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Lisa Owen interviews Labour hopeful Andrew Little

Lisa Owen interviews Labour hopeful Andrew Little

Headlines:

Andrew Little reveals he will “think about” joining the leadership race if he’s confirmed as an MP today.

Warns colleagues competing for the leadership to “keep this seemly”

Says reasons for Labour’s loss “complex”, but raising the age of eligibility for superannuation “frightens people” and some big policies didn’t provide economic security

Says unions “want a leader who is going to be able to unify” the party

Lisa Owen: And it looks like the contest for Labour's leadership will be a bruising one, given the sniping that began this past week, but one of the men considered a unifier inside the caucus is former union boss and lawyer Andrew Little, who joins us now from New Plymouth. Good morning, Mr Little.

Andrew Little: Good morning, Lisa.

Wasn't really a great start to the leadership race this week with name-calling. What does that tell us about what's going on within the Labour party?

I think the result we had in this election has been a pretty difficult one for people to get to grips with, so emotions are running a little high. But we do need to keep this seemly. We do have a leadership election race in the party now. That's inevitable, but we've got to be able to demonstrate, as we did in the last election race about a year ago, that we can conduct this in a good way and in a way that's positive for the party, and I certainly hope that we'll be able to demonstrate that this time.

Are you thinking about throwing a hat into the ring?

Well, I'm just waiting to see whether I'm going to be still in parliament. I won't know until 2 o'clock today, and, really, my efforts in the last couple of weeks have been focused on closing out some work and then thinking about what the party needs to do irrespective of who is the leader, because I think that's the big challenge in front of us now, is working out why we got the result we did and working out how we can now start the process of communicating to New Zealand in a way that they want to be talked to and, most importantly, listened to. That's the task ahead of us, and that's what we have to focus on.

But if you think the best way to serve the Labour party is to vie for the leadership, will you go for it?

Well, it's not something that I've given thought to at this point. No doubt, if I'm confirmed today, I'll have an opportunity to think about it. If I'm not, then I'll find other ways to support the cause, because what the party stands for is very important. It's very important in terms of a whole bunch of people who are looking for a fairer deal and a better deal because they're not getting it at the moment.

Tell me, do you think there does need to be more than two candidates in the race, though? Would that be better for Labour?

Well, people will put their hat in the ring if they think that they're up for the job and are prepared to go through the rigours of it. I think everybody in the party — caucus members, party members — are searching around for what lies behind the result that we achieved, and people say the policies were pretty good; we had a campaign that was well supported. People want to know the reason why.

What in your view are the reasons behind that drubbing?

Well, there are a lot of complex factors. I think a combination of some of the very big policies we had out there along with the potential line-up of coalition partners, I think, in the end, scared people. People are wanting a level of security — economic security, personal security — and they didn't see us delivering that, and I think part of the review process but also part of the conversation that we have and the way we have it over the next few months has got to look at just the sort of things we're putting up, the way we're putting them up and whether actually that's where people are at at the moment. We have a big challenge ahead of us to do that.

Mr Little, you mentioned a couple of the big policies you thought scared people. Which ones do you mean?

Well, I think raising the eligibility age for superannuation. Of course, it's a sensible idea in terms of the future cost of superannuation. It makes sense on paper, but the reality is it frightens people, working people. It came up time and again in the campaign. People interpret that policy, saying, gee, they're gonna have to work another two years, even though the way the policy's written, it won't affect a lot of people for another 10, 15, even longer years. So we have to think about whether it's the way we presented it, whether it's the right policy for now — those are the sorts of things we're going to have to be very honest and blunt with ourselves about whether we should be putting that sort of thing out there.

Tell me, do you think actually within Labour there are two parties fighting to get out, that there are a division between, say, the centrists and the others?

Labour has supported a number of political parties across the spectrum at the moment. No, there isn't. We are described as a broad church; it gets a little facile after a while. We are a party that has a broad range of interests, and actually, in spite of all the comments about our caucus over the last year or three years, we've actually been pretty united in our purpose. And there are always going to be differences of emphasis and priorities and preferences that people have, but actually we are pretty clear about good jobs, strong economy to deliver those jobs and fairness for people — that's what we ultimately stand for. And we have to do a bit better about talking to people about that and hearing from New Zealanders about how they want to see that delivered in a political way.

So, just very briefly, in 10 seconds, can you tell me what are the unions saying about the leadership race? What are you hearing?

Oh, I think they are saying, 'Listen, the contest is on.' They want a leader who is going to be able to unify, who is going to be able to lead that conversation with them as well as the party as well as the public of New Zealand and lead up a positive platform for 2017.

All right, thank you very much for joining me this morning. That's Andrew Little.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

ENDS

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