My big motivation for seeking election was to tackle rising inequality. All evidence points to healthier and happier people in countries with small gaps between rich and poor. And healthier, happier people are more productive. Contemporary economists say it gets the best out of a whole population, rather than the wealthiest few.
The good news is Labour has a positive vision. We want to make the kind of change that really matters. I am proud of my part in shaping our plan.
This is my first term as an MP. I’ve had success with my Mondayising Bill. It is the only Bill voted along party lines to succeed against our opponents’. I’ve also experienced frustration. My Bill for a $15 minimum wage was voted down. In doing so, the Government demonstrated a preference for rhetoric over action.
The election looms. Polls go down and up. Wellingtonians get into a lather. But my experience in Dunedin is that people are more concerned to know the difference a change of Government would actually make.
Frankly, it is the most important question. What does Labour stand for? How will Labour partner with communities? What difference will it make?
Those of us who pay tax in Otago, expect government funded services. Dunedin is a city of education. We look forward to Dunedin hospital receiving due priority. Our operating theatres leak. Dunedin is currently the only major metropolitan hospital that hasn’t received a proper capital upgrade. We learn that the immigration service intends to shut its doors here, and that CYFS is shedding more Otago positions. This won’t do.
Labour stands for positive change that goes beyond three year election cycles. We are raising our sights. We want to achieve decent incomes, opportunities for families, and homes we can all be proud of.
Decent income means the creation of well-paying jobs. Government plays a role here. The OECD says that benefits from agglomeration in big cities play a part, but it is also clear that the really big opportunities for western economies lie in raising skill-levels in the regions.
Labour has always stood for strong regional development. We fought for Hillside, and we will save Invermay. Both of these local examples provided decent jobs, skills training and economic returns to the country.
Labour has a positive vision for this region’s economy. What we learn from the OECD is that not only is it in Otago’s interest, it is in New Zealand’s interest as a whole.
Much future opportunity for our city lies in high-tech. High-tech industries typically have low environmental footprints and build on the education that lies at the heart of Dunedin. There are many innovative firms in town – think: Pacific Edge, TracMap, TracPlus, Squid Gel, Avos, ADI, Fisher and Paykel design, Animation Research, NHNZ, PocketSmith, Education Perfect and Escea. These firms often succeed despite the head-winds created by a hands-off Government which leaves the playing field tilted towards established industries. A Labour-led government will prioritise support for emerging business.
And greater opportunity in Otago means we can build on our reputation as a great place to bring up kids. Labour stands for strong families. Our $60 Best Start payment will provide desperately needed support to the estimated 50,000 children under three who are currently living in poverty. Modest- and middle-income families will be eligible once they’ve used up any related paid parental leave. For Most families it will be for up to one year, but lower income families can count on it for three.
Labour will open opportunity for 25 hours’ free early childhood education for three, four and five year old children, an increase from 20 hours. We’ll reverse funding cuts made in Budget 2010 – that hit Dunedin hardest – for centres with high numbers of qualified staff.
We also want to make housing warmer, healthier and more affordable.
Home ownership rates are at their lowest level in 60 years. LVRs have seen first home owners locked out in Dunedin. Like most in the OECD we’ll bring a Capital Gains Tax to address speculation that drives house prices up. With industry, Labour will build the tens of thousands of houses that New Zealand needs. We’ll also introduce a warrant of fitness on rental housing that stops the letting of housing likely to cause ill-health.
As I campaign for the first time as a sitting electorate MP, I’m excited about the positive change that can be wrought by a government working with businesses, communities and families in our region. I’ve touched on decent incomes, family opportunities and housing we can be proud of. We’ve plenty more positive initiatives.
At its best, Labour has been a government of the people, working to achieve the type of enduring progressive change that matters. I’m positive the sixth Labour Government will do just that.
[Originally published in The Otago Daily Times, Monday 30 June 2014]