Q+A: Shane Taurima interviews David Shearer
Sunday November 25, 2012
Q+A: Shane Taurima interviews David Shearer
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1.
Thanks to the support from NZ ON Air.
Q+A is on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/NZQandA#!/NZQandA and on Twitter, http://twitter.com/#!/NZQandA
Q + A – November 25, 2012
Interviewed by Shane Taurima
SHANE Well, David Shearer, thank you for your time and thank you for being with us in what’s been quite a tough week.
DAVID SHEARER – Labour Leader
Thanks very much. Nice to be here.
SHANE There’s David Cunliffe and the leadership, which we’ll talk about shortly, but let’s start with Kiwi Build – your big housing policy. 100,000 homes over 10 years. How will it work?
MR SHEARER Basically, we’ll go out and raise the money through bonds, use that money then to build houses through the private sector. When we sell the houses, that comes back into a pool and it goes around and we build more houses again. So it’s effectively a continual cycle of building, selling and continuing to build again, and the margin on the house that we sell will pay for the bond – the interest on. So we put a little bit of money on the top – a little profit on the top, if you like – to pay back to the bond. So the whole thing is self-funding.
SHANE How much will each home cost?
MR SHEARER Well, we’re looking at the affordable-homes area, which is basically 300,000 – around. This is the area where people can't get into houses. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of Kiwis who would like to own their own home, can't get on that first rung on the ladder.
SHANE Obviously it won't cost 300,000 everywhere in every town, and I imagine it’ll rise over 10 years too – the cost of the homes to build. So how will that work?
MR SHEARER Obviously in Auckland it’ll be possibly more expensive than in other places, but we believe we can build houses and this is the statistics—
SHANE So quite a bit more expensive than 300?
MR SHEARER No, no, I think we can build houses in Auckland for 300,000 and I’m going to see a—
SHANE Because you’re going to get something quite different here in Auckland to Invercargill, say.
MR SHEARER Well, it’s obviously targeted at the places where housing affordability is a real issue.
SHANE So where are you going to build these homes?
MR SHEARER Well, all over New Zealand, but mainly targeting Auckland, because it’s the biggest problem. Wellington, Tauranga, Queenstown – the places where home affordability is a real issue and getting people into that first home.
SHANE We build about 24,000 homes nationally every year now. You want to increase that by about a third. Who’s going to do it?
MR SHEARER Well, actually, we’re not building that number, and this is the real problem. If you look at Auckland, we should be building 10,000 homes a year. We’re currently building around 3000, and only 5% of those homes are actually in the affordable-housing range, so what we’re doing is we’re building at the upper end, but we’re not building at that first lower level that allows people to get into their first home. So it’s really targeted at first-home buyers so they have a real chance.
SHANE But doesn’t that make my original question even more important? If we’re not building the homes that we need now, who’s going to build them?
MR SHEARER Obviously what we’re going to be doing is intervening where there is a market failure here, and there is a market failure, because obviously if the homes were going to be built, we wouldn’t need to intervene. But this is about smart government getting into build homes, making an intervention. It’s not expensive for us, because as I say, it’s revolving funds and enables people to get that first chance.
SHANE But who’s going to build them?
MR SHEARER Well, the private sector will build them. It’s not the government who’s going to build it. All the government is doing is facilitating the finance to enable that to actually happen.
SHANE So if they’re not building them now, what are you going to do to change that?
MR SHEARER Well, first of all, by enabling the finance to be put in place, but also being able to say to, say, a construction company, “You have a 10-year building operation here. This is the number of houses we want to build – 10,000 a year.” It gives them the ability to be able to plan ahead and get building materials at a much cheaper cost than perhaps they would be able to otherwise.
SHANE So you say this is for first-home buyers.
MR SHEARER Yes, only for first-home buyers.
SHANE And they’ll still need a deposit.
MR SHEARER Absolutely, yes.
SHANE So what about those that can't afford the deposit, those low-income earners? What are you doing for them?
MR SHEARER Well, obviously there's a whole range of different issues that we need to focus on on housing, and this is one part of it. But we’ve also been talking to social-housing providers. They’re very very keen on becoming involved in this, and they have a range of different options that they can have for people who have more difficulty, so that’s rent-to-buy schemes, other different options that we’ll be able to do.
SHANE It sounds like, though, your target is still on the middle class. You haven’t really answered my question around low-income earners – the poor.
