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Speech: Labour Leader Helen Clark

2000 web siteSpeech: Labour Leader Helen Clark
To the launch of the Labour Campaign for the 1999 Election

We launch our campaign today in this historic town hall, in this great city which I have been proud to call home for 36 years.

As a first-time voter in 1972, I came to this hall to hear Norman Kirk outline his vision for our country.

Twenty-seven years later I stand here at the start of another campaign which will take Labour to government.

Because just as it was time for a change in 1972, so is it even more time for a change in 1999.

The circumstances are similar: New Zealand is drowning under the weight of a discredited National Government - which has invented plenty of excuses, but no answers to the nation's problems.

But on top of that, this dying National Government has exposed New Zealanders to a political shambles on a scale never before seen in this country.

Propped up by a ragtag mob of defectors and opportunists, it has clung to power, but failed to govern.

It leaves behind it a stumbling economy, shattered public services, older people and families struggling to make ends meet, businesses closing, and public sector management which too often puts its own needs before service to our people.

Today we launch not just an election campaign for Labour.

Today we launch a crusade to reclaim our country

o from those who govern for the few, not the many
o from those who have abused the trust put in them by the public
o from those who have their noses in the public trough.

We call for nothing less than our nation's revival and renewal as we enter the 21st century.

Our country was built by ordinary people pulling together to achieve extraordinary things.

It was built around the basic value of fairness - that if you put in a decent effort, you would be rewarded.

That if bad luck or adversity struck, the country wouldn't stand by and see you struggle on your own.

That in old age you would be honoured and respected for your contribution to building our country.

And that we would all pitch in together to build an infrastructure of services for health, education, security, and communications which we shared!

In the nineties, National, goaded by Act, and supported by political defectors, has deserted those basic values.

But New Zealanders never have. We want our country back - and we are going to get it back.

A new government for a new century; making a fresh start for New Zealand. That is our mission, and from this day until midnight on 26 November we will take this mission throughout New Zealand.

People want our nation to step out boldly on a new path. Only a Labour-led government can lead the nation along that path of opportunity, security, and fairness, and to a new identity which defines us as a bold, innovative, energetic, and creative people.

We don't just want to change the government. We want to change the direction of this country.

We will govern for the many and not the few.

In May I released my personal commitments to the people of New Zealand.

I said then that we are lucky to live in New Zealand because we are blessed with so much that is good. We are a young and beautiful country with an enormously exciting future. We have achieved a lot and we can achieve a lot again.

My plan is about hope; it's about rebuilding. It's about investing in people and our future. It's about putting the public interest first. And it's about leadership.

Because I do have a vision of the New Zealand I want our children to grow up in.

I want them to look forward to building their lives in New Zealand as my generation and generations before us have done.

What many parents fear now is that their children will leave and never come back because of the lack of opportunity in New Zealand. They tell me they don't want to have to go to London or New York or Perth to see their grandchildren. They want them here - and so do we all.

I have a vision of a nation which offers opportunity
- through a dynamic and growing economy
- through education
- through artistic and cultural expression
and the opportunity to participate in a society which values every contribution its people have to make.

I see a nation which is proud to say that it cares for its sick through a fine public health system, and cares for its old through a decent New Zealand Superannuation scheme.

And I see a nation which treasures its heritage - its Maori, Pacific, and many other cultures, and its wonderful natural heritage of forests, mountains, lakes, rivers, seashores, and unique bird and animal life.

The defenders of privilege would deny us all that.

They don't care about unemployment as long as they are making money.

They don't care about making money on the backs of workers who have seen their working conditions drop for years.

They don't care about the state of public health and education because they've gone private.

They don't care much about the police force either because they hire private security.

And they would rather make money out of despoiling our environment than enhancing it.

The "don't care" parties have held sway in the interests of the few not the many in the nineties.

Their time is over. Ours is just beginning.

We will rebuild New Zealand starting with those core pledges I have made.

The task is urgent. The challenge is great.

Our living standards are crashing, relative to those of others.

We can't keep first world living standards on the back of third world exports.

We must unleash the creativity of our scientists, researchers, designers and innovators in the search for new products that we can sell to the world for good prices.

We seek nothing less than economic transformation. But we know it won't just happen.

And that's where smart active government comes in.

That's why my pledge to you says we will create jobs by promoting New Zealand industries and better support for exporters and small business.

Because we know hands-off government has let New Zealand down, and will always let it down.

The country is crying out for leadership, for a vision for economic development that embraces not just our cities, but our regions as well.

We have that vision and we have the practical policies to back it

· through partnerships for local and regional development promoting industry clusters
· through better tax treatment for research and development and faster depreciation for investment in technology
· through development grants for technology businesses
· through access to venture capital and small business grants
· through a hand-up to exporters through export credit guarantee schemes
· and through putting the interests of New Zealand ahead of free market purism every time.

