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Kelvin Davis: Address to the Labour Party Conference 2022

I often refer to, and draw inspiration from, our tupuna, and when I reflect on the last few years the words of a famous Ngapuhi chief Te Ruki Kawiti come to mind.

In 1846 during the battle of Ruapekapeka in the northern wars while under constant attack and bombardment he urged and inspired his whānau, his supporters, his allies, his people, with one particular line “He kino whakairo ahau e hurihia ki te toki mata iti”.

This literally translated means, “I would be a poor carving indeed if I flinched at the tap of a chisel,” or to put those words into today’s context, “We cannot yield to the challenges that confront us.”

Te Ruki Kawiti was fighting for his whānau, his hapū, his future.

He was fighting for his children’s children.

And there are plenty of challenges that threaten a better future for our whānau, our supporters, our allies, our Realm countries, our Pacific neighbours, our people.

Those challenges threaten a better future for our children’s children.

As the latest Air NZ safety message tells us, “we don’t inherit this world, we only borrow it from our mokopuna.”

To me the purpose of being in politics is to make a difference, not just in the here and now, but for the future.

But the opposition parties in parliament right now threaten that future.

For those parties the sole purpose of being in power…is to be in power.

We had nine years of the previous government that muddled along, not doing much of this, not doing much of that.

They existed to be in government…not to govern.

And in doing so left us to address the challenges they ignored and left in their wake.

Challenges such as a failing health system with a decade of underfunding of our primary and mental health services and infrastructure.

A housing crisis that we are turning around, as well as chronic infrastructure weaknesses and low productivity.

That is not how this government operates.

Making tough decisions… is tough.

Change is hard. It’s confronting.

A challenge that isn’t challenging is simply … the status quo.

And the status quo doesn’t work.

And for the big issues this government is tackling, the status quo will hurt our future most. Our children’s children.

Much like Te Ruki Kawiti we know that it is us that needs to stand up and not flinch at the tap of a chisel.

Let’s take climate change. This generation’s nuclear moment.

Recently in the Far North, and in other parts of the country, we experienced a once in a hundred year weather event.

The fact that it came just two years after the last, once in a hundred year weather event, is easily overlooked, as if it was an isolated event. But it wasn’t an isolated event.

The extreme weather patterns we see now where we swing from floods to droughts every six months is just that. A well-established pattern. Calling something a once in a hundred year weather event has become meaningless. Because these events are now happening every year.

We’ve been badly affected up north. The Mangamuka Gorge which is the main route to the Far North has closed yet again.

There are about 19 slips in a 13 km stretch of road.

The road had just been reopened after it took 12 months to fix the last lot of slips.

Now it’s closed again.

For how long we don’t yet know.

The opposition say it is a result of under investment in the roading network.

It’s not. Patching up slips is not going to patch up the climate.

It’s the result of more and more extreme weather events caused by climate change.

This road closure now means the fastest route north takes over a half an hour longer, driving up costs to households and businesses.

Northerners are frustrated. And it is costing us all.

With just this one example, which is multiplied across the whole country, not to mention around the world, we can see and feel:

  • the financial costs of climate change
  • the costs to productivity
  • the infrastructure costs
  • the health costs
  • the mental health costs

This is where we feel the impact of climate change in real time.

This is not an experiment.

This is not a drill.

This is not a rehearsal.

This is real.

This is where climate change stops being a theory and has become our reality.

But it is not surprising National ignored it, left climate change issues in their wake and now criticise the decisions we make to address their failure.

This government has started to tackle climate change in tangible ways.

We must use the criticism we have received as motivation.

-   Where the opposition feared to tread we must go.

-   Where the opposition hid, we must be seen.

-   Where the opposition wavered we must be resolute.

-   Where they retreated we must progress.

Fear can be contagious, so we can’t let the opposition’s fear stop us from acting on the tough issues.

We must draw on the same inner strength and courage that Te Ruki Kawiti did when he was under constant attack and bombardment, and his whānau, his supporters, his allies and his children’s children were under threat.

So where did National hide, waver and retreat?

Here’s just a few areas: housing, health, infrastructure, jobs, apprenticeships, child poverty and of course climate change.

But this government is being resolute and making progress.

Let’s take housing. This week Peeni Henare announced yet further investment to partner with Te Pouahi o Te Tai Tokerau to build another 100 houses up north, to add to the 10,037 public houses built by this government on top of the record 41,700 private homes built in the year to June 2022.

Let’s look at Employment and Training. More than 215,000 people have taken up free apprenticeships and targeted trades training.

What about infrastructure? National left schools and hospitals to be run down. We stepped up to fix the challenges they retreated from with $3.6 billion in schools and $1.5 billion in capital investment in health.

How about child poverty?

We’ve invested in wages and lifted 66,000 children out of poverty.

That’s the sort of decision making and investment National hid from.

This government takes a stand where it counts and I’m proud of that.

This government will always face criticism for our decisions.

Our courage will be criticised.

But courageous we must be.