MR SHEARER Well, obviously there's going to be other issues in and around that, and it’s around state housing, social housing, that sort of thing
SHANE So you haven’t got to that yet?
MR SHEARER Well, we’ll roll out policy on that later.
SHANE I don’t want to labour the point around the poorer people or the low-income earners, but could we expect to see more state homes, for example, being built?
MR SHEARER There's a possib— Well, look, I’m not going to go there now, because that’s a policy—
SHANE It sounded like you were going to say, “It’s possible.”
MR SHEARER No, no, what I will say is that part of the housing package that we rolled out as well is about making sure that rental properties are actually up to scratch, so there's going to be a guarantee in and around rental homes.
SHANE That sounds like you're committing to a warrant of fitness for rental homes.
MR SHEARER We’re calling it a housing guarantee to guarantee that there's going to be insulation and there's going to be heating inside of the house.
SHANE I want to talk briefly before we move on, because obviously this will be part of your package to help stimulate the economy, and we’ll be talking to the Prime Minister shortly about the high unemployment rate. Now, he says that the high unemployment rate is due to the global economy. And you’re laughing.
MR SHEARER No, I’m not laughing. I’m just saying…
SHANE He says, though; the Prime Minister says he can have little influence over the global economy. What do you say to him?
MR SHEARER Well, I’d say to him that the National government’s been saying this forever, and each time they promise and then they break their promises, and we know that the economic situation internationally is as it is, but the government hasn’t moved on a number of issues where it should have done to actually create jobs and to move the economy along.
SHANE Like what?
MR SHEARER Well, for example, we have manufacturing industries – 40,000 jobs in manufacturing lost, 1500 companies have gone to the wall, and what are the manufacturers saying? The exchange rate. Our exchange rate is way too high and the government won't budge on that. Procurement policy – why can't we have a procurement policy where the government actually favours Kiwi companies instead of buying, for example, our railway carriages from China rather than building them in Dunedin at the Hillside workshops? There are a number of things that the government could do – they’re simply not doing it – to advance our economy.
SHANE So you’re happy to buy more expensive things if it’s New Zealand-made?
MR SHEARER What we’re saying is let’s favour New Zealand companies and let’s factor in the additional costs that we may have to pay for the wider good of the economy. Now, you don’t want to get silly about that, but where it’s appropriate and where it’s sensible— That’s what’s happening in Australia. That’s what's happening in Singapore, and that’s what's happening in the United States. It’s about time we stood up for our New Zealand companies here in New Zealand.
SHANE You’ve spent the week talking about housing, but also getting your own house in order. You’ve demoted a senior MP, a former minister. How did it get that bad?
MR SHEARER Well, it’s an unfortunate incident. It’s behind us now. We had a very long conversation about that at the caucus meeting on Tuesday, and it’s dealt with and now we move on. The party is unified under my leadership. We had a fantastic conference, despite those side issues, on the weekend last weekend. People came out of there energised, ready to go out and really get behind the Labour banner and take something and make a real difference to New Zealand, and my message to them was we can make a real difference to New Zealand, and that’s where we will be going.
SHANE But I want to go back to my original question, because I want to know why it got that bad. Because when you have, for example, your chief whip, Chris Hipkins, at the beginning of the week saying, and I quote, “David Cunliffe has been working for some time now to destabilise the current leadership,” end of quote. And we think, well, how long has this been going on?
MR SHEARER Well, at the conference, I was rather dismayed to see David Cunliffe, I believe, acting disloyally, and that’s why I took the steps I did. Now, obviously there were a lot of people who were upset about that, and they have spoken out. What I have said to our caucus is, “We will deal with this internally. We will move on. I am the leader, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of it. We move on from here.”
SHANE But how long had this been going on for?
MR SHEARER Well, I’m not going to go into the details about the past. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve put a line under it and we’re moving on.
SHANE And I can understand that, but I think it’s only fair that we have some clarity – some context, if you like – around the decision – a big decision that you’ve made this week. And I think the question is pretty straightforward and reasonable around just how long David Cunliffe has allegedly been begin disloyal to you.
MR SHEARER Well, what I’m saying to you is on that weekend, things came to a head. I’m not going to be going and re-litigating everything that’s happened over the past few months. But certainly on this weekend, unfortunately what happened was we had a very very successful conference that was overshadowed by David Cunliffe talking about leadership and not being able to be loyal to me as the leader. That’s why I took the action that I did. As far as I’m concerned, I’m ruling a line under it and we’re moving on from here.
