I came into politics to give everyone a shot at the Kiwi Dream.
I believe in a New Zealand that’s focussed on the future but hasn’t given up on our Kiwi dreams – a home to call your own, time and the freedom to explore our beautiful environment, communities and families that care for each other.
But in the last few years, it’s become harder for Kiwis to get ahead. Our economy has stalled, home ownership is plummeting, our environment is under threat and our health system has been cut to the bone.
I know that we can do so much better than this.
My life’s work has been about fighting for justice and opportunity for every Kiwi.
My whole life, I’ve had a deep and abiding intolerance for injustice. The injustice I mean is when the powerful and the privileged abuse their position to take advantage of the weak.
It sticks in my craw and I am compelled to stand up to it, to fight it and to end it.
It was my belief in justice that first attracted me to studying law.
When I was at Victoria University in Wellington in the late 1980s, I got involved in student politics – helping to lead the fight against the start of student fees.
I believed then, and I believe today, that a free education is the birthright of every Kiwi. That if we are going to be a successful country with a thriving economy, we need to have one of the best educated workforces in the world.
My years advocating for students also left me with a strong belief that politics matters. That decisions made in Wellington have real and lasting impacts on people’s lives. And that every Kiwi has a responsibility as a citizen to play their part in our national debate and help shape the future.
Too often, we hear that New Zealanders, especially our young people, are too apathetic or disinterested to make a difference. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now.
I remember the first demonstration that I organised against student fees. I heard from person after person that we were wasting our time – that students would never turn up, wouldn’t give a stuff and couldn’t be bothered to make their voice heard.
I remember being so anxious the morning of the demonstration, but I shouldn’t have worried – hundreds of students turned up to march – to send the message that they cared about their future and they were willing to fight for it.
That experience taught me a lesson that has stuck with me always: never underestimate New Zealanders and their ability to come together to fight for change.
Despite getting offers, I knew I didn’t just want to go to work for a corporate law firm – I wanted to use what I’d learned to help people.
So, after graduating, I took a job as an employment lawyer for the Engineers Union. There, it was my job to make sure that people were treated with fairness and dignity at work and that employers lived up to their obligations to treat their workers well.
I helped fight and win cases for workers who were taken advantage of by their employer, or who had their rights stripped away by bad laws like National’s Employment Contracts Act.
In 2000, I took over as national secretary and would lead the union for the next 10 years.
That role taught me the type of leadership you need to fight and win for progressive causes.
I learned that real change — lasting change — change that’s worth fighting for takes patience, and resolve and determination.
It takes a long term view, keeping your eyes on the prize, not being drawn into every battle and skirmish and never giving up on what matters.
Leading the union and working alongside some of New Zealand’s biggest companies I saw first hand the kind of economy we need – about what we need to do to create and save the jobs that families rely on for their financial security.
I remember in 2005, we worked alongside Air New Zealand to save over 300 ground crew jobs that were heading overseas.
These were good jobs, with good pay packets that people could support their families on. I knew that if the jobs were lost this was going rip the guts out of hundreds of families. We had to do something.
So we sat down with the company. Working together, we came up with a new business model that not only kept the jobs in New Zealand, it led to productivity gains for the company as well.
These experiences taught me that our economy isn’t just about numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s about New Zealanders and their families and whether people have opportunity and are able to get ahead.
After years working alongside some of New Zealand’s biggest companies and employers, it became obvious to me that the way our economy was being run wasn’t working.
New Zealand was becoming increasingly weighted in favour of those already doing well, while throwing up barriers that stopped other people get ahead.
As a nation, we weren’t doing the kind of things we needed to do to generate new wealth, and so ordinary Kiwis found themselves fighting over a smaller and smaller share of a shrinking economy. I made the decision then that if I wanted to help turn all that around, I was going to run for Parliament.
The Kiwi Dream
I decided to run for Leader of the Labour Party because I believed that we could do better as a country.
My wife Leigh and I have a son, Cam, and as parents we both want to leave him a better country than the one we have today.
My mission as Leader of the Labour Party is to build a country where every kid gets the kind of opportunities Leigh and I want for Cam.
It’s only been a year but we’ve made huge progress. We’ve united our caucus, brought through new talent and we’re taking the fight to the government on issues like health and jobs and education.
We’re looking to the future too. We are one of the only parties in the world doing serious thinking about the future of work – about where jobs are going to come from in 20 and 30 and 40 years’ time and how we ensure that Kiwis aren’t left out or left behind as the world changes.
I know that the kind of change we want to see, that our country needs to see, won’t come easily.
I know that powerful interests are doing well out of the status quo and that they will fight tooth and nail to keep things the way they are.
But for all that, I am so optimistic about the future of our country.
I think Kiwis are ready for change, they’re ready to raise their sights.
My years as an advocate, my years fighting for students and workers and Kiwis from all walks of life, taught me that when New Zealanders come together, there’s almost nothing they can’t achieve.
I know that we can fix our economy, restore opportunity, and open new doors of opportunity for all our people.
Parliament Buildings, Private Bag 18041, Wellington 6160
Phone: 04 817 9370
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Latest from Andrew Little
October 14, 2016
Helen Kelly was a passionate advocate for working New Zealanders and for a safe and decent working life, Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little says.
“Helen Kelly spent her adult life fighting for the right of every working person to have dignity and a better life.
October 13, 2016
Police Association delegates, Association life members and staff, representatives from overseas jurisdictions.
Thank you for inviting me here today.
The Police Association has become a strong and respected voice for Police officers and for policing in New Zealand. There is no doubt that frontline sworn and civilian staff are strongly advocated for.