Speech: Chris Hipkins - Values matter

Chris Hipkins delivered a speech on why values matter.

Read the full speech below. 

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

Warm pacific greetings to you all.

Five months ago I gave one of the hardest speeches of my political career, conceding that we had lost the general election.

After six years of turmoil marked by natural disasters, a terrorist attack, rising crime, a global pandemic and an international cost of living crisis, New Zealanders voted for change.

The incoming National government promised voters that all the good things that happened under Labour would continue, the cost of living would come down, crime would stop, incomes would grow, climate change would be addressed, and we would all be better off.

But five months on, Kiwis are getting something quite different. 

Did New Zealanders voting for change vote to wind back our world-leading smoke-free laws to fund tax cuts?

Did they vote for billions in tax breaks for landlords while threatening to cut free school lunches?

Did they vote for National’s new drivers tax and higher fuel prices while winding back almost every measure our Labour government put in place to tackle climate emissions?

Did they vote to suspend work upgrading our schools and hospitals and to stop the building of new state houses?

I’m pretty certain they didn’t vote for the Prime Minister to talk about tough love for others whilst claiming a $1,000 a week housing allowance he doesn’t need.

Before the election just about every economist in New Zealand said the National Party’s numbers didn’t add up, but Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis assured everyone their numbers were rock solid.

Day after day it becomes abundantly clear – the economists were right, National said whatever they thought Kiwis wanted to hear and now they can’t deliver.

Let me be absolutely clear. The financial crisis the current government claim to have inherited is one they have created for themselves.

National told New Zealanders that their promises were affordable and they could balance the books just by cutting back supposed ‘wasteful spending’.

Increasing the number of teachers, nurses, doctors, and police we employ and the amount we pay them is not wasteful spending.

It’s certainly not wasteful spending to rebuild our schools and hospitals, our roads and water infrastructure, and to invest in public transport.

Properly supporting those with disabilities and those who care for them is not wasteful spending.

Vital preventative healthcare like free prescriptions and cheaper doctors visits is not wasteful spending.

I could go on but let me just cut to the chase. National’s plan to slash spending on the public services New Zealanders rely on to fund tax cuts will leave us all worse off.

The ruthless attack on Government workers has been heartless and cruel. It is so easy to brand public servants as faceless bureaucrats, but they are people.

They are people with families, mortgages and they work tirelessly. National is rewarding that hard work with redundancy and an uncertain future.

It’s easy to diminish the work many of our public servants do. Five years ago if we had known we had a team in the Ministry of Health dedicated to planning what we might do in the event of a global pandemic some might have questioned the value of spending money planning for something that might never happen.

But then it did happen, and if anything, the question people were asking was why we hadn’t done more to plan and prepare.

When we became the government in 2017 Mycoplasma Bovis was wreaking havoc on our dairy farms. We made the decision to invest in elimination, and to strengthen our border defences so biosecurity incursions like M Bovis are less likely in the future.

National’s cuts to Customs and the Ministry for Primary Industries shows they have learned nothing from their own past failings.

This Government's lower spending goal simply means they take from the many to give to the few - and life will only get worse for most people. This National-led government believes its role is to do things to people rather than with them.

It is a government of entrenched privilege and entitlement.   

Our country is not a company, and it shouldn’t be governed as if it is. Slavery and child labour weren’t abolished because of a cost benefit analysis. They were abolished because it was the right thing to do.

Not every government decision comes down to what is best for the bottom line.

Kiwis deserve a government that puts people first. We deserve a government that backs Kiwis to come together to support and help each other to thrive.

I accept that New Zealanders voted for change at the last election, but Kiwis are quite right to be asking whether the change they are getting is the change they voted for.

There is a better way.

Throughout our history, Labour has been the party of positive change. The party that moves New Zealand forward, and the party that ensures everyone has a stake in the future of this amazing country.

From our founding, Labour has been guided by a clear set of principles and values.

We believe in equality and the notion that all those who work hard should be able to get ahead, enjoy the fruits of their labour, and create a better life for themselves and their families. It’s in our name.

Labour was founded on the idea that hard work should pay off and that those who help to generate wealth should enjoy their fair share of it.

