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Green Party Tariff Meeting - Maxine Gay Speech

SPEECH NOTES
MAXINE GAY
GREEN PARTY TARIFF MEETING
8 DECEMBER 2003

Thank you to the Green Party for organising this meeting on tariffs and the clothing industry this evening.

Our union wants to thank the Greens (and the Alliance, who organised a similar meeting here a few months ago) for continuing to campaign for jobs and sensible economic policy that will ensure that regions such as the Horowhenua prosper instead of declining into an industrial wasteland. This decline is an even greater possibility given the decision of Government on 29 September to reintroduce a reducing tariff regime that could still see the elimination of tariffs by the end of 2010.

Why is the Government so fixated on 2010 to bring all tariffs to zero?

Because in 1994, the then prime-minister Jim Bolger agreed at an APEC meeting in Indonesia that developed countries in the Asia Pacific region should move to free trade by 2010. However this so-called agreement was "voluntary" and "non-binding". Almost every other APEC member has said it will not reach this target. Yet this current Labour Government is fixated with this date and all trade policy seems focused on reaching this goal. Never mind the economic cost, never mind the workers losing their jobs, never mind the regions going down the tubes. And never mind that that under the WTO rules we could raise our tariffs to 37% and still meet all our international obligations.

What is even more bizarre is that in 1999, the Labour Alliance Government, supported by the Greens, instituted a tariff freeze. And listen to what their ministers said at the time.

We have unilaterally disarmed ourselves on trade but very few others have been so foolish.
Helen Clark, New Zealand Herald, 10.04.2000

We are not going to reduce our tariff barriers unilaterally, just because some ideology says we should. We do not believe in unregulated free trade, in the law of the jungle.
Jim Sutton New Zealand Herald 22.11.2001

No amount of industry development was compensation for the "stupidity" of the previous Government, which had opened up the country to cheap imports.
Jim Anderton, New Zealand Herald, 31.03.2000

New Zealand's past policy of cutting tariffs faster than its trading partners had cost "tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands" of jobs. I think it's sending a signal to New Zealanders that we think jobs are important and we are no longer following a blind ideological approach to tariffs. The signal to other countries is that no longer can New Zealand be relied on to be foolish.
Trevor Mallard, New Zealand Herald 11.04.2000

And Trevor Mallard again:

The new Government, the coalition Government, is putting an end to all of the unilateral removal of tariffs. We do not believe that a small country like New Zealand can possibly gain from that process. We do not have the will, or the advantages, of economies like Singapore and Hong Kong. We do not have the massive population base of China. Other countries are not flocking to follow our example. What we do have is a small, but very important, manufacturing sector, which is critical in terms of employment and of regional well-being. Our view is that we need a balanced economy, and we need a balanced approach to tariff levels that consider the overall well-being of that economy.

[The government is] ill-disposed to shedding tariffs in advance of the rest of the world. The time has arrived for common sense and a clear focus on the best interests of the nation. We are acting now before New Zealand's remaining tariffs disappear completely without a sign of offsetting benefits for our people.

TARIFF (ZERO DUTY REMOVAL) AMENDMENT BILL Second Reading

What is the difference between the Labour Government of 1999 and 2002?
No Alliance and no Greens. The Alliance is out of Parliament and Labour decided it would rather have support from the right wing so called common sense party and consign the Greens into the opposition.

The 84 page Tariff Review that the government released a few days after it made its announcement is an interesting document. Even although it contains a very dubious economic analysis that tariff reductions will not lead to job loss, two regions were identified as likely to suffer negative impacts, Horowhenua and the Wairarapa (page 10).

Yet what have we heard from local MP Darren Hughes in the fight to keep tariffs and keep jobs in the Horowhenua? Nothing. All Darren has done is "feel sad" for redundant clothing workers, get his office to keep in contact with the local branch of WINZ and support Labour Party policy.

