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PM: Address to CTU Conference

Tuesday 18 October 2005

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister

Address to CTU Conference

Mercure Hotel Willis Street, Wellington

Tuesday 18 October 2005

Thank you for inviting me to address the conference today.

I would like to begin by placing on record the Labour Party’s deep appreciation to the CTU and its affiliates for your support in so many ways for the re-election of a Labour-led government

Together we achieved that result in the face of what was, I have little doubt, the most expensive campaign ever run by our opponents. Who knows where the money came from, but it’s satisfying to see it buy yet another term in opposition !

In the end, the dedication and commitment of many thousands of grass roots New Zealanders campaigning for the return of a Labour-led government proved stronger than the shadowy influence of very big money and an obscure religious sect.

Labour’s achievement in polling almost exactly the same as in 2002, and two percentage points up on 1999 was considerable. It was helped enormously by the enrolment and mobilisation of ordinary New Zealanders which boosted the turnout for the election. The CTU and its affiliates played a vital role in that task.

The overall result saw Labour’s support rise in the metropolitan centres and in the Maori electorates, and drop only slightly in the regional seats. There is no fundamental urban-regional divide.

On election night, I said that the result gave Labour the opportunity to negotiate to form a new government. That is what we have been working on ever since.

The fractured composition of the new Parliament has not made it a straightforward task to identify where the majority for confidence and supply would be found.

Nonetheless with goodwill from smaller parties, we have been able to negotiate arrangements which give the government a majority on confidence and supply and some other specified issues.

On other legislation we will need to build majorities in Parliament, as we have as a minority government for the past six years.

The key to running stable minority governments is building good working relationships with parliamentary allies and potential allies. MMP requires a lot of consultation, good faith, and a willingness to share power.

New Zealanders opted for this system in the 1993 referendum after many years of abuse of the winner takes all, first past the post electoral system. Unlike this morning’s Dominion Post editorial, I do not consider that the outcome of the election warrants yet another fundamental review of the electoral system. Indeed I venture to suggest that New Zealanders are not averse at all to a system which encourages parties to work together. Our job is to make that as smooth a process as possible.

Labour’s aim during this third term is to continue to deliver, strong, stable, social democratic government, working on behalf of all New Zealanders and their families.

We are proud of our achievements over the past six years, including across many fields of very direct relevance to the CTU and its affiliates. Foremost among them has been the strong economy, which, under Labour, has outperformed New Zealand’s major trading partners, and has resulted in more than 270,000 extra people in jobs since 1999.

A highlight of our first term was the repeal of the Employment Contracts Act, and its replacement by the Employment Relations Act, to bring a better balance to workplace relations. That has enabled unions to regroup and rebuild, as the seventeen per cent growth in membership numbers suggests. As well, further improvements, like the ability to negotiate bargaining fees, have helped strengthen collective bargaining and organisation. I believe this is in the interests of the workforce and the whole economy, and I encourage all affiliates to see collective bargaining as a means of lifting skill levels and productivity in order to build a higher wage economy.

We know how important time with the family and work-life balance is for hard-working New Zealanders. From April 2007, every New Zealand worker will be entitled to a minimum of four weeks annual leave. Australian workers have had that for thirty years – it’s long past time that we caught up !

We introduced the right to time and a half pay for working on public holidays, and a paid day off in lieu – making up some of the substantial ground lost in the years when the Employment Contracts Act held sway.

We passed the Health and Safety in Employment Act 2003 which protects workers from unsafe work places – and I understand that the health and safety statistics are already showing better results.

Stress and fatigue are now identified in law as work hazards. We put in place requirements to include workers in health and safety processes at work. There is now provision for two days paid leave each year for health and safety representatives to attend approved health and safety training course.

And we made sure that crew on ships, aircraft, and rail are covered by health and safety legislation, as well as mobile workers and working volunteers.

On becoming government, we restored ACC as the single provider of accident compensation. Our opponents’ plans were to privatise ACC and destroy New Zealand’s social insurance system which has long been regarded as world leading.

We have raised the minimum wage every year since coming into government, and it will continue to rise. Indeed the aspiration over the next four adjustments is to see it move close to $12 an hour for the adult rate.

We established the Modern Apprenticeships Scheme aimed at young people. The new target is to have 14,000 enrolled by 2008. Already there have been 7,760 placed in the scheme, and 1,000 have graduated.

Overall, work-based training has had a huge boost under Labour. In 2004, 139,597 industry trainees participated in industry training and Modern Apprenticeships. That was 72 per cent up on the 81,343 trainees who participated in 2000.

And we introduced in 2002, and have since extended, the Paid Parental Leave Scheme. From this December, it will be extended to fourteen weeks, and from 1 July next year, it will be available to self-employed parents.

As well, under Labour these past six years, there have been big investments right across the public services to rebuild capability and quality – from health and education, to Child, Youth, and Family and other essential services. Resources are pouring into infrastructure development too.