We believe in the common good, that we are stronger together, and that when we all look out for each other we are all better off.

We value equality, opportunity, responsibility and a fair go for everyone.

I recall in my first term as an MP meeting with an organisation called Roots of Empathy. They run programmes in schools where they bring babies into classrooms to teach kids about the importance of loving and caring for those more vulnerable than ourselves. I remember two main things from that meeting.

The first was a book of photos of babies’ common emotions, laughing, smiling, sleeping, and crying. They explained how when they showed those photos to babies of the same age, a lot of the babies would lean forward and kiss the photo of the baby that was crying.

We all have the capacity to care and show empathy, it’s one of the features that defines us as human beings.

But the second story from that meeting is the most powerful. The founder of Roots of Empathy told me about one of their early experiences taking a baby into a classroom. A teacher on maternity leave had taken her newborn into a primary school aged class and the kids took turns holding the baby and asking questions.

One child held back. Once all the other kids had left the class for morning tea, he approached the mother and asked if he could hold the baby. He then sat in the corner of the room cuddling and cradling the baby as the precious little human life that it was.

As he handed the baby back he asked the mother “do you think it is possible for someone who has never been loved to be a loving Dad?”. That boy had been one of the roughest toughest kids in the school. Always in trouble, destined for a life of trouble. The founder of the programme then showed me a photo of that same boy as an adult, with his beautiful young family.

When we treat each other with respect, when we create moments filled with genuine humanity, when we foster empathy, we can change lives.

In today’s world we are all encouraged to look out for number one, to place our own self interest above the interests of those around us.

Competition and individualism have been society’s backing track for the past 40 years and yet never have so many felt so dissatisfied, disempowered, and left behind.

But it hasn’t always been this way and it doesn’t have to be in the future.

Every year at ANZAC Day we remember those who sacrificed for the freedoms we so often take for granted today. I reflect on my own grandparent’s generation, whose sacrifice and contribution didn’t end when they returned home.

I reflect on how the perils of war drew them together, and how that collective spirit shaped the peace that followed. After the fighting stopped, their toil continued as they built schools, hospitals, roads, power plants, and houses.

They found comfort in each other through RSAs and bowling clubs, on the sports field, and in the large workplaces that were so much more common in those times. They viewed the taxes they paid as their contribution to the type of society that they wanted to live in.

They strove for a society free from oppression, not just political oppression but economic and social oppression too.

The world is a very different place these days, and the things that worked for my grandparent’s generation won’t necessarily be the right answers to today’s challenges. But what they achieved does show how collective effort and contribution can benefit everyone, and how when government action brings us together, our whole society can thrive.

It’s not hard to contrast the commitment of my grandparent’s generation with the aggressive drive towards individualism and dog-eat-dog competition that has prevailed since the 1980s.

Later this year we will mark a significant, and challenging, milestone in Labour’s history, the 40-year anniversary of the election of the 4th Labour government.

We will remember with pride the early steps that government took to stamp our proudly Nuclear Free mark on our foreign policy, the work of that government to advance human rights, including homosexual law reform, and to bring conservation and environmental issues much more to the fore.

But we will also look back with much more mixed feelings on the economic reforms of that and subsequent governments, and the four decades of growing inequality and societal decay that has followed.

Forty years on it is long since time we acknowledged that a rising economic tide does not lift all boats.

The majority find themselves constantly bailing water just to stay afloat, while far too many are left to just sink.

Our current economic model celebrates those who live off wealth over those who live off work. In the modern economy, contribution and reward aren’t as linked as they used to be.

Hard work is no longer the ticket to getting ahead it should be. While some earn a lot more than they are worth, the majority are worth a lot more than they earn. Success and aspiration should be celebrated. But when hard work no longer pays off, it’s time for a rethink of the system.

Around the world, a populist backlash against so-called elites demonstrates that people have had enough of being told that if they just work harder the benefits will flow, when they clearly experience the opposite. They work hard, but they can’t get ahead.

Younger working Kiwis struggle to get onto the home ownership ladder, something the current government’s prioritisation of the economic interest of landlords will only make worse.

Worldwide we are seeing increasing concern that the next generation could be the first to be worse off than their parents.

