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Rod Donald: "Let's get New Zealand working again"


Hawkes Bay Public Meeting
NCC Community Room
Clive Square, Napier
12 July 1999
Rod Donald MP
Green Party Co-Leader

The greatest indictment on our society is that thousands of people languish on the dole while many more have become the working poor. It's past time to stop this tragic waste of human potential. Not having a job is bad enough but it's no better for those on minimum wages. Yes, they have a job, but it doesn't pay enough to live in dignity and provide their children with a future worth having.

At the end of March this year 3,117 Napier residents were out of work and looking for jobs which don't exist. Throughout the East Coast Region there are 10,760 workers without a job - 2,459 in Hastings, 3,380 in Gisborne and 1,814 in Wairoa and on the East Coast. More than half are Maori (5,933) and many are young - at the prime of their working lives. These people are your friends, members of your family, your neighbours, your former work-mates and they deserve better.

The lack of jobs, particularly in provincial areas, should be a major issue at this year's election. It is certainly a big issue in the public's mind, rating the highest or second highest pressing concern for voters in opinion polls.

All the political parties should be vying with each other to convince the country that they have the best strategies to ensure everyone who wants a job can get secure, rewarding work in return for a comfortable income. In my view it won't happen. It won't happen because the "grey" parties do not share a sustainable, just vision for New Zealand. The National Government continues to sell the wage workers and small business people of this country down the river with their destructive economic policies, all the while wringing its hands about the consequences.

Labour at least recognises that there are serious problems but they are too wedded to the global economy for their "third way" to have a decent impact. ACT doesn't even rate employment as an issue in the campaign. They are only targeting voters who don't believe governments have a role to play in creating the right social and economic environment for people to flourish. The Green Party is serious about getting New Zealanders working again. Our enterprise and employment policies are solutions-focused. They tackle the structural causes of unemployment. They reflect a radically different outlook from the other parties - community driven, rather than state imposed or solely market led.

We believe jobs for the future will come from valuing different things - looking after people better and looking after the environment better. Taking this course is an act of political leadership, not just a business development strategy.

It is that "common-sense" leadership which is so desperately lacking. Most New Zealanders rightly expect their elected leaders to offer a vision for the future which embraces their aspirations, to prepare the plans and create the framework to achieve it, and to lead the way. That is a challenge we readily accept.

But even a Green Government couldn't and wouldn't want to do it alone. Real change is only ever achieved when there is a creative partnership between leaders and those who elect them. As consumers and business people, workers and job seekers, local councillors and parliamentarians and members of our community we all have an important part to play to get New Zealand, and Hawkes Bay in particular, working again.

We would encourage a major shift to organic food production, for export - taking a lead from Heinz-Watties' success - and the domestic market. We would end work for the dole which punishes the victims of the government's economic policies and reinforces the myth that the unemployed don't try hard enough. We would increase the minimum wage so that parents can bring up their children in dignity on the equivalent of one full-time wage. And we would halt the export of New Zealanders' jobs to Asia and Australia. That means tackling the myths of free trade and making New Zealand self-reliant again. Free trade has destroyed more jobs than it has created. Free trade is the reason why New Zealand is not paying its way in the world and instead is borrowing and selling off our assets to fund our excessive consumption. Free trade is why we import a whole host of things we should be making ourselves.

The New Zealand economy is in a mess. Our balance of payments deficit stands at around $7 billion or 7% of GDP, and its likely to get worse. Despite constant claims from the government that New Zealand is experiencing an export-led recovery, for the last five years in a row we imported more goods than we exported.

Our trade deficit for the year to May 1999 was a massive $1.5 billion, the worst in New Zealand's history. The preceding deficits were: 1998 - $478 million, 1997 - $432 million, 1996 - $643 million and 1995 - $422 million - to give a total cumulative deficit for the last five years of $3.491 billion. By way of comparison, there was only one deficit in the previous eight years. What used to be a cyclic event has now become a permanent fixture under free trade.

