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PM Helen Clark Address - Labour's Campaign Opening

PM Helen Clark Address

Labour's Campaign Opening

Auckland Town Hall

2.00pm, Sunday 21 August 2005

I stand here today proud to be a New Zealander, proud to be Prime Minister, and proud to be Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party.

I stand here today humble, because I’ve had the privilege of leading our country for close to six years, and our party for close to twelve years.

In that time I’ve seen tremendous change – first in our party as we prepared to govern again as mainstream Labour.

And then, because we returned to our roots and were true to ourselves, we’ve brought to New Zealand great change for the better, restoring hope and confidence in our people about the future.

We cannot and would not want to re-create the New Zealand of the late 1930s to the 1960s.

But our vision has been to rebuild the fairness, opportunity, and security our people knew at that time, and to add to it the dynamism, the energy, the momentum, and the excitement which goes with being a successful nation in the 21st century.

The bleak years of lost confidence and uncertainty about New Zealand’s viability are now last century’s memories.

We are well on the way to rebuilding New Zealand as the country of choice to live in – because we are prosperous, fair, inclusive, safe, clean and green, and have a lifestyle which is the envy of the world.

And our 21st century identity - as a creative nation, a tolerant nation, a nation of many peoples, a nation with a unique culture and heritage, a nuclear free and peaceful nation – is a national identity which marks us out as a special place and a special people.

That’s why I’m proud to be a New Zealander, to lead New Zealand, and to lead the New Zealand Labour Party which has made such a contribution over almost ninety years to ensuring that our country is indeed God’s own.

I love this country, and I’ve committed my life to it.

Like many young New Zealanders, I too enjoyed that rite of passage, the great OE.

But I couldn’t wait to return home at the end of it.

Home is where the heart is, and home is where I wanted to make my contribution.

So here I am, Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand for two terms and campaigning for a third.

Why?

Because I believe in this country, I believe in the work our government is doing, and I know that work is not yet done.

I also know that this election is high noon for New Zealand.

My opponent represents the last throw of the dice for the people who brought us "Rogernomics” and “Ruthenasia”.

Like rust, the forces of neoliberalism have never slept since power was taken from them in 1999.

They’ve tried every dirty trick they know to snatch it back – and they’ve failed.

Re-election of Labour this year is not only about carrying on the rebuilding of New Zealand we began six years ago.

It’s also about slamming the door shut on the politics of division, fear, and exclusion on which our opponents thrive.

As Prime Minister I travel widely in our country – visiting the schools, the health centres, the workplaces, the retirement villages and the community halls where our people gather.

There is no mood for radical change in our country.

But there is a desire to carry on the strengthening of the economy, the job growth, the building of quality services and living standards, and the reduction of crime which have been at the heart of our government’s programme – and will continue to be.

People don’t want government to do less. As the resources are available they want us to do more – and we will.

Because there are things that only governments can do;

- providing economic leadership,
- investing in our common future,
- ensuring quality public health and education for all,
- building security for us in our old age, and in our homes,
- standing up for the values and interests of our people to the wider world, and
- bringing us together as a nation, proud of who and what we are.

I’m proud that under Labour;

- our economy has averaged close to four per cent growth over five and a half years,
- I’m proud that 270,000 more New Zealanders are in work,
- I’m proud that the numbers of people living in poverty and on benefits have been slashed,
- I’m proud that the crime rate is at its lowest in 22 years,
- I’m proud that economic success has enabled us to do so much more for health and education, families, older New Zealanders, and so much else.

But I also know that there is so much more to do.

We can’t rest on our laurels, and say the job is done. It isn’t.

As fast as we meet today’s challenges, those of tomorrow will come.

We live in a dynamic, fast moving world – and we have to be energetic, resilient, nimble, and smart to succeed in it, as we are. And we have to draw on the strengths and talents of all our people.

That means more initiatives to upskill our workforce, promote innovation in our industries, and open doors for our exporters around the world. We must see the great emerging economies of China and India not as threats, but as opportunities for our small, smart nation.

And essential for New Zealand’s ongoing success is our stable, practical Labour-led government with experienced leadership, running strong budgets, prepared to invest in our common future, and determined to see every New Zealander enjoying opportunity and security.

