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Goff: Labour Party Conference 2009

Hon Phil Goff
Leader of the NZ Labour Party
Energy Events Centre, Rotorua,
10AM Sunday, 13 September 2009.

Eng a mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu. Tena koutou katoa.

Talofa lava, malo e leilei, fakalofa lahi atu, kia orana, taloha ni.

Namaste, assalam alicum, niman hou.

Warm Pacific greetings.

Can I acknowledge and thank Mike Rann, Premier of South Australia, for being with us today.

Andrew Little and Moira Coatsworth, President and Senior Vice President of the party.

Annette King, deputy leader - and I could not ask for a better one, or a better friend.

My wife Mary, whom I fell in love with when I was 18, and my partner since we were teenagers. Too often she shoulders my obligations for me when I’m not there.

Caucus colleagues, delegates and guests.

I want to tell you the story of the woman who taught me why I should be Labour.

When I was a child, she told me about the years of the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, when jobs were scarce, money was tight and times were hard for families.

She and her husband migrated to New Zealand wanting the same things that have brought so many people to this country – a better life for themselves and their kids.

She wanted her kids to learn skills that would ensure they had work. She wanted them to grow up not knowing hunger, homelessness, nor poverty in old age.

She hoped that by working hard, they could build a good life for her children and grandchildren.

But those plans didn’t work out.

Ten years after arriving in New Zealand her husband, a World War One veteran who had fought on the Somme and been a prisoner of war, died. The year was 1934.

Losing her husband, and the income he brought to the family, meant they also lost their home because they could no longer afford the mortgage payments.

She scrubbed floors for others to try to make ends meet for the family.

She wondered how she could properly feed her family, and feared the rent bill.

Feared the cost of taking her kids to the doctor.

A year later, Michael Joseph Savage and the first Labour Government were elected and reached out a helping hand to a family who really needed it.

The Labour Party stood beside her when she needed it, and she never forgot that.

That woman was my grandmother. And today she would have been proud that her grandson had the privilege of standing here as leader of the Labour Party.

Her story is a guiding light today because, although times have changed, Labour’s values endure:

We stand for a fair and decent society that gives all our kids the best start in life and helps them realise their full potential.

We are committed to a New Zealand where everyone who is able to work can get a job. A New Zealand where families have a home to call their own and healthcare is based on need rather than the ability to pay for it.

We are committed to taking care of our natural environment, committed to promoting strong values and an independent voice in the world.

Those are my values.

Those will be the values of my leadership of the New Zealand Labour Party.

The party of a fair go for everyone.

The party of people who aspire to a better life for themselves and their families.

We stand against privilege.

We stand for those who work hard to make their lives better.

We stand for the people who rely on hard work and fair pay to make ends meet.

We put people first.

Ordinary New Zealanders, whose stories drew me to Labour, and whom we are still here to represent.

I went to school at Papatoetoe High. I celebrated growing up in a community where the local state school had great teachers and provided an education at least as good as a private school.

I joined the Labour Party the same year I joined the workforce.

I was sixteen and had just moved out of home. I got a job at Westfield Freezing Works on the chain.

I used the money I earned to put myself through university, and buy a Norton Commando.

I learned a lot from the guys I worked with.

And I never forgot that the taxes they paid helped meet the cost of my education. I learned that working hard was necessary to achieve what you wanted to in life.

But I also knew that a boy from Mt Roskill and South Auckland could seize the opportunities.

The cornerstone of the Labour Party is the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people.

Labour lost office last year because we didn’t make clear enough that our priority was to help ordinary New Zealand families make progress in their lives.

We got elected three times in a row because we did a great job on the things that did matter to people.

We did a great job of producing the lowest level of unemployment in recent history, and brought back apprenticeships.

We put an end to asset sales. We bought back Air New Zealand and Kiwirail.

When the pressure was on to get involved in the war in Iraq, we kept New Zealand out - and our decision was right.

We brought in Working For Families and KiwiSaver.

We made doctors’ visits cheaper.

We did a lot that was right and we are all proud of that. We weren’t voted out for what we did right.

We were voted out because they thought we were getting distracted by sideshows.

The Winston Peters’ funding saga. The Electoral Finance Act. Errant MPs. Smacking.

