Andrew Little’s “dangerous” speech – a cunning plan for the Middle and the Left

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Labour Party - Andrew Little - pre-budget speech (24)

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Wellington, NZ, 22 May – Speaking to a fully packed downtown conference centre in Wellington, on a cold, gloomy rainy afternoon, Labour-leader, Andrew Little launched into a fiery attack on the current National Government focusing  on it’s inarguably lack-lustre track record for the past eight years.

With a heavy media presence, Rimutaka MP, and Labour spokesperson for Education, Chris Hipkins, was tasked with making the introduction;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Labour Party - Andrew Little - pre-budget speech

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Hipkins said;

“Certainly there is a mood for change around the country now and that mood for change is increasing.  But the question that everybody has been asking us, is is Labour ready? And that’s a fair question to ask.”

“They say that being the leader of the Opposition is the toughest job in politics. Well I can tell to tell you that Andrew has taken to that tough job in politics like a duck to water.”

“In all of that time that he has been doing that job, and all the hours he has put in, he has never forgotten why is there; for people. And that is why the Labour Party is here.”

The short  introduction over, the audience of committed Labour members clapped enthusiastically as Little mounted the podium;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Labour Party - Andrew Little - pre-budget speech

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To say that Little had plenty of material to work with would be an understatement as the growing crisis for both affordable housing; skyrocketing rentals; and shortage of state houses have been well publicised in the media and by bloggers.

From just one day in Wellington’s Dominion Post Monday 23 May edition;

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dominion post - housing crisis

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Jane Bowron’s piece especially – Marae shows up Government with haere mai to homeless  – is a must-read, head-on assault on the warped ‘values’ which currently afflict our government and some peoples’ thinking.   Yet, the Dominion Post is hardly known as a bastion for marxist agitation.

Little wasted no time as  he launched into a recitation of National’s failures after eight years in government;

“It’s becoming harder for many people to get ahead.  Harder to find a good job or get a pay rise. Harder to find a home, put some savings aside, or get the health care you need. Parents are paying more for their childrens’ education, but our schools aren’t performing as well.

[…]

Look at the headlines from the last couple of weeks: Children sleeping in cars or forced to lives in houses that make them sick; plummeting home ownership; rising unemployment, [and] stalled wages for many people.

[…]

And while the few at the very top got to enjoy special rules that meant they didn’t have to pay their fair share – everyone else is paying the cost.

We’ve seen increases in unemployment. There are now 144,000 people out of work in New Zealand, 40,000 more than when National took office.”

Little is correct on those stats. According to the convenient graphs and data from US website, Trading Economics, the increase in unemployment in New Zealand has remained stubbornly high;

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unemployed persons 2008 - 2016

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Little explained that the unemployment problem was worse than just sheer numbers;

“And it’s not just that more people are out of work – it’s that many more are out of work for longer.  Under this government the number of people unemployed for more than a year has tripled – up over 11,000 since they took office.

The situation is especially tough for our young people. Under this government the number of young people who aren’t in work, education or training has risen by more than 26,000.

The truth is those are the young people this government has given up on – the ones they label as ‘pretty damn hopeless’.”

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Bill English describes some Kiwis looking for work as 'pretty damned hopeless'

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Little pointed out the numbers who had not gotten any wage increase in the last year, and more importantly that workers were missing out on the benefits of economic growth;

For those in work, getting a pay rise has become harder. 43% of New Zealanders saw no increase in their incomes at all in the last 12 months.

[…]

Under the last Labour government, the share of economic growth going to wage and salary earners was over 50%.

Today, it’s 37%.

The slice of the economy going to workers has fallen each year under National.

This year, that lost income works out to be fifty bucks a week for the average family.

His comments will most likely resonate with those workers who feel they are working harder and longer hours – and yet do not seem to be progressing. The back-stories of mega-rich tax-evaders hoarding their wealth in tax havens will fuel feelings of resentment by those who work and pay their  taxes so we can have roads, hospitals, schools, etc;

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Panama Papers investigation 'NZ absolutely, conclusively is a tax haven'

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Little then hit the big story of the last few weeks – growing homelessness in New Zealand. Coupled with a fall in home ownership rates since 1991 (from 74% in 1991 to 64% in 2015), and we get a clear picture how “free” market economics has impacted on our society.