Fundamentally this election comes down to issues of leadership, credibility, and values.

It’s about who the people of New Zealand trust to deliver what they say they’ll do, and who the people trust to fight for New Zealand’s interests and values.

Over two terms in government Labour has set high standards for saying what we will do and doing it.

We pioneered pledge cards for our key commitments.

We made ourselves accountable – and we kept our word.

Now we are making fresh pledges on key policies which will increase opportunity and security.

New Zealanders know that our pledges will be honoured.

Already I’ve released six of our seven pledges, each dealing with issues of importance to our country on which Labour will act in our third term.

Over two terms we’ve worked to make tertiary education more affordable.

We’ve frozen fees, and then capped them.

We’ve made more students eligible for allowances.

We’ve made repayment terms for student loans fairer.

And we stopped interest being added to loans while students were studying.

All that has helped, but too many of our young people still end up with years of interest rate bills which stop them getting ahead and putting down a firm stake in our society.

Now after two terms of economic success we can do more – and we will.

Under Labour from April next year, graduates with student loans who stay in New Zealand will pay no more interest on their loans. That’s our pledge to young New Zealanders and their families.

This means our young people can start planning with more certainty for their futures – perhaps about buying their first home, investing in their own business, or starting a family.

This policy has brought renewed hope to hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who couldn’t have dreamed of easily or quickly paying off their loans.

But this pledge is also an investment in the future of New Zealand, giving our young people every incentive to build their future at home and give our country the benefit of their skills and talent.

And skills and talent also feature in our second pledge on apprenticeship training.

When it was last in government the National Party repealed the Apprenticeship Act. The whole economy was the loser from that shortsighted move – and so were young New Zealanders who couldn’t get into the trades.

All that changed under Labour with our new Modern Apprentices scheme.

By the end of our first term there were 3,000 Modern Apprentices; now there are close to 8,000; and we are on track for 9,000 next year.

But we are even more ambitious than that.

That’s why our third pledge promises that by 2008 there will be 5,000 more Modern Apprentices, bringing the total up to 14,000.

That’s a big investment in young New Zealanders and in the future of New Zealand.

All New Zealanders have a big stake in the quality of our health services – we never know when we and our families might need them.

I’m proud that our government has made doctors fees more affordable for younger and older New Zealanders – and proud of our plans to roll out cheaper fees for all other New Zealanders over the next two years.

We believe in universal health care – even for the Leader of the National Party. He apparently believes he should get it on his 65th birthday – but that it shouldn’t be universal for people aged 25 to 64. That’s one of many good reasons to reject his narrow vision on 17 September. Universal health care would indeed be gone by lunchtime.

Now the time has come to set very specific targets for critical treatments in our public hospital system.

The top priority now is to see that older New Zealanders do not lose their independence because of bottlenecks in elective surgery.

That’s why in our third Pledge Labour commits to funding many more operations in the next three years: 7,500 more cataract operations and 10,000 more major joint operations than were done in the previous three years.

We know this pledge will mean big improvements in the quality of life for many older New Zealanders.

But the quantity of life for superannuitants is important too.

That’s why our government reversed National’s cuts to superannuation; set up the New Zealand Superannuation Fund; and is phasing out asset testing on older people in care.

Now the time has come to do more for superannuitants with little other income, and others on modest incomes, to help with an area of significant costs – the local government rates.

Pledge No Four commits Labour to increasing the maximum rates rebate to $500 a year, and lifting the eligibility thresholds.

Under this pledge, a single superannuitant without other income whose rates exceed $1,000 will get the maximum rebate.

That’s close to a ten dollar a week pay increase to help with the rates.

All New Zealanders yearn to live in communities where crime is not commonplace.

Labour has succeeded in getting crime rates down to their lowest level in 22 years.

We’ve introduced longer sentences for serous offenders, and reduced the availability of bail and parole.

And we’ve been steadily building up the police force.

Already more than 1,150 staff have been added to police numbers, and this year’s Budget took the extra police funded to over 1,400.

But now it’s time to do more for policing in our local communities.

Under Labour, our fifth Pledge is to add 250 more community police over the next two financial years.

That means doubling the numbers of community police who work actively locally to tackle crime and create safer communities. That’s a big priority for Labour.