We must not be worn down by those who try to chip away at us with their insults…their misinformation - their pettiness, and their lack of courage.

So let’s go back to climate change. The climate is changing as a direct result of carbon emissions.

Our main sources of emissions are agriculture and transport.

We have worked with the farming sector to enable them to reduce their own emissions…but we’re accused by the opposition of attacking farmers’ incomes.

There is no consideration of the fact that climate change itself has attacked those farmers’ incomes.

The government budgets $530,000 a year to help farmers affected by extreme weather events. However, the average annual spend over the last 5 years has been just shy of $5 million.

Recent adverse events saw $4.5 million allocated for the Canterbury floods, Buller and the top of the south island received $200,000, another $200,000 went to various mayoral relief funds. Between 2019 and 2021, $6 million went to farmers affected by drought.

The costs to farmers are already here. Hiding in plain sight.

But National don’t want to solve the problem, they just want to complain about the symptoms of the problem.

This government wants farmers to have long term prosperous futures.

But that requires courageous long term focused decision making.

Fixing symptoms won’t fix the long term problem.

What costs a farmer more? Annual floods and droughts that devastate their farms and livelihood or having to come up with a plan to reduce their farm emissions?

The opposition know we are right … but will deny it, and attack us.

We are being attacked for doing the right thing.

Those attacks I liken to the tap of a chisel Te Ruki Kawiti referred to.

To the opposition being in power isn’t about addressing the big issues … it’s about pandering to the electorate and putting the tough stuff on the shelf for our children’s children to deal with.

We simply cannot afford to do that.

Michael Wood is being attacked for increasing the numbers of electric vehicles coming into the country, as if that’s a bad thing.

In just five year per cent of imports.

Yet the opposition complain that New Zealanders will be driving around in Teslas. They ignore the 570 per cent increase in EV imports since 2017 and the 800 per cent rise in hybrids.

The emissions of new imported cars reduced by 15 per cent in just six months. A reduction that had taken eight long years under National.

They fundamentally don’t see that we need to act.

This government is being criticised for:

-   playing our part in reducing carbon emissions,

-   for doing our part to slow climate change,

-   for wanting this country and this planet to be liveable for our children’s children.

We have to accept that being criticised for doing what’s right is the price we pay - for doing what’s right.

The opposition tell us we only make up less than 1 per cent of global emissions.

Well I can confirm, here and now, that we make up 100 per cent of our emissions and we must do something about it, so we are.

But what is the opposition’s response to this?

Pothole of the week. Taking a photo of a pothole out by your mailbox is their answer.

Now, in my student days I used to work on the roads in a tar sealing gang.

People think politicians have power, but I never experienced as much power as when I held a stop/ go sign.

I know a little bit about potholes. In fact I used to fix potholes.

Never mind that the leading causes of road deterioration and potholes are (1) weather events and (2) increased traffic.

The more severe the weather, the more traffic, the more potholes.

The first cause of potholes is ignored by the opposition.

The second cause of potholes is encouraged by the opposition.

If the opposition are serious about fixing potholes, they need to help fix climate change. The opposition is a group of people suffering from small mind-itis, where the symptom is the problem.

No! We say that the problem is the problem. So fix the problem.

Do we really think our children’s’ children will say, “hey the world may have burnt up, but thank god that pothole out front is gone?”

Do we really think our children’s children will say, “coastal erosion may have meant our house fell into the sea, but at least the road to the beach is smooth.”

Do we really think our children’s children will say, “our farm may have washed away, but at least the tar seal is intact?”

So I have two questions for the NZ Labour Party.

To all of us gathered here. To our delegates. To those of us who care about the world we have borrowed from our mokopuna - two very serious questions.

And those questions are;

  • If not now, then when?
  • If not us, then who?

If not now…do we just kick the big issues down the road for our children’s children to mitigate, adapt to, or die from?

When is the right time to expect that NZ does what is right?

Is it now, or is it when every farm is flooded or in a drought?

Is it now, or is it when every gorge is closed by slips?

Is it now, or is it when every coastal home has slid it into the sea?

Is it now or is it when every low lying pacific nation is underwater?

Is it now or is it when every pothole has been filled?

If not us then who?

The opposition who believe the answer to half the problems can be solved by tax cuts?

The opposition that believes the answer to the other half of problems is to build a road.

Or the opposition whose sole purpose of being in power…is to be in power.

Let one thing be known.

Under Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson and our MPs the Labour Party will do what is right.

Right for our whānau.

Right for our Realm Countries.

Right for all New Zealanders but most of all, right for our children’s children.

What is the point of being in government if we only fix the easy stuff and leave our children’s children to inherit the mess?

Hiding, wavering, retreating from the tough issues would be easy. But it is not the way of this Labour Party.

We will receive more taps from the chisels of the opposition and our critics, but we cannot, we must not, waver in our belief that what we are doing is right. 

What a poor carving our country we would be if we were to flinch at the tap of those chisels.

We will return this world to our children’s children, better than we received it.