Wellington, January 31, 2018
Last week, I was reading papers, my latest and most consistent past time, when my phone pinged. It was a colleague alerting me to a newspaper article in which a young boy named Malachi, who had a list of serious and debilitating illnesses, had decided to write a bucket list.
The Bucket List
The story in itself was incredibly moving, but it was the content of the bucket list that really struck me. Among a long list of selfless acts, like sewing a wedding dress for his mother and sitting among heroes at his local RSA, were his thoughts on politics.
He liked two of the things that we had done in our first 100 days – our families package because it would help kids who didn’t have lunch, and the mental health inquiry because of what he had seen during his frequent hospital visits.
Malachi is 12 years old.
Today I have been asked to talk to you about the conclusion of our 100 days in office, and where we are going next. But long lists of policy often leave out an important feature. The why. Malachi seems to have picked that up. It is the ‘why’ that drives individual politicians, it’s what motivates your policy agenda, it’s what dictates the kind of government you are.
So today, I won’t be delivering a state of the nation speech. We spent a couple of months last year canvassing that in quite a public and brutal event called the 2017 general election.
Instead, I am going to look forward – to tomorrow and the next few hundred days after that, and further still to the kind of Government we will be as we work to leave a legacy of a stronger, fairer, kinder New Zealand.
At the state opening of Parliament last year, the Speech from the Throne outlined the ambitious programme of work we were embarking on, drawing from the priorities of all three parties that make up this Government.
Our plan for the first 100 days set the direction for that work. I should be clear from the outset though – the 100-day plan was a kick start, and one that did two things.
It looked to quickly rectify wrongs or policy imbalances in our system. Not all of them will be completed in 100 days though, and the next step will be carefully seeing them through with equal urgency.
The second thing the 100-day plan did, was indicate what is important to us, and the kind of priorities we have and will continue to have. It was not an exhaustive list, but it was a pretty damn good guide.
Work done so far
For instance, soon people who rent their home will have confidence that it’s fit to live in as a result of our Healthy Homes Guarantee Act.
We’re moving one step closer to improving home ownership by banning overseas speculators from buying existing homes.
We’ve resumed contributions to the Super Fund; started work on a climate commission; introduced changes to employment law to bring fairness back to work; and kicked off a review to make our tax system fairer and more balanced.
A centrepiece has been the families’ package – we’re lifting family incomes by meaningful amounts and helping ensure that the elderly and those on lower incomes can afford to turn the heater on, through our Winter Fuel payment.
And we’ve made probably the biggest change to education in decades, by making the first year of post-secondary education free by finally acknowledging that a successful economy is one that invests in its people.
I was reminded of this in Whangarei recently when a woman told me how her husband was helping supervise end-of-year exams with students from the local Kura. He asked a girl who’d just finished her exam what she was up to next year. She smiled and told him that she was off to university. She could afford to, she said, because of our policy.
In our first 100 days we have also taken on challenging issues by setting up the inquiries into mental health and addiction services, and into abuse in state care. We must face up to what was done in the name of the Government and learn from the past so no one is treated like this again.
Pike River Recovery Agency
Today I also opened the Pike River Recovery Agency. Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens promised to do all we could to give the families of the miners’ justice and certainty. This is about doing what is right, not necessarily what’s easy.
Taken as a whole, each of these 100-day priorities don’t just show where we have been, they show where we are going.
That we want to see a genuine transformation in the way we create and share our prosperity. That we believe we can build thriving regions.
That we do need to move beyond the branding, and genuinely become a clean, green and carbon neutral New Zealand.
That we all do well when we look after our people. This means a country where everyone is earning, learning, caring or volunteering because that’s the basis of strong communities.
That when your basic needs are met, you have decent health services, a roof over your head and feel safe in your community, that is when you thrive.
And that we can and should aspire to be the best place in the world to be a child.
Under each of these priorities sits a policy plan to back it up, which I will be sharing in more detail, alongside our coalition partner and confidence and supply partners, as the year progresses.
Leaving a good legacy
The question I think we don’t spend enough time dwelling on though, and the one I want to cover today is the “why”? The question that determines what kind of government you will be and ultimately what legacy you leave.
When you think, for instance of the (Helen) Clark government, you probably think of the rebuilding of social infrastructure and more accessible tertiary education. For the (Norman) Kirk government, there was the Crown’s relationship with Maori, and for (David) Lange, building our strength internationally as a plucky nation that knew what we believed in.
The kind of government we will be, in part will be determined by our response to where we are right here and now in 2018.
