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Cullen: Address to Birkenhead Public Meeting

Address to Birkenhead Public Meeting

Hon Michael Cullen - 23 November 2004 Speech Notes
Tuesday 23 November 2004 Address to Public Meeting, Birkenhead: Election 2005 - What's at Stake? Rawene Centre, 33 Rawene Road, Birkenhead

Some time in the latter half of next year New Zealanders will go to the polls and decide who will lead them for the following three years. I think every New Zealander will agree that it is the quality of economic and social leadership of the contending parties that should determine the outcome of that election.

And on that basis I am confident that my government has a track record that is second to none.

The last five years have been difficult ones for the global economy and the global community. We as a government have had to deal with the threat of terrorism, the weakness in the economies of many of our trading partners, the effects of SARS, a persistently high oil price, and the ongoing challenge of finding ways to reduce the human impact on the environment.

It has been a rough ride at times, but come next year we will be standing on our performance and seeking a fresh mandate to lead.

Our achievements in government so far are indisputable. For the last four years we have enjoyed one of the most successful economies in the developed world. We have outstripped Australia in economic growth for those four years.

We are now in the top half of the developed world on so many indices that it is hard to keep up:

• Top half for growth
• Top half for low unemployment (2nd in the developed world)
• Top half for ease of doing business (1st in the world)
• Top half on key educational standards

And so the list can go on and on.

We are especially proud of our achievements in terms of increasing employment for Maori and Pasifika New Zealanders. We have delivered on the core commitment of a Labour government, delivering jobs to the people. With that goes falling numbers of people unemployed, falling numbers of people on benefits, stronger communities and reduced spending on social welfare as a percentage of GDP.

Our predecessors were famous for cutting benefits, we've cut the number of people who need them by creating new jobs, 193,000 jobs between 2000 and 2004.

There has been no fluke about this growth. We have worked hard at stabilising the economy through some rough waters. We have worked hard building up the skills of our workforce, through massive new investment in training and education.

We have invested heavily in the kinds of technology we know will drive our export industries and make our domestic economy work more effectively. And we have worked hard in international trade, taking a lead role in several important breakthroughs in the WTO around agricultural subsidies, and opening up new bilateral discussions on free trade with China, the South East Asian nations and Latin America.

We have worked hard to get public spending and debt under control. Debt has fallen substantially as a proportion of national income. Many of you will remember when servicing public debt consumed nearly one tax dollar in every four.

We are now in the position where the cost of debt servicing is more like one tax dollar in every twenty. That leaves four extra dollars to spend on health and education and law and order.

And on the other side of the ledger, we are building up the New Zealand Superannuation Fund for our children and grandchildren so that they can live in security in their retirement.

Growth and prudent fiscal management means that we have been able to fund initiatives like Annette King's Primary Health Organisations which have been an outstanding success in delivering cheaper health care to New Zealand families before their health issues become serious and need hospital treatment. It means we have been able to invest in schools, with the result that they are far happier places than they were five years ago.

This year's budget package provided a huge boost for childcare and early childhood education. From 1 July 2007 three and four year olds will be entitled to 20 hours free early childhood education a week. And the number of families eligible for the Child Care Allowance is being dramatically increased.

At the other end of the system the biggest lift ever in the parental income threshold for student allowances means nearly 40,000 students will be eligible for either new or increased allowances.

A massive package for the 15 to 19 year old age group marks a giant leap towards our goal of ensuring that all young people get a kick start to their working lives. We are introducing a new youth initiatives scheme, personalised career planning for secondary school students and an expanded Gateway and Modern Apprenticeship programmes. Even since the budget we have lifted our targets in some of these areas.

And now, growth and prudent fiscal management are enabling us to deliver real gains to many hardworking, battling New Zealand families.

The Working for Families package is the first very big dividend from growth and prudent fiscal management. It will, over time, put about a hundred dollars a week on average in the pockets of families earning from $25,000 to $45,000 a year. It will improve the returns to employment for those moving off benefits. It will simplify the benefit system and remove anomalies within it. And it will lift tens of thousands of New Zealand children out of poverty.

By means such as these we are ensuring that we are creating a fairer and more inclusive society. The 1990s saw rising levels of poverty and social exclusion. Under Labour we see these levels coming back again. We have a long way to go; but in five short years we have come a long way.

