8 Nov 2015

Labour's priorities: 'Jobs. Jobs. Jobs'

8:00 pm on 8 November 2015

Labour leader Andrew Little has announced a key policy which would require government departments and agencies to award contracts with job creation as a priority.

Labour leader Andrew Little.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Little delivered a wide-ranging speech, which included his plan for restoring what he called the "Kiwi dream", with a focus on jobs and housing affordability.

It was his first appearance at a party conference as party leader.

A Labour-led government would require government agencies and departments to design contracts in a way that would create jobs, and then require them to report on those contracts on that criterion, he said.

He used examples of the Hillside rail wagon manufacturing contract, and Inland Revenue Department's computer system redesign.

Both of those contracts could have created more jobs if Kiwirail and the IRD hadn't opted for what he called "cheap" overseas options, he said.

Labour would amend the Government Procurement Rules to make job creation and the overall benefit to New Zealand a determining factor in agencies' decisions to award contracts.

The government currently spent $40 billion a year purchasing goods and services, Mr Little said.

"That's huge buying power, but currently government bodies only consider their own bottom line when they make purchasing decisions. Not the country's bottom line, just their own.

"They buy cheaper options, often from overseas, regardless of the impact on New Zealand, even if it means Kiwis will lose work.

"That's the kind of dangerously short sighted thinking that has been behind some of the biggest government botch ups in the last few years."

In his speech, Mr Little summed up the priorities of a Labour-led government as "Jobs. Jobs. Jobs."

"A job is about more than just a pay packet, it's about the dignity of work. It's about a place and a purpose in your community.

"Every Kiwi who can work should be able to work.

"Every business that needs a skilled worker should be able to find one.

"And where people can't work, the government should support them because we won't allow Kiwis to be thrown on the scrap heap."

Tertiary Education and Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce said Labour's plan for job creation was out-of-date and underwhelming, and was the same basic policy put forward in recent years by former Labour leaders Phil Goff and David Cunliffe.

The government was already giving businesses the opportunity to participate in $1.7 trillion worth of overseas contracts, Mr Joyce said.

Labour leader Andrew Little addresses delegates at the party conference in Palmerston North

Labour leader Andrew Little addresses delegates at the party conference in Palmerston North Photo: RNZ/ Jane Patterson

It was a fiery speech with Mr Little becoming so enthusiastic at one point he knocked a glass off the lectern, which fell to the ground and smashed.

"That's the waterfall policy", he quipped.

Other Labour policies would include bringing forward work on major infrastructure projects like the City Rail Link in Auckland and passenger rail in Canterbury, as well as setting up a Regional Infrastructure Fund for major development projects.

Insight into Andrew Little's past

This conference was also about familiarising the public with a more personal view of Mr Little; his twin sister Val introduced his speech with childhood anecdotes.

Mr Little also described the household in which he grew up to the audience of about 500 delegates, and said it was not a Labour stronghold.

"The first time my Mum voted for a Labour candidate was when she voted for me.

"My Dad was another story altogether. He was a staunch National supporter.

"He used to yell at the TV whenever political opponents came on the telly.

"The people who most got under his skin? Union leaders, and pretty much everyone in the Labour Party.

"So, Andrew Little, Leader of the Labour Party and former union leader probably isn't the ambition he had for his son.

"He's probably up there right now going 'god, look at my boy, where did I go wrong?'"

Little discusses TPP with delegates

Mr Little also addressed the TPP during his speech to the party's annual conference, saying he would oppose any deal that prevented a government from banning foreign land sales.

Most of the party's bottom lines for the TPP trade deal have been met, relating to the Treaty of Waitangi, Pharmac and agriculture.

But Mr Little told delegates he would oppose any measure that compromised a government's sovereignty.

"It's an attack on the democratic rights of every New Zealand citizen and we cannot stand for it.

"I am totally opposed to it and will fight with every fibre of my body to resist that and to prevent that and to make sure it never affects New Zealand at all."

Mr Little was leaving his party's options open when it came to how Labour would vote on any enabling legislation that may come before parliament.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs