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Opening of Progressive campaign in Auckland

Opening of Progressive campaign in Auckland

Speech: Jim Anderton: I believe we are here tonight because we know it’s important to re-elect the Labour-Progressive government.

We know it’s important for the Progressives to be part of a re-elected government.

And I believe it’s important for us to have a long term presence in parliament regardless of who forms the next government.

New Zealand has come a long way in nearly nine years.

Our economy has grown by a third. When we entered government, forecasts for high unemployment stretched out over years. Today, we have the lowest unemployment in a generation.

Yes, we have come a long way.

Last week new figures showed child poverty lower on every measure. 130-thousand kids have been lifted out of poverty. More than at any time since the Great Depression.

When we entered government, superannuation had been cut. Today Kiwisaver is a landmark social and economic initiative that seven hundred thousand kiwis have signed up to.

We didn’t own any of our major financial institutions. We didn’t own our rail network or our airline. Today we own them all.

Workers have much better protection, an extra week of leave and paid parental leave.

We live in a stronger country that looks after New Zealanders better. It’s important to remember at a time like this when the economic cycle is tough and things are slowing.

The economic cycle was always going to slow after seven or eight years of strong growth. Then we had a drought this year as well. And coming on top of that, conditions are tough around the world. Economies everywhere are reeling from the oil price spikes, and from events like the subprime banking crisis in the US, which has made money more expensive everywhere.

When you look at those conditions, you could have some sympathy for the truckies who were out on the streets yesterday. I’m sensitive to any business where margins are getting squeezed. These are hardworking business people and life isn’t always easy.

But why are their margins being squeezed? Because fuel prices have been rising. There is nothing any government in New Zealand could do to avoid that. New Zealand didn’t support the invasion of Iraq.

There are only two New Zealanders I know of who supported the invasion of Iraq: Simon Power of the National Party said we should go wherever the US goes. He was the National Party’s defence spokesperson and he would have had us in there. And then there is Mr Key himself. He would have had us in there too.

You cannot be for the invasion of Iraq and credibly claim you are also in favour of lower petrol prices.

Petrol prices have gone up because of factors no government of New Zealand could hope to influence.

What we need to focus on is making sure we have the strength to cope when international conditions turn worse.

We need to ensure families can cope. This is the caring, strong New Zealand the Progressives are focused on.

We have a commitment to caring for people, and to building a New Zealand strong enough to care about them and provide for them.

I mentioned before the updated figures that show we have brought more kids out of poverty than at any time in New Zealand’s history.

For all that success, there are still thirteen percent or more of children living below the poverty line.

It’s not their fault. We need to care for them.

If things are tough for trucking companies, imagine how much tougher things are in winter for those families.

If you would get thousands of trucks out on the street to protest about transport costs – why wouldn’t you be strong enough to stand up and care for people who are struggling to make ends meet?

Think of all the newspaper headlines this year demanding tax cuts.

The government is delivering fair tax cuts. But if the demand for tax cuts is that strong, why aren’t there also headlines demanding a fairer deal for Christchurch council tenants whose rent has just gone up by a quarter? I worry about the average family meeting their fuel bills in the Christchurch winter.

If the Herald can take the whole front page to editorialise about the rules on election advertising, why can’t it take the front page to editorialise about kids who pay the price when their families get into alcohol and drug abuse?

Why don’t we hear more about people who can’t afford to see a dentist?

It’s up to us to care about them, too.

I think the political temperature has encouraged some selfish behaviour over the last year. And we need to do better.

We’re each responsible for each other in the end. It takes some strength to stand up and care for others. It takes some strength to say you are going to care about other people, and not just yourself. To accept part of the burden of others and not only your own. To do your bit to hold together our country.

One of the truly admirable traits of New Zealanders is that we have a sense of the worth of our fellow kiwis. We need to keep coming back to it, because there are times when unscrupulous politicians and sensationalist movements encourage baser motives.

