Keeping New Zealand as a place where people want to live and where their families can thrive is really important.
We have a lot to offer – a stable, peaceful, largely harmonious country with a beautiful environment and generally good public services.
However, last week, two new releases sounded a warning that a better future is not automatic and we have to work for it.
Firstly, it was the news that the global dairy trade index fell again by 10.4%.
Dairy is our biggest export, making up nearly 30% of all that New Zealand sells overseas. The crash in prices over the last two years is a reminder that we need to diversify our exports and not just rely on good commodity prices.
Secondly, Kiwi tertiary student numbers were reported to be falling by 30, 000 in the next three years. Add that to 20% decline in tertiary students and 22% decline in apprenticeship numbers since 2008 and you see a worrying fall in our future skill levels.
For New Zealand to be an economically successful country, we need to take action to ensure that our people – the country’s most valuable resource- are highly skilled. We need to be creating jobs that are high skilled, high paid and creating high value-added products and services to sell overseas.
Over the last year, Labour has focused a lot of its policy work on the ‘Future of Work.’ International research shows up that nearly half of all our current jobs will not exist in ten to twenty years. Technology will have replaced them.
That is why Labour Party Leader Andrew Little, in his ‘State of the Nation’ Address on January 31, 2016, made a strong and bold commitment to free post-school education and training.
The policy gives all New Zealanders, who have no previous tertiary education, access to three years of post-school education or training.
It has been carefully costed and will be progressively introduced from Labour’s first budget in 2019 to be fully implemented by 2025.
It will be a priority spend from the $1 to $2 billion new spending available each year to Government.
With rapid automation and new jobs requiring higher skills, we will face high levels of structural unemployment unless we help people to train and retrain.
It doesn’t make sense to leave people trapped on an unemployment benefit. Unemployed people cannot support their families, pay taxes or contribute to the economy. That is economically wasteful as well as being socially disastrous for those out of work.
Part of Labour’s policy will be to use the dole to subsidise employers taking into new apprenticeships people who have been out of work for some time.
People will have access to Labour’s three-year free education and training at any point during their working life and for academic or trades learning.
Use of the funding will be carefully monitored to ensure it is delivering results. Students must pass more than half their courses to qualify for their next year of study to be free. It’s about delivering results, not throwing money at a problem.
The policy has won wide support across the community.
The National Party has criticised the policy.
It is a real pity that political parties too often feel the need to oppose a good idea just because it comes from another Party.
New Zealand needs policies that prepare us for the future and meet the needs of the changing world.
Phil Goff is former Foreign Affairs, Trade and Justice Minister and has been Member of Parliament for 35 years. Elected from Mt Roskill, he is today Labour Party’s Spokesperson for Defence and Ethnic Communities. Mr Goff has announced that he would contest for Auckland Mayoralty at the Local Government elections this year