Jacinda Ardern's Speech to the 2019 Labour Party Conference

Live from the Royal Wanganui Opera House.


Ki ngā tini aitua, haere, haere, whakangaro atu rā

He mihi ki te hau kainga, Ngati Tupoho me nga iwi o Whanganui nui tonu, tēnā koutou

Ki a tātou e tau nei, ka nui taku mihi

No reira, nga mema o te Pati Reipa, oku hoa, toku whanau

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

To the members of the Labour Party, my friends, my family – Clarke.

Greetings to you all.

Thank you so much for that warm welcome.

And thank you Whanganui, you’ve been absolutely wonderful hosts this weekend. 

Can I add, as I did on Friday night, my personal thanks to the Labour Mayor Hamish McDouall. 

And in case you missed it the third or even fourth time I mentioned it, Hamish was elected unopposed for his second term. That has nothing to do with the fact he’s my cousin, and everything to do with the heart he brings to the job. Thanks Hamish.

But I could say the same for all of our Labour representatives across New Zealand. In fact recently we had an amazing new group of representatives elected in the local body elections.  

While I’m loathed to risk singling anyone out, I am going to name drop Campbell Barry. At just 28, Campbell has become our country’s youngest ever mayor winning the race in Hutt City. The youngest before him, was Norman Kirk. No pressure Campbell.

Campbell joins the ranks of the Labour members elected in both local government and parliament who fly the flag for us day in, day out. And to all of them, and all of you who help them become elected, I want to say thank you. 

I especially want to acknowledge the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Kelvin Davis. He’s one of those people that I can hand on heart say that the more you get to know him, the more you wish he was published. He is a man full of wisdom, and mana. Thank you Kelvin – for your support and your constant care for all of us.

And then there’s every single one of you. Our members and supporters. I’m going to speak frankly. We wouldn’t be here without you. 

But as Labour members, as volunteers, as elected officials and candidates – as people with an interest in politics – I know you will have faced the exact same question that I have over many, many years. 

Why on earth would you choose politics as an interest, a hobby?

As I look around the world, I can see why people ask that question.  

Our world feels so fractured. Views feel much more entrenched and people more tribal. 

Politics at times no longer feels like a place for debate and dialogue, but a place for dissent and distrust.  

You’d be hard-pressed to find a continent in recent years that hasn’t seen that sentiment bubble over onto its streets or indeed into elections. 

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve always believed that in New Zealand we are pretty unique, and pretty lucky – and not just because we laugh at jokes no one else seems to get, or because we think gourmet is a cheese roll with a parsley garnish.  

We’re special because here we still debate. We still question. We still challenge our perspectives and views. But in amongst all of that, New Zealanders still expect something of politics, of government, of us. 

That you can be elected, and you can make a difference. And ultimately that belief is the reason why we are here. All of us. 

It’s the reason that we have people like Ruth Dyson, who has given the better part of her life to this party, even when a stint of that included the trauma of Labour politics in the 1980s. 

It’s why Jan Tinetti gave up her love of teaching to become an MP, why Willow Jean Prime leaves her home in the Far North every week, and her babies, to spend two days just travelling to and from parliament. It’s why Kieran McAnulty gets the odd bit of stick from time to time – or that could just be because he’s Kieran. 

Times may change, members may move on, but the motivation that keeps us here doing what we do is constant. 

In New Zealand, we believe governments can create change. But in Labour, we believe they can create change for the better. 

In fact, we always have.

When we see a problem, we fix it. When we something is broken, we rebuild it.  

Because that is what Labour Governments have always done. 

I probably don’t need to tell you though, that right now, there is a lot to fix. 

In the 2017 election we campaigned on a platform of turning around the erosion of our infrastructure, our health, education and housing crises – the most basic foundational principles of a good life.

State houses had been sold off, house prices were rocketing and home ownership was the lowest it had been in decades. Families were sleeping in cars and garages. 

Our rivers were unsafe to swim in. Thousands of children were living in severe poverty and health was facing massive infrastructure challenges with sewage leaking into the walls at Middlemore hospital.

Less was being invested in road safety, even as the road toll was rising. More and more heavy trucks were making our roads increasingly dangerous, while rail lines were closing.   

Yet in the face of all this need, the main policy platform of the National Party was more tax cuts. 

