SPEECH: David Parker's speech to New Zealand Labour Party Congress 2014


MIL OSI – Source: Labour Party –

Headline: SPEECH: David Parker's speech to New Zealand Labour Party Congress 2014

Speech to the New Zealand Labour Party Annual Congress 2014

Kia ora tatou,

I’m delighted to speak with you this morning.

Fellow members, it’s invigorating to spend the weekend with so many people who care so passionately about this wonderful country.

You take the time and make the effort to come together to debate and challenge, to advocate solutions, to build a better New Zealand.

We are here because, as the saying goes, if you change nothing, then nothing changes. It’s obvious.

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A successful and fair country requires a sophisticated mix of values and settings.

Freedom from corruption, prosperity, a fair sharing of income, the fair sharing of wealth, respect for property rights and the rule of law, protection of natural capital and the environment, respect for human rights, and an educated and healthy population.

These are all important ingredients.

Strong democracies are vital to achieving the right mix, because as circumstances change, so must our responses.

Ours is one of the most successful democracies. Our record of over 150 years of continuous democracy – unbroken by war, civil disturbance or political upheaval – is one of the longest in the world.

The Labour Party is the oldest political party in parliament.

We clock up 100 years of service to New Zealand in 2016.

Judge us from our long history and you will see that it is the Labour Party that has driven most of the important social and economic change over the last hundred years.

Conservative parties tend to trim the sails and tinker, but otherwise are guardians of the status quo. They tend to govern for today, whereas Labour tends to govern for today and tomorrow.

They tend to eventually catch up, and then become defenders of changes they vehemently opposed which Labour initiated.

Take this current National government.

They inherited zero net government debt because of the huge surpluses Labour ran – which National opposed – and they inherited low unemployment.

They inherited KiwiSaver – which they voted against – interest free student loans – which they voted against – and working for families – which they voted against and called communism by stealth.

They have kept them all. They now even begrudgingly praise the Cullen fund, which they opposed and called ‘a dog’ when we introduced it. This mutt has turned out to be a pedigree!

Since taking the reins, National’s biggest moves have been to cut income tax, mostly for high income earners, and put up GST, in their first term, and to privatise our power companies, again mostly to those at the top, in their last term.

They have done little to address the long term challenges we face, be they rising inequality or imbalances in the economy.

The contrast with Labour is clear.

Our centenary – our 100th birthday – is in two years’ time, almost to the day.

The pioneers of the labour movement who formed this great party nearly a hundred years ago did so because they had a powerful belief in democracy, in equality, in social justice and fairness.

They longed for opportunity – to make a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work – the opportunity to have a sturdy and warm home of their own for their family – and to see their children get a good education.

Good universal public education was identified as the great liberator that enables people of all backgrounds to fulfil their own potential and help power our economy.

It remains a fundamental bed-rock priority for Labour which is why our leader David Cunliffe is focusing on it this weekend.

Our forebears wanted the opportunity to make a better life for themselves, their family, their neighbours, their friends, their community.

These are fundamental New Zealand values. They are fundamental Labour values.

They are as real and as relevant today as they ever were.

The men and women who formed this great party knew that democracy offered their class the means to build that better community – the fairer and more just society they yearned for.

In 1916, New Zealand was still a very young country. We had just been declared a Dominion by King Edward the 7th a few years before.

We were at war. The Gallipoli campaign, which came to forge our sense of nationhood, had only ended in the January and was still raw in our nation’s consciousness.

Yet the prevailing mood of the day was that opportunity was boundless, underdeveloped land was bountiful, and opportunities to get ahead were within reach of just about everybody.

Life was hard, and often difficult, yet there was a sense that the prospects and the possibilities were abundant.

Our rivers were clean. Concentrations of wealth were small by international comparison.

People were seized with the notion that this is God’s own country, and they had an almost unlimited opportunity to build a nation of prosperity and a good, happy and peaceful life for themselves and their families.

Jack was as good as his master.

Those who met on that July day to constitute the Labour Party were people of ambition and optimism, who saw a better way forward. Were determined to take it, and make that dream a reality for everyone.

I get that same sense here this weekend.

Labour people are ambitious and optimistic for their families, their communities and for their country.

We know there is a better way forward where opportunity and prosperity are more evenly shared and hard work is more fairly rewarded.

