New Zealand Labour Party

Andrew Little: Pre-Budget Speech 2017

Good morning everyone, and thank you Grant for your introduction.

I want to acknowledge the Chamber’s President Peter Cullen, and your CEO John Milford.

It’s great to be with you all this morning to present Labour’s vision for our economy; our commitment to shared prosperity; our determination to creating opportunities for all New Zealanders.

I know you all share these goals.

We share a common belief in the potential for New Zealand. We share a belief in the talents of New Zealanders. And we share a commitment to making New Zealand an even better place.

For me, those values were in action first hand in my previous union role. The most satisfying part of that job was the opportunity to work alongside firms to improve productivity, and see the gains shared between the workforce and the company owners.

The most obvious example of that was at Air New Zealand. It reinforced to me the idea that business and economic prosperity can, and must benefit all these with a stake in its success.

When firms succeed, people succeed. That’s the approach I’ll be taking to our economic role in government.

Economic policy should serve the need to provide security, stability, and peace for all citizens. For New Zealand, egalitarianism and equality of opportunity remain steadfast values.

When I think about a fair opportunity to succeed, my thoughts often turn to my 16 year-old son Cam and his friends at St Patrick’s college, and the expectations that his generation has.

Are they going to get the same opportunities to succeed as we’ve all had?

I think it’s every generation’s duty to strive to leave a brighter world for our children. That’s a mission that gives us purpose, in business and politics and social agencies alike.

There are a few areas where I worry my generation is falling short in that mission. Take housing, for example.

You know, the first house my wife Leigh and I bought in 2000 cost us $315,000. That wasn’t a small amount of money for us, but it was manageable.

For Leigh and me, being able to buy that first house, to get on the ladder of property ownership, gave us a measure of financial security.

Since we bought that house in 2000 for $315,000, its value has risen to over $800,000. It’s gone up in value by around half a million dollars in fifteen years.

Its value has nearly tripled. In the last year alone, its value went up 20 per cent.

But wages and incomes haven’t risen that fast.

Prices are rising more than twice as fast as wages, year after year. That’s not sustainable.

And it’s not just Wellington and Auckland. Rotorua house prices up 28 per cent over the past year. Nelson and Palmerston North – both up 15 per cent.

It’s price rises like this, and the influx of speculative investment that goes along with them, that are putting housing more and more out of reach for our young people.

I also want to talk about jobs.

There is a tidal wave of employment change on the horizon. One study from Oxford University showed 47 percent of jobs we rely on today will be gone in 20 years

Work is going to get more precarious. We will see more people self-employed, more people on contract, more people with multiple careers, and periods of unemployment becoming more common.

To set up our young people to succeed in this environment, we need to provide them with broad, flexible training, and make sure as best we can that there are good job opportunities across all New Zealand.

You know, the headline figures say our economy is performing well, but I’m concerned too many young Kiwis are being left behind.

Let me give you an example. Ordinarily, when GDP growth is higher than usual, youth unemployment should be lower than usual.

But in New Zealand today we still have over 90,000 young people not in any kind of education, employment, or training – up 41 per cent since National came to office.

It’s not good enough. Letting those kids languish today sows the seeds for them to fail far into the future.

Labour is going into this election with a positive vision for a fresh approach on these two issues, and many more besides.

I won’t have time this morning to take you through all of our ideas, but I do want to mention a few for you.

Housing is the single biggest issue facing New Zealand today. This week, we even saw the government admit as much through its vry late, half-hearted entry to the consensus that Auckland simply needs more homes.

Taking the magnitude and depth of the housing problem seriously means it has to be attacked on a number of fronts.

The Government’s announcement on housing this week simply doesn’t take the chronic shortage of housing seriously.

Last weekend, by contrast, I announced a new policy which would remove around $150 million in taxpayer subsidies for property speculators, and see those savings invested into home heating and insulation for families.

Right now, speculators can take losses from their rentals and offset that against their personal income. It allows them to avoid paying tax.

This loophole is effectively a hand-out from taxpayers to speculators. It gives them an unfair advantage over Kiwi families.

Labour’s closing that loophole.

How can we as a society possibly defend handing out subsidies to property speculators when most young couples can’t afford to buy their first home?

That policy was the latest aspect of our fresh approach to tackling the housing crisis.

We’ll build affordable homes for families to buy - many thousands more than National will build.

We’ll require non-resident overseas buyers to build a new dwelling rather than have them compete with locals for existing homes.

We’ll extend the bright line test from two years to five.

I’m confident Labour’s housing plan will succeed so that once again more young people can own their own place.

The other announcements we made last week were about mental health. Now, I know we don’t often talk about mental health at business breakfasts. But people from all walks of life are touched by the impact of mental illness in their family, whanau, workplace, or community, likely including people in this room.

