The Nation: Kiri Allan, Chris Penk and Chloe Swarbrick
On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Kiri Allan,
Chris Penk and Chloe Swarbrick
Lisa Owen: The politicians we talked to before the break may be feeling a bit of 1996 deja-vu. The ones we’ve got around the table next probably don’t remember those days quite so well. They weren’t even out of school. But now they’ve had their first few days as MPs, and they join me now to talk about it — Labour’s Kiri Allan, National’s Chris Penk and Chlöe Swarbrick from the Green Party. Welcome to you all. Chlöe Swarbrick, can I start with you first? Let’s get this out of the way. So, is it in the best interest of your party to sidle up to Winston Peters now, or would it be better to wait for a secure government in three years’ time?
Chlöe Swarbrick: I think that that is something that I am not authorised to speak on. And this is something which I’m… So we’ve got our negotiating team working through all those different variables.
I’m asking you personally.
Swarbrick: I joined the Green Party because I believe in a movement that’s bigger than myself.
So does that movement need Winston Peters to be in government this time round? Yes, it does. So what do you reckon?
Swarbrick: I think that the negotiating committee will come up with the best position for the Green Party.
Chris Penk: I’m part of the crowd in the square watching for the smoke signal from the chimney, so I’m with you and everyone else, really, in that regard. So I’m not able to give any insights or tell you things that people—
But do you think Winston Peters is a responsible politician that you’d like to go into government with?
Penk: Really and truly, it’s not something I can get into. I’m a silent spectator in that crowd.
Well. People voted you in to have opinions.
Penk: People have voted me in as the local MP for Helensville, so I’ll be strongly advocating from that local level.
Okay, well, let’s see if I can get through third time lucky.
Kiri Allan: Well, I described it last week as the feeling is we’ve all just showed up at Hogwarts. We don’t even have our little wands yet. We can barely speculate in terms of what’s happening at those higher levels in the higher echelons.
One thing you are entitled now is you could put a member’s bill into the ballot, right? So have you thought about what your issue might be or what you might use that for?
Allan: Well, I probably have quite a few, but a bugbear of mine from the last term was particularly when it came to free trade negotiations and the public disclosure information that was available to the populous. I would really like to see a regional breakdown of the economic benefits per trade agreement, so we can all engage on an informed basis. And for a region, understanding what the actual job implications are going to be per region.
All right. Chris Penk, what would you look at?
Penk: Well, for me, actually, the opportunity will be other than advocating at that local level, maybe some of the work around select committees. So, for me, that will be the focus more so than member’s bills. So I think that’s probably the best—
You don’t have a thought for a private member’s bill?
Penk: Oh, I have lots of thoughts, Lisa, but not one specifically that I’ve got drafted ready to go.
Chlöe Swarbrick, what about you?
Swarbrick: Yeah, so going through the Green Party candidate selection process, we had to come up with an idea of what we would want to put in. So the idea that I came up with, because, like everybody else, I do have quite a few different priorities, but it would be entrenching a commitment to the Housing First model. So essentially ending homelessness in this country.
Right, okay. So, you were in Maungakiekie, and it was your job to focus on party vote, right? So you managed 3000 votes personally, which was great. But the Green Party party vote almost halved in that electorate. So what went wrong, and did you do your job?
Swarbrick: Well, I think that we can look across the country and see similar trends, actually, so it is unfortunate that obviously the Green Party vote did drop this election. But if we are to compare the Green Party vote in Maungakiekie last general election to what happened this election, we went up about 10% proportionally to the party vote generally across the country. But I was campaigning for the party vote, as you rightly pick out, and in that respect, I was campaigning across the country, across university campuses up and down Aotearoa.
So you said it was a broad trend. So was that Metiria Turei’s fault?
Swarbrick: I don’t think that we can pin what happened this general election to any one variable. There are a lot of different things happening in this campaign.
But that was a significant event.