I mentioned earlier the complex interplay of values and societal settings that underpin a fair and prosperous society.

Like most here I have opinions and priorities across the full gamut of what makes for a good society.

I know that affording rights to minorities – be they religious, ethnic or as to sexual orientation – takes nothing away from the majority. I am proud of the fact that we are a liberal and diverse party, but it is not my driving force in politics.

I am proud of the leading role Labour takes on climate change, renewable energy, clean rivers and air. I will come back to the environment – which should not be divorced from economics – but, again, it is not the strongest force in my politics.

My political heart lies in what has become something of a quaint notion these days, the notion of an egalitarian society.

Perhaps it’s because of my Southern Presbyterian roots.

It’s not just about equality of opportunity. It’s about decent outcomes as well.

Outcomes like having good jobs to choose from. Having a fair share of income and wealth. The ability to save and buy your own home. Having security and a nest egg in retirement.

As the poem which Tony Judt used as the title of his fabulous book says:

“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates, and men decay.”

I repeat this poem, including to business audiences, because it reminds me, and them, that there is a larger purpose and a deeper obligation.

This is the fundamental difference between us and our political opponents.

We believe that a rising tide of economic growth should lift all boats, not just the super yachts.

We believe that it makes sound economic sense for the rock stars to make sure the roadies are looked after and the fans get what they paid for.

However, the truth is the gaps in New Zealand are widening.

We have rested on our laurels.

Perhaps because we had less inequality than most  we took it for granted?

We used to be in the best 30 per cent in the OECD for income equality. We are now in the worst 40 per cent. These income inequality figures exclude capital gains and so understate the gap.

Once income inequality gets to where it is now, and as we become an older country, the consequences pile up year after year. 

Inequality shows up in the lowest home ownership rate in 50 years, bigger gaps in household income shown in the census, and in poverty which is shamefully on the rise.

Gaps are widening between our cities and our regions. House prices in Southland have dropped while in Auckland and Christchurch they have skyrocketed.

First home buyers are shut out of the dream of home ownership while the speculators, both foreign and domestic, have a field day.

The sales of luxury cars are booming, while this year, nearly half of New Zealanders got no increase in their pay rate.

The number of children living in poverty has risen by tens of thousands under the current government. Many are from working families on low pay.

The economy is becoming unbalanced.

People sense there is something wrong that affects everyone.

This is why there is widespread support for our proposal for a capital gains tax excluding the family home, and for our proposed 3 cent in the dollar rise in income tax on incomes above $150,000 a year.

We are now a country where CEO pay has risen to 26.4 times the average wage, where businesses can legally pay less than the minimum wage by taking people on as contractors, and where dairy farms have doubled in value but employ many thousands of work-permitted farm workers at close to the minimum wage.

The gaps are getting too wide and are holding back growth. 

It is not just Labour saying this.

The New Zealand Institute for Economic Research says “one of the biggest issues of this generation is the widening gap between the haves and have-nots” and that “the gaps opening up in New Zealand are really big across geographical, race and education lines.”

That famous firm of Wall Street socialists – Goldman Sachs – and the world’s richest investor – Warren Buffet – agree that the egalitarian society is being destabilised. Productivity and wage growth are being undermined, by inequality.

We will do better as a nation if we get back into a broader balance.

The next Labour government will meet these challenges head-on through our well thought out policies.

We are proud that these have been carefully and democratically developed with input from our members, outside experts – both local and international – and our MPs – and are brought together in our manifesto.

We will deliver a positive agenda across Work, Families, Homes.

There is a growing understanding that so many of our challenges are connected – savings and investment; a fairer tax system; affordable housing; interest rates; exchange rates; innovation; productivity; secure work; higher incomes; owning our own companies and land; and lower overseas debt.

They are connected – and just as our challenges are connected, so too are the solutions.

The good news is that the solutions we need as a nation lead both to a fairer and a more prosperous society.

The solutions go beyond getting back into surplus in the government books, as important as that is. They go further than getting back into surplus with the rest of the world, as vital as that is.

Our future ambitions for New Zealand restore balance and fairness in our economy – a balance that once drove our growth and prosperity .