That didn’t sit well with any of us. 

And so, we embarked on a massive seven-week campaign with a relentlessly positive and optimistic message of what New Zealand could be, and we won. 

I added that last sentence in case anyone missed the part of 2017 when we won. 

And that’s when the hard graft began, rolling out an agenda – which on anyone’s measure is a huge one – all under the banner of three quite diverse and distinct parties. 

I do want to dwell on that last part for just a moment. We are a three-party Government. Almost everything we pass requires the support of each other. 

Sometimes it’s as though that part of our Government is almost taken for granted. And yet, in my view, the key to our success is that no one has been taken for granted.  

Each party has kept their identity, has achieved major milestones, and we’ve all experienced the art of compromise in close to equal parts. 

That doesn’t make it easy though – just ask anyone who grew up as one of three siblings. 

So to New Zealand First and to the Green Party – especially the leaders Winston Peters, James Shaw and Marama Davidson – thank you for making the last two years possible and successful. 

But nothing ever follows a clear and easy path in politics, or indeed in life. 

There are things you just don’t expect to happen on your watch, or if I’m being honest, there are things you just can’t imagine at all. March 15 was one of those moments. 

I couldn’t reflect on the year that has passed without acknowledging the indelible mark this has left on our nation and our people. 

And in the wake of losing 51 members of our Kiwi Muslim community, we must constantly ask what legacy it leaves. Because it will not be left by one moment in time, one memorial, one or even 10 acts in the aftermath. It will be left by the choices we make every day to confront everything that gives rise to hatred and discrimination. 

In amongst the loss and grief, I hope also for kindness, compassion, inclusivity and diversity. I hope that through constant work and attention, the permanent mark left behind is one of love. 

But these are long-term lessons we must keep reminding ourselves of. There have been other lessons too through gun reform and the Christchurch Call to Action – they were born out of a sense of responsibility, urgency, but also consensus. 

They showed us what we can achieve by working together. By harnessing what unites us.

Perhaps in this currently fractured world, we could all use just a little more of that. A little more shared humanity, a little more common ground, a little more proof of what politics is capable of.

And if there were any other issues where we need the power of collaboration, I can think of very few examples better than climate change. 

Earlier this year I travelled to Tokelau with the help of our Navy, and some extra strength sea sick pills. That’s because boat is the only way to reach the atolls of Tokelau, atolls that I quickly learned, not least through our Tokelauan Minister Kris Faafoi, are fiercely proud. 

I was reminded of three things on that very special trip: first that every Pacific Island is totally unique, second that you should never dance when there is a camera in the room, and finally – climate change is real. 

In Tokelau they showed me one of their burial sites. They had recently built a sea wall to protect it from the waves but still noticed when they went to bury those who were newly deceased, that the ground of past burials had literally moved beneath them, and the sea walls had already started to fall. If there is a weather-based disaster on Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand, it will take us roughly 30 hours to reach them. 

And that is why the collective action of all nations, and all politicians, is so vital. 

That’s why collaborating rather than continuing to fight and argue about the solutions, is so vital. 

That’s why providing proof that politics is still the place to resolve the hardest of issues, is so vital. 

And on climate change, I absolutely believe we have. 

We have built a world-first agreement with our primary sector that we will introduce a farm by farm system to measure and price emissions. And with this historic agreement, we will cement our place as being one of the most sustainable food producers in the world. 

We have passed, with the support of the entire parliament, our landmark zero carbon legislation.

We have moved beyond goals and aspirations, to climate action, by working to make low-emission cars more accessible, planting more trees, banning future permits for new offshore oil and gas exploration, funding a new energy and research centre in New Plymouth, establishing a $100 million Green Investment Fund, investing in renewable energy sources like hydrogen, negotiating a trade agreement that will remove tariffs on renewable energy products, and creating a $229 million sustainable land use package to support farmers. 

We’re doing this because it is our nuclear free moment, because the next generation demands it of us, but also because we have to get on with tackling the hard stuff, otherwise it will only get harder. 

But this philosophy, this way of working is true of everything from the environment, to the housing crisis, to the economy. 

That’s why we take a long-term view, and why we recognise that there are connections between each of these areas too. 

After all, much of what we want to achieve depends on a strong economy and a strong government balance sheet to pay for it.

