Address in Reply - Jim Anderton Progressive Party
Hon Jim Anderton
Opposition spokesman on Agriculture Progressive Party leader MP for Wigram
9 December 2008 Speech
Address in Reply
Mr Speaker, I would like to start out by congratulating the government on their achievement in winning the general election and the confidence and trust of New Zealanders.
The responsibility the public have handed them is enormous.
And though I strongly oppose some of the plans they have made for New Zealand, as a loyal New Zealander the Government has my very best wishes for success in their stewardship of our economy and our country.
I hope their promises will come true.
They promised to make significant reductions in crime.
They promised New Zealanders would stop leaving to live a while in other countries.
They promised our wages would equal or pass the wages of Australians.
They promised they could radically cut taxes on ordinary working families and increase spending on all our social services.
They promised the government wouldn't overtax New Zealanders with fiscal surpluses, nor project deficits into the future; but it would instead berth the fiscal supertanker precisely on a low tax, high-spending button every single budget.
The Prime Minister travelled to very disadvantaged streets and promised we would no longer have pockets of deprivation in our cities where some kids are left behind in poverty.
He promised all our children would be able to read and write because the testing they introduce to the education system will make all the difference in the world.
He promised us world class infrastructure, the fastest broadband in the world, and an end to disputes over water allocation, instant resource management decisions and new motorways where today there are only broken dirt tracks.
The prime minister spent the election campaign travelling to every marginal seat and making solemn pledges of unbudgeted Think Big spend ups totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. And all those towns and cities are now patiently expecting him to deliver.
So I say to the government - good luck with all that!
There is not a single item on that list that I wouldn't wish them to succeed in delivery.
As promises go, they are slightly more ambitious than I would have made. I would have recommended that promising absolutely everything to absolutely everybody risked disappointing someone sooner or later.
However, I will be the first to congratulate the government if it pulls off a significant portion of its stunningly immodest programme.
It will start its term this week with a swag of legislation.
It won't send those new laws to select committee, as democracy and good government would require.
This is a government that campaigned in opposition against what it said was the end of democracy.
In Opposition it promised a fresh new standard of good government. And its very first act in government is to throw out democratic standards like select committee hearings on its proposals.
The government is entitled to put in place the policy it has a mandate for. But it makes a mistake if it thinks every bill it drafts will be perfect at the outset.
So it starts out with the defining combination of mediocrity - weakness and arrogance.
Too weak to hold public hearings on its laws.
Too insecure in the strength of its ideas to truly believe that they will hold up under scrutiny.
Too arrogant to admit its ideas could be improved.
Too mediocre to deliver on the promises it has made to New Zealand.
Already in the short month since the election we have seen one example of a weak arrogant government in action: its reaction to the ACC budget.
I have listened to ministers bumble through this issue with growing amazement that anyone could enter government so little prepared for its challenges.
Confronted with a change in the actuarial calculation facing ACC, ministers panicked.
This is an inexperienced government. Which has yet understood that officials will come to them every month, perhaps every week, demanding more money for something they say faces a crisis.
This week it is ACC.
Next week it will be the hospital system. Will they panic again when DHB's report their annual deficits?
Let me make some predictions: Some defence and IT projects will suddenly develop cost over runs worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Some SOEs will reduce their profit projections from rosy to deficits. They will demand huge capital injections to remain viable.
A new biosecurity scare will need tens of millions of dollars to eradicate or control.
Every other week, another mundane crisis will come before Cabinet.
Ministers need to be strong enough to deal with them.
But what did we get in the ACC episode? Did we get strength? Did we get sophistication? Did we get the wisdom that says - yes, ACC actuarial calculations go up and down?
No. We got the arrogance that is already beginning to look like the colour of this government. We got a massive over-reaction. Even a ministerial inquiry. The prime minister has set a low bar for ministerial inquiries and we will be having a lot of them at this rate.
They need to toughen up.
They need to toughen up because they can't have the free lunch their policy promised.
They will have to make some hard choices.
In 1999, the last government was elected with Crown net debt over 20 per cent of GDP.
By last year, that net debt had gone.
We had positive net financial assets.
Now this National government wants to blow it all again.
Treasury won't report its current set of forecasts for Crown debt until after the government's new laws have been passed under urgency.
In other words, they will spend the money before they know if they even have it.
Treasury's predictions will come out just before Christmas.
They probably won't be reported and they won't be much seen even if they are.
But they will show that what National proposes is unaffordable.
This is what National always does in government - it takes from the future for its short term advantage today.
National's rushed increases in overseas borrowing are not to strengthen our economy.
They aren't to fund more research and development; National is cutting that.
It's not increasing borrowing to invest in higher education standards.
It's not increasing borrowing to promote exports as a proportion of GDP.
It's not increasing overseas borrowing to strengthen our regions or to create more jobs.
No, the increased borrowing is to fund additional personal tax cuts.
Those cuts are more generous to the most affluent, rather than to the people who are most vulnerable in a global economic downturn.