We want the New Zealanders with the new ideas for products and services at the top of the value chain to be able to create them here and prosper here.

By being here they also create jobs and opportunities for others.

And we want a strong manufacturing base in New Zealand. Bendon should have had a future in this country.

That's why we will freeze all remaining tariffs at year 2000 levels for at least five years, or until key trading partners match those levels.

We will work with the affected industries on policies to support them in the transition they want to make to high value, sustainable production in New Zealand.

And we will not force deregulation down the throats of our primary producers. So long as they back their producer boards in their single desk selling and functions, we will back their boards in their work to maximise returns to New Zealand.

Industries like kiwifruit know from bitter past experience that if they don't stand united in the world's markets, all growers get dragged down.

The primary industries are just too important to New Zealand to allow that to happen.

By backing our entrepreneurs, our innovators, and our industries, we will build a strong economic base for this country. We know that New Zealand can benefit far more than it presently does from the talents of its own people. Too often now we are losing that talent and its entrepreneurial spirit to other countries. We want it expressed here.

Fundamental to building a strong economy will be the investment we make in our people.

The new economy requires new skills and high levels of education.

We will back our children's education from the very start-line

Right now, the big needs are in tertiary education and training.

It has become too expensive and too hard to get ahead.

Student debt is a monster out of control.

Young people are giving up. First year enrolments at our universities are dropping. Record numbers of students are leaving the country on graduation to escape their debts.

On the campuses, I meet those about to become refugees from student debt. How could I forget the student completing his doctoral thesis who owes $70,000? He leaves next year because on the salary he could earn here he knows he can't pay back his loan. What a waste. What a loss for New Zealand.

That's why my pledge to you is that Labour will cut the cost to students of tertiary education, starting with a fairer loans scheme.

Under Labour, full-time and other low income students will pay no interest on their loans while they are studying. And there will be much better repayment terms to bring student debt under control.

I believe student debt is pushing our young to leave this country, and that's what I am determined to change. We need them here, building a better New Zealand for us, and we must make it worth their while to stay.

We will do that through more affordable education; by building an economy with skilled and challenging jobs and opportunities, and by offering the next generation a quality of life environmentally and culturally which they won't want to give up.

The future is with Labour, and it is with our hundreds of thousands of young people who look to us to provide the opportunity for them to get ahead and have a decent life in this country.

And a word for all those families who would love nothing more than to see their children able to get into an apprenticeship and get a full trade or technical qualification.

We've got news for you. Labour will pass a new Apprenticeship Act and rebuild the apprenticeship system. We want well qualified tradespeople and technicians to help drive the nation's economy.

The strong new economy we build will rely not only on well educated and skilled people, but also on healthy, well housed, and secure people.

I promise you that we will rebuild our public health system and our public housing, and the basic security we all hunger for in our communities.

My pledge to you in health is that we will focus on patients not profit and cut waiting times for surgery.

We will judge the health of our health system not on whether or not it makes a profit or a loss, but on what it does to keep our communities healthy.

Earlier this month, two news stories shocked me.

On morning radio, I heard of the worst outbreak of TB in Whangarei for twenty years.

In the Herald that same day I read of the Northland public health system making a profit for the third year running.

Who can take pride in a health system which gloats about its fiscal surpluses while its people fall prey to Third World diseases?

That's not the kind of New Zealand I want to live in.

Under Labour, the commercial ethos will be dropped from our health system, along with the commercial boards of directors.

Under Labour, the public is coming back into the picture. The public will elect its representatives to health boards, and the public will hold them accountable.

And the Labour Government will accept responsibility for getting better results by improving the health of the community; putting better mental health services in place; and reducing waiting times for surgery.

These long waiting times are part of National's plan to privatise health services. They want more and more people to pay for their surgery. So they keep the waiting times long. That racket is going to end. People are entitled to get their treatment in a reasonable time, and it is one of Labour's top priorities to see that they do.

Improving the health of the community requires action on many fronts.

We can do so much better on immunisation. Too many of our children are falling through the cracks of the health system and are left exposed to diseases which should be distant memories.

Who would have thought that we would ever see an epidemic of whooping cough in New Zealand again? It was banished when I was a child - but now it is back with a vengeance.

Labour will work with Plunket, family doctors, and Maori and Pacific Island child health providers to make sure that every child has access to good health care, so that no child risks death or disability from totally preventable diseases.

Good health in our communities will also come from having more people in work and all people adequately housed.

Time and time again, our churches, charities, and researchers tell us that National's market rent policy for state housing is taking a terrible toll on the health of low income people.

I meet families who just can't cope with the rent and have left their state house. Yet it was for low income families that the First Labour Government had the vision to begin building those houses.