And on that front, we have built strong foundations that now provide us with the opportunity to make further investments.

Growth has been solid, we have run budget surpluses, kept debt low, have unemployment at some of the lowest rates we’ve seen in a decade, and wages growing at the highest rates in over a decade. 

And we’ve done all of that while countries we compare ourselves to have been doing it tough. 

We’re not ones to sit on our laurels though.

In fact, feeling comfortable with our relative position was never going to be sufficient for us. 

Our plan is to build a productive, sustainable and inclusive economy. One that, in this too often divided world, grows and shares prosperity more evenly. One that means our economy can adapt and take advantage of the long-term challenges ahead of us. 

That’s why we introduced the $1 billion Research & Development tax credit to encourage innovation and drive a smarter, more resilient economy that provides jobs for the future.

It’s why we believe in the power of the Provincial Growth Fund to support our regions to thrive.

It’s why we’re making major investments in skills, trades training and apprenticeships through mana in mahi, trades academy and extra gateway places to ensure our young people have good jobs and careers.

All of this, is so that we ensure our people don’t have to fear the future, or wonder if their kids or grandkids will have decent jobs, but see instead that their government is preparing for that future. 

But all of those headline figures, and our economic plan, they are a means to an end.

And as I said at the beginning, in this increasingly fractured world, as I look at the likes of Chile and others, I’m reminded of the impact of inequality on not just our people, but also on the strength of our democracy. 

That’s yet another reason why I applaud you Grant – for many things. Introducing me to garnish-free cheese rolls, and for delivering a world first this year with our Wellbeing Budget. No longer will our progress as a nation be measured by numbers alone, but by the difference we make to people’s lives.

As you yourself said on Budget night – we begin through this Budget to value and to measure all that makes life worthwhile in New Zealand. Numbers in that sense will never tell the full story. 

Recently Michael Wood was out door knocking when he met a gentleman who had insisted on having his photo taken with a letter he wrote to me. Eventually I got my hands on this large personalised note. It was carefully written out on thick A3 card. On it was the story of a 59-year-old man, slowly rebuilding his life after a marriage break-up, and battling a few demons, who was recently rehoused by Housing New Zealand. He simply wanted to say how much he appreciated this Government’s attitude to people.

He wrote:

I’m one man who has felt that I am of some value, not only to my twin sons, but today I have hope that I will be OK, I’ll be housed till I die. I want to become a positive role model and a valued contributor to New Zealand. You are making a huge difference one step at a time.

Managing and growing the economy is not an end in itself. It is the means by which we provide for our people.  

It’s what allowed us to bring in the $5.5 billion Families Package which helped us to boost the incomes of some 384,000 families. 

It’s meant that we could extend paid parental leave.

It’s meant some 65,000 families are a bit better off every week thanks to the $60 Best Start payment for newborns.

It’s meant that over a million New Zealanders are receiving the winter energy payment so they don’t make the decision between a warm home and food on the table. 

It’s meant making māori and pacific aspirations a priority with over half a billion dollars in the budget to challenge and change the status quo and make equality real.

It’s meant we can start providing nutritional lunches for children in schools, index benefits to wages, and make visits to the doctor cheaper.

It’s meant adding more than 3600 homes to the pool of available state houses, KiwiBuild, the start of progressive home ownership and expanding housing first.

It’s meant more doctors, nurses, midwives and mental health workers. More PHARMAC funding and better cancer care.

It’s meant showing that we can make a difference to people’s lives. And we are.

I don’t say that lightly. You might remember from last year, I make a habit of reading letters. Now I’m not going to pretend that all of them are glowing, some are less fan and more fangry. But there are plenty that have stopped me in my tracks. 

So now, I share one of those letters anonymously with caucus every week. They range from people talking, about how important the winter energy payment was – that they bought socks and blankets with it – to the man who told me that bowel screening literally saved his life. 

They’re emails from people like the man who said the best start payment meant his wife could stay home with their new-born twins, or the teachers who say what a difference teaching Aotearoa’s history and the Treaty of Waitangi in schools and Kura will make to the present and future of New Zealand. And sometimes pictures and cards, like the children who care deeply that we banned plastic bags, and now want us to find the unicorns and save the turtles. 

Those letters are how we finish each caucus – because they’re a reminder of why we’re all here. 

