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Andrew Little Interviewed by Corin Dann

NO STATE HOUSE FOR LIFE UNDER LABOUR: LITTLE

Labour leader has told TV One’s Corin Dann that the party will build an extra thousand state houses alongside thousands of new homes for sale to first home buyers under its new housing policy proposals, but doesn’t want people to necessarily be guaranteed a ‘state house for life’.

Mr Little said if state home tenants were “at a point in their life where their circumstances have changed, and actually, they can afford to buy, my view is I would rather work with them to get them to buy that house so we could then release some funds to build the next state house.”

He said he disagreed with targeting elderly people on fixed homes in state houses, however.

Labour would work to discourage property speculators with its new housing policies, the third of which was to be announced today, he said.

“[Housing prices] increasing anywhere between 15% and 25% in a single year is ridiculous when you’ve got CPI below 1%. So we simply shouldn’t be seeing that, and there are some people you’ve got to get out of the market.

“We should not tolerate speculators in the market who just get in there because they can get access to cheap cash, flick them and then produce capital gain.”

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Q + A
Episode 918
ANDREW LITTLE
Interviewed by CORIN DANN

CORIN Good morning to you, Andrew Little. Big day for you with this final part of your housing package. What is the goal with Labour’s package here? Is it to make housing more affordable?

ANDREW We have to build more houses, and we need more affordable houses. It’s that simple. You know, 42,000 people homeless, thousands more who cannot afford to get into their first home. We need more houses, and we need more affordable houses.

CORIN But can you make housing more affordable?

ANDREW I’m confident we can. The programme that we’ve got, which is about a big state-led house-building programme, and I think an expectation now that we have to do more now intensified housing developments, and what you’ll hear this afternoon is the means we will have to do that, and the kind of price range we expect we can get that for.

CORIN The brutal reality was laid out by Arthur Grimes, wasn’t it? That the only way, really, to get affordable housing in Auckland, for example, is to crash the market by 40%, and he basically said he tells that to politicians, and it’s a bit of a test. I mean, you surely don’t want to see the market crash 40%.

ANDREW No.

CORIN So how do you get affordable housing?

ANDREW And I don’t accept that at all. What we have in New Zealand, in Auckland, and actually across New Zealand, is a housing shortage. We need more houses, and we can build more houses, and more affordable houses, without crashing with the market, so I don’t accept that analysis at all.

CORIN But do you want house prices to continue to rise at the current level? What would be the ideal level? Because whatever you have, it’s not going to come down from nine times the median income in Auckland.

ANDREW No, and we need to stabilise house prices and we need to build more houses and more affordable houses. The long-run game is actually to start lifting incomes as well, better share the nation’s income.

CORIN Sure. So what does ‘stabilise prices’ mean?

ANDREW Well, increasing anywhere between 15% and 25% in a single year is ridiculous when you’ve got CPI below 1%. So we simply shouldn’t be seeing that, and there are some people you’ve got to get out of the market. We should not tolerate speculators in the market who just get in there because they can get access to cheap cash, flick them and then produce capital gain.

CORIN I don’t think you’re going to have any disagreement there that that’s a ridiculous amount. The government has talked about single digits. Is that where you would like to see it as well? And we’re talking house prices here.

ANDREW Yeah. It’s got to be something that’s more consistent with what’s happening with general inflation. But the reality is the government’s doing nothing to address the house-price issue, the price bubble. They’re terrified of doing anything about it at all, which is why you’re seeing all these half-baked half measures that they come up with.

CORIN But there are things like first-home buyers’ grants and HomeStart and those sorts of things, and I wonder whether, in some ways, what you’re likely to offer today, if we’re to read the reports, that 5000 affordable houses, for example, in Auckland each year, in a way is just another way of doing that helping hand for first-home buyers. It can’t make the housing market more affordable. And that may well be the government’s fault, and they have to take responsibility for that. But you can’t promise to make it affordable, can you?

ANDREW Well, we can, because the house-building programme we’re doing, the means by which we’ll do it, and the way we build it. And because it’s a long-term state-led programme, and the building material suppliers will have some sort of certainty, I’m confident we can negotiate good deals on building supplies, and the workforce development issues, obviously, that have to go with that as well. I’m confident that we can get houses at a much more affordable price than we’re getting at the moment in Auckland and around the rest of the country. Because the reality is, right now, massive shortage of houses, we need more houses, we have to get them built, and they have to be at an affordable level.