Someone in the future will have to pay for National's irresponsibility.
When you borrow from overseas to splurge on tax cuts for people who need them least - someone has to pay for it.
Someone in the future will have to pay more tax. Someone in the future will have their services cut.
And the problem is being compounded because National is reducing the ability of kiwis to create their own nest eggs.
The party that used to say it was all about personal responsibility is slashing Kiwisaver to pieces.
At the very time when we most need to strengthen New Zealand for the future, the National government is doing the opposite.
It is a mediocre government with mediocre ideas about how to meet the challenges New Zealand faces.
The very first bill they announced today is the Tax bill.
And the centre piece of that bill is the largest ever increase in tax on business in New Zealand.
The very first thing this government does is to increase tax on innovation.
The very first thing it does is to say we have too much innovation in New Zealand.
Of all the criticisms I have ever heard of the New Zealand economy, National's claim we have too much innovation, and too much research and development is the silliest.
But from this day forward, National will always be the party of higher tax on business.
It will always be the party that imposed the highest ever increase in total business tax burden.
And it will reap the consequences in poorer long term economic performance.
Let me make a prediction: Under this government, unemployment will rise. Economic growth will be slower than over the average of the last nine years. The wage gap with Australia will grow.
That is what a weak government with no vision will accomplish?
Let me spell out some more visionary ideas for how New Zealand might prosper in the coming years and months, as the rainfall of global economic crisis both threatens us, and presents us with an unprecedented opportunity. First, they should increase, not reduce, New Zealanders' ability to own more assets here and around the world.
And the way to do that is to push for more saving and investment.
But what are they doing instead?
They are cutting saving.
They are cutting investment - because they are cutting Kiwisaver. They are cutting the strongest mechanism by which New Zealand can increase our savings and our investment.
The best way to protect the vulnerable in these troubled economic times globally is to direct tax cuts most heavily to those who are most vulnerable - not to those who are most able to protect themselves.
But what does the government plan to do?
It plans to give the bulk of tax cuts to the highest income earners. It plans to give least to those who need it most.
And as the government invests and looks to stimulate the economy through the global downturn, it could ensure that it invests in measures that make the most difference to those who need help the most.
Instead of capping state housing, it could invest in more housing.
As we read in the news this morning of thousands of predicted job losses in the construction industry, there has seldom been a more opportune time to build more state houses, to employ those builders and construction workers and to make home ownership more affordable for New Zealand families.
A visionary government would look at how it can improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders, instead of how it can get away with stripping as many services as possible.
I recommend to the new government that it looks at ways to make dental care more affordable and accessible for New Zealanders. I will be bringing some more ideas about how to do that into this parliament, as I promised I would do during the election campaign.
And I will also bring forward some more ideas on reducing crime.
Sixty percent of New Zealanders who are arrested are affected by alcohol at the time of the offending for which they are arrested. Two out of three arrests are alcohol related.
And the evidence shows very strongly that the problem has got much worse since alcohol laws were relaxed and alcohol became much more widely available.
If you want a common element in the crime spree in South Auckland this year, it's hard to go past the easy availability of alcohol.
Alcohol is available on street corners everywhere, at all hours, promoted heavily in all media and sold in ever-increasing quantities to teenagers.
But there wasn't a word about that in the speech from the throne.
Instead, the government blames P. It blames sentencing. Well P is a problem, but ask any expert, ask any police officer - what causes the most social and human damage - and the answer is alcohol. And that is not because alcohol is intrinsically the most dangerous drug, but because it is the most widely available drug.
So I will be bringing proposals to this House to make alcohol less available and I challenge the government to act on them. Because if you are in favour of the unlimited availability of alcohol, you are pro-crime.
And finally I want to say that if there is one area where we have much more to do, it is poverty, both here in New Zealand and globally.
I heard the pledges of the government in the speech from the Throne to end the cycle of disadvantage. That is a worthy ambition and I support it. But I listened hard for how they are going to do it, and the cupboard of ideas is as bare as the food cupboards of some of those homes.
I have watched around the world with fascination at the speed with which governments have been able to act to bail out huge companies and banks when they have been in desperate need.
They have shown that with goodwill, action is possible to help in an emergency. That governments can act to help when help is needed. And it leaves a question for all of us in this parliament - if we can do that for big companies and big banks in times of crisis, why can't we do it for people in crisis?
Why can't we do it for the hundreds of millions of people who don't have enough to eat, who don't have clean water, who can't hope for basic medicine? Why can't we bail them out?
New Zealand should be a voice for them internationally, and a voice for the compelling new ideas that are emerging internationally to solve these global problems.
At a time when global crisis threatens to deepen global poverty and darken even further the skies over the lives of the world's least privileged, we should be saying that if the world can offer crisis help to the strong, then we must also offer emergency bailout for the weakest and poorest.
I call on our government to work constructively across party lines to see how New Zealand can use our almost unique position in the world as an efficient food producer to make a difference.
And I pledge my support for any efforts they make to do so.