Speech: President's Address
Moira Coatsworth | Saturday, November 17, 2012 - 09:28
Delegates, Members of parliament, Diplomats and Guests
I speak to you today from the strong base laid down during last night’s wonderful opening.
We meet feeling the history of this place and the aroha we received from Joe Hawke and the rangitira of Ngati Whatua.
We meet seeing Labour values of integrity and service as lived by our leader David Shearer.
David has provided leadership in some of the most dangerous places in the world before returning to serve his home country and our Party. We thank him for that.
And we meet hearing the urgency of change and our hope and determination for a strong economy with decent jobs and a society based on equality
Today we will draw on that base of aroha, values, hope and determination as we gather together in this historic weekend for the Labour Party.
Delegates, the world has seen tumultuous times since the economic turmoil of the Global Financial Crisis. A crisis that revealed the bankruptcy of prevailing economic ideas and the greed of banks. A crisis that led to sweeping political change with 27 changes of government in Europe alone.
The world was looking for solutions that offered protection to people. Instead we saw the inadequacy of right wing responses (or as Nigel said “ do nothing governments that sit on their bums”. We saw again that in tough times it is progressive governments that make the economic changes that work.
And so we celebrate the return and increasing strength of progressive parties around the world and in the last fortnight the election of Barack Obama.
We know that Labour has been the party of hope and change in tough times. When New Zealand’s challenges have been greatest it has been Labour that has delivered enduring solutions. The first Labour government took office in 1935 with NZ in a quagmire. They brought in sweeping reforms- real jobs, comprehensive social security and the best educational practice. Since the first Labour government it has been Labour that has worked to get rid of poverty and build a nation of prosperity and equality.
And that’s what we aspire to now. Tomorrow David Shearer will outline Labour’s vision for New Zealand -a plan for economic growth that’s sustainable and inclusive. Our plan will be based on the evidence of what works and be grounded in our values.
I’ve spent my life working on programmes and campaigns to protect the environment and to protect and care for children. These are my values. These are Labour values. In Labour we’ve been heading in the right direction in these areas. But there is so much more to be done given this government’s inaction. How can they possibly say they’ve got it about right?
Lets start with kaitiakatanga -a healthy environment is the fundamental basis for life on Earth, but global warning threatens humankind. Here in New Zealand our environment is increasingly degraded. We are one of the worst carbon polluters per person. Yet this government is stripping away one environmental protection after another. Right now it’s walking away from meeting our Kyoto obligations. Labour will protect the environment including developing renewable and low carbon energy as a priority, and ensuring that our Emissions Trading Scheme is robust.
Then there are our tamariki and rangatahi and the disgrace that 270,000 children now live in poverty, And its not just poverty -it’s the crippling effects of relative poverty. The girl who watches the bus leave on a class trip because she can’t afford to go, the boy who doesn’t join the rugby team because in his family there is no money for the boots. In my professional work week after week I hear these stories from parent who want the best for their kids but who cant afford the few dollars for their kids to participate.
A quarter of our young people are now not in work. Giving young people fewer rights and paying them less for their work was this government’s response. We’ve seen how that hasn’t worked.
The division of NZ into a country of rich and poor threatens what’s best about NZ and everyone suffers from this.
Labour will tackle child poverty and tackle inequality. I endorse Judy McGregor’s call for a plan and serious action on youth issues.
Its clear to us. We know that Labour policies can deliver a strong future for NZ, but here is our challenge: We need more New Zealanders to have that faith in the future that Labour can provide.
Recently we’ve watched startling change around the world as people have risked their lives to achieve the democratic freedom we have enjoyed for so long. We’ve seen their hope and faith in democracy as they’ve wrestled power from authoritarian governments to people.
Back home in the Waikato I recently heard that same hope and passion for democracy from a local party member. She told us the election of the first Labour government changed her life. How her family gathered around the radio listening intently to the 1935 election results knowing the difference it could make. She was only 5 years old but Michael Joseph Savage and the first Labour government changed her world with provisions for all families and all children.
She had that same passion for the profound difference progressive governments can make. But today our challenge is a stark contrast. The truth is many people no longer share that hope and that faith in political change. Last year’s election turnout was New Zealand’s lowest in a very long time. In Labour about two thirds of our vote loss was from people who didn’t think it was worth voting at all. The Electoral Commission survey found nearly a third thought “it was obvious who was going to win so why bother”. For us that loss was worst in our midsized cities and towns.
