Shearer wants NZ to be like Finland

Labour leader David Shearer, in his first major speech, says he wants New Zealand to be more like Finland.

Shearer this morning addressed about 200 people at Wellington's Wellesley Hotel which included Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and former Labour minister turned regional councillor Fran Wilde.

It is his first major address as leader after he shunned the traditional Opposition leader's state of the nation speech in January.

Shearer outlined his visions for a ''new'' New Zealand which he said Labour's policies needed to create.

He said New Zealand should emulate knowledge-focused countries like Israel, Singapore and Finland, which developed cellphone manufacturer Nokia.

The second term MP for Mount Albert also hinted at the type of leader he would like to be, telling of how former Finnish prime minister Esko Aho came into office largely untested in 1991 but turned the country's economy around with innovation and talent.

Aho made bold decisions but was voted out at the next election.

''He thought it was more important to make a difference than to get re-elected.''

''I can tell you that I have no interest in being a prime minister who just cautiously tinkers.

In a dig at the National-led Government's plans to publish the incomes of graduates to help young people choose their career paths, Shearer said children needed to be getting the right signals.

''Right now, they're following the money, and that means we're turning out an army of accountants. Engineers and scientists, not so much.''

Although policies would be confirmed closer to the 2014 election, he said a capital gains tax was ''pro-growth''.

However, he questioned the value of the tax-free threshold.

''I would want to ask whether a tax-free zone that gives everyone the same sized tax cut is going to be as much of a priority.''

Shearer also said Labour wanted to help the 83,000 young people not in training or work by creating a ''world-class'' education system which focused on quality teachers.

Labour would spend the next two years listening and drawing up its plans.

''I'm not going to offer up some magic bullet.

''I don't believe in them.''

Later today, Prime Minister John Key will try to trump Shearer's speech by laying out a plan to set tough new targets for the public service – starting with a promise of more 18-year-olds getting an NCEA level 2 qualification.

The speech will show that the Government is pressing ahead with its reforms despite growing resistance from unions and within the public sector over cuts in defence, foreign affairs and potentially other sensitive areas such as police.

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