'We can’t do everything at once'

"Be patient."

That was the New Zealand Labour Party’s message to members during its annual conference, held in Dunedin over the weekend, and it was a message Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reaffirmed in her leader’s speech yesterday.

"We are also balancing financial security with the pressing social needs that the Government promised to deliver on," Ms Ardern told a 1200-strong Town Hall audience yesterday.

"That is what we were elected to do.

"We can’t do everything at once, just like it doesn’t make sense to spend every cent you earn, but we are investing carefully in the areas that need it most. Things like health, housing, education."

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern gives her first conference leader’s speech as Prime Minister, in the...
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern gives her first conference leader’s speech as Prime Minister, in the Dunedin Town Hall yesterday.
Afterwards Ms Ardern told reporters Labour members did not have raised expectations about what the Government could achieve.

"I would like to think we have always been pragmatic. You only get the chance to make change if you are in the position to govern, so we have always been a party which has both an activist base of people who go out and knock on doors, but with the purpose of giving us the chance to make change.

"There will always be a debate about what that change will look like."

One change was announced in Ms Ardern’s leader’s speech yesterday — a $217 million increase in special needs education funding.

The funds would be spent over a four-year period to employ 600 "Learning Support Co-ordinators", who would work alongside teachers to assist special needs children, as well as liaising with their parents.

"If a child needs support and is not getting it, that’s not fair and I’m not prepared to tolerate it."

The Prime Minister  thanks party faithful after her speech.
The Prime Minister thanks party faithful after her speech.
Ms Ardern said wanting to give all children the best possible start in life was the motivation for making the special education funding announcement the high point of her conference speech.

"We know doing this, we know we help not only those children with special learning needs, we actually free up a teacher’s time so they can do what they do best — teach — and that benefits every single child in the classroom," the Prime Minister told the audience.

New Zealand First MP and associate education minister Tracey Martin — who was at the conference yesterday to hear the announcement — has been advocating for such a change for some time, and creating a similar role is also part of the Labour-Green Party confidence and supply agreement.

The $217 million funding announcement yesterday took Government spending on special needs education to more than $600 million, Ms Ardern said.

A recruiting drive for all kinds of teachers was already under way, but she said she was confident  the additional support workers could be found.

"At the moment we have teachers who are trying to do this job: this means we will be able to fully fund and have a fully dedicated person."

Hundreds queued outside the town hall hoping to hear Ms  Ardern’s speech.
Hundreds queued outside the town hall hoping to hear Ms Ardern’s speech.
Ms Ardern expected most of the first support workers employed would be working in primary schools, and intermediate and secondary schools would be catered for in subsequent years.

The last time Labour met in Dunedin, in 1988, it was a rancorous event with loud protests, which mirrored a bitter split within the party.

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran, who had long advocated for the conference to return to Dunedin, was delighted at how the weekend had gone.

"I think we have well and truly exorcised the ghosts of 1988."

Ms Ardern said the conference had been very positive.

"We are a party in good heart."

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

Comments

The Labour Party are obviously on the right track. Look at those crowds waiting to get in to hear the PM's speech. Next time they must hire the stadium.

 

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