Increasingly numbers of self-employed Kiwis find themselves driving down their own pay to compete in a race to the bottom, and economic insecurity touches the lives of more and more Kiwis every day.

The world around us continues to change and evolve at an ever-increasing pace. Globalisation, automation, the rise of digital technology, the increase in self-employment, and increasing life expectancy are all realities.  

Those who long for a return to a bygone golden era where none of these things were happening are hankering for a world that no longer exists. Our great challenge today is to shape and craft an alternative that speaks to the future, not the past.  

Technology makes the free flow of creativity and ideas borderless. People are more mobile than ever before. Protectionist rhetoric is safe, comfortable and easy. Embracing the harsh reality that the world will never be the way it used to be is hard, but it's vital.

We don’t need to accept that the corporatized, dehumanized approach that has dominated the globe for the past three or four decades is the only way.

A new approach that democratizes, empowers, and ensures that the benefits of success are shared amongst the many, not hoarded by the few, is possible.  

Labour’s mission is that of the fairer society, where everyone has the chance to get ahead, inequality is confronted head on and faith in the role of government is restored.

Labour’s challenge in the modern world is to define what the new collectivism looks like. It won’t be the same as it was when mass industrialisation and working-class solidarity were dominant features of the workplace.

Today's workplaces are less secure, that's a fact. Technology makes jobs redundant at a faster rate than ever before. The rapacious rise of AI will make it faster still.

The investment we make in our people has never been more important. The work we did over the past six years to modernise our education system was vital.

We should also remember that today’s generation of school leavers, the ones our current Prime Minister likes to spread anxiety about, did almost all of their primary school education during the era of national standards. Slogans are not solutions.

I passionately believe in the power of education to transform lives. Reverting to a 20th century model of educational delivery is not going to cut it in the 21st century.

During the election campaign I visited a small film and TV production house in Gisborne. They’re running a training programme for their largely younger staff. I spoke to one of the workers there who was turning her life around.

She’d got a job there after being in trouble, big trouble, for dealing drugs. Her job had given her a reason to get out of bed and something to get excited about. Her learning was giving her hope for the future. Her job, and her learning, were supported by a range of programmes put in place by our Labour Government.

We need more on-job learning, more apprenticeships, and an ongoing focus on the skills that our people will need to thrive in the 21st century.

I’ve heard people say they think Labour is soft on crime. Nothing could be further from the truth. But a race to outbid each other on longer sentences won’t address the underlying problem of why we have so much crime in the first place. If we want safer communities, we need to tackle the causes of crime.

When I speak to dairy owners who have been the victims of ram raids they are at the end of their tether. Their businesses aren’t just where they work, they’re also often their homes too. They work so hard and they shouldn’t have to endure the fear and insecurity they currently experience.

But when I talk to them, they also express concern for the future of the kids who are doing the ram raiding. They often know the kids’ families, they know their backgrounds, and they want to know we are going to do something to give these kids a better future, not one where they spend a lifetime in and out of prison. It’s expensive, it doesn’t work, and it’s such a waste of human potential.

Investments in our people are investments in the future prosperity of all of us.

If we really want to be tough on crime, we should spend a lot more time and energy breaking the cycle before people offend.

We also need to recognise and celebrate the contribution of those who put the interests of others ahead of their own.

A few days after becoming Prime Minister I flew to Auckland to inspect the damage caused by extensive flash flooding. A few weeks after that I was in the Hawkes Bay and Tairāwhiti seeing first hand the devastation wrought by Cyclone Gabrielle.

The power mother nature has to destroy was overwhelming. But within the destruction and devastation I also found inspiration. I saw Kiwis doing what we do best, coming together to support each other in times of adversity.

In a small rural pub I spoke to a nurse who was part of a makeshift health clinic that the local community had set up to support those affected by the cyclone. We talked about the types of issues they were helping people with, and then I asked her how she was going. She cried as she told me how she had lost everything in the flooding the cyclone had caused, but didn’t have time to think about it. She was too busy helping others.

I will never forget that conversation, or countless others like it that I had during that time. When we are tested to our limits, we see the true nature of the human spirit, and what I saw during those disasters was a solidarity and a compassion for each other that gave me huge hope.

