Chris Hipkins: Speech to the Labour Party Congress 2023

Chris Hipkins addressed the Labour Party Congress in Wellington. Read the Labour Leader’s speech here.

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

Tena koutou tēnā koutou tēnā koutou katoa. 

Mālō e lelei

Kia Orana

Talofa Lava

Fakaalofa lahi atu,

Mālō Ni

Ni sa bula.


As-salamu alaykum

Ni hao

… or as we say in Upper Hutt, gidday mate.

126 days ago I had the tremendous honour of becoming the Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, and three days after that the enormous privilege of being sworn in as New Zealand’s 41st Prime Minister.

In taking on the greatest and most important job I will ever have, I’m only too aware that I stand on the shoulders of giants.

I think of Michael Joseph Savage, whose first Labour Government led New Zealand out of the great Depression and founded the modern Welfare State.

I think of Peter Fraser, who in addition to being a great Prime Minister was one of the most forward looking and visionary Ministers of Education New Zealand has ever seen.

I think of Walter Nash, our last Prime Minister from the Hutt and our longest serving Finance Minister.

I think of Norman Kirk and the work of his government to usher in our world-leading ACC scheme, set in train a process to right the wrongs of the past through Treaty Settlements, and inspire pride in ourselves as a nation.

I think of Helen Clark and the catalogue of signature achievements under her leadership: working for families, interest free student loans, Kiwisaver, Kiwibank, paid parental leave, free early childhood education, and an economic track record of growth and surpluses that any government would be proud of.

And of course I think of my very good friend Jacinda Ardern, who led New Zealand with kindness, humility and strength through a terrorist attack, a volcanic eruption, a series of natural disasters and perhaps the biggest challenge of all, a global pandemic.

Under Jacinda’s leadership we didn’t just respond to events, we also set out a vision for a better New Zealand, and we started to pave the road to get there.

We lifted 77,000 children out of poverty!

We extended paid parental leave!

We introduced free and healthy school lunches feeding 220,000 Kiwi kids at school every day!

We’ve lifted incomes for thousands of Kiwi families through increases to the minimum wage, boosts to benefits and student allowances, increases to superannuation, and through managing an economy that has seen the wages of Kiwi workers growing.

We’ve made the teaching of New Zealand history in schools universal, introduced a public holiday for Matariki, and we passed the landmark Zero Carbon Act.

We’ve unashamedly strengthened the relationship between the Crown and Māori, recognising that when Māori thrive, New Zealand thrives.

We added 11,800 new public houses and right now we’ve got another 4,400 underway.

We built 1,500 new classrooms and we’ve got another 1,500 underway. We’re rebuilding our hospitals after years of neglect.

We’ve put tackling climate change at the heart of our work, we’ve made tangible progress to tackle the burgeoning mental health challenge we face, and we’ve put more cops on the beat.

So let’s take a moment to say thank you, Jacinda, for your steadfast leadership, your perseverance, and for your unfading commitment to public service.

As I reflect on all that we have done I’m reminded of the words of the late Sir James Henare: We have come too far not to go further, we have done too much not to do more.

We have so much to be proud of, but there is still so much to do.

We live in a challenging and uncertain time, and the government I lead is committed to guiding New Zealand through that.

For some this is an age of hope, opportunity and acceptance. For others it is an age of fear, uncertainty and suspicion.

As I said at Waitangi, I believe the role of leaders is to light the path forward, not exploit the fear that comes from the darkness of uncertainty.

In the past five years we’ve faced down some big challenges, and in the past four months we’ve faced down a few more.

It will take our collective commitment, and a strong sense of togetherness, to support those regions who have been affected by the recent floods and Cyclone Gabrielle as they recover and rebuild.

We’ve made a commitment to see this through and we will stick to that.

The post pandemic period has been bumpy, as our borders re-opened and businesses got back on their feet.

We continue to see new challenges emerging in the wake of the necessary isolation we endured as part of our pandemic response.

We’ve got more work to do to tackle the mental health crisis that has been slowly building across the generations.

