- Date published:
9:53 am, April 23rd, 2017 - 28 comments
Categories: capitalism, climate change, Economy, Environment, Financial markets, global warming, sustainability, tech industry - Tags:
The text of David Cunliffe’s final speech delivered this week.
This is not a valedictory. That was last week. You can all have a copy.
This is from the heart. A fond farewell amongst the closest of comrades.
A reflection on our shared Labour movement to make our country a better and fairer place.
It is an absolute privilege to stand before you, for the last time, as your MP for New Lynn.
But what we stood for, sweated for, sometimes suffered for, does not end today.
I know that this electorate is in great hands, with a strong and committed LEC led by Clare Hargrave, a great candidate in Deborah Russell, funds in the bank and membership among the highest in NZ.
We have a wider Labour Party united and ready to win under Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern.
You have truly made New Lynn a fortress for Labour.
What is more, you have made it a beacon for progressive values and policies.
Together we once set out our vision and values in this very room.
We called time on that bankrupt experiment called neoliberalism.
Voters around the western world also called time on it. But sadly not through a return to fairness and equality, but by grasping at the straws of reaction and isolation.
Today, I want to reflect on three simple things:
What we stand for, what we did together,.
And where we go from here.
What we stand for
Jonathan Hunt gave me two pieces of advice: “never forget you are only here because you have Labour next to your name” and “knock every door in your electorate in your first term”. Once your constituents know that you are there for them, then they will forgive your time in Wellington.
It has been an incredible honour and a privilege to have served alongside all of you.
Our values have been grounded in the belief that all people are created equal.
That all deserve equal dignity, opportunity and respect.
That markets make good servants but bad masters.
That it’s the government’s job to ensure the economy serves people and not the other way around.
In a small country we must be all in it together.
If we do not educate all our young, who will pay for health care and superannuation tomorrow?
If all our people don’t have warm dry homes, some of our kids will get sick and cannot learn.
And if people don’t have jobs that pay a living wage, we will all be the poorer for it.
Those were principles we worked hard to deliver on in the Fifth Labour Government.
We leaned against the idea that markets always work well.
And the idea that most folks have to take skim milk after the top 0.1% get the cream.
But like other Third Way governments around the world, we were swimming against the tide.
Before 2008, it seemed like business leaders could walk on water.
No matter how risky the venture or how unfair the dealings, the economy just kept growing, and if anyone suggested it was out of control, they were laughed at. Remember the Winter of Discontent?
The news media, and the businesses that owned the news media, told us that governments have no place in the economy. They told us that markets are run by experts.
They told us that government intervention is never needed. They told us that when the government intervenes in the economy, the economy always suffers.
Then, in 2008, the global economic bubble suddenly burst. The world’s economic system was on the point of collapse. Ironically, that recession was the nail in the coffin of our Fifth Labour Government.
Suddenly, many of the free-marketeers were shown to be arrogant, ignorant, reckless fools. Suddenly, in America, England and Europe, investors went rushing to their governments asking for handouts and pleading for intervention.
New Zealand was not exempt. Our heavily regulated banking sector survived. Our lightly regulated finance companies didn’t. Many collapsed, taking the life savings of their investors with them.
Since 2008 there has been a growing realisation that government intervention is not some evil and oppressive force. Government intervention in the economy is necessary to keep the economy running smoothly.
Unregulated economies grow faster, but they also crash faster. Lightly regulated economies may grow slower but recover far faster from sudden shocks.
Better regulated, more equal societies are not only fairer – they do better economically too.
Like many people with a background in economics, I can’t help but tremble at the economic bubble this current government has helped create. I can’t help but wonder if John Key’s resignation was driven by a desire to not be leading the country when the current bubble bursts.
But, unlike 2008, many in today’s business community now see the need for governments to stop bubbles occurring, such as Auckland’s current housing bubble, which is driven by speculation and certain to end in tears.
The Global Financial Crisis achieved what progressive parties of the previous decade could no.
It shook the status quo to its foundations. As I noted in this room:
The global financial crisis was caused by unregulated banking. Leaky building syndrome was caused by deregulating the building industry. The Pike River mining disaster has raised numerous questions about deregulation of the mining industry. Does anyone still seriously believe that big business can be safely left to regulate itself?”
