Andrew Little’s Speech to Labour Party Conference
Palmerston North — 8 November 2015
Thanks for reading my speech to the 2015 Labour Party annual conference. In it, I set out our vision for New Zealand—a New Zealand where we can all rebuild the Kiwi dream.
Let me know what you think on Twitter, Facebook or by leaving a note below. And If you want to tweet a quote from my speech, it’s easy: just select the quote and click the tweet button. I’m really looking forward to hearing what you think.
E nga mana
E nga tapu
E Te whanau o te roopu reipa
Tena koutou katoa
Malo e lelei
Thank you so much for that welcome.
Can I acknowledge party president Nigel Haworth, our new senior vice president Virginia Andersen, our Māori vice president Nanaia Mahuta and all of our hard working New Zealand Councilors.
I also want to acknowledge our outgoing General Secretary Tim Barnett. Tim, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for this party and the huge effort you have made.
Thank you to everyone in our caucus, especially my Deputy Annette King and our Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson.
And can I also acknowledge and say thank you for your patience to the two most important people in the world to me: my wife Leigh and my son Cam.
Why We Fight
Over 100 years ago, a group of miners gathered in a small union hall in Waihi and voted to take a stand against a company that was exploiting them.
The dispute had gone on for months already.
The miners’ hopes were simple.
They wanted to be treated well at work, to be paid fairly, and they wanted to know that when they went to work they would come home safely.
So the miners went on strike to press their case.
The response was immediate and devastating.
The full power of a corrupt and cosy establishment was unleashed against them.
The Prime Minister of the day branded them “enemies of order.”
One miner was beaten to death.
A young union organiser, a recent immigrant from Scotland, was helping the miners with their cause, travelling the country to raise money and give speeches in support.
He saw first hand the lengths that the powerful would go to in order to cling on to their position.
He saw that if the dreams of ordinary people were going to be possible, they needed more than a voice — they needed to have their hands on the law-making power of Parliament.
That young man’s name was Peter Fraser.
The party that he helped found, our party, has been on the job for nearly 100 years.
- 100 years of fighting for a more just New Zealand.
- 100 years of standing up to the smug and the self-contented.
- 100 years of making life better for all New Zealanders;
All the people who organised together and campaigned together over the last century, people like you and me; they’ve left us an awesome legacy.
Just think of what our party has achieved:
- Think of Joe Savage, who built our modern social safety net, our health care, our pensions, and who carried the furniture into the very first state house.
- Think of Peter Fraser fighting for a state education system at home, and a lasting peace abroad.
- Think of Walter Nash and his fight for affordable home loans.
- Think of Norman Kirk walking onto the grounds at Waitangi hand in hand with a young Māori boy, sending the powerful message that it was time to restore mana to the Treaty of Waitangi.
- Think of David Lange and the courage it took to stand up to a superpower. To assert what he called the power of humanity, the power of decision, over the madness of nuclear war.
- And, just a few years ago, think of all the good Helen Clark did to lift New Zealand families through the Cullen Fund, KiwiSaver and Working for Families.
Our party has never been afraid to take on the big fights:
- To lift New Zealanders up.
- To restore opportunity.
- To help us live our dreams.
You know, as New Zealanders, we don’t ask for the world. We have some simple aspirations.
Owning a home; having security for the people we love; a chance to enjoy the outdoors and the environment we love; and a job that gives us the time and the money to lead a fulfilling life.
These are the aspirations that we all share.
Together, they’re the Kiwi Dream, a dream that’s central to our country’s identity.
We’ve always been a progressive, big hearted people.
We believe in looking out for each other and doing the right thing.
We believe everyone should have the same opportunities to make the most of this life.
Our forebears in this great party put these values at the heart of the Labour project.
Whenever the Kiwi dream has been threatened, Labour championed it.
Whenever the rights of New Zealanders needed defending, Labour defended them.
That’s what previous generations did.
Now it’s our turn. Now it’s our turn.
We’ve come together this weekend to begin the work of rebuilding the Kiwi Dream.
I came to this party because Labour has always stood up for a fair go — for opportunity for everyone.
It’s an enormous honour to have been elected your Leader — I don’t underestimate the responsibility I hold.
But I’m not one of those people who can say I was born to Labour.
In fact, it was quite the opposite.
The first time my Mum voted for a Labour candidate was when she voted for me.
My Dad was another story altogether. He was a staunch National supporter.
He used to yell at the TV whenever political opponents came on the telly.
The people who most got under his skin? Union leaders, and pretty much everyone in the Labour Party.
So, “Andrew Little, Leader of the Labour Party and former union leader” probably isn’t the ambition he had for his son.