In the face of the havoc this Government is wreaking, Labour must provide New Zealanders with hope. To do that we all need to be on the same page.

As a united and focused team we will define the policies and ideas that will drive Kiwi prosperity into the next generation.

Our country is not a company and our citizens are not just consumers. More people smoking might be good for the government’s bottom line, but it won’t make for a healthier society.  Cutting school lunches and support for those with disabilities might help Nicola Willis balance the budget, but at what cost to those who will miss out?

We need to make sure that hard work does pay off and that we tackle inequality head on. Kiwis shouldn’t have to work multiple jobs just to keep their heads above water. Those who help to create the nation’s wealth should enjoy their fair share of it.

Rising wages, improved working conditions, closing the gender pay gap, and creating the right conditions so that our businesses can thrive and their workers can share in the rewards will be key goals for our next government.

For the first time in my life, we currently have a government that is taking us backwards when it comes to outcomes for Māori, ignoring and in some cases reversing the huge progress we have made as a nation to right the wrongs of the past. That’s not just bad for Māori, it’s bad for all of us.

Labour will stand alongside our indigenous people as they face this disgusting barrage, then when we are in Government, we will again continue the work that we were doing to lift outcomes for Māori.

We need to keep investing in all our people. We need health and education systems that meet the needs of our people in the 21st century. We need a welfare system that recognises that kicking people when they are down is no way to help them back onto their feet.

We need to keep rebuilding our public services and institutions, and not just their buildings. The digital world is here, and the way we deliver our public services needs to embrace that.

We need to place sustainability at the core of all that we do. We have one planet and one chance. I don’t want my kids, grandkids and great grandkids to find that the legacy we leave them is one of a planet that they cannot live on, swim on, plant on and explore like we do today.

When we say climate change is the preeminent challenge of our generation we need to match those words with action.

Climate change isn’t just a challenge, it’s a massive opportunity if we’re willing to grasp it. New Zealand can be a world leader in sustainable food production, renewable energy, and science and innovation. There is money in our brand and we mustn’t squander it.

And, yes, we need to talk about tax.

Our current tax system is inequitable, and it’s unsustainable. We have one of the least diversified tax systems in the world, meaning public investment into things like health, education, welfare, housing and infrastructure is more reliant on income tax than most other countries we compare ourselves to.

In other words, those who earn their living through their salary and wages are contributing a greater share than those who earn income through wealth. Under this government, those with multiple investment properties are getting huge tax breaks while those on salary and wages pay tax on every dollar they earn.

When even the IMF is saying our tax system is broken it really is time to do something.

As the way we live and work continues to change, with a smaller proportion of the workforce earning taxable salary and wages, reform of our tax system won’t just be a matter for the idealists, it will be an economic necessity.

Now is the time to have that debate. After the election I said that all options around changes to the tax system were back on the table and I meant it.

Shortly our Labour Party Policy Council will release a series of discussion documents on key issues we will be working on over the next two years. One of those will be on tax. It will set out some of our options for future tax policy. It’s intended to help inform the debate, but how we shape it will be up to us.

Our work on future policy will take some time, as it should, because none of the issues I just mentioned can be considered in isolation. We will use our time in opposition to listen, to build relationships, to research and to develop new ideas and new policies.

When the 2026 general election rolls around we will be more prepared for government than any opposition in our country’s history.

In my maiden speech I said we need to reignite the fire of our collective spirit. We need to rediscover what it means to live as part of a community. And I spoke of values. My values, Labour’s values, and values that I believe have defined New Zealand society in the past and need to do so again into the future.

Compassion, respect, fairness, friendship, love, and forgiveness.

In politics, values matter, and we should talk about them a lot more. When I look at the actions of this new government, I see very different values in play to the ones that I hold and that I believe define and motivate our Labour movement.

They’re putting landlords ahead of hungry kids, smoking revenue ahead of people’s health, and tax cuts ahead of supporting the most vulnerable among us like people living with disabilities.

We are a better country than that.

New Zealand is a country that abounds with opportunity. Together our job is to ensure everyone can benefit from that.

Our mission is to create a prosperous, inclusive New Zealand where everyone has a role to play, and nobody gets left behind.

Let’s make that happen together.