What comes next is less certain. It’s what Morgan Godfrey called “The Interregnum”: an inflection point of ideas. A turn of the tide. An opportunity to restate our values in new and relevant ways.
So a few years ago when I asked why nearly a million Kiwis couldn’t be bothered to vote, I argued:
When the right-wing party says that it’s going to cut your leg off, voters want the left-wing party to say that it’s not going to cut your leg off. Voters don’t want to be told that the left-wing party is also going to cut your leg off, but a bit lower down and with some anaesthetic”.
I needed some anaesthetic myself when a few colleagues gave me the benefit of their views on that speech – the wounds of the 1980’s were clearly still too raw for some to call it for what it was.
But the conclusion we reached then is patently true today.
Austerity economics does not work. It did not work in the Great Depression of the 1930s and it will not work in the Great Recession of the current decade.”
Now even the IMF agrees, and in today’s news former PM Jim Bolger himself denounced neoliberalism as a failure in New Zealand! Despite the Mother of All Budgets!
So the decline of neoliberalism may be old news now but making that call then took guts.
And the consequences of those policies are still with us: hard-working families pay more and earn less than they should.
They are working harder and harder just to stand still.
They are getting a smaller and smaller share of the pie for their toil.
They are losing the dream of building a better life for their kids and owning their own home.
They are losing faith with politicians of all stripes and no longer trust the media.
They are rightly angry and frustrated. They system they thought they could trust is no longer working for them.
Tragically, many have taken the wrong medicine for this disease.
They have been sold snake oil by a new and more venal Far Right; whose answer to middle class angst is to find someone who looks or sounds different – and to blame them.
That’s been done before, and it never ends well.
The world is entering a new and more dangerous phase.
What happens next is what really matters, but first let’s first recall what we have done together to put our values into action locally in New Lynn and collectively in Wellington.
What we did in New Lynn
As team we have spent the last twenty years putting our values to work.
Mickey Savage called Labour policies “Christianity in action”. When I see the love that Lusi, Sue and others in our office have given the people of this electorate, he wasn’t far wrong.
As I said in my valedictory, politics is ultimately a service job. That is what makes it worth doing.
In our very first campaign for Titirangi in 1999 – the one where you stuck 20,000 pencils in little plastic bags with how-to-vote cards – we focused on what mattered to local families:
“Cops, docs, trees, jobs and kids”. It wasn’t a bad line – maybe we should have used it in 2014?
The bottom line – we turned a National marginal with a sitting Minister into a strong Labour seat.
Over the next five elections, led by rascals like Don Clark, Alan Whatshisname, Greg Presland, David Craig, Eanna Doyle and Clare Hargraves, you have turned this seat into a fortress.
And with the support of Ross Clow, Greg and Eanna, Denise Yates, Steve Bradley and a talented line-up of candidates, you have locked that leadership in at local board and council level as well.
Labour is the pre-eminent political organisation in West Auckland because of your hard work.
I have every confidence that with Deborah Russell as our candidate and with your support, this seat will remain a fortress. Every door you knock, call you make and dollar you raise will bring that home.
I believe we have used our mandate well and earned the respect and trust of locals over the years.
We got Waitakere Hospital rebuilt at Lincoln Rd and made the ED 24/7, rather than it being shunted over the harbour bridge where services are too hard for our constituents to reach.
We protected the precious Waitakere Ranges with the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act – by one vote! Thank you Lynne Pillay and Bob Harvey for your leadership on that.
We transformed the New Lynn town centre with Waitakere City and Michael Cullen’s help, bringing modern transport links and high quality housing, in what is seen as a model for urban development.
We supported arts, community and cultural groups from the Festival of Cultures to Whau ACE, with the help of our local licencing trusts, and I acknowledge Portage Chair Ross Clow here tonight.
And we have helped literally thousands of individuals and families on everything from immigration to welfare to housing to just letting off stream.
Except I drew the line at “Mrs X” of Green Bay, who was asked to leave my office after repeat racist rants. “My family and I will never vote for you!” she cried. “Madam” I said “I’d be gutted if you did”.
