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Alliance Campaign Launch - Laila Harre Speech

29 June 2002

Speech to the Alliance Campaign Launch
Lincoln Green Function Centre
Lincoln Rd;

I am often asked by profile writers and journalists why I turned to politics when most of my peers were turning to the first 15.

Perhaps the truth is that I was just more scared of fast growing boys than the fast growing protest movement.

But I imagine my answer is much like the one that would be given by every person in this room.

When you witness injustice, and we all have;

when you begin to understand power and the abuse of power, and we all do;

when you look into the eyes of a child and see fear and not joy;

then for a while, in that period of discovering how the world works and how it works so well for some at the expense of others, each of us has a choice.

Either to concede to the world just as it is, or to work to change it.

Every person in this room has made a choice to change the world.

It is a choice we make not just once, but every day that we get up to work for social and economic justice.

We will affirm that choice every morning for the next four weeks and it won’t stop there.

We will be back in Parliament on July 27th.

We have four weeks to set out our programme and four weeks to win support for it.

Don’t worry – it’s a concurrent sentence not a cumulative one. It’s the political equivalent of hard labour. A short sharp chance for the Alliance to win back the support we need to keep pushing in government for the things that matter.

Education matters. Children matter. Jobs matter. Health services matter.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the next three years. Successive new right governments have deeply wounded New Zealand. We have paid a high enough price already.

The next three years are the real chance this government gets to do more than just renounce those failed policies.

It is our chance to begin reversing them.

But it will not happen unless we are there.

Labour is taking its own supporters for granted this time around.

It is making a very direct appeal to National Party voters to give Labour their vote. If Labour is elected into government on the votes of National Party supporters then Labour will have to keep National Party supporters happy.

Right wingers have been fantasising about a grand coalition for years – and this way they can get it without even having the inconvenience of a coalition to manage.

Is this what Labour’s supporters really want? To gang up with National voters and then spend three years keeping them happy? I doubt it.

Labour supporters must party vote Alliance to limit the influence of National party voters over the programme of the next government.

All elections are important. But this election will decide where New Zealand will be a generation from now.

This is the risk

Our first term Labour-Alliance government has enjoyed very favourable economic conditions.

Our terms of trade have been excellent, and the dollar has been low.

No-one can bank on these conditions lasting forever. And when the luck runs out the real economic base of the country gets tested.

Already, the dollar has been steadily rising this year and that will reduce the incomes of exporters and the provinces.

The legacy of the last majority Labour Government – the license to print money for overseas interests also known as the Reserve Bank Act – has even got its authors nervous.

I fully support Michael Cullen’s call for the Reserve Bank to pull its head in and not strangle the bit of growth we’ve been allowed.

But something as fundamental to our economic future as interest rates and currency values can not be left to the market or the money managers.

Every rise in interest rates will cost jobs and will cost people with mortgages. Talk is good. But action is better and amending the Reserve Bank Act to protect jobs remains a fundamental Alliance policy.

The good work we have started in regional and industry development, work the Alliance made our top priority for our first term in government must not be squandered.

These have been the lucky years for our government.

Good economic conditions and a massive collective sigh of relief at the ending of 15 years of new right domination of the political agenda have given us all some breathing space.

We have been able to deliver on some of our urgent priorities.

Reversing the superannuation cuts, repealing the Employment Contracts Act, restoring democracy to the health system and lowering state house rentals.

We have even started a real modernisation of the workplace, thanks entirely to the efforts of the Alliance.

Without the Alliance in government, and I mean without you and me, we would not have 12 weeks paid parental leave from Monday, and we would not be paying young workers nearly double the minimum wage they were entitled to in 1999.

The things that have made this government popular are the things that we have pushed hard for. We pushed Labour hard on them for ten years before we went into government. And we pushed for more in government.

The Alliance is the difference between Labour and National.

New Zealanders expectations of what good governments can deliver are far too low. That makes it easy to deliver less than New Zealand deserves.

When people don’t expect too much it’s not too hard to please them.

After all, if you’d told me twenty years ago that people might give an absolute majority in parliament to a party that supports user pays tertiary education and a means tested student allowance I’d have laughed you right out of town.

