Auntie Annette

In Is Annette King our Hillary Clinton? Barry Soper points out that Annette King and Hillary Clinton are close to the same age, 69. King is an early baby boomer, born in 1947, but still going strong in Parliament.

They’re certainly forceful women, even though King is seen to be in the twilight of her long political life.

King, who’s affectionately referred to around Parliament as Auntie, was herself in full flight, making her opponents even more grizzly now that they’re back at work after their summer holiday break. It was good, old school, tub thumping stuff reminding us of Austin Mitchell’s view of God’s Own as the half gallon, quarter acre, Pavlova Paradise.

The Labour MP says unfortunately it’s Paradise lost from the days of Mitchell’s musings when 80 percent of retirees used to own their own homes and education was free.

The half-gallon quarter-acre pavlova paradise is old enough, published in 1972, the year that Norman Kirk became Prime Minister. And King turned 25 when she was still a dental nurse, and also the year she joined the Labour Party.

King was first elected to Parliament in 1984, 32 years ago, but lost her seat in 1990 so had a 3 year break (no MMP in those days).

She became deputy leader of Labour when Phil Goff replaced Helen Clark in 2008, but stood down after Labour’s loss in 2011. After Labour’s loss in 2014 she became interim deputy leader, was reappointed deputy for a year when Andrew Little took over the leadership soon afterwards, and decided to stay on.

She is capable of leading Labour, probably more capable than some of their leaders over the last 7 years, but has not stood for the top position. If Little’s leadership crashes and burns would King step up? If Hillary can do it why not Auntie? She’s one of Labour’s most respected MPs, probably the most respected.

Here is her speech in the Debate on the Prime Minister’s Statement yesterday. It looks back into New Zealand’s history, the ‘good old days’ (for some, including Labour).

Draft Transcript:

Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour): Can I, first of all, wish members who are in the House a happy New Year, and also a happy Chinese New Year, which we are celebrating in this Parliament this very evening.

Fletcher Tabuteau: Ni hao.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Ni hao. Most of us enjoyed our Christmas break with our family. We had fun, we had food, and some of us look like the emphasis has been on food. With the weather that we have had, with our victories in sport—and I have to say to the Prime Minister, none of them was he responsible for. It was all our great team’s work.

With the weather, the sport, the beaches, the activities, the grandchildren, and the holidays some of us have come back with recharged batteries. We have come back energised and excited about the year ahead.

What I found is that when you spend time with your family it often brings out some wonderful memories of days gone by. And it certainly did that for me over this Christmas period when I was around my family.

It brought back memories of my own upbringing. I have to say, I was lucky enough—as I believe you were, Mr Assistant Speaker—to actually live what we call the Kiwi dream. We actually got to live the New Zealand Kiwi dream.

You see, my parents built their first home with a State Advances Corporation loan, and they were able to capitalise their family benefit to put a deposit down on that house. My old dad said to me: “You need to have a freehold home when you retire, then you will be safe.”

I have had the chance to do that. I do own my own home. I have to say, not all our children do. I got that chance because my income related better to the cost of the house I was going to buy, which is not the case today.

And my old dad, he was in the same job for 40 years, then he retired. He never had to change his job. His wages supported a wife and three daughters.

I got paid to train for my first job at the dental school. I got my first job from that training. I never paid for it; they paid me. I got a free tertiary education from the Waikato University.

I got the chance to get the jobs that I wanted. I had the freedom of the outdoors—of family holidays, of clean rivers, of close family, and good food. I had my grandparents, who lived next door to us for most of my young life, and we had neighbours who looked out for us.

The Kiwi dream for many of us was a reality. That was our life. It was what made New Zealand unique—unique in the world. The Kiwi dream was central to who we are as New Zealanders.

We had the highest rate of homeownership in the world, in this country. That is what we aspired to. Around 80 percent of New Zealanders owned their own home by the time they retired.

