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Helen Clark Address To Labour Party Congress

Embargoed until 2.00 pm
Saturday 18 May 2002

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister



Queen’s Wharf Event Centre

2.00 pm

Saturday 18 May 2002

Three years ago this Congress met in this events centre full of anticipation about the general election.

We knew not when it would be, but that was irrelevant.

What we did know was that Labour was ready for government. We knew that after nine years of very hard work, Labour was not only back on the boards, but also poised to win.

The message to New Zealanders was clear: Labour has come home.

The New Zealand Labour Party was back in business as the credible, stable, political force which had turned this country around in the past and could do so again.

We laid claim to the legacy of Labour’s early leaders to whom New Zealanders across the social spectrum had turned for hope that things might be better. Those early leaders delivered social security, full employment, and rising living standards.

We also laid claim to the legacy of Walter Nash – the careful and orthodox steward of the nation’s finances, and saw in Michael Cullen a successor as Finance Minister who could manage the books and grow the economy.

Those analogies may sound like ancient history to those without an historical bent.

But what wasn’t ancient history was the crisis of confidence in New Zealand by the end of the 1990s.

This was a badly divided and disillusioned nation.

It had been promised miracle cures if only it was prepared to suffer enough.

Private was good, public was bad.

The rich were being promised tax cuts as an incentive to work harder. The poor were told they needed lower wages and benefit cuts to get the same result. Superannuitants took cuts as well, even though they weren’t expected to work at all !

The last government had taken its hands off the economic tiller to the point of indifference. No-one knew where the good ship New Zealand was sailing – except very close to the rocks.

Our predecessors’ prescription was for more of the same failed policies – more tax cuts, more deregulation, more privatisation. New Zealand was in a race to underdevelopment, not to being a high value, advanced, first world nation.

We came to government knowing what hadn’t worked. The blanket of regulation which lay over the economy before-1984 had been suffocating, had held back change, and had run the country into debt.

But the shock tactics of the other extreme pulled the rug out from under both the economy and the society, and left a demoralised people.

The last thing New Zealanders wanted when they put their faith in us in 1999 was another round of giddy, destabilising change.

New Zealanders were looking for steady, progressive government which would get on with the business of rebuilding our country, and that’s what we’ve dedicated ourselves to.

The results have exceeded my expectations and we can be proud of the results.

As a government we have delivered across the board, in the economy, in social policy, on the environment, in foreign relations, and in a creative and cultural renaissance.

There is a buzz about New Zealand which hasn’t been felt in a long time.

You sense it at last week’s Music Awards for an industry which has just had its biggest year ever.

You sense it at this week’s Export Awards where the new achievers were recognised for their outstanding contribution to the economy.

You sense it at the many gatherings I attend with Ministers in Maoridom where so many new initiatives for education, health, and economic development are under way and where the unemployment rate is significantly down on what it was when we came to power.

You sense it at the Forestry Industry Awards ceremony where hundreds of workers came forward to receive what, for many, was the first qualification they had ever earned.

And you sense it at this year’s university graduation ceremonies where the students have not faced rising fees, nor debts escalating through interest applied when they couldn’t repay it, and where they face better prospects of work in New Zealand.

None of these things has happened by accident.

They have happened because your party, the Labour Party, in government has got on with the business of building hope, opportunity, and security.

We delivered on our pledges to New Zealand and we went well beyond them to create well-being and stability.

We did all that while keeping a firm grip on the country’s finances and producing more consistently credible fiscal results than the country has seen in a long time.

This is the platform on which we can build for the future.

Because the work isn’t finished yet.

We’ve made a good start, but there is so much more to do.

In the economy, we are forever looking forward to how to secure the best advantage for New Zealand.

We want higher sustainable growth rates. What we have is good by the standards of our peers right now, but we would like it to be consistently better.

We want lower unemployment. Where it stands at 5.3 per cent is good by OECD standards, but with more growth and skills development it can be lower.

We’ve set our course for growth through innovation, and we’re adapting all our policies to achieve that.

Education will play a huge role from early childhood through to tertiary and skills training.

As part of that, I’m pleased to see settlement reached with the secondary teachers, and I thank those on both sides of the negotiations who worked for that result.

Teachers do have the respect and admiration of this government.

May this settlement provide a new beginning from which we can move forward together to provide the best education we can for young New Zealanders.

Because we all know that education and skills are the path to a life of hope and prospects, and not a life of despair.

Many New Zealanders have worked with us in government to open up those opportunities.

The hard work of teachers must be recognised.

There have been the intense efforts of the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission which have helped launch New Zealand’s first ever tertiary education strategy, a new funding system, and world class centres of research excellence.

There has been the absolute commitment of so many people in business, in industry training organisations, in unions, and in polytechnics and other training institutions to get trade training numbers up.

And let’s celebrate today the extraordinary success of our Modern Apprenticeship Programme.

