Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you as Leader of the Opposition.
I hope you all had a good summer break.
We have all experienced extraordinary events over the last few months - a Wellington summer with no wind and Invercargill’s hottest day in 100 years.
We have a NZ First-Labour-Green government, and the party with the most votes in the election went into opposition.
So it’s an unusual government, and an unusual opposition.
National has more seats in the Parliament than Labour and NZ First combined, and we plan on making that count.
We want to work with government parties where we have shared interests and I expect that in some instances they will want to work with us to progress policies they can’t achieve on their own. National plus any one of the parties in government is a majority.
More importantly the National Opposition is more positive about New Zealand’s prospects than the Government.
We believe New Zealand has the momentum and resilience to maintain our economic strength, the confidence to keep building a better country and the resources to deal with the social and environmental challenges of the 2020s.
New Zealanders have become used to living in the successful, aspirational country that they have worked so hard for. The challenge is to ensure that continues.
Opposition is naturally a robust, adversarial role.
As the leader of a very different team once said, “it’s not tiddlywinks”.
But despite the political jousting, most MPs are there for the same reason.
We’re there because we all want to make New Zealand a better place.
We all want to create more jobs and lift wages for New Zealand families.
We all want to eliminate poverty and homelessness.
We all want housing to be more affordable, the environment to be cleaner and our children to have the best education in the world.
We all want the best healthcare, the safest communities, and future generations growing up knowing that with enough hard work they can achieve their dreams.
Everyone can agree on these intentions.
The hard bit is how to achieve them.
Because New Zealand’s future isn’t written in good intentions.
It is written in actions and plans to take those intentions forward.
National understands that you need to get the fundamentals right to deliver change – you can’t just legislate for less poverty, more jobs or more houses.
We will argue for policies that further New Zealand’s interests, such as TPP and lower taxes for average income earners, and we will fight against those that don’t.
This year already we have launched campaigns for regional highways and for every child to have the right to learn a second language in our schools.
A strong economy creates huge potential for New Zealanders.
It’s the strong economy and strong government finances that have put us in the position to lift the lowest incomes, deliver large infrastructure programmes such as ultra-fast broadband and Transmission Gully, and invest in more effective social services.
That success is no accident.
The 500 or so economic policies in our Business Growth Agenda helped our economy become more diversified, and our businesses more confident about taking on the world.
Just look at RocketLab’s successful launch last week. Their story is a fantastic mix of Kiwi ingenuity, ambition and a new found confidence, and there are success stories like it right across the country – albeit less explosive.
This is what we can achieve when we back New Zealanders to succeed.
The economy has been growing at around 3.5 per cent a year for the last five years and is expected to continue growing strongly well into the 2020s.
And recently revised GDP numbers show that New Zealand’s productivity growth has been significantly better than anyone thought - although it can always improve.
But for most people prosperity isn’t measured by productivity and GDP.
Jobs and incomes are what matter for New Zealand families and businesses, and there the story is unambiguously positive.
In the last two years New Zealand has created 245,000 new jobs – more than 10,000 a month.
And family incomes have risen.
Since 2008 the average wage has grown by $13,000. It now sits at $60,000 a year.
In fact, take home pay for someone on the average wage has increased twice as fast in New Zealand as in Australia.
There is no reason why this shouldn’t continue.
This success is the result of New Zealanders having the confidence to invest in skills and training and assets and businesses.
Confidence which was helped by nine years of economic policy that supported investment and risk taking – whether that risk is someone moving off a benefit and into work, or someone wanting to start a new technology business.
While there is no good economic reason to expect the New Zealand economy to slow, the recent drop in business confidence shows there are political risks, with people uncertain of the impact the new Government will have on the economy.
Its plan appears to be a nostalgic belief in trees, trains and trade unions – that large government subsidies will recreate the supposed golden era of the 60s and 70s.
The strong economy and finances will allow the Government to muddle along with inconsistent, poorly thought out policies for some time. But the lessons of history are that this small open economy needs consistent attention to policy that supports growth if we are to continue performing longer-term.
One example of muddled policy was the recent comments from Shane Jones that he is looking for land to plant trees.
