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Cullen: Closing speech to Labour Conference

Mon, 15 Nov 2004

Closing speech to Labour Conference

Fellow Delegates

It is my pleasure for the eighth time to address you as deputy leader of this great Party and to close the conference.

I look forward in future to continuing to serve you and our country. I realised the other day I was on to my sixth Deputy Leader of the National Party. I still have the appetite for more.

Over this last year, Helen Clark and the Labour led government have faced and overcome many challenges. We saw the strange rise of Dr Brash. Or should that be the rise of the strange Dr Brash?

Now we are seeing the long, slow decline of Dr Brash. And as Dr Brash himself would say "we're very comfortable with that."

It was a strange phenomenon. One speech seemed to cause for a while a shaking of the political earth. That was strange for two reasons. The first was that it was delivered in that flat, monotonous, stumbling style which has made Bill English look like one of the great parliamentary orators of our time. Indeed, as one who suffers somewhat from the problems of snoring, I am thinking of recommending it to Dr Brash so he does wake up from time to time.

Second, to continue the theme, the content seemed to indicate that Dr Brash had been asleep for well over a century and has woken up to discover, much to his surprise, that Maori had not died out. And he was clearly not comfortable with that.

For a while, a bumper sticker slogan on race seemed to attract a good part of the public as National revived, though not greatly at our expense. Rather the third parties, including the Act Party, suffered (in that case suggesting there is a just God).

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But after a while it began to become clear that Dr Brash was one of the hollow men: a headpiece filled with straw whose dry voice whispered quiet and meaningless things. National's one note song failed to play with the Te Arawa lakes issue. In the meantime, National has lost the few talented Maori members it had.

What we have not so far been entirely successful at doing is fully revealing Dr Brash's extreme agenda on a range of other issues. As we build towards the next election, that extremism will need to be understood by New Zealanders who want a strong public health system, who want fair access to education, who want a balanced industrial relations system, who want an internationally responsible and independent New Zealand, who want to keep public ownership of key assets, who want responsible and sustainable environmental management, and who want a fairer society.

Dr Brash stands for extreme positions on all these matters. All that we have fought for and achieved over the last five years will be at threat if he were to become Prime Minister.

These achievements are many. We have every right to be proud of who we are and what we have done.

For the last four years we have enjoyed one of the most successful economies in the developed world. We have outstripped Australia in economic growth for those four years. We are now in the top half of the developed world on so many indices that it is hard to keep up: · Top half for growth · Top half for low unemployment · Top half for ease of doing business (1st in the world) · Top half on key educational standards And so the list can go on and on.

This has been against the background of a world of terrorism, war, disease, oil crises, and many more negative factors.

We are especially proud of our achievements in terms of increasing employment for Maori and Pasifika New Zealanders. We are a Labour government, delivering jobs to the people. With that goes falling numbers of people unemployed, falling numbers of people on benefits and reduced spending on social welfare as a percentage of GDP.

National cut benefits, we've slashed the number of people who need them.

There has been no fluke about this growth. A profligate, foolish, ideological National-led government would not have sustained nor produced the gains that have flowed from it. Even Dr Brash has been travelling around the regions telling them that they have buoyant economies.

Growth and prudent fiscal management means that public debt has fallen substantially as a proportion of national income. My first few years in Parliament were spent watching a semi-crazed National government lifting public debt to the point where servicing it consumed nearly one tax dollar in every four.

We are now in the position where the cost of debt servicing is more like one tax dollar in every twenty.

And on the other side of the ledger, we are building up the New Zealand Superannuation Fund for our children and grandchildren so that they can live in security in their retirement. National is still trying to work out its policy on the Fund. It can't make up its mind whether to abolish it or try to misuse it for political ends. They are attracted to abolition because the Fund threatens far too many New Zealanders with the awful prospect of a reasonable standard of living in retirement.

Growth and prudent fiscal management means that we have been able to invest in health and education to improve our social services. Annette King's Primary Health Organisations have been an outstanding success - and National wants to abolish them. Schools are far happier places than they were five years ago - and National wants to go back to bulk funding, performance pay and ideas about national testing.

