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David Shearer Speech: New Zealand - A New Direction

David Shearer Speech: New Zealand - A new direction
Speech By Labour Party Leader David Shearer At National Conference
Sunday, November 18, 2012 - 12:45



Today I want to talk about two paths that lie before us as a country.

Each offers very different directions and different choices.

One path leads to disappointment, decline and constant struggle.

That’s our country’s current path, the one National is taking.

The other path is about change.

It’s about a new direction for Labour and a new direction for New Zealand.

A new direction where we fight back, create opportunity and build a world class New Zealand that we’re proud of.

A new direction that’s about what is best for the long term, not just the short term.

A new direction that’s about all New Zealanders daring to dream and having the opportunity to get there.

Not just accepting second best and managing decline.

We’ve always been a creative, innovative people with a ‘can do’ attitude.

Respected and admired across the globe.

Down to earth. Willing to give it a go.

We need that new direction now more than ever.

It’s about building a smart, new and powerful economy that delivers a fairer society.

That’s what I stand for.

That’s what we can achieve together.

For most of the last 20 years, I lived in parts of the world where life was bleak.

Every time I came home, I counted my blessings.

I counted my good fortune that I had grown up in a country like this.

But we are losing what we once held dear.

Kiwis just want the chance to succeed, to be the best they can be and to build a great life.

It’s not too much to ask.

I got my fair chance growing up in Papatoetoe. My father was a teacher. My mum worked at the local school.

They gave us the kind of Presbyterian upbringing where you saved for what you needed, and made the most of what you had.

I remember Dad wanted a boat to take us kids out sailing but he didn’t have the money to buy it.

So he rolled up his sleeves, went to night classes and learned how to build one.

Over 4 months, he and I built that boat together in the garage.

That was the way things worked. The State backed you so you could realise your dream.

I grew up in a time when there were plenty of part-time jobs for kids and – thanks to penal rates – some of them were quite well-paid.

I had a paper round that earned me the money to pay for my own bike. I pumped gas at the Puhinui petrol station and learned the value of a dollar.

That's what it was like back then, growing up in New Zealand.

I know it wasn’t perfect for everyone but for most Kiwi families, life gave you a fair go.

And, free, to everyone, was an education that could match any in the world.

A nation flourishes when it gives every person a fair chance.

When it looks after its own.

And when it prizes fairness and humanity.

It was when I went out into world that I discovered just how much that means.

I also learnt something about myself.

That if you’ve grown up with the values this country gave me, you can't turn away. You just can't.

So my life has been about making a difference.

Lifting people up when they need it the most. Making their lives better.

Giving them the opportunity to take the next step.

This world can be hugely indifferent to suffering.

For me, that came into stark relief when I went to Somalia. War and famine was overtaking the country.

A small group of us working there realised that unless something changed, thousands would die from hunger.

With daily gun battles being fought in the streets, we were faced with a choice.

Take a risk and make a change. Or shrug our shoulders and say the job's too big, let's get out of here.

We stayed. We made a change.

I worked with a dedicated team of Somali doctors and others. We fought to keep supply lines open to bring in food.

We fed around 30,000 children who would have died otherwise.

We evacuated our staff three times. I lost a colleague on that operation.

But I was never in any doubt. Standing up for what was right - what would make a difference - that was the right decision.

Looking back I feel immense satisfaction.

But I can tell you it also makes it very clear to me where my priorities lie.

I am in politics to make lives better.

I'm not here to cross something off my bucket list. Or to indulge in some sense of celebrity.

I went out into the world to help improve people's lives and I’ve chosen to enter politics for the same reason.

It's why I want to lead this country and it's why I need your support to get there.

Together we can make a difference. A big difference.

The values I bring with me are the ones that I was raised with.

They are the ones that I took with me out into the world.

They are Labour values. They’re our values: that everyone should have a fair chance and the opportunity to get ahead.

And if you agree people are not being given that fair chance right now then I’m asking you to join me in making the changes we need.

Change can make people uneasy.

But change has always been what has saved us in times of trouble, and it can save us again.

The first Labour government made the big changes that mattered:

affordable housing,

free schooling,

free health care,

a fair start for every child.

Don't let anyone tell you a government can't do big things to change lives.

Those big changes led New Zealand out of the Depression and it was this party that made them.

We are the party that is brave about change.

I think about Norman Kirk’s government establishing the Waitangi Tribunal that has helped reconcile Māori and Pakeha. And his commitment to New Zealand’s independent place in the world.

I think of David Lange standing up for our independence at the Oxford Union debate: “hold your breath for just a moment – I can smell the uranium on it.”

