When one of our main political parties elects a leader who is relatively new to politics, his first major speech warrants close attention.
Andrew Little, like John Key when he became National's leader, has had just one full term in Parliament and was not in his party's previous Government.
Unlike Phil Goff and David Cunliffe, he has not worked within the policy consensus that underlies New Zealand's economic stability, but nor does he look as uncertain as newcomer David Shearer when given the leadership. Mr Little made a strong, if strident, start in the House last week. Yesterday in Auckland, he gave a more considered address to a breakfast audience.
It was notable for an absence of cracks against the current Government or any mention of political opponents. It was concerned with the future of work. His observation that full-time employment and life-long careers are giving way to less secure contract work and self-employment is hardly new. As a former union official and now Labour's leader, he is primarily concerned with those who struggle in this environment. He probably overstates the numbers struggling.
"More and more people on good incomes, mid-level incomes, are finding it harder to save, harder to pay the mortgage, harder to keep their businesses afloat, harder to get ahead," he said. "And this isn't just a question of economic performance because even when growth ticks up, too many people still feel insecure." The accuracy of that assertion is less important than where it leads him.
New Zealanders' loss of economic security as he sees it is caused by "the fundamental settings of our economy, the priorities about where we are investing and who our economy is meant to be delivering for". Too much investment capital was going into speculation instead of "the next great Kiwi business that is going to create jobs and grow our wealth". That led to his punchline: "The average house in Auckland earned more money last year than the average worker."
It could be an overture for a capital gains tax except that Mr Little disavowed that plank of Labour's election platform in his bid for the leadership and did not mention it yesterday.
He gave no hint of an answer to excessive investment in residential property or any new policy ideas. He announced that Labour would hold a travelling seminar, called a Future of Work Commission, to develop policies on job creation before the next election. What is not said by a new leader can be as significant as what is said.
Mr Little said nothing to suggest he would challenge the monetary, fiscal and competitive underpinnings of New Zealand's non-inflationary growth. He said nothing about increasing the top personal tax rate, which has been Labour policy at the past two elections. To the contrary, his theme was the need to increase the rewards of work. In fact the speech was devoid of the redistributive sentiments usually heard from Labour leaders; it acknowledged the need to lift incomes generally.
There was, in fact, little in the speech the present Government would contest, except for the gloom that all Oppositions cast on the present. The economy has been performing well and business and consumer confidence is strong. But average wages are too low, house prices are too high, too much bank lending goes to property rather than productive new ventures.
Those problems look unlikely to be fixed before Labour is next in power.
Mr Little's Future of Work Commission has a brief ranging over social policy, economic development, education, skills, training and information technology. If it works hard it could be the gestation of a government.