And we’ve got more work to do to make sure our young Kiwis are positively engaged in education and in our local communities.

I’m simply not willing to write off some our youngest and most vulnerable kids and resign them to a life in and out of the justice system when we know there is a better way.

We’ll continue to back our Police to ensure that those responsible for offending are held accountable. We’ll continue to support small retail businesses so they can feel safer, and importantly we’ll continue to follow the evidence of what works when it comes to reducing crime in the first place.

There’s no doubt 2023 is proving to be a tough year for New Zealanders.

A new pandemic, the pandemic of inflation, has hit Kiwi households hard, particularly those on the lowest incomes, which is why I’ve been so focussed on the cost of living.

While New Zealand’s rate of inflation remains below the OECD average, high global inflation is biting into Kiwi household budgets and families are feeling that pinch.

We’ve worked hard to support New Zealanders through some tough times, but we’ve also been relentlessly focussed on careful economic management so we can make sure there are better days ahead.

This year’s Budget showcases what good economic management in uncertain times looks like.

We focussed on practical and targeted cost of living measures while at the same time carefully managing government spending to ensure that inflation continues to track down and we get the books back into surplus.

Treasury forecasts have got inflation returning to normal levels by the end of next year, and the government’s books will return to surplus in the same amount of time it took the last government to get back to a surplus following the Global Financial Crisis.

Add to that the Reserve Bank indicating this week that Official Cash Rate increases have likely peaked, and the light at the end of the tunnel starts to glow that little bit brighter.

Careful economic management that responds to the challenges of the times requires sound leadership and clarity of purpose.

One person has characterised those qualities above all others these past five and a half years and that’s our Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

When others were calling for even more spending in the wake of the global pandemic, Grant got the balance right.

When others were calling for austerity that would choke off recovery and hammer some of our most vulnerable, Grant got the balance right.

And when faced with the challenge of supporting Kiwis through the current cost of living crisis, Grant got the balance right.

I have absolutely no doubt that Grant Robertson has well and truly earned his place alongside the likes of Sir Walter Nash and Sir Michael Cullen in the Labour Finance Ministers Hall of Fame.

In my travels across New Zealand over the past few weeks, I’ve heard from Kiwis from all walks of life the difference the investments we’ve been making are having for them.

Last week I spoke to a pharmacist in Hastings who told me of the dozens of patients who don’t collect their prescriptions every week because they can’t afford the co-payment.

Their prescriptions help to treat conditions like gout, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions that if left untreated can result in hospital stays.

He was delighted we’re scrapping the $5 co-payment for prescriptions. It will ease pressure on households, and help avoid unnecessary hospitalisations.

I spoke to parents excited about the extension of 20 hours of free early childhood education to 2 year olds. I spoke to one mum who said not only would it save her family $130 per week in fees, it would allow her to work part-time as well, bringing more money into the household each and every week.

I visited a first homeowner in Tauranga whose home was being insulated through the Warmer Kiwi Homes programme, saving them money and making their house healthier in the process.

And across the country I’ve heard of the difference free public transport is going to make to our kids under 13 and the benefits of half price public transport to our teenagers and those under 24.

I’ve spoken to superannuitants and those living on other forms of state support about just how much the 1 April changes we made have helped them to get through the spike in the price of food, petrol and other daily basics.

And I’ve spoken to people on a benefit who are excited to have the chance to turn their lives around because we have reinstated the Training Incentive Allowance.

At this point I want to acknowledge the tireless advocacy of our Deputy Prime Minister, Carmel Sepuloni.

Carmel I’m so proud to have you as my deputy.

Like me, Carmel believes in the power of good government to unlock opportunity, to care for the most vulnerable amongst us, and to light that path to a better future.

The signature initiatives in the Budget only tell part of the story. Our government is positively focussed on the future.

New Zealand is a country that abounds with opportunities, and I want to make sure that all our fellow Kiwis benefit from that.

Our plan – Labour’s plan – is to make our country healthier, wealthier, safer, cleaner and more successful than it’s ever been.