It’s not just a great line, it’s about a great idea. Today we’re still nuclear free and I’m proud of that.

And the thousands of children lifted out of poverty under Helen Clark. The icons of Kiwisaver and KiwiBank were put in place.

Don't let anyone tell you a government can’t do big things to change lives.

We made big changes and New Zealand flourished.

But where is our country today?

Where is the sense of possibility?

Where, I ask our Prime Minister, are the jobs?

It should never have come to this.

Imagine this scenario, for just a moment.

If we had kept Norman Kirk’s Superannuation Scheme – that Muldoon scrapped – it would be worth more than $240 billion today.

We would probably still own some of our banks and many other major companies.

Our entrepreneurs would be thriving because we'd have so much capital to invest in their ideas.

The Kirk Labour government could see the future. The National government saw political opportunism.

When our opponents say they want to grow our economy, I don't doubt their sincerity.

But I doubt their method. I doubt it fundamentally.

How have they done in the last 4 years? Measure the results any way you want:

the cost of your groceries,

the money you're earning,

the affordability of houses

1,000 Kiwis a week give up hope and go to Australia despite John Key promising he’d turn those numbers around.

That’s the population of Hamilton leaving since National was elected. It’s never been higher.

This government simply hasn't delivered.

Our unemployment rate is 7.3%. Can you remember who was in power the last time it was this bad? Let me remind you it was the last National Government.

Right now there’s 175,000 people looking for work.

Māori and Pasifika unemployment is at 15%. One in four of our young people are unemployed.

And week after week, the losses just keep on coming.

Behind those numbers are real people, real families and real communities.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with miners who've lost their jobs at Spring Creek.

Darryl Sweetman is a miner. His future should be bright.

He has a lovely family, a partner, a daughter and a new-born son. But Darryl’s been laid off.

He’s worried he'll lose the home they’ve been renovating and have to leave the town he's lived in his entire life.

Paris Brady came back from Australia to raise his young family in Greymouth. He's the kind of guy we need here.

Keen, motivated and used to hard graft. But just 10 weeks into his mining apprenticeship, he's had the rug pulled out from under him and he's out of work.

All over the country that’s the human face of losing jobs.

When this Government rests its entire hopes for future economic growth on the rebuild of Christchurch – our biggest natural disaster – you know it has no ideas.

What will it take for National to admit its hands-off policies aren’t working?

They know in their hearts that selling Mighty River Power will not make our power bills cheaper.

That selling Meridian won’t create a single job.

That selling Genesis won’t grow the economy.

Yet they knock us for being a party that can’t deliver growth.

Let me tell you. The evidence tells a different story.

If we compare all National and Labour Governments, back through history, the average GDP growth under National is 2.9%.

Under Labour, it’s 3.7%.

Who are the best economic managers?

But this government takes the prize. It has the worst economic performance in 50 years.

And we should remind ourselves of this:

In 2008, this National government inherited one of the world’s best government books after 9 budget surpluses.

And in 2 years’ time, no doubt, they’ll hand them back to us in bad shape.

The problem is that in order to pull us out of this hole they're turning to the very ideas that put us there in the first place.

You know and I know: it's not going to work.

And that’s why we need big change.

VISION

We need a different path.

We need to fight for the future we want.

One where we make a real difference to people’s lives.

We have always been the Party of new ideas.

When it mattered throughout our history, we've been willing to use the power of government to give the country what it needs to move ahead.

New Zealand needs to use that power once more. And under my leadership, we will.

Five years ago, that might have been seen as economic heresy in many places.

But not today.

Governments all around the world are intervening in their economies to dig themselves out of a vast Global Financial hole.

And they've got it right.

Hugh Fletcher is not what you’d call a radical.

But just a couple of weeks ago he was on the radio saying the laissez-faire status quo position is not acceptable.

He said our exporters were finding it hard to compete and we would have to come up with a new approach.

The Manufacturers and Exporters Association is saying the same thing.

So too is the EPMU.

And so are we.

There is a meeting of minds around a new direction.

The hands-off approach has failed and it's left the world badly off balance.

Government has at its disposal levers that only it can pull.

Levers to change the settings that stimulate growth and opportunity.

As Prime Minister, I’ll use the power of government to change this country.

Let me be clear, it’s not about big government.

It’s about common sense.

It’s about using government intelligently, so it can transform the economy for everyone.

In a small country like New Zealand competing against the world’s economic giants, we need the government to pitch in together, not step back.

If you are willing to do your bit, the government should do its bit too.

It needs to be a player, not a spectator.

We need to get the country firing on all cylinders again.

I know we need to grow the economic pie – not just be expert in dividing it.

