tax, our increases would have come in at $60,000. Not many people earn above $60,000,

- Reinvestment after decades of running NZ infrastructure into the ground, including Labour and National's closure of hospitals and selling off public assets,

- We need to move towards free health and free education to keep up with the rest of the world - people must contribute and play their part, especially those more capable of paying,

- Reduction of poverty, easing up on the poor,

- Paying our nurses and teachers a fair wage.

New Zealand isn't a heavily taxed nation by international standards and people in New Zealand are willing to pay a bit more to help fund health and education in particular. We can be a prosperous country if we invest in development and education. We need to keep up with developments around the world where other countries are making huge progress developing their economies while we're only just starting out. We can do this easily and efficiently with a larger tax take.

Fair trade not free trade

In an historic vote in Parliament, the Alliance voted against coalition partner Labour on the Singapore Free Trade Agreement.

Labour needed the support of the National Party for the agreement to be ratified by Parliament.

The Singapore agreement had no minimum employment and environmental standards, and such trade agreements could result in New Zealand losing control of its own economic, social, environmental and cultural standards.

The Alliance will continue to oppose trade agreements that promote free trade over fair trade.

The Alliance invoked a party distinction clause in the Coalition Agreement to vote against the Singapore/Free Trade Agreement.

That party distinction clause and the accompanying rewrite of the Cabinet Manual is another sound reason why voters can be assured that the Alliance in coalition will insist on its right to distinguish itself from its coalition partner and its Ministers will have the right to speak in the House against a policy of its coalition partner.

To maintain stability we have only used this for top priority issues. We may use it more often in the lead up to the election though.

Conclusion

As members, you know how important it is for us to be in a position where finally, we can make a real difference to the living standards of New Zealanders.

The best way the state can help New Zealand and New Zealanders is to invest in employment, education and health and to reduce poverty. The Alliance is driving force behind reducing education costs, health costs and driving economic development which is helping create jobs around the country.

It is our policies of free health, free education and economic development in partnership with the whole community which are the basis for the most positive changes this government has made.

It is our philosophy that the state does have a strong role to play in the economy and in New Zealand communities which has turned the tide against the new right philosophies which both Labour and National promoted in the past.

The Alliance must be part of the next government, not only because of our policies which put people first and take care of the environment, but because we have consistently said 'hands off' doesn't work and, more importantly, we are the ones who have developed and costed out the alternatives which do work.


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