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Jim Anderton address to EPMU conference

26 July 2000 Speech Notes

Address to the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union Annual Conference

3:00PM Wednesday, 26 July 2000

Quality Hotel, Campbell St, Logan Park Auckland.


I would like to begin by paying tribute to your outgoing President Rex Jones.

Rex brought this union through a critical time in trade union history. It retained strength and resilience at the leading edge of trade union activity in New Zealand, and much of that is due to Rex and his foresight and ability.

The members of this union owe him richly for that.

I came to this conference in 1998 and said we needed to invest in the regions of New Zealand and in industry development.

I said we needed to focus on job-rich development, especially in high-tech industries that bring a competitive advantage to New Zealand

I said, "New Zealand faces a choice between the continued decline of regions like Northland, the East Coast of the North Island and the West Coast of the South Island; or investment to create jobs and wealth in those areas."

And I told this conference that we need to invest in people too…through fair workplace laws -- and through a modern apprenticeship scheme.

At that time, two years ago, I said there was only one way New Zealand would get the investment it needs in its economic and social future.

That was through the election of a Labour-Alliance coalition Government.

It is my privilege to come here today as the Deputy Prime Minister in that coalition Government.

Members of this union contributed heavily to the election of this Government and I acknowledge that contribution.

I want you to know that your effort was worthwhile.

The two-party relationship in the coalition is very strong.

A businessman I met in Christchurch thanked me for the role the Alliance is playing. He might not be an Alliance voter, but he was thankful for one crucial point.

He said to me, 'imagine what it would be like for business confidence if we woke up every morning wondering whether the government was going to survive.'

Because the Alliance could be playing the sort of role that NZ First played when it was in Government. But we don't. We're constructive.

The Alliance acknowledges we got 8% of the vote.

Of course, Labour didn't win the election on its own either.

The Alliance doesn't have a mandate for our entire manifesto. We do have a mandate to govern with Labour. We have a mandate for a voice at the table. We can argue for our policies. If we can convince people of the merits of our policies, we will achieve them.

Approval ratings for MMP have gone from the low thirties to the mid-seventies.

The Government is delivering on the commitments we made before the election.

We are delivering an industry and regional development programme that will revitalise the regions of New Zealand.

It will promote many of the high-technology industries in which members of the EPMU work. They are the industries that will deliver jobs and rising incomes for working New Zealanders.

We are delivering on regional development.

We are delivering the modern apprenticeship scheme.

And we are delivering fair industrial legislation.

It has been a quarter of a century since we had a government that put ordinary working New Zealanders first.

There is a privileged five per cent or so who have had twenty-five years of government in their interests.

And it is time now for those who have had it all their way for so long to accept that the country needs to restore some balance to the social, economic and environmental equation.

I believe that is a message that is palatable to all but a few who still haven't realised there was an election last year.

The Government has made much greater efforts in recent months to talk to the business community.

In period of a day and a half last week, for example, I spoke to a business breakfast in Wellington, flew to Auckland and met with a leading corporate, spoke at a cocktail hour business function, had dinner with some of the most innovative businesspeople in the country, spoke to another business breakfast, met another very large corporate, and then flew to Christchurch to open a new business-research facility located on the technology frontier.

There is a good reason for all of this activity.

The economy depends on successful enterprise for the jobs and rising incomes we want to create.

The Government recognises that the development New Zealand needs is dependent on a partnership between business and central government – and also with trade unions, local communities and local government.

And despite the business confidence surveys I've read so much about, I am finding that there is good will out there.

Most businesspeople are accepting of the need to develop the economy.

They are accepting of the need to Close the Gaps.

No New Zealander who has a commitment to this country and its future could accept or tolerate the disparities that we have allowed to open up here.

The gaps in New Zealand have widened further and faster than in almost any other country.

These are reflected in the disparities in real, concrete measures of our well-being: The share of national income, jobs, suicide rates, adequacy of housing.

The development of wide chasms is an economic, social and human catastrophe.

In the Government's commitment to do something about those gaps, I believe we have the support of New Zealanders.

Most of you here today have spent the greater part of your lives struggling to close the gaps.

Now, at long last after so many years of struggling almost alone, you are joined in partnership by a Government that is prepared to show leadership in repairing the damage.

Part of the repair job that needs to be done includes a new framework for workplace law.

New Zealand unequivocally needs some balance back.

From the business meetings I've had, I believe there is growing awareness that good employers will not be undermined by fair industrial relations legislation.

In fact, the Employment Relations Act looms nowhere near as large as factors such as the need to transform the industrial base of the economy.

I have had far more representations about the need for New Zealand to train more scientists, and engineers and software technicians than I have had representations about the dependent contractors clause of the ERB.

