Speech – New Zealand Labour Party
Emergencies always begin with a top-down command structure when emergency services and relief agencies arrive to help. But over the following weeks and months, there needs to be a fundamental shift: to bottom-up leadershipDAVID SHEARER
FROM RECOVERY TO LEGACY
Grassroots Innovations: An Example to Follow
Just over a week ago I stood with many of you in Latimer Square to mark the two year anniversary.
We remembered that in the most difficult circumstances Cantabrians found the best in themselves.
In the midst of the destruction and tragedy, people came together. The community responded.
Our first responders, Cancern, Wecan, The Farmy Army, the Student Volunteer Army, Gap Filler, Greening the Rubble, Rebuild Christchurch, the Rangiora Earthquake Express, Adopt a Christchurch Family, the Ministry of Awesome… the list goes on … These are local innovators. They didn’t wait to be asked, they saw a need and acted.
They inspired us, offered us hope, and they still do.
They showed us the strength of communities and how much can be achieved at the grassroots.
They offer the example for the future.
Before I got into politics, I worked for 20 years in disaster recovery for the United Nations.
I headed relief operations in Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Iraq and others.
As you would expect, every operation, every place was different, but they shared many things in common.
National: Recovery From the Beehive Down
Emergencies always begin with a top-down command structure when emergency services and relief agencies arrive to help.
But over the following weeks and months, there needs to be a fundamental shift: to bottom-up leadership:
Democracy. Inclusiveness. Listening.
Genuine engagement with people.
After a crisis, people need leaders who are supportive and walk alongside them.
When people are involved in the decision-making, they become stronger as individuals and communities.
The act of empowerment, after a disempowering event, speeds recovery.
My years in the field taught me – and this is reinforced by experts across the globe – that a topdown recovery is the opposite to best practice.
Yet that’s what we have here in Christchurch.
It has resulted in an ever-growing government department accountable only to Wellington.
Far too often meetings are called in Wellington and decisions are handed down from there too.
Every time I’m in Christchurch the message gets stronger: “We’re not being listened to.”
“We’ve been steamrolled.”
“There’s no collaboration.”
“Decisions are made without us.”
“There seems to be another agenda.”
This is not fair, it’s not right, it’s not the kiwi way.
Hekia Parata’s plan to close and merge schools is the prime example.
After the endless disruption of the earthquakes, schools have become a refuge, a place of healing for kids.
When I headed disaster and relief operations re-opening schools was a priority that followed immediately after water, food, shelter and sanitation.
Why? Because getting kids back to familiar routines and playing with their friends worked better than thousands of hours of trauma counselling.
In disasters, schools are often a place – sometimes the only place – where kids can feel safe, more so than their own home.
And nowhere is that felt more than in Christchurch.
I recall a mother at a meeting at Ouruhia School I attended saying:
“I have a child at this school, and when there’s an earthquake during school when I’m at work, I know she’s safe, both emotionally and physically.”
Schools aren’t just learning institutions: they’re centres of our communities.
So the Government’s announcement last year to close 13 schools and merge 18 – many of which didn’t need to be closed, was wrong in so many ways.
It made me angry because the ones who were asked to bear the brunt of that decision were our kids.
And because it profoundly failed to understand communities or involve them in their future.
Of course Hekia Parata quickly responded with a ‘charm offensive’ that was, frankly just plain offensive.
Labour: A Different Approach
The National Government sees democracy as a barrier to its plans.
It is taking advantage of a tired, distracted and devastated city to push those plans through.
I believe the people of Christchurch are calling out for a style of leadership that is both inclusive and engaging.
One that is also respectful of the diversity of views and opinions that Cantabrians have never been afraid to express.
At the end of last year we delivered a questionnaire to every household in Christchurch – 130,000 went out – asking you how you thought the recovery was going.
Nearly 90 per cent of the people that responded wanted more consultation from the Government.
Their message is clear: You can’t rebuild Canterbury from the top floor of the Beehive.
As Prime Minister I will approach decision-making differently.
It’s an approach that I know from my own experience delivers results.
The reality is that the recovery will take years, a generation.
That’s why I have committed Labour to a bi-partisan or perhaps, under MMP, a multi-partisan, approach to the recovery.
And in taking office in 2014 I will extend an offer to the current National ministers and all local MPs –to participate in the Christchurch recovery in a meaningful way.