Swarbrick: Yes, it was a significant event, absolutely. It was an unfortunate event, and it’s something which we’ve taken responsibility for.
Okay. Kiri Allan, you did a respectable job in the East Coast electorate against Anne Tolley. And you said prior to the election people in that electorate, they understand about poverty, they understand about there not being enough work and not getting enough of that economic pie. So why didn’t Labour’s message resonate with those people more?
Allan: Yeah, well, I probably disagree a little bit, because our party vote did increase significantly in that electorate.
They didn’t deliver you the seat, though, did they?
Allan: Well, I think I would’ve been very stoked if I had’ve won that seat, and there was an 8000 majority prior.
But it used to be a red seat.
Allan: Not for a very long time, Lisa, and never since it’s been in this particular boundary. So I was optimistically hoping I would be able to shave 3000 votes off, and we done better than that. So from a campaign team perspective, we excelled our own personal goals. But I’ll definitely be gunning for that seat come 2020.
But the goal is to win. Like, in your seat, the goal is to bring the highest numbers back. You weren’t. That wasn’t your party. That was Chris Penk’s party.
Allan: My goal—
So I’m wondering why you think Labour’s message didn’t resonate as strongly as you would’ve wanted it to.
Allan: Well, what we have seen, and we saw it across the country, within a period, I think, of seven weeks, our message managed to resonate more stronger than what it had, from 24%, and we increased that to 36% in seven weeks. I think that is a phenomenal job, led by Jacinda Ardern, and we all bore the benefits of the campaign that she ran, and, obviously, we worked very hard regionally as well to emphasise those messages. So my personal view is that we done an exceedingly good job in the short time that we had.
Okay, Chris Penk, you did a stonker of a job in your electorate, but it was a gift, wasn’t it? So what makes you worthy to be there?
Penk: Well, it’s an area that’s been traditionally kind to us, and I always use that phrase rather than ‘safe seat’ or whatever else people might want to say to me in terms of the character of Helensville and the fact that we had a very high profile and successful politician preceding me in the form of Sir John. So it was actually really about re-earning and continuing to build that trust. So, yes, certainly fortunate in a personal capacity to have that opportunity, but conscious of the wider themes of the party and the needs of the area.
So what makes you personally worthy to have that gifted seat?
Penk: Well, I think that I was able to demonstrate firstly in the National Party selection process and then in the election when I was seeking the candidate vote, but, of course, primarily I was seeking the party vote, because as we all know under MMP, that actually determines the result — not that it has yet, but it will in due course. For me, it was about emphasising my background, having been a naval officer, so having skills around leadership and as a team player and then in the law, so our skills analysis and advocacy to be able to get good results.
Okay. Do you live in that electorate?
Penk: I live two-and-a-bit kilometres from the boundary of Helensville.
So you don’t live in that electorate?
Penk: Just outside, Lisa.
Okay. Chlöe, do you live in Maungakiekie, or did you live in Maungakiekie?
Swarbrick: No, I did not, and I answered that whenever it came up on the campaign trail.
Do you think it’s necessary to live in— or you should be living in the electorate?
Penk: I think it’s important to be a strong local advocate and be very visible and active.
So are you going to move?
Penk: What I’ve said is if within the first three years I am not able to be a strong local advocate who’s very visible, if people are asking me the question whether I live in the electorate in three years’ time, that will be an indication that I should move.
Okay. Kiri Allan, there was predictions of perhaps a youth-quake which didn’t really come—
Allan: But I do live in the electorate. I was waiting for my turn then.
All right. Fair call. Yes, you do live in the electorate. So, this youth-quake didn’t happen. There were some young people who enrolled and voted but a whole chunk didn’t. Why?
Allan: Well, first of all, there’s still 15% of the vote to come through, right, so, I mean, I’m interested to see what proportion of that is younger voters. Secondly, I think there was an increase in younger voter turnout. We can be proud of that. But there’s a lot of work to be done.
So why? Why didn’t they?