Exporters and manufacturers are still cutting jobs in the face of an over-valued dollar. Our economy is increasingly focused on housing speculation and a few commodity exports, the prices of which have moved down significantly in recent months.

Some experts suggest we are dangerously exposed to the risk of a downturn in China. Turning more milk from more cows into more milk powder, and selling most of it to a single customer, is not a sound and sustainable economic growth strategy.

Parents are concerned their children lack the opportunities they had. Many are stuck in low paid service jobs, with low wages, insecure hours and limited career paths. Home ownership is a fading dream.

For sustainable growth, we need an economy built on a diverse range of sophisticated, job-rich exports. That’s why Labour has developed a series of policies to upgrade and broaden our high-value export sectors.

We haven’t paid our way in the world for 40 years. Our terms of trade have been excellent and yet we still don’t earn enough to pay for our imports and interest. We plug that gap by borrowing from overseas and selling to overseas owners the companies and land we used to own.

To turn this around Labour will support forest processing to make more money from adding value to our trees instead of sending millions of raw logs overseas. We will encourage high value manufactured exports and ICT to build the wealth of our nation, and create more well-paying jobs in profitable businesses.

Labour is not afraid of supporting our businesses on their journey of success and achievement, resulting in sustainable, well-paid, secure, interesting, and fulfilling jobs.

We’ll help New Zealand businesses by ensuring their overseas competitors like Google and Facebook, who take hundreds of millions in advertising from New Zealand while avoiding virtually all tax, pay their fair share. Their unfair actions and other tax avoiders increase the taxes of others and cost jobs and profits in New Zealand.

Monetary policy will be brought into the 21st century so that exporters aren’t crippled by an overpriced exchange rate and structurally high interest rates, higher than our trading partners.

We expect these policies will drive down unemployment to 4 per cent by the end of our first term.

Our economic upgrade, including universal KiwiSaver, a Capital Gains Tax excluding the family home, R&D tax credits, accelerated depreciation, industry training and KiwiBuild, will be at the core of the next Labour government.

This will transform the New Zealand economy and support higher incomes, and lower inequality.

Opportunity should include the opportunity to get ahead – by building a business, or buying a house or by advancing from share milker to farm owner.

Fairer labour laws will ensure working New Zealanders who help create wealth get their fair share of the rewards.

Through KiwiBuild, Universal KiwiSaver with the Variable Savings Rate mechanism, CGT, and restrictions on off-shore speculation, Labour will stabilise the housing market to restore the Kiwi dream of home ownership, while also directing investment capital away from speculation into the productive economy and jobs.

Labour will invest in housing, education, children and health so that New Zealand is a fairer and more prosperous place to live and enjoy life. And our Best Start programme includes the poorest kids. It is shameful that National’s mean-spirited attempt deliberately excludes them.

Underlying our policies are solid fiscal foundations.

Labour will run surpluses every year unless there is another significant international downturn or natural disaster.

Under our alternative budget, everything is paid for, plus we are in surplus. Let me repeat that – everything is paid for, plus we are in surplus.

Of course, we know a thing or two about running surpluses. We ran nine in a row, one every year, under Michael Cullen.

The economy our opponents inherited had zero net government debt – in fact, technically we had a positive balance.

They then cut taxes disproportionately for the wealthy and borrowed more to fund their deficits.

Even excluding the Canterbury rebuild, they have now borrowed more money than any government before them – which makes them the biggest borrow and spend government in New Zealand history.

We’ll pay off National’s debt by the end of our second term, and for the first time, we will be putting aside in advance enough money to make sure the real value of spending in health and education isn’t eroded by inflation and population growth.

This is an ambitious yet achievable set of goals.

It has meant some tough choices; not all the policies we would like can be funded.

Getting the government books in order, and broadening economic growth and prosperity are important after six years of the current government.

Labour’s alternative budget – released three months before the election – shows we have the plan to achieve it.

Election time should be a contest of ideas. We should now be passed the silly, knee-jerk “tax and spend” jibes of our opponents and have a serious conversation with the electorate about how we improve their lives.

Our much needed economic upgrade will strengthen the economy and remove damaging imbalances that are holding back sustainable growth in the economy.

Getting a fair share of growth and prosperity is no more than our basic Kiwi values require.

And we don’t have to trash the environment to achieve it.

