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TVNZ 1 Q+A: Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern

TVNZ 1 Q+A: Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern interviewed by Corin Dann

Abortion law does need to be reviewed and upgraded – Labour leader Andrew Little

Andrew Little was responding to comments made earlier on Q+A by Prime Minister Bill English.

‘He is a social conservative. He’s deeply conservative on an issue like abortion. I happen to differ from him on that. I think that the advisory committee is right. The legislation has been around for the best part of 40 years. It does need to be reviewed and upgraded, and I agree with Jacinda. We should not have it in the Crimes Act. It is not a crime.’

Deputy Labour leader Jacinda Ardern told the programme, ‘I think those recommendations do need to be pursued. That’s my view, but it is a conscience vote.’

Labour leader Andrew Little wouldn’t be drawn on how big Labour’s contributions to the Super Fund would be.

CORIN How much? Because 2.4 billion was the first contribution by Michael Cullen. Are you going to commit to putting something around 2 billion?

ANDREW No. It will have to be variable across the years when we see what state the government’s books are in--

CORIN 1 billion? 500 million?

ANDREW I cannot say what that figure is now. We are committed, as a matter of priority, to resuming the contribution—

Please find the full transcript attached and you can view the interview here.

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TVNZ 1 and one hour later on TVNZ 1 + 1. Repeated Sunday evening at 11:35pm. Streamed live atwww.tvnz.co.nz

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
Episode 1
Interviewed by CORIN DANN

CORIN Welcome back, and welcome to Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern, Labour’s new deputy leader. Welcome to you both.

JACINDA Thank you.

CORIN Andrew Little, I want to know first – is what we’re seeing here today a new style of campaigning, that you’re going to go to the campaign with your deputy with a far higher profile?

ANDREW Look, the whole of the Labour Party is committed to campaigning to win because there are just too many problems now the country is facing that this Government has not addressed – home ownership, rental costs out of control, homelessness out of control. So we are all involved in this. Jacinda and I are taking that--

CORIN Sure, and we will get to the policy stuff, I promise. But personality does matter. I think you’ve said in the interviews I’ve seen recently that presidential-style politics is on the rise, that type of thing, Jacinda. So how important is it now that—Are you a team? Is that how it works? Or is it still Andrew still needs to be to the fore? I’m just trying to get my head around this.

JACINDA Andrew is absolutely the leader. There is nothing strange about the fact that from time to time, I’ll attend the odd public meeting with him.

CORIN More so, perhaps, than in previous campaigns?

JACINDA Oh, look, in previous campaigns, I think there’s been much more emphasis on parties’ team members, because they are ultimately the ones who will be leading up ministries and departments. I think there’s been a subtle shift, but the idea that teams campaign together is not new. But Andrew is the leader. He is the one that will be fronting all those major set pieces. From time to time, I just might happen to be alongside him.

CORIN Sure. Mr Little, critics will argue and have argued that in a sense, you’ve got Jacinda beside you because you aren’t making the emotional connection with voters that you need to, and she can.

ANDREW No, I’m very pleased about where we’re at at the moment. The problems that New Zealanders have talked to us about – we’ve got that right. We’ve got the plan and the solutions for those, and we’re getting our messages out there. I’m totally confident about where we are at and how we will campaign and what we will achieve this year.

CORIN Does it matter, Jacinda, if for example, you go higher in the polls than Andrew Little?

JACINDA What matters is party vote, absolutely.

CORIN It’d be awkward, though, won’t it?

JACINDA Everyone in politics knows that what matters is party vote. That’s what changes the government, that’s what determines who’s in charge, and ultimately Andrew being in the position of being Prime Minister. Party vote determines that, nothing else.

CORIN Okay. This week, when you took up the role, you talked about the generational issue, the unfairness you saw in the super policy. I wonder, though, if you could explain to Generation X, which, I guess you’re from–


CORIN Gen Y – what your position is. Because three years ago, you were campaigning for the age of super to rise. Now you’re campaigning for it to go down. What are they supposed to think?

JACINDA I absolutely back where Andrew’s come to on super. And I think in context--

CORIN So you’ve changed your position? The argument’s won you over?

JACINDA One of the things that we talked about originally was always the affordability question. What Gen X and Gen Y are looking for is a whole sweet of things that shows we are thinking about the and the point at which they retire and not just about super, but whether they’ll be owning their own home, because super is not adequate if you are renting when you retire. It’s also about whether or not you’ve got student debt. Now, what this Government has shown is that they are not thinking about the context for those young people—

CORIN So what made you change your mind?

JACINDA Well, we always had issues around whether or not people who have had labour-intensive jobs would be properly catered for. It did come up a lot when we discussed that issue. We also made sure that we were talking about the Super Fund. So this is where I find the credibility of Bill English’s proposal really light. He’s claiming that he’s catering for the blip of baby boomers retiring by making this age change, but he’s delaying it for 20 years and since 2009 has not made one—


JACINDA ...contribution to the Super Fund. That’s where the credibility problem is.

