Clarke Gayford was the warm-up act to his partner, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Labour Party conference in Dunedin.
About 1200 jubilant Labour Party supporters have turned out to thank Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for taking the party back into power, and there was a surprise guest speaker for the big day – Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayford.
Gayford was the warm-up act before Ardern’s first speech on Sunday at her first conference as Labour leader.
The crowd had queued down the street to get in to hear Adern’s speech at the town hall in Dunedin, where the party held its first annual conference since the election.
Gayford referred to the “jubilant, joyful and positively infectious” mood among conference delegates after Labour was returned to power after nine years in the political wilderness.
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Ardern took over the leadership just seven weeks out from the election and lifted Labour’s vote enough to put it in a position to negotiate a coalition deal with NZ First.
She used her speech to announce a boost to schools funding to allow an extra 600 teachers to focus on children with special learning and support needs – an announcement that got a huge response from the delegates.
Ardern said the extra teachers would mean more support for children with extra learning needs – and would also free up teachers to spend more time in the classroom with students who didn’t have those needs.
She also referenced celebrated Labour leaders, Norman Kirk, and Michael Joseph Savage in her speech.
The prime minister referred to a famous interview of Kirk by British broadcaster David Frost, when he spoke about a woman who wrote to say thank-you for being able to afford a new pair of shoes.
Ardern drew parallels with the response to Labour’s families package, which boosted incomes for low to middle-income families through a mix of extra working for families payments, a boost to the accommodation supplement and best start payments for newborns.
She read out a letter from a mum who said it allowed her to work one less cleaning job and spend more time with her children.
Another wrote that she had been able to buy warm sheets and new socks for her children.
But it was the fact that people were going without these things that stood out for her the most, Ardern said.
It showed that more needed to be done.
“Kids should be warm at night. A mum shouldn’t have to work multiple jobs to get by. There are still huge systemic problems that we all know we need to address.”
She singled out housing as one of the biggest issues in terms of increasing family incomes through reducing costs – and launched a staunch defence of her Government’s housing policy, including KiwiBuild, which has been under fire for locking out the lowest income earners.
Her Government would be measured by its success in fixing the housing crisis and she welcomed that, Ardren said.
“Already there are over 1200 more public housing tenancies than a year ago.
“In our last budget we funded 6400 more public homes and housing New Zealand are investing $4 billion to not only build this new stock, but to renovate existing state houses so they are warm and dry.”
Labour’s KiwiBuild programme, which aims to build 100,000 affordable homes over 10 years, would also have a significant impact, Ardern said.
“KiwiBuild will give thousands of young families who have been locked out of home ownership a chance to buy their own affordable home, not through a subsidy, but through the government using our scale and buying power to do what the market hasn’t.”
“It’s an example of the government seeing a problem, and fixing it. And that’s exactly what Michael Joseph Savage did.”
Ardern quoted from Savage, the father of the modern State housing system, on the day when state house tenants were moving into their new homes.
“We are trying to cater for everyone…we do not claim perfection, but we do claim a considerable advance on what has been done in the past.”
Her speech also addressed the critics who said “Labour in government wouldn’t be able to balance the books”..
Finance Minister Grant Robertson had proved them wrong, Ardern said.
“He has kept a firm grip on the country’s finances and he is focused on running surpluses which is a vital part of our plan.”