Q+A: Prime Minister-elect Jacinda Ardern
Q+A: Prime Minister-elect Jacinda Ardern interviewed by Corin Dann
Jacinda Ardern: no point gloating about economic growth with high rates of homelessness and child poverty
Prime Minister-elect Jacinda Ardern told TVNZ 1’s Q+A programme that her Government will be more proactive in intervening where the market is failing New Zealanders.
“My view is that there is no point to gloating about the economic growth of a nation if you have some of the highest homelessness in the developed world or if you have high child poverty rates.”
“I will always be mindful of New Zealand's credit rating, of our standing, of our position as being a nation that is looked to as a place that is free from corruption, has stable government, has a high ease of doing business; those markers matter to me. But so do the markers of success for an individual. I want their wages relative to inflation to be better. I want their housing to be more affordable. I want their kids to be able to access all the services they did. Those markers of success are just as important to me.”
Ms Ardern said she would be attending APEC next month and New Zealand remains open for trade.
“ We are a free and fair trade party. We are not closed-minded in the role that we have to play in the world.”
“Look, I’ve operated in an international environment, albeit a slightly different one, before. I’m used to different forms of negotiation in that kind of environment. Absolutely everyone brings their own interests to the table; that’s what a negotiation is. That’s what we’ve just had for the last 10 days. But my job will be to advocate on behalf of New Zealanders – both homeowners, potential homebuyers and exporters.”
Q + A
Interviewed by CORIN DANN
JACINDA Oh, I will carry personally a constant expectation on myself that I deliver on the things that we’ve campaigned on, and, yes, they include making sure that we see wages lifted in New Zealand, that people live in decent, warm, dry homes, that we make a dent in our child poverty figures, that we improve our waterways, that we take action on climate change. Each of these are significant challenges, and we will be ambitious in the goals that we set for ourselves. We hope, of course, to meet those goals. Sometimes we won’t, but our focus will be on ensuring that we never our sights on mediocre, that we never settle for anything than the best outcomes possible for New Zealand.
CORIN How do you lift wages, though? I mean, this government, current government, or government that’s outgoing, has been trying for nine years. It’s had pretty moderate wage growth.
JACINDA Has it?
CORIN It has.
JACINDA I don’t consider that it has. What I would contest is whether or not they’ve taken all of the action that was at their disposal.
CORIN So what could you do that would get wages up faster?
JACINDA Consistent advice from experts from the likes of the OECD has been the greatest challenge we faced as a nation is ensuring that we were lifting our productivity. Of course, investing in skills and education is one of the ways that we’ll see a long-term benefit through our wage growth. There hasn’t been the investment that we need in that area.
CORIN But that’s the problem you’ve got, isn’t it? Because it comes back to expectations. Three years isn’t very long. That may work in a medium to long-term period. But it’s very difficult to do that straight away, isn’t it?
JACINDA Indeed. And, of course, we will be a government that lays the foundations for strong growth and delivery for New Zealanders over time. But we want to make sure people see us take action in those areas very, very quickly. Part of our 100-day plan was investing in trades and education. Part of our plan was taking action quickly on investing in innovation. And on top of that, there are immediate ways you can lift wages, and that’s by lifting the minimum wage, and that was part of our immediate plan as well.
CORIN And New Zealand First is presumably in agreement with that, so you’ll go to $16.50? Is that it?
JACINDA Indeed. So part of our 100-day plan was $16.50, put through the legislation for that rise to take effect at the beginning of 2018.
CORIN What about industrial relations reform? Will there be reform that brings in, effectively, a modern version of national awards? So some industries, there is a minimum wage set, say, bus drivers.
JACINDA And that’s a good example. Let’s draw on that example. At the moment we see contracts coming up across councils for those who offer services for our bus drivers. So one of the ways that those who are pitching for those contracts, offering council a lower bill, is by driving down the conditions that those bus drivers have. That’s not a pathway to prosperity for New Zealand or for the workers.
CORIN So you’ll legislate on that?
JACINDA That’s an example of where, in our view, things like fair pay agreements, which we intend to have a handful of any given year across an industry could have a positive benefit.
CORIN This is very important, though, because the business community is quite worried about this.
JACINDA And we have assured them that they have no need to be.
JACINDA Because in an area like that where we’re talking about with bus drivers, I think that there would be agreement that continually driving down people’s wages and conditions in order to win those contracts actually does not serve our purposes.
CORIN But are you saying it’ll only be one or two industries a year?
JACINDA Yes, we have at least set ourselves the goal of one or two a year. We already have an example of a form of fair pay agreement in the home-care workers.