That is not to belittle the importance of the ERB…but I haven't heard a peep from National or Act about attracting and retaining more scientists and technicians.

Yet that is a topic far more crucial to our future as a country.

I am very impressed that, in that regard, that the EPMU has scheduled sessions at this conference to talk about information technology, and about industry development.

What has been lost in all the rhetoric about the Employment Relations Bill has been the need for this legislation.

In my view, the Employment Contracts Act is incompatible with a high-wage, high-skill economy.

It is designed for an economy where we compete only by driving down the cost of labour.

In fact the successful economies of the new century will not be the cheap labour economies.

The successful economies will be those that are built on skill, talent and innovation.

There has been far too little attention paid this year to the stories of working people who need fair industrial legislation.

I want to challenge the attitude that the modest increase in the top marginal rate of tax "punishes" the hardest working New Zealanders.

This is the attitude that says the woman who cleans airports in the middle of the night and then struggles home in time to make her kids lunches and get them off to school is not hard-working.

The New Zealanders who have been left behind are not missing out because they're lazy.

The main reason they are missing out is that they lack lawful backing for their ability to organise with their fellow workers to secure a fair, balanced share of the wealth they help to create.

The battle for jobs and rising incomes hasn't been made any easier by our economy's lacklustre performance.

After fifteen years of restructuring we still have nearly two hundred thousand jobless New Zealanders.

New Zealanders have been leaving in record numbers to go overseas not to escape paying higher taxes.

Far more have left to find work or to find higher incomes.

Some, particularly our youngest and brightest, leave because we have burdened them with massive debts for their education.

Many left to experience what the rest of the world has to offer.

All too often they left because the rest of the developed world has performed so much better than New Zealand.

There isn't much we should or could do about young New Zealanders who want to go and see the world – in fact I encourage it.

But there is so much we can do about our poor economic performance.

I want to put the failure of New Right free-market economics into perspective.

When Muldoon left office in 1984, we were told the economy was nearly bankrupt. Our total overseas totalled one and a half times our exports. It was nearly two-thirds of our GDP.

Now, after fifteen years of free market economics, the debt is greater than our GDP. It is three and a half times the value of our annual exports. Last year we spent eight thousand million dollars more overseas than we earned.

The last time we earned more than we spent overseas was 1973!

Our per capita GNP – that is the value of everything we produce in New Zealand, divided among each New Zealander -- is falling compared to other developed countries.

We are getting relatively poorer.

In 1970, there were two countries with commodity exports of about a billion dollars. Taiwan and New Zealand.

Taiwan developed a strategic industry development plan to become an exporter of high-technology products that the rest of the world wanted to buy.

It now exports about $125 billion a year.

New Zealand, in contrast, exports about $33-billion.

So Taiwan won that race.

New Zealand left its economic destiny in the hands of first Muldoon, and then Douglas, Prebble, Richardson, and then even Bill Birch.

(One day someone will total up the full extent of the economic damage done to New Zealand while Bill Birch was in Government. Never has one man caused so many to owe so much to so many overseas lenders).

What New Zealand failed to do was to take a proactive partnership approach to developing the economy.

I know you have heard a presentation from Rik Hart this afternoon about Industry development in New Zealand.

I'm not going to repeat the ground he has covered.

But I am here to assure you that the government is fully committed to a new approach.

We will work in partnership with the regions.

It has been a generation since we had a development dimension in the government's economic policy direction.

For the last decade, regions and businesses in them have been working on strategies and plans for development.

Central Government has been the missing partner.

We won't be any longer.

I'm travelling the country to visit every region to help identify opportunities for individual businesses and special projects, as well as for local and regional development.

I am overwhelmed by the positive attitude of people who are committed to regional New Zealand.

It is the people who have stayed in the regions that have helped to build the flavour and the spirit of their communities – in Moerewa, Te Kaha, Opotiki, Whangarei, Gisborne.

That is what glues New Zealand society together

It is not just the captains of industry talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of investment that is important.

It is the people on the ground.

That is what New Zealand communities are about.

That is what gives me great optimism.

From one end of NZ to the other, there are people who are passionate about what they are doing.

And they are passionate about their communities.

That is the solid foundation from which we can build.

People live in the regions because they want to be there.

They want to be able to continue to live there, get a job there, bring up their kids there and allow their children to get jobs there.

It's this kind of life-style choice and regional difference that is the essence of New Zealand and New Zealanders.

It is for them – those ordinary New Zealanders – that the coalition Government has set out on a new economic policy direction for New Zealand.

Media enquiries: John Pagani [press secretary] 025 570 872, 04 471 9172.

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