Central - local government jobs partnership launched
12 September 2000
Press Release: New Zealand Government
A groundbreaking agreement detailing how effective job creation partnerships between central and local government will be structured was launched at Parliament this evening by Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton and Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey.
The formal memorandum of understanding reached with the Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs fleshes out the Government's commitment to work in partnership with local communities to tackle unemployment. The Taskforce, which was established in April, brings together 21 Mayors from across New Zealand to provide a national focus of leadership on the jobs issue. The Ministers said the Government shared to Mayors' commitment to end the wastage of people caused by unemployment.
"The agreement we are launching today is historic because for the first time the Government is committing to an active partnership with local government which recognises the expertise both parties have in employment creation.
"We accept that growing jobs is something that central government cannot do on its own. Unlike our predecessor this Government is prepared to involve all the key partners - business, labour and central and local government - in employment creation.
"Employment is central to the development of strong and healthy local communities and to ensuring that New Zealanders are able to participate in their society.
"As part of this agreement we have agreed to meet quarterly with the Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs to review our joint progress towards ending unemployment. We are pleased that the Memorandum of Understanding will now cement in what has become a close and constructive relationship with the Taskforce," the Ministers said.
Acknowledging the centrality of employment
from an address by Hon. Steve Maharey to the National Conference of the Community Employment Group, Ellerslie Convention Centre, Auckland, 13 September 2000.
I sense that I am seen as a politician driven more by intellect than by passion. But I have to say that for me the two qualities sustain each other.
I find unemployment offensive - deeply offensive. I am a member of a political party and of a movement that was founded out of a desire to ensure that people were in work - well paid, decent work.
And whatever the embellishments of modernity - third way this, or new age that - the centrality of work remains a defining feature of the mission of social democratic parties and governments.
Moreover I believe that the centrality of work is an enduring value in this society more generally. The actions of governments of a variety of persuasions have testified to that fact.
That said, I think that there is a real risk of our society becoming desensitised to the realities of unemployment.
It's not all that apparent on Queen Street, or Lambton Quay. It doesn't surface in the mainstream media.
Unemployment isn't a particularly democratic phenomenon - in this country, as in others, it tends to pick out particular regions, and in this country, in those regions we find high levels of Maori unemployment, we find pockets of extremely high youth unemployment.
And we need to keep in front of us the consequences of that unemployment - leaving aside the tortuous academic debate around causality and association I think it is clear that unemployment kills people. The literature is clear - unemployed people have higher rates of physical and mental illness. And I am convinced that there is a causal relationship between unemployment and crime.
The fact, indeed even the threat of unemployment - which in turn says something about insecure work - has a corrosive effect on well being.
And at the level of the economy, unemployment is simply wasteful. Expressed in terms of the Department of Labour's mission, it represents a depreciation of our human capital. In aggregate we know that a given level of unemployment represents GDP foregone - the only debate is what the ratio is. But even at the lower bounds, what are now accepted as modest levels of unemployment are incredibly wasteful.
So, what to do about this?
I am not interested in the politics of outrage - being outraged may make you feel better, but it doesn't do anything to address the problem on the ground.
Nor am I interested in what are known in political circles as 'tiny symbolic gestures'. You can't simply 'spin' unemployment away.
I am interested in being part of a Government that places employment squarely at the centre of its programme.
That is the case with this Government:
We want macroeconomic policy to make its contribution to sustainable, job-rich, and non-inflationary growth.
We want to play a partnership role in the development of industries and in regional development
We want to address skill shortages - and we want to do that at both ends of the spectrum, with responsive tertiary institutions producing graduates and scientific research that meet the needs of industry, and with an education system (and a second chance education system) ensuring that our people have a well-rounded education, and that they can read, and write and count. Let me clear on that issue - our record on literacy and numeracy is appalling.
In short, as a Government we want to work at both the capacity and the opportunity end of the equation.
And we want to ensure that what we do coheres around a strategy - that we have what my colleague Jim Anderton refers to as a 'whole of government' approach to the issue.
The Government has an employment strategy, and at the officials level we have an Employment Strategy Senior Officials Group. The Labour Market Policy Group took the lead on the development of the strategy, and the Department of Labour, through its Chief Executive, convenes the Senior Officials Group.
We have the basis for a whole of government approach, and given the fact that we still operate largely in an environment dominated by policy silos, building the means for some horizontal integration is no mean feat.
But there is some impatience when one mentions the word strategy - and I can understand that. There is a risk of strategy becoming an end in itself, not a means by which real and tangible outcomes are produced. Without action, a strategy is at risk of becoming simply another tiny symbolic gesture.
And so it is action that I now want to direct my comments to. But before I do that let me say that I think that it is quote appropriate to set one's sights high.
While I am a great believer in accountability - who isn't - there is a real risk of the contractualist mind-set dominating to the point where setting goals or targets becomes simply a scientific exercise.
Let me give you an example.
Last night I hosted a function at the Beehive to mark the launch of a Memorandum of Understanding between central government and the Mayors Task Force for Jobs. Garry Moore has been the driving force behind the Mayors task Force and because of his connection with CEG I feel quite comfortable citing this as an example.
The Memorandum of Understanding sets out the goals of central government, and of the Mayors Task Force. It states that the Mayors Task Force is committed to two goals:
"Goal one: By 2005, no young person under 25 years will be out of work or training in our communities
Goal two: By 2009, all people in our communities will have the opportunity to be in work or training"
Now one response to goals of this kind - the risk averse response - would have it that, for central and local government, these goals are heroic, but irresponsible - there are too many variables that can't be controlled, the influence of exogenous factors unknown etc etc.
This response would have it that any progress towards meeting these goals, however significant, would constitute a failure if the goal had not been fully realised.
This response would have it that it would be somehow dishonest to invite the community to participate in a project of this kind if there was any risk of the goal not being achieved. It might also have it that setting a goal that is not credible risks alienating those that you are seeking to work in partnership with.
I disagree. I think that these are good goals.
Let me using a sporting analogy - there is nothing wrong with a team of rugby players or netballers going out in search of playing the perfect game. I don't know of any player of note that has come off the field or the court claiming to have played the perfect game, or of any team (perhaps with the exception of the Manawatu Rugby team in its heady days).
I'm not suggesting that we debase politics and public policy to the point where everything is couched in sports marketing terms, but I am suggesting that there is nothing wrong in setting the sights high. There is nothing wrong with building in some stretch.
There is most certainly nothing wrong with seeking to advance a goal or a mission that has the power to excite, and indeed the power to empower.