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Pacific Economic Symposium - Mark Gosche Speech

17 July 2002

Hon Mark Gosche
Speech Notes

Pacific Economic Symposium –
Developing the Unique Skills of Pacific Peoples

Kia orana, Ni sa bula vinaka, Taloha ni, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Malo e lelei, Halo Olaketa, Ia orana, Kia ora, Talofa lava, and warm Pacific greetings to you all.

I congratulate the organisers of this landmark event. I also acknowledge the Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton, Peter Menzies, Chairperson of the Auckland Regional Economic Development Strategy and Fran Wilde, chief executive of Trade NZ. Greetings also to James Mather the new chief executive of the Pacific Business Trust, and the chair of the Trust Pauline Winter.

A particularly warm greeting to our overseas guests: Va'atu'itu'i Apete Meredith – the Trade Commissioner for the Consulate General of Samoa, Cynthia Bertolin from the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board in Ontario and Denise Aldous, from the World Bank’s South Pacific Project Facility.

Like many of your forebears my father came from the Pacific – Samoa in his case – looking for a job. But he also came to New Zealand searching for other things less tangible – opportunity and security, for himself and those of us who were to follow.

My father found work quickly. The economy we live in today would not be so welcoming for one with limited formal education. But for most of us today what we seek is not greatly different to what my father and his contemporaries were looking for – a better future.

I say this because I want to make it clear that if our goal is a better quality of life for Pacific peoples, economic development on its own is not enough.

Do not get me wrong, I welcome the economic growth we have seen in recent years. The economy is growing at good levels by world standards and inflation is low.

The government is running surpluses and reducing the public debt. Only a few weeks ago the figures for the balance of payments deficit came in at 2.2 per cent of GDP, the lowest level in 13 years.

The real success though is how this has impacted on peoples lives. This government’s vision is for New Zealand to lift its living standards and share that success through higher incomes and greater opportunities for all.

It is therefore particularly pleasing to see that more than 100,000 new jobs have been created under this government, the bulk of them full time. Approximately 16,000 of those jobs have gone to Pacific workers. The number of Pacific peoples in employment is up to 88,700 in March this year – a massive increase of 22 percent.

And the unemployment rate is down for Pacific peoples and palagi alike.

Last year unemployment hit a 13 year low. In March 2000, shortly after we became government, unemployment among Pacific peoples was 12.3 percent. By March this year it was down to 9.7 percent. That is a 20 percent drop in the Pacific unemployment rate under this government.

It is particularly gratifying to me that this economic growth has been achieved alongside better protection for workers. The Employment Relations Act has greatly improved industrial relationships creating more settled, productive workplaces and with new health and safety legislation we will make those workplaces healthier and safer.

For the many Pacific workers in low income jobs, the effects of these changes are very real. Pacific workers are among some of the most vulnerable, and their employment conditions some of the worse. Sixty one per cent of Pacific people over 15 earned $20,000 or less last year.

Given that nearly 50 percent of Pacific peoples are aged under 24, Pacific workers will also particularly benefit from changes in the age of eligibility for the minimum wage, and the recent increase in that wage.

Overall under this government, there has been a lift in the total value of wages by more than 10 percent above the rate of inflation. A lift in the real incomes of working New Zealanders of this magnitude has not been seen for many decades.

Outside the workplace there are other changes that have dramatically improved the quality of life for Pacific peoples. As I am also Minister of Housing, I am particularly proud that this government has restored income related rents. This means low-income state house tenants now pay no more than 25 percent of their income in rent. Nearly 20 percent of state house tenants are Pacific peoples and we estimate about 11,400 Pacific families are receiving an income related rent, leaving them approximately $35 a week better off on average.

Healthy Housing is another initiative that is changing the lives of Pacific families. New money in the recent Budget means there will be nearly $63 million spent on this programme over the next four years. This scheme aims to reduce overcrowding levels in Housing New Zealand houses, and the subsequent spread of meningococcal and other diseases. This new funding nearly doubles the amount of money available for healthy housing, and could mean another 1350 families benefit.

