2 Nov 2013

Labour's plans for state-owned insurance firm

6:40 pm on 2 November 2013

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe has unveiled plans to set up a new state-owned insurance company called KiwiAssure.

Mr Cunliffe made the announcement to the party's annual conference in Christchurch on Saturday afternoon, in his first major speech as leader.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe Photo: RNZ

He said building on the success of KiwiBank, Labour will create a local insurance company that he believes will work for all New Zealanders.

During a rousing speech, he said 90% of the insurance sector is owned by overseas interests, but Labour will ensure New Zealanders can choose to keep profits from the industry in the country.

Mr Cunliffe said, subject to a business case, KiwiAssure will be a sister company of KiwiBank, and will evolve out of the existing Kiwi Insurance Ltd offering home, contents and vehicle insurance, along with cover for small business plant and equipment.

"Like KiwiBank it will offer customers an alternative and KiwiAssure will raise the bar across the insurance industry," he said.

However, the Earthquake recovery minister says Labour's policy will increase the financial risk to taxpayers. Gerry Brownlee says such an insurer would need to take greater risks in order to undercut competitors and the two companies that were doing that ahead of the Christchurch earthquakes have since collapsed.

Fears over Christchurch East by-election

Party president Moira Coatsworth told the conference the party has a fight ahead of it to retain the Christchurch East seat in the upcoming by-election.

The annual conference comes a few weeks before the 30 November by-election for the seat left vacant by Labour's Lianne Dalziel, who is now the city's mayor.

Ms Coatsworth said the number one priority at the moment is winning the by-election, which she said is an absolute fight for it to win.

Labour won the electorate at the 2011 election by 5,334 votes, but Ms Coatsworth pointed out that National won the party vote and thousands of Labour supporters have since left the area.

Delegates from the conference will be going out in buses to door-knock in the electorate, with the party's candidate Poto Williams.

Conference votes for new policies

The party voted on Saturday morning to support a number of changes to its policy platform, which sets out the party's values, vision and priorities for policy.

The proposals include issues such as raising the age of superannuation eligibility and the party's position on controversial free-trade agreement the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A policy committee at the conference has passed a proposal saying the party will not support the proposed trade deal until there is clear evidence it is in New Zealand's best interests. The proposal comes amid concerns the negotiations for the deal have been held in secret.

Under a proposal put forward by the trade union affiliates, Labour states it is committed to a sustainable system of universal superannuation and that it will investigate all options, including raising the age of eligibility.

It does not say that Labour will automatically raise the age of eligibility but it in no way constrains Labour's finance spokesperson David Parker from pushing for a rise in the age.

The policy platform also includes a clause saying it is essential the party takes a sustainable approach to the environment and that Labour recognises that environmental degradation and climate change have an adverse effect on social justice and on economic performance.