It is not just unemployment at its lowest levels for seventeen years that is the proof of that. So are crime levels, while crime clearance rates are at their highest for even longer. Under Labour there are fewer criminals, but also a lot fewer criminals going unpunished.

In the end, our long-term aim must not be to put more people in prison. Prison populations are a measure of failure as much as success. They measure the failure of individuals and the failure of society.

That is particularly so since the populations of prisons do not reflect that of society at large. Males are overrepresented. But so too, hugely so, are Maori and Pasifika peoples. That is why our success with Maori and Pasifika employment, Maori and Pasifika health, and Maori and Pasifika education is so crucial.

So the economic growth we have achieved is not being captured by a small elite, but is being spread through throughout the working population and beyond. My government has distributed that wealth more widely by maintaining and in some instances increasing the value of benefits and pensions, and by increasing expenditure on social services such as health care, housing and education which benefit all sectors of the community.

So what's at stake in next year's election is whether we carry forward these policies, and continue the momentum of the last five years, or turn off the road we are on and pursue some alternative vision of the future.

National's vision has been dominated by Dr Brash's bumper sticker slogan on race. That gave them a temporary boost in the polls, but people are starting to ask for more information on what a National-led government would mean. The bumper sticker is starting to fade and peel.

Dr Brash has been remarkably coy about the rest of National's policies. What started with a bang has turned into a series of whimpers.

He is particularly quiet about the economy, which is a strange thing for a former Governor of the Reserve Bank. In this case, no news is good news. The economy has disappeared from his radar screen because there is nothing to criticise.

When the public is given glimpses of National's thinking, what emerges is a level of extremism that should shock ordinary New Zealanders.

National will abolish the public health organisations, and make health care more expensive for low to middle income families. In education, National wants to go back to bulk funding, performance pay and ideas about national testing.

In superannuation, National isn't sure whether to abolish the New Zealand Superannuation Fund or misuse it for political ends. In either case, the result will put pressure on the affordability of the pension, so that in years to come governments will have no alternative except to cut the rate of payment or raise the age of eligibility.

In labour relations, National will go back to a combative employment contracts system that drove us towards a low-cost, low-skill economy. Today, industrial action is at historically low levels, with 28 stoppages being recorded last year. This compares with a high of 72 stoppages recorded under the Employment Contracts Act in 1996.

So next year's election is crucial for those who want a strong public health system, who want fair access to education, who want a balanced industrial relations system, who want an internationally responsible and independent New Zealand, who want to keep public ownership of key assets, who want responsible and sustainable environmental management, and who want a fairer society.

Dr Brash stands for extreme positions on all these matters. All that we have fought for and achieved over the last five years will be at threat if he were to become Prime Minister.

But perhaps the greatest concern is how he might go about garnering support. What Dr Brash's Orewa speech showed is a willingness to foster division and racial disharmony for political ends. That is the kind of approach that sets countries back for a whole generation.

I am proud that my government's record on Maori matters is second to that of no other government in New Zealand's history. The rate of historical treaty settlements is increasing and Margaret Wilson will go down as the most successful Minister of Treaty Negotiations in history.

Alongside that we have brought to a successful conclusion the Maori Fisheries Settlement. This will mean massive assets will be finally freed up to support Maori development. The number of Maori enrolled in tertiary education has more than doubled since 1999, Maori life expectancy has increased and Maori unemployment is at its lowest for eighteen years.

In this year's budget, we dedicated $10 million to expand the Maori Business Facilitation Service and another $8 million to build Maori business networks. $23 million will be spent over four years to implement the Maori Freehold Level Registration Project to ensure Maori land is correctly recorded in the land titles system which will greatly aid raising capital for development. This, of course, was a project promoted by John Tamihere.

Which brings me to the difficult issue of the foreshore and seabed. Few issues in our time have caused so much division about so little of substance. Various groups from Maori sovereigntists to some public access groups to most political parties have built mutually conflicting piles of theory and conspiracy resting upon no solid foundation of fact or law.

Now that the legislation has been passed we can see the issue in light of the facts, however much they may get in the way of many people's theories. For this is too important a test of our ability to move forward as many people in one nation to allow nonsense and prejudice to prevail.

We need to understand five things.