Allan: My personal view on that is I think there’s a large disconnect between our political systems and infrastructure from our young people. I think a lot of people have no idea what the heck it is that our political constitutional framework is. And so engaging in the political process seems — why would you? And so I think that’s been something that both us and the Greens have been very committed to — is that we do need a comprehensive civics education in our schools so that our kids coming through understand what’s going on right now. Like, a lot of people right now have no idea what’s happening right now, and they don’t understand MMP, and I think, you know, why would you? Because we don’t get taught this stuff. And so that’s something that is a large piece of work that I think our country probably needs to be committed to.
Swarbrick: Further to that as well, I think we’ve seen an erosion of trust in politicians over the last few decades, and I think as well with the hardship that a lot of people are experiencing in their everyday lives, politics seems like a really privileged game at the moment.
Okay, we’re running out of time. I want some quick answers on this next round of questions. Where do you stand on abortion and euthanasia?
Penk: Well, with everything that would be a conscience vote, I wouldn’t be casting a ballot before I talked to the good people of Helensville. Starting point, first thing on abortion would be scientific, evidence-based model. So if calls to liberalise the law were to be supported by me, then I would need to be convinced that the evidence around the foetus or the unborn child, whatever you call that entity, should not be deserving of that protection that adults have. So that’d be a pretty high bar.
So you’re saying the unborn child has the same rights as us? Is that what you believe?
Penk: Well, if you can convince me otherwise, then I’d be more likely—
So is that what you currently believe? That an unborn child has the same rights as us sitting here? Is that what you’re saying?
Penk: Well, I think—
I just want a quick, clear answer.
Penk: Well, let’s give it the attention it deserves. A week before a child is born, it is not very far different from how it is a week later. A week before that, it’s slightly—
But in law, that’s not what we’re talking about when we’re talking about terminations.
Penk: Well, this is the thing. In law, we’ve got a different position the minute before a child is born and a minute after. So to me, that’s an anomaly.
It sounds like you’re a bit uncomfortable with liberalisation of abortion laws. Would that be fair?
Okay. Kiri Allan, if you had to choose between the Maori seats and being in government, what would it be? So if the Maori seats are the cost of being in government…
Allan: Our party position is that we are strongly for those Maori seats and that they are off the table. I strongly support the Maori seats.
So if it’s a question of the Maori seats or government—?
Allan: Well, first of all, I’d never be in the decision-making capacity.
But you personally, you’re not prepared to sacrifice the Maori seats to be in government?
Allan: And Jacinda Ardern has said that herself, and I agree with her position.
If it happens, will it be a short-lived career as an MP for you?
Allan: Well, Jacinda Ardern said that it’s not on the table, and I’m glad she said that, and I agree with her position wholeheartedly.
But you can’t give us an answer of whether you’d stick if you did lose the Maori seats?
Allan: We’re not going to lose those Maori seats, Lisa.
All right. Chlöe Swarbrick, is your salary now enough to buy a house in Auckland?
Swarbrick: I haven’t got so far as to think about calculating that, but I think it will have an impact on my student loan.
Yeah. So backbench MPs, with your increase, I think it’s about 156,000 a year. And David Seymour said prior to the election, on about 190,000, that still ruled him out of the housing market. So do you think that your salary now means that the housing market is accessible to you?
Swarbrick: I guess so. I’m obviously in a really privileged position to be now in this tax bracket along with my new fellow MPs. But in that same vein, I think we still have a lot of work to do in actually making the housing market affordable for everyday families.
We’re out of time. I just want a quick answer on this. Name me an MP that’s not in your party and is not a new MP that has inspired you in some way.
Swarbrick: I was going to say Kiri. Former, current?
Go. Just give me a name that pops into your head.
Swarbrick: Oh, not in my party. I’ll say Jacinda.
Penk: I think David Shearer had a good reputation and a decent guy.
Allan: And I’ll say Metiria Turei.
All right. Thank you very much for joining me this morning.
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