Little gets message across, but questions remain

TALKING POINTS: Andrew Little mixes with the audience after his State of the Nation speech.
PETER MEECHAM

TALKING POINTS: Andrew Little mixes with the audience after his State of the Nation speech.

OPINION: 

Andrew Little delivered a workmanlike state of the nation speech this morning, angling Labour's priorities towards the practicalities of life including jobs, housing and Auckland transport.

On the way he pledged to reduce unemployment to the lowest in the OECD - something New Zealand last achieved in the early 2000s when it slipped under 4 per cent and briefly outranked South Korea.

It is one of those promises that no doubt caused some anguish in the party, because it can come back and bite you.

But government is far enough away for Little for that to be one of his smallest concerns.

What was important was the symbolism of putting jobs front and centre in the party's branding.

However, the impression was deflated somewhat in the subsequent media scrum when Little was unable to say what the lowest rate in the developed world was - for the record it's around 3.4 to 3.6 per cent in Japan, Norway and South Korea.

It's the sort of detail that in itself is minor but can undermine the message and feed media headlines and Opposition talking points, and he should have been ready for the question.

Little did manage to get away his other top messages, though, to a standing-room-only breakfast audience at Auckland's waterfront that mixed business, unions, the voluntary sector and a smattering of party faithful.

One of his central themes is that he is not a blinkered unionist - even if the affiliate vote delivered him to power - and is aware of the needs of business.

High in the speech were examples of his previous co-operative talks with the likes of Fonterra and Air New Zealand to save jobs and enhance productivity.

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He also hammered his awareness of the importance of small business to the economy and those "workers" who were outside the traditional view of the factory floor, including contractors and the self employed.

Again, though, he has opened himself to questions.

If Labour is to truly be the friend of small business, will it - as part of its policy review - back down on scrapping the 90-day trial law and ease off on its aggressive push for increases to the minimum wage?

But he did successfully put Labour's vision in the context of its pioneering past, its place as a laboratory of progressive social policies, and its egalitarian roots.

In that it stood out as a genuine "state of the nation" view from his and Labour's perspective.

Even if his delivery and presence at the podium still needs a lot of work.

 - Stuff

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