Helen Clark Keynote Address To Labour Conference

Published: Mon 20 Nov 2000 09:03 AM
18 November 2000
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister
Wellington Town Hall
1.30 pm
This conference takes place almost a year after the last election.
And what a year it’s been!
There’s an old saying: how time flies when you are having fun.
Well, it hasn’t always been fun – but then as Jim Anderton occasionally observes, one bad day in government is better than years in opposition! And so it's proved to be.
The last election was a watershed in New Zealand politics.
For years New Zealanders felt their politicians had let them down.
There had been too many broken promises, too many weasel words, and too little delivery.
New Zealanders are a kind and caring people, but the policies we lived under were anything but that. They produced social fragmentation and despair, and the economic results weren’t brilliant either.
I believe many people had almost given up hope that it could ever be different.
Our main opponents at the last election were not National and their sidekicks in Act.
Our main opponents were cynicism and disillusionment with the political process.
Cynicism, disillusionment, and apathy lead to low electoral turnouts. And low turnouts never favour the parties of the centre left.
But in the fifteen months leading up to the last election, hope stirred that things might be different, that there might be a real change.
A critical factor was the decision of Labour and the Alliance to form a strategic partnership to bring about change.
There is no question in my mind that that strategic partnership clinched the last election.
And there is no question in my mind that that strategic partnership underlies the strength and stability of our government today.
We both went into the last election well aware of the underlying fragility of the economy and of the spending constraints we would be under.
But within those constraints we have been able to implement our policies and start down the long road of economic and social transformation.
That’s not a one or two term task. But, given the time, the vision, and the discipline we apply to our programme, we will achieve it together.
There’s another old saying that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
As a young member of the Labour Party I watched the Kirk-Rowling government try to deliver everything in three years. It can’t be done.
Then as a young member of Parliament and eventually a minister, I saw the stamp of betrayal stuck on the Fourth Labour Government.
Through the ‘nineties from the sidelines, I watched the last government raise people’s hopes only to dash them time and time again.
Watching the last thirty years of New Zealand politics has taught me a few lessons.
Of them all, the most important is to promise only what you can deliver and then to keep your word.
That has been a guiding principle for Labour in government. And we have kept our word.
Our word was based around core commitments.
Behind those commitments was a vision for a kinder, fairer, more prosperous New Zealand which held its head high in the world. And the commitments we made were to take steps along the road to building that new and better New Zealand.
 We promised to put people before profit in our health system and reduce waiting times for treatment.
Under Annette King, as Minister of Health, this government is delivering up to 29,000 more treatments a year through our hospitals. That means more people able to see again because their cataracts have been removed and more people able to walk again because they have a new hip.
Policies like these transform people’s lives, give them new hope, and we are delivering to them. I’m proud of that.
And I’m pleased to see local elected representatives coming back on our health boards.
Under this government, the community’s representatives get a seat at the top table again.
Under this government, with a clear vision, strategy, and goals for health, the system will be run for people and not for profit.
 We promised too to make tertiary education more affordable, starting with a fairer loan system.
Even before Christmas last year, we had taken the decisions necessary to drop the interest from loans while students were studying. For this generation of students that means a significant drop in their costs.
But we’ve also gone further than that. Next year an increase in funding for tertiary education means that all our state tertiary institutions are holding their fees at this year’s levels.
This comes after years of fast rising fees. We know that cost is a key issue for students and their families, and we are determined to deal with it.
 We promised to restore the value of New Zealand Superannuation and to provide long term funding for the scheme. On both, we are delivering. From 1 April we reversed the previous cuts to New Zealand Superannuation, putting more than $21 extra a week in the pockets of married superannuitants and more than $12 a week in the pockets of single superannuitants. We honoured our promise to retired New Zealanders early and in full.
And for the longer term, Michael Cullen has unveiled the government’s proposals to save now for superannuation so that we can save New Zealand Superannuation for the future.
Make no mistake: those who oppose these proposals have a not very secret agenda!
Their agenda is to means-test New Zealand Superannuation again; cut its value; and probably raise the age of eligibility again as well.
In contrast, this government is facing up to the need to fund decent superannuation for the next generations of retired New Zealanders. Elder poverty forms no part of our vision for the future – and it never will.
 We promised to bring back income related rents for state house tenants.
We are after all the party of Michael Joseph Savage and John A Lee which began to build those houses and give low income people decent homes.
