Matt Robson address to Grey Power, Manurewa
Matt Robson address to Grey Power, Manurewa
I would like to thank you for your welcome and invitation to share with you my assessment of the political environment based on my nine years' parliamentary experience.
For reasons I will outline below, I believe that the choice New Zealanders face in this year's election between the Labour-Progressive government, on the one hand, and the centre-right alternative of ACT, National, United Future and NZ First, on the other, is very stark.
I know politicians can exaggerate the importance of an election.
But there are very specific reasons why I believe that the serious choice in front of us in 2005 is the most significant in a generation.
I see the outcome of this year's election as critical to the future of our children and grandchildren as the 1975 General Election was.
This time, I hope that we collectively don't make the same tragic social and economic mistake that we made in 1975.
In 2005, every single one of us is still paying off the interest costs for the debt-financed spending spree of the Third National Government of 1975 to 1984.
But first let me briefly say that as a Member of Parliament I have the opportunity and the privilege to travel around New Zealand and to therefore see a great deal of our people around this wonderful country that I adopted as my homeland over quarter of a century ago.
As some of you know, I choose to bring up my family in New Zealand, not by native Australia. I believe that this is truly God's Own Lucky Country.
I have lived and worked in Australia and in Europe and I can tell you that in my humble opinion this is the place where I want my children to grow into young adults and to build future families of their own.
But of course we live in a rapidly changing world.
New Zealand is not immune and the rapid changes in our society over recent years.
These can both be unsettling as well as exciting.
But so long as we have a government that is doing its homework, putting in place a strong framework and policies which are focused on the future, then we can manage our way through inevitable change and challenges to deliver a New Zealand that is even stronger and better than it already is.
In the quarter century I have lived in New Zealand, I've never known such a confident or positive time for our economy and society.
Whereas our relative standard of living fell around 30% in the thirty years between about 1970 and 1990, income growth is now very strong.
Real, that is inflation-adjusted incomes per person, have risen 11 per cent since the March 2000 quarter.
Our national economy is truly humming.
It is thanks to the hard work and creativity of Kiwi workers and business people.
My coalition government's contribution is to deliver policies to increase investment in workers' training and skills, to increase investment in infrastructure like transport systems and increased government investment in promoting regional and industry sector development.
Our collective achievement of 4 per cent annual average economic growth rate over the past six years truly leaves the O.E.C.D. group of the world's wealthiest nations in the shade. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average growth rate over the same period was 2.5 per cent.
Like most of you here, I'm not interested in economic growth for the sake of it. I'm a teacher and a lawyer by training, not an economist.
The reason we are all interested in promoting economic development is that with strong development we as a society, through our democratically elected Parliament, are able to afford policies and programmes to deliver meaningful improvements in people's lives, living standards, security and essential social services.
New Zealand has the second lowest unemployment rate in the entire O.E.C.D. of rich nations. Only that model of a developmental dynamo economy, South Korea, has a lower unemployment rate than us Kiwis.
And it is precisely because around 260,000 jobs have been created in our economy – and we are talking about real or "net" new jobs after taking into account jobs lost as well, that is net new jobs after subtracting jobs lost from jobs created – that the Labour-Progressive government could deliver the sort of Budget that we delivered a week ago.
Please note that 218,000 of those net new jobs are full-time, and just 42,000 part-time. This extraordinarily strong full-time job growth under the Labour-Progressive government contrasts markedly with the experience of the previous ten years.
What all this growth means is that our coalition government has had the resources to make a real difference to the wellbeing of superannuitants and also the children and grandchildren of the retired.
And in our Budget, we did precisely that.
Many of you here will remember the last National-led coalition government which expired in 1999, propped-up as it was by United and people elected into Parliament on the NZ First and ACT tickets. It used the pretext of a financial market hiccup in parts of Asia as an excuse to cut the level of National Superannuation for every single retired person in this country.
Many of you here will remember, or would at least have heard about, the infamous and unfair Surtax that National campaigned to get rid of in the 1990 election, only to get elected to do the opposite of what its supporters expected.
Many of you here may recall that the National government in the early 1990s actually permitted the Treasury Department to study the economic case of raising the age threshold at which non-means tested National Super should take effect.
Think about it.
We had Treasury officials actually writing reports about the costs and benefits of raising the age of entitlement for universal super to 75 years of age!
I can tell you as a former Minister that public servants don't do research out of intellectual curiosity.
There is no explanation for that kind of research occurring under National's watch when there was no indication in its 1990 Manifesto of any such possibility.
Well, what a different environment we live in under the Labour-Progressive government!