Especially if you added that the only party that had a real commitment to free education and a realistic budget to achieve it was polling at the margin of error.

But there we have it.

Our government has three years to tackle some of the hard issues or New Zealand risks the nasty right wing backlash that is now stalking Europe.

People’s expectations will rise and if they are not met by the left they will be distorted and manipulated by the right.

Already we hear the battle cry of right wing parties. Law and order, close the borders, batten down the hatches. Not full employment, fair wages, free health and public education for all.

After two and half years in government with Labour I know that unless the Alliance is there Labour will not put enough into health, education and support for families.

Most Labour supporters want to cancel student debt and restore a universal student allowance.

Most Labour supporters want a completely free public health system along the lines of Medicare in Australia and the NHS in the UK.

Most Labour supporters want another week’s annual leave for all workers.

Labour supporters can not get these things by giving Labour their party vote.

Only a party vote for the Alliance is a vote for free education, a fully funded public health system and four weeks annual leave.

Labour supporters must split their vote on July 27th.

And you and I have four weeks to convince them to do it.

An electorate vote in Waitakere and Tainui. A party vote everywhere else.

That will give us the backing we need to negotiate with Labour for health, education and a better deal for families.

What is at stake is the presence in Parliament of an independent principled party to the left of Labour.

Tomorrow Labour will release their second pledge card.

The card will not pledge to address the deep inequalities that have plagued New Zealand and stifled our development for the last two decades.

It will tell us what the lowest common denominator is.

It will tell us what National Party voters can live with and still vote Labour.

It is Labour’s pledge to National voters.

Labour will only deliver the foundations of a fair, just and thriving society if we are there with them.

When you are the most popular government in a generation then it is your duty to demonstrate a bigger vision and a wider view.

That is, if you have one.

While Labour waits for economic growth to deliver social justice, the Alliance says that the children in Ranui can’t wait for the wealth to trickle down from Remuera.

Throughout this election campaign we will present a comprehensive programme for social justice and economic development.

We will show New Zealand what is possible.

We are also very clear about our priorities.

Our top priority is education.

Any coalition agreement we make with Labour must include a much bigger funding commitment to education.

We will support Labour in Government.

But we will only join Labour in government if our coalition agreement provides much greater funding for education.

The $400 million already promised to tertiary education over the next three years is nothing like enough and will not turn the tide on student debt.

One in 10 New Zealanders already has a debt. That’s predicted to rise to one in four.

Only the Alliance is drawing a line in the sand over student debt and saying enough is enough.

If we do nothing now, then the debt will climb from $5 billion to $20 billion by 2020. It has climbed by $2 billion in our first term in government.

I am personally ashamed of that and it must stop.

Any coalition agreement that we sign up to must make a commitment to a universal student allowance.

It is nothing less than obscene that students are borrowing money to buy groceries and pay the rent when we will declare an operating surplus of $2.3 billion next year.

Just half that surplus would fund a completely free tertiary education system and it would be the best investment we could make in our future economic development.

If a family with a good income and money in the bank charged their kids rent for their bedroom, and interest on their cornflakes we’d report them to Child, Youth and Family.

When students are borrowing to eat, we don’t have a surplus.

Funding for early childhood education, schools and teachers must also increase substantially.

If we want the knowledge society to be more than a cheap slogan then we have to offer more than cheap solutions.

Education spending is not an optional extra to be put to one side until economic growth allows.

It is an investment and the most important investment we can make towards our future economic development.

To restore New Zealand to the top half of the OECD we have to do much more than maintain current levels of growth. We also have to increase the size of New Zealand’s economy by a third.

And we have to do that with a smaller workforce.

We have a falling birth rate and our babies are more likely to be born in our poorest families and communities than our wealthiest ones.

Neither the new right nor the third way can change the basic facts here.

If we don’t put more resources into the pockets of families with children,

if we don’t guarantee every child a first world education and a top class health system,

if we don’t find jobs or genuine learning opportunities for the 20 per cent of our school leavers who are now completely disconnected from any productive work or learning,

in short if we continue to turn a blind eye to deepening inequality and the chronic long term under-funding of health and education then we are simply fooling ourselves if we think we can go anywhere as a country in the knowledge age.

