Prime Minister Helen Clark launched her party’s election campaign today promising to protect Kiwis from the international credit crisis by keeping them in jobs or training, and guaranteeing their savings.

There was a party atmosphere at the town hall in Auckland, which was packed to capacity, and the crowd clapped along to Kiwi musicians, Elemeno p, King Kapisi and Whirimako Black.

However the tone was serious.

Clark said New Zealand was facing the worst financial crisis since the 1930s and her party had a proven record of economic management to face it.

“A curtain is being drawn on the era of the free wheeling, unregulated money traders and financiers whose greed has shaken the international financial system to its core,” she said.

Repeatedly referring to her experience and drawing attention to National leader John Key’s lack, Clark said New Zealanders needed to ask who they could trust to manage the country through the crisis.

Her plan included a savings guarantee scheme; changes to allowances; modern apprenticeship targets and bringing forward investment in infrastructure.

The Government would guarantee all retail bank deposits and retail deposits in organisations like societies, credit unions and deposit-taking finance companies. It would also be prepared to issue a mini budget in December should the international situation not improve.

Clark said drivers for a strong economy were education and skills training, innovation, boosting exports, sustainability, infrastructure and savings.

Should economic conditions worsen, the Government would set out steps to reignite the economy in a December economic statement

“If necessary Labour will bring forward infrastructure spending in areas like road and rail construction projects, local government sewerage treatment projects, school property investment and back country catchments and afforestation.”

Clark said a housing policy to be released soon and those investments would ensure jobs.

Finance Minister Michael Cullen is to make an announcement about provisional tax on Tuesday.

Clark’s speech was not all high-toned, prime ministerial saviour-style. She did get into Mr Key and his party.

She said Labour was proud of its decision not to go to Iraq and it had not hurt New Zealand’s chances starting free trade talks with the United States.

“I would rather New Zealand was missing in action in Iraq than have our soldiers missing in action in a war when the cause wasn’t right.”

KiwiSaver needed to be retained and not “trashed” as National planned and had done with superannuation in the past, she said.

“Muldoon’s mokopuna (grandchildren) must not be allowed to do that again.”

National planned deregulation, tax tinkering and spending cuts — a “hopeless set of slogans”.

“In contrast Labour offers vision and substance, backed by nine years of experience which equips us to face the current international crisis.”