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The Nation Interview Transcript

'The Nation'

Carmel Sepuloni, Carol Beaumont, Stuart Nash
Interviewed By Duncan Garner

Duncan It's now just three months to the election, and like all opposition parties Labour is struggling a bit to get its message across. It hasn’t been helped by media focus on its low polling particularly Leader Phil Goff's low ratings, but behind the scenes away from the glare of the media spotlight, newer younger left MPs are bringing new ideas and policies to the party's caucus room, and with me are three of them, Carmel Sepuloni, Carol Beaumont and Stuart Nash, are all list MPs. I'm sure you'll be happy that we've called you young. Stewart to start with you, you would have seen our poll on 3News this week that when it comes to asset sales versus the Capital Gains Tax, Capital Gains Tax appears to be more popular with voters. Why then are you struggling to connect with them in a wider sense?

Stuart Nash – Labour List MP
Duncan I think what's gonna happen, after the World Cup people are gonna start connecting into politics, they're gonna have a look at all policies, and they're gonna realise that tax reform – because our tax system isn't a particularly efficient one at the moment - tax reform is the way forward. It allows us to keep state assets, pay down debt and bring the money in necessary.

Duncan Do you think there could have been a better job done with the sale of it, or do you think as Colin James pointed out it just takes time to get it through?

Stewart It just takes time, but like I said you’ve got a choice. You can sell your state assets and have a broken tax system, or you can keep the state assets and reform the tax system in line with nearly every other single country in the OECD.

Duncan Carol Beaumont, your area of expertise if you like is skills and employment in jobs and so forth. If you look at the youth unemployment statistics between 15 and 19, 27%, you guys should be making hay here shouldn’t you? I mean this is your area.

Carol Beaumont – Labour List MP
Look absolutely. Government's response in that area has just been a shocker, and young people think that, their parents think that, their grandparents think that – 58% if you go up to 24. So we will be announcing policy this week, our skills and training policy, and you will see a very big focus on both jobs and training opportunities for young people.

Duncan But it has to be hands on doesn’t it, I mean what we've seen so far is you know 200 odd million dollars put in by this government over the last two years in that area, and unemployment's gone up in this area. You’ve got to do something different don’t you?

Carol You do have to do something very different and our policy will be connecting both the job opportunities, the training opportunities, looking at schools, the tertiary institutions and the workplace, looking at all of those combined, and we have to do something, because otherwise what we're doing is consigning a huge number of young people to the scrap heap, and that’s not in anybody's best interests.

Duncan But how bold is this going to be. I'm not asking you to release… I accept that, but I mean how bold and different is it going to be because we have as major problem?

Carol We do have as major problem, and I know just talking to people on the street that something needs to be done. It will be bold, it will be a significant policy for us.

Duncan Carmel Sepuloni I want to look at cost of living actually with you, because I see on your website you’ve talked about the cost of living for New Zealand families. I'd actually argue that around some of your areas, GST off fruit and vegetables and that $5000 tax free threshold, arguably you're only really putting five or six dollars a week into the hands of a you know an average New Zealand family. That doesn’t seem like a circuit breaker to me.

Carmel Sepuloni – Labour List MP
Everything that Labour's put on the table adds up Duncan, and at the end of the day too we've got quarter of a million Kiwis out there that are on less than $15 an hour, and that's one of the biggest announcements that we've made. The cost of living has gone up and wages haven’t gone up to match. So we've said we'll put the minimum wage up from $13 to $15 an hour and that'll make a difference to low income earners.

Duncan Are you saying to businesses here that you'd put that up from $13 to $15 in that first year of the first term, or would you roll it out?

Carmel We've said within the first year of our first term.

Duncan Are you worried about any impact from business on that, any backlash?

Carmel Look at the end of the day what we're really worried about is the fact that people can't afford to put food on their tables. So that has to be a primary concern.

Duncan And you’ve also campaigned heavily against the GST increase, and I notice it's in your ad on the Labour Party website. Why don’t you roll it back to 12.5%?

Carmel Well you know what we've seen is a National government that are borrowing millions of dollars every week, and they're gonna leave us with this huge deficit by November the 26th when that election comes round. So I mean there's gonna be not enough money in the coffers. That’s the legacy that the National government will leave for the incoming government, and so we're gonna have to deal with that. So we can't promise things that we can't guarantee we'd be able to do.

Duncan What would you like to do more, and I want to focus on the GST off fruit and vegetables. I think your own figure's about $2.75 or $3.00 a week.

Carmel $160 a year, yeah.

Duncan $160 a year. I mean how many voters are you gonna convince out there - $160 a year.

Carmel Duncan at the end of the day it's that, it's saying that first $5000 a year, it's earned whether you're a beneficiary, whether you're on superannuation, whether you're on a low income whatever, that first $5000 no tax. Then it's GST off fruit and vegetables. It's also raising the minimum wage from $13 to $15 an hour, and so all of those things combined make a real difference to people's lives.

Duncan And I want to look at that $5000 tax free threshold, I mean Phil Goff made it quite clear that wouldn’t come in in the first year. So you'd have to roll that out, I mean do you accept that?

Carmel Look everything has to be rolled out in all due course, and at the end of the day what we're saying is at least we're gonna move in a direction where we're actually looking after the most vulnerable in society.

Duncan It could be $3 a week Carmel?

Carmel It's not gonna be $3 a week Duncan.

Duncan Well what is it going to be?

Carmel Well at the end of the day that depends on how much someone is earning, whatever wave they're on.

Duncan I'm talking about the $5000 tax free threshold, you can't give $10 a week up front because Phil Goff has already set the limits around that debate that it can't be done in the first year. So if you're gonna roll it out over two or three years it might be three or four dollars in the first year.

