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Jim Anderton Speech at Opening of Parliament

Opening of Parliament

Mr Speaker

Last week the Executive Council of the Progressives met for their bimonthly meeting and were informed by the general secretary that our new party now has 2,000 members.

I believe we're on target to have 2,500 by the time of our inaugural annual conference in Spring.

We are growing because we are staking out policy positions that will have long-term benefits for all New Zealanders.

We are building a living, relevant political organisation, where practical thinking is nourished.

Two thousand people have joined us already because they see that we are getting things done for people, share our vision for New Zealand, and more are coming on board.

My Parliamentary colleague, Matt Robson, and I left the NZ Labour Party in the late 1980s along with thousands of others because we wanted an independent and effective progressive party in Parliament.

We wanted to create a movement totally focused on advancing toward an economy based on full employment.

Under First Past The Post that was a very hard road.

But with MMP it is an achievable goal and it is being achieved by the Labour-Progressive coalition in government.

What do Progressives want?

Above all else, Progressives want satisfying and well paid jobs for all New Zealanders.

We have set full employment as our ultimate social and economic goal.

Progressives want a government that has full employment as its constant underlying objective - informing every policy and investment decision it makes.

We want every young person to either be in a job, training or education - and not abandoned to the poverty cycle of welfare.

We want an economy benefiting from utilizing the talents of all of its people.

And everyone benefits from a full employment economy.

The more jobs New Zealand produces, the more wealth we have to pay for health care, for education, and for policing our streets.

The more jobs we have, the fewer the demands on the public purse to meet the social costs of unemployment, crime, ill-health and under achievement - as well as the cost of paying benefits to the unemployed.

If New Zealand had averaged just 1 per cent higher growth a year than it managed since 1970, that would have today delivered $175 a week extra in the pocket of the average worker.

It also would have delivered $3,700 million more a year for the health system, or a 50 per cent rise in spending per New Zealander on health services. and it also would have allowed us to plough an additional $4,200 million a year into the education system, or $3,500 additional spending per student.

Back in the eighties, parties argued over the role of regulation in creating employment and prosperity.

There were claims that more or less regulation, more or less liberalization, or privatisation, would produce more or less jobs, depending on your point of view.

We know those sterile debates belong in the past.

Some particular regulatory approach may be necessary to produce rising prosperity, but tinkering with regulation alone will never be sufficient.

A full employment economy is the outcome of an intelligent partnership between people - be they in industry, central and local government or local and regional communities.

Only the most fringe-dwelling fanatic still believes that rule changes alone are enough.

The evidence is in the wasted decade of 'hands-off' National Party-led rule.

National, supported by its allies, delivered more welfare dependency than ever before.

They delivered more unemployment than ever before. They delivered a growth rate that lagged behind the developed world because it stifled innovation and creativity.

What a legacy and what a waste!

And now they come into this House and want to take us back to all of that? Theirs is a regressive political agenda, the antithesis of the optimistic and progressive vision shared by most New Zealanders.

Compare the track record on the economy in the nineties with what we have today.

Statistics New Zealand has just reported that employment growth over the December quarter helped push New Zealand's official unemployment rate down to 4.9 per cent , down from 5.4 per cent in the September quarter.

There are now 123,000 more New Zealanders employed than there were when Matt Robson and I entered into coalition government with Labour just over three years ago.

Our official unemployment rate has fallen to levels not experienced since March 1988 and we now rank ninth amongst the 27 nations with standardised unemployment rates among the OECD group of wealthy nations.

Is the Progressive Party proud to be a constructive partner of this Labour-led government?

Yes of course we are! Opting out of the responsibilities of government is not moral, it is not right, and it is not progressive.

If you don't want to do things for people, then you can do one of two things. You can elect a National-ACT government, which will take us back to the tired arguments of the eighties and the failed do-nothing policies of the nineties.

The other alternative is to sit on the sidelines, and wish things were different.

For a progressive party, there is no difference between those two positions.

A party that doesn't want to be in government advocating for progressive policies isn't progressive.

The challenge for the six minor Parliamentary parties is to meet the challenge of being relevant to government policy-making.

Bringing down a Labour-led government would retard, not advance, what we are trying to achieve.

Supporting Labour on confidence and the budget, but standing outside the coalition government as a Supporting Party, would be another option.

That may be an honest, honorable and intelligent position for a Centrist Party.

But a centrist party is open to shifting its support between Labour-led or National-led governments over time.

The Progressives are not.

We know exactly where we stand in the political spectrum, and we are serious about getting things done.

Being inside a Labour-led government ensures a Progressive viewpoint is expressed at every Cabinet meeting.

It means we always get our voice heard in the decision-making process.

If you are serious about getting things done to improve the position of our people, then you are serious about being part of the government.

Progressives will continue to push for more action on achieving full employment, whether that means investing more in training and education or pulling down unnecessary obstacles to growth.

There may be times when we disagree with this or that priority of our partner in government. That is democracy and MMP working.

But we'll work in good faith to make the political system work for people in a world of rapid change and I'm confident we will succeed.

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