Chris Hipkins, MP for Rimutaka and Labour’s Chief Whip, gave a speech in today’s Address In Reply – he congratulated National on an election win that gave them a clear mandate, he acknowledged Labour’s poor result and some of their poor efforts over the past few years, and he detailed what he thought Labour needed to be and needed to do do.
Speech – CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka)
Draft transcript – Wednesday, 29 October 2014 – Address in Reply debate
CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka): Thank you very much, Mr Assistant Speaker Mallard. Can I congratulate you on your elevation to your new role, and can I congratulate the National Party members on their re-election as the Government. It is not the election result that I was out there campaigning for, but I do want to acknowledge that it was a clear election result and congratulate them on that.
I would also like to thank the people of Rimutaka for once again investing their trust and confidence in me to be their elected representative in Parliament. It is a tremendous privilege and an honour to represent the people of my home town, and I look forward to doing so again over the next 3 years.
As I mentioned, it was a disappointing election result for the Labour Party, and I want to acknowledge that, and I say to the New Zealand public “message received”.
Clearly, the Labour Party in recent times has not been speaking to the hopes and aspirations of a wide enough section of New Zealand society, and that is a challenge that we need to take on board as we head through the rest of this parliamentary term.
New Zealanders want to hear us talking about the issues that matter to them, but New Zealanders also want to know that if they work hard they will be able to get ahead, and that there is a Government in place that rewards the hard work and effort of all New Zealanders, not just those at the top.
New Zealanders want to see the Labour Party being a voice for the people who are struggling at the moment and working hard but not able to get ahead to create a better life for themselves and their families.
That is what the Labour Party has always stood for, and that is one of the challenges that we face in this Parliament—to return back to some of those basic principles upon which the Labour Party was founded, and to speak to the hopes and aspirations of a much broader range of New Zealanders.
I said that we should be celebrating success and we should be ensuring that those who work hard are able to get ahead. I want to quote, rather unusually perhaps, or rather controversially, Frank Underwood, the chief whip in the American television series House of Cards.
Hon Maggie Barry: Now you’ve got our attention.
CHRIS HIPKINS: That is right—he is a great role model. Frank Underwood said that those of us who have done well in life have a responsibility to send the elevator back down. I think that that summarises a lot about what the Labour Party does stand for and what we should stand for.
Yes, we should be celebrating the success of those who have done well in life, but having done well in life we then have responsibilities to others around us to ensure that they have those same opportunities that we have enjoyed.
I have little time for people who boast about being born in a State house and then seek to sell off State houses and remove those vital social services from future generations.
I have little time for people who talk about how they dragged themselves up by their bootstraps, raised themselves, and relied on the State support that was available to them, and then seek to limit those same State supports to future generations of New Zealanders. That is pulling up the ladder behind them and it is blatantly unfair.
There is nothing wrong with them being proud of their success—they have every right to be. My challenge to them and my challenge to everybody else is to ask what they are doing to share opportunity around so that others have that same opportunity. That is the challenge for this Government.
I similarly congratulate people who have done well in business. I think that creating a business, building a business, and being successful in business is a fantastic thing, and it is something we should encourage and reward New Zealanders for doing. But we should also recognise that businesses exist within communities.
Yes, it is great that somebody has built a business and has made him or herself into a successful business person, but we should never forget the fact that they are using a workforce that was educated by the rest of us. The education of their workforce was paid for by the New Zealand taxpayer. They transport their goods on roads paid for by everybody. They have their property rights protected by law enforcement agencies paid for by all of us.
So, yes, it is great that we celebrate the success of businesses, but businesses exist within communities and businesses and those who create them and run them have responsibilities back to those communities as well. We should be looking at both sides of that equation.
It is great to celebrate success and we should do that more often, and I have no hesitation in saying so, but we should also talk about the reciprocal responsibilities that come with that. We should do that as well. There is no doubt that New Zealand faces some big challenges, and we are going to have to address some of those over the life of this Parliament and beyond.
We have a significant change in the demographics of our population, as our population gets older. Our older New Zealanders have the right to security in retirement, and dignity in retirement, but we also have a responsibility to ensure that our settings around that are sustainable into the future.