The first is that this is not an issue about the Treaty. It is an issue about how the common law rights that Maori had in 1840 at the assumption of sovereignty by the Crown can best be expressed. Any solution has to leave the historical and contemporary framework in relation to the Treaty unaltered.

The second is that the Crown has asserted ownership of the foreshore and seabed, by legislation and other means, for a long time. Three times Parliament has legislated that ownership is vested in the Crown. Legislation such as the Resource Management Act is incomprehensible without the assumption of Crown ownership with respect to the foreshore and seabed.

Third, the Court of Appeal did not say Maori owned the foreshore and seabed. It did say that the Maori Land Court had jurisdiction to determine whether areas of foreshore and seabed were Maori customary land. But in so doing it made clear its view that this would be unlikely to apply to large areas. As the Chief Justice put it, "the assertion that there is some such land faces a number of hurdles in fact and law". What the Court did not make explicit was that because the relevant act was meant to apply to dry land the fact that this could lead on to freehold title created an unintended consequence, inconsistent with New Zealand tradition built up over many decades.

Fourth, irrespective of the jurisdiction of the Maori Land Court, the High Court has an inherent jurisdiction to consider the nature and extent of common law rights up to the level of what is usually called aboriginal title by the lawyers. But as the best expert evidence to the select committee demonstrated, aboriginal title did not amount to freehold title and would not apply to the water column itself.

Fifth the most important and widespread of use rights, those in relation to customary fishing rights, have already been recognised, regulated and provided for. What we need to do, and are doing, is to accelerate the implementation of the existing framework.

A clearer and, in some cases, more honest acceptance of these facts would both reduce the extremism of some of the claims to ownership which have been made and the fears that many pakeha have expressed.

So what does the new legislation do?

It puts beyond doubt that the Crown is the legal and beneficial owner of the foreshore and seabed. This is in order to protect it on behalf of the people of New Zealand including the association of whanau, hapu, and iwi with areas of the public foreshore and seabed. The foreshore and seabed lies in the public domain for the use and benefit of all of us.

Next the legislation recognises that Maori have a particular connection to some areas of the foreshore and seabed. We needed to legislate to protect those common law customary usage rights. These are not likely to be large or numerous. But what this whole controversy has thrown up is the fact that the current law is not adequate in relation to the recognition and protection of these rights.

At the end of the day, after all the huffing and puffing, what we now have compared with the position eighteen months ago is a clearer expression of ownership, guarantees of access, better recognition and protection of customary usage rights not already provided for, and clear legal rules around the possibilities of redress where there may have been hitherto unexplored possibilities of territorial customary rights. And for those going through the Treaty claims process nothing has been changed, pre-empted or foreclosed on.

This is a disappointment for a small fringe group who hold that there is no legitimacy in our present constitution and that most New Zealanders are only visitors with a lesser status and lesser rights.

I do not accept that and nor does the government. It is my fervent hope that Maori realise that their real enemy is on the other side of the political fence. We have a leader of the opposition for whom the Treaty is a quaint historical quirk, best left to the past like some of his own ill judged forays into monetary policy instruments.

A deputy leader of the opposition who regards any assertion of Maori rights as a threat to civilisation as he has not known it.

A party which has said it will close Maori Television, remove Treaty provisions in legislation, resume the social and economic policies that marginalized Maori, and has relegated its only Maori MP to the bottom end of the Caucus with no real role.

Next year's election will be a contest between those who want to divide and atomise our community and those who want to invest in it.

Five years of government is not enough to build the future we want. My government will be outlining some key areas for new and further development over the next year. We need more early intervention in the first three years of life especially so we can avoid wasting money later on courts and lawyers and prisons. We need to be creative now so that we can be less punitive in the future.

We need to promote the idea of an ownership society, of an asset-rich society for the many, and not just for a few. That means helping people to save for their future, for housing for example, and for a better standard of living in retirement.

We need to lift the capacity of our businesses to compete here and overseas. More research and development, more export assistance, a simpler tax system, reducing the cost of capital and increasing investment in cutting edge technology are all things we have under examination right now.

It is about building better paying, more productive jobs, growing businesses, and a more confident society, a New Zealand we can be even prouder of.

It is only the retention of a Labour led, Helen Clark led government which will continue the journey we have begun. It is a journey we are proud to lead and one that New Zealanders of all races and creeds are proud to take.

Thank you.


ENDS

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