Our opponents would have you believe we have to choose between a clean environment or a decent job.

But it’s not a choice. You can have both. To quote Herman Daly, a senior economist at the World Bank “the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment”.

We agree with the Pure Advantage Group that increased efficiency, profitability and new commercial opportunities accrue from better environment practice.

We agree with those who say there are opportunities in clean energy.

New Zealand has fantastic capability in hydro, wind and geothermal; in resource planning, and project management; in grid development, and the integration of high levels of renewables.

We have some great science coming out of Scion to add value to our forest estate instead of exporting raw logs. We need more LanzaTechs.

We will all be richer if we have a more efficient transport fleet. Our imported oil bill will go down, and our climate changing emissions will reduce. Add in fuel substitution using renewable electricity and some biofuels, and it gets even better.

You seldom hear the government talk of these opportunities because they have no ambition to achieve them.

They push irrigation subsidies instead.

Yet the quality of our freshwater has been deteriorating at speed with the intensification of agriculture, particularly dairy farming.

Relaxing the RMA’s environmental principles is not the answer – it will make the problem worse.

I grew up swimming in our rivers, most of which are not as clean today. Even now in summer, when I find a clean river or stream deep enough to have a swim in, it’s hard to keep me out of it. I am passionate about the environment and about prosperity.

The most important river to most Kiwis is the one they live closest to. Māori express this well when they describe their local river and mountain when they introduce themselves.

The vast majority of us want our local river to be clean. And if all our local rivers are clean, then all of New Zealand’s rivers will be clean.

The Ministry for the Environment reports that 45% of monitored popular freshwater swimming spots are graded “poor” (24%) or “very poor” (21%). We must do much better, and soon.

Yet National is willing to let things get worse when already dogs can no longer be left to run alongside some of our rivers because the algae are so toxic they kill dogs.

Our opponents now want to set minimum water standards at a level that is safe to wade in or sail a boat on – not to swim in. This is not the New Zealand I want my children to inherit. It speaks volumes of their ‘ambition for New Zealand’, doesn’t it?

Most in the dairy industry recognise it needs to take more responsibility – the costs of pollution need to be fixed by the industry, not borne by the public.

We recognise they cannot do it alone.

It’s not anti-growth or anti-business to expect the dairy industry to clean up after itself. It is unfair that our public rivers are being spoiled. It is only fair that we stop this, and New Zealanders agree.

We need the dairy industry for our economic well-being. It was Labour that ushered in Fonterra, and delivered the China FTA. And it will be Labour that takes the dairy industry to a sustainable future.

Kiwis value clean rivers, and under Labour they will get them.

Our policies will enable our economy to move to higher value jobs and more valuable exports, while improving and protecting what most of us value in our natural environment.

This is one of those instances, where with intelligent policy and inclusive government, we really can have our cake, and eat it too.

Labour’s economic policies are the policies of green growth.

We can make positive choices and have the best of both worlds.

We can reduce the inequalities that are driving the economy out of kilter, destabilising the ability to achieve its full potential and the prosperity we deserve.

Our policies will make the economy stronger and are vital to another 150 years of unbroken democracy.

The pioneers of this party knew, in their hearts, that democracy was the best friend of the working man or woman, which is why they fought and died in such numbers to gain it, and to protect it.

Because the ballot box, the universal franchise, the open contest of ideas, where everyone gets a fair go and a fair chance, and a fair share, is the best way to advance the needs of a fair society and to improve people’s lives.

These are Labour values – these are New Zealand values – values we can be proud of – values that will deliver long term opportunity, prosperity and fairness.

Colleagues, our policies are summarised in the mini-manifesto out tomorrow.

Labour is presenting positive choices to New Zealanders for a positive future.

An economy that works for all New Zealanders.

We will grow the productive economy, for greater prosperity and jobs.

We will move the economy from volume to value.

We will reform monetary policy for the challenges of the 21st century.

We’ll secure the future of super.

We’ll lift children out of poverty and  restore the Kiwi dream of owning your own home

We’ll rebalance the economy and achieve greater equity.

Our pledge is to lift New Zealand. To raise our sights. To strive for success. To make New Zealand a better and more equal place.

I am an egalitarian politician. I’m here because I know that’s what Labour’s here for too.

Thank you. Campaign well.

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