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Robson Speech to Rotary Club of Auckland

What the future can hold for Our Children:
in praise of full employment or, Why small parties are beautiful

Matt Robson Speech to Rotary Club of Auckland City West

I think it is good for politicians to regularly remind themselves of the things they got elected to Parliament to actually do. First, I want to give you some of my political whakapapa tonight before I get to the core of my theme. It’s important to know where a person has come from to understand what they are saying. I’ve been in a big party and in small parties.

I have been a lawyer specialising immigration and labour law, and part of my legal studies were undertaken at the World Court in Holland. When I returned to New Zealand in 1980 I became active in the Labour Party and was secretary of the Otara Branch for eight years. That was, and still is, a big party.

But when Labour became a one-party government in 1984, it lost its way and instituted programmes that were not its own. So much so that in 1989 Jim Anderton and I left the Labour Party and founded NewLabour, a small party. We polled credibly in the 1990 election and Jim retained his Sydenham seat under First Past the Post, being only the third MP outside the two big parties to do so since World War II.

Following that election, it became obvious that small parties would have to think smarter to do well under First Past the Post. I was one of the people who negotiated to form a grouping called the Alliance.

And so to the Progressive Party. It is a smaller party (much smaller) but it is beautiful. Despite not having any broadcast time in the 2002 election, both Jim Anderton and I were returned to Parliament, and we are continuing to get good things done for people. We will have the advantage of broadcast time in the 2005 election. Now we are in coalition with Labour, but we are not part of the Labour Party. Our coalition is a minority one, which means when it comes to passing laws we need to get the votes of one or more opposition parties. And that has been a good thing, not having a one-party majority government.

In my political journey I have found what many New Zealanders have discovered – that having one big party holding all the power means communities get shafted. The Labour Cabinet of the 1980s included not only Roger Douglas, David Lange, and the recently departed Richard Prebble, but also my friends Michael Cullen, Helen Clark, and Phil Goff. That Cabinet in the 80s gave us the sale of state assets and market madness.

Then from 1990 onwards, Big National under Jim Bolger and Ruth Richardson gave us more of the same. That was First Past the Post.

In the first MMP election in 1996, the country thought it was voting for a change of government, only to be disappointed by NZ First who went back on a promise to not back National.

In 1999, the voters made sure of a change. We went into the 46th Parliament as a small party and then allied with the bigger Labour party to form the Helen Clark-Jim Anderton coalition government.

When we put up our policies, our bigger partner often said “no.” That happened with Kiwibank, with regional and economic development, with paid parental leave and most recently with four weeks leave. But “no” turned to “yes” when community support became evident and it was obvious we’d done our preparation.

This year, schools found that closure could be prevented because the Minister, hell bent on a plan of reviews that had not been taken to Cabinet, found that communities had other parties to turn to and yes, that was right, there wasn't a majority in Parliament to support closures.

So I want to put up to you tonight that small in government can mean very beautiful when the bigger brother or sister finds they have to do some negotiating.

Now the things we are trying to achieve as a small party. On our Website, www.progressive.org.nz, my party, Progressive, summarizes what it is we stand for in five bullet points. These are:

(1) The development of a full employment economy; (2) Support for programmes that make education and health services increasingly accessible to all; (3) Support for families and those in need, so that we leave no one behind in our quest to promote the economic and social development of our country; (4) The promotion of strong, safe communities and, finally, (5) Facilitating investment in New Zealand.

For me, much of it is all about what the future can hold for our children and tonight I would like to talk about a fully employed society and what that would mean for all our children’s future.

The social and economic benefits are enormous. A fully employed economy has to be one with less crime, with less ill-health and where people can afford to invest more in their own training and education.

Is that a good thing? Most politicians from both the left and the right would say today it cannot be achieved. The Progressives say why not?

The best way to raise family incomes and increase money available to improve children’s lives is to have a job rich, strong economy. The Progressives believe that full employment is vital not only because unemployment is unacceptably soul-destroying for those that suffer it or prohibitively expensive for those in work who fund the unemployment benefit system.

