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Q+A - Interview with David Cunliffe and David Parker

Sunday 22 September, 2013

Deputy Political Editor Michael Parkin interviews Labour Party leader David Cunliffe and deputy leader David Parker

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz   

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SUSAN          Is Prime Minister John Key still riding high in the popularity polls, or has a month of campaigning by the Labour leadership impacted on our ONE News Colmar Brunton poll for preferred Prime Minister?  We sampled one thousand eligible voters from September 14 to 18, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent.  The results are in, and they show that John Key has increased his numbers to 42 points, up one.  New Labour leader David Cunliffe has jumped up 10 points to 12 since becoming leader.  New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is unchanged on four and the Greens’ Russel Norman also unchanged on three.  No, we will analyse the poll results with the panel shortly, but first Labour’s new top team, the two Davids.  They’ve got quite a big task rebuilding unity among their MPs.  A few days ago, David Cunliffe confirmed David Parker as his choice for deputy leader and reshuffled a few key roles around.  It is a tough job keeping everyone happy, so where to for the new-look Labour?  Michael is with David Cunliffe and David Parker.

MICHAEL      Welcome, gentlemen.  What do you make of those poll numbers?  We’ve seen the Prime Minister jump up one and you up to 12, but that’s after three weeks of intense media scrutiny and spotlight for the Labour Party.  Is it good enough?

DAVID CUNLIFFE – Labour Party Leader
I’d say it’s a pretty good start, and there’s a lot more work to do.  And I realise this is a big step up.  We’re giving it everything. 

MICHAEL      Polls are based on appeal, and when it comes to you two, we’ve got a couple of white, middle-aged, you know, upper middle-class men.  What sort of appeal are you going to have to a broad church like Labour?

CUNLIFFE    Well, we may be pale, we may be male, but I promise you we are not going to be stale.  We’re going to be part of a dynamic team, it’ll be a diverse team, and we’re going to be going for it, making the news, setting the agenda, carrying on the momentum.

MICHAEL      But this isn’t diverse, is it?

CUNLIFFE    I have picked the very, very best deputy that I could.  David Parker is a fantastic guy.  He’s a person who I trust absolutely.  He’s got a wonderful sense for policy.  He will be great on organisation, and I know that I could not have a better deputy.  I’ll also be working very, very closely with Grant Robertson and Shane Jones.  We will be a very tight scrum, and the Government’s got a problem.

MICHAEL      It does look an awful lot like you’ve copied your opposition, though, with two economic brains in the top two seats.

CUNLIFFE    We are upgrading our economic performance and our economic effort, and the fact that the deputy leader is our finance spokesperson and will lead a much strengthened economic team is not an accident, and he will face off and he will beat Bill English.

MICHAEL      David Parker, that’s a good point to bring you in on.  What can you do as deputy leader that you couldn’t have done just as number three and finance minister? 

DAVID PARKER – Deputy Labour Party Leader
Look, I think David brings his own strengths on the economy, which is very important to the electoral chances of Labour.  You know, we have this proud record of nine surpluses compared with the current government – four deficits in a row.  We’re determined to show that we’re ready for government and that the public of New Zealand can trust us on the economy.  It’s one of the things that David’s doing in his reshuffle, and I think he’s right to do it.

MICHAEL      But is there any difference in what you can do, having jumped up a spot?

PARKER       Well, I think the big difference is brought by David himself being in the leadership role.  I feel very confident that I’m a trusted pair of hands.  You know, I’m from the Presbyterian south; I’m not gonna break the bank.  I think people have that sense.  And if they’re worried about the future of our economy, if they’re worried about the number of children that are going to Australia, they’ll be having confidence in the new team that David’s putting around him.

MICHAEL      Let’s talk about that bank, then, that you’ll be looking after.  This living wage idea that David Cunliffe has brought up, what does it look like and how much does it cost?