Our government is known for its commitment to building a strong nation which respects and values all its people.

We have worked to promote tolerance and understanding between all those who make up our nation.

Moving forward as one nation, committed to each other, means reconciling with our past.

Like governments which have gone before us, we have got on with historical Treaty settlements so that the wrongs of the past can be put right.

The time has come to set deadlines for resolving those historical injustices so that our nation can move forward together.

That’s in the interests of Maori and of New Zealand as a whole.

Where historical settlements have already occurred, they have given Maori a significant stake in their region, and whole regions are benefiting from the investments being made in economic and social development. The Hui Taumata this year showed an impetus for Maori development which is unstoppable and is of great benefit to our nation.

To complete the process of reconciliation with the past, our sixth Pledge says that all historical claims must be lodged by 1 September 2008, and that we commit to finishing settlements by 2020.

That is a realistic target for completing a process which is complex and where justice must be done to both sides.

Today I am announcing the final Pledge on the Pledge card.

It relates to the desire of New Zealanders to put down a stake in our society if they possibly can through home ownership.

National’s leader, more used to playing the money markets than leading a country, has suggested that it’s better to rent than to own your own home.

That’s a hard sell to Kiwis.

Owning our own homes has long been central to the Kiwi dream – and Labour governments over the years have done a lot to make that possible.

Now the time has come to do more.

Labour’s pledge is to help those who take up the new Kiwisaver scheme with a grant for their first home deposit.

A couple who’ve saved in the scheme for five years will get a $10,000 grant for their deposit – because Labour believes in New Zealanders having a chance to own their own homes.

Under National, Kiwisaver – and young New Zealanders’ hopes of home ownership would be gone by – you guessed it – lunchtime.

In the $1.3 billion of cuts to public spending they committed to on Friday, Kiwisaver was specifically identified as a programme they would slash.

I think New Zealanders would rather slash National.

But our pledges are not our whole manifesto.

We have hundreds of new policy ideas in other areas for the third term.

From ACC to the equality of women, from the environment to broadcasting and arts and culture, to biosecurity and conservation, to transport, telecommunications and tourism, we have ideas and initiatives which will make real differences to peoples lives and take New Zealand ahead.

Because all of these issues are important, as is the balance we strike between them.

If we use our resources unsustainably, we ruin our environment for future generations

If we really want to be part of the 21st century, we have to make sure high speed broadband is available right across New Zealand

If we want dynamic first world cities, people and goods have to be able to move through them with ease.

We now have to follow through our low unemployment rates with a commitment to the upskilling and productivity improvements which will underpin higher wages in the future.

And it is no use having higher average incomes if families are still having to struggle to bring up their children.

That’s why last week our government announced plans for major tax relief for New Zealand families.

We said that there is no more important task in our country today than bringing up the next generation of families.

We said that the decision to have children should not condemn families to years of penny pinching.

We said the top priority for tax relief right now is our hard working families.

We said that made much more sense than spreading the extra money available across all taxpayers to the tune of $3.00 to $4.00 a week – and it does, and we will keep our word to those families.

We said that what should be uppermost in our minds is what is the fair thing to do.

Is it fair to give the same tax cut to a single person on $60,000 with no dependants as to a family where maybe five people are living off that same income?

I don’t think so.

There’s another thing that makes no sense - and that’s slashing public services and borrowing for massive tax cuts.

All New Zealanders would be losers, as health and education were cut and as mortgage interest rates increased.

And let us not kid ourselves. National is not offering tax cuts because it is seriously concerned about trying to improve the standard of living for hardworking New Zealanders.

National is offering to squander billions of dollars on tax cuts because it fundamentally believes that the only good government is very small government.

Its agenda is to reduce the size of the revenue base so that there is no option but to cut services. That’s called a strategic deficit. That’s the new right agenda, and it is fundamentally damaging to our country. New Zealand has been down that road before. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Yesterday at the service celebrating David Lange’s life, many recalled his courage in leading New Zealand to be nuclear free.

David had followed in the footsteps of Walter Nash and Norman Kirk in making nuclear disarmament a top priority in New Zealand’s foreign policy.

And how proud we were as New Zealanders when the big man with the big voice articulated our desire for a nuclear free world on the international stage.