Pacific and Maori families, particularly infants, are especially vulnerable to meningococcal and other diseases linked to overcrowding such as tuberculosis and rheumatic fever.

If all this seems far away from the topic of economic development, let me remind you that because of income related rents the turnover of state houses has nearly halved. While previously families were forced to move often in search of cheaper rents or to escape overcrowding, now they are more settled. Educationalists report that as a result children are more likely to stay in the same school longer, so improving their chances of academic success. So with income related rents families are not only better off each week, but we may also be helping break the poverty cycle.

And if anyone needs a reason for tackling meningococcal and similar diseases other than the human costs, consider this. The meningococcal epidemic is estimated to have cost New Zealand $630 million to date, with direct costs to the health sector estimated at $300 million.

In health, as with education and the provision of social services, much of this government’s work for Pacific peoples have focused on “by Pacific for Pacific”. For example under this government an extra $5 million a year is going to Pacific health providers for three years from last year, up from $1.2 million previously. There are now about 30 Pacific health organisations providing “Pacific for Pacific” services.

Under previous governments Pacific health providers had to make do with one-off grants that gave them no certainty to plan for the future.

“Pacific for Pacific” will continue to be a major feature of our Pacific policies if re-elected. This reflects the wishes of Pacific communities. On health and many other issues those wishes have firmly guided government decision making, thanks in large part to the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs’ capacity building programme.

I know you have already heard much about capacity building earlier today, so all I will say here is that this programme has been invaluable in ensuring grassroots views have been reflected at the highest level of government decision making. It is difficult to recall a programme that has involved greater inter-government collaboration, and with that collaboration, genuine goodwill to improving the lot of Pacific peoples. All those involved in capacity building, especially the community reference groups, are to be congratulated for their fine work. You can take pride in knowing it really has made a difference.

But clearly more needs to be done. In an excellent example of inter-government cooperation, the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs and the Department of Statistices together recently released a report entitled “Pacific Progress”. This report, based on the 2001 census, shows that while Pacific peoples are making progress in employment and education, the differential between Pacific and palagi peoples remains wide.

The challenge nationally is to lift our sustainable growth rate if we are to see a long-term rise in our standard of living relative to the rest of the developed world. The challenge for Pacific peoples is to find how we can more fully participate in that growth, and benefit from it.

I believe the key to meeting that challenge is education. Increased participation in tertiary education, more workplace learning and assessment, and more Pacific children taking part in early childhood education. These three components have to be an integral part of any plan for improving Pacific peoples’ economic development.

A blueprint for a more connected tertiary system is provided by the recently released Tertiary Education Strategy. The Strategy covers all forms of tertiary learning, including foundation skills training, workplace learning and all forms of academic study.

One of the six strategies underpinning the Tertiary Education Strategy for the next five years focuses on Pacific peoples.

The emphasis of the Pacific strategy is on participation and achievement. One of its aims is that by 2007 the tertiary system will have become an integrated network of providers that offer equitable opportunities at each level of education. There will be clear pathways, appropriate mentoring and support for Pacific learners.

The strategy is also designed to ensure more Pacific learners will be achieving in areas where our people are currently under-represented or under-achieving – areas that are vital to New Zealand’s economic development such as technology, mathematics, science and the modern apprenticeship programme.

A culture of collaboration around Pacific tertiary education is encouraged by the strategy. As a result of improved connections the aim is that tertiary teaching and research will be well linked with industry and business needs and developments.

As part of the strategy, the Tertiary Education Commission and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority will be working with Pacific providers to strengthen their capacity and capability to meet the educational needs of their communities. This year’s Budget included an extra $1.2 million over four years for the NZQA’s work with Pacific people.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of Pacific peoples taking up education and training opportunities through the National Qualifications Framework. Framework registrations from Pacific people have increased by 50 per cent so far this year, compared to the same time last year. It’s important that this demand for skills and education is met with high quality options, and this new funding for NZQA will help that happen.

