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Anderton: Speech - Opening Of Parliament

Anderton: Speech - Opening Of Parliament 2004 Jim Anderton, Progressive leader

We've heard a lot of doom and gloom about the performance of the New Zealand economy by the leader of the National Party.

Here are two simple facts that shoot to pieces any credibility of that attitude.

First, New Zealand was one of the best performing and fastest growing economies in the OECD last year, the fourth year of this coalition government. Is that something that can be sheeted home to this government?

I heard Don Brash say that we had to accept responsibility for everything that happened now because we've been in government, going into our fifth year.

So if in the fourth year we had the fastest growing economy in the OECD then there must be credit to us somewhere ? you can't have it both ways!

The second fact is this. And this should be noted by a Party that used to claim some sort of constitutency in rural, provincial New Zealand. The annual economic growth rate measured each quarter, for every region in New Zealand, has shown 18 successive quarters of growth.

You can't fly in the face of hard-nosed economic results like that!

For my colleague Matt Robson and myself, this is the start of the fifth year that we have been in the junior partner inside a progressive coalition administration.

The tangible gains we are proud to have promoted include:

• Revitalized regions, as I've referred to • The lowest unemployment rate in a generation • Practical steps to promote the transformation of a range of industry sectors • A nationwide retail bank owned by all New Zealanders offering competitive services to overseas-owned banks • A strengthening of programmes designed to combat the problems of drug and alcohol abuse • Four Weeks Annual Leave, on the way • Paid Parental Leave here and being strengthened as we speak

Above all else, the Progressive Party I lead is positive about people and we understand the value of securing well paid jobs for all New Zealanders because the more high skilled jobs there are, the less welfare dependency there will be.

The more high skilled people in employment, the less crime and the higher the quality of public-funded education and health services will be.

The more young people in satisfying jobs, the less problems we'll have with legal and illegal drug abuse.

It is interesting how the National Party, in my view, has failed to get traction on its economic and social platform over the past five years.

• We know that they would unwind the Super Fund. We know they would throw away the savings to help pay for unaffordable tax cuts for those already on high incomes.

• What is their record on securing National Superannuation?

• Their record is that they used problems in Asian financial markets as an excuse to reduce the level of all superannuitants' income and living standards.

• Is that what they would do again if given the chance? What is the answer?

In government, National reduced the nations' reservoir of skills.

During their turn in government, apprenticeships collapsed, whole regions of the country went into serious decline and unemployment and dole dependency actually skyrocketed and joblessness used as an economic and social weapon against working people.

Why is it that when I became Minister for Regional Development, everywhere I went people were desperate for jobs but now when I go back to those same regions four years later they are desperate for skills?

Because there are plenty of jobs but we don't have the skill base and this government has had to deal with that.

• So what would a National government in the future do? • What would happen to the regional partnership programmes, the investment in the infrastructure of the regions, all the work that is being done to remove obstacles to the growth and development of the provinces? • What would happen to the highly successful Modern Apprenticeship Scheme? • Would they continue this government's efforts to address serious skill shortages that are constraining our economy's ability to grow at its full potential? • Would they throw away the investment that the country has been making in these areas by giving tax cuts to the richest people in New Zealand? • Would they? You can't have it both ways. If you are going to invest in an expanding skills base in New Zealand, you have got to have the money to do it.

Don Brash said on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report today, and I quote: "I want only to see the government treat all New Zealanders on the basis of need, not on the basis of race".

That sounds great.

But let's look at the track record.

When National was last in government, how did it treat the people in need in New Zealand?

• It froze the minimum wages for two years in a row so that the gap between those who were on benefits and those who were on low wages was frozen in time. It never expanded upwards. This government has increased the Minimum Wage every single year we've been in government so that there is merit in getting a job and improving your position. • Are people on the lowest wages in need? If they are why would you freeze their wages, it is just ridiculous. • When National was last in government, those most in need must have been those who were in high unemployment groups. • The highest unemployment groups were Maori and Pacific Island peoples and their rates were up near 30% when Ruth Richardson was finance minister. • State house tenancies were put on market rentals, so the needest people were forced to pay market rentals. • Yet Don Brash says we should help people on the basis of need! • The reality is that those that were the most in need got smashed to pieces ? in their housing, in their benefit levels and in their minimum wages!

• So what do we continue to get from National?

We get the prospect of more division and confrontation.

This coalition government is trying to take New Zealanders forward together on the basis of cooperation, on the basis of partnership and on the basis of success.

And against that we get confrontation, division and failure.

Now that is not a past that New Zealanders want to revisit.

As New Zealanders have time to reflect on what Don Brash has promised for this country, they'll reflect on what happened last time we had this sort of negative division where one group of New Zealanders was set against other groups of New Zealanders.

We wasted years of negative energy on that and New Zealand went down the gurgler.

In truth, New Zealand is succeeding.

There is an extraordinary level of optimism in this country. There are extraordinary levels of entrepreneurship.

This is a government that is giving leadership. This is a country that is on the move. The last thing New Zealanders want is to be dragged back to the future by a Party that doesn't know the 21st Century has come.

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