My values are Labour values.

I want to help build a stronger, more caring society. I am passionate about Dunedin, and I bring considerable energy and wide experience to the task of representing this electorate.

My diverse work background has given me an understanding of the economic and social levers that can be pulled to achieve meaningful change.

Please read some of the discussions included here. I welcome your comments.

- David Clark

Budget day blues

When I worked at The New Zealand Treasury, I used to assess budget bids from other government departments.

The information I produced at Treasury fed a process that resulted in recommendations to Cabinet about where our taxpayer money should best be spent.  Such advice is important – but ultimately budget decisions rest with Ministers.  They form the executive of the Government – elected by the people – and are paid to outline and implement a vision for our country. 

Today is budget day.  The Government have repeatedly failed to articulate a credible plan, and I’m not expecting that to change.  I’m expecting a budget with few surprises, but with further cuts for hard-working New Zealanders, and a budget without a convincing sense of how these cuts are meant to help our future prospects as a country.  

National seem to be tinkering – on the advice of their favourite officials – but Key’s government lack a coherent and inspiring vision of their own – for success. 

Before the last election, John Key claimed to be ‘ambitious’ for New Zealand.  Two years later, all he has succeeded in doing is gutting the word ‘ambition’ of meaningful content.

So what would a plan for New Zealand look like?

Making random cuts here and there is not the answer. Cutting KiwiSaver will mean less money available for investment in our productive sector (remember Key’s ‘aspirational’ promise to invest locally?)  Tinkering with Working for Families will not save us.  Our private debt problem needs to be addressed.  And our research sector needs real investment too.

Yesterday my piece published in the ODT covered what I think are the big issues facing the New Zealand economy.  I criticised the Government for not having a plan of any substance for our economy, and for wanting to sell our state assets (selling the goose that lays the golden eggs).   But I didn’t want to just sit with criticism.  I also laid out starting points for a useful plan.

I’m not the only one who is uninspired by National.  Don Brash is trying to drag the party back towards the worst aspects of its past.  Only Labour can stop a Don and John combo that will see New Zealand sold down the river to the highest bidder.

The other David C has a useful pre-budget piece in the Herald. He poignantly argues that borrowing for tax cuts is not the answer to our woes.  Pointing to a fairly low bar, he says we’ll know the budget is a success “if it shows that National has realised it cannot go on as it has: borrowing and splurging on tax cuts for the wealthy, then asking the rest of us to pick up the bill.”

Unfortunately I don’t think even that test of success will be met.

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Tackling inequality

For those who aren’t regular readers of Red Alert.

Following my post on why inequality is bad for us, I’ve written about how we might tackle inequality, drawing on a recent OECD briefing paper.

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What would Labour do differently?

People sometimes ask what the main differences between Labour and National are.  I’m no independent commentator – but I’m still happy to share my opinion.

Differences in 1/ founding and philosophy, 2/ recent actions, and 3/ current policy –  give three useful starting points.  These differences flow into contrasting styles of presentation.

1/ Founding and philosophy. 

The Labour Party was born out of the workers’ rights movement.  Labour aims to represent the interests of all citizens.  Striving to ensure equal access to health-care, education, and legal representation, is important to Labour.  So too is building a strong and sustainable economy, and justly distributing its benefits.  These values, important to unions and churches, were also important to the founding of the Labour party.

The National Party claims to reward ambition; to this end they introduced a ‘tax-switch’ last year.  If you follow their logic, the switch involved middle and lower income people paying enough extra GST to fund large tax-cuts for the wealthiest citizens.  They claim to focus on individual responsibility and personal freedom of choice.  John Key said earlier this year that living on a benefit is a lifestyle choice

2/ Recent actions.

Labour governments tend to support public services such as hospitals and schools.  The last Labour government introduced Kiwibank and Kiwisaver, and lifted thousands of New Zealand children out of poverty through Working for Families.  The same Labour government grew the economy for New Zealanders by 25% over its nine years.  And began to address inequalities through cheaper doctor’s visits and income related rents for state housing.

National governments have failed to grow the economy as much as Labour has.  They have also increased inequalities and cut funding to public services.  They sold Contact Energy, which has generated $1.5 billion in profits since;  most of this money has gone off-shore.  Now they want to sell more of New Zealand’s state assets. They have announced that they will reduce government contributions to Kiwisaver, and make cuts to Working for Families.

3/ Current policy.

Labour has already announced a number of election priorities.  Among these are policies that will help those who are struggling – a minimum wage rise to $15/hour;  first $5000 earnings will be tax free.  There are policies that will generate opportunities and wealth for our country – restoring early childhood funding that was cut; restoring adult education cuts; and, not selling state assets that return money to government for schools and hospitals.   As you’d expect, more will be announced closer to the election.

National have focused on cuts to the public sector.  They’ve announced cuts to government Kiwisaver contributions, and they say they are looking at modest cuts to Working for Families.  Continuing to afford tax cuts for the wealthiest New Zealanders has involved the Government borrowing about $300 million per week on our behalf.  They are putting us into debt.

Presentation differences.

National tends to be a bit cagey about its priorities, using words like ‘ambition’ and ‘choice’ without spelling out exactly what they mean.  It needs to be careful how it says things because its corporate backers may have money, but they don’t have many votes. John Key said he’d look at selling Kiwisaver, but then later ruled it out when public opinion was clearly against it.  He said he wouldn’t raise GST, but then he did.  For a window into how the National Party operates, read The Hollow Men or watch the DVD.

Labour has a history of saying what it is going to do, and then doing it.  This is easier for Labour because most citizens can see it is set up to operate in their interests.

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A brighter future?

I was out with supporters door-knocking again yesterday.   

The day was clear and warm, and so were the welcomes.  The people I’ve met in recent weeks have been generous with their time.  