That means prudent financial management. It means balancing our budgets.

It means making the tough decisions to reduce our current account deficit.

This government hopes we can get there by cutting costs, selling assets and driving down the cost of labour.

It won’t work. It never has.

If you want to run the economy like they do, this is what you'll get:

A few very wealthy people at the top,

No decent jobs in the middle

And a whole lot of low-skill, low wage families barely managing to hold on.

That's a strategy that is as short sighted as it is heartless.

I have no interest in building an economy where only a few get rich, and everyone else gets left behind.

I lived in too many ruined countries where that happened to want to ever see it happen here.

My vision for New Zealand is fundamentally different from the one National is following.

New Zealand should be a place where people know they can get ahead, a place where the world wants to live and a place we can all be proud of.

A place that rewards talent and hard work, that puts a premium on innovation. Where our environment is a driver of our economic success and our economy keeps our environment clean.

A place which grows skilled, well-paid jobs and keeps our kids in New Zealand.

I want to lead that transformation.

I want a fair society where everyone gets a chance.

Where we look after those who need it, but where everyone has a responsibility to do their bit too.

Rights and responsibilities – a society based on that simple social contract.

I want to lead a country that is independent and confident in the world.

Where our values dictate what we say and do, not the persuasions of other nations.

That’s the kind of country we all want.

A few months ago, I spoke of that vision.

I received an email from Paul Callaghan thanking me. Because of course, his thinking had inspired me.

I phoned him back to thank him. For devoting his life to making New Zealand a better place.

He died 3 days later.

His inspiration is still with me.

He argued New Zealand cannot grow wealthy on agriculture alone. Valuable as it will always be, we must add to it and diversify our economy.

We must get behind our new smart, innovative businesses – that are growing faster than any other sector.

They are doing their bit. The Government should do its bit. Under Labour it will.

To realise that vision I promise that from the day we take office, you will see big change.

Right across the economy we will make fundamental changes.

We will replace a simplistic hands-off approach with a smart hands-on one.

Monetary policy will change.

So when the high dollar is killing our exporters we will give the Reserve Bank tools to act on the exchange rate.

Our manufacturers are our job generators.

If they’re doing their bit, we should do ours with intelligent government.

The R&D policy will change.

Most of what New Zealand exports today was known to the world before the industrial revolution.

This government treats Research & Development as 'nice to have'.

We will treat it as absolutely vital to grow our smart businesses so they can take their products to the world.

We'll change our tax system for the better.

We will bring in what this economy desperately needs: a capital gains tax.

We want people to invest in houses because they need a place to live, not because they get a tax free investment.

To shift investment instead into productive businesses to grow jobs.

The savings policy will change.

We’ll enrol everyone into KiwiSaver. That will support our retirement, but also build an investment pool to power our best businesses.

That means companies like F&P Appliances can be owned here, not sold off-shore.

We'll change the approach to productivity.

Kiwis work longer hours than just about anywhere else in the world. But you wouldn’t know it looking at our pay packets.

That’s because the hands-off approach says: “pay low wages, cut back on conditions and ramp up casualization”.

That has to end. We’ll be hands-on. The Minimum Wage will go up. A Living Wage must be our goal.

And Labour laws will be reformed to restore decency.

We are proud of our unions and our origins. We thank them for what they do in standing up for workers’ rights, but we need to be in government to back you up.

The procurement policy will change.

The government spends $30 billion a year on contracting goods and services.

The simplistic hands-off approach says "forget about Hillside Railway workshops, forget about local jobs. Go for the cheapest offshore price."

The intelligent hands-on approach says: “we get much more from each government dollar by investing in a Kiwi company”.

So wherever it's the smart thing to do, we'll prioritise the local supplier.

The approach to education will change.

I started my working life as a teacher. So I have an appreciation of the valuable job teachers do.

And I know a gimmick when I see one.

Bigger classes, unqualified teachers, charter schools and performance pay will achieve nothing.

The intelligent approach, the one I will follow is the one that asks: what will it take to make this education system the best in the world?

Our teachers are demoralised. Yet we all know they are critical to equipping our kids for the modern world.

We know too that shutting schools in Christchurch destroys communities and causes heartache for already distressed families.

I went to a public meeting there after receiving a moving letter from Christchurch mum Sonya Boyd. She’s devastated that her local school will close and is worried about the impact on her son Ben, his friends and in fact the whole community.

At that meeting a parent told me: Hekia Parata is doing what 10,000 earthquakes couldn’t do - destroying our school.

I say to the people of Christchurch: we are committed to helping you rebuild your city from the grassroots up – not the Beehive down.

