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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Jacinda Ardern

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern: Our focus in the immediate aftermath of, of course, has been making sure that we put the right mechanisms in place, but, yes, we absolutely accept mistakes have been made and from a range of different people involved. But, look, if everyone who ever made a mistake in their job was sacked, we wouldn’t be left with many people left, particularly in politics. So particularly within the party, there’s culpability, and that’s being accepted, but right now, as I say, our focus is on the young people and getting right the next steps going forward.

Lisa Owen: Mistakes are about size and the ongoing nature of them. Andrew Kirton, the party’s general secretary was involved in this mainly after the fact, so why does he deserve to keep his job?

And, look, as we’ve clearly identified and as Andrew himself accepts, the major mistake on his part was the delay in putting support around those young people. Of course, though, there were elements of this issue that weren’t even raised with him directly; they went to other members of Young Labour, and so again, it is complex. That’s why we’ve put in place an inquiry, a piece of work to make sure – where did we fall down? How do we stop it happening in the future?

But he was brought in two or three days after the fact, and he is the one responsible for these young people not getting the help that they needed. Do you think he deserves to stay in the job?

Yeah, he sought for contact to be made with those young people and was not made aware when they responded, because that was dealt with by another party. Now, we could, of course, say, ‘Look, we should’ve dealt with that from the beginning.’ The party should’ve been involved from the beginning. We’ve acknowledged all of the places where we have made mistakes, but I think it’s only fair that right now we focus on the young people; secondary consideration for us is then making sure that we take responsibility in all of the areas where mistakes have been made.

But you’re only taking responsibility in your words, not in your actions. So are you happy to keep him as general secretary of the party? I’m asking you personally – are you happy with him there?

Yes, I am, because mistakes have been made. Andrew accepts that mistakes have been made. I’m sure I will make mistakes in the way that I continue to manage this on an ongoing basis too, but we will do our best. But as I say, I’ve seen the timeline; I’ve seen some of the issues at play. Mistakes were made in more than one area.

So nobody’s going to be held accountable for those mistakes.

Sacking isn’t the only way someone is held to account. Of course–

So what are you going to do to hold them to account?

There’s a public accountability here, and we’re standing up here and saying we’ve done wrong by these young people, and they are the most important people in this whole issue.

So that’s it as far as you’re concerned.

No, Lisa, because as I’ve said, we haven’t finished the work that we’re undertaking. We’ve bought in a barrister who we believe has the expertise to undertake the investigation into what happened –keeping in mind we also have the police work going on – but also to look at what happened with the organisation of the camp. The Labour Party itself didn’t organise this event, and that was also something that needs to change. They’ve been running for about, I’d say from my memory, about 15 years. They’ve always been run by Young Labour, but they’ve been party-wide, so it’s not always just been young people who attend.

And I understand all of that, Prime Minister, but if the barrister suggests that Andrew Kirton was lacking in his actions, will you shift on that and see him gone?

I need to wait until I see that report.

But you’re leaving that option open?

I’ve already said that mistakes were made, and I’ve already said that mistakes were made by Andrew, so that’s not in question. But we do need to make sure we do this properly.

No, are you leaving the door open to the fact that this report may come back and it may say that he made significant mistakes; are you leaving the door open for him to lose his job?

I’m not predetermining that till I see the report, but what I have also seen – he has, of course, had criticism on a number of areas, but also people who’ve worked in the sexual-abuse space who’ve said on some elements, he did absolutely the right thing. So it does go both ways.

Okay, Cabinet Minister Megan Woods knew about this; Liz Craig was there. Neither of them raised concerns with you, so what do you think that says about their judgement?

No, again, actually, when it comes to the message that went to Megan, she did the right thing by going straight to the party to make sure that action was being taken.

Didn’t mention it to you, though.

But again, that’s political management. And, look, we can talk about whether or not a no-surprises policy should’ve kicked in at that point, but actually, the more important point was working alongside the party to get the support for these young people. That was more important than political management.