Our vision is to see those families back in those houses, paying a rent they can afford, and standing tall and independent and confident.

That's why my pledge to New Zealand is that Labour will restore income related rents for state housing so that low income tenants pay no more than 25 per cent of their income in rent.

I have a passion for putting this right - and for making sure that after paying a fair rent, families have enough money to feed and clothe their children, heat the house in winter, and take part in the life of our communities.

Surely that isn't too much to ask in this first world nation of ours?

To older New Zealanders, I make a very simple pledge: We will reverse the 1999 cuts to superannuation rates.

Labour is not prepared to see older New Zealanders sink into poverty. Next April we will bring superannuation back up to the base level agreed in the Superannuation Accord of no less than 65 per cent of the net, average, ordinary time wage for the married rate. The single rate will be adjusted in line with that.

We believe in universal superannuation, and we will guarantee it in the future by putting a proportion of all income tax into a separate fund which cannot be used for any other purpose.

One of the ways in which New Zealand has changed for the worse is in the level of crime. I grew up in the countryside where no-one ever locked their doors. Not any more - and certainly not in our cities.

Crime doesn't soar in a vacuum. High levels of deprivation make it worse. Those terrible crimes committed by young men from Mangakino and Kaingaroa graphically illustrate that. But that doesn't help the victims or their families.

Labour will be tough on the causes of crime by tackling unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.

But we also want a stronger drive against crime itself. The police deserve our support in doing their job better and having clear targets to focus on. They will get those clear targets. Under Labour we pledge to crack down on burglary and youth crime. The two go together. Burglary is the entry point for criminal careers for the young. Nipping it in the bud now will pay huge dividends later in lower crime rates.

New Zealand's strong desire for security and fairness demands that we tackle other issues too where the powerful dominate over the powerless. Fairness and security in the workplace are fundamental to our values as a Labour movement.

That is why we reject the Employment Contracts Act. It is unfair to workers. It is a barrier to developing a skilled and productive economy. The Employment Contracts Act will go.

And so will privatised workers' compensation. Nowhere in the world can it be shown to be as cost-effective as single public fund models like our ACC. The attack on ACC has truly been a triumph of ideology over commonsense. We stand for commonsense and for what is known to work - not what is known to fail.

Among the many defining issues this election are three which stand out for me personally and on which I pledge action.

Arts and Culture

As Prime Minister I will be Minister of Arts and Culture. I want our artists and performers to be given the profile, the recognition, and the support they deserve.

I want our country to cherish and promote the people who define us as a nation through their stories, their music and dance, their films, their drama, their painting, ceramics, and sculpting - through our art in all its forms.

And I want us to be confident about showing what we are to others. Because the world is waking up to what New Zealand and the Pacific can offer. Our creative people are making their mark around the globe.

In government I will be looking to promote more New Zealand success on the international stage.

To do that support must start at home. And it will. There will be local content quotas on radio and television so that we provide the platform here from which our creative people can succeed abroad.

We must stop stifling promising young careers and forcing our people to base themselves overseas.

Under Labour established artists will have access to a Fellowship Fund, and promising young artists will be given the opportunity to establish themselves in a viable career through access to an Arts Allowance.

Art and culture express the heart of our nation. They will play a huge role in the 21st century in expressing our identity as a dynamic, vibrant, innovative nation which has so much to offer the world.

Just as New Zealand has long enjoyed a well deserved reputation for excellence in sport, so I hope in future that we will take the same pride in the achievements of our creative people.

Like sport, arts and culture are not just for the participants but also for the spectators.

And as with sport, we can't always be at the event. We rely on television and radio to tell us what's happening. Without the mass media, the audiences would be small indeed.

Television has only one dedicated arts programme - the bold and independent Backchat. But in the last few days we hear that Backchat may be marginalised - that it may not fit the hip and groovy image the television managers appear to want for TV One. Backchat is threatened with an early morning slot and no replay.

Its audiences would decline and in due course it could expect to be axed.

Of course individual programmes will rise and fall and run their course. But that isn't the issue here. The issue is: what is the function and duty of publicly owned television? And what is our vision for it?

My vision for public television sees it as not just another commercial channel. And with the government I lead, it won't be.

Television New Zealand will have a charter. TVNZ will be expected to reflect the heart and soul of New Zealand. It will programme for diverse audiences. It will encourage informed debate about our country. And it will most certainly play a prominent role in bringing the arts to the people.

Celebrating our culture these days means celebrating our diversity. The face of our nation is changing fast. As a central Auckland MP I see that daily - and I see the eagerness of new New Zealanders to make a contribution to this country.

They bring with them their cultural traditions, their languages, their festivals. And they bring hopes of a better life in New Zealand.

