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Delivering For Working People - Anderton Speech

Hon Jim Anderton Speech Notes

Address to the SFWU Annual Regional Delegates Conference
Petone Workingman's Club, Udy St., Petone.

10:30AM Thursday, 16 November 2000

President, Sue Wetere,
National secretary, Darien Fenton,
Central Secretary, John Ryall.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

I would like to begin by thanking you for two things,

The first is your help and support with the election.

The general election. Nearly a year ago.

You remember what the campaign was like.

The Shipley/English Government was a shambles. Each day you woke up you wondered if the government was going to make it to the end of the day.

It was a government with no moral authority, propped up by MPs who had left their parties.

It was a Government that refused to listen to working New Zealanders.

It was a government that presided over a recession in 1998 and in 1999. The real incomes of working New Zealanders were falling. There were more than two hundred thousand jobless and there was no prospect of getting the number of jobless down.

Working people, unions, business people, ordinary New Zealanders did get rid of that Government. We now have the first Government in a generation that is governing truly in the interests of ordinary working New Zealanders.

The SFWU played its part in bringing about that change of government. We will continue to work together.

Last week I spoke to the NDU conference in Auckland and they are talking about a formal and stronger relationship with the Alliance.

The second thing is to thank the SFWU for training two cabinet ministers, one MP and party president that are crucial members of the Alliance Team.

Your union has proved an excellent training ground for committed, progressive political activists. Not only have we gained Matt Robson, Laila Harre, Willie Jackson and Matt McCarten but our Coalition partner has also a swag of MPs from your union.

To me this shows how active and focussed your union has been on achieving political change, and working for your members.

I believe the Alliance is as pragmatic and focussed in making change. We have concentrated on what we can achieve.

Already the Labour Alliance Coalition Government has increased the minimum wage.

We have put the ACC back together. And in the next round of ACC reforms the scheme will be restored to one that provides working people with genuine compensation for their injuries.

The Labour Alliance Coalition has repealed the Employment Contracts Act which will give your union the opportunity to rebuild and organise to support workers rights.

The new law shows that this is a Government committed to a modern economy and fairness in the industrial workplace.

It was only a few months ago that our opponents in Parliament were predicting the Employment Relations Act would signal the end of western civilisation as we know it.

With each passing day, their prophecies of doom look more ridiculous.

Good employers have found that their constructive behaviour is rewarded. So it should be.

The old Employment Contracts Act was simply incompatible with a modern economy. It was based on the principle of driving down wages. Of poorer quality jobs. National and Act could never explain how they expected workers to be better off if they were paid less!

The economy we want to build is based on a platform of rising incomes and better quality jobs.

We have to compete in the world by being more creative and more innovative. By developing skills and rewarding them – not by paying workers less. We have to create a New Zealand where the rewards will be spread more fairly.

Under the ECA, the cake hardly grew, while those at the top helped themselves to larger and larger slices.

The Employment Relations Act is one example of the difference a new Government has made.

I know that we didn't get all we wanted in the new Employment Act. As I said before, the Alliance is pragmatic, we cannot get everything.

Government is about working together in partnership.

Over recent months the Government has gone to great lengths to assure the business community that it, too, has a role.

The reality is that no Government can hope to deliver jobs, rising incomes, security and opportunity for New Zealanders without the co-operation of the business sector.

The willingness of the Government to co-operate with business doesn’t mean that the union movement is excluded. Nor does it diminish or undervalue your role.

There was a high-profile forum involving the business community in Auckland two weeks ago. It was valuable. We learned a bit about each other and developed some good ideas.

It’s an approach to governing that we can do more of.

There are going to be three Community forums in Auckland Wellington, and Christchurch. Unions and community organisations will be invited to discuss the issues that the government is working on.

Unions recognise they have a legitimate place at the table with business leaders as they make decisions affecting workers. So, too, the Government wants to work alongside all productive New Zealanders, and their representatives.

It’s a matter of balance, co-operation and good faith in the interests of everyone.

This Government is working for all New Zealanders. We've had around 25 years of very rough times indeed. Ordinary New Zealanders, particularly those in service jobs or in the regions have taken some very hard hits in the last 25 years.

There has been a programme of letting everything hang out there and do its own thing in a free market sense. This meant that if all the country's money ended up overseas , or in the hands of a handful of people in Auckland and Wellington then that would be fine as this was the market making up its mind.

That was never a sensible social or economic development policy. It was an experiment. And the experiment failed. And in the process its been devastating for a whole lot of New Zealanders, your members, my constituents, our families, hundreds of thousands of people.

And where does the real strength of New Zealanders lie? Not in the high-rise office towers in Wellington and Auckland, but in the ability to develop and build on new technology, manufacturing processes and our competitive advantages.

We have to apply our ingenuity and innovation. Are we capable of doing this? The answer is resoundingly, yes. Absolutely, unequivocally, yes. How do I know that?

Well I know because I am a loyal New Zealander and I have always believed New Zealand was the best country in the world anyway. But I also know it because I have been from one end of New Zealand to the other, on 22 regional visits and other shorter stops, and I have visited hard working, innovative and creative New Zealanders. And I can tell you there are hundreds of thousands of them. This room today is full of talented hard working kiwis.

