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PM's Address To The Labour Party Congress

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister



Wellington Town Hall

2.00 pm Saturday, 2 April 2005
It 's with enormous pride that I stand to address this election year Congress of the New Zealand Labour Party.

I'm proud to see the party I've been a member of for 34 years do so well.

I'm proud to lead a strong team inside and outside Parliament.

I'm proud to see our party attract so many outstanding new candidates. That bodes well for the future.

But most of all I'm proud to see the progress our country is making under our Labour-led government.

I'm proud to see the solid economic growth – averaging over 3.7 per cent a year under Labour and among the fastest growing in the OECD.

I'm proud to see New Zealand leading the developed world with the lowest unemployment rate at 3.6 per cent.

I'm proud to see the investments we've made in health, in education, in housing, in services and security for older New Zealanders and families, and in infrastructure.

And I'm proud to see the gains New Zealand is making felt in households across the land.

Along with the pride comes humility, and a strong sense of the enormous honour the people of New Zealand have done us by voting us into government.

We must not let them down.

No party has a right to govern this country.

There is no natural party of government.

There are parties of opportunity and there are parties of privilege.

Our historic mission is to see that the parties of opportunity working for all the people are able to govern.

Elections in New Zealand are an open contest – and they are keenly fought.

In a democracy, the people choose – and it is an honour and a privilege to be chosen.

This election year we will again go out and put our case – and we will take nothing for granted.

Complacency is among the most perilous diseases in politics, and its twin sister is arrogance.

No matter how good our record is, we can never rest on our laurels and think we've done enough for our country because there will always be more to do.

More opportunity to open up. More security to guarantee. More fairness to secure.

So, we can't stand still – neither as a party, nor New Zealand as a nation.

We need to apply a restless energy to identifying the new issues, rising to the new challenges, and finding answers to them which resonate with our core values and beliefs.

This election will be about who has the best policies for the future, not for the past.

It will be about looking forward, not backwards.

It will be about building on the platform of steady achievement we've carefully built these past 5 years and 4 months.

And it will be about inspiring all of us as New Zealanders to set our sights even higher, knowing that our country has the potential to do even better, and understanding even more than we did five years ago what New Zealand can achieve.

When we ran for office in 1999, we said we couldn't perform miracles overnight, but that over time we would make a difference for the better.

We knew that trust in politicians and the political process was at a low ebb – and that New Zealanders were sick of being let down.

We promised only what we knew we could deliver, so that we could maintain people's trust and confidence.

Each step of the way, we've set out our longer-term objectives, direction, and vision, and sought a mandate for our policies.

It's important to me that when New Zealanders vote for a Labour-led government, they know that they are electing people with credible policies who will deliver on their promises.

That's been a hallmark of our Labour-led governments – and what a contrast it's been with the broken promises of those who preceded us in government, and who keep hoping that New Zealanders' memories are short enough to vote them back again.

Five years and four months ago when we took office, our task was huge. New Zealand had undergone fifteen years of topsy turvy change, but few felt better off and most felt worse off.

Unemployment stood at 6.8 per cent, with economic settings making it unlikely that it could fall below 6 per cent.

The government of the day maintained its faith in deregulation, privatisation, and cutting back on government and public services – despite the obvious failure of its economic and social policies to deliver for New Zealanders.

Our job has been to change the direction, and invest for growth and opportunity and for better public services and more security.

Our reward has been to see the stronger economy, the falling unemployment, the better funded health and education, the falling crime rates, and the growing confidence in New Zealand's future.

Now our challenge is to build on that platform of achievement, so that New Zealand continues to go forward with confidence, not backwards.

This election New Zealanders will look at who has the best policies for the future, and who has the best track record, the best team, and the best leadership to take New Zealand ahead.

They will look at who can deliver for New Zealand.

I have no doubt that the best policies, the best team, the best track record and the strongest leadership are to be found in the New Zealand Labour Party.

The best policies have not only seen New Zealand as a whole go ahead, but have delivered real gains to New Zealanders across the board.

264,000 more jobs in the economy means higher incomes and more opportunity and security for our families.

Health spending per year is now $2.6 billion more than in 1999. That means cheaper doctors fees for many, and more people getting the treatment they need and getting it faster.

Education spending is now $2.25 billion a year more than in 1999. That means more small children getting a good start in life in early childhood education, more teachers, bigger operating budgets and new technology in our schools; and more people than ever before in education and training.

Income related rents in state houses mean superannuitants and low income families in them can afford their homes.

An extra 1080 people in the police force have helped bring down the crime rate to its lowest level in 23 years and helped solve more crime.

