Jim Anderton Speech - Waitakere Grey Power AGM
Hon Jim Anderton
5 June 2002 Speech Notes
Waitakere Grey Power AGM
Wednesday, 5 June 2002
Waitakere Gardens Retirement Village,
Selwyn Peacock Drive, Henderson, Waitakere
Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.
I want to start out by saying there are many things happening that New Zealanders can be very positive about.
For years I came along to Grey Power meetings, and listened to the concerns of senior New Zealanders about the direction of government and of this country.
Those concerns were expressed about superannuation, health, jobs and the sale of public assets to name just a few.
This government has changed direction in all of those areas.
It is a simple fact that New Zealand's population is ageing.
Now 12 percent of New Zealanders are aged 65 or over.
Within 50 years, that ratio will have risen to 25 percent.
Not only will the proportion of retired people to workers increase but, as life expectancies continue to grow, the average period spent in retirement will also increase.
The cost of providing New Zealand Superannuation will make a much bigger claim on the public purse in the future than it does now.
If superannuation is to be universally available at that rate, then there are only three ways to provide for it.
We can put something aside today, increase taxes over time to provide for the growing number of retired New Zealanders, or we can cut other services such as health, education and police.
I have always argued that we should run a pay as you go scheme - where the costs of superannuation today are funded from taxes today.
The super fund partially pre-funds some of the future costs of superannuation.
It maintains some pay-as-you-go element for the future, and allows us to continue to meet demands for other essential social services today.
Everyone who is against this fund will inevitably argue for cuts to superannuation in the future.
There are many arguments around that the money going into the super fund could be used for other purposes.
The National Party is apparently going to spend the money on cutting the highest rate of personal tax.
It is also going to spend the money again on buying a fleet of space age air force fighter jets.
It has also variously announced that it would spend the fund on building a road between Hamilton and Auckland, and on a lap-top computer for every school child, and fixing the health system.
National has been cynical in promising to spend the super fund in so many different ways.
But it highlights an important point.
There will always be pressure to cut superannuation unless it is locked up in a secure fund.
This will be a major issue for New Zealanders to consider when it comes to voting at this year’s election: Which parties will pledge not to dismantle the fund and splurge the future retirement funds of New Zealanders?
It’s true that I had some reservations about the Labour party’s superannuation fund proposal in the form it existed before the election.
For example, the proposal then was to fund the super contributions out of the first seven cents in the dollar of personal taxation.
I believe that superannuation should be funded from the full range of government revenue, including GST, company tax, and court fines.
I believe the secure superannuation scheme we have developed is a very good one.
It takes a little something of the best from all proposals:
- It locks into law the base rate of superannuation: sixty-five per cent of average ordinary time earnings for a married retired couple.
- It pre-funds a proportion of future costs, on a fair basis;
- It continues a significant pay-as-you-go component, so that no generation has to pay twice for superannuation;
- It maintains a voluntary second-tier system. Eg private superannuation and savings schemes ie universal super)
Overall, the superannuation policy this Government has put in place fulfils a long-standing commitment to a publicly funded universal superannuation scheme.
I want to turn to some of the other achievements of this Government.
I know that whenever I have come to Grey Power meetings in the past I have talked about jobs.
The achievement of this Government that I take the most personal pride in is that unemployment is now lower than it has been for fourteen years.
As this is election year other parties need to come clean on where they stand. Will they support continuing employment and an environment that promotes economic growth or will they want a return to the last 20 years?
About a decade ago, when unemployment was sky-rocketing up, there were those who used to say it was all the fault of the unemployed who were too lazy to work. Now that unemployment is lower than at any time since 1987, there must have been a sudden change in the national work ethic.
Or else there is some other explanation for why unemployment rose then, for why it is much lower now.
One key issue is that over the past two years this coalition Government has made sure that economic policies are better balanced than at any time for 25 years.
This Government has maintained low interest rates and a stable competitive exchange rate and that has been consistent with the taxation and spending policies of the Government.
We need to maintain this position or improve it to sustain economic growth.
An important priority in the next term of Government is to continue to ensure that growth is not stifled by overzealous rises in interest rates.
Another key reason for the rise in employment is that we set up the Jobs Machine - the Ministry of Economic Development and Industry New Zealand.
They are helping to create more jobs, and good jobs.
More jobs mean that more money gets spent in the local community, and that in turn helps to create the base for a stronger community.
Matt Robson is the Minister of Corrections - he’s in charge of prisons.
He has more money to spend on building prisons than I have for fixing the economy, which tells you something about our priorities as a nation.
But I believe that we would have to spend far less on building prisons if we could make the economy stronger.
Because if we halved unemployment, we would halve the crime rate.
We would ease pressure on all social services - welfare, housing, the health system, even education.
The best performing regions are Southland, Nelson-Marlborough and the West Coast of the South Island.
That in itself tells you something - Southland and the West Coast now have low unemployment rates.
When we came into government, those two regions were struggling.
We used to be told that they had no future, and people would be best to leave them.
Now they are booming.
The Opposition says our economic development policies have had no impact.
Perhaps they just think we got lucky with the economy - that in almost a decade in government they never got as lucky as this Government.
Well perhaps they are right - but its like the great golfer Gary Player once said: “the more I practice the luckier I get.”
Housing is not the only publicly-owned asset that has been on the auction block for many years.
I know that Grey Power has been among the staunchest campaigners against the fire sale of New Zealand’s publicly owned strategic assets.
This Government has put a stop to asset sales.
We brought Air New Zealand back into public ownership.
And all over New Zealand last week, this week, next week, and for many weeks to come after that: branches of the publicly-owned kiwi bank are opening.
Retired people need local services even more than most others.
And the establishment of the kiwi bank will return those services to communities where they are needed.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I’ve noticed that all the overseas-owned banks are now scrambling to reduce their charges, and branch closures seemed to have stopped.
Grey Power has always taken a close interest in the health system.
This government has a three-year funding package of almost three billion dollars in new money over three years.
I know that there are considerable problems in the health sector, and a lot more to do.
But the truth is that it has been run down over twenty-five years.
We cannot fix twenty-five years of neglect in three years.
Our new primary health care strategy puts an emphasis on making sure that the lowest income New Zealanders have free access to the doctor.
Next year, if my colleagues and I are back in the government, the emphasis will be on delivering free doctors visits for school age children.
After that our priority will be free doctors visits for the elderly.
And eventually we will be close to free primary health care for all New Zealanders.
I believe that is a goal that it is worth staying in government to achieve.
There are hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who welcome the achievements of this Government.
I believe that this Government is delivering progress for New Zealanders, and I will be standing again for re-election for a new progressive movement.
I am committed to remaining as a constructive, co-operative and common sense partner in a progressive centre-left government with the Labour Party.
The new party I will stand for will be committed to being a voice for full employment, innovation and strong local communities in partnership with industry.
To using the fruits of economic growth to make social services stronger and to lift incomes.
And to securing communities and protection of our natural environment.
And I’m committed to continuing to implement progressive policies that all New Zealanders can be proud of.
This Government has proven that a fresh direction that takes people into account can be achieved without compromising the economic development of our nation.
That is the challenge that I give you my commitment to meet.