We had job security. We had jobs to go to. You could go from one job to another. You could train and retrain for a job. We had free education, and we had affordable health. We led the world in living the Kiwi dream.

But what saddens me is to see that dream slipping away for thousands of New Zealanders.

It is like the Government is saying: “It’s not possible to have that dream any more. It’s not important. It’s a bygone era. It’s not needed.”

Well, I have to say, I do not accept that. I will not accept that. I will not roll over and give up on New Zealand being the best place to live in the world, to love, and to work in.

But what worries me is that, I believe, we have become a meaner country. We have become a more selfish country. We are a country that is more about me, me, me than about us.

And our Kiwi values, I believe, are being changed at this very moment. It seems to me that what we celebrate now, and what we worship as success, is money. We see spoilt rich kids who have no concept of how thousands of their peers live, just down the road.

More and more people are being shut out of the Kiwi dream, and this Government is closing that door. It is creating a new reality for New Zealanders.

You see, our economy is increasingly weighted in favour of those who already are doing well.

I believe it started in 2009, at the height of the global financial crisis. It was tough for the world. New Zealand was a little luckier, because the previous Labour Government had left this Government with no Government debt. It had paid down debt. It had the lowest unemployment rate in the OECD —and that is on record if the members want to go and look at it.

But what did the National Government do in 2009? It gave tax cuts to the wealthiest percentage of the population in New Zealand. In the middle of a global financial crisis, its response was to give a tax cut. Billions and billions of dollars have been given to those who did not need it, and those who had the least were told to suck it up because they needed to tighten their belts and they needed to ensure that we got out of the global financial crisis.

The burden was placed on those who had the least. Now we are told that there are going to be tax cuts again, for the very same people. Surprise, surprise! The tax cuts are a promise for next year. Some of us know that next year is election year.

So in election year, when there might be some money that could be spent on far better things, a few at the top are going to receive a tax cut. Not for our kids, not for those older New Zealanders who are looking to have the health services they need, not for free education after New Zealanders leave school—no, not for that. We are told by the Government that that cannot be afforded.

Well, it is all about priorities, is it not? Houses are now unaffordable for thousands of Kiwis. If you have got one and you live in Auckland, you probably feel you are a millionaire, because your house is now worth a million dollars.

But it is a house for a house, so if you change a house you are not going to be much better off, unless you shift to Reefton , or somewhere like that.

If you live in Auckland, you are living in the fifth-dearest city in the world for housing. Imagine that—in New Zealand! We now know that houses are the playthings of speculators, those who often live offshore, who come to buy up houses here and to be able to sell them again and put the cash in their pockets and take it away.

We have a Government that turns a blind eye to poverty amongst children in New Zealand—and “poverty” is a word that must not be spoken. You may call it “hardship”, or “hard times”, but never say “poverty”.

We have got health care that is stretched to the breaking point, and anyone who was at the select committee today would have heard how tough it is on an area like Auckland, with a bulging population, or on an area like Christchurch, where they are still suffering from the impact of an earthquake, particularly in mental health.

The Labour Party does not believe in that future. We have a different future for New Zealand, based on the inherent beliefs of Kiwis. They are beliefs that need to be rekindled by leadership and by a Government that is in touch with New Zealanders and believes in a chance for a decent, secure job, for a warm, affordable home, and for education for the future. We will make that happen.

The first part of our announcements came when we announced that we want to ensure our children and our grandchildren have the opportunity to have post-secondary school education, and the first 3 years of that education free—the same as I had, the same as Mr Joyce had, as Mr Key had, and as Dr Coleman had.

We took it, but that Government does not want to give it back to our children. If we want a future for them, education has to be the future.

As our job market changes, as we know that around 47 percent—is it 47 percent? No, I will not go there; I cannot find it in a hurry.

We know that we have got a changing job market and that we are going to have many people out of jobs in the next 20 years. They need to be retrained into the new jobs that are coming.

This is not our future—our future is to rebuild that Kiwi dream, and we intend to do it in Government.