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Michael Cullen Address To Labour Party Congress






12.30pm, Sunday 19 May 2002

Queen's Wharf Events Centre, Wellington.

Fellow delegates,

This Conference has been about preparing to earn victory at this year’s General Election. It has been about reminding ourselves of our achievements in office for the last two and a half years and about the direction we hope to take our fellow New Zealanders in the three years after the election.

The polls tell us we are going to win. But people who sit at home watching the poll results and feeling confident do not win election victories. It is the people who knock on the doors, pick up the telephones, deliver the pamphlets, spread the message, put up the hoardings, take the special votes, ferry the voters, and write the letters to the editor. And, of course, provide the refreshments at campaign headquarters.

We have laid the foundation for victory. Now we must build on these foundations as securely as we did in 1999. Indeed, our aim must be to do better. Opinion polls have been suggesting for some time that we could gain a majority of seats and there is clearly a strong public mood in support of that idea.

But to do that we have to earn it on our merits. We have to continue to show we can deliver the kind of leadership and government New Zealand wants.

And, of course, we face an Opposition which tells us it is united and rejuvenated. To prove it we have all received National’s new magazine, known as No Ideas. Its cover shows a picture of Bill English cooking Gerry Brownlee’s breakfast. If it were the other way round Bill would be wise to use a food taster.

Certainly there’s been enough rejuvenation to keep a Hollywood cosmetic surgeon in business for, well, minutes. The sixty-year-old Doug Kidd has been pushed off the list to be replaced by the sixty two year old Don Brash who has decided to launch a new career as a cold fish out of water.

As a consequence I see the National Business Review lauding the prospect of such bold and radical new ideas as tax cuts for the rich, selling state assets, slashing benefits, and cutting social services. Heavens, what totally new bold ideas might National come up with next? Who knows? Privatising ACC, perhaps, or cutting pensions.

But why stop at going to the future via the 1990s? Why not go all the way back to 1975 and promise to take apart a superannuation fund that Labour has set up? Or try to stop Treaty settlements in the future?

The truth is that National has become, at least for the time being, an historical irrelevancy. Its possum in the headlights characteristics are summed up by Michelle Boag. Professing utter innocence of anything to do with Fay Richwhite and money she calmly forgets what we all remember: she was convicted of contempt of court for filming people at the winebox inquiry on behalf of Fay Richwhite.

But the fact that National is in no shape to win an election does not mean we can take victory for granted. Recent history is littered with over-confident parties who woke up the next day with a bad hangover.

So, why should we win? Because, let us say it over and over again, we have delivered. We have carried out the commitments on the commitment card. Every one. Superannuitants and state house tenants and students in particular have good reason to be reminded of our commitments and that we have kept them.

And we have kept our promise to be fiscally prudent, conservative even while delivering on those commitments. We have governed for the future as much as the present.

That underlies much else that we have done. We have repealed the ECA and replaced it with fairer industrial relations legislation because we want to build the framework for enduring cooperation between the stakeholders in the economy. That is a key element in building a stronger economy.

We have begun the Modern Apprenticeship Programme and now plan to double the numbers on it. We are reforming the whole tertiary education system to build up our human capital, the most important factor of production in a modern economy.

We are building up the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to smooth the way to the future and ensure an adequate pension for the baby-boom generation.

We are signing up to the Kyoto Protocol to do our part on bringing climate change under control, a matter in which we have a greater self-interest than almost any other developed nation.

We are implementing a new primary health care strategy to make primary health care more affordable and access easier, especially for those who are disadvantaged.

We are building houses, roads, and schools for our future. We are retaining our state assets in public ownership and strengthening them.

We have done all of this, and much more, while maintaining sound control of the government’s and the nation’s finances. Next Thursday’s Budget will show just how good that stewardship has been. It will demonstrate very clearly that we are the party to be trusted with the Government’s chequebook.

The second broad reason why we deserve re-election is because we represent the views of the broad mass of New Zealanders, pakeha and Maori, Pacific people and ethnic groups, old and young, men and women, Aucklanders and the other two thirds of us.

New Zealanders have a government which does not ambush them. They have a government which is not merely a telephone line for transmitting the more extreme economic theories from overseas. Instead, we represent commonsense.

New Zealanders have a government which makes it clear that it is committed to the ongoing central role for government in the provision of social services, the promotion of a fairer society, the protection of our environment and our national heritage, and the articulation of an independent role for New Zealand in world affairs.

These are simple truths about the nature of our values. But what New Zealanders have been yearning for for years is such simple truths and a government with the competence and the integrity to translate them into practice.

The third reason why we deserve to be re-elected is that we have a clear vision about where we want New Zealand to be in ten years time. It is a vision of a nation bound together by common respect and mutual support, striving to succeed and doing so on the basis of shared cooperative social values and a high skills, high quality, innovative economy.

In other words, a nation of doers and thinkers and, even, dreamers whose creativity, talent, and commitment to security and opportunity for all makes us a magnet society and economy. The difference between that and the sterile, tasteless vision of a few succeeding at the expense of the many is the gulf which divides us from our National/ACT opponents.

The fourth reason is the nature of those opponents themselves. They are an unloved and unlovable lot. From Dipton’s answer to Mad Mike Tyson to Gerry “let me help you down the stairs” Brownlee there is an ineffable air of the boy racers about the National Party which does not indicate any ability to be a government.

Add in Richard “what’s left to sell” Prebble and Rodney “tax avoidance” Hide and you’ve got something which looks like the dysfunctional characters in an American TV comedy. And at that more Six Feet Under than West Wing.

Moreover, National shows no signs of having learned the lessons of the 1990s. Far from contesting the centre ground with Labour they seem determined to shore up their base support on the right. On issue after issue they have simply adopted the more extreme positions of ACT and business lobby groups in a feeble display of me-tooism.

Finally, and one should save the best for last, we deserve to win because of our leadership. There is no question that Helen as Prime Minister stands head and shoulders above her opponent and any other last minute ring-in they can find. And, dare I say it, the same goes for a comparison of the two front benches. I think my opposite number is David Carter although he has not been seen for some time. But match Steve Maharey against Nick Smith who is a sort of nerd without brains, Phil Goff against Wayne Mapp whom he beat for the Roskill nomination in 1980, Annette King against Georgina Te Heu Heu, Trevor Mallard against Gerry Brownlee and on it goes. It’s not even Crusaders vs Waratahs territory. It’s no wonder Bill English looks brain damaged even before he gets into the boxing ring. And somebody does need to tell him you’ve got to turn on the barbecue before you can cook the sausages. With no gas there’s no heat.

This election is going to be much more of a two party contest than either of the last two. The people are looking for a clear-cut result. To deliver that we have to build on our record and our policies and our leadership with organisation.

And that comes back to the people power in the Labour Party. Unlike National we’ve never had the luxury of being able to lose a cheque for $250,000. It is the people in this hall and the thousands more of our members outside who have the work to do. There’s no new science here but the same old story. Get on the doorsteps, get on the phones, distribute the pamphlets, get them on the rolls and get them to the polls.

This is not to be a victory crafted by sacrificing many of our traditional supporters for some new fair-weather friends. It is to be built by the votes of a broad coalition of middle New Zealand which, quite simply, provides strong leadership moving in the direction they want to go. Out of the turmoil of the last twenty years we have emerged as the party which best expresses what New Zealanders want. Now we must ensure that translates into victory.


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