Carmel Sepuloni: Speech to the Labour Party Congress 2023
Kia orana, Talofa lava, Mālo e lelei, Taloha ni, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Noa’ia e mauri, Ni sa bula vinaka, Kia ora, Tena Koutou Katoa.
Labour Party President Jill Day, Prime Minister Hipkins, Party faithful, delegates and comrades, whānau and friends, it’s a privilege to be here today.
I begin my speech with an acknowledgement of my husband, my dad and our family.
A political life is not always easy for whānau. My husband and father hold down the household and care for the children when I am off being a politician.
My husband cooks, he cleans, he tends to our garden, he waits patiently for me when I’m out and about and is quick to pour me a wine when I arrive home.
All this while working full time at the Auckland library as the pacific advisor, writing his poetry, performing at arts events, running poetry workshops in schools, publishing books and researching his passion - traditional Fijian hair practices. Thank you my love.
Even though the feminist in me cringed when the Women’s Weekly used the headline ‘I couldn’t do it without him’, I do give thanks for all you and my dad and our boys do to love and support me.
Delegates, you all know me. I’ve been in and around the Labour Party for quite some time.
I’ve been that mother at events with her kids in tow, the Pacific Labour activist laughing at the back of the room with the Pacific Sector, the Westie MP battling alongside my West Auckland colleagues and our teams to keep the West red and now, I’m your Deputy Prime Minister!
I came back from a family holiday in January thinking I would ease into the year.
When the week began Monday 16 January I was looking forward to catching up with colleagues and my New Year’s resolution was that mid-week vino’s was a thing of the past.
Within a week I was Deputy Prime Minister and my ridiculous New Year’s resolution was ditched in an attempt to comprehend what had just happened.
They say a week is a long time in politics, and indeed it is.
What of course came first was the unified display of support by our caucus for a new Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins aka. Chippy.
Such a seamless transition between leaders is not something we are used to in politics. But having weathered a few that were the complete opposite to seamless, I am so grateful for this experience and our amazing caucus team that enabled it to be this way.
Thank you Jacinda
I want to take this opportunity to thank former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda was unselfish, a wonderful communicator - the epitome of empathy and inclusive leadership.
The Whakaari White Island disaster, the Christchurch terrorist attack and the COVID-19 pandemic. All incidents which have defined her legacy, her leadership and our Party.
We are stronger today, because of all that our former PM did.
Thank you, Jacinda.
The Ginga from the Hutt
I also acknowledge our new PM. The ‘Ginga from the Hutt.’
Pragmatic, calm, driven by an unwavering commitment to Labour values and a determination to make the world a better place.
It is a privilege to have been asked by Chris to be his Deputy. On saying yes, I did tell him that now I was effectively his work wife.
What I didn’t expect was then a whole lot of correspondence instructing me to support the Prime Minister with his clothing choices, his dietary habits and his exercise regime.
My definition of work wife is somewhat different to theirs.
Auckland Extreme Weather
Delegates, it certainly wasn’t the easiest start to the year.
So much for ‘easing in to it’.
Two days after Chris and I were sworn into our new roles as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, I was back in Auckland.
The rain was relentless. My own home was flooding downstairs and shocking footage was being posted on social media of flooding and land slippages across Auckland.
The first evacuation centre to open in Auckland was in my electorate of Kelston. I headed there immediately.
When we arrived, there were only two volunteers in that hall.
Within minutes, families started to walk through the door saturated, in shock with horrendous stories. Some lucky to have survived.
This weather event was of course followed closely by Cyclone Gabrielle. More devastation and trauma for a number of regions across the country and a number of new Zealanders, their whānau and communities.
I acknowledge all of you in this room that have been impacted, are from the affected areas and/ or have been working to support whānau in the impacted areas.
The journey of recovery and rebuild is underway.
My personal observation was that due to the widespread impacts of these weather events, this was a pivotal moment in our nation garnering a shared understanding of the true realities of climate change and the urgency in action required.
Drawing a line in the sand
During the aftermath of the weather events, it felt weirdly superficial to still be doing profile pieces for media. According to my team – a necessary part of being a public figure.
I had just taken up this important new role yet some people didn’t know who I was and what I stood for.
It’s almost like I’ve been this Front Bench Ninja Minister – ducking and weaving my way through my portfolios and political life.
So many of the questions that came my way were in relation to how I got into politics, my political journey and why I was Labour.
On reflection it is clear.
I drew a line in the sand. It wasn’t hard to draw that line.
There are the things I stand for and things I stand against.
Life experience, education, history – they guide which side of that line I fall on. I have always been Labour. How could I not be?
I am a reflection of our Pasifika journey to Aotearoa.
Our Pasifika parents, grandparents and great grandparents came with the intention of working to look after the families in their island homelands.
They raised their children here with aspirations for them to achieve at heights that surpassed the factory floor.
They knew education was key. They aspired for their children to not only take advantage of this education for themselves but to use it to support the wider family and community to get ahead.
This is integral to why I believe the Pacific Community has overwhelmingly supported Labour over the decades.
Labour is aspirational for our communities.
We’ve always supported equal access to opportunities.
And what we do with those opportunities matters too.
Labour has always supported the plight of the worker and their right to be treated fairly and with respect.
Our Pasifika Community
For Labour it has never been just about the pursuit of the individual – but on the wider service and support for whānau and communities.
I have to add, the Labour Party will never have to use AI to create images of Pacific people in attempt to make it look like we have the support of our community.
