Helen Clark Annual Party Conf. Keynote Address
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Keynote Address at
New Zealand Labour Party Annual Conference
Fenton Street, Rotorua
Saturday 28 October 2006
At this conference we celebrate our party’s election to government for a third term – a result all of us here worked so hard to achieve.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all you did to make that possible.
Across city, town, and countryside, you worked for our party to continue its historic mission in government to build a better, fairer New Zealand for all our peoples.
It was a tough campaign – and there was a lot at stake. There always is.
Two futures for New Zealand were on offer – one took us forward, building on the gains from 1999; the other took us back to the divisions of the past.
We appealed to the best in human nature. They appealed to the worst.
Faced with a choice between the optimistic, the unifying, the inclusive, and the proven track record on the one hand, and on the other, the negative, the divisive, the exclusive, and the association with the failed policies of the nineties, New Zealanders chose to go forward, not backward.
We owe our position in government today to all those New Zealanders who backed our vision for the future – and we will honour their support by delivering in full on our promises, and by leading New Zealand to the very best of our ability.
At this conference we also celebrate another important milestone in the life of our party – our 90th birthday.
We are New Zealand’s oldest political party.
Since our first election win 71 years ago in 1935, we’ve governed for close to fifty per cent of the time.
We are one of the world’s most successful social democratic parties.
We are at our best when we stick to our core values – which are core New Zealand values – and when we stick together.
That’s what made the First Labour Government successful and it’s what has made our Fifth Labour Government successful.
So much of the New Zealand we know and love today has been shaped by Labour in government to meet the aspirations of our peoples:
• aspirations for a fair deal and
• aspirations for security.
Our mission has always been to enable all our peoples to live in dignity, to participate in society, to be respected, to enjoy decent living standards, to access good services, and to enjoy security.
Our job is never done – because we can always do better.
The more our country develops and prospers, the more we raise the bar on what can be delivered and what can be achieved.
I hear the critics say Labour’s run out of ideas and a purpose for being in government. I hear them say we need new policies.
I shake my head in wonder. We offer new policies every election.
Over the past seven years those policies have:
• achieved the lowest unemployment in the
developed world, and put around a third of a million more
New Zealanders in work,
• delivered almost the longest run in continuous economic growth since the Second World War,
• brought child poverty down to below the European Union average,
• restored superannuitants’ living standards
• and much else besides all that.
I’m proud of our policies.
I’m proud of the team which has delivered them.
I’m proud of the results we’ve achieved.
And I know that we have the capacity to keep generating new policies for our times which will keep delivering good results for New Zealand.
What we won’t do is lurch away from a policy direction consistent with Labour values. That happened in the 1980s, and did great damage to our party. We are not going back there on my watch.
Our team is never complacent.
We have a restless energy to identify the new issues and address the new challenges – and there are plenty of them.
The world doesn’t stand still to let us congratulate ourselves on the progress we make.
The goalposts keep shifting, and we have to keep scoring.
We have to be ambitious for our country and our people in a world which is challenging, but also full of opportunity for the fast and nimble. That must be New Zealand.
You know my philosophy: that Rome wasn’t built in a day – and nor is economic and social success.
But our long term strategies, diligently pursued, pay dividends – and over seven years New Zealanders have seen the gains.
Who now talks about the plight of regional New Zealand?
Who now talks about the inevitability of unemployment at six per cent and above?
Those were the old times and the bad times when governments failed to lead and the market ruled.
Let’s not go back to them.
We’ve set a big and ambitious agenda for this term in government – and we’ll achieve it.
Let’s start with delivery of the key pledges:
Already our students and graduates are better off in New Zealand, because they have interest free loans and can plan for the future with confidence.
Only Labour can guarantee that.
Our young people and workers looking for skills training are better off because we’ve doubled the numbers in training and have new apprenticeship targets to meet.
Older New Zealanders are better off with the lift in the rate of superannuation, with thousands more joint and cataract operations being performed, and with the rates scheme offering much more support.
And I’ve really appreciated all those letters from older New Zealanders telling me what a difference up to $500 off their rates has made to them.
Our Kiwisaver scheme starts up next year – helping workers save extra for their retirement, and helping aspiring first home owners save for their deposit.