CORIN Well, there’s a credibility issue here for Labour too. So you said to me this week that putting money back into the Super Fund would be a top priority – the priority. Explain to me what priority it is.

ANDREW A top priority. It will be in our first Budget.

CORIN How much? Because 2.4 billion was the first contribution by Michael Cullen. Are you going to commit to putting something around 2 billion?

ANDREW No. It will have to be variable across the years when we see what state the government’s books are in--

CORIN 1 billion? 500 million?

ANDREW I cannot say what that figure is now. We are committed, as a matter of priority, to resuming the contribution—

CORIN But that is credibility issue. Because you’re saying you’re going to do the contributions to super; they aren’t, ‘this is how we’re going to deal with the problem’, yet you can’t tell us whether you’re going to put the full 2 billion in.

ANDREW Look, less than six months ago, the Government was projecting a surplus of roughly $500 million, and this week alone, they’re now saying the surplus this year could be up to $1 billion. We just don’t know. So we’re going to be sensible, we’re going to see what the reliable figures look around about Budget time, and we will make a commitment. But resuming those contributions to the Super Fund is absolutely vital. Can I just say—

CORIN So why don’t you borrow to do it? Because you said you would have borrowed when National was going through the GFC and decided not to put contributions in, so if you can’t make it all work after this year’s Budget, why not borrow and put $2 billion in?

ANDREW We still need to see what the figures are. Had this Government borrowed, even if they had to repay it, they still would have had a Super Fund that was $6 billion to $7 billion ahead of where it is now. Can I just touch on one other point you make, because you said we have a credibility problem around superannuation – we don’t. I spend 20 years—and it’s interesting that your panel – none of them have mentioned one in three New Zealanders who have a physical component to their job who struggle to get to 65 now before they get superannuation, and they should not have to work another two years. I spent 20 years working with those people, and that’s why I have firm convictions about it.

CORIN Sure, and you’re on strong ground. But the credibility issue is that by 2050, one in four New Zealanders will be on a pension, and there is a possibility that someone retires—you’re telling me that someone retires at 65 might be on a pension for 30 years, taking a pension, and that’s in 20 years’ time? Is that realistic?

ANDREW So, you start looking at various exceptions that you can make, and then you get data, because it’s—You can also look at exceptions, for example, for Maori and Pasifika, who have a shorter life expectancy that European Pakeha. Now, you can start to make all sorts of exceptions. In the end, where you’ll end up is that a universal provision is the most efficient—

CORIN Never raise it. Is that what you’re saying to people? We don’t need to worry about this issue. Kick it down the road. We don’t need to worry?

ANDREW No. Do be concerned about it, and you can do something right now. This Government could resume contributions to the New Zealand Super Fund. Three times now – three times now – they’ve said they’re going to put off resuming those contributions, even though the books are now in surplus.

CORIN Jacinda, you’ve talked quite a bit this week about contributions to the New Zealand Super Fund. How much will it actually make a difference to the super bulge as we go through?

JACINDA Well, we know that Michael Cullen set it up because of the bulge.

CORIN How much?

JACINDA And we know National, by not making contributions, has forgone—

CORIN But how much will it actually lessen the burden?

JACINDA …has forgone $20 billion.

CORIN That’s $20 billion, but how much will it actually lessen the burden for that generation? About 2030-something, it starts to kick in, when we start using some of that money, how much will it actually lessen that burden?

JACINDA Well, Corin, just to finish, the fact that Michael Cullen set it up because of the bulge that he saw coming down the track, and the fact that Bill English, from 2009, made no contributions, essentially—

CORIN Ok, I’ll put the question—You’re not answering me. I’ll put it another way…

JACINDA …nullified the entire purpose of the whole Super Fund.

CORIN When Michael Cullen set it up, did he set it up on the provision that it would pay for all of the super?

JACINDA Oh, it was a supplementary, of course, but it was an acknowledgement of the bulge.

CORIN A supplementary?

JACINDA It was an acknowledgment of the bulge, and as soon as Bill English came in and decided that he wasn’t going to make contributions to that, he essentially delayed the problem and placed the burden on the next generation.

ANDREW Corin, let’s get real. The government’s proposal they put up, which we know is totally negotiable and there’s nothing reliable about it, will make six-tenths of 1% of a difference by 2040. That’s all it is. It is not a meaningful difference at all, and the assumptions that the Treasury documents make about economic growth, GDP growth, are very, very conservative. So I think we are entitled to take the projections and the figures with, frankly, a grain of salt and know that we can meet this commitment in the future.

CORIN Let me pick you up on something there. You seem to be saying, ‘Don’t worry because Treasury’s being conservative.’ What sort of a strategy is that?

ANDREW No, I am saying be very concerned about this government’s failure over nearly nine years to make a single contribution to the New Zealand Super Fund when they could have done.