PARKER       Well, let’s get this right for a start.  You know, two out of four of the children who are living in poverty are in working families.  We have to lift wages for that reason.  You know, so many of the people that are leaving to Australia, of those 200,000, just about half of them are 18 to 30 and—

MICHAEL      And we’re aware of the problems, but it is the numbers, and that’s what you’re here to deal with.  So, I mean, what does it cost?

PARKER       Well, in terms of the core civil service, about $30 million per annum, and we’ll be moving towards that.  Obviously, we can’t set wages in the private sector, but we need to move, to lift New Zealand wages so that people have got a reason to stay.

MICHAEL      And where does that $30 million come from?

PARKER       Well, it’s less than the cost of the likes of charter schools or the Rio Tinto subsidy.  That obviously comes from the government budget, which will budget— you know, it’ll balance under us.

MICHAEL      So it’s a fiscally responsible policy, as you see it?

PARKER       Absolutely, and a necessary one.

MICHAEL      David Cunliffe, we’ve seen that John Key has talked to the British Conservative Party recently.  Helen Clark had a very close relationship with the British Labour Party.  Is that something you’re keen to continue with?

CUNLIFFE    Certainly keen to continue good relationships with sister parties.  We see quite a lot of the Australian Labor Party.  We will have contact with the American Democrats and with the British Labour Party.

MICHAEL      Ed Miliband in particular said there’s going to be a return to socialism, that he’s bringing it back.  Is that a policy; is that a line you are going to take?

CUNLIFFE    I’ve said in the primary race repeatedly that a Labour Party that I lead would be a true red Labour Party, be very clear about its social democratic roots and its social democratic agenda.  We want to give the 800,000 people that could not be bothered getting out of bed to vote in the last election a reason to vote, and it will be because it is in their and their families’ interests to do so.

MICHAEL      Will socialism get those 800,000 people out to vote?

CUNLIFFE    Socialism’s not a word that I use.  I say social democracy because I don’t think the government needs to own all the means of production. That’s not our intention.  But we will be there for ordinary New Zealanders, and we will make a change for the better in their lives.  That we guarantee.

MICHAEL      Tomorrow we’re going to see this reshuffle of your front bench in this shadow Cabinet. I want to touch on Jacinda Ardern, because in the poll that we ran in terms of preferred leader, she polled a pretty impressive 15 per cent.  Why isn’t she the one sitting here in this deputy’s chair?

CUNLIFFE    Well, she didn’t run.  Sorry, for deputy’s chair.  Well, she could do that job.  She’s a very able colleague.  I’m sure you will see her somewhere in our top line-up, and she has a big future in politics.  There’s no question about that.  We’re very, very happy to have her on the team.

MICHAEL      Did you give any consideration to putting her in that position?

CUNLIFFE    I did, yes.  I looked at a number of combinations, and that was one of them, just as I had a good long discussion with Grant Robertson about how we could best use his incredible talent as well. But I made a decision in the end that Labour needed a deputy who could anchor us on the economic and financial side, who could take an overview seamlessly across all policy areas, who was someone that I was incredibly compatible with, and together I just know that we’re going to be a terrific team.

MICHAEL      You mentioned earlier Shane and Grant, along with David and yourself. I mean, what you going to do to appeal to women,   because they don’t appear to have a spot in the top echelons of the Labour Party at the moment.

CUNLIFFE    Well, just wait for tomorrow, and you will see that we are going to be increasing the number of women in our senior line-up, and we’re going to be at the next election increasing the number of women in our caucus.  And we do enjoy— And it’s worth noting in the week where we’ve had Suffrage Day, we do enjoy a majority of support by New Zealand’s women for good reason.  We are progressive in our ideals.  It was our forebears that brought in universal suffrage.  It was us that gave women the right to sit in the Legislative Council.  And we are going to continue to be proactive on equal rights, pay equity, paid parental leave and removing discrimination at all levels.  That’s part of what we do.

MICHAEL      If we can move to the big issue of the day – the America’s Cup?  And, I guess, will a Labour Government commit to funding the defence of that campaign?

CUNLIFFE    Well, I’m a little biased.  I’m a big yachting fan.  I’d love to see us host the Cup in New Zealand.

