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Mallard Speech: NZUSA Conference, Auckland

Trevor Mallard Speech Notes

Students are better off with Labour
Speech to NZUSA Conference, Auckland

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I'm sorry that I couldn't also be here on Friday for the Student Debt Summit.

As Lynne Pillay pointed out to you on Friday, this election is a critical one for New Zealand. It's about more than just education, more than just health, more than just tax. It's about what kind of society we want to live in.

Labour is committed to a society where everyone gets a fair go, and where every New Zealander is supported to achieve to his or her full potential.

We believe that strong public services are essential, and we want New Zealand to lead the world as a clean, green and sustainable society.

When the Labour-led government was elected in 1999 New Zealand had just been through a decade and a half of radical restructuring.

The previous National government, particularly between 1996 and 1999, adopted a 'guess what we are going to do next' approach to government. People would wake up each morning and wonder how the government was going to shaft them today. Some days they were simply left wondering who the government actually was.

Under Labour, we've made every effort to keep faith with the electorate. For two elections in a row we have presented a comprehensive election manifesto and implemented all of our promises.

We've put a lot of effort into our election manifestos because we have wanted to ensure that what we promise, we can deliver.

It's quite clear that the National Party aren't at all interested in that approach.

This year National are promising to cut taxes across the board, increase spending on health and education, build more prisons, and spend more on roads. The numbers just don't add up.

National's real agenda is quite clear – they want to return to the free market ideology of the 1990s. It will be 'every man for himself' and yes I use the term 'man' quite deliberately. Women's role under National is quite clear, you agree with everything the leader says, or you get sacked.

National will slash and burn in the public sector, they have already signalled that there will be random sackings of public servants. Anybody who thinks that the education sector can escape unscathed should think again.

By contrast, Labour is committed to building a society for all New Zealanders.

Under our leadership, the economy has had five years of good growth. We've created record numbers of new jobs, and unemployment has plummeted.

From the outset, our government has put in place policies for the medium and long term, rather than for each electoral cycle. We know that real gains take time, and that promising the earth and then failing to deliver does nothing for New Zealanders, and nothing for people's faith in democracy.

We will not be getting into a tax cut and spending auction for this election because we do not believe that is in the interests of New Zealanders.

But I do know that we can and must do better in tertiary education, and at this year's election you are going to be presented with a real choice.

It's interesting to note that when the National Party released their education policy this year, the tertiary education sector didn't even rate a mention.

We know from their previous comments what the real National Party agenda is. They will re-introduce interest on student loans while students are still studying, so interest will keep mounting up even while students have no means to pay them back.

National will fund private providers on the same basis as public providers, meaning that tax dollars will be spent on building capital for private businesses while universities and polytechnics suffer.

National will cap funding for tertiary education at current levels. Let's explore what that means. This year's Budget shows that funding for tertiary education under Labour will grow from $2.85 billion this year to $3.19 billion by 2009, an increase of $340 million. That's $340 million that Bill English has already said National are going to cut.

National have also said they will scrap the fee maxima policy and let universities increase fees as much as they would like – it's starting to become clear who will pay for National's proposed tax cuts, and students are right at the top of the list.

If you think students' associations will be around to stick up for students, that's another thing you need to think again about. Compulsory students' association membership will be gone by lunchtime under a National government.

Labour, by contrast, is committed to a quality, public tertiary education system.

The changes that we have made to the student loan scheme have resulted in a considerable decrease in the growth of student loan debt. When we became government, student loan debt was forecast to hit $19.4 billion by 2025. Our policy changes have reduced that to $15.6 billion, and we know that more needs to be done.

I'm not going to pretend that everything is rosy, and I know we still have a long way to go. My current focus is on moving funding "up the value chain" to ensure that we get better value for money from our investment.

Our spending on tertiary education has increased by over $1 billion since Labour became the government, an increase of over 60 percent. However there are some real questions about how effective that additional spend has been.

Labour is committed to a strong and vibrant university sector. We are committed to world-leading research and teaching, and we know that more resources are required to achieve that.

Under the Labour-led government, the market model for tertiary education is on the way out. We are moving towards a cooperative and collaborative sector, and we're moving towards a system that places a greater emphasis on quality rather than quantity.

I think that the investment we make in people, in our researchers and teachers, is far more valuable and important than spending money on unnecessary and expensive advertising campaigns to recruit students.

I know that progress hasn't been as fast as many would have liked, I agree. We are only now starting to see the positive difference the tertiary reforms have made, and in two years time I think we will have seen real and significant change.

Let's not throw all that away by returning to the policies that failed so dismally at the end of the last century – things have moved on.

At this year's election you will have a choice. You can choose to have tax cuts, and accept the corresponding funding cuts to our public services like health and education that will be necessary as a result. You can choose to have changes to employment laws that take us back to the 1990s. Or you can choose to continue moving forward with Labour.

The detail of our manifesto is still being worked through, but our vision remains unaltered.

We want a tertiary education sector that is characterised by collaboration not competition - quality not quantity. We want a tertiary sector focused on world leading research, a sector where innovation shines, and where new ideas can flourish.

But most of all, we want a tertiary education sector where everyone is encouraged and supported to reach their full potential.

We've made progress in the last five and a half years, but you ain't seen nothing yet. There is more to be done, let's not turn back the clock.

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