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Agenda Transcript: Helen Clark IV

Agenda Transcript: Helen Clark IV

Helen Clark Prime Minister Interviewed By Garth Bray

Courtesy of TVNZ and Agenda

************

GARTH Today she's formed a government but how long can she hold it together. Helen Clark will try to put the complex set of deals she's done into plain English. We'll also talk to the new Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters, will his immigration rhetoric come back to haunt him as New Zealand looks to strengthen its position in Asia and the Pacific.


With the formation of a New Zealand government Helen Clark has secured an historic third term for Labour, however it comes at a price. The appointment of Winston Peters and Peter Dunne as ministers outside cabinet and arguably outside the government poses both policy and constitutional challenges. I spoke to Helen Clark last night as she prepare to leave for Papua New Guinea and began by asking her is New Zealand First in the government or not.

HELEN New Zealand First is not in coalition with Labour, a minister is in the executive government, there's two distinctions here.

GARTH Well what does that distinction mean though?

HELEN It means they're not in coalition, it's a confidence and supply agreement. Because they have accepted a position in the executive ministerial responsibility will apply to that position and the same for United Future, but they're not in coalition.

GARTH But that must be confusing to anyone looking on surely.

HELEN well it's not a question of whether it's confusing it's a question of what are the practical arrangements you need to make to set up a government in present circumstances, and that’s the practical arrangement we've made.

GARTH The deal that you’ve done with New Zealand First says that it will fully represent the government's position and be bound by the cabinet manual provisions in areas within the responsibilities that you’ve given Winston Peters, so what exactly does that mean?

HELEN It means that collective responsibility applies to the portfolios which he holds and the same for Peter Dunne but neither he nor Mr Dunne or their parties are expected to speak for the government or in line with the government on issues outside those portfolios.

GARTH So what happens is Ron Mark gets up in the House for example and wants to criticise Annette King as Police Minister in the way that he went after George Hawkins and really hounded him?

HELEN Nothing to stop him. I guess New Zealand First is going to have to work through how they position in this parliament but the agreement does not take away their right as a party to express their views on issues outside those portfolios.

GARTH And you can't see that posing any problem at all for a stable coalition?

HELEN Not particularly, I think if people have got used to the idea that with MMP governments the support arrangements can be quite complex and parties are entitled to keep their brand identity.

GARTH But what happens for example if the New Zealand First MP wants to speak out against the Kyoto protocol for example?

HELEN Well that of course is handled by the Environment Minister or by the person who's the minister responsible for climate change, that wouldn’t be seen as strictly a Ministry of Foreign Affairs issue, it's a much broader issue than that.

GARTH One with Foreign Affairs implications though how do you separate them out?

HELEN Well no more than if you go and sign up to a Fisheries treaty that that’s a foreign policy matter, in essence it tends to be handled very much by specialist ministries.

GARTH Maybe but those looking on from outside are looking at how New Zealand is applying this and how that’s been worked out here.

HELEN And they will look for what is the view of the government and the government view on climate change will be expressed primarily by the minister with responsibility for that.

GARTH So how do you see the agree to disagree clause working then with regard to New Zealand First because it's really only been used by a coalition partner before by someone that you had a really solid arrangement with.

HELEN Well the agree to disagree or the differentiation provision was put in the cabinet manual in 2000 so that the Labour Alliance government did not get into the difficulties that the National New Zealand First government had gone into, that’s because it's simply unrealistic in MMP governments to expect two parties to agree on absolutely everything, so you have to make way for parties to breathe.

Now in this case neither New Zealand First nor United are in coalition but when they accept a ministerial portfolio collective responsibility applies. Were they to have a disagreement with government policy on those portfolio areas then one would need to invoke the differentiation procedures but it's far too early to say whether that would even arise as an issue.

GARTH Winston Peters though he's not in cabinet so how can he be an effective foreign minister?

HELEN I don’t see any reason why he can't be. For a start he is a senior member, a lot of parliamentary experience and he has held portfolios in the past, secondly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade would be in my view one of the very top ministries in the New Zealand government, it has a highly professional skilled group of diplomats and they do a very very good job for a minister and he will have a tremendous amount of backup.

GARTH And they’ll all be wondering who exactly they're working for, are they working for him or are they working for the government?

HELEN Well they work to the minister who is collectively responsible with the government for the policy. They're not implementing New Zealand First foreign policy they're implementing government foreign policy.

GARTH But he will be travelling, and this goes back to the question I asked you about effectiveness, he doesn’t know what the cabinet thinks about X or Y how does he give an intelligent answer if he's asked by Alexander Downer or Condoleezza Rice…?

HELEN No, I'm afraid it's very clear that our government has very well established foreign policy positions – Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefs, ministers go with briefs, they represent government policy, nothing can be clearer than that.

GARTH He wants a close relationship with the US where does that start?

HELEN Well what he said was what all of us believe which is that countries with as much in common as New Zealand and the United States should have a close relationship. Now the United States has chosen to make a dispute over the nuclear free issue which is 21 years old an issue which prevents us being as close as we could be.

It has been something everyone would like to deal with but New Zealand can't deal with it under a Labour government, certainly can't deal with it with Winston Peters as Foreign Minister because we are of one mind on this. We can't deal with it by changing the nuclear free law, we happen to believe in it.

GARTH You want a free trade deal with the US so are you running out of time to get that?

HELEN Well we'll keep talking of course to the US government about that and we've got a lot of support in Congress, we've got a lot of support in the US business community, it's a question of it getting on to the US government agenda.

