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Anderton: Address in reply

Hon Jim Anderton

Member of Parliament for Wigram
Progressive Leader

12 February 2008 Speech

EMBARGOED TO 7.30PM
Address in reply

Madame Speaker

This year, New Zealand is going to face some crucial choices about our future. We are going to decide where our priorities lie.

And our choices are simple:

It is a choice between the confident steps towards a stronger and more caring New Zealand that the government continues to take. Or back to the failed policies of the past.

It is a choice between the steady and reliable gains for New Zealanders, such as those the Prime Minister outlined today ...

Or ripping it all up for a National Party smash and grab raid on the economy, so they can help themselves to as much as they can.

I listened carefully to the Leader of the Opposition, because I thought he might try to sound more responsible for once.

I thought a wise leader would have something positive to say. So I listened.
And did he find a moment to say he is pleased that 360-thousand new jobs have been created since this government took office? Not even once.

Did he say he was pleased we have enjoyed the longest run of economic growth since the Second World War? Not even once.

He thinks it happens by accident. He thinks it is just good luck. How come his lot never get lucky?

Did he say he is pleased that unemployment has fallen from the disastrous levels the National Party created? Not even once.

Pacific people and Maori used to have unemployment rates of more than one in four. Unemployment has fallen to just 3.4 percent of the workforce and the Opposition hasn’t noticed.

Did Mr Key say he was pleased Working For Families has put cash into hundreds of thousands of homes that need it most? Not even once.

He just demanded more for himself.

Did he say he was pleased Working For Families lifted tens of thousands of children out of poverty − more than at any time since the Great Depression. Not even once, because National doesn’t care.

Did Mr Key say National is pleased that we have taken 140-thousand people off benefits and found decent meaningful jobs for them, with better wages and better work conditions? Not even once.

For a party that spends so much time bashing beneficiaries, it is amazing that National created so many, and still has so little to say when we come in and cut the benefit rolls.

National has a hands-off attitude towards jobs, and towards reducing welfare rolls, and a hands-off attitude to the economy because it simply has no ideas.
It has no vision. It has no answers. It has nothing new to say.

It only promises a return to the failed policies of the past.

So that’s the choice New Zealand faces this year − back to the failed policies of the nineties, of high unemployment, of stagnant growth and of failure.

So far National has announced four policies:
1. Sell all the assets. Sell Kiwibank, sell the airline, sell the railways and then start on new ones. Sell the power companies, sell the roads, sell the lot.
2. Their second policy is − Put up doctors fees.
3. Their third policy is − Cut taxes, but only for the wealthiest.

Actually, that was the policy announced yesterday by the Business Roundtable. The silence from National was deafening.

We know from bitter experience that what the Business Roundtable wants, National will do.

The one thing National dared not say was what they thought of the Business Roundtable policy.

So I have a challenge for National. Do you support the Business Roundtable policy, or not?

A family on the average wage with two kids in New Zealand pays the lowest rate of tax in the OECD − they pay virtually no tax at all.

I want National to tell us now if it wants to cut taxes for that average family?
And I want National to tell us if they would pass as much of a tax cut for that family as they want for themselves.

We know the answer − they don’t care about a family on the average wage. They care only about themselves.

But I also want to acknowledge one area where I think, like the government, National has made some positive promises.

I insist on finding something positive − I want to say I am pleased at the emphasis on both sides of the House on better educating our young, and on better preparing teenage New Zealanders for the future.

I welcome a stronger priority on education.

And now that more of us in this House are talking about education − one of our top priorities this year should be to remove the tax on education.

The student debt in this country is a national outrage.

We were told it was introduced because without and education tax, tertiary education would be unaffordable. But what has happened?

Now we are carrying no net public debt at all. But, as of June last year, students are $9.413 billion in debt.

[And if we project those figures, by 2010 that debt will have risen to $12 billion; by 2015 it will be $16.5 billion; and by 2020 it will be $21.5 billion!]

At a time when even the most heartless New Zealanders are worrying about affordable housing for young families − how will students save for a house when they have decades of debt around their necks?

When I hear people in this house talk about tax cuts − I think, yes, there should be some tax cuts for people who need them most.

Businesses have had a corporate tax cut − something a National government has never, ever delivered.

Middle incomes earners have missed out. So there should be something for them.

But who is the most over-taxed group of all? It’s young workers who have to pay a special tax to pay off their education debt. No wonder we’re losing our best and brightest overseas.

If you believe in tax cuts to keep New Zealanders home and attract them back, then you should be cutting the tax that drives more of them away than any − the education tax.

Over the next fifty years we will compete in the world more and more for skilled workers. Every sector of New Zealand is screaming out for skilled staff.

As our economy transforms and creates more jobs − more high value, high-income and high skill jobs − businesses in every industry are wondering where they can get enough qualified people.

Why would we make that problem worse by putting a tax on education? How is it we are taxing the very people who are the solution to our skills shortage?

Look at that surplus the Opposition is so ready to criticise. Look at what it’s made up of: One huge part of the surplus is made up of loans to students.
The government pays out the cash, and then counts the pay out as an asset − even though we know some students will never be able to repay their education loans.

If we want to reduce the surplus without making inflation or the current account worse, we could stop increasing student debt.

If we wanted to cut taxes without worsening inequality, the best thing we could do is cut the tax on education. Fees for tertiary education are a regressive tax on the poor.

We should say to students this: If they are prepared to stay and work in New Zealand after they graduate, we will reduce your debt. Not something for nothing, but something in exchange for your service.

It's an idea we have tried successfully in New Zealand in the past. Teachers used to be paid to go to Teachers' College, and then they would have to work in a country area for two years.

If we offered a scheme to wipe debt in exchange for service, we would help to keep our best and brightest here at home.

So this year we have some choices about our priorities. We can choose to give more to those who need it least − or we can give more to those who can make the greatest difference.

We can turn back the clock to the failed policies of the past, as the Opposition proposes to do. Or we can think about our future, and what we can do for the young people who are the future of New Zealand.

We can take what we can for ourselves.

Or we can have the strength to care for others, and create a stronger, more caring New Zealand.


ENDS

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