CORIN But this is different. This is like going back. This is an award system, isn’t it, effectively?
JACINDA No, it’s not different, actually. What we achieved for the home-care workers was essentially exactly the same as what we’ve—
CORIN But that took a court case.
JACINDA Well, it’s avoiding the court case. Of course, that was a prohibitive process to go through. We’re talking about a process that’s collaborative, works with employers and employees to drive consensus.
CORIN Would you need to legislate for that?
JACINDA We will create a process, but, for instance, where there has been most concern from the business community has, for instance, been around whether or not you could take strike action as part of those negotiations. We are absolutely ruling that out as part of the process.
CORIN Are you worried you’ll get some sort of winter of discontent that Helen Clark faced when she came in 1999 from business?
JACINDA No. No, no, I’m not. I intend to work in partnership. In fact, I had contact with Business New Zealand over the issue of fair-pay agreements during the campaign, and we’ll continue to engage with them. Ours will be a government of partnership. If we want to deliver the gains for New Zealanders that we intend to, we’ll have to deliver them alongside the business community as well. That’s the kind of government I wish to lead.
CORIN Winston Peters talked at length in his speech when he announced the decision about the… I guess, capitalism has gone awry and that many New Zealanders had lost faith in elements of it. The rhetoric was very gloomy and doomy. Do you share that negative view that we’re on the precipice of some big disaster here?
JACINDA Oh, I believe we can do better. There are certainly signs of a slowdown that Mr Peters was speaking to, and I think his was an acknowledgement that if that continues, he wants—
CORIN What signs? What signs are those?
JACINDA Well, I guess in the housing market, there certainly are signs. But, look, my view is that there is a role for us to play in making sure that we are much more proactive and intervening where we are seeing the market failing our people, and there are clear signs of that. My view is that there is no point to gloating about the economic growth of a nation if you have some of the highest homelessness in the developed world or if you have high child poverty rates.
CORIN Intervening in the markets is one thing. Is your government going to be one that goes a step further and really tackles the pillars of, I guess, the neoliberal experiment which Winston Peters has been talking about? Will you go further than just intervening in particular markets that you have decided that are failing?
JACINDA I would question whether they have intervened. Our housing market has failed. Their response to that to our housing crisis has been absolutely hands-off.
CORIN Well, they spent $330 million on a Callaghan Institute in science. I mean, they pick winners. That’s what all governments do.
JACINDA Look, again, our view is that they have not intervened where there has been clear failure, when there has been absolute and clear failure. And the housing market is one of the best examples of that. Yes, we have formed agreement with New Zealand First around doing work around the Reserve Bank Act. In fact, that was something we clearly campaigned on as well. We want to make sure that measures of success in New Zealand are as much about incomes for people as they are the traditional forms of economic growth and GDP.
CORIN And does it matter what the
rest of the world thinks about what we do with the Reserve
JACINDA Oh, look, we've got to do things on our own terms.
CORIN No, no, but does it matter in terms of — do you care or do you worry that we, as a country which needs foreign investment and needs foreign capital, that that could damage our ability to get that capital?
JACINDA I will always be mindful of New Zealand's credit rating, of our standing, of our position as being a nation that is looked to as a place that is free from corruption, has stable government, has a high ease of doing business; those markers matter to me. But so do the markers of success for an individual. I want their wages relative to inflation to be better. I want their housing to be more affordable. I want their kids to be able to access all the services they did. Those markers of success are just as important to me.
CORIN So you want those things. Do you want, I guess, the tag that can come with it — that sort of Brexit, nationalist sort of tag that can come with that? The idea that we're suddenly not outward-looking so much.
JACINDA I think probably that sentiment builds up not just around economic markers. In fact, we are a party that believes, for instance, on the important role of trade. We are a free and fair trade party. We are not closed-minded in the role that we have to play in the world.
CORIN But you're putting in a foreign buyers ban.
JACINDA Yeah, but that's because we have an absolute failure in our housing market and we’re willing to make sure that we act to preserve the right of anyone who chooses to make New Zealand home to buy a home here. But if I can just finish. That sense of whether or not we’re a closed-off country who isn’t open to the world, I would absolutely refute. New Zealand has always marked out is path as an independent foreign-policy voice but also a world leader. I want us to be seen to be open to ideas but a world leader in areas like the environment and climate change – not closed-minded but outward-facing but looking after our interests.
CORIN You might refute it, but the message that’s sent to investors and to the globe might be that New Zealand is looking more inward and more worried about banning foreigners from buying homes.
