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Q+A: PM Jacinda Ardern interviewed by Corin Dann


Q+A: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern interviewed by Corin Dann

f US-North Korea summit results in denuclearisation, Donald Trump's part 'needs to be acknowledged' – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
‘If we see an outcome where we see denuclearisation in North Korea, I think we all need to celebrate that. And if Donald Trump plays a role in that, that needs to be acknowledged.’
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also told TVNZ 1’s Q+A programme that her government is ‘laying the foundation for a transformative government’ and ‘it is going to take us a little more time to see that shift.’
‘You know, I’m proud— In fact, if I was picking something I was proud of, those first 100 days, we set out right from the beginning to lay the foundation for the kind of government we wanted to be, and we did it through things like the families package, which kicks in in July.’

When asked about the way the decision to end all new offshore oil and gas and exploration permits was rolled out and the effect on business, the Prime Minister told Corin Dann, ‘I am frustrated by some of the rhetoric that has led people to believe, wrongly, that we will not continue to honour our word for the permits that exist.’

And one week out from her due date, the Prime Minster told Corin Dann, ‘I’m desperate to demonstrate that I’m not going to let the country down. And that I will stay true to the role that I have, because it's incredibly important to me. But at the same time, there's this motherly side of New Zealand that is coming out where I’ve been getting these spontaneous messages from complete strangers saying, 'We get it now, but you're also allowed to sit down.' And so that sentiment has been lovely. And so I guess my message would be I can assure people I will keep doing my job, but I also acknowledge I’m not superhuman.’

Q + A
Episode 13
JACINDA ARDERN
Interviewed by Corin Dann

CORIN I asked the prime minister what success would look like and whether success means a Nobel Prize for Donald Trump.

JACINDA If we see an outcome where we see denuclearisation in North Korea, I think we all need to celebrate that. And if Donald Trump plays a role in that, that needs to be acknowledged.

CORIN Fair enough. Okay. Your government now has you prepare, I guess, for your maternity leave. 10 months or so in government — time to reflect, I suppose, on where things have got to. Do you think you have been the transformative government that you promised?

JACINDA We will be. And we've always said that these things do take time, but we're laying the foundation for a transformative government. And that's not just about the policies that you deliver. You know, I’m proud— In fact, if I was picking something I was proud of, those first 100 days, we set out right from the beginning to lay the foundation for the kind of government we wanted to be, and we did it through things like the families package, which kicks in in July. Tens of thousands of children out of poverty, straight off the bat. Warming up older New Zealanders' homes. Actually pursuing a change in our economic agenda to lift productivity, to lift trade. But, actually, they are the foundations, and it is going to take us a little more time to see that shift.

CORIN 'You will be' isn't quite 'Let's do it', is it?

JACINDA? Oh, the fact that we managed to win that election under those circumstances, and that within 100 days we set out a programme that I think meant that we have done more in that 10 months than I think you possibly would've seen in the last three years was significant.

CORIN Sure. How has it been transformational for the young couple trying to get a house in Auckland? They're on relatively low wages. How has their life been transformed in these 10 months, though?

JACINDA Because we've said it's not good enough for us to just sit and exclaim that it's a crisis, and we can't do anything. So we went straight on, and we've said we're banning foreign overseas buyers who have no interest in New Zealand's prosperity or living in New Zealand from owning a home. We've set up Kiwibuild. Now, everyone acknowledges it does take a while to build a home. It's going to take us a while to amp up Kiwibuild, but we are going to increase supply in that affordable range.

CORIN Okay. So, when do we see the transformation? Fair enough. You're saying it's going to take time; be patient. When will you be able to come on Q+A and say, 'We've done it'?

JACINDA Well, for Kiwibuild, it's a 10-year programme, and we've always said that. First three years, we get 16,000 houses. But what's different about this government is that we were willing to say, ‘The market's failed. We're stepping in.' And that's, actually, a completely different way of doing things. Now, we're not willing to stand on the sideline. And, yes, it's meant that we've courted controversy.

CORIN Can you give me some examples where you've stepped in directly to the market?

JACINDA Yeah, well, the Kiwibuild programme is us doing that. We've said the market is not producing houses at that affordable end of the scale, and so we are going to drive that production. The provincial—

CORIN $650,000 for a house in Auckland.

JACINDA For three bedrooms. And that's at a maximum price. Of course, we want to see them lower. But when you compare that to the fact at the moment, on average, it's $1 million, then relative to that—

CORIN That's hardly transformational for that couple in Auckland trying to get into that house. They're still looking at $650,000. And I guess the point I’m making is about whether the rhetoric in the campaign and the rhetoric of your government is being matched by your actions.

