27 Jan 2014

David Cunliffe speech transcript

1:33 pm on 27 January 2014

Text provided by the Labour Party prior to the delivery of the speech.

Three weeks ago I stood on top of a 1200-metre peak on the edge of

Kahurangi National Park with my 12-year-old son.

It was a six-hour slog to the summit, and worth every minute: the sense

of achievement, the amazing outlook over Golden Bay.

I felt then what I feel now: I am proud to be a New Zealander.

This is a great country built on

great values:

Compassion, resourcefulness, creativity, respect for our environment,

And opportunity and fairness for all, regardless of background.

These are my values.

They are New Zealand's values.

They are Labour values.

Sadly, these values don't match the reality of life for too many New

Zealanders today.

Today, too many Kiwi families are working ever harder but just can't get


There aren't enough good jobs.

And there is an increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Ours is an economy where a wealthiest few are doing well, people in the

middle are struggling to stay there, and those at the bottom are going


That is the state of our nation today.

This is now a country where one in four children is growing up in


That's not acceptable.

Today we begin the conversation with New Zealanders about what kind

of country we want our children to grow up in.

We'll be talking about how we create better jobs with higher wages.

We'll be talking about creating better opportunities for everyone,

including our kids and our young families

And we will do this by building an economy that works for all New


An economy that delivers for every Kiwi family.

In the coming months you will no doubt hear praise for the New Zealand

economy from a few vested interests with rock star lifestyles.

But New Zealanders know that there is a vast gap between the rhetoric

and the reality.

They are told things are getter better, but in their own lives they see

prices going up while their wages stay still.

Too many people feel nervous about the monthly rates, power and

insurance bills. The envelopes sit unopened on the kitchen table

because people are too anxious to open them.

Too many families are struggling even to cover the basics.

When this school did a drama production, right here in this hall, and

charged a $10 entry fee for a seat - the seats you're sitting in - I know

parents who couldn't afford to watch their own kids perform.

That's the price of living in a low wage economy.

The rich are getting much richer, the middle is struggling and the poor

are going backwards.

It's the human face of "trickle-down economics", the idea that if we give

more to those at the top, eventually things will get better for the rest of


This is the idea that drove the world economy to the brink of collapse in


And now, National is asking us to roll the dice again on the same

bankrupt ideas that got us into this mess in the first place.

But New Zealanders aren't fooled. Because they can see that even now,

when there is a slight uptick in growth, they aren't feeling any better off.

And they're right. The numbers speak for themselves.

Housing costs in Auckland up 15%.

Milk, cheese and eggs up 7%;

Meat and chicken up 8%.

And now the same economists who talk gleefully about a booming

economy predict interest rates rising as high as 8%.

What does that mean for you? It means that if your mortgage is at 5.75%

and it costs you $500 a week now, at 8% it's going to cost an extra $136

a week.

$136 a week.

So while you're paying more, the National Government has been busy:

Giving tax cuts to the wealthy.

Hocking off our assets.

Bending over backwards for foreign corporates: casinos, movie

moguls and smelters.

My opponent doesn't think there's a problem here.

But it's now a fact that the top 10% own 50% of our wealth.

The bottom 50% owns just 5% of it.

In fact, between 1984 and 2011 the income of the top 1% rose nearly 10

times as fast as the bottom 10%.

But enough numbers. Kiwis see the reality in their own lives every day.

They feel it in how hard it is to stay ahead of the next bill and they see it

in our shameful rates of child poverty.

Like a lot of Kiwis, my family has sponsored a couple of kids overseas,

one in India and one in Cambodia.

But I was appalled to discover recently that right here in New Zealand -

get this - there are now charities asking us to sponsor Kiwi children for

$15 a month.

So they can buy things like shoes, and a coat to keep out the rain.

What has happened to our country?

From the highest living standards in the world, to "sponsor a Kiwi kid for

less than a dollar a day."

It shouldn't be like this.

There is an alternative.

We used to pride ourselves on being one of the most egalitarian nations

in the world.

That's why so many of our forebears came here in the first place.

When I grew up, my family didn't have much, but there was opportunity.

There was a good state school for me to go to, and good health care

when my dad desperately needed it.

From the shearing sheds of South Canterbury to the pubs of South

Dunedin, there were jobs that gave me the chance to save, study, and

get ahead.

Some of our opponents also benefited from these opportunities.

Whether it was training incentive allowances or state houses, they've

climbed the ladder of opportunity. Now they're pulling it up behind them.

I entered politics because I want every Kiwi kid to have the same

opportunities I did.

That's why under Labour:

A full day's work will cover the basics;

There will be more jobs available, and wages will catch-up with


New Zealanders will pay what is fair - whether in their power bill,

their tax bill, or their grocery bill.

And every child in this country will have the best start in life.

But we can't have good jobs and better living standards without a strong,

modern economy.

Everyone knows the world is changing, and we need to change with it.

That's why we will support our world-beating innovators and

entrepreneurs, by rewarding research and development with tax credits.

That's why we will encourage investment away from property

speculation and into our productive businesses by introducing a capital

gains tax.

That's why we will assist exporters hit hard in the pocket by a high dollar

through reforming the Reserve Bank Act.

And that's why we will to assist our primary industries to keep jobs and

profits in this country.

Because when raw logs, or bulk fish, or whole carcasses - rather than

finished products - sail off our shores, so does most of the added value.

And off with it go the good jobs and the decent wages Kiwi families

deserve, and need to get ahead.

