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PM's Address In Reply Tuesday 15 November 2005

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Address-in-Reply Speech

Tuesday 15 November 2005

It is an honour to be elected to this Parliament, and it is a very special honour to form and lead a government.

This is the ninth time I have been elected to this House, and the third time I have had the privilege of being sworn in as Prime Minister.

I thank those many hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who put their trust in me and the Labour Party to continue our work to build a strong, fair, and prosperous New Zealand.

I also thank the other parties in Parliament who have been prepared to negotiate working relationships with Labour, to provide New Zealand with a stable and durable government. The confidence and supply agreements with New Zealand First and United Future, and the abstention and working agreement with the Green Party, enable the government to have the confidence of the House.

Together we worked hard to put those arrangements in place.

Now, together, it is our task to provide the leadership and good government which will take New Zealand further ahead.

I said on election night that Labour wished to reach out to a range of small parties, and wanted to be as inclusive as possible. The arrangements for government we have entered into reflect our willingness to share power and work collaboratively in the MMP environment. That is in the interests of New Zealand, and that’s how New Zealanders expect us to work.

Ever since the infamous Orewa speech, our opponents set out to gain power by dividing New Zealanders against each other.

Labour’s route to power has been very different: where others preach exclusion, we practise inclusion.

We see it as our historic duty to bring New Zealanders together, not drive them apart and split our society.

We also see it as our historic duty to ensure that every New Zealander has a fair go, opportunity, and security, and that as our country grows and develops, every one of us is able to share the fruits of that progress.

We dedicate ourselves in this third term of government to carrying on our work to strengthen and transform the economy, raise living standards, and provide quality public services.

We also dedicate ourselves to building a strong, and confident nation – proud of the cohesion in our society, proud of our achievers in every field, proud of our unique culture and heritage and natural environment, and proud of the role our nation plays in world affairs.

There’s no doubt that this term in government will have its share of challenges.

I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in the past six years, with our growth rates well above OECD averages, and our unemployment the lowest in the OECD at 3.4 per cent.

I’m proud of the reinvestment and rebuilding in the public services and infrastructure; in the arts, sport, and the environment; in policing, justice, defence and security; and in development assistance and the representation of New Zealand Inc off shore.

But we can’t rest on our laurels.

As fast as we grow and develop, as fast as we lift our levels of skill and innovation, so other nations are striving hard to catch up with us – and others are keeping that critical margin ahead of us in the living standards stakes.

It takes smart thinking and strategy to stay positioned as an affluent nation in today’s global economy – and stay there we must – there are no prizes for failure.

We see China and India emerging as mega economies – each producing four million graduates a year, and competing not just for the low wage, low skill jobs, but for the high technology, high skill, high value work as well.

In the race to the future, our country can’t afford to waste the talent of a single New Zealander.

The New Zealand way must be to mobilise the skills, ideas, talent, and passion of all our people to succeed in the 21st century.

I believe New Zealanders want to rise to that challenge, and that our role in government is to provide the leadership and inspiration which will lift aspiration and enable our people, our communities, and our enterprises to succeed.

An immediate challenge before us is to facilitate the economy moving into a better balance between its export and domestic sectors.

Monetary policy has been tightening to head off domestic inflation and the effect of higher interest rates, and a higher currency has hurt the export sector.

In managing through this period, the government must continue to run a conservative fiscal policy, in order not to put pressure on monetary policy.

There is no question that the National Party’s reckless tax cut policy would have led either to a steep rise in interest rates – or to savage cuts in public spending. Fortunately that risk was appreciated by enough New Zealanders prior to the general election.

Our government has always looked beyond counter-productive short term fixes to sound medium and long term policies and strategies.

Our focus now will be on improving the foundations for long term sustainable growth;

- lifting our skill levels
- lifting our savings levels
- lifting productivity
- lifting our capacity for innovation
- lifting our capacity to export and to produce goods and services of higher value
- modernising our infrastructure.

We can’t ask New Zealanders to work harder. Already our people work many more hours per year than workers in most other western countries – and record numbers of us are working.

So the future is about working smarter. Of course that requires commitment from the workforce and from enterprise. But it’s also helped by government’s willingness to invest and to adjust its policy settings, to enable continual transformation of our economy to occur.

That’s why we have set new targets for skills training.

That’s why we are moving more of our science and research spend into longer term funding arrangements.

That’s why we are reviewing corporate taxation to see what practical signals can be given to lift productivity.

That’s why we will do more to back the commercialisation of innovation.

Creating opportunities for New Zealand exporters offshore is also central to our government’s economic policy.