We promised to bring back opportunities for young New Zealanders through apprenticeship training.

By next month we will hit our first term target of three thousand young people in Modern Apprenticeships.

And it gets better. For the next term we are greatly expanding the programme.

Next week’s budget will provide the funding for twice as many Modern Apprentices by December next year.

That’s an extra $41 million to have 6,000 young New Zealanders in Modern Apprenticeships.

That’s Labour in action in government.

That’s building for the future.

That’s investing in people.

Looking forward for the economy means the government building partnerships to make things happen.

That’s why we are supporting more public and private sector research and development.

That’s why we are backing incubators and providing venture capital for innovative new companies.

That’s why we are supporting companies, clusters, and sectors with the capacity to grow their exports quickly.

That’s why we are working with the regions on economic development strategies.

That’s why we are working with Maori and Pacific peoples on capacity building.

That’s why we have new initiatives to help small companies get into overseas markets.

That’s why we are working closely with key sectors like ICT, biotechnology, and the creative industries to build a higher value economy.

That’s why we work closely with unions, which under the Employment Relations Act can make a real contribution to New Zealand’s economic well being.

We know that our ability in the future to fund better health and education, and support for the young and the old and our families, will depend on getting higher value goods from this country out to market.

Labour in government will leave no stone unturned to secure prosperity this century for our people.

And as fast as better returns can be achieved, the more we can build greater opportunity and security for the future.

This last two and a half years, we’ve just made a beginning.

With the resources we had, we prioritised a decent pension and secure funding for superannuation for the future.

We brought back income-related rents for our state tenants so they could make ends meet and know they could afford their homes.

We lowered the cost of tertiary education for students in real terms.

We funded more treatments in the health system.

We built up new programmes to back business and job growth, and

We improved police funding.

Given the privilege of re-election, the work will go on.

We have ambitious plans in primary health care because prevention is always better than cure.

We need to lift the living standards of the poorest by access to work, and to better paying work by lifting their skills.

We will want to invest as much as we can in education.

We have ambitious plans for public transport and roading to move people and goods around our cities and regions more easily and more safely.

We are addressing the entrenched problems of poor housing and underdevelopment in Northland and the Eastern Bay of Plenty, and on the East Coast.

There is so much to do. And the more success we have with the growth through innovation strategy, the more we can do.

Our vision is to see this country offer the opportunities to young New Zealanders this century that it could offer to my generation in the last.

Our vision is to secure for us all the living standards and the quality of life which can mark New Zealand out as the best place in the world to be born in, grow up in, and grow old in.

To achieve this vision, we must invest in more than the economy and public services. There is more to a good quality of life than work and income, important as they are.

Our government’s been prepared to invest in and back those other features of our national life which give it that extra quality.

That includes our conservation estate – that magnificent range of mountains, forests, rivers, coastline, and off-shore islands.

We’ve created a new national park on Stewart Island.

We’ve put tens of thousand more hectares of forests on the West Coast into the conservation estate.

We are spending hugely on maintaining our unique biodiversity.

We are improving the huts and tracks in our parks for all those who love the outdoors as I do.

In sport, the Prime Minister’s Scholarships are helping the top athletes of the future through their education while they also focus on their training. Now the scholarships have been extended to cover coaches – who are all important in getting the best results.

For me, a personal highlight has been the renaissance in the creative sector, promoted by our cultural recovery package and by the huge success of Lord of the Rings.

Across our music, our theatre, our dance, our film and television, our visual arts, our fashion and design, there is a new energy and optimism – and next week’s budget will convey good news on the literary front too.

Through our creative people, we define ourselves as a nation. We tell our stories, we assert our perspectives and uniqueness, we show our talent.

An innovative nation is a creative nation.

A creative nation is a confident nation.

A confident nation knows what it can achieve and how it can contribute to the wider world in which we live.

And contribute we do – in so many ways.

Later today I leave with Phil Goff to be at the independence celebrations in East Timor.

Our country can be very proud of the role we have played in making that possible.

Our peacekeepers have patrolled East Timor’s borders for more than two and a half years.

Our customs officers, prison officers, and police have helped the new nation form its own services.

We’ve helped with education, and basic health needs.

We will make an ongoing contribution, just as we do through our aid budget and peacekeepers in many other parts of the world.

Our government has worked to build better relationships with many nations.

Seven weeks ago I was in Washington DC – only the second New Zealand Prime Minister to be received in the White House since Sir Robert Muldoon.

New Zealand has an overwhelmingly positive relationship with the United States – one of our oldest friends. Where there is difference, I believe there is mutual respect for each other’s positions. We work together in so many areas to our mutual advantage – and we must continue to do so.

Last week I went to Indonesia at the invitation of its new President, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Since Indonesia’s independence, there has always been strain in our relationship, first because of the early confrontation with its neighbours, and because of autocratic government, human rights abuses, and concern over East Timor.