National’s response was to deny that a problem existed in New Zealand at all. According to Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett;

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"I certainly wouldn't call it a crisis. I think that we've always had people in need."
“I certainly wouldn’t call it a crisis. I think that we’ve always had people in need.” – Paula Bennett, 20 May 2016

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Andrew Little’s response was less dismissive of the challenges facing 21st century New Zealand families;

“When kids are sleeping in cars. That’s a crisis.

When families are crowded into garages. That’s a crisis.

When an entire generation is locked out of ever owning their own home, that is a crisis.”

He firmly sheeted home blame for our current predicament, in no uncertain terms;

“Instead of owning up to that and fixing it, the government is siding with property speculators and land bankers, while everyone else misses out.

Every initiative our bumbling housing minister Nick Smith has tried on housing has failed. Rather than go after the causes of the problems, he’s flailed around with gimmicks.

Remember special housing areas? Fewer than 1000 homes actually built.

Remember his gimmick from the last Budget? Releasing crown land? It turned out to include substations, cemeteries and even the back yard of Government House.

While the government’s been tinkering, the problem’s gotten so much worse.

In March, the average house price in Auckland rose by over $2,200 a day.”

For maximum effect, Little repeated that startling factoid to the audience and media;

“Let me say that figure again. Over twenty two hundred dollars a day.”

On Radio NZ’s political panel on Monday, 23 May, former Labour Party President, Mike Williams complimented Andrew Little’s speech, referring to it as “dangerous”;

“Middle New Zealand is concerned about health, education, housing, and the economy. And I think, as far as John Key is concerned, this is the most dangerous speech a Labour leader has given since Helen Clark resigned.”

Williams also made an interesting observation regarding how Middle New Zealand felt about their rising house values;

“I think there’s a bit of schizophrenia going on in Middle New Zealand which is showing up in the UMR numbers. If you own a house you are feeling pretty good because the value of your asset has been going through the roof. However, if you’ve got kids, you’re worried about their schooling; you’re worried about will they get a house; and  you’re worried about will they get a job that pays enough  to pay for a house. So I think, that, yes,  home-owning New Zealanders [are]  feeling ok, but parents are not.”

Little then addressed the growing under-funding of  public healthcare;

According to Infometrics, we’ve had $1.7 billion dollars cut in real terms from our health budget over 6 years.

That’s meant that 160,000 people in the last 5 years have been unable to get the appointment they need with a specialist.”

Which seems to be a replay of National’s cuts to the Health budget in the late 1990s;

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acute-heart-surgery-list-nearly-400-otago-daily-times-5-february-1998

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In response, Little promised;

“Under Labour, Kiwis will know that if they get sick, the public healthcare system will be there for them.  That’s why we are committed to meeting the cost pressures that are depriving people of the care they need…

…Budgets are about priorities, and under Labour, health will be a priority again. We shouldn’t be spending money on $3 billion of unaffordable tax cuts when we could be fixing our health system instead.”

Which, if the previous Clark-led Labour government’s actions are anything to go by, can be counted as a solid committment;

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1-5b-injection-for-health-9-dec-2001

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Little was also scathing at National’s taxpayer subsidies being thrown at Charter Schools;

“At the same time as National has poured millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money into privately run charter schools, our public education system is struggling.

In the last year alone, National has cut funding for pupils by $150 each.

And so schools load more costs on to parents in order to fill the gaps.

Ask any parent and they’ll tell you the cost of uniforms, class activities, camps and of course ‘voluntary donations’ just keep on rising.”

For all of National’s much-vaunted “reforms” in our education system, the results are less than impressive. Little rattled off a list of stats that should raise concern with all New Zealanders;

But here’s the thing: while costs are rising, standards are falling.

In 2006, we were ranked 5th in the world for reading.

Now we’re 13th.

We were 7th in science.

Today? 18th.

And in maths? We’ve fallen from 11th to 23rd.

So much for National Standards. And so much for the neo-liberal ideology that has not only not delivered on promises of excellence in our education system – but has seemingly damaged it. Our fall in international rankings are stark evidence that National’s policies in education have failed spectacularly.

