Labour wants greater focus on jobs

Labour leader Andrew Little (File)
Labour leader Andrew Little (File)

By Sarah Robson

There weren't any big bang policy announcements, but Labour leader Andrew Little has come out firing as the party tries to well and truly shake off the demons of last year's election defeat.

In an impassioned speech to round out Labour's annual conference in Palmerston North today, Mr Little set out in the broadest possible terms what his party's priorities will be heading into 2017 - at one point sending his water glass flying off the lectern in the process.

He's put jobs at the top of his agenda, saying getting more Kiwis into higher skilled, better paid jobs is necessary to build a stronger economy.

The Government needs to do more and to that end, Mr Little says a future Labour government will change the rules so companies promising to create jobs have a better chance of winning government contracts - a rehash of what previous Labour leaders have said they'll do.

Mr Little said the Government spent $40 billion a year purchasing goods and services, but agencies only considered their own bottom line when they make purchasing decisions.

Labour's proposed changes would mean job creation and the overall benefit to New Zealand are the determining factors when government agencies are deciding who to award contracts to.

But what got Mr Little a standing ovation from party members was his commitment not to tolerate poverty in New Zealand in the 21st century.

There was also rapturous applause for Mr Little's pledge to give the health system the funding it needs.

"When I'm Prime Minister I'll make sure Kiwis get the care they need when they need it and I'll give our doctors and nurses the funding they need to do their jobs," he said.

Mr Little's keynote speech came at the end of a conference that's been about cleaning out the closet and preparing for the 2017 campaign.

Two of Labour's most contentious policies - a capital gains tax and raising the retirement age - have been dropped and party members have been warned they need to show a united, disciplined front to have any chance of success at the ballot box.

There have been just a handful of very modest policy announcements - in addition to Mr Little's job creation plan, health spokeswoman Annette King provided some of the details around a package to combat childhood obesity, which will include reducing the amount of sugar in processed food.

Finance spokesman Grant Robertson reaffirmed Labour's commitment to reducing the unemployment rate to four percent by the end of its first term in government.

Mr Little said it'll be next year before Labour gets into the nitty gritty of what will make it into its 2017 manifesto.