At the same time the Government has just cancelled the Te Ture Whenua reforms – reforms that would have driven more productive use of millions of hectares of underutilised Maori land by enabling better decision making and more access to credit to support investment.
Guess where most of it is – in Northland and Bay of Plenty, which have the highest rates of ‘nephews sitting on couches’ as Mr Jones put it.
Poorly thought out economic and social policy will also mean we miss the opportunity New Zealand now has to make a positive impact for our most vulnerable households.
This week the Government introduced its child poverty legislation that requires Ministers to report publicly on the number of children in poverty, set a target for reducing child poverty, and develop a strategy for achieving that target.
National shares the Government’s goal of reducing child poverty, but unfortunately the proposed legislation is all intention and no substance.
The public service already reports on the proposed measures, and nothing will happen to reduce child poverty for the foreseeable future that hasn’t already been decided.
Before Christmas the Government picked up National’s Family Incomes package, removed the tax cuts and added few bits. From 1 April most families will get more cash from the Government, with those with the highest housing costs getting the most.
The measures in the legislation will over time show that the decisions made in 2017 lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty.
But according the Government’s own forecasts, for the next four years the money is now all gone. It has no ability to further lift incomes to support more children out of poverty, as National had committed to do in 2020.
Of course reducing poverty isn’t just about lifting incomes. That’s only half the story. The other half is the social dysfunction that traps people in chaotic lives.
What is much harder is changing the lives of our most vulnerable families trapped in deprivation by long term benefit dependence, low educational achievement and recidivist crime.
Last week the Government decided to abolish the Better Public Services targets.
These very specific targets focused on the things that really mattered to New Zealanders – from benefit dependence to achievement at school – and they drove the public services to work together to achieve them.
The only reason I can see for getting rid of them is because they were introduced by National.
Why else would the Prime Minister instruct the public service to stop its focus on reducing the number of children hospitalised for preventable conditions, or who experience a substantiated incidence of physical or sexual abuse? Or increasing the number of vulnerable women who can get good maternity care?
National changed lives by using the Better Public Services targets to focus public servants on the drivers of social dysfunction, and the tools of social investment to gain insights into the scale and intensity of these problems.
The public accountability of the very specific targets, and the ability to eyeball the one Minister and public servant who was responsible for each of them, drove significant change.
I am immensely proud to stand here today and say that there are 85,000 fewer children living in material hardship than in 2011 – that’s 85,000 fewer children in households that struggle to pay the bills or to go to the doctor when they need to.
Abolishing those Better Public Services targets undoes six years of work to focus the public services on changing lives rather than just spending money, on digging into our hardest social problems rather than just brushing over them to do the easy stuff.
Dealing with the 30 people in one suburb with over 1000 convictions, finding those who have been on benefit for years because of undertreated illness, dealing one by one with teenage mums to get them into education and off a benefit.
Labour has chosen to throw away the tools to attack this part of poverty.
I know many public servants will be disappointed to lose the clear sense of direction, and the drive for innovation focussed on reducing intergenerational welfare dependency, family violence, child abuse and serial criminal offending.
The lowest incomes will increase, much as we had planned, but little else will change as public services wander along in a fog of inquiries, commissions and working groups. After its initial effort to increase family incomes, this Government will spend the rest of its time in office servicing misery, not reducing it.
It is a recipe for lazy, ineffective government that will do real harm to the lives of thousands of New Zealanders because they won’t get the coordinated intensive service they need.
If the Government won’t hold itself to account for making real change to the drivers of dysfunction, then National will do it for them.
It is our intention to regularly request official data to track the Government’s progress in these areas.
And we will publish the results so you can go online every six months to track progress, just as we did for the last 6 years under Better Public Services targets.
The final thing I want to cover with you today is an important issue for the economy – the Government’s proposals around industrial relations.
Over the last 15 years, there has been a general consensus that we have broadly correct labour market settings – with some moderate tweaks along the way designed to support jobs and increase wages.
That consensus has been reached for one important reason: because the policy settings have worked.
Over 2.6 million New Zealanders are now in jobs, and the proportion of working age New Zealanders in work is the highest it has ever been and the third highest in the developed world.
As I mentioned earlier, the average wage continues to grow - much faster than inflation - and someone working full time on the minimum wage has seen their annual income rise from $25,000 in 2008 to $33,000 now.