That stand David took is as relevant today as it was twenty years ago – and I pay tribute to him for what he did to make us nuclear free.

My commitment to New Zealanders is: as long as I’m Prime Minister, our nuclear free stance won’t be gone by lunchtime, or by any other time either.

I believe in it, and I’ll defend and promote it.

It was in David Lange’s time as Prime Minister that New Zealand began to become more active in international peacekeeping.

Our multicultural Defence Force is good at it, and our people have been able to work alongside communities in many troubled nations, from East Timor and the Pacific, to the Middle East and Africa.

I’m proud of the work New Zealanders have done as peace builders, just as I’m proud that we stuck to our principles on the war in Iraq. I would make the same decision again today.

The National Party said we should have gone to war – and won’t rule out supporting combat troops in Iraq in future.

And stranger still, they don’t want to continue to deploy peacekeepers widely.

That says it all – to refuse to build peace while wanting to rush off to war. That’s not the New Zealand way.

This election comes down to a fundamental choice about direction.

Under Labour, we’re rebuilding economic strength, getting Kiwis back to work, and committing to the level of services and infrastructure our people deserve. We’re making up for years of under-investment in the common good.

Under Labour, we’ve kept our country clean and green, and brought many new areas into parks and reserves for all our people to enjoy.

Under Labour, we’ve supported our creative people – our film makers, our musicians, our dance and theatre, our artists and designers, our writers. Through their talent, New Zealand is presenting a new and exciting face to the world. That helps brand our country as one worth travelling to, studying and living in, and buying from, and investing in. Our creative side is an indispensable part of our 21st century identity.

Under Labour, New Zealand is known as a nation which thinks for itself and works with others in the common interests of humankind.

Under Labour every hard working, law-abiding citizen is mainstream, respected, and valued for their contribution. Our nation with its many peoples and faiths drawn from the Pacific and around the world, can be a model to others of how to work together.

Our vision is for our small country to be a beacon of light, pointing to a future where all the talents are drawn on to build a strong cohesive, and peaceful nation – and truly a sanctuary in a troubled world.

The alternative sets Kiwis against each other, runs down our public services, sees many people struggling, and has no all embracing vision for what we can achieve; working together and moving forward.

I am optimistic about this election, but I am not complacent. We have work to do.

There are still many people to enrol; and there is a month’s hard campaigning to go.

But I believe we have it within us to make history this time and lock in the gains New Zealand has already made under Labour.

I want to thank those other parties who’ve worked with us in Parliament, and enabled us to offer strong, stable government.

Jim Anderton’s Progressives have been a loyal Coalition partner.

United Future has never wavered on its commitment to guarantee confidence and supply. The establishment of the Families Commission, advocating for the needs of our families, has been a highlight of our relationship. Strangely enough, the Commission seems to be on National’s list for spending cuts.

Our working relationship with the Green Party has been a good one, and it will continue.

I thank my own team – our Caucus members and Cabinet colleagues who have worked tirelessly, and our party membership and Council who have sustained us throughout.

Above all, I thank Michael Cullen. As Finance Minister and as my deputy he is a tower of strength and has made an immeasurable contribution to our government.

We must now campaign for a strong party vote for Labour so that we can continue to lead the government.

And given that honour again, we will be pleased to work with the parties which have formed strong relationships with us over the past two terms of government.

That’s what MMP requires – not autocratic, doctrinaire leadership, but leadership which listens, consults, includes, and then decides and acts. That’s the kind of leadership I offer – leadership which has developed over 24 years in Parliament, and six as Prime Minister, and it’s that experience I put once again before the people of New Zealand, on 17 September.

Over the next four weeks I’ll be out on the road, as I’ve been for so many years – listening to and responding to New Zealanders.

I expect all our team to do the same.

We are not a born to rule party.

We govern because we have a reputation for being people who get results for New Zealand and because we keep our word.

Given the opportunity to serve again, I believe we can do even better.

Because we have the energy, the drive, the commitment, the passion, the vision, the people, and the talent to build a strong nation and to keep New Zealand moving ahead in a way that’s fair to all.

That’s what I offer, that’s what Labour offers, and with your support that’s what New Zealand will vote for on 17 September.

ENDS

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