We need to bring mental illness out of the shadows, because New Zealand’s youth suicide rate is a nationwide disease and a nationwide disgrace. It’s long past time we did more to help.

Behind every entry in those suicide statistics there’s not only a personal tragedy and a life lost. There’s a family broken, and a community rocked to its core.

And for every suicide there are dozens or hundreds of New Zealanders struggling to cope with the impact of mental illness.

Labour’s going to roll up our sleeves and tackle the neglect of the mental health sector.

We’re going to commission an immediate pilot of eight primary mental health teams around New Zealand, giving high need communities easier, quicker access to top-notch mental health care.

And we’re going to make sure there’s a comprehensive health service in every single secondary school in New Zealand.

Right now, too many people experiencing mental illness are being neglected. With Labour, they’ll get the care they need.

Everything we do, across economic and social sectors alike, is about investing in New Zealanders.

I do want to say a couple of words about what investing in New Zealanders means for our immigration system.

New Zealand is built on immigration. Immigration is vital to our country, because every new person who comes to New Zealand enriches our country.

But right now, many of our cities are struggling to cope with the sheer number of new people. There aren’t enough homes, the roads are clogged.

You know, none of us would invite 20 people over for dinner if we didn’t have 20 chairs for them to sit on.

Well right now, our cities don’t have enough chairs.

Yes, there are some regions of the country who need more new migrants. But the larger problem is the infrastructure deficit in our cities.

With Labour we’re going to slow it down a little; take a breather, make sure we’re investing so New Zealand has enough places for everyone who’s here and everyone who comes here.

We will more carefully manage immigration, focusing on higher-skilled needs

Taking a breather on immigration is part of investing in every New Zealander’s quality of life, whether they’ve been here ten generations or ten days.

You know, through this Parliamentary term one of the project’s we’re most proud of in Labour has been our Future of Work Commission.

I chose Grant Robertson to lead the Commission because he has the intelligence and the vision to lead the new thinking required, he’s one of the sharpest minds in caucus, and he also has a deep understanding of why and how we must make our economy work for all New Zealanders.

But we’re equally focused on the current challenges in the working environment.

I mentioned earlier the problem of 90,000 young people not in any kind of education or work. Labour has proposed a very simple solution: give unemployed young people a job for six months doing work of public value, so they can gain work experience and avoid long-term unemployment.

We’re absolutely focused on improving the lives and opportunities for all working New Zealanders. Labour is the party of working New Zealanders. As Grant says rightly, it’s in our DNA.

Part of that DNA is about backing new jobs in our regions. Labour's already announced a $200m regional infrastructure fund that will help areas that are struggling get the infrastructure they need to thrive once more. We've pledged to support the infrastructure for an ICT cluster and for housing pre-fabrication in Gisborne. There's plenty more to come from us in this area.

I’m also personally excited to take a leadership role on this within Labour, devising a new portfolio of focus on the New Economy.

Successive governments have promoted the idea of lifting New Zealand’s productivity. We have to take that mission seriously.

That means investing in technology. Focusing on high value production and services, complementing that with appropriate investment in education and skills formation and ensuring new wealth creation is matched by fair wealth distribution. We are all in this together, and we must all share in the rewards.

I’m ready, Labour’s ready, to provide fresh thinking for the economy.

Grant has already talked about the Budget Responsibility Rules Labour launched along with the Greens in March. Those rules set out how we’ll manage the government’s books - we’ll be disciplined, focused, and forward-thinking.

In those rules is a commitment to restart contributions to the New Zealand Super Fund straight away. I'm proud of this commitment, because it means we'll once more have a government that's actively saving to meet the fiscal tidal wave of a generation of Baby Boomers living on average well into their 80s.

If we are to meet the challenge of leaving the next generation a better country than the one we inherited, we must restart contributions to our nationwide retirement savings account. As Prime Minister, that's exactly what I will do.

You know, I think this election is going to revolve around who has the better plan to invest in New Zealand’s future, so we provide the next generation a better country than we inherited.

Next week’s Budget will be part of that conversation. But I think it will only be a small part, because after nine years in office people know all too well the problems standing out for attention and getting none.

We have to invest in our people's health, in their education, in jobs for young people, and in homes for families to live. These are the social foundations for success, and they cannot be neglected any more.

We have to invest in our regions, in our infrastructure, and in our productivity, too.

After September, Labour is going to build a stronger economy, a more resilient workforce, a healthier society and provide a fair go for all New Zealanders.

That’s what New Zealand needs to see in this year’s budget, that’s what Labour will be providing a year from now when our future Finance Minister Grant Robertson delivers the first budget in the sixth Labour Government.

This country needs fresh thinking, only a Labour-led Government can deliver this.

Thank you.