Why was Darren not leading the campaign to keep tariffs and to keep jobs in the Horowhenua? Why did Darren not become the Damion O'Connor of the Horowhenua?

This union tried a number of times to sit down with Darren, but he was always to busy. We finally succeeded one night in parliament, but that only lasted about 10 minutes because he had to rush off to vote on the Prostitution Law Reform Bill.

Naively, at that time we actually thought that Darren supported us and would advocate our position inside the labour caucus. How wrong we were.

When we heard that Darren was coming to see our about to be made redundant workers at Wisharts in response to their letter, and knowing how busy he was, we sent a detailed letter to him and a draft statement that we asked him to make.

What was his response? To attack the Clothing Workers Union and its officials for "attempting to hijack the situation" and pushing a "particular political message".

In an article which appeared in the Timaru Herald, Darren said "when I turned up at the meeting [at Wisharts], the union secretary, Maxine Gay, had already prepared a statement she wanted me to sign, saying I would fight for tariffs etc. I refused, I am capable of making my own decision."

Here is a copy of the statement that we asked Darren to sign. It doesn't even ask him to fight for tariffs. The most it asks is that he says "I undertake to oppose in caucus, with the Minister of Commerce and publicly, any attempt to try and reduce tariffs to zero by 2010. I believe that the textile, clothing and footwear industries should continue to have tariff protection until all countries agree to reduce their tariffs to similar levels under the WTO."

Darren accuses the Clothing Union of pushing a "particular political message". We stand guilty as charged. Our political message is that the livelihood of clothing workers should not be sacrificed on the alter of free trade. It is indeed a shame that a Labour M.P. who is paid more than $100,000 a year to be political refuses to stand up for his electorate.

If the MP has been a great disappointment on behalf of clothing workers in the Horowhenua, I want to thank Mayor Tom Robertson, Tony Rush and his team at Enterprise Horowhenua and Peter Roe and other members of the TCF cluster group for fighting the good fight.

What then should we all do now to try and save the TCFC industry in Horowhenua and the rest of the country.

First, there will be another tariff review in 2006 to look at what happens to the tariffs post 1 July 2009 when they will be 10%. We need to start work now to ensure that the last 10% of tariff is not removed by this review. This time we are hopeful that the local MP will be with us and not against us.

Second, this union has put huge resources into the establishment of Textiles NZ, an industry development organisation for the TCFC industry. We put money into the establishment fund, our industry officer Robert Reid serves on the establishment board. This body will be launched in Wellington on 10 December. We are eagerly awaiting the speech of the Minister of Economic Development at this launch to see if the government is willing to fund the transition of the industry to meet the challenges of the new tariff regime.

The tariff review calls for this support, however every government since 1987 has said it will provide some form of industry assistance at the time of tariff cuts, but not one has delivered. If a substantial package was earmarked for the industry then it might just be possible that it could weather most of the storms created by the next round of tariff cuts. If no funds are provided, we will indeed become a dead industry.

Finally, we have made representations to Enterprise Horowhenua and NZ Trade and Enterprise for the Kapiti / Horowhenua region to make the TCFC sector the key industry for a major regional initiative. This MRI, if accepted by government can bring in up to $2 million of economic development funding.

Again, this union through its industry officer, Robert Reid, has done an initial scoping exercise of what such an initiative could look like. We see the Horowhenua becoming the TCFC capital for the lower North Island and eventually for the country as a whole. We see the possibilities for TCFC development not just confined to what is being produced now. Flax fibre is making a comeback; this region was the centre of the flax industry a hundred years ago. It could be again. Trials of hemp growing are being undertaken in this region already. Textile manufacture from hemp as our green friends will tell us has endless possibilities.

We are hopeful that the Enterprise Board, the local councils, the polytech, Massey University and local TCFC employers will come in behind this proposal. It may be our only chance of ensuring that a TCFC industry and the employment that it brings to local people remains.

ENDS

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