I am 36.

My generation’s superannuation will be paid by the babies being born today.

How on earth can we even maintain, let alone increase, our standard of living when the numbers tell us that nearly a third of those babies will grow up in families that do not have enough money for the basics?

The sort answer is that we can’t.

We have already shown how we can afford free tertiary education. We will also show how we can make pre-school education and care affordable.

New Zealand can and must pay all teachers more.

If we value teachers then we have to put our money where our mouths are and the Alliance will.

Only the Alliance will tackle the long term underfunding of our public health system, cancel district heath board debt and introduce free primary heath care.

We will announce the details of a dedicated health tax that will put us on the same footing as Australia and the UK when it comes to providing a high quality free public health service.

The Alliance has already got Labour’s agreement to extend free doctors visits to children and superannuitants. The money is there for it.

But to reduce waiting times further and maintain existing services we will have to cancel DHB debt and pay health workers enough to keep them working in the system.

We should be aiming for the best, and we know that the best in health care is something that people are prepared to pay their taxes for.

New Zealand’s national slogan has always been that we are the best place in the world to bring up children. That’s still true for most but unfortunately not for far too many.

It is our children who are arriving in hospital with third world diseases, and at school without breakfast.

As wealth has been re-distributed upwards for the last 20 years, it is families with children who have paid the heaviest price.

Their real spending power has dropped. More of them are poorer than wealthier, despite the overall increase in New Zealand’s wealth.

And it is not just those on the lowest incomes who have felt the heat.

Middle class families miss out on almost all family payments because they are considered too rich to need them. Their kids don’t qualify for student allowances and they pay the full fee when they visit the doctor.

Our policy for children will redirect New Zealand’s resources towards families with children, whether they are on high or low incomes.

In government the Alliance has achieved some real victories for working people.

Everyone in this room should be extremely proud of these achievements.

From Monday, 20,000 families a year will benefit from paid parental leave.

Young people have won huge increases in their minimum wages and the adult rate has gone up by a dollar an hour.

Without the Alliance there to hold the line in the face of employer reaction against the Employment Relations Bill, the Act we passed would have been made much weaker.

But there is still a long way to go for workers.

We want four weeks annual leave for everyone.

If it’s good enough for Australia it’s good enough for New Zealand. Family time is precious.

We want a law that protects some of our most exploited workers from the job losses and pay cuts they face when their work is passed around from contractor to contractor as if they were nothing more than chattels.

We want 14 weeks paid parental leave and we want it for more people and at a higher rate of payment.

We want a commission on working hours that recommends enforceable limits on working hours and suggests ways to more sensibly organise work.

We want better protections for casual workers and we want pay equity.

Then there’s genetic engineering. Because the Alliance we now have moratorium on the release of GE organisms into the environment. The Alliance will extend the moratorium indefinitely.

We will keep GE in the lab until its safe.

Full employment is at the heart of an equal society.

The Government must take more direct action against unemployment. There is plenty of work to do if we paid a living wage to do it. We will push for a much stronger focus on community economic development and channel employment subsidies into it.

We will not run a trade negotiations policy that conflicts with our local development needs.

The Alliance will not sign up to free trade agreements with Hong Kong or the US.

The North American Free Trade Agreement has cost jobs in Mexico and forced Canada to compensate multi-nationals for the costs of complying with higher environmental standards.

Fair trade is good. Free trade is bad. For New Zealand and for the third world.

These are the policies that working families say they want.

But wanting them is just not enough.

The only way to get them is to vote Alliance.

We have worked well in government with Labour. We have gained experience which will make us even more effective in a second term government.

We have survived a vicious attack on the movement we have built by those who have now left.

I look around at my colleagues, Liz Gordon, Willie Jackson, Matt McCarten. I look around the room.

And I see the only party that knows exactly where it stands on the things that really matter and is still standing there.

The only promise worth making is the promise we are making to our children.

It is for our children that we must overcome the obstacles, huge as they might seem to us, and win our place back on July 27th.

We can. And we will.


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