Restoring the level of New Zealand Superannuation has lifted standards of living for older citizens

Establishing the New Zealand Superannuation Fund has secured New Zealand Superannuation for future generations.

And now the Working For Families policy is putting real money into the pockets of low and modest income families with children.

This coming week, most families receiving Family Support will receive another $25 a week for their first child, and $15 a week for each other child.

Within two years time, under Working for Families, our government will have reduced child poverty by 30 per cent – to lower than the average rate in the European Union. That is something I'm very proud of.

And let me acknowledge here the fact that we could not have achieved any of this without the support of other parties in Parliament.

Jim Anderton and the Progressives as a coalition partner have been very reliable allies, and have brought real enthusiasm to reinvigorating our regions and tackling serious social issues like youth suicide.

Peter Dunne and United Future as our confidence and supply partner have provided the stability which is enabling our current government to become the longest serving one in New Zealand’s MMP history, an event we marked this week.

Jeanette Fitzsimons, Rod Donald, and the Greens have also provided us with crucial support in many areas fundamental to Labours vision from employment relations, to transport policies, to social security policies, to climate change and much more.

And I also record our thanks to New Zealand First for its support on the Foreshore and Seabed Act, and to those members of National and Act who cast aside narrow party politics to support human rights legislation like the Civil Union Act.

So where does our Labour-led government go from here?

We seek to carry on as we have begun,

opening up opportunity, encouraging innovation and creativity, building security, and promoting New Zealand, our people, our products and services, and our country's achievements and qualities to the world.

We know this country still has untapped potential. But we also know there's optimism and a high level of confidence about what we can achieve working together.

Only a bad government and a return to the failed policies of the past can hold New Zealand back now – and who would risk that.

From the beginning, our government has laid long term plans for building New Zealand's future.

We haven't sought short term fixes – they don't address the real issues.

Others would have squandered the operating surplus, preferring tax cuts to investments in the basics and in the future.

Our government already has $5.75 billion invested in the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, guaranteeing New Zealand Superannuation can be paid to future generations.

We've got a huge forward programme over the next four years of $18.9 billion into land transport, spread across public transport, roading, and alternatives to roading.

We've kept building up health and education and police spending year on year – and there's still unmet need.

Our plans see Working for Families continuing to roll out over the next two years, to be fully operational at $1.1 billion a year.

We've kept funding more apprentices and industry trainees every year and have more ambitious targets for the future.

From 1 July this year, we begin the phase out of asset testing on older people in continuing care – starting at around $103 million a year and rising to $345 million by 2020. This addresses a fundamental issue of discrimination for our older people at a pace New Zealand can afford.

Every year we've kept building up the funding for economic development initiatives, to back growth and innovation in our industries and businesses. These budgets are now running at $150 million a year – and they'll keep growing.

But as well we must focus on the next generation of issues.

Our economy has grown fast – helped by more and more people coming into the work force.

Now we are running short of workers, particularly of those with skills.

Our active labour market policies are more important than ever.

With 100,000 fewer working age adults on benefits, we've already been spectacularly successful in getting people back to work, but we can do better yet.

Through our drive for better value for money in tertiary education and training, we can channel even more money into the education and skills training which leads more people to real jobs and better jobs.

Through our better targeted immigration system, we will get migrants with more skills to help fill the gaps in our workforce.

And with extended paid parental leave, longer holidays, and more affordable early childhood education and child care, we can give real choice to women with children as to whether they work or not.

Work life balance and having enough time for family is fundamental to the New Zealand way of life.

An economy short of workers must also work to raise its productivity.

This is now a major focus for us in government, and we will work with leaders in industry, both employers and unions, to bring about the changes which will boost productivity, profitability, and living standards.

Our investments in skills and innovation, and the policies we develop to encourage more business investment, and safe, healthy and collaborative workplaces are all important – both in their own right, and in encouraging companies to prioritise these areas to boost productivity.

More New Zealanders working, in better jobs, with more skills and higher incomes, means more New Zealanders with a strong stake in our society. Having a strong stake means having a sense of ownership and being able to realise one's aspirations for the future.

Labour's message to New Zealanders is: we want you to be able to get ahead, and to be able to build a secure future for your family and for your retirement.

We are developing new policies to encourage New Zealanders to build up their assets through saving – saving for a better retirement income, saving for a first home, and saving to ease the costs of tertiary education for children.

Given the opportunity to save, we believe New Zealanders will plant that firm stake in the future which gives each of us greater control over our own destiny and that of our families.