He’s probably up there right now going “god, look at my boy, where did I go wrong?”
But the truth is, he did a great job.
He and mum taught me some basic values.
Think for yourself. Make up your own mind. Stand up for other people and never be afraid to lend a helping hand to someone who needs it.
So Dad, you did the right thing, you were just in the wrong party.
My own political views were forged in the era of the Springbok Tour, and of the controversies over justice for Arthur Allan Thomas and justice in the Erebus Disaster.
I watched these events unfold and discovered in myself an intolerance for injustice.
When I see injustice, it sticks in my craw and I am compelled to stand up to it, and fight it.
The injustice I speak of is when the powerful and the privileged abuse their position to take advantage of the weak.
Here’s what I believe:
- I believe in dignity. The dignity of the person matters most; and every person must have the opportunity to realise their full potential;
- I believe in equality. A system that shuts people out because of where they live, or who they are, or who they love, or who their parents are is unjust and cannot stand;
- I believe in the great freedoms that make us who we are. Freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of association.
I know that the freedom I cherish cannot come at the expense of other people’s freedom. And I am very clear: there is no freedom in poverty and deprivation.
And I believe in fair rewards, too. Everyone who works to make this country great should share in the rewards.
It’s those values that I have carried with me my entire life.
The experiences I’ve had in my working life have taught me the type of leadership you need if you want to fight and win for progressive causes.
I learnt that it isn’t about making everyone happy or trying to avoid confrontation and disagreement.
Instead it’s about taking a stand because it’s the right thing to do.
I learned that real change — lasting change — change that’s worth fighting for takes patience, and resolve and determination.
It takes a long term view, keeping your eyes on the prize, not being drawn into every battle and skirmish and never giving up on what matters.
It’s these values and a lifetime of fighting for them that’s led me to believe we need to change the direction of our country.
Because right now this government isn’t living up to our values.
We aren’t being true to who we are, and that means more people are being shut out of the Kiwi Dream.
Most Kiwis believe that hard work should bring fair rewards.
But our economy is increasingly weighted in favour of those already doing well, while putting up barriers that stop other people getting ahead.
That’s why the incomes of the top 10 percent of New Zealanders are now ten times the income of the bottom 10 per cent. Ten times.
Most New Zealanders used to grow up believing they would be able to own their own home if they worked hard and saved hard.
But our houses have become playthings for speculators, many of whom live offshore — putting home ownership out of reach of ordinary New Zealanders.
That’s why in Auckland last year, the average house made more than three times as much as the average worker.
That’s right, the average Aucklander made $58,000 last year, but the average house price went up by more than $180,000.
That’s just crazy.
And now home ownership rates have hit their lowest level in 64 years.
We have to turn that around.
Most Kiwis also expect New Zealand to be a force for good on the world stage.
But this government is ducking its obligations and turning us into a lightweight in the international community.
We enlisted the support of many countries to get onto the UN Security Council.
We promised we would be the conscience of the world — that we would provide moral leadership.
But when we were faced with a real question of moral leadership: a humanitarian crisis engulfing millions of Syrian refugees, New Zealanders looked on in horror as the government dithered and prevaricated because they were waiting for a poll.
This is not the legacy of our great internationalist leaders: Fraser, Kirk, Clark.
And what about health?
Most Kiwis believe when you get sick, the public health system will be there to help you get well.
But our health system is stretched to breaking point, slashing services and denying Kiwis the care they need.
That’s why when Graham Higgins from Northland needed a procedure to diagnose his cancer, he had to wait over 6 months — by which time his cancer had become terminal.
I’ve battled cancer myself.
I know what it’s like to wait for the results of that test that could change your life.
So I’m making this commitment right now: when I’m Prime Minister I’ll make sure Kiwis get the care they need when they need it and I’ll give our doctors and nurses and health workers the funding they need to do their jobs.
But these aren’t the only values we’ve lost in the last few years.
Most Kiwis believe we owe it to our kids to give them a better life than we had.
But this government has turned a blind eye to appalling rates of poverty in this country.
That’s why the children’s wards of our hospitals are seeing Kiwi kids sick with third world diseases.
It’s why Emma-Lita Bourne died in a state house because her home was mouldy and unhealthy and no one was willing to help.
We must never let anything like that happen again.
New Zealand, we are a better country than that.
We’ve got to turn the page on the last seven years;
We’ve got to turn the page on rising inequality, on child poverty, on the housing crisis and on cuts to our health system,
If we want to restore the Kiwi Dream then we have to change the government.
And, once we’ve done that, we have to change the way we govern, too.
Right now, it seems the government is more interested in slapstick and personal sledging than in genuine leadership;
It’s more interested in flags and pandas than in serious issues.