We’ll overshoot on our pledge to add another 250 community police, because our agreement with New Zealand First commits to an extra 1,000 police on the front line.
And legislation before Parliament advances the historic Treaty settlement process. With all claims to be lodged by September 2008, we can proceed to our target date of 2020 for completion of those settlements to the benefit of iwi and New Zealand.
Over three elections, our pledge cards were always about accountability back to voters.
We set out our key commitments.
We delivered on them.
We kept our word.
This year how we paid for the plastic cards became an issue.
What an irony it is that transparent funding should be targeted when secret donations and underhand tactics by our opponents is glossed over.
But life is full of ironies.
The truth is the cards were paid for in the same way they always have been, and to which no exception had been taken before.
The same applies to other spending by us and other parties.
Over the years I’ve watched our great sports teams play many times, and I’ve seen the referees make some questionable decisions.
It’s felt like that for us in recent times.
But I’ve also seen our great sports people accept decisions they didn’t agree with, and play on to win.
That’s what we’ve determined to do and with your help we can and will put things right.
Because I don’t want that unfortunate episode to stand in the way of Labour fulfilling its historic mission of transformation of New Zealand into a better, stronger, fairer nation. And we have work to do.
Of course the critics also sneer at the concept of transformation – ignoring what is happening before their very eyes.
Take for example the recent stunning news from Statistics New Zealand: total annual turnover for the New Zealand screen production industry has reached a staggering $2.6 billion.
That’s comparable to the annual turnover of the forestry and logging industry and of horticulture – both sitting on $2.9 billion annual turnover.
We in Labour have recognised for years the economic potential of the creative industries.
These figures show that New Zealand is capitalising on it.
Yes, we have amazing successful people in the film and television sector at all levels.
But perhaps our government can also claim a little credit for backing our creative people, with vision, strategic leadership, and funding.
That’s how government can facilitate economic transformation – through leadership, articulating a vision for what can be, and by being an active partner in making it happen.
Economic transformation is about developing a qualitatively different economy, which is producing high value goods and services the world will pay a premium for.
It needs innovators, risk takers, and entrepreneurs.
It needs a skilled workforce, more R & D, and a commitment to design.
It needs investment and modern infrastructure.
It needs market intelligence and market access offshore.
The government is a critical partner in the change which must happen.
That’s why economic transformation is one of our top priorities.
That’s why we are:
• investing so
heavily in the transport infrastructure,
• drafting a New Zealand Energy Strategy to guarantee supply into the future,
• bringing in legislation to get faster, cheaper broadband for Kiwis,
• overhauling tertiary education and skills training funding systems,
• conducting a business tax review,
• launching Export Year 2007,
• working hard to lower barriers to our trade into China and other key markets,
• pushing for more effective commercialisation of the innovations coming out of our science and research sectors, and,
• working with major sectors like food and beverage and tourism to develop higher value strategies for the future.
The new economy is building – across new and traditional sectors.
I get a buzz from seeing the quality of the design and niche solutions at the Plastics Industry Design Awards because that guarantees the future of that industry in New Zealand.
I get a buzz from seeing the investment in new plant at the Red Stag timber company in Rotorua, because I know it boosts output, exports, and productivity, and guarantees jobs.
I get a buzz from being briefed by Fonterra in the Philippines on how it’s developing its market for functional foods there, and elsewhere in Asia.
I get a buzz from seeing Zespri succeed with kiwifruit developed from world leading research and marketed to extract premium value.
These stories can be told many times over.
Our economy’s going forward because New Zealand Inc has smart people and we’re prepared to work together to get results.
And that means cutting workers into the equation too. Good faith bargaining, bargaining fees, protection for vulnerable workers, paid parental leave, four weeks holiday – all have been important in ensuring that workers share in the progress our country is making
Hands off and leaving outcomes to the market – National Party style - won’t work and never did work for New Zealand.
It set up entrenched inequalities – leaving Maori, Pacific peoples, and new migrant communities the worst off. Our time in government has been marked by our determination to see the rising tide lift every boat – and it has.
Leadership and partnership - the Labour way - does work – now and for the future – and that’s what I’m committed to.
And let’s remember why we commit to a strong economy.