New workplace initiatives such as Modern Apprenticeships and Gateway demonstrate what can be achieved with a collaborative approach between government, business and the community.

While it is still early days for the Gateway programme, it is shaping up as a programme that will help cater to the specific needs of Pacific youth. It builds links between schools and businesses and allows schools to offer work-based learning opportunities for their students. New funding announced in the latest Budget will take total investment in Gateway to $15.2 million over the next four years, almost doubling what has been allocated to date.

Modern Apprenticeships offer more than simply learning and work opportunities to young people. Co-ordinators support and mentor each apprentice, and training is not restricted to industry-specific skills. It also includes key foundation skills, such as communication, numeracy and information technology.

We now have nearly 3000 young New Zealanders employed as modern apprenticeships in a wide and growing range of industries. Labour has committed to doubling that number.

Skill New Zealand is keen to do more to target Modern Apprenticeships to Pacific peoples, so we can ensure more Pacific peoples make the most of these training opportunities. Labour’s policy for Pacific peoples, that I have copies of to leave with you, includes a commitment to strategies to increase the Pacific take-up of modern apprenticeships, fellowships and formal workplace training.

I have been emphasising tertiary education because it is the direct link between the education sector and the market place and jobs. But in fact if we are really to improve the economic prosperity of Pacific peoples the key building block is early childhood education.

This government considers that all children should be entitled to quality early childhood education.

New Zealand research tells us that quality early childhood education continues to influence a child’s development - even five years after beginning school.

Under this government more than 1000 places have been created in Pacific early childhood centres, and 32 centres have been licenced and charted. In total $8.2 million has come from the Pasifika pool of the discretionary grants scheme in the last three years.

The government’s Pasifika education plan focuses on making sure Pacific children participate in early childhood education, have strong early foundations in language and literacy, and are ready to participate in early schooling.

The plan’s aims for early childhood education include recruiting at least 400 extra three and four year olds into early childhood education services annually, and licensing and chartering at least 15 new Pacific early childhood centres annually.

Along with quality early childhood education, there are practical benefits to be gained from having a dedicated transition program between early childhood education and school.

A project based in low-decile schools and early childhood centres in Mangere and Otara shows what can be achieved. Ninety percent of the children involved were Maori or Pacific children.

My colleague the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard described the report on this project late last year as the most exciting that he had read in his time as Minister.

Through a careful mix of initiatives, reading and writing results for six-year-olds in these schools improved so dramatically they are now close to the national average.

Early childhood education is a major contributor to that improvement.

These great results help prove the case that if we want a strong future as a country, we have to get the early foundations right.

Another important component in securing that strong future is fostering our Pacific artists.

There is perhaps no other area of business where the unique talents of Pacific people are more apparent than in the creative industries.

In recent years, Pacific youth have taken aspects of our cultural heritage and redefined them for 21st century New Zealand. This explosion of Pacific creativity and passion has been mingled with more than a little business savvy. The result has been that Pacific musicians, fashion designers, writers and artists have taken this by storm. Look at entrepreneurs such as Dawn Raids, musicians such as Nesian Mystics and Che Fu, and performers and writers such as our MC today Oscar Kightley.

Danny Leaosavaii and Andy Murnane from Dawn Raids are great examples of this new breed of artists cum entrepreneurs. Because they believed that not enough was being done by major record labels to encourage young New Zealand talent these two formed their own record company, funded by selling t-shirts at the Otara flea markets.

Today they run a total of six highly successful companies, including a record label that boasts some of the hottest names in hip-hop music. And they have just started free music courses for Pacific young people. At the end of each course the students will participate in a CD which will be sold to the public. One of the Dawn Raiders, Andy Murname, said in a recent interview that these courses had music as the focus because, and I quote:
“ the kids turning up for the courses want to be stars. But meanwhile, subliminally we are teaching them important business and life skills. Self confidence. At the end of the day you might get three graphic designers and two kids who go on to be great at marketing… and a whole class of great human beings. It doesn’t matter what they do, their lives will be a success.”