Indonesia is now undergoing a democratic transition. Much that concerned us before is now in the past. We are able to normalise the relationship around trade, education, development links, and regional co-operation. That is a big step forward.

Our government has not hesitated to speak up for the principles of the Commonwealth where Fiji and Zimbabwe fell short of them. Fiji was assisted by the Commonwealth on a path back to constitutional rule. We continue to urge the Commonwealth to apply the same standards to Zimbabwe.

Our government takes its international responsibilities seriously. New Zealand has a reputation as a model member of the United Nations – ready to sign up to best practice conventions and treaties where the world community must move together.

That is why our government will ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Climate change will affect primary producing nations like New Zealand more than most. And for some of our Pacific neighbours it spells disaster. In Kiribati and Tuvalu, they say the tides come higher than ever, their wells are polluted by seawater, and their crops struggle to grow.

We want New Zealand to make its contribution to solving the problem and to be up with the latest in environmental technologies to give substance to our clean and green image.

When I look back over the first two and a half years of this government, I believe one of its greatest strengths has been its willingness to interact with, and enter dialogue with people and sectors across the community.

We have never assumed that there is any natural right to be in government.

Rather we have believed that holding public office is a privilege which must be earned every day you hold it.

We have taken government down off its pedestal and brought it face to face with those it serves.

That’s why a large team of Ministers and I hold regular policy hui in Maoridom, as we do with business in the regions, as we do twice a year with Local Government New Zealand, and as we are doing through social development forums.

We know that in the 21st century, working together to achieve common objectives is what will take New Zealand ahead.

That’s why we will continue to reach out to our many communities to work out how to move ahead.

This approach is particularly significant for Maoridom. We came to office knowing that mainstreaming had failed, and that there was a yearning in Maoridom to take up the challenges and find the solutions. We have funded many new initiatives to that end. Our reward comes in seeing Maori unemployment fall, new Maori businesses form, new places in early childhood education, fewer suspensions from school and better results there, more Maori in higher education and apprenticeships, and better housing and health care. These positive changes are laying the basis for strong confident Maori communities making an incredible contribution to New Zealand.

In government we have worked to establish a place and respect for all New Zealanders – irrespective of ethnic or religious background, gender or orientation.

The capacity building which is going on in Maoridom is also reflected in the Pacific communities. They too are taking on the challenges of building new services in health and education and being successful in new businesses. And for other new migrant communities, we’ve worked hard to establish better settlement programmes and to set a tone for a decent, tolerant society which values people from all backgrounds.

The same applies to New Zealand’s gay, lesbian, and transgender communities. We are moving as we did through the Property Relationships Act to ensure that New Zealanders are not disadvantaged because they are homosexual. And we have legislated against hate crimes to signal the strongest possible societal disapproval of those who commit crimes because of a hatred of those who are different – whatever the nature of that difference

As in all western societies, New Zealand is experiencing crimes which seem more bizarre, random, and violent in nature than ever before. We will address the many causes of crime, but we will also act firmly, especially where serious crime is committed because it cannot be tolerated. The new sentencing and parole reform legislation is tough on the worst offenders who are causing society so much grief.

We are now in the countdown period to the general election.

We are entitled to be optimistic, but we should not be complacent.

This Congress is about organising to win.

Stage one of organising to win is enrolling voters. Now that the enrolment packs have been posted out, there is no more urgent task.

Stage two is promoting the many achievements of our government to voters. We’ve kept our word, we’ve got on with the business, we’ve done what we said we would, and we’re getting results.

Stage three is getting all those who want Labour back in government out to vote with two ticks for Labour.

With a new mandate we can do more to build a more prosperous, confident, creative, tolerant, and decent nation.

What you see with Labour in government is what you get :

Strong leadership, a united team, a firm hand on the wheel, and well considered, gradual change which makes a big difference for the better.

With Labour there is no mad roller coaster ride or uncertainty about our intentions.

Our record is one of steady progress in building a better New Zealand. We are ambitious for our country. Those ambitions will be realised if we all work together to achieve them.

Thanks are due to many people. To all my ministerial colleagues, especially Michael Cullen who has been a tower of support for me professionally and personally.

To all my Labour parliamentary colleagues who don’t have the high profile jobs but pull their weight in a thousand different ways.

To Jim Anderton and all those Alliance MPs who joined us in government.

To the Greens whose general goodwill has enabled us to govern.

To our Party President, Mike Williams - an old friend and loyal supporter, and the kind of President who draws a party together rather than pulling it apart.

To everyone in our party organisation from branch level to New Zealand Council and to all our candidates, thank you for the unwavering support you give us.

Go from this conference to give it all you’ve got, for a second term for Labour, for a government you are proud of, and for a nation both proud of its achievements and caring for all its people.


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