It’s all about providing the best possible opportunity and security for our families, young and old.
It’s about jobs and family living standards.
It’s about quality education and health care.
It’s about secure and affordable homes.
It’s about adequate security on our streets.
It’s about security in old age.
It’s about quality of life – in our great outdoors and our towns and cities.
We have a lot to look after – and we have work to do.
Working for Families has done wonders for many of our families through family tax credits.
I acknowledge the need for adjustments for others too.
We want to do that the Labour way so it doesn’t mean slashing public spending, and doesn’t lead to everyone’s interest rates rising.
Unlike the Opposition, we don’t have the luxury of pretending we can increase spending, and slash taxes, and stop mortgage rates rising, and run the kind of operating surplus which mitigates the impact of the current account deficit.
Their way is voodoo economics, it’s too risky, and we’re not buying into it.
We’re not prepared to gamble New Zealand’s future away.
There is rather more to leading a country than cutting taxes.
Our Labour Government’s got work to do:
• funding more treatments
in the health sector,
• bringing cheaper doctors’ visits to all New Zealanders,
• finding new ways to support first home owners,
• lowering the cost and lifting the standards of early childhood education,
• maintaining and improving our high quality education system.
As well there are the new challenges which we’re meeting head on.
• Like the epidemic of obesity which threatens the health and life expectancy of our children.
We’ve got many initiatives to help our children and young people be healthier and fitter.
• Like taking action on our nation’s appalling rate of family violence.
Last year family violence accounted for almost half of this country’s murders.
We are all repelled by the tragic cases of children and partners battered to death.
We have expanded funding and programmes which can help, but we need long term attitudinal change about violence in the home.
I do hope the select committee working with the Law Commission on Section 59 of the Crimes Act can find a way through. In no circumstances should the law condone the beating of children.
• As well, we need to confront the problem of youth violence in our cities.
Only this week a fourteen year old boy was murdered in cold blood in my electorate by another teenager. That was a terrible tragedy and there have been too many of them.
We don’t want the entrenched gang violence and no go areas in New Zealand which we read about in other countries.
We have to find ways of working with troubled young people to prevent them doing harm to themselves and others.
We have new initiatives and programmes and a willingness of police and other agencies to work with schools, communities and families, but I have no doubt more will need to be done.
• Then there’s the challenge of facing up to the failure of the criminal justice system.
New Zealand has high rates of imprisonment and high rates of recidivism. I draw only one conclusion from that : the system isn’t working.
That’s why we’re extending the options of home detention and community sentences for low risk offenders, in the expectation that viable alternatives to prison will get better results.
And within prison, there will be more employment opportunities, more drug and alcohol treatment, and more attention to other issues which are a factor in offending.
While I don’t expect overnight results, I do believe more rehabilitation and lower recidivism will go hand in hand over time.
But the 21st century challenges we face don’t only lie in economic and social policy.
There is also the great environmental challenge of the unsustainable way of life of developed nations like ours.
As Britain’s Environment Secretary said last month, the United Kingdom is living as if there were three planets to support us, not one. So are we. That can’t go on.
The issues have come to a head with the climate change crisis – with extreme weather variation and its impact on human life and the natural environment.
The climate change deniers are in retreat as the evidence mounts. Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, is helping spread public awareness of the scale of the problem.
Here in New Zealand we did the right thing in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, and resolving to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
But it did come as a blow to learn that the net credit position we thought we had in the first commitment period had become a net deficit position.
That sent us back to the drawing boards to look for better, more comprehensive strategies.
Now policy decisions, proposals, and initiatives to help us pull our weight on climate change and on sustainability more broadly are pouring out – on everything from solar heating and fuel efficiency in the transport fleet, to afforestation and sustainable land use.
I believe it’s time to be bold in this area.
Why shouldn’t New Zealand aim to be the first country which is truly sustainable – not by sacrificing our living standards, but by being smart and determined?
We can now move to develop more renewable energy, biofuels, public transport alternatives, and minimise, if not eliminate, waste to landfills.
We could aim to be carbon neutral.
I believe that sustainability will be a core value in 21st century social democracy.
• I want New Zealand to be in the vanguard of making it
happen – for our own sakes, and for the sake of our
• I want sustainability to be central to New Zealand’s unique national identity.