You want, more than anything, to get your lives back, and on your own terms.

It's time you had a government that stood alongside you.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

So those are the big changes we've already committed to.

To lift the economy. To grow jobs.

Today we add another important item: housing.

Owning your own home is a Kiwi ambition but for tens of thousands of New Zealanders it’s a dream that’s out of reach.

If there is one thing your newspaper tells you every day about life in New Zealand it's this:

We have a housing problem. And it’s a deep seated problem.

If you're a young person today, you look at the cost of houses and you despair.

For the first time, home ownership in Auckland has dropped below 60%.

It’s one of the reasons so many of our young people are giving up and going to Australia.

The National government’s answer fell woefully short of what is needed.

They don’t understand that the market has failed first-home buyers.

The simple fact is we need more affordable houses.

It's time for Government to step up.

And we will.

Today I’m announcing that we will put 100,000 Kiwi families into their first home.

That’s the sort of big change we need to make a big difference to people’s lives.

We’ll oversee and invest in a large scale 10 year building programme of entry-level houses that Kiwis are crying out for.

Yes, it’s a big commitment and it’ll take a couple of years to ramp up, but we can do it.

I won’t stand by while the dream of home ownership slips away from future generations.

At the peak of last decade, about 30,000 new homes were built a year. Now it’s less than half that.

These are the missing rungs on the housing ladder. And it shows what an active and responsible government can do to help.

The start-up cost of the building programme will be financed through issuing government stock called Home Ownership Bonds.

The money we make from selling the houses will go back into the pot for building more.

The houses will be compact in size. Some will be stand-alone dwellings and others apartments. All of them will be good quality and energy efficient.

The homes will be sold to first home buyers who’ve saved their own deposit, like with KiwiSaver.

We estimate that the maximum needed to be raised for a kick-start will be $1.5 billion.

It will quickly become self-funding though. And because it’s a capital investment, it won’t affect our commitment to balance the books and return to surplus.

I can already hear our opponents complaining that this is too bold. That the problem’s too big and there’s nothing we can do.

I won’t accept that. I won’t give up on the Kiwi dream of an affordable home.

I have spoken to Auckland Mayor Len Brown to take up his offer of a partnership with Auckland council to make land available.

In addition, we will introduce a National Policy Statement under the RMA to ensure that planning rules and consenting decisions support affordable housing.

We want to make a difference.

Building 100,000 new houses will create training opportunities for apprenticeships, more jobs and give a $2 billion dollar a year boost to the economy.

This will make a big difference but alone, it’s not enough.

HEALTHY HOMES GUARANTEE

Too many Kiwi families are living in cold, damp and mouldy homes.

This affects their health and their quality of life.

Because of this, we’re seeing the sort of third world diseases that I was battling in Somalia in our own communities here. That’s not right.

Child poverty is a scourge that robs hundreds of thousands of kids of their future.

This cannot continue.

Let me be clear, we are not prepared to have families, particularly children, living in these conditions.

Eradicating poverty will be a top priority for the next Labour Government.

That’s why we’ll introduce a Healthy Homes Guarantee so landlords have to ensure every rental property is a healthy home that’s insulated and has efficient heating.

It’s time for poor quality houses to be brought up to scratch with minimum standards.

The crucial point is: this is about smart government pulling the levers to make New Zealand a better place.

We will take action where the market has failed for the benefit of thousands of Kiwis.

CONCLUSION

We have done the work we needed to do to change ourselves at this conference.

Now it’s time to lift our sights and to come together to change New Zealand.

Our Labour movement has always relied on the hard work of volunteers.

I thank you for everything that you do to support our cause and to support our country.

And now I ask you to join me.

Norman Kirk once famously said: New Zealanders don’t ask for much: someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for.

As much I’d like to, I can’t provide everyone with someone to love.

But everyone should have a job, a home – and a country we can all have hope in.

But we won’t on National’s track. It’s full of disappointment and is taking us nowhere.

We need to change.

We need a new direction.

One that’s about using our Kiwi ‘can do’ attitude to create new wealth.

One that encourages Kiwis to dream of what can be.

One that offers opportunities to realise that dream.

One where everyone who plays their part shares the rewards.

And, one where the government gets stuck in too.

I promise you this: from the day we take office, we will turn over a new page for this country and continue Labour’s proud tradition of progressive government.

We won’t be taking office to tinker, we’ll be taking office to remake New Zealand.

So I am asking you.

To rise up.

To take a message of hope to New Zealanders.

To fight for our future.

To say loud and clear that there is a better way. There is a Labour way.

We can do it, standing strong together.

We can make the change.

And we’ll do that in 2014.

ENDS

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