Fellow party members, it’s a privilege to be here today. It’s a privilege to take part in this democratic process of this, the most democratic of parties. Democracy relies on people showing up and making informed decisions, so can I thank and congratulate you for being here too.
I’d like to start by acknowledging our current local Member of Parliament, Paul Swain, and pay tribute to his 18 years representing the people of Eastern Hutt and more recently Rimutaka. Paul, can I take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of everyone here and wish you all the very best in whatever comes next.
Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many of you and talk about this issues that matter to you. Thank you for being so generous with your time. I’ve learned a lot from our discussions and I’ve been heartened to hear about the positive difference the policies of the current Labour-led government are making to your lives.
The most common questions that you’ve asked me are pretty simple. Why do I want to be a member of parliament and what do I believe in?
I want to be a member of parliament because I want to make a difference. I want to ensure that we, as a country, turn our backs on the individualistic and selfish values promoted during the last few decades. I want us to restore the balance between individual freedom and collective and community responsibility.
I believe that collectively we have a responsibility to ensure that every New Zealander has the opportunity to reach their full potential. I believe that collectively, we have a responsibility to provide high quality, public health and education services to every one of our citizens. I believe that collectively we have a responsibility to treat our natural environment, and indeed our planet, with respect.
It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly, and those who are in the shadows of life-the sick and the needy.
I believe that’s true and that this sentiment sets parties on the centre left apart from those on the centre right of the political divide. While the National Party may be trying to mask its differences with Labour, let there be no doubt that a change of government would bring a fundamentally different approach.
The National Party is a party of minimums: minimum financial support for those in need, minimum standards in education, minimum rights in the workplace, minimum government, and overall, minimum ambitions for New Zealand.
My values, the values I share with the Labour Party, couldn’t be more different. I believe we should set our sights so much higher. I believe that the welfare system should be about so much more than just being a safety net. It should be about helping people up the ladder of opportunity, not just catching them when they fall off.
I believe that we should strive to have the best public education system in the world. I believe that all of our citizens are entitled to quality, well paid employment opportunities in positive and productive workplaces. And, of course, I believe that the government has a responsibility to make sure all of these things happen.
The challenges we will face as a society over the coming decades cannot be tackled by individuals acting alone. We need to come together through the democratic process of government and act collectively.
I grew up in the New Zealand of the 1980s and early 1990s, a time when society placed an overwhelming emphasis on individualism. The message emanating loudly and clearly from government was that you had to look out for yourself. You shouldn’t rely on the government being there when times got tough.
Thankfully, my parents didn’t share that view of the world. They were determined to ensure that my brother and I were raised with our feet firmly on the ground, with a strong sense of social justice and respect for the community we live in.
My mother, Rose, is a teacher and educationalist. My father, Doug, has been a retailer and maintenance contractor. They have instilled in me a set of values that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Treat others as you would wish to be treated. Respect and embrace diversity. Look for the good in everybody. Keep learning throughout your entire life. Never be afraid to admit and learn from your mistakes. And value people, your family, your friends, your colleagues, more than material possessions and wealth.
At school my brother and I mixed with kids from all walks of life. At Waterloo Primary School we rubbed shoulders with the poor kids of beneficiaries who lived in state houses, as well as the kids of the wealthy business types who lived on the Eastern Hills.
At Hutt Valley Memorial College (or Petone Tech as it would be better known to many of you) we mixed with a diverse ethnic community. As a Pakeha, I was very much in the minority. Most of the kids were Pacific Island or Maori, and I very much appreciate now the insight that has given me into different cultures.
During my years in the compulsory education system I saw first hand the impact many government policies had on the most vulnerable people in our society. I went to school with kids whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them basic necessities, like breakfast.
In New Zealand we pride ourselves on our egalitarian values, but let me assure you, there was nothing egalitarian about Jenny Shipley’s benefit cuts in 1991. There was nothing egalitarian about the Employment Contracts Act, and there was nothing egalitarian about cuts to New Zealand superannuation.
In many ways it was my experiences growing up here in the Hutt Valley that have led me here today. The deeply felt sense of social injustice I came to realise when I was at secondary school compelled me to become politically motivated when I started university, putting me on the road to a life involved in politics.
As an active member of the students’ association at university, and later as its president, I campaigned actively against the policies of the then National government in the late 1990s.
We should never let people forget about National’s plans to privatise our universities and polytechnics. We should never let people forget how National forced students to go to foodbanks while they waited for their loans and allowances to be processed while Christine Rankin flew around in chartered jets. And we should never let people forget how the National Party continued to flog off state assets such as our railways and airports with no mandate whatsoever.
After leaving university I went to work in the private sector, relocating to New Plymouth where I worked on contract to Shell Todd Oil Services, the operator of our largest gas field, Maui. I enjoyed learning about the energy industry, and I certainly formed some pretty strong views on the need for us to take a much more sustainable approach to the use of our natural resources.
But politics drew me back to Wellington. I spent three years working at parliament in Trevor Mallard’s office while he was the Minister of Education. I passionately believe that the provision of high quality, free, public education is one of the government’s most important responsibilities.
