The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Steven Joyce
On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Steven Joyce
National’s campaign manager Steven Joyce says Bill English will discuss government-formation talks today, with support from New Zealand First. He says English and Winston Peters will be the main players in those conversations.
Joyce says he called Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell last night to commiserate, after hearing the party would be out of parliament. But he says there’s not much National could have done to help their coalition partner.
Joyce has again denied telling lies about the Labour party’s finances, saying “I didn’t tell any. I absolutely didn’t”.
Lisa Owen: Now, first up this morning I’m
joined by National’s campaign manager, Steven Joyce. Good
Steven Joyce: Good morning, Lisa.
Got a bit of a croaky voice, haven’t you, so we should just say that, to start off with.
Yes. The last few days of the campaign, I got a bit of a cold on the trail, and it’s ended up looking a bit like this.
Use what you’ve got left to talk us through your options.
Yeah, from here.
Well, obviously, the primary option is to talk with New Zealand First, and it’s something the Prime Minister will make some comment about later today, I’m sure, and very much he’ll be taking the lead on that. And there will be people helping, but…
When you say it’s your primary option – it’s your only option, isn’t it?
Well, it appears that way. Mr Shaw, for example – he’s been very vocal in his determination not to suggest that there’s a role for the Greens, so, fair enough, and that would be a more difficult option, anyway. But that’s the primary option; that’s what the voters have proposed.
Okay, so who got your first call after the results came in, and what calls did you get after the results came in?
Last night was very much about celebrating for us. A very big vote share after nine years in government, 46%, which is unheard of in New Zealand political history, which I think is a tribute to Bill. And we already focused on that – there weren’t many calls last night.
Not many, but did you call any other parties, and did you take any other calls from other parties? Not you personally – the party.
Well, you asked, and from my perspective I rang Te Ururoa Flavell and commiserated with him because I really feel that it’s sad for the Parliament that he and his team – he and Marama – are no longer going to be there. I worked well with Te Ururoa, and so I did give him a call and had a bit of a chat. And at that stage, it wasn’t finally decided, but it was apparent that they weren’t going to be coming back into this Parliament.
Should you guys have done more to make sure that they did get back?
Very hard for us to do any more for an individual party, particular in the case of the Maori seats where we don’t have a strong constituency there. So we could say to our people, ‘Give your vote to the Maori Party,’ but in those seats, most Maori that want to support National tend to go into the general seats, for whatever reason, so that would be a bit harder to do so. But I think it would have been great to see them back in Parliament – not just for our reasons, but actually, for everybody’s reasons. They’re very focused on economic development for Maori, and I think that’s important.
Now, I know you’re not going to want to thrash out the details of any deal right here on TV—
Good luck with that.
Just give us some bones about how it works. Who will be at your table when you sit down to negotiate, from your side?
Well, firstly, of course the Prime Minister. It’ll be his relationship with Winston that will be the most important one. And then there are other people in our caucus with different relationships with different members of NZ First.
Who do you anticipate those people will be?
I’m not going to list them all out, because then you will race off and talk to them.
Just give us one or two.
There’s a few of them, but myself, I know some of the team very well. I don’t know Winston that well. We’ve very salutary of each other in Parliament.
So you’ll be at the table for these discussions?
Well, I don’t know. I’ll probably turn up at some point, but I’ll make the tea, at least.
Well, you talk about the fact that the Prime Minister is going to be pivotal in this. What is his relationship like with Winston Peters? How would you characterise it?
I think it’s a very respectful relationship. They’ve both been in politics for a while. And of course, we’ve been in government at a time when both Bill and Gerry were in Parliament in 1996, that coalition then. So we’re all older and wiser since then, and so I think it’ll be interesting. I’m sure there can be a meeting of the minds.
Winston’s got a long memory, though, and Bill English helped give him a shove out of the National Party, didn’t he?
Winton’s got a long memory, but he’s also been somebody who’s always recognised that under MMP, you have your battles, and then the public expect you to put together a government.
What kind of skills, or what do you think Winston Peters would bring to a National government besides numbers?
Everybody has skills, and Winston has some skills as well.
So what are they?
I think he’s got strong political skills. He’s somebody that I’ve campaigned against respectfully because actually, he did a really good job in the Northland by-election. He hasn’t carried that through on the night last night, with Matt winning, but…
So political smarts, you’re saying?
He’s a good campaigner – I’d say he’s one of the best in Parliament.
All right. Well, if he’s got political smarts, then what do you think 7.5% of the vote buys him?
Well, again you’re just trying to ask me the same question in a different way, Lisa.
What does it entitle him to?