CORIN Will it be a flexible programme, KiwiBuild? I mean, there is a risk. You say the government’s doing nothing. They argue they have got a huge pipeline of supply coming on board. Now, it may be that it’s far too slow. It probably is. But it is coming. Is there a risk in the future that if you do flood the market with more houses, we see a cutback in immigration or something like that, would you change it if it looked like the market was in a falling situation?

ANDREW Well, if you’ve got a long-term programme – we’re looking at 10 years or more – then of course you’ve got to have some flexibility. You might get to a point where we say, ‘Okay, demand is met,’ or things have stabilised and actually people can get their first home at a reasonable price and we don’t have 42,000 homeless people. Yeah, you might say ‘problem solved’, or largely solved, so you tweak it accordingly. But right now, those aren’t the circumstances. What you’ve got is a Prime Minister who says that, ‘Oh, this wasn’t a problem four years ago,’ – when it was – and trying to give the pretence that everybody thinks they’re starting now, then somehow it’s going to get fixed. This is a government that’s turned its blind eye to housing issues year after year after year in government and now has no solution, because they’re terrified of doing anything that’s going to help those first-home buyers.

CORIN You talk about state houses – an extra thousand state houses. Does Labour believe that someone should have a state house for life?

ANDREW I think we think when people are in circumstances where they can’t afford to buy their own home, can’t afford to rent, they’ve got to have a home. They’ve got to have a home, get their life on track, underway.

CORIN Do they have it for life?

ANDREW If they’re at a point in their life where their circumstances have changed, and actually, they can afford to buy, my view is I would rather work with them to get them to buy that house so we could then release some funds to build the next state house.

CORIN So you keen National’s policy? They don’t keep them for life?

ANDREW Well, I don’t agree with the policy that says we’ll target elderly people on fixed incomes in a state house and see if we can toss them out. That’s not a solution to anything. But what I would say is people who have gone into a state house early, got their lives sorted out,…

CORIN They should move on if they can.

ANDREW …the circumstances are right, if we can sell that house to them, why wouldn’t we? And use the funds then to build the next state house for the next vulnerable person.

CORIN Just to check, though, what’s the policy here? Is there a state house for life? Does that still exist under a Labour government?

ANDREW No, because I don’t think— I’m not saying that. But I’m saying let’s find ways people can start to own their own home, even if they started from behind the eight ball because they’ve needed a state house in the first place.

CORIN Okay, sure. Could we look now at what’s happening in the world and globalisation? Where would you chart New Zealand’s course in this post-Brexit world, where we’re seeing big criticism of the trickle-down economics, we’re seeing huge criticism of globalisation. I mean, do you feel globalisation has failed?

ANDREW Yes, it has, because people aren’t sharing in the claimed benefits of it. And the claim about trickle-down, we’ve just got to see all those people who’ve got huge amounts of wealth, we’ll let them get richer and they’ll invest, and somehow that will trickle down, it’s not happening.

CORIN How do you chart New Zealand’s path in that world, which may be more protectionist, which may be a bit more hostile?

ANDREW Yeah, we are never going to stop engaging with the rest of the world. We’re never going to stop the need to trade with the rest of the world. So we’ll always need good trade agreements. What I don’t agree with is what we’ve seen in the TPPA, for example, which has huge rights and benefits for investors at the expense of citizens in our democracy. Now, that can never be tolerated. So we need to do that. And the other thing, we still, as a small country, we still need to attract investment for businesses. We need to diversify our economy. And we’re going to have to work with the rest of the world to do that.

CORIN Sure. Critics may argue, though, that Labour is a party that wants to ban foreigners buying property. You do want to cut back on immigration and you’re not supporting the TPP, so is the message you’re actually more in this protectionist camp? I mean, I’m just trying to get a sense of where you would take New Zealand.

ANDREW No, I don’t think saying off-shore, non-resident purchases of land in New Zealand, to say, ‘You’re not going to buy an existing house because the market can’t sustain that. You build a new house’ – there’s nothing particularly protectionist about that. It’s not protectionist to say we shouldn’t be issuing 38,000 work permits, 5000 more than the previous year when the economy is slowing.

CORIN Sure. What about free-trade deals, though? You could be Prime Minister, and you might have to sign an EU free-trade deal. Do you see that as any different than the TPP? You were the one, weren’t you, who opposed the TPP.

ANDREW Yeah, because what’s in the TPP is stuff that cuts across New Zealand’s citizens’ democratic rights.

CORIN And the EU deal doesn’t?

ANDREW Well, the EU deal, we’re only sort of really just starting to negotiate.

CORIN But, I mean, Jane Kelsey says quite clearly that in her view, this would be a deal with the EU that ranges far beyond free trade and have many similar traits to the TPP.