So you think that those two MPs exercised good judgement in their handling of this? What about Liz Craig?

Well, again, Liz wasn’t aware of the issues at play, so I’m not going to place any culpability there.

She was, though, photographed with a group of young people, some of them minors, drinking alcohol. I mean, has she met your expectations of how an MP should act?

Again, no one has actually established that that’s the case. She was around young people, yes. We haven’t established that any of those underage people were in fact consuming. That’s for the inquiry to look at. But ultimately–

Has she met your expectations for how you expect your MPs to act?

I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest otherwise. Of course, she retired early to bed, because of what she had to do the next day. There were other supervisors there. All of this actually, though, assumes that things went according to plan. They didn’t. Of course they didn’t. We have young people who were harmed; we had young people – even if they weren’t consuming alcohol – who were around it. That’s not okay. Do I place blame with one person in attendance? No, I do not. We as a whole have to accept accountability for this and make sure that we don’t run events like that in the future.

Okay, well – and you’ve raised this – your critics would say that your party intentionally insulated you from the political fallout of this. I mean, what other plausible explanation is there for not telling you a dot about it?

I don’t agree with that. Of course, as Prime Minister, I am advised of issues of a significant magnitude every single day. It’s my job to know these things. A decision was made – and we can debate rightly or wrongly–

This is of a significant magnitude.

Oh, and I’m not questioning that, but a decision was made around making sure that the young people’s interests were put first. There was advice around not widening the circle, and those in senior leadership in the Labour Party–

They were giving you plausible deniability.

Let me finish. And those who are in senior leadership in the Labour Party all knew about it, and that was correct. So we can have a discussion about whether or not I should’ve known, but for me, the most important thing was what we were doing for those young people. That’s where we failed, and that’s a more significant failure than political management.

I understand that your primary concern is these young people; nobody is questioning that. What we’re asking about is the motivations–

No.

…of your party in not telling you. It was to give you plausible deniability, was it not?

Absolutely not. I push back on that suggestion very hard. That implies that our number-one concern here was political management. That is not fair, and it is not correct.

Okay. Since the summer camp and these alleged sexual assaults surfacing, how many other complaints have surfaced related to Labour events or activities?

I’m aware of– I believe that I’ve seen one on social media that’s been discussed, and what we’re seeking to do is make sure that there’s a mechanism for anyone else, regardless of whether it’s historic or not, to be able to have the ability to contact someone they feel safe contacting, with experience, to look into that.

Okay, so in the past 10 years, are you aware of any allegations or predatory or inappropriate sexual behaviour within the Labour Party?

I’ve heard some have been raised, as I say, and the fact that we cannot hand on heart–

Are you personally aware of any situations?

Only those that I’ve seen reported on but not personally.

Okay. Well, let’s move on to an entirely different topic. Britain is out kicking 23 Russian diplomats, aka spies. Now, this is over the nerve-gas attack in Salisbury, and things are really ratcheting up. The US has issued sanctions; this is over interference with elections. So are we going to join any further sanctions in relation to Russia if we are asked?

Yeah, and, obviously, we’re working very closely with the UK and other partners. We’ve joined with them in saying these actions are repugnant. We’ve made strong statements in The Hague over it as well. The use of nerve agents–

But what about actual sanctions?

The use of nerve agents is an illegal international act. So at the moment, it is a matter of keeping in close contact with our partners to see what actions they’re taking. At the moment, they’ve isolated down in the UK and dealing with them at an individual diplomat level, but it is a matter of making sure that we’re in constant contact as those decisions are made.

So at the moment, you’re not ruling out the possibility of expulsions from New Zealand?

We haven’t ruled anything in or out at this stage, because, as we say, we’re working closely with our partners, and this is an ongoing matter, but we’ve been very clear this is an illegal act; it is a repugnant act.

What would it take for you to expel a Russian diplomat from New Zealand?