Sometimes the power and strength of the New Zealand sense of equality gets overlooked in the rush of an election.

We have seen it in the past when immigrants were being bashed. Do you remember that?

I was proud to stand along side Matt Robson and others of our colleagues and say no to that kind of politics.

Three years ago it was Maori bashing – can you remember that? The National Party was running those billboards dividing iwi from kiwi. They were sneering at the haka and scratching any itch they could find.

If you go along with that kind of politics, sooner or later it will be you. And there will be no one left to listen.

Lately, we’ve heard plenty about helping yourself. We’ve heard about tax cuts and climate change. We’ve heard about immigration and Treaty claims.

All important issues. But there are other things to worry about too. It’s up to us to care for all New Zealanders.

The role the Progressives have is to talk about these issues even when they’re not the most populist topic.

That is why we need a long term presence in parliament. Someone needs to hold the torch. It’s why we need Matt Robson back there with me.

Let me give you just one example of what we can achieve.

Yesterday I was in my electorate to open a new Kiwibank branch.

And I talked about the eighties when the government was closing post office branches in my electorate. I was in the government caucus. I was ashamed of those closures.

I used to ask the minister responsible what he expected people to do. He said they could walk to the nearest branch in Colombo street. Now, if you don’t know Christchurch, that is like telling someone here they should walk down to Queen street. If you’re elderly and in a walking frame – how would that care for you?

Those ministers were never brave enough to go to the closings.

But I am very proud to go to openings of Kiwibank.

To get Kiwibank, we had to argue patiently and constructively. If we had voted on it at our first Cabinet meetings, we would have lost – 16 votes to 4.

So we put up our proposal and knocked down the objections one after another, until we got it.

These days, everyone is proud of it because it’s been a roaring success. It’s been so successful, that now we are getting KiwiSaver, KiwiRail…do you think they would be calling them that if Kiwibank hadn’t been a success?

Kiwibank is successful not just because it is making a profit and growing its capital value.

Kiwibank is successful not just because it is providing more branches and forcing the big Aussie banks to keep their branches open and moderate their fees.

It is successful not just because it’s providing convenience and service to New Zealanders.

It is also successful because it is doing a good job.

The point of Kiwibank is this: If Progresives can deliver that, then we can keep doing more to strengthen New Zealand and care for New Zealanders.

Just as Matt Robson led the campaign to increase the minimum annual leave for all workers to four weeks – and persuaded his colleagues. And now its law.

Just as I worked in government to get the largest single investment in science and innovation in New Zealand’s history – the New Zealand Fast Forward fund.

And we got that too. Last week I signed a heads of agreement with private sector partners. Over ten or fifteen years it will mean more than a billion dollars of extra investment to achieve a step change in the performance of the industries that form the backbone of our economy.

So when we say we will work constructively to get these things, we mean it. And we deliver.

This year we are going to keep working for more progress for New Zealanders. Better health care. Free tertiary education, because New Zealand needs our talent and brains. Affordable housing. And security for our young people.

We have ambitious policies around these themes. We have proven we can achieve our priority policies. We will do it again.

Just think of the alternative.

The alternative is a throw back to the failed policies of the 80s and 90s. Look behind Mr Key. Tony Ryall? Murray McCully? Maurice Williamson? Lockwood Smith? All of them are tired hangover from the past.

And what do they intend to do?

Well they won’t tell you very much. They just say ‘trust us’. Where have we heard of that before? A government that made policy in secret and then betrayed the country when it got elected.

There is only one reason why you wouldn’t tell the country what you intend to do: You know that you would never get elected if people knew what you were up to.

It’s happened time and time again in New Zealand.

In the last nine years we have finally restored governments that say what they are going to do and then do it.

What a difference it makes.

National offers a return to the failed and broken promises of the past. That is why we can’t allow them back.

It’s why we will work with our colleagues for the re-election of this government.

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