Lightbulbs. Shower heads.

It makes us uncomfortable to admit that we got these wrong - but if we are to win back the trust of New Zealanders we need to acknowledge and learn from reality.

On occasion, we got it wrong and I am sorry for that. We weren't listening enough.

It’s easy to make excuses, but what people want us to do is to focus on their priorities.

Under my leadership, Labour will focus on what we do best:

• A commitment to jobs and a vibrant, modern economy needed to sustain them.

• A commitment to high standards of health and education.

• A belief in strong communities.

We are at our best when we focus on helping working New Zealanders to achieve their dreams.

Our job is not to judge people’s lifestyles. Our job is to open doorways to tomorrow.

New Zealanders are right to have high expectations of what our country can be in the future while they deal with the daily reality of getting by.

They are right to expect better times ahead when it’s a struggle to pay bills, and have something left over at the end of the week.

Labour will be there for them.

We will be there for families who are working hard and just can’t get ahead.

We’ll be there for superannuitants who have contributed all their lives but are worried that government cuts to super funding might now jeopardise their incomes.

We will be there for families like the young couple living in Christchurch whose winter power bills were over $400. Even with both of them working, they are struggling to pay it.

That’s something we got wrong in the last government.

Power bills rose relentlessly and we didn’t fix the system.

It’s not right that last week a power company paid $230 million in dividends to government while people struggled with their bills.

Those dividends were effectively financed by a highly regressive tax because it falls hardest on those least able to pay.

The power companies mostly belong to us. They should work for us.

Labour can and will stop price gouging. We will not demand excessive dividends coming back into state coffers above what is needed for investment in new generation.

And we will stand resolutely against National’s plan to privatise the power companies.

That would just see profits rise further and go into the pockets of private and overseas owners.

We need to deliver for hard-working families.

Families who have had a gutsful of reckless and greedy people who mismanaged the the finance companies which went broke, robbing elderly and hard-working New Zealanders of their life savings.

Kiwis who know there is something wrong when millions of dollars can be paid in bonuses to chief executives even while profits are falling and workers are losing their jobs with no redundancy payments.

Labour’s priority is to put people first.

The public judge us by our priorities.

I want my leadership to be measured by improving the start we give children.

I will make it a priority to improve the quality of life that kids will have.

Labour will support good parents and we will expect parents to do their bit too.

I want more children to grow up in stable loving families, with good parents, with a steady income, a good home, and health care when they need it.

I know I didn’t get everything right as a parent - like most parents I know, I want to be a better grandparent than than I was a parent.

But I know that good parents do all they can to make sure their children have a better future.

It’s not just about what the government does - it’s about the huge responsibility parents have when they have a child.

That’s why I get outraged about the twelve thousand children a year who get abused.

I am ashamed this happens in our country.

Too many kids are growing up in New Zealand neglected and abused in the first years of their life.

It's not something to be politically correct about.

We have to get tougher on child abuse and neglect in this country and what causes it.

There aren’t easy answers but there are no excuses. Most poor kids grow up to work hard and strive as hard as they can for their own children.

I’ve been Minister of Corrections, and I know that the great majority of tomorrow’s serious adult offenders can be found among the children of today’s disadvantaged or dysfunctional families.

If we reduce the number of disadvantaged kids, we will reduce the number of criminals tomorrow.

When I knock on doors around New Zealand, people talk about the pressure their families are under, with jobs, with making ends meet and getting ahead; and they talk to me about what they want for their kids.

When Mary and I had our three children, the help we got from families and from the local Plunket nurse was really important.

Kids thrive in a strong community where everyone has a place, everyone is included and we look out for our family and neighbours.

Kids thrive when families are not under constant pressure, where they see parents working to get ahead.

After we brought in Working For Families, officials went out and audited it. They asked some of the three hundred and seventy thousand families who got Working for Families what they spent the extra money on.

The three most common answers were: Groceries, school costs and clothing.

These things are not discretionary items. They’re not luxuries.

For Labour, the best way out of poverty for most New Zealanders is a job and a fair wage.

When we delivered the lowest level of unemployment in a generation, we reduced the welfare rolls by tens of thousands. We delivered opportunity and a better future for tens of thousands of young New Zealanders.

If you can work their way out of trouble, then we will expect you to and we will help you to.

