Labour leader's speech full of sugary fluff

Candyfloss is not a particularly nutritious breakfast.

Candyfloss is not a particularly nutritious breakfast.

But that is what Labour leader David Shearer delivered to a Wellington business breakfast this morning.

In a speech long on fluffy words and not-particularly original aspirational ideas but virtually policy-free, Mr Shearer set out his vision for New Zealand.

It involves having more nice things, and having fewer bad things, apparently,

New Zealand should have more companies like Nokia, Mr Shearer urged his audience, as if it were a new idea.

Sorry, but there are kids at university who were not born when politicians started talking about how New Zealand having a company like Nokia would be kind of a neat idea.

National MP Maurice Williamson used to do it in the 1990s.

New Zealand companies doing the right thing which got a mention were Navman, Westland Milk and Orion Health. All nice stuff – and not new, either: Labour's last leader spoke about the same two companies in the same Wellington room to a similar albeit much smaller, audience, in the run up to last year's election.

A fair chunk of the speech was devoted to education, but, again, it was all empty calories and empty words, with no policy meat at all.

" I want the best educational achievement in the world," Mr Shearer said, as if this makes him and his party any different from anyone else.
How to do this?
"We need to value teachers. We need every teacher in our classroom to be a good one. The vast majority are. But the truth is some are not.

"We will work with teachers to develop their professional skills, but ultimately we can’t afford to have bad teachers in our classrooms. "

How would Labour do this?

The only answer Mr Shearer put up was that this would be done by "focusing" on it.

National standards, though, will go: it is a "distraction", he said.

Labour would also "spend more on early education" although, again, there was nothing more specific in the speech about what aspects of early education would get more spending, or how the benefits of any extra spending would be measured.

The only vaguely specific policy commitment - apart from more spending on education – was tax.

Mr Shearer would keep the capital gains tax policy of the last election, but dump the proposal to allow the first $5000 of earnings to be tax-free.

"A capital gains tax is pro-growth," Mr Shearer said.

"It helps switch investment from sectors such as housing, to the productive sector where we desperately need more capital.

"So I can see a role for a capital gains tax in transforming our economy."

"On the other hand, I would want to ask whether a tax free zone that gives everyone the same sized tax cut is going to be as much of a priority."

But he backed away from saying either of these is firm policy as yet, more a part of his "vision".

The final aspect was that New Zealand should live up to the 'clean green image'.

"We like to flatter ourselves that New Zealand is clean and green and pristine. But really our green credentials owe more to our small population and a strong southwesterly. In reality we fall well behind environmental standards of many European countries.

"We have smart, creative people and a clean, green branding. It’s a combination that other countries would die for. My aim is to make that branding a reality."

No word, though, about what that means in terms of specific policy.

Mr Shearer's speech this morning got a sizable turnout, compared to his predecessor. Mr Goff spoke to the same audience six months ago and the organisers had to haul receptionists and other staff members in to make the size of the audience look less embarrassing.

Wellingtonians, who can smell a shift in the political breeze with the sensitive noses of finely calibrated bloodhounds, are aware the electoral arithmetic, especially now Winston Peters is back in Parliament, gives Mr Shearer a good shot at being prime minister after the 2014 election.

But if he is to do so the new Labour leader will have to come up with something more substantial than this morning's empty calories.






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