While the majority of people in the area we canvassed yesterday are Labour supporters, those that aren’t were friendly too. People appreciate the fact that a local politician is listening to what’s going on for them and their families.

One story in particular has stuck with me. 

Bill and Maree (not their real names) live in their own home, and have worked hard to pay off much of their mortgage.  Daughter Lisa has recently turned 17 and is living at home with Bill and Maree.  Son Darren has just finished University.  Bill and Maree have always held down solid jobs and bring in an average income.  This has generally been enough.  They were however impressed last election by John Key’s promise of tax cuts and ‘a brighter future’, and placed their vote with him.

But things have not turned out as hoped.  Prices have risen and risen, and bills are getting harder to pay.  The tax-cuts they were expecting haven’t lived up to expectations.  And then Lisa fell pregnant. More…

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Move me

A great local initiative. 

Surveys show that a lot of people want to do more physical activity.  There’s plenty going on in Dunedin but not everybody knows where, and how to get involved.

The response.  Spear-headed by the City Council and Sport Otago: Move Me will get Dunedin more active.  

The website contains  maps of local amenities, and links to sports organisations, as well as information on diet and exercise.

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Stop Asset Sales

Labour launched its billboard campaign in Auckland today.  The press release gets to the nub of the issue pretty quickly:

“It is economic madness. The power companies return $700 million in dividends every year – that will be lost forever. This pays for 10,300 teachers, 12,600 new police officers or 33,000 hip replacements.”

There will be no asset sales under Labour.

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You can't beat Dunedin on a good day IV

I’ve had family staying from out of town.  On Easter Sunday we visited Knox Church, took kids on an egg hunt, and went to Woodhaugh Gardens.  It was a cracker of a day: crisp, clear and warm in the sunlight.

Today we hit the Orokonui Ecosanctuary.  It’s the only area of predator-free native forest in mainland South Island.  And, on the road between Waitati and Port Chalmers, it’s in the Dunedin North electorate.

The ecosanctuary has come a long way in a short time through the help of volunteers and local trusts. You can take a guided tour or wander the tracks through regenerating bush. 

The benefits of the Ecosanctuary are not restricted to the preservation of species on site.  After an hour’s stroll through the bush, I chatted with Ren, Alice and sanctuary worker Jenna.  They were learning to rescue birds as part of a school holiday programme; they’ll take these skills home.  And through Orokonui, New Zealand’s biodiversity is preserved.  I’ve also profited personally from the increasing commotion of native birdsong on our property at neighbouring Waitati.

The bush-walk was uplifting.  Getting up close to the native robin was a highlight.  I also enjoyed the cheese rolls.

For more good days in Dunedin see here, here and here.

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ECE cuts hit Dunedin

On 1 February $400 million in funding cuts came into effect in the early childhood sector.  These hit Dunedin harder than any other city. 

Data released yesterday shows an 11.7% rise in (Early Childhood Education) ECE fees across the country.  This figure is likely to be much higher in Dunedin.  Dunedin is the city in New Zealand with the largest proportion of children enrolled in centres employing between 80 and 100% tertiary-qualified teaching staff.  It is these high-quality ECE centres that are hit the hardest. 

Numbers: in Dunedin 2900  children enrolled in high quality ECE were affected by February’s cuts.

We must invest in our children, if we want a prosperous and healthy society.  Dunedin’s education providers know this.  That is why they have led the charge with qualified staff.  But it is also why these cuts will affect Dunedin the most.

The February cuts affected 54 centres across Otago. Each lost an average of $48,500 funding per annum.  Fees were raised by between $5 and $40 per child per week.  At the same time, costs to run the centres have gone up.

For some people, the cuts imposed by the Government will be too much.  The incentive to stay in work has gone.  Many end up drawing a benefit, and lose the opportunity to have their children engage with trained teachers for four hours each day.

In overwhelming numbers, Otago’s early childhood centres have committed to a high-quality model.  And, until February they were able to provide 20 hours of teaching with qualified teachers to all 3 and 4 year old children – for free.

Labour believes every child deserves the best possible start in life.  We have pledged to reverse this Government’s expensive mistake.  Only Labour will return 20-hours-free quality ECE.

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The end of cheap oil

Right now petrol prices at the pump are more expensive than they have been for a while. 

Petrol prices go up and down, but the underlying trend is informed by rising demand in developing economies, and conflict in oil producing nations.  It is also a result of the cheapest easy-to-access oil being used first.  The burden of oil left on the planet is more expensive to extract and more difficult to refine, than the oil we’ve already used.

I’ve written an opinion piece published today in the Otago Daily Times arguing the urgent case for planning the transition to alternative fuels.

There are alternatives. In the opinion piece I discuss renewable technologies and the possibility of cleaner electricity.  Liquid fuels may also be part of the solution.  In New Zealand efficient aquatic systems for producing biodiesel from algae already exist, for example in sewage ponds.  They are not at an industrial scale and there is, as yet, no established route to market.  Biopetrol is also able to be competitively produced, but only in small quantities.  Large scale cellulosic-ethanol technology may well be prominent in New Zealand’s future (ie turning woodslash into ethanol).  But there are many production hurdles, unique to New Zealand’s forestry systems, to iron out. 

It is not that there are no signs of hope.  It’s just that the current government is failing to show the leadership necessary to convert promise into commercial reality.  As I’ve said in the ODT, the big problem facing New Zealand is a government with no plausible plan to manage the transition from cheap oil to a sustainable future.

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Me and Stiglitz on inequalities

I’ve posted on Red Alert in response to an excellent article by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning economist.  We all know that significant inequalities damage the social fabric of society but Stiglitz explains in simple-ish terms why inequalities are bad for our economy. My post is a summary with comment, but the full article is well worth a read.

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