CORIN No, but you’ve been saying- I’ve heard it in interviews yesterday. You’ve said, ‘Treasury has got this ridiculous conservative forecast. Don’t worry, everybody. It’ll be fine.’ But we know there is potential for global financial crises. We’ve got Donald Trump and protectionism. What makes us think that everything’s going to be rosy.

ANDREW And there’s potential under the next Labour-led government for an economic strategy that is generally about, you know, lifting value, lifting margins, lifting productivity and growing GDP.

CORIN That might be great, but you can’t control what might happen overseas. Surely the prudent thing to do is to factor in that there are going to be shocks.

ANDREW Well, you make policy for the stuff that you can control, and the thing that we can control is an economic plan, an economic strategy that is about shifting our economy, our economic profile up the value chain, higher productivity, better margins, better GDP growth.

CORIN But you’re not making policy for what you can control; you’re making a policy based on a strategy where you say Treasury’s forecasts are conservative.

ANDREW It is a policy about treating people fairly, and I cannot live with myself knowing that one in three New Zealanders who work very hard struggle to get to 65 now somehow should be told now you’re working another two years when also you’ve been told, listen, the housing market is so bad at the moment. We can’t even fulfil the Kiwi promise you get to own your own home, and never mind if you have a tertiary qualification and have a huge debt.

CORIN OK, can I ask you one quick question about the possible tax cuts that National’s looking at? You heard Bill English say it wouldn’t be a sugar shot. Would you keep the bracket changes if he adjusts those in the budget?

ANDREW Yeah, if they’re changing thresholds- I mean, those thresholds should change periodically. Michael Cullen tried to do that in the last Labour-led government. They should adjust. Of course they should. But let’s see what this government’s going to do.

CORIN Can you afford to do that, though? Because you said when you announced your tertiary policy -- $1.2 billion by 2020 – that they money for that would come from money that was earmarked for tax cuts.

ANDREW Yeah, and since then, the more recent short-term reliable projections, including the one just come out this week about this year’s government surplus, is much greater. So I have greater confidence that we can meet those commitments out of existing tax revenue.

CORIN So those projections are OK from Treasury?

ANDREW They are short term. They go out, sort of, two or three years. They don’t go out 40 years.

CORIN OK, fair enough. Jacinda, if we could turn to some of the social issues in that interview with Bill English. Where do you sit on this issue of abortion law? Does it need to be reformed?

JACINDA Yeah. And these are, as he rightly pointed out, all conscience issues. I think a lot of New Zealanders would be surprised to know that currently those laws are contained in the Crimes Act 1961. And so, for obvious reasons, that has been raised by the Abortion Supervisory Committee. So they’ve called for a review, and when you’ve still got abortion in the Crimes Act, that’s understandable, and it would be timely. But my position on issues like this has always been regardless of what my view is, why should I impose that view on others and remove their choice? I had the same view when it came to things like civil unions or marriage equality – that people should have that choice available to them. And is it our position as lawmakers to stand in the way of people accessing choice that should be there?

CORIN So if, for example, you were in a position where you were a minister in government, you wouldn’t pick up those recommendations; you’d leave it to a member’s bill? Is that what you’re saying?

JACINDA Look, I think those recommendations do need to be pursued. That’s my view, but it is a conscience vote.

CORIN Andrew Little, likewise, if you are Prime Minister, it will be you who sets the tone often with these issues. You’re not so keen on euthanasia, is that right? Where do you sit on the issues, these social issues that come forth if you are Prime Minister?

ANDREW I personally support euthanasia. I personally support Maryan Street’s bill. I just did not regard it as a priority for Labour when we just had an election where we got 25% of the vote. There were bigger priorities to deal with. On abortion, I support the recommendation to have an inquiry to update and upgrade that legislation. I support women’s choice.

CORIN What do you make of Bill English’s comments? He thought this was an attempt by the advisory committee at liberalisation. I mean, are you surprised that he would feel that way, that the law isn’t outdated in his mind?

ANDREW I mean, he is a social conservative. He’s deeply conservative on an issue like abortion. I happen to differ from him on that. I think that the advisory committee is right. The legislation has been around for the best part of 40 years. It does need to be reviewed and upgraded, and I agree with Jacinda. We should not have it in the Crimes Act. It is not a crime.

CORIN Your focus is very much been on the economy, though, hasn’t it? Jobs, housing, those sorts of areas. And in the past, there have been a lot of socially progressive changes under Labour. Where would that sit under an Andrew Little government? I mean, would you encourage that stuff to come through? Where would your focus lie?

ANDREW I want us to be a modern 21st century, inclusive, mutually respectful country. That’s our foundation, that’s who we are. But there is nothing more socially progressive than making sure that every New Zealander has a roof over their head, a warm, dry, safe home. That’s got to be the priority. There’s nothing more progressive than having an education system that actually allows schools to fit every kid in who wants to be there, not jamming them in as they are at the moment because of a funding freeze. So we will be totally progressive in building those foundations to give individuals fairness and opportunity and building a great country.

CORIN Andrew Little, Jacinda Ardern, thank you very much for your time on Q+A.

JACINDA Thank you for your time.

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