While the Labour government deserves to be criticised for its hostility to human rights, it also deserves to be praised for its genuine successes in the area of economic and social policy. They've dramatically increased the minimum wage, reduced unemployment, and attempted to end the culture of paternalistic oppression and outright hostility at WINZ. But one of their most significant achievements has happened almost by stealth: most New Zealanders now enjoy economic peace of mind. A survey cited in the Herald today finds that 87% of New Zealand workers feel their jobs are secure - an increase on last year, and a massive increase on thirteen years ago, when over half of workers expected to be unemployed within a year. It is only attitudinal data, but it is more important than it looks. As residents of a stable and peaceful country which respects human rights, New Zealanders do not fear war, murder, or torture - but we do fear losing our jobs and the subsequent disruption of our life-plans. Labour has to a great extent freed us from that fear, allowing us to get on with enjoying our lives.
While there's no question that much of this can be attributed to the present economic good climate - people know very well that their chances of losing their job depends on broad economic performance - Labour can claim some credit for that as well, in particular by not strangling the economy the moment it started to grow (as Don Brash repeatedly did during his tenure at the Reserve Bank). But more importantly, their labour market reforms have been aimed at improving job security and certainty for the average worker; contrast this with National, whose macroeconomic and labour-market policies were (and still are) aimed at increasing insecurity for the benefit of employers.