Little then offered what can only be  described as Labour’s manifesto for the 2017 General Election;

  • We’ll crack down on the offshore speculators who are driving up house prices and locking families out of the market.
  • Labour will launch a mass home building programme to deliver new, affordable homes in Auckland and around the country.
  • That’s why we are committed to three years’ free post-school education so that Kiwis can train and retrain across their working lives, without having to take on huge debt. That’s how we support our people and its how we tackle the challenge of the future of work.
  • We’ll introduce a dole for apprenticeships scheme to give young people the opportunity to get into paid work.
  • We’ll raise the number of hours people can work without having their benefit cut.
  • We will feed hungry kids in schools…

In six, short, sentences, Andrew Little has put the boot into neo-liberal so-called “reforms”. If elected, and if Labour does not water-down it’s promises, we will be witnessing the dismantling of thirtythree years of the neo-liberal paradigm in New Zealand.

No wonder right-wing commentator, Matthew Hooton, seemed perturbed by Little’s speech during his regular ‘slot’ on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme on 23 May.

Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect to Little’s promises is that of  “three years’ free post-school education“. This is, in effect, partially undoing user-pays in our tertiary institutions.

But the most clever aspect to Little’s speech is that it is “talking” to two different parts of New Zealand.

His reference to “that lost income works out to be fifty bucks a week for the average family” is a direct pitch to Middle New Zealand that feels it is not progressing whilst the mega-rich rort the tax system.

But his reference to abandoning part of user-pays in tertiary education is directed at the Left who are demanding that the Labour Party make a public commitment to renouncing it’s Rogernomics past.

The trick for Labour’s hierarchy and strategists is to achieve both – appealing to Middle New Zealand and the Left – but without spooking the former, or further alienating the latter.

In effect, Labour has taken a firm step-to-the-left – and the public have not noticed.

Mike Williams was right: this was a “dangerous” speech from Andrew Little.

And a damned clever one.

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Addendum

Full text of Andrew Little’s speech here.

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Labour victory

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References

Fairfax: Jane Bowron – Marae shows up Government with haere mai to homeless

Trading economics: New Zealand Unemployed Persons 

Fairfax media: Bill English describes some Kiwis looking for work as ‘pretty damned hopeless’

TV1 News: Panama Papers investigation – ‘NZ absolutely, conclusively is a tax haven’

Interest.co.nz: Collapse in home-ownership rates among families formed since 1991 is an unfolding disaster for NZ’s economy

Radio NZ: No housing crisis in NZ – Paula Bennett

Radio NZ: Nine to Noon – Political commentators Mike Williams and Matthew Hooton

Scoop media: Andrew Little: Pre-Budget Speech 2016

Related

Pundit: Have We a Housing Policy?

Other bloggers

Chris Trotter: Left Unsaid: What Andrew Little Didn’t Say In His Pre-Budget Speech

Kiwipolitico: Not Quite But Getting There

No Right Turn: National should give us our $13,000 back

The Standard: Little’s $50 a week message getting through

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capitalism taking from those who work

 

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20 COMMENTS

  1. “yet, the Dominion Post is hardly known as a bastion for marxist agitation – I’ve noticed a discernible swing to middle ground from the DomPost lately. It’s almost getting an independent voice again.

  2. Good to see Labour’s subtle shift to the left, Frank. About time!

    However, their sabotage of Hone Harawira’s re-election in 2014 has left a bitter taste in my mouth and one I won’t forget in a hurry.

    I’ll continue to vote Green for the foreseeable future.

    • It is a marvel to see Little saying the things that need to be said. We need more of it. But this should of been the norm…

      Cunliffes first speech was electrifying …hitting all the high points of social democracy like no other was doing. But for those ABC’s, those treacherous neo liberals…

      Back in the day I always found myself veering between the Alliance, New Labour, and NZ First… because they best represented the party’s aligned against neo liberalism… even though the term ‘ neo liberalism’ wasn’t widely used then . Yet they were advocating policy’s that were akin to what I now know as pre 1984 social democracy/ Keynesian economics.

      Now its a choice between Labour, Greens, and NZ First.

      But that beat up on IMP … and Hone Hawira last election was an obscenity. It was unbelievable to see John Key advising his own National voters to vote for Labour and Kelvin Davis . And even more shocking to see NZ First joining in.

      The only party that didn’t was the Greens.

      Ill give Davis credit – begrudgingly – for having the spine to look into treatment of Kiwi’s in Australian detention centers , however . Therein lies some redemption . And perhaps Peters felt he could work better with Davis in the North.

      Just don’t let it happen again, Peters. That was ugly. You can do better than that .