Well despite losing Mrs X’s votes, I got to Wellington and was full of the joys of spring. I rather ignored Holyoake’s advice about breathing through my nose.
So by some miracle three years later I got to cut my teeth in the Beehive under Sir Michael Cullen and the leadership of Helen Clark. Both were incredible and I soaked up the learning.
Especially photocopying – shorthand for junior ministers doing anything their seniors don’t want to.
Like asking State Owned Enterprises why they weren’t writing cheques to the Minister of Finance.
Or asking IRD why the child support system pleased absolutely nobody.
A highlight was making sandwiches for that modern miracle, the annual budget round.
As Sir Michael said – the fiscal balance is the difference between two very large numbers that bounce around a lot. But balance it he did – with nine straight surpluses.
And started KiwiSaver. And the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.
Most importantly, despite the dark days of 1995/6, Michael and Helen bonded as a tight, loyal and fair leadership team – whose skill and integrity were the foundation of our nine year government.
As an associate minister in ICT I watched Hon Paul Swain got sliced and diced by the then monopoly Telecom, after the 2001 Fletcher Inquiry called time on that neoliberal version of the Emperor’s New Clothes known as “self-regulation”.
When after the 2005 election, Helen Clark asked me to take on the ICT portfolio, we built a compelling business case for pro-competitive regulation.
High security around all the paperwork did not stop a Beehive Messenger slipping a copy of a cabinet committee paper at a cycle club meeting to someone from Telecom.
The resulting protest from Telecom was too late: we released the policy later that same day.
After share prices adjusted to the overdue removal of Telecom’s monopoly rents, investment in the sector doubled, retail prices fell and broadband rollout took off.
As Minister of Immigration, my focus was on protecting human rights and focusing on getting the skills we needed to move NZ forward. We rewrote the Act and began to rebuild the systems.
Along the way we dealt with cases like Ahmed Zaoui, a hunger striker, and the alleged flatmate of a 9-11 bomber who somehow got into a NZ flying school and was removed quickly and lawfully.
Moderate, skill-focussed immigration is good for New Zealand. It helps build a vibrant, connected country. But too much, too fast crunches both infrastructure and communities.
Our special relationship with the Pacific must be protected, as must the power of ministerial discretion – because it is impossible to write a policy for every human situation.
Above all we must celebrate and safeguard our wonderful cultural diversity. From the lantern festival and Chinese New Year, to Diwali and Eid, Kiwis of all backgrounds know how to party. Building this safe and open society may be the most important gift we can share with the world.
Inheriting the Health portfolio a year before an election was bound to be fun. In my first week senior doctors were about to go on strike. The headlines screamed “system failure”.
The strike was averted after a long liquid dinner with the DHB and doctors negotiators in my Beehive office. No-one could leave until the deal was sorted, which was about 5.30 am.
I still believe in the huge benefit of a low cost, world class health system that is nationally integrated and reaches right into communities. Locally we have fought hard for first class health services for all, and that must always be based on need and never on the size of your wallet.
Going into Opposition in 2008 was a shock for the Labour Party. The Global Financial Crisis made sure of the end for our Government, but we had also lost connection with voters and our members.
In the negotiations that followed the 2008 election, it was agreed that Phil Goff and Annette King should lead us and that I would take the Finance Portfolio as part of a “triumvirate”.
It was a long hard road back – as it is for most Opposition parties. I want to acknowledge and thank all of you, and especially family and friends, who gave amazing support through those times.
In Finance and Economic Development, we worked to put our policies where our principles are.
In New Zealand, inequality is holding us back and crippling our ability to do well.
The poor are getting poorer, middle New Zealand is working harder just to stand still.
Nearly all the wealth created in the past decade went to the top 1% in New Zealand.
The share of national income is going to wage and salary earners has been steadily declining.
You don’t need a PhD to see the bleeding obvious.
New Zealand doesn’t save enough, or invest enough in the right things.
KiwiSaver is hugely important and should be universal.
Superannuation must be made sustainable – resuming NZSF contributions is an overdue first step.
Under National, manufacturing has been run down. Investment is too costly and jobs are too few.
Too much of the capital that should be creating jobs just pumped hot air into the housing bubble.