That is the idea of Kiwisaver: If you work hard, and make some provision for your future, the government is going to support you.

It’s the idea behind putting money into the NZ Superannuation Fund, so that if we work hard now and put something aside, we will have a better tomorrow.

The National government got its priorities wrong when it cut our Super fund.

What 130,000 people out of work in New Zealand today need is jobs.

Good Jobs. Sustainable jobs. Skilled jobs. Jobs that help them provide for their families, help them provide for the future and enjoy life now.

We don’t agree with National that the best thing to do is sit on the sidelines and just ʻblunt the sharp edges of the recession’, as they put it, while families are hurting and struggling to pay bills as hard economic times cut into their incomes and threaten their jobs.

Like the forecourt attendant in Wellington who was made redundant. The family income halved, but the mortgage payments didn’t. His wife has a job as a cleaner, working sixty hours a week. And because she works hard in a low income job, that family doesn’t get any help.

The help I want most for that woman is for her husband to find a new job, and it’s not good enough to sit on the sidelines.

Government can help by ensuring there are redundancy provisions in employment agreements.

Government can help by backing people who are getting themselves ready for work.

Last Monday, I attended and spoke at a meeting of hundreds of people in Mt Roskill about cuts to Adult and Community Education and listened to what they had to say.

Like thousands of other New Zealanders they are concerned that cuts will destroy the night school classes so valuable in promoting life-long learning and getting back into education people who missed out the first time round.

One of them was Linda Everett. She’s now in charge of Onehunga High’s renowned Business School. She had dropped out of school at fourteen, without direction or a sense of purpose. Night classes made the difference in her life, giving her confidence and the opportunity for a second chance in education. She now has a degree and a top job and is making a huge contribution back to New Zealand.

I am inspired by stories like hers, of people who help themselves. We should be backing them, not taking away opportunities for them.

This government has its priorities round the wrong way, slashing funding for night classes while it’s pouring an extra $35 million into private education where people are already advantaged.

The National Party sit on the sidelines because they are conservatives. They fundamentally accept the way things are.

Whereas we will never be satisfied.

Labour will always have a vision for a better New Zealand.

We will always ask: Why Not?

We will always ask why tomorrow shouldn’t be better than today.

Jobs are created by businesses, not governments. The role for a government is to stand alongside those kiwi innovators who are dreaming of a better tomorrow.

I’m inspired by New Zealanders who sit down at the kitchen table and grow their ideas into world-beating businesses.

Recently I went to see a company called Endace. It sells high technology and cyber security.

The intellectual property came out of Waikato University. It worked with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and it has grown to sell products to over thirty countries, and sales of seventeen million US dollars a year.

That’s why we set up NZTE to get alongside our business and help them grow - not so that government could sit on the sideline.

You don’t create world beating Kiwi companies by doing things the same way. You don’t become world class by fiddling around the edges. You don’t beat the world by being satisfied with the way things are.

You beat the world by inspiration and hard work.

Right here in Rotorua there is a Crown owned research company, Scion.

It does research, working out ways to make new materials out of trees, and use those new ‘biomaterials’ to replace fossil fuels. The technology they create will be used to make clean energy, and get rid of industrial waste.

The work they are doing shows that the environment economy is not an awkward add-on to the rest of our economy. It is right at the heart of the long-term natural advantage and our Pure New Zealand brand.

We need more success stories, and in other sectors of the economy, to generate the jobs and higher incomes New Zealand needs.

Government can help create their success.

Government can work with industry to drive more investment in science, more research, better use of design.

Labour supports science. We support NZ companies succeeding on the world stage.

National’s answer is to build a cycleway to pedal into tomorrow.

National removed the R&D credit.

National abolished the Fast Forward fund.

Labour won’t sit on the sidelines.

I want a high-wage economy built on skills.

Skills at all levels.

We need scientists and researchers. And we need well-trained and skilled tradespeople.

My two sons did apprenticeships.

Now they are both in good jobs in the trades ... along with eighteen thousand other young New Zealanders who finished their Modern Apprenticeships before we left office.

That’s the future for New Zealand.

Education and training are a strength for New Zealand.

When I was Minister of Education I passed legislation to bring overseas students here to study in New Zealand.