But it’s also our job to hold the government to account – to bring about the best outcome.
And that means understanding the hopes and fears of people here.
We have relied heavily on our MPs – and we are truly fortunate to have dedicated great people: Lianne, Ruth, Clayton, Megan and Rino.
All have been touched by the quakes. Their story is the story of so many others.
I want to make sure that, in Government, we are in touch with the reality you face before we make decisions – not after.
That’s why, today, I’m committing to holding public meetings around the region every six weeks.
Not to talk at people. But as an opportunity to engage with Cantabrians, to work out how we can best represent your concerns, take your ideas forward.
Senior members of my caucus will also be here regularly.
From health, housing, and education to transport, employment and tertiary education, all of these portfolios are critical to Canterbury.
Our Canterbury MPs need more support from their colleagues.
Through this approach I see the chance not just for a rebuild, but for a revitalized economy.
An economy bigger than one stadium. A stadium is not a strategy for the future.
My sights for Canterbury are higher than the Government’s.
I see the opportunity to build a legacy that outlasts the recovery.
I believe the Canterbury rebuild could be the model for what New Zealand should be: a high value, job rich, diversified economy.
We know we cannot put ever more cows on grass.
Last year manufacturing’s contribution to our economy was three times larger than tourism. And double that of agriculture, forestry and fishing.
We also know that countries like Denmark – a country with an agriculture industry of a similar size to ours – have a higher standard of living because their manufacturing sector is bigger.
Danish kids go on to work in Denmark, because their industries generate high value jobs.
That’s the sort of future I want for Canterbury.
That’s why I’m committed to a plan that looks beyond the rebuild.
One that is focussed on the opportunities that will both speed the recovery and sustain Canterbury’s long-term future.
A Legacy that Outlasts the Recovery
Opportunities like manufacturing. Canterbury is a centre of export manufacturing in New Zealand.
Each time I speak to the people at Tait Electronics, for example, I am reminded that every job created in manufacturing generates between two and five jobs outside.
The core business of Tait has led to opportunities in service and retail.
We need more companies like this in New Zealand.
But that requires the right policies to encourage them to grow.
Tom Thomson from Elastomer Products was at our manufacturing inquiry. He put it well when he said: “the problem here is … we have a three-year electoral cycle and a feeling that supporting your manufacturing base is somehow cheating”.
Supporting manufacturers and exporters is not cheating. It’s good economics.
My approach will be ‘hands-on’, leading a smart, active government that will grow innovative businesses and jobs.
I’ve made clear commitments to back our manufacturers.
Here are 5 immediate actions we will undertake in 2014: 1. We will change our monetary policy so job-creating businesses aren’t hamstrung by our exchange rate. The high and volatile dollar is costing us export opportunities – and therefore jobs.
2. We will expand KiwiSaver to grow our ability to invest in New Zealand businesses.
3. We will introduce a capital gains tax so the right incentives are there to drive investment into productive businesses – and out of the Auckland property market.
4. We will bring back R&D tax credits to encourage companies to innovate.
5. We will put Kiwi companies first in line when it comes to the Government’s $30 billion worth of procurement spending.
These policies – and other ideas – are being further tested as part of the manufacturing inquiry that opposition parties are leading together.
I thank those of you who have contributed to the inquiry.
One of the things we’ve been hearing from manufacturers is the challenge they face in finding skilled workers.
That’s one of the reasons I think we should be looking at the untapped potential of our young people.
Training and Employment
I went to university in Canterbury.
It was the best year’s education of my life. It taught me to think critically. I thank the staff for that.
But it’s one example of how tough things are down here right now. The university is facing a $67 million deficit.
We can’t afford to let it fail. Its health will determine the success of Christchurch.
That’s why Labour is committed to a strong university at the heart of the city.
Our next generation needs the skills to do the jobs we’re asking of them.
Unfortunately, our graduates in the fields of science, engineering, and computer science are flatlining – whereas we have accountants and lawyers in abundance.
Nowhere in New Zealand is there a bigger opportunity than right here in Canterbury.
Half of the estimated 30,000 jobs generated by the rebuild will be filled by foreigners.
Two years ago we knew there would be rebuild and we would need skills.
Why didn’t the government move with war-time urgency to up-skill some of the 90,000 young people not in work or education.
Instead it said there was no need to plan – the market will take care of it, hands-off is best.
