Chris Hipkins: Speech on Labour's Cost of Living Plan

Labour Leader Chris Hipkins made a cost of living policy announcement in Lower Hutt this afternoon.

Here is what he said:

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā iwi, e rau rangatira ma.

Tena koutou tēnā koutou tēnā koutou katoa.

It’s fantastic to be with you today – with just 62 days until polling day.

And it’s great to be in the Hutt.

This is the area I grew up.

It’s where I was supported by loving parents, a good education and a caring community to be the best I could be.

That’s what I want for every Kiwi family.

People in the Hutt don’t ask for a lot.

And I think that’s true across the country.

They just want to know that their hard work will be rewarded with a better life for themselves and their families.

Or as Norman Kirk so perfectly put it;

“There are four things that matter to people:
they have to have somewhere to live,
they have to have food to eat,
they have to have clothing to wear,
and they have to have something to hope for.”

That’s what Labour has always stood for.

It’s what I stand for.

Bread and butter issues like good affordable housing, and especially good state housing for those most in need.

Enough income for the basics like food, clothes and power.

And opportunities for the future, something to get out of bed for every day.

That’s what my Government has been all about.

Did you know we’re building more public houses each year than any Government since Walter Nash back in the 1950s - another boy from the Hutt!

We’ve grown wages faster than inflation over the term of Government, made the largest ever increases to the minimum wage and reversed Ruth Richardson’s benefit cuts.

We’re creating hope and opportunity for the future through major new trade deals that will boost our exports as well as investing in skills and training for our young people.

I know it feels really tough right now.

We’ve been in a cycle that we’re finally starting to come out the other side of.

But while it’s been tough, we’ve never forgotten our roots, where we come from and who we are in this for.

New Zealanders need the steady and helping hand Labour provides.

Can I thank Carmel and Grant for their introductions earlier.

We are so lucky to have leaders of their skill, passion and commitment overseeing our economy and social support services.

They’ve done an incredible job.

Under Grant’s guidance the New Zealand economy has delivered eight quarters of unemployment below 4 percent.

That’s happened only twice before in our recent history. And never under such challenging global circumstances as we’ve faced post-COVID.

As we said throughout our COVID response, our job was to save lives and livelihoods - and we did both.

New Zealand’s near record low unemployment is testament to the work Grant and the team have put in to protecting and creating jobs.

I’ve often said the most important thing we could do in a cost of living crisis was to keep people in work.

And that’s what we’ve done.

When times are tough a job offers you protection.

We’ve worked hard to ensure that protection is available to as many New Zealanders as possible.

The other crucial thing to do in a cost of living crisis is ensure that nobody gets left behind.

It’s our people on the lowest incomes who have been most susceptible to the increases in prices we’ve seen over the last two years.

Carmel has ensured they’ve stayed afloat.

Carmel has guaranteed an elderly couple on Super now gets $100 more each pay to cover their basics.

That’s on top of the Winter Energy Payment that ACT wants to cut back.

Carmel ensured benefits were increased by the rate of inflation this year.

Meaning a family with children will receive an extra $40 a week.

And a sole parent will receive an extra $31 a week.

Her work has ensured there are 77,000 fewer children living in poverty since Labour took office.

Despite the most challenging economic conditions in over a generation, Labour ensured Kiwi kids did not go backwards.

Carmel and Grant, your work has been critical for Kiwi families.

You’ve proudly done all you can to make life that little bit easier for those who need a hand.

Michael Joseph Savage called it applied Christianity.

Jacinda Ardern called it kindness.

I call it the bread and butter of good government.

And there is more of it to come.

The two most important things we can do to help Kiwi households at the moment is bring down inflation and grow wages.

On inflation we’re starting to win the battle.

While there is still a way to go, most commentators are picking inflation and interest rates have peaked and that both will fall over the coming year.

That’s great news for those with a mortgage, and also those who rent.

The Government has done our bit by winding up all the COVID spending as well as looking for appropriate savings.

Since I became leader we’ve found over $4 billion in savings.

This year’s Budget was carefully balanced to ensure we didn’t add to inflationary pressure.

The Reserve Bank has confirmed our approach has been more of a friend than foe in the battle against inflation.

Projections see inflation falling to 4.5 percent by the end of this year.

And there was good news on food prices on Friday with food prices falling in July compared to June.

The first time since February last year that there’s been a monthly decrease.

We’re turning the corner.

On wages, as I’ve said our focus has been on keeping people in work while increasing incomes.

With prices and mortgages going up I know it doesn’t feel like it.

But average wage increases have outstripped inflation while we’ve been Government.

Since 2017 average hourly earnings have risen 29 percent, while inflation has gone up 22.5 percent over that period.

Our decisions to increase the minimum wage by the rate of inflation earlier this year delivered the biggest ever increase to our lowest paid workers.

We’ve ensured those at the bottom haven’t been left behind.

As an employer we’ve also taken the chance to increase wages in the public sector and to key workforces funded by government.

When Labour took office in 2017, the top of the Registered Nurses pay scale was $66,755.

When the new agreement is implemented it will be $106,738, that’s a near $40,000 increase, or just under 60 percent, in only six years.

Teachers at the top of their pay scale will have had an increase of $27,000 or 36 percent by the end of next year under this Government, compared to a 10 percent increase under the nine years of the last National Government.

In fact 67 percent of secondary teachers will now earn a base salary of more than $100,000 a year as a result of the investments we have made in this critical workforce.

Some would say this approach is crazy – increasing wages in tough economic times.

But I see it differently.

Now is exactly the time to invest in our nurses and teachers.

