The text of a very personal straight from the heart speech given by David Cunliffe today to Labour Youth.
You know, becoming the leader of a political party is a bit like becoming a first-time parent.
Children are like pirated software: they don’t come with a manual. Neither do political parties.
As a parent, nothing can prepare you for it. There is so much to learn. Like – How many times a day do you feed or change your baby? How hot do you make your baby’s bottle? How many blankets do babies need on a cold day? What do you do when your baby gets sick, cries, laughs?
As leader of a political party, you also learn on-the-job – and that sometimes occurs on TV! You don’t get everything right; you don’t know it all; you have to deal with random events that occur with little warning and over which you have limited control.
Both roles are hard work and have enormous challenges. But in the end, what really matters is your passion and commitment and love for what you are doing and who you are doing it for. That is what sustains you and remains unwavering regardless.
In this room, we have a common passion and commitment for the New Zealand Labour Party.
It is strong and unwavering and resolute.
Despite the knockers and the critics, the pundits and the commentators, and all those people who try to pull us apart and try to bring us down.
The Labour movement is founded on great values and a sense of history.
Our party is a broad church, but we are one church.
We are diverse, but we are one team with one mission and one unity of purpose.
We speak to the vulnerable, and to hard working middle New Zealand, because we are passsionate about people. All our people.
That is clearly demonstrated in the difference between Young Labour and the Young Nats.
The Young Nats are happy for 10 percent of the population to control 90 percent of the wealth. They don’t mind because they’re mostly part of that 10 percent – or don’t care.
We have seen them watch from the balcony in their tuxedoes and ball gowns, while protestors outside voice the anger of people who are suffering. The Young Nats don’t understand or care.
Young Labour, all of you in this room, embody the values of 100 years of a Labour movement. You believe that opportunity should apply to 100% of Kiwis. You care when people are hurting. You are there to serve.
It is an important distinction because we are five months out from an election that will define New Zealand’s future. And, importantly, an election that will define your future.
When I ran for the leadership of the Labour Party I said: “I refuse to stand by and let this generation of young New Zealanders become part of the first generation to do worse than their parents in this country.”
But that is the reality in New Zealand today. Unless we change things, you will be worse off than your parents.
I am ashamed of that. And I will continue to be ashamed of it until we are on the Government benches and we can do something to fix it.
That is why it is so important we win this September’s election.
That is why I am not going to muck around.
There will be strong words, and I make no apology for that.
Because we are five months out from an election that will define our people’s future: Your future.
Building on our Labour Values
The Labour Party is built on New Zealand’s values of fairness, decency and inclusiveness.
Yesterday was ANZAC day – a day when, no matter who you are or how long you have been here, our nation commemorates the values that generations of New Zealanders have fought for.
At my local RSA, I spoke of my Grandfather Bob Tuke, who fought in World War One.
Although his letters home understated it, he lived in constant fear; he lived with lice, damp and dysentery. He watched his friends die in France, Egypt and Gallipoli.
He was awarded a Military Medal for valour, but hardly mentioned it to his family.
When he went to war, he was younger than most of the people in this room. He was barely old enough to vote. The decision to send him to war was made by others. He wasn’t consulted.
And yet, my grandfather came back from war with the absolute determination that future generations would never have to suffer the way he and his friends suffered.
World War One was supposed to make the world a better place, but our soldiers came back to a country where there were few jobs and little support from the Government.
It was a different world from today – where we have an expectation that if you break your leg, the Government will provide an ambulance and a hospital. And where we have an expectation that if there is no job, the Government will be there to provide a safety net and a hand up.
My grandfather’s generation had no such security. If they couldn’t work, they effectively starved. People often died young of preventable diseases. Women died in childbirth simply because they didn’t get basic medical care.
That is why many returned servicemen joined the original Labour Party.
They came from lots of different backgrounds and viewpoints but they understood that when the least fortunate do better, all of New Zealand does better.
Most the great things we take for granted today were won by the Labour Party.
The eight-hour day. Comprehensive, state-funded medical care. A decent education. Decent, affordable homes.
Fairness for 100 percent of New Zealanders. Not just a small proportion.
In 2014, we are fighting for the same values and the same vision that my grandfather’s generation came back from war to fight for nearly 100 years ago.
I find that sobering.
Fairness for 100 percent of New Zealanders
Fairness for 100 percent of New Zealanders. Not just a small proportion.
That is why I threw my hat in the ring to become the leader of the Labour Party.
I am in politics because I have a passionate belief that every single person matters.
That we are all worth the same.
I believe that our people are a community, not a commodity.
I believe that when the least fortunate of us does better, we all do better.
I believe that in this great country no-one should be left out or left behind.