That’s over half of the average wage, one of the highest proportions in the world.
That is what success looks like.
Those results are down to the hard work of New Zealanders up and down the country – supported by successive Governments that had confidence to back our businesses and workers to succeed.
Labour has pitched its industrial relations proposals as having three key components: pro-workers, higher incomes and more jobs.
I don’t think anyone in this room would argue with those aims.
But as usual the devil is in the detail – and the Government seems to be saying different things to different groups.
At its worst, the labour-market experiment Labour and its union backers are planning will have a significant negative impact on jobs and workers.
The next steps in this grand plan were announced last week.
Labour plans to remove the starting out wage and 90-day trials in the name of supporting workers, but instead will make it much harder for young, unskilled and vulnerable workers to find employment.
So will a rapid increase in the minimum wage to $20 per hour.
I expect the Government has received the advice we received from MBIE; that a rapid increase to $20 per hour would cost tens of thousands of jobs.
The reality is a higher minimum wage won’t help anyone that can’t get a job.
But even these changes are relatively minor compared to Labour’s long game to reintroduce centralised wage bargaining.
The Government is being a bit tricky about how the whole suite of changes fit together, but here is how it looks.
A union would be able to approach an industry body representing for instance, fishing, racing, hospitality, or construction or freight, and demand collective negotiations.
An employer cannot refuse to be part of an industry agreement – it will be bound by a collective agreement setting minimum standards for wages, allowances, hours of work and leave arrangements for an entire industry.
Because negotiation can occurs between unions and an industry body, employers and employees in a workplace covered by the agreements may not even be part of the negotiations.
That’s what they call “Fair Pay Agreements”.
This policy is out of step with the way the world is going.
As the next generation of young New Zealand workers adapt to technology, the successful workplace is more about flexibility, agility, resilience and reskilling.
More broadly, the worker of the future will be more likely to be self-employed, own their own business and earn income from several sources. Traditional employers of the young are under the most pressure to change - fast food, retail, and hospitality.
It’s all set out in Labour’s ‘Future of Work’ document – the right analysis but the wrong solution.
National backs workers and businesses to have grown-up conversations about employment policies like pay, leave and allowances.
Labour on the other hand thinks you’re not up to it – and so wants unions, the Government and industry bodies to agree those settings for you.
The reforms are about supporting union officials, not New Zealand workers.
We all want to see hardworking households get ahead. But these policies are not the way to do it.
Far from protecting workers, we know from overseas experience that these changes will cost jobs, slow income growth and make it harder to get into work.
The changes are expected to be rolled out in a number of tranches in 2018 – with the biggest reforms being progressed later in the year.
It’s important for the country to understand these potentially far reaching changes in the workplace.
So today National is launching the Protect New Zealand Jobs campaign, to explain the Government’s proposals and fight the reforms.
We pledge to do everything we can to try and ensure businesses can continue to create new jobs and increase productivity.
I encourage every one of you to scrutinise the new policies and tell the Government what you think of them.
With the support of businesses like yours, we can succeed in changing this.
The Government is made up of three disparate parties. Already, differences among those parties have led to the decision to keep 90 day trials for small businesses.
If you can get your voices heard then the Government can be influenced, and these industrial relations changes can be significantly moderated.
Ladies and gentlemen.
We should all be proud of what New Zealand has achieved over the last ten years.
The new Government has inherited a strong foundation to build on, and the benchmark for the improvements they are promising is high.
I am not trying to tell you the last Government was perfect or solved every problem.
No Government ever does.
The 2017 election campaign was a great opportunity to get out and meet thousands of people from all walks of life all over the country, and to hear directly where New Zealanders thought more progress needed to be made.
National will take that feedback to heart, I can assure you.
If we as a country can maintain the momentum, and continue with positive policies that back our people and businesses to succeed, then we can have a truly prosperous future.
We have an opportunity to lock in a confident, outward-looking New Zealand driven by optimism about what can be achieved together.
A New Zealand that embraces the world because we know we can compete with the best – while at the same time looking after those at home who need our help.
A New Zealand that truly is the best country in the world.
And that is what National will be fighting for in 2018.