JACINDA Well, given that, actually, most of our trading nations who’ve recently signed free trade agreements have done exactly the same thing. I doubt they--
CORIN But we don’t have the same luxury as them.
JACINDA I doubt they look upon us as doing anything they wouldn’t consider doing for themselves.
CORIN We’re $200 billion in
debt to the
JACINDA We don’t have the luxury of making sure that housing is affordable? We do. We are a prosperous nation. If you can’t get the most basic thing right as ensuring your people are housed in affordable, dry homes, then I don’t know what kind of country we can promise to be to anyone.
CORIN So is that a higher priority than securing a trade deal involving Japan, the world’s third-largest economy?
JACINDA I refuse to accept they’re mutually exclusive.
CORIN Would you walk away from the TPP, involving Japan, over that issue?
JACINDA Again, that’s not necessary. Our view is that it will be possible to balance our desire to make sure that we provide housing within our domestic housing market that’s affordable by easing demand and banning foreign speculators from buying existing homes, whilst meeting our trade goals as well.
CORIN Have you considered other mechanisms that would do the same thing?
JACINDA Look, we’ll be looking to ways that we can balance that desire to ban foreign speculators. Whichever mechanism we use to deliver it, that is our goal.
CORIN Is your coalition partner comfortable with progressing the TPP?
JACINDA Look, we all see the need to grow exports for us to see extra value gained for our exporters. That is a consensus amongst us. There are concerns with things like ISDS clauses. That’s something that we will continue to work through.
CORIN Well, first of all, are you going to go to APEC?
CORIN Do you think you can go there and convince the other parties to renegotiate this deal? I mean, you’re under a lot of time pressure, because they’ve actually been working on this right up to the last minute. They want a deal signed, don’t they? And you’ve got to go there and try and convince them to hold off.
JACINDA My job is to go there and convince them to sign to an agreement that will be in our best interests as well. I’m not going to set out on this task, already having decided it’s too hard.
CORIN You don’t feel the pressure of some big players on the world stage that will be wanting you to sign that?
JACINDA Look, I’ve operated in an international environment, albeit a slightly different one, before. I’m used to different forms of negotiation in that kind of environment. Absolutely everyone brings their own interests to the table; that’s what a negotiation is. That’s what we’ve just had for the last 10 days. But my job will be to advocate on behalf of New Zealanders – both homeowners, potential homebuyers and exporters.
CORIN On the issue of immigration, Winston Peters says immigration is about ethnicity. Do you agree with him?
CORIN Do you find that it’s going to be difficult to deal with someone when you have such a diametrically opposed position on immigration?
JACINDA No. Look, I’ve had really constructive engagement with Mr Peters and with New Zealand First on a range of issues but including on immigration. There are areas where we agree. There is that straight population growth is not an economic plan; that, yes, we have skills needs and skill shortages. We’re both absolutely clear on that. Our regions, in particular, have skill shortages that we need to meet. But we also believe there are infrastructure pressures, particularly in Auckland, and that is our collective goal and challenge to meet.
CORIN Will there be a new set target? Do you need it? It’s coming off anyway.
JACINDA We’ve never focused on a target; we’ve focused on getting the settings right in our immigration system. We campaigned on that, and that is what we continue to stand by.
CORIN The Australians – you’ve talked about going there as soon as possible. Why so keen to get there?
JACINDA They are our closest and most important relationship. There is no relationship that is closer, both in terms of economic ties--
CORIN Do you think, perhaps, you got off on the wrong foot with them, maybe, a little bit?
JACINDA Well, I wouldn’t characterise it in that way. Some might. Look, the issue early on in my leadership around citizenship and Mr Barnaby Joyce, yes, certainly made some headlines. My goal is to confirm the strength of our relationship by conversation with Mr Malcolm Turnbull. Prime Minister Turnbull this week was warm and friendly. My intent is to absolutely build on that important relationship.
CORIN I wonder if I could finish on the issue of climate change. You talked a lot about this in the campaign. Can you give us some tangible ways in which people will start to see your government taking real action on climate change? Things that will actually affect them on a daily basis.
JACINDA One of the greatest differences we can make is changing up our transport options, making sure we have transport options that are low-emission. Also, for New Zealand’s profile, making sure that we make use of the marginal and stewardship land we have. Planting trees will make a huge difference to New Zealand’s net carbon emissions.
CORIN So fair to say there will be a Ministry of Forestry coming?
CORIN And will they be planting a lot of trees?
Ardern, I’m going to leave it there. Thank you very much
JACINDA Thank you.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz
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