Meanwhile, New Zealand invests less than half the OECD average in the R&D, despite knowing that smart stuff is what will win markets, create value and give our kids a first-class ticket to the future.
What capital we do have, we spend on the wrong things. New Zealand has become a speculators Pavlova paradise: no capital gains tax, negative gearing, weak rules for foreign land bankers and massive offshore tax loopholes.
We simply cannot support first world living standards from a commodity based economy unless we are smart, strategic; adding and owning value. That’s what I will be working on in my next job!
In Finance and Economic Development, we laid out the core elements of a plan to build a fairer, more productive and innovative economy:
In politics they say that your worst day in Government is better than your best day in Opposition.
That’s because good values and good policies aren’t worth much unless they are implemented.
And that’s why all of you, our members, matter so much – because without your hard work and dedication we could never win government, never lead the country or meet our people’s needs.
We lost the 2008 election, in part because of GFC, but also because we lost connection with the public and our members
And our members were feeling progressively more disenfranchised post the 2011 election. We had swung to the Centre but had not taken them with us.
The 2012 Labour Conference was a lightning rod for all of that. Members wanted to make a point. They wanted constitutional reform to rebalance the direction and regain control of the party.
I supported that call but badly mishandled my public communications at that Conference.
I spent the next year on the back bench as a result – taking my lumps and demonstrating that the Party was more important than any one of us.
When David Shearer decided to step down nearly a year later under pressure from his front bench, I did not even know the move was on.
If I’d been in control of it – I would asked him to hold on and fight the 2014 election. You will remember that I was the last of the three candidates to put up my hand to run – and that was because I knew it was rubbish timing.
But call it optimism or the arrogance of youth – we hoped to turn it around enough to give Labour a fighting chance. So I stood and with strong support from members and affiliates was elected Leader.
Given the state of the party finances, the factions still running around, the lack of campaign organisation, the economy running hot and the popularity of John Key and the Government, I am not sure anyone could have won that election.
As I said in my valedictory, I could write a book about that campaign – but I don’t think anyone would believe it, or possibly read it. It was one of the most bizarre this country has ever seen.
We had Kim Dotcom, Dirty Politics and National’s donor Donghua Liu coming out our ears. John Armstrong has since apologised for his shrill take on the latter, but timing is everything in politics.
What Labour did not have enough of – was time! Not enough time to heal our wounds, time to raise the money we needed or to build the systems to get our message through.
Mike Moore once said the easiest way to be wrong in politics is to be right too soon. I have no regrets for standing up for what I believe in – family violence is still not OK – but my delivery on some occasions was awful.
There are a number of key decisions I would now make differently – however hindsight is always 20/20. Tough decisions usually have to be made in the ‘fog of war’.
So, despite the dedication of our rank and file, the fact is we did not get the result we needed or wanted for New Zealand: we won 35% of the electorate vote but only 25% of the party vote.
New Zealand did not get the fresh start it needed in 2014; opportunities were lost for many.
Reflecting on that outcome, I decided that the person best able to unite the caucus and win the country in 2017 was Andrew Little, so I stepped aside and supported his campaign to lead.
It was a huge privilege to lead the New Zealand Labour Party. You were all part of that effort, and I am indebted to all of you and all who were part of that campaign.
I want to commend Andrew, our Deputy Jacinda Ardern, and all my colleagues for building the 2017 campaign to give New Zealanders a real choice for a fresh start. New Zealand needs a Labour-led government in 2017!
Where to from here
Progressive politics has been my passion for these last 18 years.
With all of your help, I have done what I can as your MP and the time has come to shift gears.
I am moving on with optimism and excitement – for a new start and positive choices, changing tack in my own time and without putting us all through a by-election.
I will be helping positive change happen on the ground, consulting to businesses, iwi and regions.
And I look forward to remaining part of this wonderful community, building friendships that matter.
Today is bittersweet. We have shared so much together. But I change chapters knowing that our team is in great heart and that we have a candidate in Deborah Russell who will do us proud.
It would not have been possible to commit to a life in politics without the generous and selfless support of family and friends. There are so many people to thank that it is impossible to justice to all. I look around the room and know that each and every one of you has contributed to the cause.