Exports have certainly increased but imports have risen even faster. What's more, imports of consumption goods, ie goods which have no New Zealand content, have increased by 28 percent in the last five years. Compare this to imports or raw materials for processing of 11 percent and plant and machinery, which need workers to operate them, of only 9 percent. National's pursuit of free trade in an international environment of managed trade has left the people of New Zealand exposed in a way no socially responsible government would allow. It also left the New Zealand economy exposed in a way no economically prudent government would contemplate. The Shipley Government continues on its trade liberalisation crusade despite the lack of empirical evidence to demonstrate that as a nation we are better off in net terms as a result. Reducing tariffs at a faster rate than our trading neighbours has led to New Zealand importing goods which we used to make ourselves, putting people out of work in the process. I know of one long standing clothing company which in the last two years has exported less and imported more, has placed 90% of its capital investment overseas creating 200 new jobs off-shore and has shed 250 workers in New Zealand.

You have lost more than your fair share of jobs in the East Coast region. Cedenco to Australia; brewery, milk plant and bank closures; downsizing of the meat industry and seafood processing; changes at Heinz-Watties and shrinking government services, especially in the health sector. Do we have to lower wages and casualise the work force even more before we have the labour market flexibility that National claims is necessary to create "a positive environment in which the public and private sector can do business"?

The answer is "no". The Green Party believes governments should accept responsibility for creating the economic conditions which lead to full employment so that everyone who is capable of working has a real job which pays a living wage.

National clearly doesn't. The March Household Labour Force Survey reveals that the number of full-time jobs has decreased by 19,000 in the last year. The number of part-time jobs has increased by 30,000 over the same period and the number of unemployed now stands at 221,900.

The export of New Zealanders' jobs has been the single biggest 'achievement' of Labour and National's free-trade policies. According to a BERL study, for every million dollars worth of goods we import 20 jobs are lost in New Zealand.

On this basis, 20,000 jobs have disappeared since the last election because of the increase in consumption goods alone. Many of these jobs were obviously in the manufacturing sector, eg factory workers in towns like Napier and Hastings, but others were from the primary sector, eg farm workers in Gisborne.

Every time we buy a packet of Arnotts biscuits we are providing jobs for workers in Australian instead of New Zealand. We are exploiting workers in China and putting New Zealanders our of a job almost every time we buy an item of clothing from shops such as Hallensteins or Glassons. The same goes for discount importers such as The Warehouse.

Cheap imports are very tempting, especially if you are unemployed or on a low income but remember, the more cheap imports we buy the less chance those who need a real job will ever have of getting one that supports them and their family. Those of us who have more discretionary income have a moral obligation to buy locally-made products.

I certainly get a lot more pleasure from spending my discretionary income on New Zealand-made clothing, food etc in the knowledge that it helps people to keep their jobs than I get from paying taxes to be used to provide people with benefits because there aren't enough jobs.

Its not only that an increasing proportion of what we consume is now made somewhere else. It also means that more precious non-renewable resources are being used to transport those goods around the globe when they could have been made at home by local people participating in their local community.

As Tim Hasledine says in his recent book Taking New Zealand Seriously - the Economics of Decency: "Imports may be the spice of life, but they are not the meat and potatoes of a healthy national diet."

The Green Party believes that self reliance is the key to our prosperity, not only to create jobs but also to reduce our dependence on imported goods and foreign capital. As communities we need to reclaim our economic sovereignty as a nation rather than further expose ourselves to the predatory global economy.

Vibrant community level economies aren't just a nice idea. They are the foundation stones of a decent society, a self reliant nation and a sustainable future. I believe the survival of provincial towns such as Napier, Hastings, Wairoa and Gisborne and their surrounding rural communities depend on rebuilding your local economies right now. Supporting local businesses - businesses which are locally owned and staffed and businesses which source their products and services locally - is a good place to start. It stands to reason that if you support a local business there's more chance they will support yours, especially if there is a commitment in the community to strengthen the local economy. I am pleased to announce that the Greens are putting this policy into practice. Today your local candidate, Angie Denby, and I have launched the Green Party's "Shop Local" campaign in the Hawkes Bay. We have begun providing locally owned and operated retailers with "Shop Local" signs for their windows and leaflets promoting the benefits of supporting local businesses. We are also encouraging joint advertising in the local paper and will be producing "Shop Local" car stickers and posters.

Locally owned and operated shops create more jobs for every dollar of turnover than chain stores which send their profits out of town. Think of the local economy as a bucket into which money flows from local people and shops. If money is being siphoned off or the bucket is full of holes then the money will disappear pretty quickly. So plug the leaks! Make sure locally created wealth is reinvested in your town, to generate more jobs and improve the community's well-being.