      It always seemed that the demise of Key would not be in some major scandalous event but rather the slow grinding down of a successively autocratic style of leadership that alienated large swathes of the public. And that all these scandals,… would have a cumulatively corrosive effect.

      I believe we are seeing that happen now.

      And Andrew Little’s double barreled approach of discrediting this govt by providing a solid backdrop in the form of recognizing the areas of priority that need addressing – areas of concern for most NZer’s – should be the line of battle taken to National right up into the 2017 elections. At least as the ‘meat and potatoes’ staple.

      Combine that with the extraordinary and hard hitting speech given by Gareth Hughes of the Green Party , the now destructive effects of unbridled mass immigration policy and NZ First’s call for a more moderate immigration policy… there is ample stock from which to choose to hammer this ( I would say immoral ) govt.

      2017 is still a long way off… a lot can change but by keeping this govt permanently on the back foot , … this is how it can be toppled and a more moderate and sensible and democratic one put in its place.

      With strategic voting, tactical dialogue between them to maximize their efforts so as not to work at cross purposes , there is a good chance that Labour, Greens and NZ First will be the next coalition govt.

  3. Frank an excellent report. One minor technical note. The drop in homeownership rate refers to the proportion of homes or households that are owner occupied (from 74% in 1991 to 64% in 2015).

    The percentage of people (voting adults) who live in a owner-occupied home is lower. About 50% in NZ overall and under 50% in Auckland. http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-about-housing/home-ownership-individuals.aspx

    The reason for this difference is that rentals are significantly more crowded than owner-occupied homes.

    Labour need to target rental homes and state housing with a get out the vote campaign.

    • Labour are defiantly improving. One strategy though, last election Labour concentrated on renters and first homeowners to their detriment with more taxes, longer for retirement and the threat of increased interest rates and property price crashes. Not a message middle NZ wanted to hear. – It would be a better strategy if Labour concentrated on homeowners and Greens concentrated on renters. Both on the environment. And get back in Hone Hawawira in, who can do more for Maori and poverty.

      Last election the left offered the same things as each other, seemed to hate each other, and competed against each other allowing National to slide through home to victory.

      Internationally there is a big movement politically against global neoliberalism and a return to national identity. Locals are sick of being side lined and losing their identity while politicians tell everyone how great trade agreements are and how necessary they are. Buy NZ made, nuclear free, independent foreign policy, free health and education and state houses are all part of the NZ identity.

      Maybe Labour can do some promo videos of their past such as nuclear free and state houses – get some old footage. The point is Labour need to remind people of their history in NZ and what a positive force Labour has been.

    • Brendon – thanks for that information.

      The difference in figures is that mine include homes owned by individuals as well as family trusts; yours are owner-occupied only. Both are valid, as some owner-occupiers have a family trust over their home.

      At the same time, some homes are owned by Family Trusts, and are then rented out to other people. The occupants do not own that home – they are non-home-owners, according to Stats NZ.

      Your links shows owner-occupiers; http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-about-housing/home-ownership-individuals.aspx

      My link shows Family Trusts as well; http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-about-housing/home-ownership-households.aspx

      In future, I will make that distinction a bit clearer.

      • Sorry Frank but my wording was correct. One set of data is from the household questionnaire of the census and shows the number/proportion of houses in various categories -owner occupied, rented etc. The other data set came from the individual census questionnaire which shows the number/proportion of people living in owner-occupied homes, rentals etc.

        They are both valid measures of the decline in homeownership. But it is the data recording the number/proportion of individuals living in rentals which is important for its political impact -because people vote, not houses.

  4. Interesting analysis of Little’s veiled promise to partially restore free tertiary education. It’s about time we followed successful nations such as Finland and not the failed Charter school models of the US.

    However, as Priss pointed out above, I’ve neither forgotten nor forgiven Labour’s apalling hatchet job on Hone Harawira and the Mana Party. That will take a great deal more time.

  5. “But for those of you *already* at the bottom we offer no solutions and we will not fix the welfare safety net to keep you safe until we can fix all of the governmental screw-ups”

    • Well…as its taken the far right wing neo liberal fanatics 32 years to deconstruct social democracy and replace Keynesian economics with discredited neo liberal /Chicago school of economics instead…

      What makes you think there’s going to be an overnight cure for the destruction of 3 decades of lies, incompetence and greed?

      I think whats really making the neo liberals shit their pants now is they can see and recognize that not only are the people waking up but certain politicians and party’s are aligning against them.