JACINDA Yes, it is. We've said that we want to be a government who is world-leading on child poverty. We've got goals in place that will see us have some of the lowest child poverty rates in the OECD. We've said we're not going to sit back. We're going to actually build houses. No one has done that since the last time the Labour government did it with state housing. We've said that we want to lead the world when it comes to our environmental agenda, so we've come out and done some bold things in that space as well. And, actually, it's not good enough for us any more to stand back and say that we just have to deal with the fact that we're not particularly productive. We've brought in free education to try and get school leavers and factory floor workers into training and education. We've taken hits on all of it. They were bold, but they were the right thing to do.

CORIN Okay, fair enough. But how is somebody on a benefit who is facing benefit sanctions being helped? Because you haven't removed those.

JACINDA. We've started that work. And one of the things we said—

CORIN But couldn't you have done that straightaway? You talk about being a more kind, compassionate government, and those on the left are crying out for you to remove those sanctions, which they believe are unfair. That's something you could've done straightaway.

JACINDA Yeah, and there's one example that people bring up time and time again, and that's around sole parents. But when we were designing the families package, one of the things I came up against a lot was the way that Working for Families works against the temporary assistance, the way that works against accommodation supplements. We have a very complex system, and it is failing people. Now, we could pick one thing off, and it would affect a certain number of people, or we could actually say, 'There's a much bigger piece of work here that we need to do to make sure that we support people when they need it; we make sure that people are better off when they start entering into work as well.'

CORIN So, again, people need to be patient?

JACINDA Yeah, well, we know it's bigger than just little, tiny changes. And if you want to be transformative, Corin, actually, sometimes you need to sit down and say we'll take the time, get it right, save money in the long run, but actually make sure that our safety net is just that.

CORIN Why wasn't that same lens applied to the decision on oil and gas? Which was, clearly, a political decision which you plucked out of thin air, it seems.

JACINDA And yet at the time, I remember, during the campaign, when I did stand in Auckland Town Hall and say, 'Fossil fuels aren't our future, and this is our nuclear-free moment. This is where we have to start making some big decisions.' I got asked at that time, 'What are you going to do around oil and gas?' And I said we needed to work through that. We were sworn in in October. I was having conversations with the minister by December. We had briefings all the way through to when we made the decision in April. We spent a lot of time on that.

CORIN Okay, fair enough. Putting that aside, it has had a chilling effect on some parts of business, certainly in Taranaki. Do you regret the way it was rolled out? Because couldn't you have done it in a way where you did involve businesses, where you involved people so that you didn't get this chilling effect?

JACINDA Well, I mean, we, of course, knew the view of the industry. Of course, they would've wanted to see ongoing block offers taking us forward for the next period. But what we wanted to do was give assurance to those who already had permits, and we have roughly 50 — the size of the North Island — already covered by permits for oil and gas exploration. Key for us was to say we are a government of our word. We stand by those, essentially, contracts. They will remain, and we will support those industries to continue. But what we've got to do is plan beyond the next 30 years, and that's what that decision was about. Now, that chilling effect you talk about. I am absolutely clear— I am frustrated by some of the rhetoric that has led people to believe, wrongly, that we will not continue to honour our word for the permits that exist.

CORIN It's not just in oil and gas, though, is it? Because you've got a business confidence problem, that has continued to fall, despite a budget which was clearly designed to win over business by being fiscally responsible.

JACINDA It didn’t fall. It just hasn't increased.

CORIN It has fallen, in their own activity. In the last survey, there are fewer firms confident about their own activity.

JACINDA And yet, actually, the measures that I’m interested in are ones that tend to demonstrate where we have ongoing growth, and those have not plummeted by any stretch. Of course, we're predicted to still have strong, on average, 3% GDP growth. It is a matter of pride for this government, though, to make sure that the reality of where the economy's going—

CORIN I take your point. But just finally before I move on, but you must be worried that eventually if businesses who, for some reason, are grumpy with you, continue to be so, they may stop to invest, and that does damage the economy.

JACINDA And of course, we've got to do everything we can to change that. I agree. That's why we're undertaking things like our R&D tax credit, to try and stimulate that investment. That's why we are looking at things like incentives for people to invest in small business. That's why we're going out and working alongside business for some of the things that we've floated that we want to do. We're not making arbitrary decisions. We're working together. But it is something that Labour governments successively have struggled with. For me, I take it as a matter of pride. I want to demonstrate that I cannot achieve what I want to achieve as prime minister if we do not have strong business confidence and growth.

CORIN Well, we'll see perhaps in a few months' time whether it turns around. Winston Peters, who will take over from you in presumably the next week, two weeks, whenever that may be—

JACINDA Who knows.

CORIN Who knows. What have you said to him about his role? What have you said to him?

JACINDA There's really been no need to have that kind of conversation. He already is the deputy prime minister, and there have been times, of course, when I’ve been absent and he's taken on that role. It's an absolute given what's required. And the point that I’ve been making is that we have an incredibly good working relationship. I’ve almost found it's surprising that people have questioned that it would be anything other than business as usual for us because we already work so closely together.

CORIN What's the decision-making process? So what level do decisions get escalated to you no matter what?