There is still a bit of process and investigatory work being undertaken by the UK, which is why we’re staying in close contact with them, but as I say, I’m not ruling anything in or out at this stage.

So what does this all mean for your government’s ambitions for a free-trade deal with Russia?

So, what the coalition agreement said was that we would strive to work towards an agreement. There was work being undertaken by the last government. That was suspended in 2014 over the issues in the Ukraine. They have not restarted. I’ve spoken with the Minister of Foreign Affairs–

They haven’t restarted?

No.

Because Winston Peters said he had discussions in Manila with Russian Foreign Affairs officials about this.

No, they have not formally restarted.

Okay.

So, I’ve had a conversation with the Minister of Trade and Export Growth, the Minister of Foreign Affairs; we are all deeply concerned. We all agree that Salisbury changes things, and so it is too early at this point to say when or if those talks will restart.

Okay, Winston has used this phrase; he said it’s ‘somewhat complicated’. That does not seem like a definitive ruling out, and he said past events saw conversations continue. So are you guys on the same page with this?

Absolutely. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has also said this act was repugnant, that it was a violation of international law, and he himself has said this week that it is too early to say– under the current circumstances we find ourselves in with Salisbury to say if and when those negotiations and talks would restart.

Okay, so you were totally fine with it before the incident of the nerve-gas poisoning, despite the fact that Russia has annexed Crimea, is implicated in downing in plane over the Ukraine?

What we’d always talked about was the fact that the EU and the UK have continued to trade with Russia. Keeping in mind the sanctions, it is possible to trade within them, and that’s what they had done. In fact, Boris Johnson was here not so long ago talking about the $5 billion worth of trade that the UK had undertaken in that time as well.

So you were fine with it?

What the Minister of Foreign Affairs had always raised was that issue – that you can act within the sanctions but there were other elements of trading that was going on within the EU and the UK whilst fulfilling the obligations of the sanctions.

Right. So you were perfectly fine with it despite Russia’s actions in Crimea, despite their human-rights record and despite a missile of theirs being used to shoot down a plane?

As I say, what we were proposing was not inconsistent with the UK or the EU. We were not proposing to ignore the sanctions that are in place, and that is a very important point.

Understand that, but the British High Commissioner has said that the UK is extremely supportive of free-trade deals between the EU and New Zealand and the UK and New Zealand. But she has said that New Zealand would need to – and I’m quoting her here – ‘reach conclusions about compatibility and prioritisation with regards to a deal with Russia.’ So what do you think that means? Because that sounds like she is sending a diplomatic message that it’s an either/or choice.

And I’m saying that there’s no need to do that, as–

But do you accept that that’s what that sounds like from her?

She’s saying that in the context of Salisbury, and as I’ve said, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Trade and I are deeply concerned. Salisbury changes things.

She’s not just saying that in the context of Salisbury, because at that same time, she reeled off the list that I’ve just referred to before.

And as I say, Lisa, Salisbury changes things. It is now too early to say if and when.

Okay, do you think it’s embarrassing or potentially damaging to our relationship with the EU and the UK to even have this agreement, this FTA in the coalition deal? Is it time to get rid of it?

Again, in the coalition deal, it simply makes reference to working towards something.

Yeah, but you don’t work towards something to not achieve it, do you? The goal is to get it.

As I’ve said, of course, we’ve got to take into account the circumstances that we’re in. The Minister of Foreign Affairs himself has said what’s happened here is repugnant. We’re responding by saying right now it is too early to say. But the point that he’s made historically, prior to these events has simply been that we’ve had the EU, the UK operating within the sanctions but still trading $5 billion worth of trade, and that was a fairness point he raised. But the more important point here, Lisa, is Salisbury has changed things. We have to, of course, be mindful of the current environment we’re in. We are, so you’re now asking me historic questions.