All that we have worked for was at risk from a change of government. There was no way that everything Labour had put in place could have been maintained while massive tax cuts were made. That didn’t add up.

Only last week the Reserve Bank Governor made clear his concern about the risks of excessive spending. I have no doubt that had a different government been elected, they would be slashing public spending right now to fund the tax cuts they promised and couldn’t afford.

When I announced the date of the election in July, I said that I believed it would be fought on leadership, credibility, and values.

I had no doubt that Labour would win on leadership and on credibility as a government which gets results for New Zealand. But we also had to win on values in a campaign which was often portrayed as one of naked self interest around the tax cut issue.

As one who prefers to ask what I can do for my country, rather than what my country can do for me, I found the “what’s in it for me” refrain somewhat depressing.

But in the end I believe we won the argument that it was crazy to borrow and to cut spending to finance tax cuts, and that economic stability and properly funded public services were of fundamental importance.

Looking ahead there is a huge policy agenda for our government. Over our first two terms, we’ve put in place the key legislation for the change of direction we promised in 1999, and we’ve stepped up funding in so many areas.

This term will be about smart policy and strategies for growth, innovation, and productivity in the economy, and for quality and best practice in our social policy and services.

It will be about sustainable development and meeting the big challenges in energy and transport.

It will be about enhancing the reputation of our small country as an independent, principled, and engaged member of the international community.

It will be about the development of our national identity as a unique nation; as a tolerant and inclusive nation able to accommodate diverse peoples and beliefs and proud of its heritage; as a creative nation which celebrates those who express what’s special about us through music, dance, theatre, literature, film, and design; and as a nation which takes pride in all its successes across many fields.

I anticipate that the CTU will take an interest in the broad programme of the government and seek to engage at many levels.

And I hope we will be able to continue the very successful CTU-Government forums which have enabled us to build a dialogue between grass roots delegates and government policy processes.

The campaign for the next election has already started, and it can be won by beginning now to engage grass roots organisations and communities in debate about the kind of future we want for our country.

Are we to continue on the road of more fairness, inclusion, opportunity, and security – or does New Zealand revert to the division and despair of past Tory governments? Our aim must be to make reversion unthinkable and unimaginable.

I look forward to the briefing paper which the CTU is preparing for the government on the way ahead for economic strategies.

Greater productivity must be a central focus for us – and it is the key to the high wage, high skill economy we aspire to. The CTU as a major social partner has a key role to play in growing that economy and ensuring that workers get their fair share of the rewards.

I believe we need to be working for a broad national consensus on how we as New Zealanders can own our future and improve our economic performance.

Improving productivity doesn’t mean working harder. It means working smarter. The essence of a high productivity economy is to harness skills, innovation, and technology – and we all have a role to play.

The CTU is represented in the productivity working group mandated by the Minister of Labour, in the Growth and Innovation Advisory Board, and in the Food and Beverage Taskforce. Your input and your perspective make a critical contribution to building the quality economy of the future, and the government sees you as an important social partner in all such initiatives.

Our economy – like all Western economies – faces huge challenges in the 21st century.

It takes smart thinking and strategising to stay positioned as an affluent nation in today’s global economy.

Nations in Asia which half a century ago had living standards which bore no resemblance to ours now outrank us in GDP per capita.

China and India are not sleeping giants; they are emerging as mega economies. Each produces four million graduates a year – in total their annual graduate numbers are twice the size of our whole population.

Increasingly the Western world is competing with China and India not for low wage, low skill jobs, but for work based on high technology and skill.

So we have work to do, to define our place and our role in this challenging environment.

I don’t believe we’ll succeed by building a wall around our economy.

We will succeed by mobilising the skills, ideas, talent, and passion of New Zealanders as a people. - And that means all New Zealanders - we cannot afford to leave any individual or community behind.

That’s why our government will work with leaders across our communities – unions and business; Maori, Pasifika, and ethnic communities; in education, science and research; and the community to get the best results for New Zealand as a whole.

Going into government for a third term means that with our partners in Parliament we have a fresh mandate.

And we must also refresh our ideas and our team.

In recent weeks Michael Cullen and I have spoken with innovative thinkers and leaders of organisations from outside government, including the CTU, to get their perspectives on the pathway ahead. I believe a lot of common ground can be found on what the challenges are – and how they can be met. We want to continue and extend that process of engagement to build a broader consensus about the job that needs to be done.

We are also refreshing our own team. Six new ministers were elected last evening; new ministerial appointments outside Cabinet are to be made; and there will be a major reallocation of portfolios.

This process of renewal and refreshment needs to be as substantial as the change Labour brought to government in 1999. We tackled the issues before us then – and as the issues and challenges shift, we must be able to bring fresh thinking to them now.

Looking forward, it’s vital to focus not on what we have achieved, substantial as it is, but on what we must now do to build our country as a fair and inclusive one offering opportunity and security to all our people.

I look forward to working with the CTU as a social partner on that task, and thank you once again for your major contribution to the re-election of our Labour-led government.

ENDS

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