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Q+A: Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones

Q+A: Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones interviewed by Corin Dann


‘There will be no more sitting on the couch’ – Shane Jones on his work-for-the-dole scheme.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones told TVNZ 1’s Q+A programme that he wants to announce four projects before Christmas aimed at getting young people off the benefit and into work.

‘I am going to take proposals to Cabinet. I’m calling it Work for the Dole. It may be the Work Readiness Kaupapa. But I am not going to remain silent any longer while my young ne’er-do-well nephews in Kaikohe and other places fall victims to the gangs and they’re in Disneyland. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not happening anymore.’

The Regional Economic Development Minister told Corin Dann he has had a number of discussions with Labour and said they are ‘behind the kaupapa, they’re behind the concept’ but also said, ‘I’ve been counselled by my friends in Labour. They don’t like the term Work for the Dole, and it’s probably going to be called Work Ready.’

They probably have a slightly different view of the incentives that should be used, but I’d be nothing other than honest if I didn’t say to you that’s the quality of my advocacy.’

CORIN What is it? Is it actually work for the dole? Are they going to be working and getting an unemployment benefit?

SHANE Mm. I don’t want people on the unemployment benefit. I don’t want to have to rely on Filipinos to plant my pine trees. These people will be made to go-

CORIN But you’re implying they’re going to be forced to work.

SHANE No, no, please. They’ll be made to go to work, and where it is necessary, to pay them. They’ll have to receive a minimum wage, but there will be no more sitting on the couch.

Minister Jones told Q+A the $1B fund aimed at revitalising the regions could be used for some small irrigation projects.

‘And it’s got to be localised and fit for the local environment, and I’m going to push that vigorously.’

When asked about the Kermadec Sanctuary, Minister Jones said, ‘in the absence of a pragmatic solution that has us as NZ First agreeing to it, there will be no Kermadec Sanctuary.’

Please find the full transcript attached and you can watch 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 at www.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 39
SHANE JONES
Interviewed by CORIN DANN

CORIN Good morning to Shane Jones, Regional Economic Development Minister. Kia ora. Welcome to you. What makes you think, Shane Jones, that you, in control of this billion-dollar-a-year fund, can pick businesses’ developments that are going to be successful and not the market? Why are you able to do this in some way better than what we’ve got at the moment, which is a market system doing it?

SHANE Yeah, you’ve correctly identified that this is a substantial change from the last 30 years of orthodoxy. It flows from the coalition agreement. I would say, though, people should have confidence in the criteria, the policy, which will be robust, and I will have an investment panel working with the bureaucracy, advising me, and that will be very senior commercial people.

CORIN But if it’s a good venture, surely - we’ve had a market-based economy for a number of years now - the money will flow to where there is going to be a profit. It works, doesn’t it?

SHANE Mm. The reason that you intervene is where there is market failure or businesses, because of the last 30 years of the growth of capitalism in different ways in New Zealand, basically has left these places neglected. It was the last government that agreed to underwrite the development of the Opotiki Wharf, and I felt that I should answer that challenge. No private sector group alone is ever going to redevelop that harbour and that wharf, and I see that as a classic public-good rationale for putting dough into that blighted region.

CORIN Do the projects that you are going to do, do they have to make money?

SHANE There’ll be a host of different projects, and we’ll have to taihoa until there’s a public statement about the policy. But when we put money into roads, when we put money into other public-good features, not all of the benefits are captured by a monetary value. What we’re trying to do here is enable regions and provinces to capture the full uplift of productivity. It will not happen unless the state is involved. That’s the purpose of this fund.

CORIN So they are a subsidy?

SHANE No, they won’t be subsidies, as such. We’re going to pay three types of interventions. There’ll be cases, and people have already been to see me about JVs. There’ll be some that are grants, and there’ll be some that really is an injection of the Crown putting in possible equity into projects. But it’s designed to deal in the provinces where there has been market failure.

CORIN Give me some examples of how it’s going to benefit a young Kiwi in the regions who’s struggling to get a job, who’s in a depressed area. Tell me how it’s going to help.

SHANE I think that’s a bloody good question, actually. If I take, for example, the $10 million that would be needed to really upgrade connectivity from where, say, the new Hawaiki cable’s going to arrive up to Kaitaia. Unless you have connectivity in the Kaitaias of the world, then the firms that are there aren’t going to flourish, and then that provides an incentive for employment to grow. But I will say something that really bothers me immensely. Throughout New Zealand, we’ve got this category of young men and women called NIETs - not in employment or training. It’s a category that data’s collected from the stats department. Nigh on $60,000 was allocated by Steven Joyce, and for reasons I’ve never fully worked out, not a cracker, a brass razoo, was actually spent. Unless we build programmes actually employing these young men, then the ne’er-do-well nephs are going to disappear consistently-

CORIN So this is the Work for the Dole idea which you raised.