No, the thing is – what I’m asking you is – I understand what you’re saying about the EU and their trading arrangements, but this all comes down to your ethical and moral radar, does it not? And last week on the show, Mr Peters said a lot of countries that we’re dealing with would not survive a serious human-rights issue or gender-equality issue or ethnic issues debate and we still trade with them, he says. And–

And I’ll happily repeat for the third time that he has also that this is a violation of international law, and now as a consequence, Salisbury has changed things, and it is just too–

It’s changed things for the moment.

But surely, that’s the most important point. It has fundamentally changed things. It is too early now to have any of these conversations, given the serious international situation that we are in.

Yes, but you still haven’t taken it off the table altogether. You are saying Salisbury has stalled things for the moment but it’s still there despite this other record of Russia’s behaviour.

I don’t know how I could be more clear than say that it now too soon to even have that conversation. We are in the middle of a significant international issue. Our focus is on making sure that we respond appropriately to that. What is not appropriate right now is to be having a conversation about potential FTAs in the future. We’ve said that very clearly.

All right, Prime Minister, we’re going to take a short break. We’ll be back in a moment. Do stay with us.

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In a very short period of time, you’re going to have to make some enormous decisions about spending. So let’s start with Waikeria Prison. Do you need it? You need it, don’t you?

Yeah, I actually want to visit Waikeria myself, because, of course, there have been a number of reports of the state of that prison, and what has been raised is whether or not it is possible to bring it up to the standard it needs to be through remedial work or whether or not it needs a replacement. So this is a decision that the government’s currently considering.

What’s your feeling?

I do want to go and see it myself and so that I can get a better grasp of whether or not it is possible to, through that remedial work, make sure it’s a place that is adequate, that’s able to provide decent rehabilitation. I have visited a number of prisons over my political career, so I hope I have enough context to be able to make that decision.

But do you want the extra beds?
Well, at the moment, it’s not a question of want. You know, when we came into office, we had not only an existing record-high prison population but a projection for an ongoing increase despite the plateauing of our crime rate. So I’d have to say one of the most difficult issues that I find that we’re grappling with is the issue of this out-of-control prison population.

So you’ve got to put them somewhere.

Yes.

So you might be saying that you’re potentially looking at this because of the conditions of the old prison there, but you actually need space. So either way, are you going to have to go ahead and build it?

But we have to make a long-run decision as well. Do you want to be in a position where you’re building extra capacity when, as I say, the crime rate tells us that actually we don’t have an increasing problem but we do have an increasing prison population? So that says there are other issues at play. I know, for instance, because I’ve sat in on parole-board hearings where they have not released prisoners who are ready for release because there’s no housing. So there’s a whole range of other remedial action we could take that might be able to manage this issue that isn’t building an enormous number of extra beds.

So I hear what you’re saying there, but actually, the lion’s share of the prison population increase is related to remand prisoners not getting bail.

It is. Yes.

So if you don’t build this prison, are you going to have to loosen parole and bail laws?

Yeah, and I think what I would make sure that everyone’s really clear on – we are not making justice-policy decisions based on bed capacity. We’re making justice-policy decisions on what delivers the best outcomes in terms of safety for the community and reducing reoffending and improving rehabilitation. Those are the basis of the decisions. We can’t have one drive the other; it needs to be the other way round. On bail, the point that I’ve certainly tried to raise is – the last government made changes to our bail laws that they expected would change remand numbers by about 250. It’s been over a thousand. So it’s done something that they didn’t anticipate, so surely we should go back and have a look at what’s happened there.

So, when you say go back and have a look, are you signalling to the New Zealand public that you are going to loosen bail and parole laws?

Not yet. We need to make sure that, as I say, we’re driven by making decisions that improve outcomes. What Andrew Little wants to do as minister of justice is have that conversation amongst a whole raft of other potential areas of work. Because I think if he had that rational conversation that says, ‘Look, this is where crime sits, but this is where our projected prison population is going,’ people would say, ‘Well, let’s look at that and see why that’s happening and what all of the drivers are.’