In the 1990s, National-led governments noted that the central government had been financially crippled by the debt-financed spending spree of the 1975-1984 National government. And they used that financial reality as an excuse to cut superannuation levels. National's was a cruel policy for retired people who are, by definition, dependent on fixed incomes and therefore financially vulnerable.
But what a different environment we live in under the Labour-Progressive government!
The Labour-Progressive government is cementing-in the financial foundations of National Super by putting away hundreds of millions of dollars, each and every year, into the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.
It was our government, not National or United or NZ First or ACT, but the Labour-Progressive government that reversed the 1998 decision to use the Asian financial market hiccup to reduce National Super levels.
We have delivered on our commitment to ensure that the level of National Super is periodically adjusted to remain at an average level of no less than 65% of the average after tax wage.
And I acknowledge that Grey Power wants central Government to invest much more in aged care workers at residential care homes. You have a genuine concern about aged-care issues. While the Progressive Party wants to deliver more, I would also remind Grey Power that the National-led alternative is far far worse.
Grey Power realises you can't have more investment if you also have a government that is busy borrowing billions overseas in order to fund big tax cuts for the rich.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Yesterday, the O.E.C.D. issued a report.
It was a very, very important report.
This is how National Party Finance spokesman John Key summarized its key finding. It is an interesting observation (even though he wrongly calls the Labour-Progressive government the "Labour" government!)
Today's OECD report confirms that the government's spending is out of control, Mr Key said.
"On page 153 the report says that the Reserve Bank's 'task has been complicated by the fiscal stimulus that has come from additional Government spending in 2004 and 2005'. Labour has been spending like there's no tomorrow," Mr Key said.
Think about what Mr Key is actually saying. He is saying that this government has invested to very, very strongly indeed in 2004 and 2005 on education and health services for our people.
My senior Labour coalition colleague, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Michael Cullen, had a very similar response to the O.E.C.D. report.
“The OECD could not be clearer," Dr. Cullen said.
The OECD report shows that this government is investing to the prudent limit to meet our peoples' desire for more generous health and education and superannuation services, Dr. Cullen said.
“Not only does this reinforce my repeated warnings that tax cuts will mean higher mortgage and interest rate costs but it is in language that even Don Brash should be able to understand and from an authority which the National and Act parties cannot ignore,” Dr Cullen said.
That takes me back to where I started in this address.
The Opposition National, ACT and Untied Future parties all freely admit that they are campaigning in this year's election for a mandate to significantly increase Central Government's borrowings in order to deliver debt-financed tax cuts to all voters and, in National's case, to do this "by Christmas".
The OECD, National and the Finance Minister all agree that large income tax cuts, as proposed by the opposition parties, can't be afforded by the government and could only be funded by significantly increasing the central government's debt.
Everyone here today is old enough to remember the National government of 1975-1984 debt-financed spending spree.
That debt-financed spending spree may have felt good for a while.
But we are all old enough to remember that it led, in short order, to significant financial distress to central governments in the 1980s and 1990s which, in turn, was used as an excuse first by the David Lange-led government and then by National-led governments, to bring in the surtax, to throw thousands of workers out of their jobs, to sell of billions of dollars of strategic national assets to foreign owners at bargain basement prices and to cut the level of National Super again and again.
Grey Power represents retired New Zealanders.
New Zealanders with children and grandchildren and, perhaps, some of you may even have great grandchildren.
It is your families' future at stake in this year's election.
Please be very wary, for children's sake, of opposition parties promising income tax cuts that mainly benefit those on the highest incomes that everyone – Mr. Key, the O.E.C.D., Dr. Cullen, tax cuts that everyone knows there is no money in the bank to actually pay for.
That means future generations would have to pay for what National and its allies are promising to deliver.
I am here to outline why you should re-elect this forward-looking government to an historic third term in office – hopefully with more Progressive MPs so that Jim Anderton and I have more allies in Parliament to lobby within the next Labour-led government for even more investment in the issues our party most cares about:
Increased investment in higher education so we can cut into that debt monkey on our graduates' backs; Increased investment to ensure low income families can get into their first homes; Increased government leadership in turning the tide against alcohol and other drug abuse in our society; Increased investment to make life financially more secure, and happier, for retired New Zealanders.
The Progressive Party has been working with the National Office of Grey Power on economic scenarios and the costs of different policies. Progressive wants to offer more to retired New Zealanders but when our policy is released you can be sure it will be an honest, deliverable commitment and not the pie-in-sky Credit Card promises of the opposition parties that have tragically learnt nothing from our nation's tragic and even traumatic experiences from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.