Creating opportunity and security for New Zealanders means opening doors beyond New Zealand as well.

Our government has developed a huge trade agenda to secure more openings for New Zealand exports – whether they be traditional commodities, processed and manufactured goods, or services like education.

Our vision sees New Zealand as a prosperous, sophisticated, global trader; succeeding because of the quality of our exports and our smart marketing and branding.

At home, through our innovation initiatives, we seek to inspire New Zealanders to develop that X factor about their businesses which will enable them to succeed in the global market.

And what a buzz there was at the Better by Design conference in Auckland this week as people learned more about the power of design to transform the quality of everything we produce and market.

Top quality products and services are what we seek to take out to the world.

Through the Doha Round of the WTO, through all the trade agreements we are negotiating, we are determined to bring more opportunity for New Zealand businesses and workers.

Many of our new trade initiatives are focused on Asia.

The FTA with Singapore is in place; one takes effect with Thailand in July; and we are negotiating with China and ASEAN – and about to begin with Malaysia.

But it's not only in trade that Asia looms large on our agenda.

Good relations with the nations of Asia are critical to New Zealand's future prosperity and security – and we will work as hard as we can to secure both.

It hasn't gone without notice that New Zealand attracts a lot of high profile international visitors these days.

That's because we are actively engaged in many issues and with many regions, both advancing our interests and being part of addressing issues affecting the international community.

Whether it's delivering aid for tsunami-stricken nations or peace building in Afghanistan and East Timor; whether it's working for global solutions on climate change, trade, nuclear disarmament or terrorism; New Zealand is to be found doing far more than just pulling its weight.

That makes me proud to be a New Zealander too.

We've got big challenges to meet at home and abroad in the coming years.

We are building a strong, inclusive nation with our many ethnicities, faiths, beliefs, and orientations – and we must find strength in our diversity.

For New Zealand to succeed, we must draw on all the talents, and see no one excluded because of who they are or what they believe.

We need to protect and promote what is unique and special about us as a nation, from Maoritanga to our unique sense of community, values, and life style.

Where there is division and conflict between us, we need to find fair and just solutions which strike a balance in the interests of all.

Many New Zealanders of my generation and older generations have found issues dating back to the signing of the Treaty difficult to comprehend and hard to resolve.

The processes established to achieve resolution and fairness aren't always understood, but in the international context New Zealand's efforts to seek truth and reconciliation stand second to none.

On the historical claims, the time has come to seek finality. Our policy will set a date by which all those claims must be lodged so that we can proceed to settle with those who wish to settle within a reasonable timeframe.

Much of Maoridom, like most of the rest of us, looks forward to the potential of the future, and it is easier to move on as the past is addressed.

The Hui Taumata last month demonstrated beyond doubt that there is an energy and vitality in Maoridom that makes its future development unstoppable – and that is good for New Zealand.

Our pride in our nationhood can only soar higher as we see all our communities – Pakeha, Maori, Pasifika, and many others from around the world – succeeding, contributing, and participating in a nation which for many of us has been and still is "god's own".

I go into this election full of optimism – not only about our prospects, but about New Zealand's prospects.

Have we got everything right? No, not always, but we've given it our best shot and we learn from our mistakes.

Is New Zealand a better place because of our efforts? I believe it is, but I can see much more that needs to be done.

As we move ahead, my eye will be on keeping the balance between growth and development – and our unique environment and quality of life.

Nature cannot defend itself against humankind. If we want clean air and water; healthy cities and the values of our natural heritage preserved, we humans will have to make the accommodation – or that heritage will not be there for future generations.

Our drive for higher living standards for all must also be consistent with our people's desire to balance family, work, and community responsibilities. In the end, we work to live – and not the other way round.

I spoke earlier of the danger of complacency.

We woke yesterday morning to see very gratifying poll results.

The challenge before every candidate and organiser in this hall today is to turn that poll into a strong election result.

Because there is only one poll that counts – and it's on a date yet to be determined.

Our opponents are desperate – and it shows.

They'll attack anyone and anything to get a headline, regardless of the damage they do to critical institutions like the New Zealand Police.

We stand for something better:

For a higher purpose

For long term and sustained progress

For opportunity, not privilege

For inclusion, not marginalisation

For security and not fear in old age and adversity

We stand for what will secure our standards of living, prosperity, and security for the future, and we are not afraid of meeting new challenges head on.

We will continue to offer the stable, sensible, reasonable, consistent, predictable government with strong leadership and a clear vision for the future which has served New Zealand well since 1999 and will – I hope for many years to come.

© Scoop Media

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