By Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, Labour Party Leader.
Time in politics flies by at high speed.
It really does only feel like yesterday that Clarke and I walked up the steps of Parliament with our two nieces, ready for the first day of Government.
It’s hard to believe that we’re already 18 months in, the half-way point of our term.
It’s been an incredibly busy time.
Already, we’ve lifted wages, delivered a surplus, helped over one million New Zealanders heat their homes, and put in place plans that will lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty.
I want to take this chance to go back over some of the policies New Zealanders elected us to deliver.
These are the things I am most proud of and the things New Zealanders tell me have had a big difference in their daily lives.
An economy that is growing and working for all of us
We knew from the get-go that it was incredibly important to be responsible managers of New Zealand’s economy.
We lifted wages, with the minimum wage up to $17.70 an hour.
The average New Zealanders pay packet is also now up by $65 a week. We’ve created 70,000 new jobs, and got unemployment down to 4.2 percent.
We supported our regional economies to grow, committing $1.7b so far to boost local businesses, improve regional infrastructure and support tourism through the Provincial Growth Fund – and there’s more to come.
We made our tax system fairer by putting an end to unnecessary secondary tax and changing the law so multinationals pay their fair share of tax.
Improving the wellbeing of New Zealanders and their families
From the beginning, we have placed the wellbeing of New Zealanders firmly at the heart of everything we do.
That’s why, in our first 100 days, we cancelled the proposed tax cuts and instead turned that into a package that provided targeted support for lower and middle income families.
Our Families Package now gives 384,000 families an income boost by $65 a week on average (and $75 when the Families’ Package is fully implemented), and is estimated to lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty.
We knew that many people were struggling to pay for their basic doctors’ visits – so we made it cheaper. 540,000 people now get cheaper doctors’ visits, and 56,000 13-year-olds now get free primary care.
In education, we heard schools crying out for more teachers. So we delivered 1,500 extra teaching places in Budget 2018, and we are funding a further 2,500 teacher trainee places in Budget 2019.
Another major priority has been mental health.
Through the Piki pilot programme, we’re making free mental health care available to an estimated 10,000 people aged 18 to 25 years in the Greater Wellington region, and we’ve put professionals into every primary and intermediate school in Canterbury, to help kids with mental health needs.
Making New Zealand proud
We are focused on finding long-term solutions for long-term challenges, delivering meaningful change on the issues New Zealanders care about.
One of the most significant challenges we face, nationally and globally, is climate change.
All of us: central and local government, industry, business, farmers, iwi and local communities have the chance to make change in this country that will enable us to stand strong and prosper in a world that will be challenged by the changing climate.
This week we introduced the landmark Zero Carbon Bill. New Zealanders have demanded it because they know the climate is changing. We’ve listened to our scientists and our industries to ensure our Zero Carbon Bill sets us on the crucial path of finding long-term solutions.
But our work doesn’t start, or stop here.
We’ve already taken steps to meet our climate change goals, including stopping the permitting of new offshore oil and gas exploration, setting up a $100 million Green Infrastructure Fund to back clean energy projects, and investing in public transport.
As you can see, in the 18 months we’ve had in government, an incredible amount has happened. Now, we look forward to the next 18 months and our plan which will build on the significant and important changes we have already made.
I will commit, each and every day, to fixing our most pressing issues, delivering policy that provides opportunities and makes things a bit easier for New Zealanders and their families.
Jacinda Ardern is Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party.