2007 will be designated as an Export Year, and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise will be expected to increase its focus on exporting.

But the big export gains will be made in the breakthroughs we get in trade negotiations.

Our primary sectors would be the big winners from success in the WTO Doha Round, and those negotiations are our top trade priority.

As well, we’ll continue to advance bilateral and regional FTAs, like those being advanced with China, Malaysia, and ASEAN.

We believe that New Zealand will succeed as an open trading economy, which is smart, creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial.

Our policies are aimed at giving New Zealand and New Zealanders the competitive edge in the global economy which will secure our prosperity in the 21st century.

Madam Speaker, what distinguishes centre left governments from those of the right is our determination to see the benefits from a growing economy reach households across the land.

Our government’s policies have been job rich – with more than 270,000 more people in work than there were six years ago. That’s boosted household income.

And we have invested heavily in public and social services – building up health and education, support for families and superannuitants, and the capacity of the police force.

In this third term, we have new goals and targets to meet.

Before Christmas, we will have passed legislation for two critical initiatives.

The first extends tax relief for families. In total around seventy per cent of our families will qualify. This is the biggest investment in families made by any government in decades, and it will have a dramatic effect on child poverty.

We believe that the top priority for tax relief right now is our hard working families. They face the extra costs associated with raising children, and the wellbeing of the next generation is of vital concern to us all.

The second key initiative to be legislated for before Christmas is the removal of interest from student loans.

This is a big investment in our young people and our country. It’s a hand up to our graduates who put their skills and talents to work at home in New Zealand. It gives fresh hope to young New Zealanders that they won’t be crushed with debt. They can plan ahead with more confidence. That’s good for them and good for New Zealand.

Next April, superannuitants will also get a greater share in New Zealand’s growing economy. The annual adjustment for superannuation will be at the higher rate of 66 per cent of the average, ordinary time, net weekly wage for a married couple. This commitment is contained in Labour’s agreement with New Zealand First.

As well, many superannuitants will benefit from the improved rates rebate scheme due for introduction in July next year.

The government also has ambitious new policies in education, health, and social development.

We’ve placed a big priority on the early years in education.

From July 2007, three and four year old children in licensed, teacher-led early childhood services will be funded for twenty hours free education each week.

And over the next three years, we will be implementing a 1:15 teacher pupil ratio for new entrant classes.

At the other end of the school system, our goal is to see all young people move into some form of further education, training, or work. There are many new initiatives for youth transitions rolling out, and thousands of new places for apprenticeship training.

In tertiary education we will continue our drive for courses of higher quality and better value for money.

Health ranks with education as a top priority for governments to deliver on – and Labour does deliver on health, with many thousands more treatments in public hospitals; more affordable primary care; and big investments in mental health.

For this term, we have higher targets for the numbers of orthopaedic and cataract operations to meet.

We have the roll out to all age groups of lower doctors’ fees and prescription charges.

And we have new initiatives for child health;

- more funding for the well child checks provided by Plunket and other organisations
- the free health check for all children before they start school
- the hearing check for all new borns to pick up hearing problems at the earliest possible stage
- the big improvements planned for child and young people’s dental services.

As well we must meet the challenges of funding the aged care and disability sectors, where the numbers needing support have been growing rapidly, and where staff have long been low paid. When unemployment is low, it’s hard for the aged care sector to hold on to good staff. Yet all of us have an interest in knowing that our older citizens are well cared for.

Looking to the future, the KiwiSaver scheme has benefits for the whole economy in boosting our savings rate; for future generations of retired people by adding to their income; and for first home buyers who will get a hand up with their first home deposit.

Generations of New Zealand families got their first homes with government support – indeed without it it can be very difficult.

New Zealand’s home ownership rates dropped off after the last National Government took the government out of home ownership schemes.

Now it falls to Labour to help this generation of home seekers meet their aspirations – through KiwiSaver; through mortgage insurance underwrites; and through the new equity sharing initiative to be developed this term.

As well, our policy of fair, income related rents for state tenants, and increasing the size of the public rental stock continues.

In the social assistance area, huge changes have been made to focus the system on getting people off benefits and into work.

New Zealand’s very low unemployment rate is a product of both economic growth and proactive labour market policies.

In a few short years under Labour, New Zealand has gone from having too few jobs to too few workers – and particularly too few workers with skills.

This term we must work even harder to address the factors keeping unemployment higher than the average in some communities. For example, Maori unemployment while half what it was, is still around two and half times the national rate.