The economic and financial benefits are obvious. If everyone is working, there will be room for lower taxes for all working people because the government won’t need to tax as much of each individual paid worker to get the same amount of money. If everyone is working, welfare costs will be lower, so Government spending can come down.

Full employment is a vital ingredient in New Zealand's quest to being what it can be: the best performing society in the world economically, socially and culturally.

Our children need progressive polices because we want all children between the ages of 15 – 19 to be at school or in tertiary education, in training or in work by 2006. Surely our children deserve to face the future with the confidence to embrace success, where they have the confidence to aim high with the self-assurance that comes from knowing they are unique individuals with a unique contribution to make.

Progressive leader Jim Anderton has been in charge of economic, regional and industry development policy for the coalition government.

The Modern Apprenticeships Programme reached its end of 2003 target of 6,000 trainees 3 months early last year and is now expected to reach 7,500 by 2006. More funding is going to the 'Gateway' programme to help students prepare for work while they are still at school, by giving them credits and qualifications in the workplace. Last year, 63 schools participated in the programme and this year already over 125 are involved. By 2007, Gateway will be available to all Decile 1-5 schools.

Participation in tertiary education continues to rise. One person in seven is now enrolled in tertiary education over the course of a year, the highest level in our country's history. More than 106,000 workers took part, meanwhile, in industry training during 2002 compared with 95,000 in 2001.

He's developed a range of programmes to strengthen the economic viability of the regions, which are all experiencing growth.

The Regional Partnerships Programme provides guidance and funding to help regions build their capabilities. In the past two years, all 26 regions have developed a detailed economic development strategy while the government has funded ten major Regional Initiatives. All regions are now in positive growth mode.

A while ago the government identified the screen production industry as an important "enabling" sector that is it is a sector of the economy that has significant "spill over" effects to New Zealand as a whole in terms of propelling job creation and economic development in other sectors not directly in the screen industry business.

To help realise the potential of this sector to create jobs the Progressives secured a Large Budget Film Grant Scheme. The benefits of attracting significant investment in our screen production sector are not only the jobs created, the links and relationships made with overseas film production houses or the confidence it gives to New Zealanders in the industry films about New Zealand or made in New Zealand raise the entire country's profile overseas.

Having Lord of the Rings, Whale Rider or The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe made here is brining New Zealand and its unique qualities to the attention to the world. It is like putting our name up in lights in New York, London, Tokyo and Bejing.

How are we doing? At last count, Statistics New Zealand says that the unemployment rate under the Labour Progressive government is now at its lowest levels in sixteen years. Employment growth has averaged 44,000 new jobs a year since the election of this government in late 1999.

Employment is up from 1,767,000 in the December 1999 quarter to 1,939,000 in December 2003. Over the same time, unemployment is down from 118,000 to 93,000 or in percentage terms, from 6.3% to 4.6%. So around 173,000 more Kiwis enjoy the security of paid employment.

It is illuminating to see how a strong economy could contribute to our social goals. A mere one percent improvement in economic growth since 1970 could have delivered:

$175 more per week for the average worker $3.7 billion more for health*, representing a 50% increase in spending per capita $4.2 billion more in education*, which represents $3,500 additional per student, * assumes current ratio of expenditure to GDP in these areas

If political parties are serious about our children’s future, eliminating child poverty, protecting them from violence and improving educational performance then we have to look at ways at achieving full employment because by helping parents we are also helping the children to a much better and brighter future than they would otherwise have.

And of course, being in full time employment means everyone is entitled to four weeks annual leave which was achieved humbly by my private member’s bill.

And now we approach the fourth MMP election, both Helen Clark and Don Brash have to look to who will govern with them. And voters will have to think about their choices.

We put our hands up again to keep going forward with Labour. A Labour-Progressive coalition government is a good option for New Zealand.

However Labour is increasingly making cooing noises to NZ First. Well it's not only when going out to a scampi restaurant that you have to pay for Winston Peters. He wants a lot and has a big list of communities that come in for attack. So people should think about what that direction would mean.

We recommend to those giving Labour your electorate vote : If you want to keep going in the partnership and development direction that the Progressives have advocated in coalition government then you know which small and beautiful party to tick with your party vote - Progressives

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