Prime Minister's Concluding Speech At Job Summit
Hon John Key
27 February 2009
First I want to thank you all for coming today.
You have put a tremendous amount of time and thought into the day’s discussions.
As a result, there have been ideas galore generated by groups, subgroups and, in many cases, sub-subgroups of people talking to each other over a cup of coffee.
To paraphrase what Alan Bollard said this morning, if you laid all the ideas discussed today end to end, they would reach to the Sun and halfway back again.
Mark and the chairs have just presented on the 20 or so proposals that the Summit has collectively identified as amongst the most promising ideas.
You all know that there are at least a couple of dozen quality ideas lying behind those.
If anyone doubted that this process would generate practical, concrete ideas, they were sorely mistaken.
That’s what this day has been about; that’s why we had this Summit.
As Alan Bollard and John Whitehead made clear this morning, we are in a very serious global recession which is going to get worse before it gets better.
To get through it in reasonable shape, and out the other side growing strongly, will take a fair bit of pragmatism, goodwill and flexibility on the part of everyone.
You have demonstrated that sort of pragmatism, goodwill and flexibility today.
I want to especially thank the chairs of the work streams, who have put in a huge amount of effort over the last few weeks and months, despite having very busy and important day jobs.
And in particular I want to thank Mark Weldon whose boundless energy and organisational skill has made today possible.
One of the key reasons for calling this Summit was getting people to focus not just on what the Government can do, but what different sectors, different organisations, and different businesses can do to maintain and generate jobs.
I have therefore been delighted that discussions have not just been about Government actions but also about what businesses can do themselves.
I have been very pleased to see what has been coming through from employers and unions around increased flexibility in workplaces, particularly around working hours. It is in everyone’s interests to see jobs continuing through a flat patch, with people maintaining their skills and work attachment.
I was interested to hear what local government is considering. I think it is vitally important for local government to keep reviewing expenditure, to continue to think about reducing compliance costs and red tape, and to maintain investment in infrastructure. In that way, councils will be doing their bit for enhancing growth when the recession eventually ends.
I welcome the contribution of Maori to the Summit. I sat for some time with the Maori work stream and I look forward to further development of the ideas about how iwi and Maori organisations can use their assets, including Maori land, and enhance the skills of their people.
I welcome the banks’ stated commitment to New Zealand and, at a more personal level, to looking after their customers who are facing financial difficulties. Needless to say I was delighted with ASB’s decision earlier this week to set up a $1 billion fund for job creation loans. That is a great example of a business stepping up to the plate.
Of course, this Summit has also been about what the Government could do.
In that regard, a lot of ideas have been proposed today.
We are going to consider these over the coming weeks and respond to them. You’ll be able to follow their progress on the Job Summit website.
Some of the ideas discussed today will result in real changes to Government policy. I said at the outset that I wanted this Summit to be a do-fest, not a talk-fest, and that’s what’s going to happen.
Some ideas will become part of longer-term processes that will take time to sort through. You may well see these ideas come to fruition at some stage in the future.
Others won’t make it – as you all no doubt know, the marketplace of ideas is very competitive.
But I can tell you there are some things that have been discussed today that I am particularly keen to get working on, and which could start having an impact very shortly.
I am keen to determine just what we can do to keep up or increase levels of industry training during this recession. I’ve heard a number of proposals today that aim to do this and I want to work through those without delay.
As part of this I want to look at what the Government can do to make it easier for employers to provide industry training for staff who are on reduced hours
I also want to look at whether there is anything else the Government can do to remove some of the barriers to working temporarily on reduced hours, within current employment law. Some interesting ideas have been discussed today and I want to have a careful look at them.
But discussion today has not just centred on people who are currently in work, it has also been concerned with people who are entering, or about to enter, the workforce.
I think youth employment – and the converse, youth unemployment – is extremely important.
We are entering a period where there will be fewer jobs for lower-skilled school leavers. Those young people need to know that there are educational options available to them, they need to develop skills to make them employable and productive when the economy picks up, and they need to see that there are opportunities in front of them.
I am therefore very keen to fast-track the implementation of the Government’s Youth Guarantee, as has been suggested today. This will provide options for young school-leavers with lower-level skills to study at polytechs, wananga and private training establishments. They won’t have to stay at school studying Shakespeare to further their education.