That we should be judged by how we treat the most vulnerable.
Since becoming leader, I have travelled around New Zealand a lot and found that everything we, as Labour people believe in, everything we’ve fought for over the past 100 years is being threatened by a Government that has turned its back on hard working New Zealanders and has stopped listening.
The National Party is intent on cutting deals for its big business mates and kowtowing to powerful foreign interests. Because of all that, we have a Government that it is not only willing but actively working to sacrifice so much of what we hold dear.
That is not Labour’s vision and as leader I can tell you it is not acceptable to me.
All over our country, I find New Zealanders living lives of quiet courage: grinding on a treadmill where they can barely make ends meet and can never get ahead.
Like the nurse aid I met who earns $525 a week in the hand, pays $400 a week renting a two-bedroom house in Auckland; and feeds, clothes and supports herself and her two teenage sons on the $125 a week she has left.
She cried when she told me how worried she was, because if she works more hours she doesn’t see her kids and they’d go off the rails.
So she grinds on, toughing it out. That is guts. That is valour. Every week.
Or the family in Kelston I visited living in a garage. Mum, Dad and two high school age girls. Mum had part-time work, Dad had none. My electorate team helped him find a job. They were able to move into their own modest rented home (the state housing stock had been decimated).
The kids did well at school. The elder sister got a scholarship to Auckland University, where she had to pay foreign student fees. She lost a year. She will have a mountain of debt. The same debt mountain many of you will have. If you can get a loan at all, especially as a postgrad – and we are going to fix that!
We have too many children who are getting sick because they live in cold, damp, cramped houses with black mould growing up the walls. Sometimes owned by speculators who just push the rent up while getting rich on tax-free capital gains.
Is that ok?
And at the same time, we have shoddy state houses that go unrepaired while the Government rips a fortune out of Housing NZ off the back of the Christchurch rebuild.
We are becoming two New Zealands – a country of ghettos and a country of gated communities.
Is that ok?
This is not a “Brighter Future”; this is a powder keg.
A “rock star economy” where a few live like stars (until the bubble bursts), but most just eat rocks.
What is fair or decent or Kiwi about that?
Is it any wonder that in the last election a million of our people did not even bother to vote?
Where is their “recovery”?
Changing Our Future
Think of the people I have just described. Think of your own family and friends that are doing it tough.
Why should they care when politicians score political points in a beltway game that looks and smells like politics-as-usual?
I believe that politics-as-usual has failed New Zealanders. And we have to change that.
That a prosperous future for New Zealand won’t be built the same way as the past.
That it is not enough to work for our people, we have to work with them.
And that the only way for us to transform our future is to first transform ourselves.
Everyone in the New Zealand Labour Party has a shared vision to rebuild our society so that everybody – not just a lucky few – get the chance to succeed and make the best of their potential.
After September, we will make New Zealand a fairer place by strengthening and supporting the most vulnerable members of our society and by giving every young Kiwi a fair chance.
By strengthening, not shrinking, the right of every New Zealander to have a warm, comfortable home.
By strengthening, not shrinking, support for our Universities, schools and hospitals.
And, above all, by strengthening a high-value, high knowledge, sustainable economy that will create the jobs for our graduates and value in our economy that we can all share.
Your Labour Party is going to protect all New Zealanders and reclaim the future for your generation.
I said at conference last year that it was going to be hard work. We have to work harder this election than we have ever fought before.
We have to fight the National Party’s millions of dollars with our thousands of voices. And we have to win.
I promise you that I am here to fight for change. I did not get elected leader to just worry about the polls or who is saying what down the road in Parliament.
But change is not a spectator sport.
Our opponents are counting on young people like you, your classmates, friends and flatmates to stay home in September.
They are betting on the apathy of young people like you. They are counting on your silence. We need to prove them wrong.
We need to fight for a future you are proud to be part of.
Because our future is not written for us, it is written by us. And power to shape that future is in your hands.
I want to congratulate Young Labour on the leading role you are already playing in helping to build our largest, most grassroots campaign ever.
This afternoon I know everyone in this room is getting on a bus for an afternoon of door-knocking and getting Labour’s vision out there.
The conversations you will have today are part of hundreds and thousands of personal contacts we are having all around the country.
But we need your ongoing help to win this election.
We need you to commit to vote.
We need you to continue to make phone calls and to knock on doors and talk to neighbours and share your passion and energy and enthusiasm.
That is how we are going to win this election. That is how we are going to change New Zealand
A grassroots movement for change, built on the progressive values that New Zealanders hold dear.
This election is not about what we have done, it is about what we have yet to do.
Together, we will build the fairest, most decent society in the world.