Here are two simple ideas to help young New Zealanders into the workforce.
1. Pay employers the equivalent of the dole when they take on an unemployed young person as a new apprentice for the first year.
2. Institute a One-in-a-Million programme.
The quid-pro-quo for Kiwi companies being at the front of the queue for significant Government contracts is that they take on an apprentice or trainee for every $1 million of tax payer dollars they receive on a multi-year contract.
One trained Kiwi for every one million dollars spent on labour. Simple.
Rebuilding Canterbury offers the opportunity to help young New Zealanders build a career.
And in return we get the next generation of tradespeople.
It’s not that hard really. But it means rolling up your sleeves and getting hands on. Not leaving it to the market.
Housing is another area in desperate need of action.
Whether because of damage, or workers pouring into Canterbury, people are struggling to find affordable houses to buy or rent.
The housing market is failing Cantabrians.
Prices have soared.
Affordable housing is urgently needed.
Our KiwiBuild policy will put 100,000 families into their first home over 10 years.
For those first home buyers who are saving hard, the prospect of warm, dry, affordable homes is generating huge excitement.
The government issues bonds to fund the first build and as each new house is sold, the money is used to build the next.
We pay the bond holders back at the end with the final sale. Simple.
It’s what can be done with a government prepared to be hands on.
Construction companies we have contacted, tell us that building in bulk will give economies of scale to bring down prices substantially.
That in turn will take pressure off the rental market.
Too many Cantabrians have been forced to put their lives on hold while they search for a new home.
You’ve been living with this for two and half years now. You deserve the chance to move on.
Canterbury reclaiming the recovery
You deserve a voice in the future of your region.
Above all, the people of Canterbury must come first and be a real part of the recovery.
Under CERA, the functions of councils have been engulfed. Elections have been cancelled and appointees installed.
You have lost the ability to have a say in your own future.
My commitment is to give Canterbury its voice back.
1. We will commit to the establishment of a CERA board.
This will give an opportunity for local, independent and respected voices to be heard on the rebuild.
Central government should provide oversight and intervene only when necessary.
That’s why I want to see CERA collaborate and partner with the three local authorities in a way that works for each of them.
2. We will call fresh elections for ECan in 2015.
3. We’ll establish an independent insurance commissioner for those Cantabrians stuck in a battle with their insurance company.
Cantabrians need someone standing in their corner.
Most can’t afford the money it costs to go toe to toe with an insurance company.
They need an independent voice, with the power to stand up for the little guy.
We’ll also ask the commissioner to initiate a review of our entire insurance industry.
People need to be confident that they know what they’re getting when they’re buying insurance.
Unfortunately, for too many Cantabrians that hasn’t been the case.
4. Finally, we will also commit to funding some of the test cases that Canterbury residents have been forced to take themselves.
It’s wrong that tired exhausted Cantabrians are being left alone to battle insurance giants to get access to the compensation that is rightfully theirs.
This year we’ll look at ways to rebuild the city while preserving as much of its heritage as possible.
Let’s be prudent with what we decide to demolish today. Let’s pause if we think it might be saved for another day.
Recovery means salvaging what matters, rebuilding communities and revitalizing Canterbury’s economy.
It means fresh thinking – shifting to a diversified high value economy.
An economy powered by industries such as high-tech manufacturing that builds on the hightech expertise of Tait, Hamilton Jet and other outstanding examples.
Christchurch can lead the way for the rest of the country.
It means rethinking our urban environment – putting a Kiwi stamp on the rebuild – sustainable materials, energy efficient – or energy generating, new technologies.
It can mean zero energy buildings, efficient public transport, and green spaces.
Christchurch has the potential to be one of the most inspiring urban design projects in the world.
And it can be an equitable city. Where planning ensures that everyone gets a share of the rewards – from decent housing, to skills training, and to jobs.
My great fear is that people are not being involved as they should be.
And without them, we will not think creatively enough, nor aim high enough.
Instead decisions will be top down, made by those who strive for the ordinary, the status quo.
Canterbury can lead the way for the 21st century.
But we need to be bold.
We need decisions from the grassroots up, not the Beehive down.
The legacy of Christchurch’s recovery should be equal to the courage of those who have endured and a tribute to those who were lost.
That’s a very high bar. But it is what we should expect if we are to leave this region with the legacy it deserves.