The skills and transition work stream also pointed out that there is a huge opportunity to grow the business of education. International student numbers are slowly growing but we could attract many more students here than we do now, to quality courses.
This would allow us to ‘tack on’ direct marketing of our country’s tourism assets to a captive and identified overseas market, thereby creating jobs in both the education and tourism sectors. The possibilities are exciting, and should not require significant amounts of extra funding – just innovative thinking, and co-operation between providers and the Government.
The skills and transition work stream also proposed improving the support for people coping with redundancy or unemployment. For people who lose their jobs in this recession, finding new jobs as quickly as possible is going to be very important.
Here it’s best to work from what we have already. There are a number of existing government programmes which, for example, aim to match unemployed people with jobs, and to provide financial assistance to relocate to where there are available jobs.
I think we need to have a good look at those sorts of programmes to determine whether they can be made to work better by, for example, changing some of the levels of support that are offered.
A number of work streams have mentioned infrastructure projects that will create jobs and have positive benefits out into the future. Many of these are environmental projects of one form or another.
What I am particularly keen to investigate are some energy efficiency projects around home insulation, and I am going to ensure that these are progressed as quickly as possible.
I have heard a lot of good ideas from firms today about regulation, and how the Government could ease this burden. I want to say that we are right behind that.
In particular I want to endorse the recommendation made by one of the work streams that the next two years is not the time to be adding to business costs through regulation. There has to be a very high hurdle for new regulation and we need to be thinking much harder of removing and refining existing regulations.
We have kicked that process off with the first stage of reforms to the Resource Management Act. A further, more comprehensive review of that Act will be starting before too long. In addition, Rodney Hide yesterday announced reviews of the Building Act and the Overseas Investment Act.
We will shortly be in a position to announce further reviews of key pieces of legislation, as well as some quick gains that can be made relatively soon
Today’s discussions have really confirmed to me that these are important steps for the Government to be taking to prepare the economy for a more productive future.
I have heard ideas today about how the Government could boost the tourism sector and I can report that the Minister of Tourism is very keen to progress these.
In part that is because the tourism sector is an important part of the New Zealand economy and is a big employer.
But also getting people from overseas to come here and spend money is about the best form of economic stimulus I can think of. When visitors come here and spend money on food, petrol, accommodation, transport and entertainment it’s an injection of money into the New Zealand economy.
Finally, I agree with the work stream on firm funding that one of the most crucial factors in getting out of this recession is a well-functioning credit market. Firms need access to finance to make the investments that will lead to new jobs and growth.
That work stream deserves the chocolate fish award for robust discussion. If people thought this Summit was going to be tightly scripted they only needed to sit in on the discussions with and between the banks.
As a former banker, I congratulate them for their ingenuity in developing the idea of a co-investment equity fund where both the Government and banks put in money to provide equity support for New Zealand companies over a prescribed time frame.
For non-bankers this means providing a pot of investment money to help New Zealand companies get the access to share capital they need to grow and create jobs.
This is the sort of really innovative idea that would never have happened without today’s Summit.
Many of the other suggestions around the
development of capital markets look promising and will be
considered as part of a longer-term review of capital
markets, where the recommendations of the Capital Market
Development Taskforce will be particularly valuable.
So, where to from here?
We are going to look at the ideas that have been suggested today and, as I said, we will be responding to them publicly on the Jobs Summit website.
To make sure this work gets done promptly, I am going to give my own department the responsibility for coordinating activity across government. They will report directly to me.
I would like to continue the co-operative process that led to today, and therefore I am keen to involve the work stream Chairs in this process, without making it too onerous for them. Others of you may well be involved as ideas are developed further.
To make sure things are progressing, I am going to invite the Chairs to meet with me in around 6 to 8 weeks to review where we have got up to.
I want to finish by making an observation. We are doing something here that most countries could never do – we have got everyone together in the same room to feed off each others’ ideas.
Granted, we are a small country; and granted, this is a rather large room. But we have got a group of people together today who cover most sectors of the economy and most interests, to work together with a collective sense of New Zealand and the people who make up New Zealand.
Just that alone gives me a great deal of confidence that as a country we can work together and find solutions to some very difficult problems.
Thank you again for your participation.