Three weeks ago I stood on top of a 1200-metre peak on the edge of Kahurangi National Park with my 12-year-old son.
It was a six-hour slog to the summit, and worth every minute: the sense of achievement, the amazing outlook over Golden Bay.
I felt then what I feel now: I am proud to be a New Zealander.
This is a great country built on great values:
Compassion, resourcefulness, creativity, respect for our environment,
And opportunity and fairness for all, regardless of background.
These are my values.
They are New Zealand’s values.
They are Labour values.
Sadly, these values don’t match the reality of life for too many New Zealanders today.
Today, too many Kiwi families are working ever harder but just can’t get ahead.
There aren’t enough good jobs.
And there is an increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Ours is an economy where a wealthiest few are doing well, people in the middle are struggling to stay there, and those at the bottom are going backwards.
That is the state of our nation today.
This is now a country where one in four children is growing up in poverty.
That’s not acceptable.
Today we begin the conversation with New Zealanders about what kind of country we want our children to grow up in.
We’ll be talking about how we create better jobs with higher wages.
We’ll be talking about creating better opportunities for everyone, including our kids and our young families
And we will do this by building an economy that works for all New Zealanders.
An economy that delivers for every Kiwi family.
In the coming months you will no doubt hear praise for the New Zealand economy from a few vested interests with rock star lifestyles.
But New Zealanders know that there is a vast gap between the rhetoric and the reality.
They are told things are getter better, but in their own lives they see prices going up while their wages stay still.
Too many people feel nervous about the monthly rates, power and insurance bills. The envelopes sit unopened on the kitchen table because people are too anxious to open them.
Too many families are struggling even to cover the basics.
When this school did a drama production, right here in this hall, and charged a $10 entry fee for a seat – the seats you’re sitting in – I know parents who couldn’t afford to watch their own kids perform.
That’s the price of living in a low wage economy.
The rich are getting much richer, the middle is struggling and the poor are going backwards.
It’s the human face of “trickle-down economics”, the idea that if we give more to those at the top, eventually things will get better for the rest of us.
This is the idea that drove the world economy to the brink of collapse in 2008.
And now, National is asking us to roll the dice again on the same bankrupt ideas that got us into this mess in the first place.
But New Zealanders aren’t fooled. Because they can see that even now, when there is a slight uptick in growth, they aren’t feeling any better off.
And they’re right. The numbers speak for themselves.
And now the same economists who talk gleefully about a booming economy predict interest rates rising as high as 8%.
What does that mean for you? It means that if your mortgage is at 5.75% and it costs you $500 a week now, at 8% it’s going to cost an extra $136 a week.
$136 a week.
So while you’re paying more, the National Government has been busy:
My opponent doesn’t think there’s a problem here.
But it’s now a fact that the top 10% own 50% of our wealth.
The bottom 50% owns just 5% of it.
In fact, between 1984 and 2011 the income of the top 1% rose nearly 10 times as fast as the bottom 10%.
No wonder my opponent’s relaxed.
But enough numbers. Kiwis see the reality in their own lives every day. They feel it in how hard it is to stay ahead of the next bill and they see it in our shameful rates of child poverty.
Like a lot of Kiwis, my family has sponsored a couple of kids overseas, one in India and one in Cambodia.
But I was appalled to discover recently that right here in New Zealand – get this – there are now charities asking us to sponsor Kiwi children for $15 a month.
So they can buy things like shoes, and a coat to keep out the rain.
What has happened to our country?
From the highest living standards in the world, to “sponsor a Kiwi kid for less than a dollar a day.”
It shouldn’t be like this.
There is an alternative.
We used to pride ourselves on being one of the most egalitarian nations in the world.
That’s why so many of our forebears came here in the first place.
When I grew up, my family didn’t have much, but there was opportunity.
There was a good state school for me to go to, and good health care when my dad desperately needed it.
From the shearing sheds of South Canterbury to the pubs of South Dunedin, there were jobs that gave me the chance to save, study, and get ahead.
Some of our opponents also benefited from these opportunities.
Whether it was training incentive allowances or state houses, they’ve climbed the ladder of opportunity. Now they’re pulling it up behind them.
I entered politics because I want every Kiwi kid to have the same opportunities I did.
That’s why under Labour:
But we can’t have good jobs and better living standards without a strong, modern economy.
Everyone knows the world is changing, and we need to change with it.
That’s why we will support our world-beating innovators and entrepreneurs, by rewarding research and development with tax credits.
That’s why we will encourage investment away from property speculation and into our productive businesses by introducing a capital gains tax.
That’s why we will assist exporters hit hard in the pocket by a high dollar through reforming the Reserve Bank Act.
And that’s why we will to assist our primary industries to keep jobs and profits in this country.
Because when raw logs, or bulk fish, or whole carcasses – rather than finished products – sail off our shores, so does most of the added value.
And off with it go the good jobs and the decent wages Kiwi families deserve, and need to get ahead.
Building this new economy will require a new type of Government, and a dfferent way of doing things.
I know that the best change happens when you work with people, rather than trying to do it to them or even for them.