We are carrying on that tradition. From 1 December fairness is restored in public housing. Mark Gosche tells me that 40,000 households will be between $20 and $60 a week better off. That means more food and clothing and being able to pay the doctor and the chemist. It’s policies like these which change people’s lives for the better.
 We promised to give the police a clear mandate to tackle burglary and get the rate down too. The police have accepted that challenge. Burglary rates are falling, and when that happens we all feel more secure in our homes.
 We promised to create more jobs through better support for our exporters and industries. It’s happening. Unemployment has fallen – but the real results will be in the medium and long term.
Through Jim Anderton’s new Ministry for Economic Development, and through the new Industry New Zealand complementing Trade New Zealand, we are seeing new initiatives to support businesses with new ideas and regions with plans for growth.
We are targeting the sectors which can produce more growth and quickly – sectors like forestry with huge volumes of product coming on stream, but without adequate infrastructure and workforce to service it.
Our drive for new investment in forestry processing capacity will see Jim Anderton head to Asia in the coming weeks.
And our new Modern Apprenticeship Programme and increased spending on industry training will help create the workforce required.
For the small and medium sized exporters, we are launching next year a new export credit guarantee scheme to help them penetrate new markets.
We offer this support because every new contract secured overseas is a boost to employment and prosperity in New Zealand. That’s our highest priority, because a well employed and prosperous society is a society which can fund good services and a good quality lifestyle, and is a society with substantially fewer problems.
We’ve made great strides on our core commitments.
We’ve been guided by our belief in fairness, opportunity, and security.
We’ve set out to even up the odds, to give people a chance.
We’ve set out to offer hope to low and middle income New Zealanders that this country can work for them too.
 That’s why funding more treatment through the public health system was so important. Most New Zealanders don’t have the luxury of paying for private treatment.
 That’s why we are pouring money into the public education system. Most New Zealanders could never pay for private education – and most of us believe our public system, well supported, has the capacity to be a world leader.
 That’s why we increased New Zealand Superannuation. Most New Zealanders can make very little if any significant provision for their old age.
 That’s why we’ve acted for the low income state house tenant. They can’t survive in the private market.
 That’s why we’ve raised the minimum wage – to ensure that the lowest paid New Zealanders get a hand up.
 That’s why we’ve repealed the Employment Contracts Act – to give ordinary people the chance to bargain on a more level playing field.
The list could go on. What I want to emphasise is that this government will never forget the ordinary people who voted us into office in the hope that things might be better. We are honouring our commitments to them.
Through the ‘eighties and ‘nineties, New Zealand suffered a significant setback. Our society became one of the most unequal in the western world. A lot of people fell through the cracks, and some groups were hurt more than others.
Before the return of large scale unemployment in New Zealand, Maori and Pacific peoples were as fully employed as any other New Zealanders.
Today their unemployment rate stands at 3 times or more as much as that for other New Zealanders.
The growing inequality has left Maori and Pacific peoples, as a group, worse housed, less educated, more unhealthy and more often in contact with the forces of the law than the rest of us.
This government is tackling inequality across the board. Our approach is comprehensive. We know that one-size-fits-all policies don’t work.
That’s why we are encouraging all our government agencies to develop a range of policies for the range of needs our communities have.
That’s why we are funding capacity building in Maori and Pacific people’s communities, so that their organisations can be part of the solution, in raising the aspirations and living standards of their people, by doing it their way.
The fault lies with those who attack these policies and preach the politics of division.
What I know is that if we don’t take steps now to build an inclusive society where regardless of ethnicity everyone can stand tall, we will pay the price many times over in educational failure, sickness, unemployment and the costs of crime. That’s not a price I’m prepared to pay.
These days my mind is very much on what we must do to ensure New Zealand succeeds in the 21st century.
Around the world, people are debating globalisation and its impact.
It was the theme of the Progressive Governance Leaders' meeting I attended in June with Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and other centre left leaders.
It was the theme of the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in New York, attended by most of the world’s presidents and prime ministers.
It was the theme of the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Brunei from which I have just returned.
My views on globalisation are straightforward: love it or hate it, you can’t stop it. It is an inexorable process and it is not a new one.
What makes globalisation different in this century is the pace of change driven by technology and new discoveries. The new poor are those who lack access to knowledge and the new technologies. But, if we are smart, the digital divide can also be a digital opportunity – in our own country and internationally.