And fostering our unique national identity is central to the purpose of our government, and to my purpose in being in politics.
Our country is special, and our people are special.
Our creative people are taking New Zealand to the world in new and exciting ways – through film and music, festivals and exhibitions, dance, kapahaka, and literature.
Our government now funds a cultural diplomacy programme so that the world can learn more about New Zealand through our arts and culture.
Our historic heritage is special – drawn from so many peoples and so many places.
We celebrate an aspect of that in two weeks’ time, through the dedication of the New Zealand Memorial in London.
There, as a symbol of the enduring relationship between Britain and New Zealand, sixteen beautifully crafted sculptures symbolic of our country will stand. It will be a proud day for New Zealand.
Here at home, history has bequeathed us its own challenges – of reconciliation with our past, so we can be confident about our future.
That’s what the Treaty settlement process is about – putting right the wrongs of the past so we can move forward together. That process and its outcomes will define us as a nation.
And so will the commitment we make to inclusion and social cohesion – across ethnicity, faith, culture and orientation.
When people think of New Zealand, I want them to think of a nation whose peoples are all respected and valued, and where we live in peace with each other.
I want them to think of New Zealand as a nation which takes those values to the world, seeking dialogue, understanding, and peaceful resolution of conflict.
Hardly a day goes by when I don’t reflect on the importance of the decision our government made not to go to war in Iraq, and I would make the same decision again any day.
We do have a special role to play in troubled nations like Afghanistan, East Timor, and Solomon Islands – and they will need our help for some time yet.
In the Pacific Islands Forum, we are respected as a nation which itself has well settled and confident Pasifika communities, and is prepared to offer opportunities to newcomers – as we do through our permanent migration quotas and the new seasonal labour policy announced this week.
We are playing a role in interfaith dialogue. Next year we will sponsor a major Asia Pacific dialogue at Waitangi - bringing together faith leaders around our region. This is a role a small, well respected, non-confrontational nation like ours can play.
We have a big agenda before us.
A lot is happening to make New Zealand a stronger, fairer, well respected nation.
I know the daily headlines often focus on the negative – somehow progress and positives aren’t defined as news.
But we have to keep our medium and long term focus on what’s important.
Our country has changed for the better under Labour.
The National Party don’t like those changes.
The faster they could wind back public health and education, repeal the Employment Relations Act, and sell state assets, the happier they would be.
It wouldn’t just be the nuclear-free legislation which would be gone by lunchtime.
So would those parts of the Resource Management Act which give communities a say about development proposals in their areas.
It’s hard to take anything blue-greens say seriously, when their party is led by a climate change denier and attacks on the RMA are their party’s stock-in-trade.
Our opponents are marching to a political agenda based on stirring up division, envy, and hate.
It’s our duty to see that they don’t get the chance to wreck New Zealand again.
It’s taking years to climb back from the damage of the ’90s – and its effect on the social fabric has been long lasting.
Our government’s success has been based on sticking to core values, and on strong internal unity.
My thanks go to all my colleagues and the wider party for their staunch support at times of considerable provocation.
And above all my thanks go to the most special person in my life, my husband, Peter.
When our enemies couldn’t get at me, they attacked by proxy.
No family in politics deserves that.
I want us all to leave this conference with one aim in mind – to energise the policy and organisational work to secure our re-election in 2008.
Yes, the stakes are high – but so is our motivation.
Our Policy Council is already active, brainstorming on the new challenges we must address.
I hope it will take debate out to the wider party and to stakeholders.
Our New Zealand Council must complete the big whip-around and lead the revitalisation of party structures.
Our recruiters must be out encouraging quality candidates to come forward for our list – that’s vital for regeneration for the future.
As always, I am optimistic about our future.
We have shown a capacity to reach out to and work with other parties in the MMP environment.
The relationships we have formed over the past seven years are critical to our re-election.
We would not be governing today without the goodwill of other parties. I want that to continue.
In the end, it’s up to us.
Oppositions don’t win elections – especially one as distant from core New Zealand values as this one.
It’s up to us to stand tall, proud of what we’re achieving, always mindful of the privilege it is to lead one’s country, and determined to do better.
Thank you for your support now and in the future.