SHANE I love the idea, and by Christmas, I am going to have announced at least four projects. I’ve been counselled by my friends in Labour. They don’t like the term Work for the Dole, and it’s probably going to be called Work Ready.

CORIN What is it? Is it actually work for the dole? Are they going to be working and getting an unemployment benefit?

SHANE Mm. I don’t want people on the unemployment benefit. I don’t want to have to rely on Filipinos to plant my pine trees. These people will be made to go-

CORIN But you’re implying they’re going to be forced to work.

SHANE No, no, please. They’ll be made to go to work, and where it is necessary, to pay them. They’ll have to receive a minimum wage, but there will be no more sitting on the couch.

CORIN How do you force them to do it?

SHANE Just wait and see until my four announcements are out.

CORIN No. Without specifics, it’s a big issue to say you’re going to force those NIETs to actually work.

SHANE Well, I’m not the Minister of Social Welfare, but read my lips - I’m sick and tired of watching the ne’er-do-well nephs sitting on the couch doing nothing, and I, as a Maori politician and a Maori leader, I’m not going to tolerate it any longer. I’m one voice in amongst 20 Cabinet ministers, but read my lips - that is the advocacy I’m going to bring.

CORIN How are you going to get it through Cabinet?

SHANE Yes, it’s obviously a mixture of charm and knowledge, but I’m one of 20.

CORIN Have you talked to your Labour colleagues about this and about how you might be able to do it?

SHANE I’ve had a number of discussions, in fairness to my Labour colleagues, and they’re behind the kaupapa, they’re behind the concept. They probably have a slightly different view of the incentives that should be used, but I’d be nothing other than honest if I didn’t say to you that’s the quality of my advocacy.

CORIN Right, so let’s just be clear here. You are going to push a Work for the Dole scheme through Cabinet. You’re going to try.

SHANE I am going to take proposals to Cabinet. I’m calling it Work for the Dole. It may be the Work Readiness Kaupapa. But I am not going to remain silent any longer while my young ne’er-do-well nephews in Kaikohe and other places fall victims to the gangs and they’re in Disneyland. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not happening any more.

CORIN How would you fund such a programme?

SHANE I would encourage the Finance Minister and my colleagues to begin spending the $60 million that Mr Joyce put aside last year, but not one cracker-

CORIN So it doesn’t come from your regional fund?

SHANE Well, the money’s sitting there at the moment. The regional fund, as you know, is a substantial amount of dough. It’s a $1 billion fund that flows from the coalition agreement.

CORIN But could you use some money from that for a Work for the Dole programme.

SHANE Inevitably we’ll have both a mixture of operational expenditure and capital, and in my view- I mean, I don’t want to get too hung up where the money comes from, but in my view, that’s a bloody good use of such funding.

CORIN I do want to get hung up on where the money comes from, because is the money for your fund going to be capital spending? In other words, the government can borrow that money, it’s for projects, it has an asset, you can get a return? Or is it going to be used, as you say, for programmes that are effectively part of social welfare? I mean, there’s no return, necessarily, other than a long-term generational return, granted that. But there’s no financial return on that, right?

SHANE The fund flows from our commitment with our coalition partner, Labour. Just give me a minute to explain it. The fund is not fiscal hand-me-downs; the fund comprises of new spending. Perhaps at the margin where forestry is concerned, we dip into the money that the Small Forest Service already has, which is hidden in the MPI. And why I say that it’s important in relation to the regions, people in the regions have trusted the party I belong to and indeed myself to deliver for the regions. And the Bible says, ‘Some trust in chariots; others in horses.’ I trust in my coalition partner and the coalition document. We will have a fund, and it will be dedicated to capital and operation expenditure.

CORIN So it’s going to have some new operational spending, so that will have to go into the Budget. Do you think there is room for that?

SHANE I think we’re getting on the 14 of December an update from Grant Robertson. The people of the regions should not tolerate one sliver of doubt. There will be a fund. It will be $1 billion, and there will be adequate funding for capital purposes and operational expenditure.

CORIN What if this fund means that the government can’t get to 20 per cent of debt GDP within the five years? Because that’s an extra $3 billion. So if it’s borrowing a large chunk of that, what if it was to blow out the government’s debt target?

SHANE That’s a reasonable question and probably the full answer for that lies with Grant Robertson. But he’s got five years to achieve that target. A lot of this funding, whilst it will be capital, over time it’ll generate inordinate benefit for our people in the provinces and the regions. And like I said, our coalition partner and ourselves, we will not only find the money, we’ll have a criteria that enables us to robustly distribute money.