We face some big challenges still. We are not seeing the productivity gains in our health system which is commensurate with our level of investment. In post-compulsory education we are still investing too much in courses of dubious worth and too little in areas such as trade and technical skills vital to our future.

But Steve Maharey and Annette King are addressing these problems which we inherited from our predecessors.

And now, growth and prudent fiscal management are enabling us to deliver real gains to many hardworking, battling New Zealand families.

The Working for Families package is the first very big dividend from growth and prudent fiscal management. It will, over time, put about a hundred dollars a week on average in the pockets of families earning from $25,000 to $45,000 a year. It will improve the returns to employment for those moving off benefits. It will simplify the benefit system and remove anomalies within it. And it will lift tens of thousands of New Zealand children out of poverty.

No wonder Dr Brash is very uncomfortable with that!

The other major feature of the Budget package was a huge boost for childcare and early childhood education. From 1 July 2007 three and four year olds will be entitled to 20 hours free early childhood education a week. And the number of families eligible for the Child Care Allowance is being dramatically increased.

At the other end of the system the biggest lift ever in the parental income threshold for student allowances means nearly 40,000 students will be eligible for either new or increased allowances.

A massive package for the 15 to 19 year old age group marks a giant leap towards our goal of ensuring that all young people get a kick start to their working lives. We are introducing a new Youth initiatives scheme, personalised career planning for secondary school students an expanded Gateway and Modern Apprenticeship programmes. Even since the Budget we have lifted our targets in some of these areas.

By means such as these we are ensuring that we are creating a fairer and more inclusive society. Under National we saw rising levels of poverty and social exclusion. Under Labour we see these levels coming back again. We have a long way to go; but in five short years we have come a long way.

It is not just unemployment being at its lowest levels for seventeen years that is the proof of that. So are crime levels, while crime clearance rates are at their highest for even longer. Under Labour there are fewer criminals, but also a lot fewer criminals going unpunished.

In the end, our long-term aim must not be to put more people in prison. Prison populations are a measure of failure as much as success. They measure the failure of individuals and the failure of society.

That is particularly so since the populations of prisons do not reflect that of society at large. Males are overrepresented. But so too, hugely so, are Maori and Pasifika peoples. That is why our success with Maori and Pasifika employment, Maori and Pasifika health, and Maori and Pasifika education is so crucial.

Our record on Maori matters in particular is second to that of no other government in New Zealand's history. The rate of historical treaty settlements is increasing and Margaret Wilson will go down as the most successful Minister of Treaty Negotiations in history.

Alongside of that we have brought to a successful conclusion the Maori Fisheries Settlement. This will mean massive assets will be finally freed up to support Maori development. The Maori Television Service, despite enough teething problems for a whole nursery, has got off to a hugely successful start to life.

The number of Maori enrolled in tertiary education has more than doubled since 1999, Maori life expectancy has increased and Maori unemployment is at its lowest for eighteen years.

In this year's Budget, we dedicated $10 million to expand the Maori Business Facilitation Service and another $8 million to build Maori business networks. $23 million will be spent over four years to implement the Maori Freehold Level Registration Project to ensure Maori land is correctly recorded in the land titles system which will greatly aid raising capital for development. This, of course, was a project promoted by John Tamihere.

Which brings me to the difficult issue of the foreshore and seabed. Few issues in our time have caused so much division about so little of substance. Various groups from Maori sovereigntists to some public access groups to most political parties have built mutually conflicting piles of theory and conspiracy resting upon no solid foundation of fact or law.

Over recent weeks and months we have been through a select committee process which has all too often demonstrated that. Russell Fairbrother, as the chair of the select committee, the other Labour members and the rest of the Maori Caucus Committee have been in ongoing discussions with Margaret and myself about the way forward. More recently I have been involved in discussions with Dail Jones, MP on behalf of New Zealand First. As a consequence, my own public comments have been minimal, in order not to pre-empt the processes underway.