This is a challenge we share with our sister parties. I’ve recently attended the UK Labour conference where they put it like this: politics is like a vital football match being played out between the reds and the blues. But as the players fight for every ball, strain for every goal, the crowd is drifting away. The game goes on, but the stadium is emptying.
That’s our challenge. We must reach beyond the emptying stadium into the homes and communities of people who care about whats happening and build a strong movement for change.
As party activists we aren’t content to be spectators in the stadium either. Today people join political parties to have a say. We want a genuine say in the important decisions. That was very clear during the leadership decision last December. It is also about a real say in policy making and campaigning.
Last year when I became President I made you one promise –to lead an organisational review after the election. I have done that. We have taken the message of our members to modernise our party. And so a year on from the election we meet not in the shadow of defeat, but on track with a strong platform for change.
Many of you were waiting for change. You knew that what worked well 40 or 50 years ago isn’t what works today. And you were committed to Labour being a really strong 21st century party. When the review started you told us exactly what we need to be:
Open, energised and connected to our communities,
Leading on progressive issues
Well resourced and organizing effectively to win.
In February we got started and you responded from the far North to the deep South. I’m humbled by your energy and your wisdom. I’m excited about the results so far -the breadth of the recommendations for real change. Thank you to you all – members throughout New Zealand, the advisory group and our international friends including the Hon Peter Hain and the Australian Labor Party.
At our conference today we welcome distinguished guests attending from the ALP: National Secretary George Wright, who will address conference later today, here along with Assistant National Secretary Nick Martin, and International Secretary Michael Forshaw. I want to particularly acknowledge George for his ongoing leadership of effective progressive networking internationally, and for how that support informed our review.
Special thanks to the review working group - and particularly for the integrity of the process undertaken. You have shown the change we want in action:
Asking open questions, connecting, listening and then finding the consensus.
Ruth Chapman who coordinated the process, and Nanaia Mahuta, Rick Barker
and Mark Hutcheson have done a terrific job leading a thorough process that has delivered important recommendations to us all.
In July New Zealand Council agreed to 39 recommendations in the working group report and we got going on these. These mean
• We will drive all our actions from our values and have a culture throughout the party that is welcoming, open and relevant to all and especially to young people,
• We will re explore the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi for our party,
• We will widen participation of registered supporters and the affiliation of groups that share our kaupapa,
• We will improve our information systems and two-way communication in the Party,
• We will all work to increase our membership and finances so that we are campaign ready.
And we are committed to really connecting in communities. Our new hubs will be the centres for campaigning and turning out our voters nationwide.
I'm excited about the changes which are already taking place:
about the campaign training day we held for 56 activists on Thursday,
about the growth of activity in the hubs even before they are officially born,
about the campaign with Grey Power and the Greens to keep our assets,
and about the commitment to start fundraising for our 2014 campaign now.
Today we turn to all the proposed recommendations involving rule changes. And finally next year we will talk further about the one area where a consensus has yet to emerge –that is improvements to selection processes for parliamentary candidates including improving women’s representation.
The recommendations in front of you today came from you. They have been debated over many months. I believe that we are at the point of consensus over the main principles. So, I look forward to the debate.
• It's about adapting our time-honoured organising units - branches, electorates and regions -so that they are more vibrant, and more policy- and campaign- focused.
• It’s about hubs that deliver effective MMP campaigning for the party vote everywhere.
• It’s about reforming our policy-making processes and making our policy clearer and more accessible through the development of the high level and binding Policy Platform.
• And it’s about deciding on the detail of member participation in leadership selection.
Delegates today we make our decisions on rule changes. It is about real changes to modernise our party. Its about the changes to deliver 21st century organising – the organising we all saw deliver Obama victory. We are making changes not just for this year and the next. We are making changes that will be our legacy. I ask you to think about the long term future of the party when you listen to the arguments and cast your votes.
Enjoy the debate and vote for change that will make us a 21st Century movement for change -a movement that delivers a Labour led government and the fair sustainable and prosperous future New Zealand deserves.