MICHAEL      But will we pay to defend it?

CUNLIFFE    And I’m pretty sure that there will be a net economic advantage for doing so, but I would agree with Mr Joyce, who was on your programme, which is that we need to look carefully at the numbers.  As my southern Presbyterian mate here has said, there’s no blank chequebooks.  And we need to look at the proposition that’s on the table.

MICHAEL      How much do you think it could require or would be available?

PARKER       Well, you know, as Steven Joyce said, you’ve got to look at the numbers, but, look, we should be incredibly proud of the innovation that the America’s Cup has brought forward.  As Fran said earlier, you know, computer technology – you know, tailor-made – the graphics.  These boats’ being built.  Huge improvements in the economy of New Zealand as a consequence of that, and we’ll be focusing on maximising those opportunities. 

MICHAEL      Putting taxpayer money into an event like this, is it not just a corporate welfare in disguise?  I mean, why does Emirates Nespresso Camper Team New Zealand need money from the taxpayer?

CUNLIFFE    I’ll tell you about corporate welfare – Chorus, Sky City, Rio Tinto, Warner Bros, MediaWorks. That’s corporate welfare, and the one which is on the table at the moment around caucus is an absolute outrage.  Steven Joyce negotiated the split of Telecom – the structural separation.  He got that wrong now, obviously.  Steven Joyce planned the uptake of so-called ultrafast broadband.  The uptake’s ultraslow, and that’s why Chorus has got a financial problem.  And it’s Steven Joyce’s government that is now effectively writing them a huge cheque, costing every Kiwi household $12 a month, and it’s going offshore to Australia.

MICHAEL      So on Chorus— I mean, it is Chorus, not caucus, but what would you do in this situation?  What’s the answer here?

CUNLIFFE    Well, I’m not going to need $600 million to get the caucus in line.  I can swear to you on that.  What would we do?  Well, we would go back to basics – look at the regulatory framework.  We’d try to unpick some of the difficulties with the deal that the Government has brought down.  We certainly won’t be writing a blank cheque to Australian investors.

MICHAEL      What about this idea of, I think David Farrar’s put it out there,  of a development levy, that if you are going to keep these prices of copper a bit higher, then maybe the Government should intervene there and take that money itself and use it to further roll out broadband into remote areas?

CUNLIFFE    Well, that would be better than sending it to Australian banks via Chorus.  What I think we ought to be doing is actually letting the regulatory process work according to the law, which is that the Commerce Commission comes out with a draft determination, which they’ve done, which is pro-consumer, then they consult on that.  Chorus, the Government, everybody else has the opportunity to put their views on the record, and then the independent regulator makes a final decision, which then goes to Cabinet for approval. The Government is intervening right across the top of that lawful process and saying, ‘No, no, we want something different,’ before it’s even been completed.  That is wrong…in law, it’s wrong in process, and it’s wrong in the interests of New Zealanders, who end up paying $12 a month or more per household to subsidise this Australian-owned company.  Why?

MICHAEL      If we can just move on to our next issue of the Trans-Pacific partnership?  Helen Clark and Phil Goff – they were very keen on this.  Is this something you could walk away from, though?

CUNLIFFE    Look, we haven’t seen the text.  We don’t know what the Government is hiding.  We’ve challenged National to put the text in the public domain, at least an outline of it so New Zealanders can start the conversation that we will need to have.  Of course, all things being equal, we would want to see international markets open for our exports, and we would want to be part of a strategic arrangement with our best friends.  However, there is no blank cheque here.  We need to protect Pharmac, we need to have intellectual property rules which suit New Zealand investors, and we sure as heck want to protect the sovereignty of the New Zealand Parliament in terms of future regulation-making without having to pay subsidies or compensation to foreign multinationals.

MICHAEL      That’s probably a good place to leave it.  David Cunliffe, David Parker, thank you very much for your time.

CUNLIFFE    Thank you.

PARKER       Thank you.

ENDS

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