Globalisation is rendering borders irrelevant. We compete in one big market for skills and investment. Our challenge is to establish a firm niche in that market to equip our citizens with the education and skills to secure that niche, and constantly advance it through innovation. Standing still is not an option. New Zealand has done that for too long and seen its living standards slide from near the top of the OECD ladder to near the bottom. That’s sapped our confidence in ourselves.
Our future prosperity depends on us being wired up, innovative, and accepting no limits on our potential. It is not a case of failure to adapt meaning failure to thrive. Failure to adapt may mean failure to survive for business, and failure to survive as a first world nation for the country as a whole. So let’s not even contemplate failure!
In government we’ve been looking ahead to where we believe New Zealand can be in ten years time.
 We see New Zealand increasingly interconnected with the wider world, and right up to date with the latest technologies.
 We see New Zealanders not only adapting and adopting other people’s ideas and technologies, but being innovators ourselves. That will be the difference between first world and second world status for us.
 Our vision sees New Zealand as a series of global villages attracting and nurturing talent. More than a decade ago Michael Porter wrote of the potential for clusters in the New Zealand economy. We need to draw together our public sector investments in education, research and infrastructure with private sector investments in new product development, financing, production, and marketing.
 We can be confident about the quality of life in our global villages. We have cosmopolitan lifestyles for those who enjoy them, we have a wonderful natural environment, - and we are a safe haven in an often troubled world. That means a lot to skilled migrants looking for a secure place for them and their families to live in.
 The seed bed of our economy will be a dynamic small business sector which is enterprising and has great ideas for great products.
 We will be a dynamic trading nation with world leaders in our areas of specialisation.
Believe me, this government is out there pushing trading opportunities for our products as hard as we can. We won’t stand by and let others form trading arrangements without us. That’s why we’ve worked to open doors in Singapore – where our exports have increased 34 per cent in the year to June. Trade is our lifeblood and we will do whatever we can to secure more access for our goods and services.
 Trade opens up far greater opportunities than our small domestic market can offer. It enables our companies, like our Dairy Board, to be global traders. We want our global traders to keep New Zealand as their base because New Zealand is their source of innovation and their inspiration. Their being here, their confidence in New Zealand, should attract others to come and bring opportunity for our people with them.
 What’s needed to drive this new New Zealand? As the Maori proverb says: He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is people, it is people, it is people. And it is educated, skilled, creative and enterprising people who are going to drive our future as a nation.
In this future I see a special role, not only for science, research and technology, but also for arts and culture as a seed bed for the creativity and lateral thinking which drives new ideas.
In the 21st century, people who can think, analyse, design, dream, and express themselves creatively will find enormous opportunities open to them in the world of work and business.
Our new investments this year in arts and culture were designed to stimulate our development as a unique and creative nation, not only for the intrinsic benefits which flow but because of the very real economic benefits as well. The flourishing film and television industries, the emerging successful new media, design, fashion and software industries, and the potential of the contemporary music industry are all testament to the economic potential we have as a creative nation.
In the future of our vision, we should be earning substantially higher incomes, and driving unemployment lower.
And in this kind of future, we can afford to finance our dreams for fairness, opportunity and security.
We won’t create that future by looking backwards. We have to face the future. We have to be confident in our ability to be simply the best. We have to know we can take on the world and win. We can’t hide from that world – or it will beat us. What we need is attitude and commitment to a new future at every level.
I believe parties like ours have a unique role to play in driving these changes.
Pure market forces here and internationally haven’t delivered the goods. The gaps just get bigger.
Our challenge is to see the whole society benefit. And that means investments – especially in education, in overcoming the digital divide, in skills training, in infrastructure, in research and science.
Public investments in areas like these create opportunity. Without them in a fast changing world, inequality deepens and social exclusion intensifies.
It is said that most of today’s five year olds will have jobs which are not yet invented.
It is said that in future, ninety per cent of new jobs will require computer skills.
We can’t let our children fall behind – because if they do, so does our whole nation.
Next time you hear a Tory talk about personal income tax cuts: ask the question, how can our nation go ahead without the public resources to make huge investments in our future potential? Tax cuts are a path to inequality and underdevelopment in today’s circumstances. They are the promises of vision-less and intellectually bankrupt people.