SHANE Was he doing the numbers? Was he actively plotting against you? You’ve spoken about his behaviour at the weekend. Let’s just clarify that point. Was he actively plotting against you?
MR SHEARER Look, what I’m saying to you is that at the weekend, I don’t believe his behaviour was loyal to me. I don’t feel I can trust him, and as a result of that, I have demoted him to the backbenches and we are moving on from there.
SHANE How can you move on, though, when you seem to have a divided caucus? It was only at the beginning of this week when you had MPs saying they didn’t think that David Cunliffe had done anything wrong, obviously doubting your leadership.
MR SHEARER Well, we just had a caucus meeting on Tuesday where 100% at that caucus endorsed my leadership. That is about as good as it ever gets. We are finished with it—
SHANE But you had to muzzle them as well.
MR SHEARER Well, what I said to them is exactly what I am saying to you right now. I will be the only spokesperson on this, we will draw a line under it, and we will move on.
SHANE We’ve talked to many in your party, we’ve read the blogs, and it’s clear that there are quite a few that think you’re a) not up to the job and b) a bit too right-wing.
MR SHEARER Right-wing? I’m being accused now of being too left-wing after my speech. Look, I don’t— To be honest with you, I’m not concerned about what those people say. I don’t read the blogs. I don’t respond to the blogs. A lot of other people do. As far as I’m—
SHANE But these are people from within your own party. Surely you’d be listening to what they’re saying.
MR SHEARER Look, I was at this conference on Sunday. There were a thousand people there. It was the biggest conference we’ve had in a generation. It was the most people that we’ve ever had to a leader’s conference— to a leader’s speech that anybody can remember. People walked out of there upbeat, really ready to go out there and fight the good fight, and that’s where we want to leave it. I don’t want to be dragged down into these other issues. And if you were there, you would have seen that and experienced that. It was great.
SHANE But it sounds a bit destructive, though, when you’ve got blogs going on and on about your leadership, complaining, criticising your leadership. It can hardly help the cause.
MR SHEARER Well, look, I don’t read blogs. I go around the country and I talk to people.
SHANE What do you say to people? Is it time that they just shut up and move on?
MR SHEARER Well, what about talking to some of the people who actually think that I’m doing quite a good job? And that’s— What you're doing is only picking—
SHANE Well, who are those people?
MR SHEARER Look, the people who have written about the conference, for example, over the weekend. They said that it was a very good conference and that my speech at that conference and what I delivered was uplifting for the Labour people who were watching. Now, I’m really happy with the way it ended there. We have set out a completely new agenda for Labour. It’s about making a difference. It’s about hands-on government. The housing policy we talked about before is exactly an example of that. It’s about a smart government getting involved and not having the hands off the wheel. We will be hands-on, we will intervene where we need to, and we will make a difference in people’s lives.
SHANE Looking ahead, when can we expect a reshuffle?
MR SHEARER In my own time.
SHANE Which is this year, next year?
MR SHEARER Well, I’ll let you know when I make that decision.
SHANE What about moving into next year? You’re averaging about 32% in the polls. What should you be at this time next year to put you in a good position and in a good place for the next election?
MR SHEARER Well, I’m not making predictions for where we should be, but if—
SHANE But you must have a target.
MR SHEARER But if I was looking back— For example, at the beginning of this year where we were at 27 – and I would say that the average of the polls is a bit higher than that – we have actually pegged back the difference between National and Labour to a gap that is closer than we have seen in the last four years. So we’ve actually done pretty well.
SHANE That’s an average increase of about 5 percentage points—
MR SHEARER 5%, 6%. 6%.
SHANE Would that be a fair target for next year – this time next year?
MR SHEARER Well, as I say, I’m not making predictions. Obviously what we’d be doing is our very best. This year – this is just gone – has certainly been about making some big changes to Labour that we needed to make; refocusing ourselves; myself as leader setting up that new direction, which I did on the weekend. And now we’re ready to go forward into next year much more fired up and much more organised and ready to win.
SHANE You’ll still be the leader at the next election?
MR SHEARER I can guarantee it.
SHANE Good place to leave it. David Shearer, thank you for your time and have a lovely Christmas.
MR SHEARER Thank you, Shane. Same to you.