We are facing some significant challenges, some of which we haven’t seen past politicians speak openly to the public about, like our growing prison population, and in particular the high rates of Maori imprisonment.
We must be a government that is transparent, and open about the big challenges we must all tackle together.
We are members of a Pacific community who are under threat due to rising sea levels, and all the while our contribution to international issues has eroded.
We must be a government who once again uses its voice and resources on the international stage.
We have seen increasing signs internationally that people are disengaging with politics, and who feel that politicians aren’t responding to their needs anymore.
We must be a government that is transformative and accessible.
And we are a nation that has duties and responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi that extend to, and beyond, the negotiating table.
We must be a government that builds not just relationships, but partnerships with iwi.
This is the kind of government we can and should be. And it is also our why.
Far from rhetoric
But with all these things, you can of course run the risk of being accused of political rhetoric. No one in my government wants that. Accountability not only helps the public, it helps us to tell our story.
I suspect the last government had a sense of that when they established their Better Public Service targets. We have said that in our view, they weren’t broad enough. Why tackle, for instance, rheumatic fever alone when a government should tackle cold over crowded housing and child poverty?
Removing Child Poverty
You will have already seen that yesterday we released our Child Poverty Reduction Bill. A bill that sets the framework for how we will hold ourselves to account for improving the wellbeing of our youngest citizens.
Our plan is to put to an end the debate over how we measure poverty by finally agreeing on a set of robust measures, but also requiring successive governments to set targets against them.
And how will we hold ourselves to account for our own targets? By giving the power and the tools to you. Every year we will be required to report on our progress, on what we have done for kids. You will know whether we have passed or failed.
But we cannot look at passes and failures dispassionately when it involves kids. I’ve long said I want New Zealand to be the best place to be a child.
Well today I want to tell you what world leading could look like. I want to share with you our targets for the next 10 years to reduce child poverty.
When it comes to our first measure, which is taken before housing costs, we plan to do something New Zealand hasn’t managed before and reduce the proportion of children living in poverty from the current rate of 15% of kids to just 5%. That is 100,000 children.
But that is not the only measure. We are a nation in a housing crisis, and that means families living in housing stress and with less discretionary income. Roughly 20% of children are part of families could be considered to be in poverty after their housing costs. Our goal is to halve that and get it down to 10%.
Measuring family income
That’s not all. While measuring family incomes is very important, we know that how families actually live week to week depends on more than their income. So, we will also report on how many children are living in families in material hardship: which means they have told us they can’t get to the doctor when they need, or heat their home properly when they are cold or get a decent meal on the table every day – we want to make a difference here too by halving the number of families in material hardship from about 13 – 15% now to just 7%.
No one has made that kind of dent in child poverty in a 10-year period. If we successfully manage to achieve these goals, and we plan to, we will be amongst the best performing countries in the developed world.
But we want to go a step further than child poverty measures. We want to introduce, by 2019, a tool and framework that will make the wellbeing of our people a measure of our economic success.
We want New Zealand to be the first place in the world where our budget is not presented simply under the umbrella of pure economic measures, and often inadequate ones at that, but one that demonstrates the overall wellbeing of our country and its people.
Till now, the country’s economic progress has been measured solely by tracking GDP. But organisations like the OECD and the IMF have, for a while now, urged countries to take a different view of what constitutes a successful economy beyond a strong balance sheet and a strong economy – as important as that may be.
Living Standards framework
Finance Minister Grant Robertson and I want New Zealand to be the first to respond to that call. Grant has asked Treasury to accelerate the excellent work it’s already begun on establishing a Living Standards Framework.
By Budget 2019 Grant and I want New Zealand to be the first country to assess bids for budget spending against new measures that determine, not just how our spending will impact on GDP, but also on our natural, social, human, and possibly cultural capital too.
It will no longer be good enough to say a policy is successful because it increases GDP if, at the same time, it also degrades the physical environment, or drives down wages or fractures a community.
This is a challenging piece of work for Treasury, but it aligns with the direction I want the Government to head in over the coming year.
There will of course be more to say on all of this in the future. For now, I hope you have been left with a sense of the priorities of this government, where we are heading, but also the kind of government we ultimately want to be.
One that doesn’t create a sense of who we are but reflects what we already believe to be true of ourselves.
I am looking forward to seeing that come to fruition over the next three years, and to checking in with Malachi to see if we have measured up.
Jacinda Ardern is Prime Minister of New Zealand. The above is her address at St Peter’s Church, Willis Street, Wellington today. The picture here, taken by Richard Tindiller for Radio New Zealand has been published by Indian Newslink under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz