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Michael Cullen Speech To Auckland Chinese Meeting

Speech To Auckland Chinese Meeting

Hon Dr Michael Cullen, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Embargoed to 1600

Sunday 14 July 2002

Logan Campbell Centre, Auckland

Ni men hao. Nung her na-me daw hwa Niu-see-lan ren ji-en mi-en, war jin gao shing.

Thank you for your warm welcome.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the various Chinese associations in the Auckland region who have put a lot of work into organising this event.

My task is to explain in a straightforward way why re-electing Labour is the most beneficial option for New Zealand’s Chinese community. There are, I believe, three reasons: proven economic leadership; a willingness to invest in skills and infrastructure; and a commitment to a multi-cultural future.

First, economic leadership. When we were elected in 1999 New Zealand’s economy was fragile and out of balance. Economic growth was running at around 2.3 percent, and employment growth was only 1.1 percent. Our Balance of Payments with the rest of the world was a very unhealthy 8.3 percent of GDP.

We saw it as our task to work with the business community to turn this situation around, and we have largely achieved this. The budget this year forecast growth to March 2003 at a much healthier 3.1 percent, employment growth nearly doubled compared with 1999 at 2 percent, and the Balance of Payments deficit now dramatically lower at 2.2 percent of GDP.

This is despite some very difficult times, with the events of 11 September jolting confidence and disrupting tourism, and before that the world economy in one of its longest and worst stagnations since the 1970s. We also suffered a winter drought that reduced electricity-generating capacity, the difficulties with Air New Zealand, and the rapid decline in the New Zealand dollar.

It has not been a case where the traditional Chinese New Year greeting has applied – “May ten thousand things go according to your plan”.

Despite that, the New Zealand economy is in a healthy state, and in particular the government has managed its own spending and its own debt very carefully. We have created in our first term of office a very solid platform upon which to build a new type of economy based upon skills, technology and creativity.

This brings me to my second point: a willingness to invest in skills and infrastructure.

We know that our economic future will depend upon the skills and entrepreneurialism of the next generations of New Zealanders and upon their ability to access good communications systems, good roading systems, good ports, and so on. That is why we will continue to make investments in our education system to ensure that all New Zealand young people have the opportunity to get a good general education and tertiary education qualifications that are of a high standard internationally.

Our tertiary education reforms are designed to bring universities and the business world closer together. And we are sponsoring a number of science parks and business innovation support programmes, so that our smartest researchers, our smartest business people and our smartest students are involved in designing new business ideas for the future.

We will also continue to invest in the nation’s infrastructure, in terms of improving our transport system – including Auckland’s notorious traffic problems – and initiatives such as bringing fast speed broadband internet services to our schools and communities.

A common thread in all of this investment is that the government is working in partnership with businesses and communities. Unlike the National-led governments of the 1990s, we believe that there is a role for government in promoting New Zealand businesses, and in particular in supporting the emergence of new businesses and the opening up of new markets. In this regard, we have learned some lessons from other small island nations, notably Taiwan, Singapore and Ireland.

We also believe – unlike some of our opponents – that foreign direct investment is an essential part of our growth strategy, particularly in the areas of information and communication technology, biotechnology and the creative industries (which are strongly linked to tourism). That is why in this year’s budget we increased funding for the promotion of foreign investment opportunities.

Hence, a vote for Labour on July 27 is a vote for continued investment in education, in technology and in building up our economic capacity.

The third point I want to mention is our commitment to a multi-cultural future for New Zealand. One of the first things we did after taking office was to change our immigration policy to make it easier for skilled migrants to come to this country.

In addition, many of you will know Stephen Ching, who is a list candidate for Labour in this year’s election, and I trust that he will become New Zealand’s first Labour Member of Parliament of Chinese extraction.

Of course, Chinese have not always had a good reception in New Zealand, and you will be aware that recently the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, made an apology on behalf of the people of New Zealand to the Chinese community – and in particular the descendants of the first immigrants from China – for the many years of discriminatory laws that were in force during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In particular, she apologised for the poll tax that was imposed upon Chinese immigrants which, in effect, made it impossible for many immigrant men to bring their families to New Zealand.

No New Zealander is proud of what happened. It is important that the wrongs of the past are acknowledged, and that appropriate action is taken to put things right. It is the hope of the government that some good will come out of the apology and the actions that will be taken in future to acknowledge the importance of the Chinese contribution to New Zealand and to support the promotion of Chinese language and history within our education system.

Some of our opponents still see immigration as a problem, as something that endangers jobs and threatens the health and education systems. We see it as part of the answer, as something that creates jobs and secures the future of our health and education systems.

There is a Chinese proverb which says: “Ten thousand preparations have been made; all that is needed is the East Wind”. I believe in some ways that accurately describes the situation New Zealand has been in. As a nation we have great natural resources and we have made an ongoing investment in a skilled labour force, high technology research capability and an excellent transport and telecommunications infrastructure.

These are the ten thousand preparations. However, they will not benefit us without entrepreneurial flair and energy. The East Wind needs to fill our sails. This is the value to us of a strong and active Chinese community.

Our vision is of a New Zealand that is closely linked to the rest of the world, through business links, investment links, cultural links and family links. This is particularly important with respect to our nearest neighbours in the Asia-Pacific rim. For this reason our ambition in the next three years is make New Zealand an even more attractive place to live, to raise a family and to do business.

Thank you.

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