Critics sneered at it, but today our export education sector is worth two billion dollars a year.

Education, low unemployment and high-skill jobs all go hand in hand.

One passion for me, and my caucus, is to unlock the future of young Maori and Pasifika students.

There is no issue more important for our Maori caucus than improving the achievement of Maori kids in education, because that is the best way of opening opportunity for young New Zealanders.

I want to see the education system doing as well as it can for all young New Zealanders.

More and more young New Zealanders are Maori and Pasifika. They have to be successful, or New Zealand won’t be successful.

So I pledge to young Maori and Pasifika: under Labour you are going to do much better. You are going to achieve more. I want you to be a breakthrough generation.

When we got unemployment down to record low levels, Maori and Pacific unemployment came down to record low levels.

And now when unemployment is rising, it is rising fastest among Maori and Pacific workers.

The future we offer young Maori and Pacific New Zealanders is a future of jobs, of starting out on your own businesses and working hard to make your own tomorrow.

I think of new migrants in my electorate who face a language barrier to getting a job at a time when unemployment among Asian New Zealanders is approaching 8 per cent.

The National government has cut support new New Zealanders were getting to improve their language skills through adult education, and therefore find work, get ahead, and contribute more to New Zealand.

We are a diverse country, and that diversity brings us strength. Our migrant community makes a huge contribution. National sits on the sidelines, Labour says:

get in there and get active.

We need strong communities.

We need a government committed to jobs.

I want New Zealand to succeed.

New Zealanders expect us to make any contribution we can to New Zealand’s success, too.

And, therefore, when the government is working constructively, we will work with them.

That’s what we are trying to do on the emissions trading scheme. We need that to create a clear incentive to reduce emissions, to create certainty for business, and especially to promote investment in forests. We need a scheme to protect our branding as 100% Pure New Zealand, and we need it to restore our credibility in international climate change negotiations.

So we will co-operate to try to secure an outcome that preserves the integrity of Labour’s legislation.

Delegates, this is the first time in a decade that we have come together as a party in Opposition.

This is a time for renewal.

New governments get some latitude, and people give them a fair go.

We will use this time to rebuild ourselves.

You worked hard last year and Labour members are disappointed at our loss. And now I am asking a lot of you: to go out from here with renewed purpose, strengthen our branches, rebuild our membership and finances.

Your MPs will do our bit.

We have a united and talented caucus.

I want to praise the quality of the 14 new MPs who joined us last year. And I am proud of the colleagues they joined whose talents and judgments have been tested, and who once again are being asked to work, to be a strong Opposition...and in two years and two months to be ready again to govern for New Zealand.

If we are going to get there, New Zealanders will expect us to show we have heard their message; to show we can be trusted.

We have to once again earn confidence in our values, confidence in our ideas, and confidence in our ability not just to promise a better life for New Zealand families, but to deliver it.

We can earn that trust.

We were tested during the by-election in Mt Albert in June. We had to show we were ready to listen again. And we did.

You and I went out there walking from street to street, from shopping centre to shopping centre, knocking on door after door after door, because we needed to listen and we needed to align ourselves with the community and what its concerns were.

And because we did, Mt Albert endorsed Labour, and sent a good new Labour MP to Parliament.

When we show New Zealanders we are relevant to them, we will earn their trust again.

Labour is the party of change and renewal.

This is a time when we must change, when we must challenge our thinking and our assumptions.

Labour has strong and enduring values, and these won’t change.

But we need to be bold and embrace new ideas.

I am not going to promise the world. I am going to say to New Zealanders that you will know what you are getting; we won’t be a party of surprises.

We will be a Labour Party with the priorities of New Zealanders at our heart.

Listening to people and to communities.

Offering the best possible start for children.

Jobs, and an economy that helps working families.

A New Zealand where there is opportunity for families striving to achieve their dreams to make tomorrow better than today. These are Labour’s priorities. These are our priorities for New Zealand.

I pledge we will work hard for a fair and decent society.

Every single day I will listen carefully to New Zealanders. With your support, with your activism, with your passion for a fair and decent New Zealand we will set ourselves a course of being a strong government, capable of advancing the ordinary, working New Zealanders we represent.

Thank you for your commitment, thank you for your support and thank you for your work to put people first.


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