It seems like the latest political sideshow is often more important than what is happening to you or your family.
I didn’t become an MP to play parliamentary parlour games.
I came into politics to help people.
To change lives for the better.
To take this country forward.
I ran for the leadership of our party because I want to lead a Government that makes a genuine difference.
Today, I want to give New Zealanders a clear idea of the shape and character of the sixth Labour Government.
I want to show you how we’ll put Kiwi values back to work in our government, so everyone can live the Kiwi Dream.
It starts with restoring the values that should underpin how we run our economy.
We need to remember who we run the economy for.
People. New Zealanders. Their families.
This government’s forgotten that.
They’ve been rewarding property speculators, tax dodgers and big corporates at the expense of Kiwi families.
And here’s the truth: it’s not working.
The economy is slowing.
Just when we should be soaring, we’re stalling again.
Just this week we’ve learned the economy lost 11,000 jobs in the last three months.
Unemployment has hit 6% and is expected to reach 7% by the end of next year.
That’s the highest level since the height of the GFC.
The economy is actually going backwards in half of our regions.
If we’re going to restore the Kiwi Dream of opportunity for everyone, we need a stronger economy
That starts with getting more New Zealanders into higher skilled, better paid jobs.
Ask me my three priorities as Labour Leader?
Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.
You can ask me my top ten as well but I think you get the gist.
A job is about more than just a pay packet, it’s about the dignity of work. It’s about a place and a purpose in your community.
Every Kiwi who can work should be able to work.
Every business that needs a skilled worker should be able to find one.
And where people can’t work, the government should support them because we won’t allow Kiwis to be thrown on the scrap heap.
From day one, we’ll kick-start the economy.
- We’ll bring forward major infrastructure projects like the City Rail Link in Auckland and passenger rail in Canterbury.
- We’ll build better schools so every Kiwi kid can learn in a modern, high quality building.
- We’ll set up a Regional Infrastructure Fund for major development projects to create jobs and boost our regions.
We will be relentlessly focussed on the future. That’s why I’m proud of Grant Robertson’s Future of Work Commission, which is showing us how to build a better economy for the future.
We’ll create thousands of new jobs in new industries by restoring research and development tax credits — giving our businesses a tax break on every dollar they spend on innovation.
We’ll modernise our education system so our kids are better prepared for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.
And we’ll tackle climate change, because the only way our economy has a future is if our planet has a future.
That means aiming higher on renewable energy — we should be bold enough to say we want to see 100% renewable energy in New Zealand.
That also means doing better on reducing emissions. I want us to reach across the political divide, bring parties together and agree on ways to make New Zealand a leader on climate change. We don’t want to be a shirker on this issue.
Labour’s proposal for the Paris conference is a 40% CO2 reduction below 1990 levels. That’s the kind of ambition we need on this issue.
We also need to improve our social safety net so it works better in a world where people change their careers more often.
And today, I want to add the next element of Labour’s economic plan.
As you might have guessed, it’s about jobs.
It’s about the government lifting its game and living its values.
There are 151,000 New Zealanders out of work already and that number is increasing. 151,000.
On top of that, there’s 90,000 underemployed New Zealanders, and another 200,000 who can only find temporary work.
For everyone to have a fair shot at the Kiwi Dream, everyone needs a chance at a decent, secure job, and the government should be doing its bit to make that happen.
But it isn’t.
Not even on the most basic decisions.
The government spends $40 billion a year purchasing goods and services.
That’s huge buying power but, currently, government bodies only consider their own bottom line when they make purchasing decisions. Not the country’s bottom line, just their own.
They buy ‘cheaper’ options, often from overseas, regardless of the impact on New Zealand, even if it means Kiwis will lose work.
That’s the kind of dangerously short sighted thinking that has been behind some of the biggest government botch ups in the last few years.
- the Hillside workshop closure in Dunedin and asbestos in imported rail wagons;
- The Novopay debacle
- Kiwi businesses shut out of the $1.9 billion IRD computer system contract.
At a time when our economy is stalled and our regions are struggling, there is a better way.
So today I’m announcing the first part of our jobs plan.
We’ll use the government’s buying power to create jobs here at home instead of sending them off overseas.
We will make job creation and the overall benefit to New Zealand a priority in how the government chooses its suppliers.
No more shipping tax-payers’ money offshore and starving our own companies of opportunities.
No more sending jobs overseas when we could be supporting a stronger economy here at home.
That’s billions of dollars that we will focus on creating jobs here in New Zealand.
And because we are putting existing money to better use, this policy has little to no fiscal cost.
Our plan, which we’re calling “Our Work, Our Future,” will put people to work, boost our businesses and it won’t break the bank.