GARTH You’ve won the election and you’ve managed to do it with a level of vote that really hasn’t changed much over the last two election results, how do you reach out to the people that voted for a very very different kind of government and there are a lot of them?

HELEN Well firstly we did get the same support as last time in effect and slightly better than in 1999 and that’s a very very good basis to go into government on.

You govern in the interests of the whole country but of course we have our policies we campaigned hard for them, we've entered into a range of agreements with other parties in order to set up a stable and durable government, we believe what we're advancing is in the public interest, we've been out there consulting over the past month with a range of people and we aim to have a programme which takes New Zealand ahead, you can't do better than that.

GARTH You’ve been talking with business, you said on the night of the election result that there was some big money against Labour in the election.

HELEN Sure was.

GARTH What did you mean by that?

HELEN I know there was big money I could see what the National Party was spending.

GARTH So the voters were manipulated really were they?

HELEN Oh no I'm not saying that I'm just saying a lot of money was spent, in the end they didn’t win and it's very satisfying to see your opponent spend a lot of money to secure another three years in opposition.

GARTH Who did it come from?

HELEN Who knows.

GARTH Well don’t you have to be aware of who you now have to reach out to?

HELEN Well I won't be reaching out to the Exclusive Brethren who were almost certainly significant contributors.

GARTH But what's your message to groups like the Employers and Manufacturers Association or Business New Zealand or any of the corporates that did sign up?

HELEN Well we talked to all those groups. With respect to Employers and Manufacturers Association here in Auckland I've commonly spoken at their events and conferences and we maintain a very professional relationship, the same with the Chamber of Commerce, same with Business New Zealand.

GARTH It's professional but is it warm I mean do they hate you?

HELEN Of course no, of course they don’t, that’s a ridiculous thing to even suggest, we have a good working relationship with such organisations.

GARTH So how are you gonna take that relationship forward now, what will you do?

HELEN Well you take it forward by continuing to engage, making sure that there's access, I think they would say that Michael Cullen for example has been an incredibly accessible Minister of Finance.

GARTH They would say cut taxes wouldn’t they, they would say cut the corporate tax rate.

HELEN Oh there's far more to a relationship than that particular issue.

GARTH But they would say that and what would you say to them?

HELEN They would say all sorts of things and some of them we'd agree with and some of them we wouldn’t. For example the whole skills and productivity agenda is one that everyone happily agrees to. The Trade Agreement is one that we would agree on with those organisations.

GARTH Peter Dunne's saying cut tax though as well, what is going to happen to the company tax rate during this term?

HELEN I just never comment on tax matters, it's never been my practice, we have Peter Dunne as Minister of Revenue, he'll be working with Dr Cullen, we've said we're going to look a the structure of business taxation, that’s quite a big work programme, there's no point trying to prescribe what the outcome of that will be before you’ve even started to process.

GARTH Well you talked about exporting and the need to drive exports along, what about Winston Peters' notion of tax breaks for exporters?

HELEN Well he can put his ideas into the process but we have a new Minister of Revenue he'll work with the Minister of Finance and they’ve got to work through what is the best structure for business taxation.

GARTH So what makes you think you don’t have to attend to the calls that came up during the election to cut income tax rates?

HELEN Well a majority of people did not vote for that, that’s the first point, and secondly there are very very heavy demands on government spending, we're not in a position to go out and borrow for tax cuts which is what the National Party proposed, and nor do we propose to slash spending on critical services to do it.

GARTH So you want to talk about income tax but you don’t want to talk about company tax.

HELEN No I'm not talking about where these policies go in the future, I'm saying that we campaigned on a set of policies which we must fund.

GARTH What about the carbon tax, there've been headlines saying that under Winston Peters it's gone, the policy agreement that you’ve signed with him though says it's being reviewed what will happen there?

HELEN Well how do you know you’ve gotta see the outcome. In the end to get a carbon tax in place you have to get a majority in parliament, it remains to be seen whether that majority is there or not.

GARTH You’ve promised the Greens specific budget initiatives for things like solar power and so on, that’s to help our Kyoto obligations, what's the point of doing something like that if Marsden B's about to be fired up as a coal fired power station?

HELEN Who knows whether it's about to be fired up, the provisional go ahead it had had so many qualifications on it that it may or may not go ahead at all, but it's obviously in New Zealand's interest to have renewable energy sources and solar power is an obvious source.

GARTH I just wonder, looking at the legislative programme you’ve got ahead of you, I haven’t seen a lot exactly about what Labour proposes to do but there is one clear one. On this programme two months ago you rubbished any notion that you would amend any principles around the Treaty in legislation and yet that’s in the agreement that you’ve signed with Winston Peters.

HELEN No it's not, what we've said is that we will vote for his bill to go to a select committee, that’s as far as we have said anything. It's most unlikely we would vote for the final version of such a bill. We opposed it last time, but as part of the agreement for confidence and supply we have said yes your bill will get our support to go to a select committee.

GARTH And that'll be a select committee where New Zealand First has seats and so on, and parliament will be sitting as well, there seems to be a problem over exactly where they’ll occupy space in the House.

HELEN Well they’ve gotta settle that with the Speaker and the Speaker and the Clerk will try to do it by consensus and discussion between the parties, it's very obvious in parliament where Labour sits, it's very obvious where National sits. I don’t have any view on it, I think it's up to the parties themselves to sort it out with the Speaker's office.

GARTH Prime Minister, Helen Clark, thank you very much.

ENDS

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