As we have more and more New Zealanders leaving the workforce and into retirement, and as we have more and more New Zealanders living longer, with the pressure that brings on the health care system , we need to make sure we can continue to pay for that, so that it is not a hollow promise.
And yes, it might be politically convenient to push those debates aside in the short term , but in the longer term we are going to have to address those, and it is better to have an honest and open discussion about that now rather than pushing that away for future generations to have to confront.
We do need to talk about how we lift New Zealand’s economy up the value chain so that we are creating higher-value jobs.
I have lost count of the number of people whom I have spoken to in my electorate who say: “We are willing to do the heavy lifting. We do not mind getting out there and working hard, because we want a better life for ourselves and our families, but no matter how hard we work at the moment we cannot get ahead. We cannot get a foot on the property ladder. We cannot provide all of the things that we want to be able to provide for our kids.”
Those are ordinary, everyday New Zealanders who are happy to do the hard work, they are happy to get out there. They just want a Government that makes sure they have the opportunities. And that is what the Labour Party stands for. We want to say to those New Zealanders: “We stand beside you.”
In the Labour Party we want to make sure that the opportunities are there so that those who work hard can be rewarded and can get ahead.
In the Public Service we have a challenge here with a Government that is overly focused on measurement and is only focusing on the things that can be easily measured, rather than on many of the things that are important. In education, for example, it is easy to focus on what can be measured.
So we can have a measurement that says that every child has to achieve national standards and get National Certificate of Educational Achievement level 2 . What happens if they leave school and still end up going on the unemployment benefit at the end of it? Surely the thing that we should be focused on is the outcomes, and the outcomes are more difficult to measure, and therefore manage, than the outputs, if you like, in the form of qualifications.
These are the honest and real debates that we should be having. We in the Labour Party will be holding the Government to account in this term of Parliament.
We recognise the election result that has delivered the National Party a clear mandate to be the Government, but we have a responsibility to hold the Government to account, and we will do that.
We will hold it to account when it sells off State housing, as National has done in the past.
We will hold the Government to account when it tries to inflict employment law changes on the vast bulk of the working population that benefit the few and penalise the many.
We will certainly hold them to account on issues around foreign policy and stay fast and true to the principle of New Zealand being a proud independent country that makes its decisions on foreign policy independently.
We will hold the Government to account on issues around child poverty, because in a country that is as rich as New Zealand—and although we might not always feel it, we are a rich country—there is simply no excuse for children to be growing up in this country living in poverty. I want to acknowledge over the last few years that the Labour Party has not always put its best foot forward.
We have sometimes struggled with the challenges of balancing Opposition with proposition.
We have two roles here. One is to point out where the Government is going wrong and hold it to account, but the other is to be proposing alternatives, and we need to make sure that we do that in a positive way.
I also want to acknowledge that it has been difficult to provide space for robust internal democracy whilst also presenting a unified and coherent vision to New Zealanders, and I think we will need to redouble our efforts there.
We need to make sure we look outwards to the half a million New Zealanders who used to vote for the Labour Party and now vote for someone else.
My message to all of them is: the Labour Party is back, we want to talk to you, we want to engage with you, and we want to know, quite frankly, what it is going to take to get you to reinvest your vote in the Labour Party. I think that is the discussion that we will have over the next 3 years.
To conclude—it is a fantastic honour and a privilege to be back in the House representing the people of the Rimutaka electorate. I thank them once again for the opportunity to serve and represent them.
I would be dishonest if I said I was not disappointed with the election outcome. I would far rather be sitting on the Government side of the House than on this side of the House, but I have received, like all of my colleagues, the message that the voters of New Zealand have sent to us, and I can tell this Government that it is in for a tough 3 years.
We will be rigorous in holding it to account, and we are absolutely resolved and determined that in 3 years’ time we will be over there on the Government side, and they will be over here.
That is the challenge that is ahead of all of us. We will certainly be focused on that because I believe that New Zealanders deserve better. John Key has failed to deliver them the brighter future that he promised them, and the Labour Party will be holding him to account for that.