Building this new economy will require a new type of Government, and a

dfferent way of doing things.

I know that the best change happens when you work with people, rather

than trying to do it to them or even for them.

Together. That's how we will build a nation of opportunity.

And it all begins with our kids.

I'm a proud dad. I have two great boys, and like every Kiwi parent I want

to give my children the best start possible.

It's that basic drive, to give our children better than we ourselves had,

that should guide us as a nation.

But it's not just about doing what's right, it's also about doing what

makes sense.

When New Zealand families struggle with the basics, we are all worse


We all know the costs of child poverty are huge, but experts tell us they

are around $6 billion a year.

What a huge waste of our human and economic potential.

So if you're going to do something about that, where do you start?

Well obviously you start early. That's where the investment does the

most good.

We all know that the first five years of a child's life are the most

important. It affects how they learn, how they get on with other people,

and the opportunties they have.

When one in four of our kids is growing up below the poverty line, and

one in five don't even have two pairs of shoes to wear to school, is it any

surprise we're tumbling down the educational rankings?

Kids do not leave their lives at the school gate.

Restoring opportunity for every Kiwi kid is just common sense.

The experts back it up and it's no surprise there is a growing consensus

on this point.

However, it is also a deep and complex challenge.

If a kid starts out without the basics in place, just paying bonuses to a

few of their teachers isn't going to turn it around.

Raising kids is ultimately a job for their parents. But many families are

working hard and still doing it tough, especially when their children are in

their youngest years.

Child care is expensive, so one parent may decide to stay at home, for

as long as they can. If they can. Many parents don't even have that


That's why today we want to send a message that we value the early

years. That we know the start a child has in life affects all of us in the

long run, and the more support we can give parents during those critical

years, the better off we will all be.

Today I am proud to launch Best Start - Labour's plan to give every

Kiwi kid the best start in life, starting before they're born and moving

through early childhood and into education.

There is no year more critical than the first. That's why today, I am

announcing that for 59,000 families with new-born babies, they will all

receive a Best Start investment of $60 per week, for the first year of their

child's life.

The payment will go to all families with a combined income of $150,000

or less, and will give them more choices around how they juggle the

pressure of work and care for their baby.

But we need to keep easing that pressure for modest and middle income

families beyond that first year. That's why for these families, a payment

of up to $60 a week will continue to their child's third birthday.

Today I am also announcing we will increase Free Early Childhood

Education to 25 hours, up from 20.

Labour's Free early childhood education programme is already making a

difference. The evidence shows every dollar we invest saves $11 down

the track.

But as many of you here will have found, 20 hours is not enough and

doesn't always fit with centre schedules.

By lifting it to 25 we're giving parents more choices and we're continuing

to build investment in our kids.

We will also expand access to early childhood centres, because free

hours aren't enough if you don't have a centre in your neighbourhood, or

if all the rolls are full.

In partnership with communities, Labour will fund the development of

early childhood centres in lower income communities to ensure there are

places for every kid.

But quantity is no good without quality. This Government has cut funding

for qualified teachers in our early childhood centres.

We think our kids deserve better. That's why we are restoring those

funding cuts, starting with a downpayment in our first year.

Labour's package commits us to 26 weeks paid parental leave to ensure

infants get a safe and solid start.

I call on our opponents to remove their financial veto so that Sue

Moroney's Paid Parental Leave bill can proceed as planned on 1 July

this year.

We also recognise that success in the early years involves health as well

as education and income issues.

That's why we are also committing to a set of initiatives that ensure kids

have the best chance from the day they're born, especially those who

need it most.

This will include:

making sure 80% of pregnant mums are booked in for antenatal

checks by 10 weeks,

providing free antenatal classes for every expectant mum who

wants them

extending visits by WellChild providers like Plunket for families

who need extra support.

We will also provide access to free early childhood education for

children under 3 years, if they are identified as being especially


The Best Start package will ensure parents have more choices and

better support so they can give their kids the opportunities they deserve.

This will, of course, all require investment.

We've already freed up $1.5 billion per annum by dropping policies that

were not as targeted as these.

And we will be unashamedly asking the wealthiest few percent of

income earners to contribute to giving all Kiwi kids the best start.

We need to put our resources where they will do the most good. And I

believe, as do most Kiwis, that the best investment we can ever make is

in our children.

The choice we all face in 2014 is a crucial one for our country as well as

for our kids.

It's about a stark choice between growing inequality on the one hand,

and restoring opportunity for all New Zealanders on the other.

It's between a Government that has stopped listening, that is arrogant

and out of touch.

And a new direction from a new government that will create opportunity

for all, starting with our kids.

We know these are tough problems.

We know it will take time to shift them.

But we have the courage to take a stand.

It is not good enough for a quarter of our kids to be growing up in


Or for many to lack access to support and education in their early years.

We will fix this.

And we won't stop there.

We will be campaigning for better education, affordable housing, and

quality public health care.

We will work for better jobs and higher wages based on a high-value


There will be opportunities in all our regions and decent work based on

fair employment laws.

As your prime minister I will put Kiwis first, and work in partnership with

communities for a fairer society.

We will have a New Zealand that once more lives up to New Zealand's


Later this year, you will have the power to choose a better, fairer, and

more prosperous New Zealand.

I know that none of us believe we should settle for anything less.

I know none of us believes New Zealand should be country where we

'sponsor a kid for a dollar a day'.

Well this year that changes.

Together, we will begin rebuilding a country that is proud, strong, and

gives every single child the very best start.

Thank you.