Well, here’s the thing – you want to reduce the prison population 30% in 15 years, so what are your interim targets? How much are you going to reduce the prison population by this term?

We haven’t set those yet, but we have put in place some of the planning and policy development work we want to do in quite a transparent way as well, but we have not yet set our interim targets, keeping in mind, of course, that any changes that you make, we’re having conversations now, but the immediate issue that we faced is what to do about Waikeria, so that’s been where a lot of our focus has been.

So can you not tell us now whether you’re going to go ahead with it?

No, I cannot. We haven’t made a final decision yet.

But even the fact that you’re contemplating building this prison-

A replacement.

Yeah, well, it’s going to be bigger, and it’s going to cost a billion dollars-plus.

We’re still considering all of that.

Okay. The fact that you’re considering it, doesn’t that fly in the face of everything you’ve said publically?

No.

Your commitment to Maori at Waitangi – even considering it, are you not betraying your ideals?

No, because that’s the point that I’m making is that Waikeria as it’s been set out to me is a prison that’s not in a fit state to continue running. So the question we have in front of us is a replacement prison. So if we were talking about building an extra one that was in addition to Waikeria, of course, but actually, what we have here is a question of A – do we need a replacement, and then B, of course, the last government wanted a huge expansion on the top of that. Those are all issues that at the moment we are grappling with. But what I want to be really clear on – do I want to build another prison? No. Do I want extra bed capacity? No. But am I being told that if we had an earthquake tomorrow, we wouldn’t have a place to put prisoners? Those are all the things that we’re having to grapple with, and that’s what government has to face.

Okay. Well, the Finance Minister has indicated that it’s time for the likes of teachers and nurses to be paid more. Now, teachers are asking for about 16% over two years. How much would that cost us?

Well, that’s a negotiation that’s underway.

No, but the 16% - how much would that cost us?

I haven’t costed that; nor have I costed the 3%, the 5% - the multitude of options that may generate from that negotiation. It is a negotiation, and so I’m not going to hold it publically here, but what we are very aware of as a government is we’re facing that with obviously negotiations with midwives, nurses, teachers, police, and we are having to factor that in in the budgeting that we’re doing.

So my point is, can we afford that big, long list?

That’s what the budget process is for, and that’s what we’re trying to prepare for now.

But can you afford to give all of those groups something?

There’s no doubt that we are in a constrained environment. We are. You know, we did say that we wanted to make sure that we had enough resources for the people in those sectors as well, so not only do we have the cost pressure of wages, but we have nurses working in DHBs who are facing significant deficit. So we have to deal with both, and that’s what we’re doing through the budget process.

So who are your priorities?

Of course, if you ask me who’s more important, a nurse or a teacher, all of them, of course, Lisa. But at the moment, as I say, we’re having to deal with that through the budget process.

But the point is – and I understand what you’re saying, that they’re both important, but you have a limited pool of money, and much has been made of that. So I’m trying to get an idea of where your priorities lie. So of those areas, where do your priorities lie?

Services, and we did say that we wanted to rebuild health and education. You know, the fact that we’re not even letting cost pressures. And so this budget, what I can tell you you’ll see is us trying to rebuild services. So instead of large new policy announcements, it will be us trying to make sure that actually, the hospitals have what they need to perform the services people expect, that schools are actually being funded for the students in their doors. That’s the kind of rebuilding we’re having to do, and that’s what the focus of the budget will be, keeping in mind we have those extra pay and wage rounds coming down the track as well.

Okay, you’ve made it a top priority to reduce child poverty; you want to take it down from 15% to 5% in the next 10 years. And you’ve said that your families’ package would be a major step towards that. You obviously know that Treasury has revised its calculations, yeah? Yeah, $88,000 was what we were thinking it was going to help; now it’s down to $64,000. So are you going to have to stick more money into this?