Well, look, it’s just too early to say. It would entitle him to a partnership because we have about 46% of the vote, he has, as you pointed about, about 7%, and that’s the way MMP works. It was interesting having a conversation with somebody this morning – that does change the look of a government. I mean, for example, the Maori party isn’t there anymore and neither is Peter Dunne, so there’s a slightly different look.
OK, well, what do you think? Do you think you know what he wants? You’ve got no idea?
I’ve seen quite a big list, but we don’t yet know what that means in terms of particular priorities. But look, that will all play out in the next few… I sense last night listening to him that he doesn’t want to rush it, and we’ll just work our way through it.
Can you reassure voters – or how can you reassure voters – that someone with 7.5% of the vote is not going to get— or you’re not going to give away too much power to that bloc?
I think probably the most important thing is that fact that nearly one in two voters voted for the current government, if you like, or the direction of the current government, and the National Party. It’s a signal to everybody that you can’t go against all of that. I mean, that doesn’t mean you don’t do anything different, because actually it is MMP, and so you do have to take on some of the things of… So let’s just say one area that’s of great interest to both of us is regional development. It’s something that we’ve really focused on, and actually it’s something that New Zealand First has focused on. We have a very strong representation in regional New Zealand, and I’m sure there could be a meeting of the minds there.
But the thing is the other team’s going to want him too, and he could go either way, so he could end up in a bidding war. Is anything out of bounds? Is anything out of bounds for the National Party?
There will be things that we won’t want to do.
Like what? Like what, Mr Joyce? Your job?
Those discussions will take place.
Previously Bill English has said he would keep Winston Peters away from the books if he could. So is your job ring-fenced?
I have no idea. You’d have to ask the Prime Minister. Hopefully he thinks I’ve done a reasonable job in his campaign.
What do you think?
I just literally don’t know at this point. I just don’t think it’s helpful to have those discussions right now. I mean, there will be a time when it’s absolutely right to have those discussions laid out in public, but it’s a little bit early yet.
OK. Given the situation you find yourself in with the previous people you’ve worked with dwindling, United Future, should Peter Dunne have stayed in the race and given it a bit more?
Actually, looking at the Ohariu result, I just wish he’d done what he did about three or four weeks earlier, because we nearly pulled off an amazing come-from-behind win there. Just didn’t quite get enough time. So, Peter, if you’re listening, if you’d just gone about three or four weeks earlier, that would’ve been fantastic.
All right, what are you guys going to do? What’s National going to do to refresh itself? Because you are in a fourth term, people are going to expect – well, if you make it over the line with Winston – people will expect something more from you, won’t they? And what will that be?
Well, they always do. And actually, one of the great things about election campaigns in my experience, and this is the fifth I’ve done, is that actually it does re-energise and refocus the governing party if they get there.
So what is your refocus going to be on? Give me a specific.
Doing a whole bunch of stuff faster, actually. The great thing about politics and election campaigns is you find out what things the public think you’re up to speed on and what things they want you to go faster on. And I think we’ve got some signals there and we’ll want to achieve a lot more, because if we’re going to win in 2020, we’ll have to show more progress in some of the areas that people are keen on.
So presumably a reshuffle of ministerial portfolios is on the cards, given you’re in negotiations.
That’s well above my pay grade. That’s for the Prime Minister.
Oh, come on.
No, it is, genuinely. One thing about the National Party is that the leader always makes those calls, and we’ve always respected that.
No, he might talk to a few of his colleagues, but he, at the end of the day, makes those calls.
Hey, are you counting your chickens before they hatch? Because when the specials come in, it could make things a little bit tighter, and that might give Winston Peters an opportunity to go with the other side.
There’s all those possibilities, and I don’t think anybody should count their chickens. I just think we’re certainly celebrating a good strong vote last night, and we’re thankful for the public of New Zealand, particularly, obviously, the 46%, but actually everybody for the support that we’ve been given. But you’re right – it’s MMP. You don’t count any chickens. There’s conversations to happen over the next few weeks.
All right. Well, Jacinda Ardern would arguably say that she went high when you guys went low, but was it worth it?
Look, I just don’t agree with that. That’s the Labour Party’s approach to it.
No regrets about telling porkies?
No, I didn’t tell any. I absolutely didn’t. What I like about this election campaign is it has been focused on policy and issues that actually matter to New Zealanders. If you remember the last one, we spent a whole lot of time being told by a whole lot of people that it was about other things. And actually New Zealanders felt at the end of it that their election campaign had been stolen a little bit from them, in terms of the focus of it. And this time we have ended up focusing on things that matter for people, in terms of job growth, income growth. All of those things are really important.
All right. We’ll leave it there. We’ll watch this space. Thanks very much, Steven Joyce.
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