CORIN So you’ve got confidence that Grant Robertson could make all this work?

SHANE Yeah, absolutely. I meet with him on a regular basis. I’m one of the associate finance ministers, and he and his team are acutely aware that NZ First are provincial champions, and we’re not going to tolerate fiscal hand-me-downs.

CORIN All right. What can the fund invest in? And one particular area that’s cropped up is irrigation. Can you invest this fund in irrigation?

SHANE This is like a Manny Pacquiao interview. I expecting nothing less from you. Yes, there is a process where the irrigation company is going through a wind-down process. The government has stated that existing contracts will be honoured. But in areas such as Heretaunga and Hawke’s Bay - I flew over there recently - you’re quite right in terms of what you’re hinting at, Corin. We are not going to list productivity in the face of changing rainfall patterns and climate change on a lot of this marginal land unless there’s water. Now, I’m an advocate and I’m going to push for localised water storage, localised water initiatives, or I’m beggared if I can see how I’m going to lift the productivity of both the Maori owners and the Maori land.

CORIN So that sounds like a yes. So are you saying that the projects that you might fund from your regional fund are sort of somehow different to the projects which your coalition agreement says will not be funded, which are large-scale infrastructure projects?

SHANE Obviously, Ruataniwha, the two monsters, that’s been decapitated, and I ain’t breathing any life back into that taniwha. But the uber-schemes and the massive schemes that are referred to and enjoyed attention under the irrigation agency, I’m not touching it.

CORIN Irrigation is okay if it’s the right size.

SHANE And it’s got to be localised and fit for the local environment, and I’m going to push that vigorously.

CORIN What about mining?

SHANE I’m getting all the curly ones. I suppose I put myself up there as a pro-industrialist, so I should expect it.

CORIN You have.

SHANE Yes, yes, yes. The government’s position is very clear in relation to the cessation of coal mines, but I do see scope for, in a transitional sense, as we go through to this lofty target in 2050, gas to continue to play a key role.

CORIN So you would be happy for the regional fund to invest in the exploration of carbon?

SHANE No. Unfortunately for those that are knocking on my door with that-

CORIN Or gas.

SHANE No. That’s a matter for the private sector. But if you’re asking me as a regional minister, and as we go through the transition, that’s a punt they make a go through the statutory process. I am not using the Provincial Capital Fund for gas finds.

CORIN The reason I’m getting at this is you have talked about yourself as someone who is pro-industry. Does it put you at a very difficult position with the Green Party, which is doing a Carbon Zero Act, which has got its own projects? How are you going to work in government with the party that would seem to have a very different view on development that you?

SHANE I think we’ll start with where there’s clear common ground. The reason that my colleagues in the Green Party are enthusiastic about forestry is it’s the best shot we’ve got in the transition of lessening the burden on society. So I think we should focus on where we agree. I’m not involved in any of the changes that might be coming up to the DOC Act etcetera, although the Prime Minister said that DOC estate would be available for certain types of tree planting from the billion tree strategy. But despite my tendency for rhetoric from time to time, the reality is we are a coalition government, and where we strike issues where we have to wend our ways through the political labyrinth, we’ll do so.

CORIN Have you talked to them about the Kermadec Sanctuary and whether or not that can be progressed under this government?

SHANE I haven’t spoken to them formally, but I think it’s fair to say our friends in the Green Party, they’re aware of the NZ First position. I think it’s a challenge for iwi themselves to come up with a pragmatic solution. But in the absence of a pragmatic solution that has us as NZ First agreeing to it, there will be no Kermadec Sanctuary.

CORIN Just finally, you took a big swing at the iwi leaders this week, saying you wouldn’t talk to them before Halley’s Comet came back. I think that’s seven years or something. Why are you going to war with the iwi leaders? I would have thought you’d need to work with them. They are in control of large resources. They are important for the development in the regions. Why are you saying you won’t talk to them?

SHANE I think the iwi leaders, their stature has grown in commensurate levels to the Crown attention directed towards them. I think that the iwi leaders ought not to believe their only reason for being is that if they can meet with Crown ministers. If you genuinely want to advance the interests of your people, then bring proposals forward, for example, to me, on forestry. But all this bluster and belligerence about going to the Supreme Court. Go to the Supreme Court - I don’t care - but don’t for a moment think that that sort of bluster’s going to blackmail me into agreeing because they’re half-baked schemes to do with water. End of story.

CORIN We have to leave it there. We’ve run out of time, Shane Jones. That’s for another interview, I’m sure. Thank you very much for your time.

SHANE Kia ora.

CORIN Cheers.


Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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