At this stage, that $5.5 billion over four years is the focus of that package. That will not change, and what doesn’t change is that 384,000 families end up being on average $75 better off. That doesn’t change.

But your numbers aren’t as good as they were before.

Treasury’s numbers tell us that it’s not as good as they were before.

And you’ve got goals of things that you want to achieve, so how much focus is there going to be in the budget on this? What extra money have you got to throw it at? Because it looks like you’re going to need it.

We don’t. And I’ll be very upfront and honest about that. We’ve put $5.5 billion into that families’ package over four years. We did that early so it would come into place in July. But for now, that is the centrepiece of what we’re doing. And as I say, it is the most significant boost to families on lower middle incomes that we will have seen in a decade. But at the same time, we also need to make sure that those families can access doctors’ visits, they can access their schools, so we have to look at other services that aren’t just about their wages.

But there’s no more money at the moment for that?

This budget, you’ll see the biggest focus was in that mini budget for families.

Mm. So by the measures that you’ve set out, spending what you’re spending, are you confident that you’re still going to meet these goals?

I’m still focused on them, and they’re not changing.

Are you confident? I know you’re still focused on it, but are you confident you’re going to reach them?

Yes. They’re 10-year goals, and they are ambitious, but yes. Yes, in this first round, we have an impact on child poverty. That’s just one of the measures – we have a few. But for housing cost, we will lift $64,000 according to Treasury.

Okay.

But actually, what it’s shown us is we have a lot of data issues we need to resolve.

Right, which is obviously a separate issue. In terms of your debt levels, the government’s debt levels, you’re focused to lowering debt to 20% of GDP within five years of taking office. So would you be prepared to breach that limit in order to make your child-poverty targets?

Again, I’m ambitious about reaching them without having to do that. It is a matter of priority.

Yeah, but if it comes down to it - and again, I’m trying to get a gauge of what your priorities are – is it more important for you to be fiscally responsible or socially responsible?

You’re trying to imply that you can’t do both, and that’s something Labour’s always pushed back against. For instance, when Labour was last in office, when we saw the biggest dent then in child poverty rates through Working For Families, we also had a really solid economic record. We have to be able to make sure we balance the books so that we have an economy that delivers for families as well. So these things aren’t mutually exclusive.

You have just said that you’ve got no more money at the moment to throw at child poverty.

No, I’m going to correct you there, because income is one measure; the work that we do around housing, health and education also affects child poverty. So that is unfair. We’re focused on incomes in the first package; next – housing, health and education, which also has a significant impact on child poverty. So those are all still focuses for us.

I got back to my original question – would you be prepared to breach that cap in order to achieve the social policies that you feel are most important?

We have already increased the amount of the timeframe to getting down the 20% longer than the last government so we could have a housing plan. So Kiwibuild was one of the reasons we’ve said, ‘Look, it’s actually going to take us longer to reduce our debt levels.’

So you still would be prepared to push it out further if you need to?

We already were pushing it out when we set the 20% at five years. We’re confident we can do both.

So that’ s a no, then – you won’t raise that debt level?

You’re raising a bridge, and I’m saying no. Because we believe that we can do what we’ve set out to do.

So you would – I know you say you think you can achieve those things, but if you can’t, then the debt cap is more important?

No, keeping in mind we’ve made other choices, we canned tax cuts. You know, we’ve made decisions around the way that we orientate our spending that says, ‘Actually, these things are priorities.’ But so, at the same time, New Zealanders expect us to keep the books in balance too. So our belief is that we can do both of those things.

Okay. GDP growth for the last quarter 0.6% and for the year, 2.9%, but growth has still been driven by service industries and wholesale and retail trade, so consumption, and consumption fuelled by immigration, cos the immigration figures for the year ending January, we’re still up there – 70,000-plus net migration. So do you still plan to turn the tap down on migration, and when are you going to do that?