Together. That’s how we will build a nation of opportunity.
And it all begins with our kids.
I’m a proud dad. I have two great boys, and like every Kiwi parent I want to give my children the best start possible.
It’s that basic drive, to give our children better than we ourselves had, that should guide us as a nation.
But it’s not just about doing what’s right, it’s also about doing what makes sense.
When New Zealand families struggle with the basics, we are all worse off.
We all know the costs of child poverty are huge, but experts tell us they are around $6 billion a year.
What a huge waste of our human and economic potential.
So if you’re going to do something about that, where do you start?
Well obviously you start early. That’s where the investment does the most good.
We all know that the first five years of a child’s life are the most important. It affects how they learn, how they get on with other people, and the opportunties they have.
When one in four of our kids is growing up below the poverty line, and one in five don’t even have two pairs of shoes to wear to school, is it any surprise we’re tumbling down the educational rankings?
Kids do not leave their lives at the school gate.
Restoring opportunity for every Kiwi kid is just common sense.
The experts back it up and it’s no surprise there is a growing consensus on this point.
However, it is also a deep and complex challenge.
If a kid starts out without the basics in place, just paying bonuses to a few of their teachers isn’t going to turn it around.
Raising kids is ultimately a job for their parents. But many families are working hard and still doing it tough, especially when their children are in their youngest years.
Child care is expensive, so one parent may decide to stay at home, for as long as they can. If they can. Many parents don’t even have that choice.
That’s why today we want to send a message that we value the early years. That we know the start a child has in life affects all of us in the long run, and the more support we can give parents during those critical years, the better off we will all be.
Today I am proud to launch Best Start – Labour’s plan to give every Kiwi kid the best start in life, from before born, through early childhood and into education.
There is no year more critical than the first. That’s why today, I am announcing that for 59,000 families with new-born babies, they will all receive a Best Start payment of $60 per week, for the first year of their child’s life.
This investment will go to all families with a combined income of $150,000 or less, and will give them more choices around how they juggle the pressure of work and the care of their baby.
But we need to keep easing that pressure for modest and middle income families beyond that first year. That’s why for these families, a payment of up to $60 a week will continue to their child’s third birthday.
Today I am also announcing we will increase Free Early Childhood Education to 25 hours, up from 20.
Labour’s Free early childhood education programme is already making a difference. The evidence shows every dollar we invest saves $11 down the track.
But as many of you here will have found, 20 hours is not enough and doesn’t always fit with centre schedules.
By lifting it to 25 we’re giving parents more choices and we’re continuing to build investment in our kids.
Alongside this, we need to expand access to early childhood centres, because free hours aren’t enough if you don’t have a centre in your neighbourhood, or if all the rolls are full.
In partnership with communities, Labour will fund the development of early childhood centres in lower income communities to ensure there are places for every kid.
But quantity is no good without quality. This Government has cut funding for qualified teachers in our early childhood centres.
We think our kids deserve better. That’s why we are restoring those funding cuts, starting with a downpayment in our first year.
Labour’s package commits us to 26 weeks paid parental leave to ensure infants get a safe and solid start.
I call on our opponents to remove their financial veto so that Sue Moroney’s Paid Parental Leave bill can proceed as planned on 1 July this year.
Of course, success in the early years involves health as well as education and income issues.
That’s why we are committing to a set of antenatal initiatives that ensure kids have the best chance from the day they’re born.
This will include:
The Best Start package will ensure parents have more choices and better support so they can give their kids the opportunities they deserve.
This will, of course, all require investment.
That’s why we’ve freed up $1.5 billion per annum by dropping policies that were not as targeted as these.
And we will be unashamedly asking the wealthiest few to contribute to giving all Kiwi kids the best start.
We need to put our country’s resources where they will do the most good. And I believe, as do most New Zealanders, that the best investment we can ever make is in our children.
So, the choice we all face in 2014 is a crucial one for our country and for our kids.
It is a stark choice between growing inequality on the one hand, and restoring opportunity for all New Zealanders on the other.
It’s between a Government that has stopped listening, that is arrogant and out of touch.
And a new direction from a new Labour-led government that will create opportunity for all, starting with our kids.
Of course we know these are tough problems.
Of course we know it will take time to shift them.
But we have the courage to take a stand.
It is not good enough for a quarter of our children to be growing up in poverty.
Or for many to miss out on support and education in their early years.
We will fix this.
But we won’t stop there.
We will be campaigning for better education, affordable housing, and for quality public health care.
We will deliver better jobs and higher wages based on a high-value economy.
There will be opportunities in all our regions and decent work based on fair employment laws.
As your prime minister I will put Kiwis first, and work in partnership with communities for a fairer society.
We will have a New Zealand that once more lives up to New Zealand’s values.
Later this year, you will have the power to choose a better, fairer, and more prosperous New Zealand.
I know that none of us believe we should settle for anything less.
I know none of us believes New Zealand should be country where we ‘sponsor a kid for a dollar a day’.
Well this year that changes.
Together, we will begin rebuliding a country that is proud, strong, and gives every single child the very best start.