Looking closely at the figures across Auckland, Bay of Plenty, East Coast and Northland, we find about two thirds of Maori on unemployment benefit have no formal qualifications – as against fifty per cent of all New Zealanders on unemployment benefit.

And we also find that with the exception of Auckland among those regions, the number of Maori unemployed whose first job choice is labouring, vastly outnumbers the total of labouring and process worker vacancies notified to the Department of Work and Income.

Critical to reducing Maori unemployment further will be lifting skills levels – and that is as critical for the adult workers as it is for the large number of rangitahi coming through the school system now.

Overall I am very optimistic about Maori development. This year’s Hui Taumata demonstrated the huge momentum in Maoridom to lock in economic and social success. The government will continue to work with Maoridom, not only to resolve historical grievances, but also to ensure that Maoridom too benefits from our country’s growth and development.

Our government puts huge emphasis on social solidarity and on building a strong nation in which everyone has opportunity and a stake.

In any nation where communities experience long term marginalisation, disadvantage, or discrimination, the social breakdown which results can be traumatic for the whole society.

Over the past two and a half weeks, the world has watched parts of France set alight – just as in decades past we saw the riots in the United States and in Britain.

In New Zealand we worry about the gang warfare in some of our suburbs and about how to get the young people caught up in it on to a better path.

Offshore we see minority communities generating home grown terrorism, involving second generation community members. The ripples of bombings offshore reach all the way to our families – causing heartbreak here.

The challenge to us is how to keep building in our small nation the tolerance and mutual respect for each other which allows diverse peoples to live alongside each other in peace.

Trying to enforce a monoculture which doesn’t allow for diversity of culture, heritage, and belief would be a disaster for New Zealand.

Trying to force everyone into a mythical mainstream would blow up in our face.

In our nation building, the unifying concept must be love for our country – whoever we are and whatever our backgrounds.

Proud Kiwis can be of any religion, faith, or belief; of any ethnic or cultural background; of any gender or orientation.

The New Zealand way must be to build unity in diversity, to avoid marginalisation, to practise inclusion in the national interest, and to encourage all those who want to be part of the building of New Zealand.

Last week I attended the second annual award of the Sonja Davies Peace Prize.

It went to an association of young Muslim women in Auckland who are working on how they can contribute to better understanding in our country. Those who stepped forward to receive the award were academic high fliers. Our hopes for our future rest on encouraging young people like them to make investments in the relationships which bind us to each other.

And our common future will be reinforced by ensuring that fairness, opportunity and security are the common experience of all New Zealand communities.

It’s well known that I see arts, culture, and heritage as central to the building of New Zealand identity.

Through our creative people we express the essence and soul and perspectives of New Zealanders.

Through them we define ourselves to the world as a uniquely creative people.

Our filmmakers, our writers and poets, our performing and visual artists can hold their own against those of any nation – and they do us proud.

So do our sports people, whose many achievements keep New Zealand in the world headlines probably far more than for any other small country.

We may be small, but we are not insignificant.

In world affairs, our voice is respected as one which is reasoned, constructive, principled and independent.

I am one who sees our nuclear free stand as an asset, not a liability – and nothing on earth would persuade me that it should change.

I believe our refusal to participate in the war in Iraq because it lacked multilateral sanction from the UN Security Council laid down important and principled markers for us – and I would make the same decision again any day.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy – and it isn’t easy to meet our Kyoto commitments, implement our trade agenda, or wrestle with the great pressures on our oceans from damaging fishing practices. But wrestle with such pressures we must.

Nor does our reputation as a peacemaker and as a tolerant and inclusive nation insulate us from the pressures of terrorism.

Our people are affected when attacks occur on others – and we cannot be a weak link in the chain.

Over the past four years since September 11, we have strengthened our border security, and our intelligence and policing capacity for counter terrorism. We have passed new legislation to implement international conventions on terrorism.

Like all nations we strive to get the right balance between individual rights and freedoms and the rights of the community to be protected – and that is not always an easy balance to strike.

I enter this third term as Prime Minister full of optimism for New Zealand and for our government.

Of course there are challenges – there always will be – but I believe our country is well positioned to meet them.

I expect a bitter, angry opposition in this House as it contemplates another term in opposition. That’s hard for those who once saw themselves as the natural rulers.

The lesson is; there is no natural party of government.

Being in government is a privilege bestowed on those who keep faith with the public and whose policies and values are consistent with where most New Zealanders want our country to be.

Labour will work collaboratively with all those who share our vision for a strong, proud, confident New Zealand, growing and developing, and enabling all its people to share in our progress. That’s the New Zealand way and that’s what we dedicate ourselves to.


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