Of course, we were driven by whether or not we had the right policies on immigration. That was our starting point. It wasn’t about setting a target, and then altering everything around that; it was about making sure-

Well, Andrew Little did express a target at the time. He said to drop it by 20,000 to 30,000 people.

It is always an estimate of our policies. Our policies are still our policies on immigration. It’s about matching skills. It’s about making sure that students aren’t exploited when they’re here. We’re working on it as we speak.

When do you expect to make an announcement?

Last time I spoke to our minister about it was probably a couple of weeks ago, and he was working hard on the policies there. Keeping in mind this has been a pretty busy government over the last four months, but he is working on those as we speak.

So, are you prepared to sacrifice economic growth in order to cut immigration numbers?

I don’t agree that that will be the consequences of our policies at all.

So, are you staking your reputation on the fact that our economic growth will remain stable even if you cut by the numbers that you’re talking about?

Yes, I am. Because when you think about some of the things we wanted to do, for instance, we acknowledged in the regions, they’re saying they’re having difficulty matching labour and skills with the jobs that are available there. We’re being responsive to that. They’ve said, for instance, that they have the risk of fruit dying on the ground, so we’ve increased the seasonal workers scheme to match that. We want to create a regionalised skills category so that we don’t have this national blunt instrument that doesn’t service their needs. If there is a genuine gap, we will fill it, but we also want to train our domestic workforce.

All right. I want to move on to climate change - your generation’s nuclear-free moment, you said - but the Climate Change Commission that’s being set up, it’s not binding. So isn’t that a contradiction to your commitment to this issue?

No, because we’re legislating what we intend to do.

Winston Peters’ coalition deal already ties your hands about agriculture and the ETS, though, doesn’t it?

In terms of?

The amount that that they would have to pay.

Yes. Bringing in agriculture would make us a world first. You know, I don’t shy away at all from the commitments that we made. They’re bold.

But being a world first, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Absolutely. Absolutely, and as I say, that’s why I think we should be proud of that. What we’re saying is that we were going to rely on the Climate Commission to phase that in for us. So the goals that we’ve set around being carbon-neutral, those will be legislated. The Climate Commission helps us budget out what it would take and make sure we’re tracking towards the goals that we have and set interim goals along the way. But the commitment is clear.

Are you committed to implementing whatever their recommendations are?

Well, the point is, making sure that they give us external advice so that we know.

But it’s not mandatory for you to take things up, is it?

We know we won’t make our targets unless we do.

So are you giving us a commitment that you would implement recommendations made by the Climate Commission?

Certainly they will be taken seriously, because they’ll be public. They’re transparent.

Seriously, but that’s not a commitment.

Lisa, I don’t know if we could be more committed to this if we were trying. We’ve said that we want to be carbon-neutral, the first in the world to bring agriculture in, have renewable energy 100% by 2035. We’re investing in the Pacific to try and support their climate commitments as well. Whether or not the Climate Commission put forward their recommendations, those are things there to help us get to our goal so that we don’t fail.

We’re almost out of time. Can you give me a quick yes or no on this – are you still going to be granting permits for oil and gas exploration?

That’s something that we’re working on right now. I’m not going to pre-empt that decision, but we’re working on it.

Okay. Winston Peters is going to be prime minister soon. What is your key piece of advice for him as he steps into your shoes?

Oh, look, Winston Peters does not need advice from me.

But how closely do you expect to be consulted by him during this period?

We actually already have a very close consultative relationship, and I imagine that will just simply continue.

Because he said to us last week on the programme that he’s taking over the job of prime minister; the decisions he makes will be based on the coalition agreement, fundamental understandings of those principles – it shouldn’t be difficult, he says.

No, it won’t be difficult, because as I say, we’re in close contact already.

So he’s going to make the serious calls on his own?

We make serious calls together as it is, and I imagine that will keep going. I think what Winston Peters is being mindful of is that I’ll be on maternity leave and probably juggling a few things, but there’s no doubt we’ll stay in touch.

All right. Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Thank you.

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

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