How to adapt to globalisation and the new technologies are issues pre-occupying all nations. Ours is a third way approach to dealing with them. We know the potential of dynamic markets to create wealth. We know too the necessity of social investment to spread opportunity and access to a good life and guarantee fairness and security.
My aspiration is to see New Zealand apply this third way approach, not only to policy at home, but also in our contributions abroad.
I have just returned from the APEC Leaders’ Summit where the need to balance free markets and free trade with programmes for economic, technological, and social development is now widely accepted. A centre left government in New Zealand can not only be part of, but also can help lead that new consensus. It will develop further in Shanghai next year.
Indeed in many ways I believe New Zealand has a unique contribution to make.
We are a first world nation and want high living and environmental standards. But in common with the developing world, we are primary produce exporters trying to get ahead against huge tariff barriers. Rice going into Japan faces a tariff of around 1000 per cent. That’s why it's absurd to argue that free trade hurts developing countries. It could be their lifeline.
In our third way approach we’ve been determined to see that the world trading system does work for the poorest nations. That’s why we are lifting tariffs in our market off the goods of the world's 48 poorest and least developed nations. We are not in competition with them for fourth world status – and nor is the rest of the western world. Opening our markets gives them a chance to raise their living standards, while our future lies in constantly innovating and producing high value goods and services.
In other areas too I am proud of the role New Zealand is playing internationally.
When Kofi Annan came to New Zealand earlier this year, he described us as a model member of the United Nations. We are among the leaders in signing up to the core treaties and conventions of the United Nations. We have played a leading role on disarmament issues for many years. By committing to achieving ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change by mid 2002, we are emerging among the leaders on the key environmental issues of the day.
The United Nations also knows that New Zealand is a friend to be relied on when it comes to making and keeping peace in troubled nations. Over almost two decades now we have played a significant role for our size in United Nations and other peacekeeping operations.
Our most significant contribution has been in East Timor where men and women, mostly young, from across our forces have been and are still involved. I can tell you it isn’t easy work. East Timor is hot, dangerous, and puts people at risk of serious illness and death. But our work there is helping give a small, new nation a start and we can all be very proud of that.
Similarly we are doing our best to contribute to restoring peace and stability in the Solomon Islands and Bougainville.
We have also stood firm in support of constitutional democracy in Fiji and the right of all Fijians, regardless of ethnicity, to enjoy equal citizenship.
I believe our government has brought a new vision, new hope, and fresh approaches and ideas to governing New Zealand.
The last government was paralysed, unable to move forward on an unpopular agenda, but too hidebound by ideology to move back to the more acceptable centreground.
We have broken the policy logjam, tackling issues our predecessors couldn’t touch.
 We are introducing a new takeovers code to take the Wild West out of the New Zealand sharemarket.
 We’re sharpening our competition law to ensure a better deal for consumers.
 We are cleaning up the mess left by botched electricity restructuring.
 A major inquiry into telecommunications was commissioned to provide the basis for better informed policy for the sector.
 We are acting on reducing compliance costs for business.
 We are investing as fast as we can in research and development.
 We are making changes to immigration policy to ensure industry can recruit skills in short supply here.
So much has happened in just one short year. But there remains so much to do.
I know we can't do it all in one term – but in one term we can set the new course, and take the first steps towards nation rebuilding and recovery.
My aim is to equip New Zealand to face new challenges with confidence, and in the full knowledge that this government will stand beside people in time of adversity.
Simple humanity and compassion was in short supply in the 1990s and wounds developed in our society which will take time to heal.
I want to say that being in government is a privilege, and being Prime Minister is a special privilege.
We wouldn’t be in government and I wouldn’t be Prime Minister if the New Zealand Labour Party hadn’t given us the chance to serve, and the people of New Zealand hadn’t given us the opportunity to lead.
Our success has been a team effort.
I thank all our ministers who are working so hard to put our policies in place. I thank especially Michael Cullen who, with his firm but fair touch, embodies the approach of the legendary Labour ministers of finance from the time of Walter Nash.
I thank all our MPs who work countless hours on select committees, caucus committees, in the debating chamber, and in their communities.
I thank all our party activists and members for their feedback on what we are doing, the input into our policies, and for the organisation and fundraising which sustains us.
And finally, I thank that majority of New Zealanders which gave us and our parliamentary allies the chance to make a difference, and which, given the same choice tomorrow, I believe would give us that chance again.
Thank you for believing in us and our ability to make this country a better place to live in.

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