One that works for all New Zealanders.

Not just for the wealthy few, who are sinking millions of dollars into National and ACT.

The coalition of cuts

-           Wants to drive down wages and conditions

-           pretend climate change isn’t happening

-           meddle with our Superannuation

-           and slash spending on the public services Kiwis rely on.

New Zealanders deserve better than that. They deserve a government that works for everyone.

A government committed to the value that the circumstances you were born into shouldn’t limit your opportunities in life.

A government committed to the value that if you work hard, you should be able to get ahead and create a better life for you and your family.

That is what this Labour government stands for.

Look at me.

I stand here today both proud and humble that a boy from the Eastern suburbs of Lower Hutt can rise to become the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

The old saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child, and there is no doubt that throughout my life the people of the Hutt Valley have been very good to me.

I benefited from a good public school education, with teachers that went the extra mile.

But I particularly want to acknowledge my parents, Doug and Rose Hipkins, who worked so hard to give my brother and me the best start in life possible.

My mum is a teacher. When we were young she worked for the Correspondence School, staying up late marking while we were in bed so she could spend time with us during the day.

When we went to school, she also went back into the classroom and I often run into people who tell me how much they were inspired by her science lessons.

Mum went on to complete a PhD and has contributed enormously to educational research in New Zealand.

Mum claims she is semi-retired. But I know her commitment to our education system is undiminished and like many older New Zealanders she will never stop contributing. Her commitment to providing young Kiwis with a lifetime of opportunity through world-class education will never fade.

My Dad worked in retail for the DIC department store when we were kids, then the Brierley’s crew asset stripped it and it went broke.

He went on to manage the Nees Mitre10 Homecentre, one of the first of its kind, before moving on to work as a self-employed maintenance contractor.

As a teenager I watched my dad each night as he spread his accounts out on the dining room table. He wrote his carbon copy invoices by hand, totalling them up on a big old desktop Casio calculator.

Dad was always the first to volunteer to help with school trips and camps, he coached our sports teams, and taught me more about DIY than I thought there was to know.

My mum and dad worked really hard to create a great life for us kids. Many of the opportunities I’ve had came from their hard graft, and I’ll never forget that.

I know that there are a lot of parents out there at the moment putting in the long hours who feel like they aren’t making progress and aren’t seeing their efforts rewarded with a better life for them and their kids.

The modern economy seems stacked against them.

They deserve a government that’s on their side.

I joined the Labour Party because my politics and my values are much more about ‘we’ than they are about ‘I’ or ‘me.’

I want New Zealand to be a country where everyone who works hard can get ahead.

Where the things we design and make, the products and services we supply to the world are the best in the world.

Where we are respected on the world stage and the clean green reputation we’re so proud of is upheld.

I believe that New Zealand can be the best little trading nation in the world.

A country with the resources to give every kid in New Zealand the best start in life, to look after our families, older New Zealanders, and vulnerable friends and neighbours.

A country that recognises and celebrates Te Reo Māori, matauranga Māori and the special place of Māori as the indigenous people of this land.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank another mighty totara in our team, our party’s Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis.

Kelvin and our Māori caucus bring so much to our team.

Like me, they believe that only the weakest of leaders seek to use race relations as a wedge to stoke fear and division.

Strong leaders bring people together, and I’m proud that our whole Labour team is committed to doing just that.

We have so much to be proud of as a country, and so much to look forward to.

And I believe that one of the best investments we can make to achieve all that is our investment in education.

It will come as no surprise to you that education is one of my great passions in politics.

Education has the power to transform lives.

As Minister of Education I knew we needed to avoid the short-term thinking and political posturing that has so often done so much harm.

I remain as committed today as I was 20 odd years ago as a student protestor to breaking down the barriers to participation in education at all levels.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing to increase access to free early childhood education, provide free and healthy lunches at school, and increase funding so schools don’t have to rely on donations from parents just to pay for the basics.

That’s why the Budget had the biggest increase in funding for tertiary education in at least 20 years.