Don’t get me wrong though, we don’t lack reminders of all the work we have to do. And we have 55 reminders of why sitting opposite us in parliament. 

The key for us as we lead into 2020, is simply to keep going. 

As the Finance Minister said yesterday – we must use the good times to create further opportunities to lift people up. That means acting now. 

With record low interest rates there has never been a better time to get our economy and people working, and to do that through the win-win of investing in getting the basics right. 

Last budget we saw the need and the opportunity and increased capital spending across four years, talking it to $14.8 billion in this year’s Wellbeing Budget. 

We’ve started cracking into much-needed investments in new infrastructure like public transport, neglected regional roads and rebuilding worn-down hospitals and schools.

And today I am announcing the first component of the infrastructure package that the Finance Minister set out yesterday. And it’s about our schools. 

In the world we live in, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a community where the school doesn’t sit in the centre. No matter where you are in New Zealand, there will be a school, doing its best to give our children the very best start, supporting the local community, acting like a hub. 

Education is our great leveller. 

I have visited plenty of schools over my time in politics. And I would be at a loss to name one that didn’t have need. Whether it was a school that had set up a nursing station in a hallway, or schools that fundraise and rely on parents just to create spaces like halls and gyms – there is always more to do. 

The problems have been made worse over the nine years where the previous Government didn’t do enough to plan for or fully fund the strong population growth we’re seeing. 

We’ve started to fix that with our $1.2 billion investment in new classrooms, and I’m proud to say we’ve delivered 726 new or upgraded classrooms already. 

But there is more to do. After all, schools have the constant burden of maintaining what they have.  

Plans to repair leaking roofs and draughty classrooms, out of necessity, have often had to be put on the backburner.

Imagine for a moment, if we gave schools the resources to change that.

Imagine if they had the resources to fix the roofs and ensure their classrooms were modern and warm. 

The impact that would have not only on the children and parents – but on that local community – would be immense. From the hardware suppliers to the trades people, giving our schools more resource means providing our community greater opportunities. 

And so, that is why next year almost every single state school in New Zealand will receive a one-off payment of up to $400,000 to upgrade their classrooms and facilities. 

This is the biggest cash injection for school maintenance in at least 25 years.

It will create jobs in every community in the country while helping to make our schools the special places they deserve to be. 

Every school will get a payment of $693 per student, capped at a maximum of $400,000, while no school will get less than $50,000 regardless of how small their roll is. 

Be it classroom upgrades or extensions, ensuring classrooms are warm and dry so our kids can learn, replacing coal boilers with new clean and energy efficient heating, improving play areas with resurfacing and landscaping, replacing roofing and guttering – this money is to ensure that the projects that schools have often had to defer can now get done.  

But this isn’t just about schools – it’s about jobs. And especially trades jobs. 

We want schools to engage local builders, plumbers, carpenters, roofers, landscapers – this is an opportunity for work at a local level in every town and city in the country. 

Now this is just the first part of our infrastructure package, and one element of our work to rebuild New Zealand. 

And it will leave a visible mark on every school in the country. 

Now I know that what happens to our school buildings is one thing but what happens within them matters even more.

So I want to finish by acknowledging that on Friday, the Ministry of Education made a new offer to settle the school support staff collective agreement, which, if accepted, will see teacher aides and other support staff receive at least the living wage.

Today, I can also announce that we intend for the Ministry to extend the living wage offer to all non-teaching staff in schools including cleaners, caretakers, and grounds people.

Labour Governments have always focused on not just change, but change for the better. 

On seeing what was broken, and fixing it. Of seeing challenges, and taking them on. 

When we saw people in need, we created the welfare state.

When we saw people without shelter, we built state houses.

Because that is what Labour does, and that is what we’ll keep doing.

I am incredibly proud of how far we’ve come. I’m proud to stand here as leader, but also as New Zealand’s Prime Minister. 

But I will not settle. We cannot settle. So consider this long list of actions, everything I’ve laid out before you that we’ve done, as down payment. 

A sign of progress. 

The beginning, not the end. 

But now, we need you. We need your heart, you motivation, your values. We need your grit, and we need your determination. 

Because with you, we can keep making a difference. 

We can keep rebuilding New Zealand. 

We can win in 2020. 

So bring it on, and let’s keep doing this.