Andrew Little in response to the Prime Minister’s statement:
ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition): I move, That all the words after “That” be deleted and replaced with “this House expresses no confidence in this National-led Government because it is out of ideas and out of touch on the housing crisis, because it has cut health services that New Zealanders rely on, because it has underfunded education and undermined our children’s futures, and because New Zealanders are crying out for a leader who will stand up for all Kiwis.”
Suddenly I am looking forward to this general election campaign way more than I was a wee while ago. This is going to be a fantastic year. I begin by acknowledging you, Mr Speaker, and all my colleagues and saying welcome back after what was called, in the Prime Minister’s adjournment speech, “the summer recess”. He cannot even keep that promise.
We have turned up here, in the wake of our national day, Waitangi Day. How significant that the first debate in Parliament should come after that day, when we have so much to celebrate as a nation, in terms of our values—the values that have forged who we are, forged our identity as a people. This is a nation built on a covenant, based on mutual respect and understanding, on national unity, on openness, and shared prosperity. Because that is who we are. That is New Zealand—a new nation at the time of its founding, and whose newest settlers came here for a better life and to do things differently than in the countries they came from, back home.
For a long time we all know that that Treaty did not live up to the promises made of it and the expectations people had of it. But in 2017 we have much to take pride in—a sense of reconciliation, a sense of partial reinstatement and restoration, and a renaissance of Te Reo and Māoritanga; a recognition of Māori as our unique and distinctive element.
That is what yesterday was about, in celebrations right across the country. I saw it for myself when I visited Sydney on Saturday and saw the Sydney Waitangi festival, that Māori has gone international. I do not quite know what citizenship celebrations they were having in Santa Monica however, but I am sure we will hear from our resident citizen there about how he has championed the cause of New Zealand. But right now, right now, New Zealanders are very proud of our values and who we are.
But here is the thing—here is the thing. We expect, on our national day of celebration, that our country’s leaders will front up to the place that is the birthplace of our nation. But what we had was a leader who ran away—scared, afraid. He was afraid of a little bit of controversy, afraid of a little bit of argument, afraid of a little bit of debate. You see, as a nation grows and develops, no matter how young or old it is there are always points of debate and disagreement and argument. But right now we have a Prime Minister who is simply not up to engaging with New Zealanders on what we agree on and what we differ on—a Prime Minister who runs away from his own people. Well, that ain’t no leader. We might have a Prime Minister, but we do not have a leader.
Ever since the “sales and marketing division” resigned in December last year and it has been replaced by the “chief financial officer”, it has all gone downhill. We have had no vision, and New Zealanders are fast running out of hope. In a world where division and hatred and exclusion are growing in currency, we need to assert our values and what we stand for, which is a country that talks about openness and engagement and mutual respect—that is the New Zealand spirit. That is the New Zealand spirit. And we should do that not just because that is what the Treaty embodied and told us to do but because that is who we are as a people.
That failure of leadership comes as no surprise, because it did not start with the failure to turn up to a place where the Prime Minister might be confronted with people who disagree with him. It started with his failure to front up to people who are aggrieved because of the promise that was made to them that was breached—the Pike River families. At his first opportunity as Prime Minister to show leadership he failed to do it.
He had another opportunity, you see, because the thing that New Zealanders are most worried about now is whether or not that Kiwi Dream of homeownership is going to be made real for the generation that is coming through. He could have fronted up to his best mate, Nick Smith, and said “Nick, we might be good mates—it’s nothing personal, but you’ve fluffed it for so long it’s time for you to go. I’ll put someone else in who can do the job.”, but he wouldn’t even do that. It is not leadership. It is not leadership if you cannot turn up to your failing colleague and say “Mate, it’s time to move on.” He should have done that. He should have done that. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
ANDREW LITTLE: When the Prime Minister’s flagship announcement of a policy is something that we announced 6 months ago and is something directly contrary to what he signed off 9 months ago, that is not leadership; that is a failure of leadership. We all saw that in a time with a rising population and a rising crime rate, freezing police numbers was a failure. That was a failure—and they know it. They know it. They know he has failed. They know he got it wrong. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
ANDREW LITTLE: He failed. He failed New Zealanders. To freeze police numbers when crime is going up and the population is going up and New Zealanders are crying out for safer communities, that is not leadership and that is yet another failure. That is yet another failure. Our nation faces great challenges. We face great challenges. There are 15,000 more people unemployed today than there were at this time last year. There are 90,000—90,000—young people not in work, education, or training—
Hon Annette King: It’s gone up.