It’s why we’re reforming vocational education so that we’re getting more people into the trades and delivering the skilled workers our businesses need to thrive.

The time I spent working in the industry training field convinced me of the enormous value and potential of on-the-job learning.

Increasingly people want to earn and learn at the same time. 

The trends driving the future of work will change the skills that are needed in all jobs.

People will change jobs and careers much more frequently over the course of their working lives.

The vocational educational system that we've had in the past wasn’t geared up for the future.

The Government I lead is committed to addressing skills shortages and ensuring that high-quality education and training – alongside our immigration settings - are at the heart of our economic transformation

It’s another major area where we disagree with the coalition of cuts. 

Following the global financial crisis, National were so focussed on the short term that they simply stood back while hundreds of millions of dollars of funding was lost from apprenticeship schemes and polytechnics.

They pulled the rug out from under New Zealand’s future.

A number of our polytechnics nearly collapsed, and Labour had to inject $100 million in our first few years in government just to keep them going. 

Firms across New Zealand had to let apprentices go.

Wasted opportunities and wasted talent.

As a result of National’s short-sighted approach New Zealand was left with a skills shortage we’re only now starting to get on top of.     

Unlike National, when the pandemic arrived, and when the cyclones arrived rather than cutting and hunkering down – at the cost of potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs – we invested.

We kept people in work and we supported businesses to keep their apprentices on.

Cutting spending today by failing to invest in the future is no way to manage an economy. We can do better and under this Labour government we are.

I’m particularly proud of what we’ve done as a government to support apprentices and the companies that employ them.

Since we launched Apprenticeship Boost in August 2020, we’ve supported more than 57,000 apprentices to stay in work and train towards their apprenticeship qualifications.

The number of young apprentices has increased by 45 percent.

The number of Māori apprentices has increased by 71 percent.

The number of Pacific apprentices has increased by 97 percent.

And the number of women in apprenticeships has increased by 112 percent.

That’s more plumbers, builders, mechanics, engineers, hairdressers, drainlayers, gasfitters, welders, panel beaters, and sparkies.

The list goes on.    

We’re backing apprentices and we’re backing their employers.

Kiwi businesses who are taking on apprentices deserve our backing and they deserve our thanks. They are helping to create a lifetime of opportunity for their workers.

They’ve responded positively to the Apprenticeship Boost.

Well, have I got good news for them!

Today, I can announce that, if re-elected, Labour will make the Apprenticeship Boost programme permanent.

That’s a serious commitment and will give confidence to many employers to keep hiring – many of them small businesses.

It will reinforce our strong message to school leavers, and in fact to all New Zealanders, that under Labour – the party of apprenticeships – the trades are a great career opportunity and we will back you all the way.

While the past three years have tested New Zealanders in ways we have not seen for many decades, Kiwis have once again proven to be resilient, innovative and highly adaptable. 

Throughout it all, we’ve had a plan. A plan that has put us in a strong position to deal with the challenges in front of us.

Unemployment remains near record lows, among the lowest in comparable countries.

Businesses are able to hire and expand if they choose to, because we protected them through COVID-19.

As a Government we have come through the 1-in-100 year COVID shock with one of the strongest balance sheets in the world.

That’s given us the ability to invest in the rebuild while planning ahead for other parts of the economy.

Treasury is no longer forecasting the New Zealand economy will enter recession.

Our government is delivering for New Zealand. But we’ve got more to do.

Our work to repair the damage from the lost decade under National is not finished.

Work to rebuild our country’s public services to a standard that lifts people up and provides dignity must not be put at risk again.

Momentum to build and upgrade our infrastructure, our schools, our hospitals, our roads, our rail, and our housing must continue.

In five and a half years, we’ve come a long way.

In the last four months, we’ve come a long way.

The challenges we’ve faced have made us stronger.

They have made us battle hardened. 

We know how to lead and run a country.

We are known and we are tested, and we can be trusted.

We are ready for the tough battle ahead in October.

Bring it on!

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