Rebuilding the Kiwi Dream also means restoring opportunity to the thousands of New Zealand kids who are missing out — robbed of their future by the circumstances of their birth.
It means shining a light into dark corners of our country where people are trapped.
We still have 305,000 children living in poverty. 305,000.
2 out of 5 of those children have a parent who is working.
This can’t continue. It is unjust and it’s not who we are.
We all know this, but we’ve turned our backs for far too long.
Well, that ends today.
I’m committing our party to a new principle:
We will not tolerate poverty in New Zealand in the 21st century.
We won’t tolerate the poverty of the human spirit that means we choose to leave hundreds of thousands of children languishing in deprivation.
We won’t tolerate the poverty of imagination that means we stop thinking of creative ways to bring that poverty to an end.
Because I know that when this speech is over we will hear the usual chorus of jaded and cynical voices. They’ll say:
“It can’t be done. It’s too ambitious. You’re dreaming.”
To the cynics I say this:
Even if you’ve given up, I haven’t. I won’t. Ever. It’s not who I am.
New Zealanders are sick and tired of a politics that’s defined by cynicism and devoid of ambition.
It’s time to do better.
New Zealand, I’m asking you to join with me in a concerted effort to eradicate poverty in our country.
In government, we will put action on poverty at the heart of everything we do.
We’ll increase the number of hours people can work without having their benefit cut — to give more people a pathway back into full time work.
We’ll work towards 100% qualified teachers in ECE centers so every kid can get the best start in life.
We’ll feed hungry kids with our food in schools programme and we’ll make sure every child grows up in a warm, safe, dry home with our Healthy Homes Guarantee.
And we will get serious about lifting wages by working with unions and employers on modern and progressive workplace relations that boosts wages and lifts productivity and shares the gains fairly.
Every decision my government makes will be checked against its impact on child poverty.
So, every Budget, every year, we won’t just report on GDP growth or how much money we’ve spent, we’ll front up and tell the country how many children a Labour government has lifted out of poverty.
Standing up for Kiwis
The final part of rebuilding the Kiwi Dream is having a government that stands up for Kiwis again.
For many of us in this room, I know the TPPA is very important.
There are many things we still don’t know about what’s in the agreement.
But there is one thing we do know.
The National Government has signed us up to a clause that says we will not be able to make laws restricting the sale of land or housing to non-resident foreigners.
That’s what they’ve done.
They’ve signed us up to a commitment to other governments, and other people who don’t live in New Zealand, who don’t want to live in New Zealand, who don’t care about New Zealand.
That commitment limits what our democratically elected representatives in parliament can do.
And it’s wrong.
It’s an attack on democracy.
It’s selling out our democratic right to make our own laws.
And this matters to me because I’ve had some fights for New Zealanders under some very bad laws.
I started my law career under the Employment Contracts Act — a terrible law that cut the wages of thousands of New Zealanders.
The reason I came to Parliament was to make sure that we had laws that were good for New Zealand.
And I’m not giving that away to anybody.
But I’m not the only one with that view.
Remember Peter Fraser — one of the founding voices of our party. He saw what was happening to the Waihi Miners and he saw that for ordinary people to have a shot at their dreams they needed a democratic government on their side.
That’s what is at stake here.
Can we hold on to our democratic rights? Not if we let National trade them away.
So, I’m telling you, when it comes to undermining our democracy and our sovereignty in the TPPA, I am totally opposed and I will fight with every fibre in my body to stop it, to resist it, to make sure it never happens in New Zealand.
Our party has always backed the Kiwi Dream.
For nearly 100 years Labour has been fighting for New Zealand.
And today, it’s our turn to continue that fight.
Today, too many people feel like their dreams are slipping away.
And this government isn’t standing up for Kiwis or for what we believe.
It’s our job to turn this around.
In just two years, we can change the government and we can change this country.
We can restore opportunity.
We can create jobs.
We can end poverty and help Kiwis get ahead again.
Together, we can rise to the challenge of a new era, and chart a better course of our country.
I’m asking all of you today to make your voice heard.
I’m asking you to join our campaign, to talk to your neighbours and your friends and your family, to show them there is a better way.
Let’s send the message out from this hall today that the days of doing the easy thing are over.
It’s time to do the right thing.
The days of cowering to powerful vested interests are over.
It’s time to stand up for New Zealand.
The days of shrugging our shoulders and tolerating poverty and inequality are over.
It’s time to aim higher and do better.
It’s time to raise our sights.
We can do this.
We must do this, and we will do this.
New Zealand, together, it’s time for us to rebuild the Kiwi dream.
Will you help make Labour’s vision happen? Contribute to our campaign for 2017 by donating here.