ANDREW LITTLE: No hope—it has gone up. There were 70,000 this time last year. Households last year ran up an extra debt of $50 million a day. That is how households are getting by, because wages are not good enough. Wages are not good enough. And thousands of young New Zealanders are still not able to afford their first homes—not just in Auckland, but around the country. There are 40,000 people still homeless. School funding has been frozen, class sizes are getting bigger, and parents are having to dig deeper in their pockets. That is not a mark of success.
National members have had nearly 9 years in Government, and that is what they have to show for it. New Zealanders are demanding a change. There were 60,000 people last year alone who went to their doctors, were told they needed a specialist appointment at their hospital, and could not get one. The hospitals told them: “We can’t afford to fix you. We don’t have the money. The funding has been cut.” That is New Zealand today. That is the experience that too many New Zealanders have of their Government services today—it is wrong and it is going to stop in September this year.
It is time to have a Government that works for all New Zealanders. That is the difference between Labour and National and it is time to make that change. It is time to have a genuinely comprehensive housing package for all New Zealanders so that, once again, young New Zealanders can genuinely hope to own their own homes—at the moment, a forlorn hope for too many. We have got to get the offshore speculators out of our market. We are not alone in that. Six other countries party to an agreement that used to be called the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement—they have got it. But we signed our rights away under that agreement to legislate for it. Now we have got it back. Now New Zealanders have the opportunity to seize the chance to do what is right for the next generations. To pass that law that says—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
ANDREW LITTLE: —that if you want to live overseas—whether in Santa Monica or otherwise—and own a house here, then you have got to build a new house. What could be wrong with that? Give New Zealanders a chance. That is all we are saying. That is all we are saying. We will build more homes—100,000 more houses over 10 years; half of them in Auckland, because that is where the need is most desperate. Affordable homes, homes of a range of different sizes and types—that is what New Zealanders need. That is what young New Zealanders are looking for. That is what their parents and their grandparents talk to me about. They talk to me now and they say they cannot see how those generations coming after them can ever have the chance that they had, that they expected when they worked hard and saved hard to own their own home. That Government has sat on its hands year after year after year for the last 8 years and done nothing and ignored the plaintive cries of New Zealanders, and it is time to do something.
I make no apology about being passionate about the future of young New Zealanders and wanting to do the best for them, because they are sick and tired of a complacent, smug, out-of-touch Government that just will do nothing on the most important issue in New Zealand today. And it does not stop at housing—it does not stop at housing. We want to make sure that those people who have to rent have a decent chance of renting a safe, warm, dry home and have decent rights as renters, because that is what they need now too—that is what they need now too.
In education this Government is failing the next generation. It has frozen funding on schools—it somehow claims it is a good thing—and the schools are struggling. The schools are struggling to do the job that their parents expect of them. You know, we leave our kids in the charge of those schools. It is not too much to ask when we leave our kids in the school that the principals and the teachers will have the resources they need to do the job. But they do not have them and it is getting harder. They cannot send the kids on the field trips, they cannot put the gear in the classrooms that once up on a time they were able to do. Schools can go to their parents and say: “Listen, you know, we can do a little more here. We can look after your kids. We can put a bit more money in. You’ve got to dig deep though, and we will run more cake stalls and we will run more raffles. We just need a little bit of extra help.”
Well, I say this. I say this is the only party in the Commonwealth that has spent the last 2 years talking about the future of work and understanding that what it means is that what we do in education will define this country’s future for the next several generations, and that is vital. Parents and grandparents around New Zealand want to know that they have got an education Minister who cares about their future and we have got an education Minister in waiting who has got every reason to care about that future because in 4½ years’ time he is going to have a direct stake in it, because we want to see Charlie doing his best. We want to see Charlie doing his best and we want an education system that is going to be fit for Charlie.
What this Government has done to the future generations of this country is nothing short of criminal. It is freezing funding when work and work demands and skill needs and technology are changing so rapidly we need to be investing in schools and education and skills and skills acquisition and people and young people as much as we can, because that is what will give us opportunity in the future, that is what will give them a sense of security and hope for the future. But they have run it down and we know what the consequences of that will be: larger class sizes—you can see it happening now—and parents prevailed upon to give more and more and more. Well, there is only so long you can bleed the hard-working parents of this country before you actually have got to admit they got it wrong—they got it wrong. In the end it will come down to priorities. Which is the party that cares most about those things that build a foundation, that give our people hope, that give our people a chance. On housing and on education it is Labour.