To funnel money into our economy to support it to grow by giving it to those who need and deserve it the most.

I’m proud of our record on wage growth, and the recognition of nurses and teachers and other vital public servants, and all they do for us.

But you didn’t come here today to just hear about our record.

Elections are about the future, about leadership and about who best represents you and your family.

I know the team hasn’t been perfect this year.

We’ve made mistakes and at times its looked like we’ve been more focused on ourselves than on New Zealanders.

I accept that.

But let me be clear, at no point have my focus or my values wavered from the job I set out to do when I became Prime Minister only 7 months ago.

I’ve put supporting families with the cost of living front and centre.

No matter what else might have been going on, that is what I’m in this role to do, and that’s my ongoing pledge to New Zealanders.

At this election New Zealanders have a real choice.

A coalition more focused on cutting jobs than creating them - or Labour and our proven record on employment.

A choice between National’s tax cuts weighted towards the wealthy - or real and ongoing cost of living support for working families.

Millionaires don’t need a tax cut right now.

I don’t need a tax cut right now.

But YOU need cost of living support and that is what Labour will provide.

Today I’m announcing the next steps in Labour’s 10 point cost of living plan to provide targeted, long term cost of living support for Kiwi families.

The first two steps are bringing inflation under control and growing wages so families can get ahead.

The next three steps were announced in this year’s Budget – free prescriptions,
cheaper childcare with 20 hours free ECE extended to two year olds,
and making public transport permanently free for under 13s and half priced for under 25 year-olds.

All of these cost of living measures are at risk under National.

They’ve said they will reintroduce prescription charges.

They don’t support 20 hours free for 2 year olds.

And kids and young people will be paying for the bus and train again under the coalition of cuts, who it seems are also committed to accelerating climate emissions.

Today I’m setting out the next two steps in our plan.

I know food is always a big cost for families.

Despite the time pressure that comes with this job, I make a point of continuing to do my own shopping.

Though it’s often online these days, keeping an eye on food prices is important to me.

While I’m incredibly lucky to earn a salary that means I don’t have to make the sacrifices at the checkout other families do, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to make life that little bit easier for everyone.

Food prices are 9.6 percent higher today than they were a year ago.

Fruit and vegetable prices in particular have increased six percent over the past year.

However, prices have been volatile, rising 22 percent in the year to June and 18 percent in the year to May, in part because of the terrible weather events we’ve faced.

The storms and cyclone have played havoc with supply chains and disrupted our growers and damaged their crops.

I can’t control the weather, but I can do something about prices.

Today I am announcing that if re-elected Labour will remove GST from fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables from the 1st of April next year.

Cutting GST from fruit and vegetables will ease the pressure on families at the checkout as we get through this inflationary cycle.
And it will help make healthy fruit and vegetables a more affordable option.

Other countries, including Australia, take GST off fruit and vegetables so there is no reason we can’t here.

In fact, most countries that have a form of GST have carve-outs for certain items, and if anything, New Zealand is currently an international outlier.

Now some people oppose this change on technical grounds and the purity of our tax system.

But they aren’t the ones worrying about their weekly food bills. They’re not the ones having to remove items from their trolley.

This policy is aimed at New Zealanders for whom every dollar at the checkout matters. I’m in it for them.

But it doesn’t end there.

Today I am also announcing that if re-elected on 1 April next year we will make the largest ever increase to the Working for Families In-Work Tax Credit.

It’s an increase that will see 160,000 families $25 a week better off under Labour.

And before the end of our next term we will also lift the Working for Families abatement threshold to $50,000 meaning 175,000 families will gain on average an extra $47 a week.

Once fully implemented, many low- and middle-income families with young kids will be over $50 a week better off as a result of our changes to GST and Working for Families.

That’s real cost of living support, and more than National is offering many low and middle income New Zealanders through their tax cuts.

At this election, Labour will be putting the cost of living front and centre.

That’s because it’s the biggest issue facing households.

But it’s also what I’m about.

My vision as Prime Minister is to give the right support to families so they can get on with their lives and not have to struggle.

So that they can see the rewards from their hard work, and so that they can create a better life for themselves and the ones they love.

Would I like to do more? Of course, but I am also realistic that the current economic environment means now isn’t the time for big inflationary tax cuts.

If I’m going to target support I’d rather give it to mums and dads than millionaires.

Providing targeted support to cut the costs of the basics like food, prescriptions, childcare and transport is a better plan and smarter economics.

New Zealanders now have a clear choice in this election.

My message to New Zealanders is simple. I understand your concerns and I’m on your side, and I’ll deliver on the issues that matter most.

When you weigh up the policies on offer, our 10 point cost of living package will offer the permanent and long term savings that tax cuts simply don’t.

But these changes will only occur if Labour is re-elected.

My promise to you is to do all I can over the next 9 weeks to make that a reality.

There is simply too much at stake.

I’m in it for you.

I’m in it for anyone who no longer has to put their health second because they can’t afford their prescriptions.

I’m in it for parents juggling work and young kids and expensive childcare costs

I’m in it for our environment and cheaper public transport.

I’m in it for teachers and nurses and all our public servants who look after our communities day in day out.

I’m in it for our superannuitants and the most vulnerable among us.

I’m in it for our young people and ensuring they have the opportunities and support they need to live amazing lives.

I’m in it for you.

So if you’re with me,

If you think New Zealand does better when families do better,

If you want to fix the cost of living crisis and help people get ahead,

If you want to help bring down emissions,

Then let’s go out and campaign our hearts out.

Let’s win this campaign

And re-elect a Labour government.

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