But as we approach the passage of the legislation it is, I believe, necessary to state some facts, however much they may get in the way of many people's theories. For this is too important a test of our ability to move forward as many people in one nation to allow nonsense and prejudice to prevail.

We need to understand five things.

The first is that this is not an issue about the Treaty. It is an issue about how the common law rights that Maori had in 1840 at the assumption of sovereignty by the Crown can best be expressed. Any solution has to leave the historical and contemporary framework in relation to the Treaty unaltered.

The second is that the Crown has asserted ownership of the foreshore and seabed, by legislation and other means, for a long time. Three times Parliament has legislated that ownership is vested in the Crown. Legislation such as the Resource Management Act is incomprehensible without the assumption of Crown ownership with respect to the foreshore and seabed.

Third, the Court of Appeal did not say Maori owned the foreshore and seabed. It did say that the Maori Land Court had jurisdiction to determine whether areas of foreshore and seabed were Maori customary land. But in so doing it made clear its view that this would be unlikely to apply to large areas. As the Chief Justice put it, "the assertion that there is some such land faces a number of hurdles in fact and law. "What the Court did not make explicit was that because the relevant act was meant to apply to dry land the fact that this could lead on to freehold title created an unintended consequence, inconsistent with New Zealand tradition built up over many decades.

Fourth, irrespective of the jurisdiction of the Maori Land Court, the High Court has an inherent jurisdiction to consider the nature and extent of common law rights up to the level of what is usually called aboriginal title by the lawyers. But as the best expert evidence to the select committee demonstrated, aboriginal title did not amount to freehold title and would not apply to the water column itself.

Fifth the most important and widespread of use rights, those in relation to customary fishing rights, have already been recognised, regulated and provided for. What we need to do, and are doing, is to accelerate the implementation of the existing framework.

A clearer and, in some cases, more honest acceptance of these facts would both reduce the extremism of some of the claims to ownership which have been made and the fears that many pakeha have expressed. Gerry Brownlee is not about to become a stranger on the shore. He is strange enough in the House already.

So what do we need to do? Essentially three things.

The first is to put beyond doubt that the Crown is the legal and beneficial owner of the foreshore and seabed. This is in order to protect it on behalf of the people of New Zealand including the association of whanau, hapu, and iwi with areas of the public foreshore and seabed. The foreshore and seabed lies in the public domain for the use and benefit of all of us.

Second, Maori have a particular connection to some areas of the foreshore and seabed. We need to legislate to protect those particular interests. While under tikanga Maori these connections may be regarded from a holistic perspective they usefully break down into certain components. That is in part because, under the law as it now stands, some elements would be dealt with by the Maori Land Court, some by the High Court.

What we have proposed all along, and will legislate for, is that the unintended consequences of the Te Tura Whenua Maori Act should be removed. Making it clear that the Crown is the legal and beneficial owner of the foreshore and seabed on behalf of the people of New Zealand is the essential element of that.

But what the Maori Land Court is peculiarly well equipped to do, consistent with its current jurisdiction and its kaupapa, is to provide a formal means of recognition and protection for those common law customary usage rights not covered in the fisheries legislation. These are not likely to be large or numerous. But what this whole controversy has thrown up is the fact that the current law is not adequate in relation to the recognition and protection of these common law rights.

The second area is to continue to improve the effectiveness of the current processes of consultation with respect to the RMA, the Local Government Act, and other relevant legislation. The original proposal in the Bill for the issuing of Ancestral Connection Orders by the Maori Land Court was intended to aid this process by making it clear who should be involved in decisions about what areas.

It is a proposal which, though supported by local government, has been heavily criticised in submissions from Maori.

The third area is to recognise that the controversy has thrown up the hitherto unutilised possibility of going to the High Court to explore the nature and extent of customary rights, including what are called in the Bill territorial customary rights, that is aboriginal or customary title.

The jurisprudence on this is not well developed in New Zealand, much more so in Canada and Australia. The Bill will spell out two things.