      And why you might ask?… because even a brief perusal of Little’s speech is implying that certain neo liberal wings are going to be clipped , – and that means that not only are certain corrupt individuals but also their party’s are going to get the boot – and also the very meticulous years of planning put in to relocate wealth and power to the 1% as well.

      Which means also that the careful construction of the working poor class and the unemployed to provide a cheap labour pool to maintain the low wage economy is also at threat.

      Which means that attention to the plight of homelessness and poverty and the unemployed will have the spotlight turned on – along with housing speculation.

      And that scares the living shit out of all these little far right neo liberal fanatics.

      It means that their era of corporate welfare and bludging and vampirism of the commons wealth is coming to an end.

      It means they will have to start paying their way again.

      It means they can no longer look down haughtily at the homeless, the unemployed , the low wage earner .

      It means certain practices will no longer be viable to them to maintain that artificial position.

      It means their delusions and kidding themselves they are some sort of business wizards will be taken away from them once they are forced to pay realistic wages instead of exploiting working people and salary earners.

      It means they no longer can use the threat of unemployment as a bludgeon over working people.

      It means they can no longer blacklist workers and unions and lobby govt to demean the dollar value of labour and working conditions.

      Oh yes… there’s a lot more that can be added to the list , and woe betide the far right fanatic who fails to read between the lines. And for those that can …

      You can smell the stench of shit wafting unpleasantly from their direction even from here…

  6. Not a bad effort but Labour has a lot of work ahead of it before it can be trusted with public office again. Its promises must be clear and unambiguous – no nasty little hooks in the details subverting the headlines. Labour also needs to say how it will raise the revenue to fund all its promises or else it simply isn’t credible.

    • Before it can be trusted again??

      Was running annual surpluses without selling assets or the less fotunate down the river whilst running genuinely low unemployment, not running a property bubble or tax haven reasons to not be trusted?

  7. Great stuff Frank. Are a decent sized portion of nearly half of all voters wedded to the speculative housing beneficiary gravy train?

    They know National are the only party to keep everything just the way it is so they can cash up just before the whole flawed model goes bang or worse they are convinced it can keep on going on a bit longer.

    They are in, they have skin in the game, they need National like junky’s needs their dealer. They are hooked on the tax breaks on the interest and the “losses” for the more discerning negatively geared investor and best of all, the rental subsidies, all paid for by the long-suffering taxpayer. And these voters pay virtually NO tax. No other party on the face of this earth will indulge these voters with such generosity, not even close!

    This is the voters Labour are dealing with, a self-indulgent tough audience awash with a true sense of entitlement.

  8. The function of the Labour Party is to draw off and defuse the justifiable anger of the Working Class. They perform this function on behalf of the Ruling Class.

    You never really hear from Labour until election time. Then for a few weeks every three years, they trot out the red flags, hijack other people’s protest rallies, and make socialistic noises about work and housing and injustice.

    Ordinary workers are ordinarily taken in by this. But of course nothing is every actually done after the election about work and housing. Still, that was the plan all along; just keep the Workers doped up on hope and rhetoric.

    Eventually, workers do get wise and figure all this out after a while, and then the Working Class descends into despair and stops voting. That is actually a very positive outcome as far as the Ruling Class is concerned, and so this has become the second main function of the Labour Party; drive the Working Class into apathy.

    Ironically, the only party that every actually delivers on its promises to its constituents are the National Party – but then after all, their constituents are unashamedly the Ruling Class. This just happens to be the same Ruling Class that the Labour Party covertly serves anyway, so you could say that the Ruling Class has a bet each way.

    The combined efforts of both National and Labour constitute what we call, “The Establishment”. Which is why you have to figure out a way to throw out BOTH parties at the SAME time if anything is ever going to change.

    Bernie Sanders is actively working on throwing this “Establishment” out on its ass. It is entirely possible we could do the same. By taking all private money out of party financing and elections, and disqualifying anyone who has ever been in Parliament or served as a Party apparatchik before, we might just manage it. If we can ever wise up to the scam the Establishment is running.

    That’s a big ‘if’.

  9. I’ll be a first time voter next year. I was going to vote for Key, but that flag referendum and utter waste of money has put me off him forever. More so because my folks work in the health sector and have related the funding cuts that has affected their work. $26 million on a stupid referendum no one wanted and could’ve been spent on mental health instead.

    Greens for me next year.

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