I was proud to have worked on Labour’s 2005 election campaign. Two policies I’m particularly proud of were the abolition of interest on student loans and the introduction of 20 hours free early childhood education.
I was also proud to be part of Labour’s campaign to defeat the Hollow Men who tried to buy their way into office. Like all of you, I found Labour’s re-election in 2005 a huge relief. I firmly believe that Labour is the party with the best ideas to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
For example, in the coming years we will need to address the challenge of our ageing population. Statistics show that for every New Zealander over the age of 65 there are currently around 4 working age New Zealanders.
Within the next twenty years that is projected to drop to 3 working age kiwis for every person over the retirement age and by 2051 there will be just two New Zealanders in the 15 to 65 age bracket for every New Zealander over the age of 65.
The challenges this poses for our country are obvious and huge. When you hear people lamenting the government’s surplus and arguing for tax cuts, it pays to remind them that a good portion of the surplus has been set aside to pay for the baby boomers retirement.
If we’re going to meet the challenge posed by the ageing population, we need to ensure that every New Zealander who can work does work, and that they have a good, well paid job. We need to work smarter, not harder. Our future prosperity does not rest on those currently in the workforce giving up what little family and personal life they have.
I strongly support policies designed to achieve a greater balance between work and life. Paid parental leave, an extra weeks annual leave, and better rights in the workplace are all policies Labour has enacted that need to be defended and, where possible, extended.
We also need to pay a lot more attention to our most vulnerable workers, those in low paid, part time and temporary jobs. I know a number of people who work several part time jobs just to make ends meet. When they get home, they’re exhausted. That’s no way to live and we’ve got to do a lot more in that area.
We need to face up to the challenges our primary industries are facing. We spoke last week about the future of manufacturing, and I do believe that manufacturing has a positive future in this country, but it will look different to the way it does now. It will involve playing to our natural strengths a lot more. We need to think beyond exporting logs to be processed offshore. We need to start thinking about how we can convert those logs into higher value products for export.
I mention all of these things in the context of the ageing population because if we don’t have every working age New Zealander engaged in meaningful, productive employment we will never be able to ensure the quality of life for those in retirement. Or indeed the quality of life for those too young to work.
Over coming years we will also need to tackle the challenges around sustainability. We need to get a lot better at using our natural resources efficiently and effectively, and we need to think a lot more about our environment.
As the next Member of Parliament for Rimutaka I would be a powerful advocate for our environment. We live in a beautiful country. We have a natural environment that is the envy of other countries, but that could all change. We need to start working a lot harder right now to tackle the issues of climate change and sustainability head-on. If we don’t, the implications for our country and indeed our planet will be huge.
I’m a passionate advocate for quality public transport. I’m delighted the Labour-led government has put funding into upgrading our trains and tracks, but there is a lot more to be done. Our entire train fleet needs to be upgraded and so do our stations. We need to improve station safety and provide more reliable passenger information. We also need to better integrate our public transport through a single-ticket system.
We need to place a lot more emphasis on recycling and reusing, and we need to ensure that as much of our energy as possible is generated from renewable sources.
New Zealand may be a small country, but we have proven we have a fantastic capacity to lead. We were the first country to give women the vote. We were pioneers in establishing the cradle to the grave welfare system. We were active in the fight against apartheid. We were amongst the first nations to recognise the need to settle historic grievances. We were, and are, proud to stand against nuclear weapons, even when it’s unfashionable.
And today we have the opportunity to lead again. We can lead on sustainability. We can lead on climate change. We can lead on the elimination of child poverty. And most importantly of all, we can lead on rebuilding a sense of community and a collective sense of responsibility.
The next election will be a challenging one for Labour. We’ve been in government for eight solid years, and the National Party has been in opposition for 8 desperate years.
They will stop at nothing to get back onto the Treasury benches. To beat them we’ll need to be relentless in reminding people of the progress we have made these last eight years and we’re going to need to demonstrate to every New Zealander that we have the ideas, the passion and the energy to keep delivering for our country.
I believe passionately in the work that Helen Clark and Labour have been doing in government. New Zealand is a much better place to live than it was 8 years ago.
We have the lowest unemployment rate ever. We have more people in jobs than ever before. We’ve massively increased our investment in education and primary health care.
We’ve introduced paid parental leave, free early childhood education, an extra weeks annual leave, and we’ve raised the minimum wage on a regular and ongoing basis.
We’ve scrapped the Employment Contracts Act and replaced it with much fairer legislation. We’ve scrapped interest on student loans, and we’ve restored the level of New Zealand Superannuation so that older New Zealanders can live in dignity.
But there is now, and there always will be, so much more to be done. Being in government isn’t a sprint. It’s a never ending relay. I’m here on behalf of a new generation to say we’re ready and willing to take the baton.
If Labour is to play a dominant role in the political scene in the future, we need new faces, new energy and new ideas. I believe that I can make a contribution, both as an active and effective advocate for the people of Rimutaka, and also as a new, fresh face for Labour in parliament.
I’m here today to ask for your support, not just so that I can be Labour’s next candidate for Rimutaka, but so that together we can ensure that we win this seat, and win the next election for Labour.