First it will spell out the threshold for what would have been required to demonstrate the existence of territorial customary rights. That includes tests relating to continuity, contiguity of land ownership, and exclusive use and occupation. This is consistent with the expert evidence given to the select committee.

The Bill provides for redress instead of the ability to gain an ill-defined customary title. Much argument has occurred over how far the Bill should go in spelling out the form of the redress.

A number of Maori submissions proposed what has loosely been called the Okahu Bay model, after the Ngati Whatua governance arrangement there. This has clear attractions, but should not prevent the possibility for direct negotiations between a successful applicant group and the Crown.

And nothing in any of this affects past or future Treaty settlements. The remaining issues with respect to the Tainui claim, for example, are best dealt with within the Treaty Settlement process, not within that of the foreshore and seabed legislation.

At the end of the day, after all the huffing and puffing, what we will end up with compared with the position eighteen months ago is a clearer expression of ownership, guarantees of access, better recognition and protection of customary usage rights not already provided for, and clear legal rules around the possibilities of redress where there may have been hitherto unexplored possibilities of territorial customary rights. And for those going through the Treaty claims process nothing has been changed, pre-empted or foreclosed on.

Given all that this Party has delivered to Maori this scarcely seems justification for a new party, let alone the civil war a few fringe elements are calling for. The problem seems to be that for a small group there is no legitimacy in our present constitution and most New Zealanders are really only visitors with a lesser status and lesser rights.

I do not accept that and nor does the government. The real enemy is on the other side of the political fence. We have a leader of the Opposition for whom the Treaty is a quaint historical quirk, best left to the past like some of his own ill judged forays into monetary policy instruments.

A deputy leader of the opposition who regards any assertion of Maori rights as a threat to civilisation as he has not known it.

A party which has said it will close Maori Television, remove Treaty provisions in legislation, resume the social and economic policies that marginalized Maori, and has relegated its only Maori MP to the bottom end of the Caucus with no real role. What is really sad to see is our former colleague, Tariana Turia, on behalf of the Maori Party, voting with them on nearly every issue now, including those of confidence and supply.

National is more and more simply a series of bleats from the past. Almost every policy they put out is either going back to where they were before or, like the nuclear issue, is simply an obvious fudge because they are scared to say what they believe in.

The one thing they consistently say is we should run a looser fiscal policy. A recent 2005 budget advice paper to me from Treasury explained that an extra fiscal stimulus "will see a higher interest rate path than otherwise would have been the case." One would have thought that was one thing a former Governor of the Reserve Bank might have known. After all, he was paid nearly half a million dollars a year to know that.

The truth is that as we approach next year's Budget and the longer term future there is plenty we want to do: probably more than we can afford.

But we will be outlining some key areas for new and further development over the next year. We need more early intervention in the first three years of life especially so we can avoid wasting money later on on courts and lawyers and prisons. We need to be creative now so that we can be less punitive in the future.

We need to ensure that the idea of an ownership society, of an asset-rich society not just for a few, is our idea. That means helping people to save for their future, for housing for example, and for a better standard of living in retirement. We need to capture these issues so that they become a means of creating a fairer and more inclusive society, not an unfairer and less inclusive one.

We need to lift the capacity of our businesses to compete here and overseas. More research and development, more export assistance, a simpler tax system, reducing the cost of capital and increasing investment in cutting edge technology are all things we have under examination right now.

It is about building better paying, more productive jobs, growing businesses, and a more confident society, a New Zealand we can be even prouder of. Where in the miserable greed and mudslinging of Mr Hide or the wittering obsolescence of Dr Brash will you find any hint of such ambitions?

It is only the retention of a Labour led, Helen Clark led government which will continue the journey we have begun. It is a journey we are proud to lead and one that New Zealanders in all their great varieties, represented at this Conference are proud to take.

Every year we are in office, we are making New Zealand a better and more worthy place for all our people to live in. It is an enormous honour to be part of this. It is a huge pleasure to work with Helen and the rest of our team. It is a privilege to serve you. On behalf of all my colleagues I ask for your support to allow us to carry on doing the job we are doing so well.


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