ANDREW But I don’t know how you can say for a deal that hasn’t been done and the negotiation has only just started. If you have a look at EU’s attitude towards the TTIP, which the US is trying to get up, their attitude, for example, towards investor state dispute settlement procedures, it is a world of difference to what the parties are signing up to.

CORIN There’s a signal there that you would be open to signing the free-trade deal with the EU.

ANDREW Absolutely. Yeah. As I said, we are still going to need to trade with the world. In fact, probably, a trade deal with the EU has become even more important since Brexit, so absolutely no qualms about that. But we won’t be compromising New Zealand’s sovereign rights.

CORIN Okay. Let’s change tack a little bit if we can. Now, I just want to roll some vox pops if we can and just see whether we can have a look at what people think about Labour 100 years on.

Interesting, that. I mean, an interesting mix there. Good guy, good leader – all the rest of it, but are you struggling to connect with New Zealanders?

ANDREW No. As I get around, I think I’m very pleased with the reception I get. And so, you know, our issue is, after three successive election losses, it is about, you know, getting the team working, actually being clear about our message. This year we’ve been very clear about chucking ourselves down to our priority areas.

CORIN But I wonder, in this day and age, when personality politics is a factor, you’re up against Mr Likeable Prime Minister with the popularity ratings, whether it is about you and your popularity and your ability to connect. Why aren’t you connecting? I mean, 7% in the preferred Prime Minister.

ANDREW Yeah, I guess I’m focused on the issues that count, actually. You know, I personally am affronted at the idea that we now have 42,000 people homeless. I know I’ve met a lot of these people as I get around. The idea that people are jammed into overcrowded houses and when they go to WINZ, they’re told, well, you’ve got a roof over your head – you don’t count.

CORIN Sure. And I don’t think anyone doubts that you are affronted by that, but how do you win power if you aren’t prepared to play that personality politics game?

ANDREW So we sort out our issues internally. We’ve done that. We’ve got a party machine that’s now kind of up and running and going well. We’ve got president Nigel Haworth, we’ve got a general secretary Andrew Kirton – that stuff’s working well. Now we prioritise the issues, the stuff that’s going to cut through about defining who we are, which is the issues about people. People are seeing that what we’re saying is that you can’t have a strong economy when you leave a whole bunch of people out and leave them behind.

CORIN So the next bit’s about you, is it?

ANDREW So, then, well, the bit that’s about me is about me getting that message out and demonstrating that the party is working well, the party is focused and united, and we have our priorities, and people are hearing that message.

CORIN Does TV matter? Does the media matter? Do you think you get a fair go?

ANDREW I don’t have any conspiracies about media and bias and prejudice and sort of stuff. The reality is, the way people get their news about current affairs and politics is changing radically. And I get more feedback from people who stop and say, ‘Oh, yeah, I saw this thing on Facebook; I saw that thing on Twitter,’ than I do people saying, ‘Gee, on the 6 o’clock news last night, I saw X, Y and Z.’ The way people are getting their news is changing. We’ve got to be up with that.

CORIN Well, I mean, Brian Edwards, former media trainer for Helen Clark, his argument is that you don’t cut it on TV and that you haven’t been able to connect. And he’s disappointed. I mean, TV does matter, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s a sad reality of politics – you’ve got to get through to people.

ANDREW You’ve got to communicate through all the forums. And it is true – most people will see me through a form of media and a form of media that carries images, but it’s not the established current affairs programmes, important as they are; it’s through a whole variety of means. In the end, there’s no point in saying, ‘Yeah, I’m great on TV,’ if I don’t have a message that deals with the issues, that actually fix problems, that people see, and actually give a sense of, you know, there is a different future for us if we really want to do it, and not a future that gets a few people rich and wealthy, that leaves a whole bunch of people behind. I would rather people hear that message and hear a Labour message that is about actually, this party represents something that’s good for all of New Zealand, not just the few at the top.

CORIN So I get the sense that you’re not going to buy into that game and play that game against John Key.

ANDREW I’ve said, look, I’m not going to try and be something I’m not. You know, I’ve had my professional and personal life, which is dedicated to working with people and lifting and giving opportunity and ensuring fairness. That’s who I am. That’s what I do. You know, I’m not a show pony. I don’t want to be one. I’ll be a straight shooter and a straight communicator on the issues. And in the end, I want people to understand that if we want to fix what’s wrong with New Zealand, we’ve got to have somebody who’s prepared to front up to the issues, say it how it is and come up with some practical solutions, which is what we’re in the process of doing.

CORIN Andrew Little, thank you very much for joining us on Q+A.

ANDREW Thank you.

ENDS

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