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Budget 2002: Laila Harre General Debate Speech

May 24 2002

Hon Laila Harre Speech Notes


Budget 2002


Budget 2002 is a Labour/Alliance effort based on a Labour-determined spending limit.

That means that we’ve done very well with a lot less than would have an Alliance Finance Minister crowing.

In some areas very significant progress has been made.

12 weeks paid parental leave is fully funded from July 1. The $42 million odd in new funding for this is a significant chunk of the new money available for Budget 2002.

It shows what a minority coalition partner can achieve and what a Government can do when it takes note that our workforce has changed.

The massive increase in women’s workforce participation is one of the big stories of the new century and markets or chance can’t be relied on to respond to it.

Failure to respond will mean ongoing inequality in employment opportunities and pay for women and a waste of the skill and talent on which economic development depends.

We have the lowest rate of unemployment for 13 years and the highest rate of workforce participation ever. But we still have a long way to go to create secure full-time jobs for everyone.

In a few years time we won’t have the luxury of being able to block mothers, or the young, who continue to be over-represented in the unemployment figures, from full and equal participation in our paid workforce.

This budget takes note of that.

Along with paid parental leave, real money for out of school care at last brings the government to the table on this issue. The 1997 Childcare survey identified OSCAR as an area of urgent need for working parents and their children. We have begun to meet that need.

Increased resources for the EEO Trust and the new budget for the EEO Commissioner mean better leadership in the cause of including disadvantaged groups on equal terms with our traditional paid workforce.

The Alliance has very actively participated in the development of these initiatives.

The budget also funds some small, but effective, new opportunities for positive youth development.

The Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa directs our attention to increasing positive youth participation, rather than spending vast amounts on isolated youth problems.

Budget 2002 begins the implementation of the strategy with three new initiatives.

Start up funds and $1 million a year ongoing funding will allow Youth Affairs to establish a specialist youth service corp for young offenders, applying the highly successful Conservation Corp model to a group of young people most likely to benefit from an active youth development approach.

$450,000 has been allocated over 4 years for a Ministerial Advisory Committee on Drug Education. Suggested by the Green Party this initiative is consistent with our goal of ensuring that youth programmes are evidence-based and give value for money.

The voluntary and community sector has always led the way in providing positive youth development opportunities and it has been particularly satisfying to go into partnership this year with one long-standing organisation, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, to launch the Young New Zealanders’ Challenge.

Budget 2002 provides $350,000 a year to support the Challenge in reaching a wide range of young people and training the volunteers on whom the Challenge depends.

Positive investment in the young is central to social and economic development.

The Labour/Alliance Government has an ambitious goal of leading New Zealand back into the top half of the OECD.

That means about a 30 per cent increase in our per capita GDP, on top of year on year growth at the average OECD rate.

That sort of increase will depend on the well-being and skill of a smaller workforce.

A workforce that is now being born.

Births more likely in our least resourced communities than our wealthiest ones.

These facts should convince anyone that reducing inequality, increasing the incomes of low-income families and putting our collective resources into education and child health is essential to our future development.

It is in these areas that a full Alliance budget would look most different from the budget we are proud to have produced in the third year of our Labour/Alliance Government.

At the heart of the issue is the relationship between social expenditure and economic development. Social expenditure can be seen as a cost that can only be afforded as the economy grows. That is not the Alliance’s view.

The Alliance views social expenditure as an investment without which economic development is not possible. The Labour/Alliance Government also sees social expenditure as an investment, but we differ in our view of how much social investment is possible.

As a Government we have worked within a spending limit of around 33% of GDP. An Alliance government budget might add 2 or even 3 per cent, keeping New Zealand well within the norm for a developed country with a welfare state.

With that extra we could fully fund tertiary education, including a universal student allowance and further fund quality improvements in schools and early childhood centres.

We could provide free primary health care for everyone.

The Child Tax Credit of $15 a week per child could be extended to the children of both beneficiaries – who miss out because they fall foul of National’s definition of the deserving poor – and those above the income thresh-hold who are punished by notoriously high effective marginal tax rate.

These are the levels of social investment which we want a second term Labour/Alliance Government to aim for.

While that result might not seem the most likely one today a real election campaign will focus people’s attention back on the issues that really matter.

It helps that daily those issues become more clearly defined and the choices starker.

The Greens have ruled themselves out of governing with Labour, or been ruled out by Labour as a coalition partner, in the irresistible force and immovable object scene being played out over genetic modification.

Let me state the Alliance position on this clearly.

Like about two-thirds of New Zealanders we are opposed to the release, conditional or otherwise, of GMOs into the environment before or after October 2003.

We negotiated the first moratorium, we negotiated the extension, and we will seek a mandate at the election to go back into government to negotiate as much more GE-free time as we can.

An arbitrary deadline will not convince us of the safety of these new processes. Only science can do that and science needs more time to reveal the issues around genetic engineering.

I think it is regrettable that such hard-line tactics are now being adopted by, and in response to, the Greens. That is likely to make the negotiation needed to extend the moratorium much more difficult.

Nonetheless, with our record on this and the many other issues we have advocated strongly for within the Government I am confident that public opinion will get a look in.

I am offering the Alliance as a home for those who do not want the moratorium on the release of GMOs lifted unless and until safety can be assured, but who also want a principled voice to the left of Labour at the Cabinet table advocating for much greater levels of social investment.

How we govern, as well as our policies, is likely to be a key issue this year.

National has made it unbelievably easy for Labour to make a pitch for National voters to back Labour as a majority government.

By failing to come up with anything resembling a programme for government they have surrendered before the campaign begins.

But the weakness of the organised right makes it even more essential that the left remains in Parliament and, I hope, in government.

A Labour Government dependant National voters for its majority worries me greatly. It could be forced to make concessions to the right, and not the left, to maintain its position.

I have greatly enjoyed working with my Labour colleagues in implementing our programme. Budget 2002 is another positive step along the path.

Each step we take up the ladder of social justice, the wider our view. I look forward to the day that our kids can climb up behind us and say that this is their land, and their future, as far as the eye can see.

Ends

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