There are other family and dear friends, including my sons William and Cameron, who were able to attend the Wellington valedictory and whom I have thanked privately. I also want to acknowledge Karen Price. Those nearest politicians bear the heaviest burdens, so thank you all.
We gave the lovely Lusi Schwenke a send-off in style on her birthday yesterday. I want to repeat my gratitude to her and Sue Hagen, my long-standing electorate agents who have been with me throughout. I could not have asked for more dedicated professional support, or for better friends.
To our brilliant researcher Kris Lal and dedicated EAs Reremoana Fuli, Esther Robinson, David Hawkins, Paul Grant and others, thank you so much.
I have already thanked our Leader’s office, parliamentary and ministerial staff. Our Labour Party leadership, especially Presidents Nigel and Moira and General Secretaries Andrew and Tim. And our affiliates in the union movement, kia kaha.
To our incredible Electorate Committee, which is each and every one of you – especially Clare our Chair, Raema our secretary general and James our treasurer extraordinaire. Thank you all.
After the Interregnum
So where to from here? For our movement and our country? As I look to my own sons’ generation, how do we answer the challenge of what will follow The Interregnum, this tipping point of ideas?
That is a question that I intend to write more about, and time does not permit a full answer today. Let me leave you with a couple of issues and inklings, some of which are bleak.
The first is environmental. Some of you will remember a speech I gave called “The Dolphin in the Dole Queue”. In it I said:
When we look back on it, the worst crisis of the 21st century won’t be the ‘Great Recession’ since the global financial crash of 2008 – it will be the ‘Great Compression’ that is coming at us because of energy shocks, climate change, population growth and resource shortage.
Sure, we will have to both protect dolphins and shorten dole queues…But actually, the nature of this crisis is far deeper and more fundamental … The coming crisis threatens more than just biodiversity. The species we are trying to save could be our own”
It may not always be top of mind when people are struggling to put food on the table, but make no mistake – we ignore the planet that sustains us at our peril. Resource and climate disruption will add severe pressure to the challenges the next generation of leaders will face.
The second inkling is economic. I opened with a quote from a speech I gave in this room – “Get your invisible hand off our assets!” in which we called out neoliberalism. Heck I think we started a trend!
The GFC was the beginning of the end for that extreme free market world view. Just as the oil shocks of the 70’s were for the Keynesian consensus that preceded it.
The New Deal gave way to the New Right, whose legitimacy – if it had any – ended in the GFC.
So what next?
The third inkling is political.
The GFC should have been the moment for social democracy to rise to the challenge of a new era.
But it hasn’t. The same bankers that got the bailouts are already repeating their mistakes. Inequality has got worse not better.
Politics in western democracies has become more polarised and bitter.
Online media has risen to challenge the MSM and algorithms risk replacing journalism. The worship of ‘the narrative’ is undermining our post-enlightenment commitment to reason and evidence.
Desperate voters, disenchanted by both sides and seeking refuge in platitudes, have been sold snake oil by populists and xenophobes. Too often, too many are drinking it.
The fourth inkling is strategic, and ominous.
Populists who cannot deliver because their snake oil doesn’t actually work, reinforce their power by finding enemies. Be they gays or Jews or Muslims. Or Russians, Americans, Koreans or Chinese.
We are entering a new and extremely dangerous time.
So what can we do?
While our world is changing in fundamental ways, the values that guide us should not.
We are building a peaceful, prosperous community where we celebrate difference. Like the Eid festival at Trust Stadium where there were as many Hindus having fun as Muslims. Or the Festival of Cultures that many of you organised to give our vibrant communities a showcase.
Labour’s traditional values of internationalism and independence have never mattered more.
Our values of equality and social security are as crucial now as when Mickey Savage pulled us out of the Great Depression.
And we can build on them by fitting social democracy for a new world of work, a sustainable environment and resilient communities with new forms of social enterprise and shared value.
Reapplying our values to these new opportunities and challenges is what makes politics worth doing.
Not the rollercoaster ride of media attention, or the greasy pole of competition.
This is ultimately a service job. That’s what, for me at least, has made it such a privilege to be part of.
Thank you for being a part of that adventure, and the difference that we have made together.
Keep up the fight. It matters and it is worth it. I will still be alongside you, but in a different way.