The way we welcome new New Zealanders and honour and respect their contributions to our country will also define us as a nation - and I hope will see us defined as a tolerant, accepting, outward looking and dynamic society which can hold its head high.


On the environment too, we have a leadership role. We in New Zealand are the custodians of some of the world's remaining ancient rainforests. Worldwide, native forest is under tremendous pressure from short-sighted development.

Over the years we have brought more and more of our forests under permanent protection. Now we are pledged to bring the last large areas of publicly owned native forest into the conservation estate. We want them kept in perpetuity for their intrinsic values, for the safeguarding of the species to which they are home, and so that our children too will be able to experience them. That is our millennium gift to future generations, while we also offer the West Coast the hand up for economic development it needs and which National will always deny it.

Yes, I am passionate about these issues. I want my time as Prime Minister to be a time of conserving what is great and unique about New Zealand, not a time of destroying it. And we will show that everyone can win from our plans.

Closing the Gaps

Many New Zealanders are worried by the huge gaps which have opened up in our country between rich and poor. Those gaps are at their most stark between Maori and other New Zealanders, and Pacific peoples and other New Zealanders. We have a duty and a responsibility to close those gaps. You have my personal commitment that we will do everything in our power to achieve that.

Treaty-related issues are often complex and difficult. They require leadership. Some prefer to lead people to intolerance, but we seek the path of reconciliation and resolution.

We know we can't close the gaps on our own. The answer doesn't lie with traditional bureaucracy and programmes. Indeed mainstreaming has been a complete failure. That's why we are seeking new partnerships with whanau, hapu, iwi and other Maori to bring about change.

We will support Maori to define the issues and create the solutions for themselves. Maori are tired of mopping up after failure. They want to build the capacity to create success, and to become again fully employed people in charge of their own destiny. We will work alongside them to achieve that as we will work with Pacific groups and encourage their initiatives with their own people. This doesn't require more money. It does require new approaches and wise leadership.

Money of course is what our opponents are obsessed with. They think it is legitimate to spend up on tax cuts, but not to invest that same money in our people.

But I've lost count of the number of people who have said to me that they don't mind paying more tax if it goes to health and education. And faced with the offer of a tax cut, most New Zealanders urge government to spend the money on health and education.

My pledge to New Zealanders is absolute. There will be no rise in income tax for the 95 per cent of taxpayers who earn under $60,000 a year. And there won't be increases in GST or company tax either.

But to the top five per cent of earners, yes, we are asking you to pay a little more to speed our programmes for health and education, for economic development and housing, and for a fair pension on their way.

On $80,000 a year, that means paying back last year's tax cut of $23 a week. Is that too much to ask from an income of $1538.00 a week? I don't think so. And I know it helps build a better New Zealand.

Labour will be a very careful custodian of taxpayers' money. We have a duty to see that every dollar is wisely spent.

And that is the message we will take into government and to the public sector. The party is over for the senior management of WINZ and of all those other government organisations who have wasted public money. There will be a new era of moderation, frugality, and integrity in the public sector. We will restore the meaning of public service.

National has squandered public money on computers that don't work; on golden handshakes for the incompetent; on luxury resorts for top public servants, and on buying political support.

The stupidity and extravagance at the top of central government is going to stop, and it stops with the defeat of National at this election.

Our mission is to clean up government, and to clean up Parliament.

We want the defectors out. Under Labour that nonsense will stop. Those who betray their parties in future will be required to resign from Parliament. The public's faith in the democratic process must be restored.

And my commitment card is about accountability too. We don't ask for a blank cheque from the public. We are making commitments on which we will deliver. We are accountable to you.

There is so much to do. A new millennium stands before us offering New Zealand so much opportunity if we can harness the country's energies.

That needs leadership. It needs smart active government.

One thing is clear: Only Labour can offer that leadership to take the country forward.

Over the last three years New Zealand has been leaderless. National has been wheeling and dealing to appease Act on one hand, and New Zealand First and the defectors on the other. It has not been a pretty sight.

The choice is clear. It's Labour in government or a return of the shambles. It's more of the same or it's change.

What could be more bizarre than National's desperate hope that New Zealand First will rescue it again? Because National and Act can't do it on their own. Their user-pays, no public service society is abhorrent to mainstream New Zealand.

Our campaign has one simple objective: to win an overwhelming party vote for Labour and with it a fresh start for New Zealand.

We New Zealanders want change.

We want our country back.

Labour's crusade is to build a prosperous future for our country and our people.

We can't do it in a day or a month, but we can do it and we will.

We won't promise more than we can deliver, but we will do our best to deliver more than we promise.

Because New Zealanders deserve a better economy, a better society, a better country.

And we promise you all our commitment, our energy, and our experience in achieving that.

That is my personal promise to you and I intend to see it through.

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