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Harre Speech To The Seafarers

Tuesday 7 May 2002
11.45am Speech Notes
Speech To The Seafarers
Union Conference Centre
Willohaven, Ngongataha

After two and a half years as a member of the most popular government New Zealand has experienced in a generation it should be a simple matter for me to stand here and seek your support for a second term.

Your union has always been a friend of the Alliance, and has always seen the merits of giving support to a principled party of the left as a co-operative partner for Labour in government.

Many of the policies that your union has argued for have been advanced or implemented by the Labour/Alliance Government.

Of course there is still much to be done but the truth is that this Government has stopped the new right in its tracks and even in some areas begun to reverse course. That is why New Zealanders are endorsing the general direction of the government. And the government’s popularity provides an even greater opportunity for people of the left, including the trade union movement, to seek to achieve even more in the next three years.

So it is especially disappointing that despite the fact that the Alliance must rate as one of the most successful parties of the left that the industrialised world has seen in recent years, we face our biggest ever challenge as a political movement.

Jim Anderton’s decision not just to leave but to fight – and bitterly – the party we built with him could prove to be devastating not just to the Alliance but to the wider movement, at least in the short term.

Which is why now, more than ever, good people need to work to ensure the electoral survival of the Alliance this year.

Of course one election, even a wipe out election, will not wipe out the programme around which people of the left gather. But I suggest it would cost us heavily.

The second term of this government is likely to be even more important than the first in defining a future direction for New Zealand. Much of our focus in this first term has been about stopping the bad stuff from continuing, and beginning to do some of the remedial work.

Some deeper work has been begun in areas like regional development and transport.

But on a number of vital policy issues we have only been able to scrape the surface and huge opportunities exist to shape the future as it will be experienced for generations. Most social policy falls into this category.

The basic shape of the income support system remains much as Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson left it. Low and increasingly middle-income families are left with ever-declining incomes as the value of family support fails to keep pace with inflation and the cut-off point for qualifying for family assistance gets lower and lower as average wages increase but the threshold doesn’t. This means that less people get less money in real terms to assist them in bringing up children, and families on very low incomes who depend on benefits or are on ACC get the least of all, because they don’t qualify for in-work family assistance.

Even with lower unemployment, re-distributing income to low income families remains a serious issue which the Alliance wants advanced in the next term of this Government. It is quite simply unacceptable that in a country as wealthy as New Zealand 30 per cent of our children live below the poverty line.

When you consider that we have an aging population, and that the babies being born today will have to be even more productive than the 40-year olds in work today, the importance of supporting families with children becomes plain. When today’s forty year olds turn 65 they will be relying on a smaller workforce to pay their super. If that workforce has not had the very best start in life, and the very best education and training available, then things just won’t add up.

So supporting and resourcing families is not just socially just, it is economically vital.

The same can be said of tertiary education.

The average borrowing student now leaves university or polytech with a $12,000 debt. The current total debt burden is vastly greater than was ever estimated by those who designed the scheme.

There is a much simpler way of funding tertiary education than the user pays model which required the creation of the student loan scheme. It’s called progressive taxation.

There is a big risk that unless the Alliance is back in government next time around with an unequivocal commitment to a universal student allowance and the progressive reduction of university and polytech fees there will be little more than fiddling with the student loan scheme over the next three years.

Which would mean that even two terms past the National Government we will not have dealt the death blow to what must be one of the least popular and most stupid education policies ever imposed on young people.

The next term of this government may prove to be our best opportunity to restore what was once without doubt the most accessible tertiary education system in the world. With some of the suggestions being floated – like personalised education accounts for children - I am very worried that the most efficient and fair way of funding education – directly through taxation – won’t even get a look in if the Alliance is not back in government.

The education of our youth, and with it the development of the skills we need if we are to have any chance of clawing our way back to the top half of the OECD league tables, is just too important to leave to chance.

Now I know that you wanted me to talk about shipping, and the only ship I’ve referred to so far is the new right battleship that we have pretty well torpedoed.

One of the cornerstones of new right policy was of course deregulation in all its forms, and coastal shipping was no exception. The Alliance’s position on this issue hasn’t changed, but you will know that the process of reviewing your industry has been a long one.

Coastal shipping services are the most energy efficient of all modes for bulk cargo. The Alliance has consistently opposed a fully open coast or transit option policy, which is dogmatic and ideological. We had hoped that the shipping review would clear the way for the reintroduction of cabotage, but the result was somewhat more ambivalent than you or I might have hoped it would be.

Deregulation has resulted in the loss of jobs as well as the loss of New Zealand control of the industry.

The Alliance continues to be firmly of the view that employment on ships around the New Zealand coast should be subject to New Zealand law and employment agreements negotiated under our Employment Relations Act.

We went into government with a commitment to support cabotage and we have kept that option alive throughout the consideration of the outcome of the shipping industry review.

Where we go now is something I am very keen to hear from you about today.

Of course in the wider industrial relations area the Alliance is very proud of the progress we have made in government. The repeal of the ECA was a significant reversal for the deregulators, but for me the advances we have made on minimum wages and other employment rights has been even more satisfying.

It is worth reviewing. Since we came into government at the end of 1999 the minimum wage for those over 20 has increased by $1 an hour, for 18 and 19 year olds by a massive $3.80 an hour as we lifted them to the adult rate, and by $2.20 and hour for 16 and 17 year olds. I know the scale of these increases was due to Alliance advocacy.

Then there is of course 12 weeks paid parental leave. Aside from providing women in paid work with a high level of income replacement in the first 12 weeks of their leave, the policy begins to recognise the massive change in the make-up of the New Zealand workforce over the past 30 years. If it’s good enough to play blokes their wages when they are recovering from rugby injuries then women should be paid when they take essential time off work to care for new babies.

The Holidays Act has also been under review and the Government has announced a number of agreed changes that will be introduced to parliament this year. Among them separating out bereavement from other special leave and letting people take it more than once in a year. The new bill will also clean up of statutory holiday provisions, including a minimum payment of time and a half as well as a lieu day for working on a public holiday.

One thing Labour and the Alliance couldn’t agree on was a fourth week’s annual leave. So we have agreed to disagree and I launched a campaign on May Day to set about changing Labour’s mind on this issue so that we can catch up with Australia and add the extra week before the Holidays Bill finishes its journey through Parliament.

So there’s a fair bit on the agenda and the Alliance is not about to take a bow and exit stage left.

I am as angry as the next person about Jim Anderton’s decision to leave the Alliance.

I am especially disappointed by his continuing and unjustified attacks on the party itself. There are yet more reports of these in this morning’s newspapers.

But I know that we are more than capable of standing on our own two feet as a principled party to the left of Labour, working with Labour in government.

To stay there we will need your help.

It is possible, many say probable, that we will need to win an electorate seat in order to keep a foothold in parliament this time around. On Sunday I seek selection as the Alliance candidate for Waitakere and our campaign there is already well underway. We will be asking the locals to return an experienced and effective local MP to Wellington.

A credible campaign in Waitakere will also be central to our chances of cracking the 5% threshold – a goal we think is achievable. It’s something like 2000 votes in every electorate. We would welcome your help to get the billboards up and get our message to the voters.

This election is not about whether or not Labour will be in Government. It is about who is there with them.

And that will depend on people like you.


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