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Mike Williams Address to the Labour Party Congress

Address to the New Zealand Labour Party Congress
Wellington 17/05/02

Mike Williams

Embargoed to 8.20pm Friday 17 May 2002

Kia Ora Whanau Reipa
Welcome to the eighty sixth Annual Congress of the New Zealand Labour Party
E nga roa, E nga mana E nga iwi.
Tena koutu, tena koutu, tena koutu katoa.

Welcome to Wellington and welcome to Election Year.

I speak to you all tonight as the president of a party, which enters this crucial year, in good heart, great shape and held in high regard by the New Zealand electorate.

This congress marks the beginning of our election campaign, and I want to thank all of you here tonight and those many thousands of Labour Party members at home for working so hard to give us such a firm foundation to fight the 2002 general election.

The bricks that make up that foundation are many and all of us can take some credit.

The Labour Party has unity and purpose.

While political parties fall apart all around us, we have reached and maintained the highest levels of harmony and order. This is not achieved through some kind of top down dictatorship. The Labour Party is a sprawling and vibrant democracy and in any given week there are quite literally scores of meetings of party councils, branches, electorate committees, sector groups, caucus committees, special interest groups and more.

In the past year we have extended our reach into the rural sector and welcomed our first branch from the disabled community.

I want to thank the New Zealand Councillors and especially Mike Smith and Pat Webster for their work on the recently completed party audit. Branch and electorate treasurers all over the country were involved in a thoroughgoing reporting exercise which was hard work, but a complete success.

I want to again pay a special tribute to Te Roopu Reipa, the Maori Labour Party. We have admitted around twenty new Maori branches in the past year and to those opponents who have fantasies about making inroads into that part of Labour’s support base I want to say:

Come and get us. We’re on every hilltop and behind every tree. You won’t even know what hit you.

The Labour party has leadership of the very highest quality.

I first met Helen in 1971.

It was at a Princes Street branch meeting at the University of Auckland.

There was great enthusiasm but there were no chairs.

We conducted the serious business of taking over the New Zealand Labour Party, stopping the Viet Nam war, ending apartheid in South Africa and rendering New Zealand nuclear free, while sitting on the floor.

Thirty-two years later she’s done all that, and, as an additional triumph, we’ve managed to remember the seating as well.

Helen sets incredibly high standards for herself and in all of those years I’ve known her I have never observed anything other than the highest levels of integrity.

When the history of this era is written, Helen Clark will be remembered as the best Leader this Party ever had.

The Labour party has the team.

I don’t have time tonight to mention all of the achievers in this administration but I must single out Michael Cullen, our deputy leader.

We will not win office if we don’t have economic credibility and Michael Cullen gives us that. His dominance in the finance portfolio is such that the National Party no longer ever bothers to attack him and the business community applauds a safe pair of hands.

To come close to us the National Party must try to recruit some real talent. This hasn’t happened, and disinterring a right wing dinosaur whose extremism scared the hell out of conservative voters twenty years ago is simply a gift to Labour.

Michelle Boag was right about one thing, however; the Parliamentary National Party is largely extinct.

Let us ask National – where is your Pete Hodgson?

Where is your Phil Goff?

Where’s your Annette King?

Where’s your Parekura Horomia?

Or Lianne Dalziel, George Hawkins, Steve Maharey, Margaret Wilson, and Jim Sutton – I could carry on.

National’s front bench can’t even foot it with Labour’s backbench.

Where’s their Damien O’Connor, their Winnie Laban, their John Tamihere, their Georgina Beyer?

And we’ve got more to come.

Labour has had a very successful round of candidate selections and let me issue this warning to National – none of your marginal electorates are safe.

From Whangarei to Otago we will push you hard. In many of those electorates the centre-left electorate vote is rapidly consolidating around our candidates.

Equally we have attracted real talent and commitment to our party list.

We have the policies.

At this Congress you will be bombarded with the information on all the major policy areas you will need to fight the election campaign. You will need to take the time to master this material.

We have a very good story to tell, so good that the National Party, in its recent small work of fiction, could find only two supporters, both small business people who had to admit that they were doing rather well under a Labour administration.

Mr Phipps is a National party supporter in this city. Mr Phipps has done rather well selling firewood, though this is possibly because Mr Phipps has access to all the dead wood Michelle Boag says is to be found in the National Party caucus room.

Although Mr Phipps has a BCA degree he has difficulty understanding his ACC returns so the National Party tells us.

This is a terrible indictment of tertiary education under National, something Steve Maharey is well on the way to fixing.

The truth of the matter is that small business has done well under Labour because the social democratic economic model means that small business gets the thing it needs most – customers.

We are united and disciplined, we have the leader, we have the team, and we have the policies.

This is the solid foundation we take into the 2002 election campaign, but we will not succeed without you, the delegates, and we have powerful enemies.

Our very success is our enemy.

With an average of 50% support in recent polls the danger is complacency.

In the British general election last year, the turnout was as low as 20% in some safe Labour electorates. If this were to happen in the MMP environment where every party vote counts, it would be a disaster for our Party.

We must do the basics of enrolment, campaigning and election day organisation better than ever and you, the delegates, must go back to your branches and campaign committees and get that message out.

There have been significant changes in electoral law for this election. These should make participation in the general election simpler and more user-friendly.

Delegates should pay close attention to the congress session which describes these and the changes in overseas enrolment and voting procedures. Although the brain drain has gone into reverse and turned into the brain gain under Labour, there are still many eligible voters – your children, parents and friends who can participate but don’t. We must have the ability to contact those people and I’d ask you to send us email addresses of those people.

Confusion is another enemy.

Research shows that many voters still are unaware of the primacy of the party vote. This is another message you must take back to your branches, families and workplaces.

We will campaign with a very strong focus on this message at the central level and you must get that message through in your communities. The way to get the disastrous National Party back in power through the back door is to split your vote. Just remember what happened in 1996.

Our third enemy is the politics of prejudice.

We have already seen desperate politicians on the right wing fringe grasping into the darker side of human nature for the kinds of issues that might give them sustenance.

The leader of the Act Party, now desperate to avoid political oblivion, was clearly inspired by the success of Mr Le Pen in the recent French presidential election and suddenly discovered immigrants.

He forgets that we are all immigrants in this country whether we arrived in a waka, a ship or a 747 and though it may amuse us to think of a mini Le Pen (perhaps Richard Le Pencil) in our midst, we must always stand ready to vigorously defend the tolerance and openness that has served this party and this country so well.

As a party and a government we have laid a solid foundation for our second term in office.

There is optimism and excitement about our future and our country, which look more promising by the day.

There is innovation and there is a flowering of our creativity.

We have built the base, we can now move forward.




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