Look at health. There has been $1.7 billion cut out of the health budget. And you know who is suffering? You know who pays the price of that? It is the 60,000 who go to their doctor and are told: “You need help. You need to go to the hospital. You need your colonoscopy to find out whether you’ve got bowel cancer. You need to get your hip done, because you can’t walk around much longer in that state, you’re going to put your back out.” And what happens? Those 60,000 New Zealanders last year turned up to their hospital and were told: “We can’t see you. We can’t see you because we can’t afford to see you. We want to see you, we’d like to help you, but we are starved of funds and we’re running a deficit and we can’t do it anymore.” That is what they are doing. That is what the hospitals are doing, and the people paying the price are the New Zealanders who live in chronic pain and chronic conditions and cannot get the care that they need. If is not them, it is in a country with the highest teen suicide rate in the developed world—it is the mental health services. They are the ones being starved as well. They are the ones being starved.
We can do better. We can do better than that. We can look after our people. We can provide a foundation that gives families and people a sense of certainty and security—and that the help will be there when they need it. Because that ain’t there any more. That Government has taken it away. Oh, Government members are very good at talking about how well they have done. They are very good at talking about their ambition and what they do for themselves and their mates, but for hard-working New Zealanders right around the country—the people who want a school for their kids that can just do the job and prepare them for success for the future, the people who just want the health care that they need to stop them being in chronic pain—they do not care about them. They are being written off. They are just a cost saving.
Well, we can do better. We have a plan for all of that. After our housing plan where we give people a sense of security and certainty and hope for the future in those young generations, that they can live the Kiwi Dream, we will get to work on education so we have an education system that is fit for purpose that will give our kids a chance of success for the future. And whether it is early childhood education, whether it is primary, whether it is secondary, or tertiary, we will have our 3 years’ free post-school education and training, because that is what we have to do to make sure that we have got the skills for the future. Every business I talk to knows that and understands it and cannot wait any longer for it. That is why we will do it. These opportunities face us in September. These choices will face New Zealanders in September.
In health we will start the long, hard, slow task of putting back together a health system that is there for people when they need it: for the elderly who cannot get their hip operations, their knee operations, their eye operations, ophthalmology—they have got to get help as well. We are going to give it to those people. You see, when they get that, when they get that health treatment it does not just give them back a quality of life; it means they can do stuff and they are not a burden on other parts of Government funded services. It just makes sense. That is why its needs to be done and that is why the next Labour-led Government is going to do that. That is why we are committed to doing that, because that is about making a positive difference for all New Zealanders.
In the end it comes down to this. What this country is crying out for after 8 years of not seeing much of it—any of it in the last 2 months—is a leader that cares about the people of this country and the chances and opportunities they have got. Right now we do not have that leader. We have had Punch and Judy, we have had dog and pony shows, and we have had all the entertainment, but right now 8½ years of Government have left 90,000 young New Zealanders with no hope, 60,000 New Zealanders with no health care, 40,000 New Zealanders without even a roof over their head, tens of thousands of New Zealanders on low incomes, and one in five wage and salary earners who are now paying more than half their take-home pay to pay the rent or the mortgage. That is not success. That is not success and we can do better.
A real leader gives all New Zealanders a sense of opportunity and a sense of hope. A real leader steps up to the hard questions; steps up to the New Zealanders who just want to ask questions at places like Waitangi; talks to people; debates, respects difference, and respects disagreement but comes up with solutions that are about building a nation that is there for all people; draws upon the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi, which is about unity and mutual respect and building a nation of shared prosperity. We do not have that right now. Far too many New Zealanders are missing out, wanting more, and wanting better.
Well, this is their year. This is their year, and so many of them have spoken to me just over the holidays, just over the last weekend. The Kiwis I met in Sydney explained to me why it is that they were clear. There was the young family from Porirua who only went there 4 years ago. They only went 4 years ago, and they said the job opportunity, the level of pay, the school for their kids—it is more than what they could have expected back here. That is the sad story. They did not say it with any glee. They did not see it say it with any happiness. They have had to whānau and friends behind. And the truck driver who told me his base level of pay for driving the same hours, the same work, with the same skills as he did in New Zealand—$40,000 more there than he was getting here. That is the difference.
We are a great country. We are a great people. That is why we celebrate the day we did yesterday in the way that we did. We are never afraid of hard decisions. We are never afraid of rising to the challenges. But, as a country, we get to do that only when we have a leader prepared to step up and stand up and speak up for the things that matter and the people who matter.
September is fast approaching and New Zealanders will have a choice to make. Are we going to be that country that is prepared to rise to those challenges of the future? Are we prepared to pave the way and chart the course for the next generation? Are we prepared to have a leader who will do just that—engage with New Zealanders and restore their sense of hope again? That is the Labour Party. That is me. It is time for new leadership.