Capital also leaks out of local economies. The demise of Trustbank highlights the loss of local control over where people's savings are invested. While many people have shifted their accounts to New Zealand's last 100% owned bank, TSB of Taranaki, this is not an option for everyone and neither is it a satisfactory way of ensuring local savings are reinvested in the community where it comes from. There are other alternatives such as building societies' credit unions and organisations like Prometheus but these don't exist in every community or don't provide a full range of services.

The Green Party is exploring the possibility of creating a new network of community banks to give people the chance to invest in a local bank which, in turn, would provide capital for local business ventures which are having increasing difficulty raising loans from conventional banks. Another significant 'leak' from the bucket are the tax dollars which the government siphons off. Reducing taxation is not the best way to plug this leak. Instead communities need to demand value for their taxes. In addition to getting a fair share of government-provided services towns the size of Napier and Hastings should rightly demand that a government head office is relocated here, leading to more of your tax dollar being returned to the community through the purchase of goods and services by public servants.

To compensate for leaks and to improve the overall well-being of the community the bucket can be topped up by increasing revenue from 'exports' of goods and services and from tourism.

Identifying and marketing unique attributes - the points of difference which make a place special - are the key to boosting tourism income. Napier has led the way with art deco but there are other opportunities with potential, eg eco-tourism.

Some options for increasing the income of a local economy include shifting to organic production which offers price premiums over ordinary produce, diversifying into new crops such as hemp and processing more farm production locally. Crops for Southland's Topoclimate South project is an excellent example of an innovative an enterprising approach to increasing both farm incomes and local employment.

Last but not least, we must strive to ensure everyone gets their fair share of the wealth in the bucket rather than some people having so much they waste it and others not getting enough to fully participate in society. Between 1980 and 1994 New Zealand experienced the largest rise in income inequality among OECD countries, despite the economy growing. Simply filling the bucket is not the answer. The real challenge is to make sure 'the poor' are not left waiting for the leftovers to trickle down to them and that there is plenty of wealth reserved for our children. I believe most middle and upper income New Zealanders would rather reclaim their quality of life - secure, rewarding jobs, feeling safe in their homes, having time to enjoy the company of friends and family, sharing an environment they can cherish and knowing their children have a future - than having more money in their pockets from tax cuts. Some of those taxes could then be spent on regional development programmes in areas like the Hawkes Bay to better utilise existing public, private and community sector infrastructure and at the same time take the pressure off Auckland, which is growing unsustainably.

Shifting expenditure from the defence budget to sustainability projects such as public transport, sewage and waste management, public health, organic agricultural production, energy conservation, environmental restoration and the community sector would create more work. Reducing tax on work and enterprise and introducing eco-taxes such as a carbon tax and a levy on hazardous substances would help us progress towards sustainability and justice. Realistic tariffs would benefit import-competing industries and help achieve import substitution. I believe the only reason unemployment is not higher in the Hawkes Bay is because young people have moved to the metropolitan cities in the hope of finding work. That not only undermines the economic infrastructure, it also destroys the social infrastructure. Fewer people means fewer volunteers for the local fire brigade and fewer candidates for councils, school boards and PTAs.

Voluntary effort is the glue which holds our provincial communities together. Policies of successive governments have torn apart the fabric of our society. This downwards spiral must be stopped. The upheavals over the last 20 years are a direct result of governments abdicating their responsibility to look after the best interests of all New Zealanders, including our children and their children. That's where governments are meant to make a difference. As elected representatives, we have an obligation to ensure that we leave the world in a better place than we found it.

The objectives of the marketplace are fundamentally different and destructive. Maximising profit in the short run, externalising costs onto the rest of society and the environment is simply not sustainable. Yet too often good people do bad things because they see no alternative. Governments are meant to balance our individual desires with the common good. National does the opposite, forever pitting our selfishness against our sense of community and then wondering why our communities are falling apart.

Growth for growth's sake is a recipe for disaster. Of course we want to facilitate growth in a whole host of areas - public transport, renewable energy, production of durable goods, environmental restoration, wellness and well-being. But we're also committed to reduce pollution and waste, to stop the destruction of native forests, to end the chipping away of urban green belts.

We look beyond tomorrow when we decide what is good policy. We are committed to achieving a sustainable future - living within the planet's capacity to support us and every other species. And we are committed to a just world. That means challenging greed and its shadow, poverty. Some people say the Greens are idealists. I say to them that we are the realists and the other parties are the dreamers. Our vision is relevant for the new millennium. In fact, we are the only party that's planning to be around for the next one!

ENDS

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