JACINDA Well, in fact, that's almost intuitive now. There are issues that I will just know that it’s significant enough that I’ll give the deputy prime minister a call, and we'll talk through some of those issues, as I do with other senior colleagues. And I know that will just happen in reverse when he is in the driver's seat.

CORIN So let's run through some scenarios, then. What about if a minister in your cabinet gets into trouble for whatever reason, some sort of a scandal running — it happens — and a decision may need to be made about whether they need to be stood down. We saw that recently. Would Winston Peters make that decision or would you?

JACINDA Yeah, no, that gets a little bit different, and we've had that conversation, because that's actually a member of my party. And so that becomes both an issue of a ministerial role but also someone who's in the Labour team. And so I would be involved in that, because I wouldn't require someone else to discipline a member of the Labour party.

CORIN So potentially if it happened at an awkward time, it could just be delayed. But you would be involved in that decision?

JACINDA Oh, I would be involved. And, look, if there was any need for an instant reaction, of course, we'd work together, because there's no doubt the acting prime minister would be asked, so of course we'd work collaboratively. And I think the thing to keep in mind is I’m not dead; I have not exited from the country; I will just be in Sandringham. And so I’ll be staying in close touch.

CORIN Yeah, I mean, how do you envisage that working? I mean, will you still stay engaged in the process?

JACINDA Yeah, I think it would be impossible not to stay engaged. It is still a role, obviously, that I consider a huge privilege, and a responsibility, so, yes, I’ll still be getting cabinet papers and staying in touch. But on the flip side of that, I get on incredibly well with Winston Peters. We work together well. It's a relationship where I think we both have strengths that complement each other. I have absolutely no concerns about these next six weeks.

CORIN So do you actually feel quite comforted that he's the person taking over?

JACINDA Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I have no concerns whatsoever. And the sense I get from most New Zealanders is that they don't really either. You just reflect on our last nine months. We are from different parties. We have different policy agendas. But we are stable, and we are strong, and this is the purest MMP government New Zealand has had, and I think we've demonstrated what is possible.

CORIN On that note, quick one — what happens if Winston Peters, for whatever reason, needed to step down or is sick or something? Heaven forbid. Who would take over then?

JACINDA Then it just drops down to the next most senior person, which is Kelvin Davis.

CORIN Okay, very good. On the issue of the baby, when you first announced it, there was a lot of excitement and talk about you effectively being a role model, and I guess the whole world is watching. Do you feel that weight of pressure? Is that a role model role that you want?

JACINDA There are these odd moments where that pressure— I actually tend to ignore that from day to day and just get on with doing the job. But when I get a flurry of text messages from media and the likes because they think they've seen a cavalcade heading to Auckland Airport, it makes me realise that there's at least a lot of interest and there's eyes on it. For the record, I would never take a cavalcade to the hospital. I’ll just travel in my normal vehicle like everyone else. But those moments do make me realise it. But it has taken those moments, I think, to heighten that. The point that I’ve continually tried to make, though, is that I do not want to create a false impression that all women should be superhuman or superwoman; that I’m able to do what I’m doing because I have enormous support around me, and actually, that makes me quite privileged. So I wouldn't want to be held up as some kind of exemplar because it's not easy, and I’m lucky.

CORIN I mean, you know, I’ve had three children — my wife's had three children — it is political in some ways. Everything is judged, whether it be the stroller...

JACINDA Yes, I’m mindful of that.

CORIN You're going to be in a fish bowl, and every little thing is going to be judged. How do you feel about that?

JACINDA Yeah, and I think that's just one of the things that we've had to accept, and actually, that's an extension of life, generally, now. We know that we are watched, and we do our best just to be true to ourselves. But we know that that will happen to us for parenting as well. As long as the judgement falls on me more than my child, that's what I hope for the most.

CORIN Have you managed to carve out enough space for yourself?

JACINDA Probably not. And there's a certain degree to which I think we're just like every other normal couple. You don't know what you're in for until you're there. But one of the most common things I’ve had said to me through this whole period is no matter what, you just make it work, and no matter what, we'll just make it work.

CORIN Just finally, I mean, is it a mixture of excitement—? I mean, nobody's been through what you're going through — being prime minister and about to go on a baby break. Can you give us a sense of what—? Is it a combination of excitement and anticipation and fear? I mean, what is it?

JACINDA It's probably all of those things, and I am mindful of the fact that I’m desperate to demonstrate that I’m not going to let the country down. And that I will stay true to the role that I have, because it's incredibly important to me. But at the same time, there's this motherly side of New Zealand that is coming out where I’ve been getting these spontaneous messages from complete strangers saying, 'We get it now, but you're also allowed to sit down.' And so that sentiment has been lovely. And so I guess my message would be I can assure people I will keep doing my job, but I also acknowledge I’m not superhuman.



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


Please find the full transcript attached and you can view the interview here.

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TVNZ 1 and one hour later on TVNZ 1 + 1.
Repeated Sunday evening at around 11:35pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz
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