Labour leader Andrew Little targets unemployment in state of nation speech
Andrew Little has made a pitch to small business and promised a Labour government will deliver the lowest unemployment in the developed world.
In a state of the nation speech in Auckland this morning, the Labour leader said the key to New Zealanders' futures was jobs.
"The next Labour government will make sure that New Zealand has the lowest rate of unemployment in the developed world," Little said.
"That's the single best thing we can do to ensure New Zealanders have wealth, security and dignity.
"The Labour I lead is about jobs. Good jobs. Skilled jobs. Well-paid jobs. Ten years ago New Zealand had the lowest unemployment rate in the developed world. Today we've slipped to ninth."
On present unemployment rates getting New Zealand to the lowest jobless rate in the world would commit the party to lowering unemployment to less than 3.5 per cent from the present 5.4 per cent.
At that level New Zealand would heading off South Korea, Japan and Norway which all have rates of between 3.4 per cent and 3.6 per cent.
New Zealand's unemployment rate rate in 2004 was briefly below 4 per cent putting it ahead of the next-lowest, South Korea.
Speaking to an invited audience of business, union and non-government representatives at the Cube in the ASB building on Auckland's waterfront, Little also promised a big boost for small business as the engine room of economic growth - a theme he has been eager to push as he moves to soften his reputation as a tough union boss.
Little said too many jobs were part-time, low paid, or under arrangements without protection such as zero-hour contracts, which Labour would get rid of.
But Labour would offer small businesses more support, less form-filling, more research and development tax breaks, and more training.
It would also look at ways to have major funds such as the NZ Super Fund provide capital to support local start-ups.
"With Labour it will be easier than ever to start a business and make it succeed," he said.
His speech drew on the country's history of pioneering social progress and its founding vision of a fairer society.
He said the country inherited from those who fought at Gallipoli had been the envy of the world, and that sacrifice needed to be honoured by defending freedoms enjoyed today.
"This lies at the heart of the Kiwi tradition of a fair go and a fair share," Little said.
Maori settlers and those escaping class-ridden Britain were part of a legacy that pioneered pensions, social security, public health, state housing, education, and a fair industrial-relations system.
New Zealand also led the world on women's right to vote and with the stand against nuclear weapons.
"We pioneered," he said.
"New Zealand pioneered again and again."
The party's four priorities this year would be harnessing the power of small businesses, housing affordability, breaking Auckland's transport gridlock, and developing a manufacturing sector fit for this century.
Little said that as a union leader he was always conscious wealth had to be created before it could be shared.
"We need to do what's right for business so we can do what's right for workers and their families, and to keep skills in New Zealand."
His speech did not contain any detailed policy, instead focusing on issues Labour would target including child poverty and reduced inequality.
He said there were 20,000 more children living below the poverty line than when the National Government took office.
"Inequality robs people of opportunities. It stunts potential. It's wrong and it's not the Kiwi way," he said.
Breaking that cycle of inequality would be his priority as Labour leader.
Little said that as a union leader he had seen how good management and a well-led workforce could work together, citing talks with Air New Zealand and Fonterra where jobs were saved or made more productive.
He would bring a sense of "shared purpose about work".
The choice was between a "small-beer government or a government prepared to face up to the long term challenges".
He said "tinkering" with the Resource Management Act - one of the National Government's first reform plans outlined this year - was an example of small-beer government when more houses needed to be built.
In a swipe at Prime Minister John Key's expected focus on social housing in his own speech today, Little said the Government had gone back on the idea of a good home to live in for everyone with its "secret plans to sell off our state houses".