And no matter what doom and gloom you hear from the people who tell you it's all over for us it has only just begun. Even the opposition is saying the economy is much better than it was. Yesterday we found out that Bill English has been saying, to his National Party caucus behind closed doors, that the outlook is not to bad at all. It has just begun because the real New Zealanders are standing up. The real New Zealanders who want to build this country. The 60 per cent of New Zealanders who want a Kiwi Bank are standing up.

As you will probably know, the Alliance came into this Government promising a kiwi bank, which has gone much further than our critics thought it would.

We will be making an announcement on this before Christmas.

A bank that has lower fees, is owned nationally and provides a full range of services will help working people, and those on benefits, and therefore our whole community.

We are introducing income-related rentals for state house tenants within two or three weeks.

We are making retirement more secure through the superannuation fund. By putting aside some of the surplus today, a government in the future will be better placed to meet the needs of the retired work force. You can plan for your retirement with some security that the Government has the means to pay New Zealand Superannuation to all New Zealanders in retirement for the next 50-60 years and that’s about as certain as you can get!

National and Act are preparing to go to the election saying they will wipe out the certainty which the Labour-Alliance Coalition is delivering.

Working people should be very wary of their plans. What they want to do is to cut entitlement to superannuation so that they can give tax cuts. It is your super they will be cutting, but it will be the highest income earners who would get the tax cuts.

Of course there is more the Alliance would do and will do when we are re-elected if we can.

We would remove the barriers to education and get rid of the student debt burden. Entry to university or polytech should be on the basis of a student’s ability – not their ability to pay.

The Alliance would invest in a free public health system, so that New Zealanders who need a doctor or who need medicine can get the care they need when they need it.

The Alliance would have more ambitious policies to improve conditions for working New Zealanders -- a minimum of four week’s annual leave for everyone.

To those who have asked what happens to these policies – my message is simple: Give the Alliance the strength in Parliament we need, and we will deliver them.

We are able however to deliver on many of our core policies now.

The Alliance put paid parental leave firmly on the agenda and we will see a paid parental leave scheme introduced by this Government. It was announced in the speech from the throne at the beginning of this Government and will happen in this term of Government.

My colleague the Associate Minister of Labour Laila Harre is working on the details with our Labour coalition partners.

It will ensure that working parents are not penalised for their decision to start a family. And it will ensure that employers who want to employ young parents are not penalised.

Our first challenge is to deliver more jobs and rising incomes for working New Zealanders.

The statistic that I am most proud of since I became Deputy Prime Minister was the unemployment announcement two weeks ago.

It showed that unemployment is at its lowest level for twelve years.

There is still a long way to go. The Alliance could never be satisfied with unemployment still at the level that it is.

That is one of the reasons why the Alliance has voted against the Singapore Free Trade Agreement.

Not because this particular agreement will have much of an effect one way or another on unemployment. It won’t. It doesn’t make much of a difference overall.

But because trade agreements should always include protections to ensure that jobs are not lost and working conditions are not eroded.

However the Jobs Challenge is about much more than opposing things. It is about putting together the economic development policies that will create more jobs. Building a partnership-economy where the Government works with the community to create improved opportunities for all of our citizens.

The economy has not delivered for working people for over 25 years. We have been falling steadily behind other developed countries. The debt has been growing. Unemployment has remained high. Incomes for working people have not improved significantly at best and have even fallen for many New Zealanders.

The Coalition is investing in the regions and helping innovative new industries and businesses to grow.

I believe our commitment to stronger regions, more jobs and rising incomes is a credit to this Government.

The Government New Zealand has now is working smoothly and co-operatively – but it could easily have been different.

Don’t forget, this is a minority Government. We have to find someone else in Parliament to co-operate with us before we can do anything. Yet you would hardly notice that because of the sure, constructive and stable way that the Government functions.

I believe the Alliance has played a crucial role in ensuring that stability.

Yes our Labour colleagues deserve considerable credit too. But this government would almost certainly not exist without the Alliance.

And imagine the alternatives.

Remember the shambles created by Winston Peters when he was in Government? Remember how the tail tried to wag the dog? How the country was repeatedly held to ransom. The brinkmanship. The chaos.

And if you think that was bad, could you imagine New Zealand First and the Greens trying to co-operate? I don’t want to personalise the issue – but imagine a government that had to try to deal with those potential time bombs day in and day out.

The alternative to that is a Government of Jenny Shipley and Richard Prebble.

Think of those two every time you feel some disappointment over this government. Imagine what a government of those two would be doing.

The Employment Relations Act would not have been repealed. It would have been toughened.

New Zealand Post would not be getting a kiwi bank. It would be sold, along with TVNZ, the remaining power companies, the hospitals and even the roads.

I don’t think that is a New Zealand you even want to contemplate.

Only the Labour-Alliance Coalition can provide the stability, security and progressive policies necessary for improving the wellbeing of all New Zealanders. And the only way to deliver that Government is to ensure that the Alliance continues to have a strong role in it.

I want to close by assuring you that I am available to this union to work co-operatively in improving security and opportunity for working people – just as I am available to other organisations, to community groups and to the business community.

In fact I have a challenge for you. If you believe there is something the Government can realistically do to create jobs, or lift the incomes of working people, I want you to bring your ideas to me.

Together we can achieve great things for each other and our country.


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