New Zealand needs to follow this example. As a country we must nurture fledgling Pacific performers, artists, writers and fashion designers and provide them with inspiration, motivation and confidence. They won’t all become stars, but as a country we will be a success – culturally, socially and economically.

I am looking to the Pacific Business Trust to take the lead in making this happen. To help the Trust’s work the government last year increased the Trust’s loans portfolio by $500,000. If re-elected Labour will look to further expand the Trust’s ability to help Pacific businesses develop.

Some excellent work is already been done by the Pacific Business Trust. With its combination of incubation programmes, venture funding and business support and advice it helped approximately 1000 Pacific companies or business people last year. I welcome the appointment of the new chief executive, James Mather, and I look forward to working with him in continuing this good work.

Pacific talent also needs a showcase. The new Pacific radio network planned to go to air in September will help enormously with getting Pacific artists the exposure they so richly deserve. It will also help Pacific people get information that is relevant and important to them, and allow us to coordinate and organize more effectively. Information, coordination, organization – all important components to economic development.

The network will be heard from Whangarei to Invercargill. It will be driven and operated by Pacific communities on a not-for-profit basis.

The new network’s mandate also includes the delivery of programmes in Pacific languages. The value of preserving our culture cannot be quantified in economic terms, but it is vital to Pacific peoples’ future. A growing number of Pacific youth are unable to speak their own language.

This government is committed to supporting Pacific languages. If re-elected we will investigate the potential for a Pacific Language Commission to assist in fostering these languages, particularly for the 60 percent of Pacific people born here.

We also plan to develop a coordinated strategy for Pacific broadcasting, and to explore how we can get more Pacific programmes on mainstream television.

The creative industries are one of three industry sectors where Pacific involvement is to be particularly promoted in our next term. The other two are the information and communications technology industries, and the biotechnology sector. All three areas fit in with the government’s overall growth and innovation framework. This framework aims to focus extra resources on those sectors where there is a good strategic fit between our natural capabilities and our ability to sell into world markets. In these sectors New Zealand firms have a particular potential to be world leaders, and can themselves benefit many other sectors.

Along with the innovation framework, another major plank of this government’s strategies for growing the economy is assisting our regions. In our next term we will ensure that the economic development aspirations of Pacific peoples are incorporated into future regional development strategies, funded and supported by the Ministry of Economic Development.

I have talked about initiatives aimed at Pacific peoples, but there is an issue I want to touch on before I finish that is not usually considered a Pacific issue.

It is superannuation. New Zealand’s labour force is ageing fast. Twenty years from now Pacific peoples will make up some 30 percent of the people newly entering New Zealand’s labour force. The Pacific proportion of that workforce is expected to double from 6 percent now to 13 percent by 2051. And that workforce will be supporting an ageing population.

If we are to secure a better future for Pacific peoples, we must address the issue of national superannuation. By investing now in a superannuation fund, this government is ensuring that superannuation will be sustainable into the future. If nothing is done now future choices will be difficult: lower entitlements to national superannuation, higher taxes or cuts to health and education.

In closing, over the last few years this government has introduced many small initiatives that collectively are making a difference. That is how it should be. We should all beware of the temptation to clutch at Big Ideas that are offered as economic salvation. New Zealanders have seen the folly of that approach with the failure of the Think Big projects.

This government prefers a progressive, steady and collaborative approach.

I look forward to continuing that approach, and in the next three years I hope to work with you to build on the strong foundations this government has laid to improve the economic outlook for Pacific peoples. Those foundations offer economic stability and growth, but they also offer much more – opportunity, security and a better quality of life. With this combination we will truly be able to develop and strengthen the unique skills of Pacific peoples.

Ia manuia tele.

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