Trust is everything and creating fake people to sell a political party or policies is a deliberate National Party strategy that will never ever be adopted by Labour.
My appointment as Deputy Prime Minister was an emotional accomplishment for our whole Pacific community.
It validated our journey – our contribution is valued.
From the factory floor to the highest of decision making roles – our whole pacific community owns that.
The next generation now knows what is possible. But knowing what is possible is not enough.
Budget for the times
Our young people also need whānau, communities and a Government that will get behind them and support them to succeed.
Our recent budget shows our commitment to doing this.
In the tightest of economic environments, Grant Robertson has found a way to provide cost of living support for New Zealanders who are doing it tough right now, with a particular focus on young families, including through the expansion of 20 hours ECE support to two-year-olds, free public transport for children and half price for under 25s.
The Budget has been celebrated across the motu from a range of different sectors and spaces and I want to acknowledge Grant for this.
It was also in so many ways, a Budget that was personal to many.
It was personal to me.
We were finally able to permanently reinstate the Training Incentive Allowance. Over the past year with the support of COVID funding over 5,000 mostly sole-parents have taken up this opportunity.
On so many levels that is such an important initiative.
I got the Training Incentive Allowance. I know how much of a difference it can make.
To this day I still say, shame on National and the Social Development Minister of that time for cutting it.
That’s the kind of policy-cutting approach we can expect more of with the National and Act Coalition of Cuts.
On 1 April we saw the amount for Childcare Subsidy and the thresholds lifted after a decade of being frozen so more families can access to the subsidy.
We followed that up through Budget 2023 by extending 20 hours free Early Childhood Education to two year olds.
I will never forget when I first started teaching as a sole parent. I didn’t qualify for the subsidy.
In order to pay ECE costs, I picked up a part time job in the evenings doing tele market research for UMR – yes I was the person asking ‘Do you think the country is headed in the right direction wrong direction or unsure’. I barely saw my child during that time.
We said that this would be a Cost of Living Budget and it was.
We shouldn’t overlook the 1 April changes that were funded for by Budget 2023; increases to benefits, student allowances and loans, abatement thresholds and the amounts available for childcare subsidy, 8,000 community nurses receiving pay parity and last but not least, the increase that superannuitants received – seeing a couple on Super better off by more than $100 a fortnight.
I’m also relieved that as of 1 May our beneficiaries and superannuitants are being provided with even more support via the Winter Energy Payment which we introduced in 2018.
All of this support matters.
Especially at a time when the global inflationary pressures are pushing up the cost of living here for New Zealanders.
I want to spend a little bit of time talking about our superannuitants. They deserve our attention.
There was a documentary recently about seniors living in poverty. With declining home ownership figures over recent decades it isn’t as easy for many of our seniors when they reach the age of 65.
We have one of the simplest superannuation schemes in the world. It is universal and generous. As long as we keep paying in to the super fund it is also affordable.
Delegates, National and Act are warming up once again to mess with people’s Super. They’ve got form in this area, and it never ends well.
They are working on policies that will see people so much worse off by the time they retire.
It includes raising the age of Super to 67 and stopping government contributions to Kiwisaver.
I’ll give you an example of what that will mean. We’ve done the maths.
And I urge Kiwis to also take a very careful look at what it’ll mean for them.
If you’re a 30-year-old earning an average fulltime wage, you would lose $521.43 a year because an ACT-National coalition would cut matching contributions to Kiwi Saver.
With interest, this would mean that that young person would have $46,000 less when they retire.
And they’re asking that person to retire two years’ later. Raising superannuation age to 67 means they’ll lose another $51,000.
If you’re a young person I have this to say to you – the Coalition of Cuts will take more than $98,000 off your retirement.
Just to give themselves hundreds of dollars a week in tax cuts.
Today, Labour is drawing a line in the sand.
Unlike National and Act, today I am confirming that we will not be lifting the age of eligibility for New Zealand Superannuation.
We’re keeping it at 65, as most New Zealanders want.
We will also not stop or reduce government contributions to Kiwisaver.
And we will not do what National did the last time they were in government and stop or cut payments into the NZ Super Fund, the safety net for all New Zealanders in retirement.
The future is too important.
I’ve also got a strong message today for our seniors.
Labour recognises the critical importance of the Winter Energy Payment in helping you to stay warm in the winter, to avoid respiratory illnesses and to stay out of hospital.
These things are not permanent. They’re a political choice. Labour chooses to prioritise it.
But not every political party has the same view. Which means the Payment is not guaranteed in the future.
Today, I’m also putting another stake in the ground on the Winter Energy Payment.
Under Labour the Winter Energy Payment is here to stay.
Delegates, unlike the Coalition of Cuts, we believe that NZ Super, contributions to the Super Fund, and full government contributions to Kiwisaver are essential and affordable, and that the Winter Energy Payment is too valuable to lose.
Delegates it is an election year. Every New Zealander deserves to know what political parties are offering but equally what they intend to cut. Kiwis deserve honesty.
You can trust Labour to be up front about where we will spend taxpayer money.
The reality is, you cannot trust the Coalition of Cuts.
We’re proud of what we have done for older New Zealanders, which builds on our track record of delivery to date. Labour is the Party to support you in your retirement. Whether you’re older or just entering the workforce, we’ve got your back.
And delegates, with your support, we will continue to do more to deliver for New Zealanders come October 14.
The line in the sand is drawn. Bring it on.
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