Carmel It's going to be rolled out. At least we're willing to say that this is what we're going to do, but at the moment we're not having anything from the National government with regards to what policies they might put into place to look after the most vulnerable people out there.

Duncan Stuart Nash you obviously have a pretty close hand on the revenue and taxation side of the party. Just how limiting are the times at the moment in terms of what you can spend as a party. In the past of course you’ve had some golden times, been able to offer promises. Not now though?

Stuart No. Duncan we're very clear on this. Three hundred million dollars a week is unsustainable. Sixteen billion dollar government debt is unsustainable. We are not gonna go out there and promise things we can't deliver. We're very clear on this. This is not gonna be a tax and spend government, this is gonna be a very very fiscally prudent Labour government.

Duncan Which is limiting your appeal in many ways, isn't it? Carol I'll ask you this, is limiting your appeal amongst families. If you dig behind some of our numbers in our poll, families with children don’t appear to be ticking the Labour Party box at the moment?

Carol Look I think a lot of our policies are not yet announced and I think that’s gonna make the difference in the debate on them, because it's not any single policy. These things go together as coherent whole and we are going to also be a government that has a very clear plan for our economy. We want to send signals that we want to invest in the productive economy, not in property speculation, that’s part of the tax reform. We want to invest in our people, there’ll be a lot around that. Research and Development, we want to lift the value of jobs in New Zealand.

Duncan I'd argue your major policies are announced actually. I'd actually contest that.

Carol No. We still have many to go. We have our skills and training policies to go. We have our policy around children to announce. We have a range of our policies still left to announce.

Duncan What about the unions for instance, I mean Labour has big links to the unions. Has this 90 day hire and fire policy been a complete disaster, because it doesn’t appear the world stopped as a result does it?

Carol No but there's been a number of people who've been treated very unfairly at work. I don’t think that work is actually like that.

Duncan We're not seeing the cases are we?

Carol Yes we are, and I mean the Council of Trade Unions are keeping a record of those cases, so you might want to talk to them about the specifics, but you know we would generally come across people in our offices as well who've been treated in that way, and it's just not fair. We will be rolling back those sorts of negative types of employment relations policy and looking at trying to move to a much more collaborative and positive workplace future.

Duncan And more powers for unions, would that be something that Labour obviously would be looking at after the election?

Carol Well we'd want to restore the right of access. We want to ensure that workers have access, genuine access to collective bargaining. We'd like to see more industry standards in things like training for example. So yes when we launch our policy in that area I think you will see some positives. You might want to characterise it as more union power, but I think it's about actually better balance in the workplace.

Duncan Carmel just on the cost of living which we touched on earlier. Do you believe that the two supermarket chains are running some kind of duopoly here, that there needs to be an inquiry into them? You'll know we're looking at a milk inquiry at the moment on the price of milk. What's the Labour Party's view on looking at Progressive's…?

Carmel I don’t know if we've sat down and publically come up with that yet.

Carol I'm our Consumer Affairs spokesperson so perhaps I could comment. Certainly that’s something I'd like to be looking at in our policy. We haven’t quite finalised our Consumer Affairs policy but there is no doubt that people I think are concerned about the behaviour of the two main supermarkets. This is a global phenomena I might add. Australia's been grappling with this, the United Kingdom, the powers of global food retailers are very significant. Here in New Zealand we need to make sure there is genuine competition, and that there's some transparency. So I am looking at things like the Code of Conduct that’s been … in the UK.

Duncan An inquiry into Foodstuffs and Progressives?

Carol Well I don’t know if it'll be an inquiry, but it will be part of the milk inquiry, and that may well inform us, because that milk inquiry is farm gate through to checkout till.

Duncan Okay, I want to ask you all the question obviously about the polls, and leadership and so forth. The way Labour's tracking at the moment, arguably you're all in trouble, and may not be back. How concerning is that Stuart?

Stuart It's not at all. I'll tell you the one thing that does concern me though Duncan, there are a significant number of New Zealand families out there who are suffering under this government. We have answers and we have a plan. I'm not concerned at all.

Duncan So if you say you’ve got the answers and you’ve got a plan, then how come Mr Goff doesn’t appear to be connecting that with the majority of voters? Are you concerned about his leadership in that sense?

Stuart Look let's make one thing very clear. Phil Goff is going to lead the New Zealand Labour Party into this election. End of question. But i9'll tell you one thing mate, people aren’t terribly connected at the moment, we've got the Rugby World Cup coming up.

Duncan And whose fault is that?

Stuart No no, this is just general, this happens at all elections.

Duncan So the leadership is not to blame for the lack of connection? Is that what you're saying? Is it the Rugby World Cup's fault?

Carmel The other thing we're contending with is the spin doctor machine behind the National Party, and they want to make this a presidential style race. At the end of the day New Zealanders are looking for substance. Labour has the substance in their policies and I think closer to the election people will realise that, and we'll see a sharp shift in what the polls are looking like.

Duncan So you can't win a presidential race? You can't win a presidential race?

Carol It's not about that, I mean it's about good policy, it's about a good team, and we have I consider, a really high quality team with a lot of depth. We'll be out there on the doorsteps as we already are, but closer to the election people will start to connect more I think. It's too soon.

Carmel And there's a lot of undecided voters, and those polls don’t show those people.

Stuart And like you’ve been in politics long enough to know that Phil Goff is a man of hug integrity, he has a massive work ethic, huge knowledge, he would be a great Prime Minister. You'll never see him mincing across the stage like you saw John Key.

Duncan Have you had doubts about his leadership over the last three years Stuart?

Stuart No not at all. I'm new in parliament now, and I think Phil has led our caucus.

Duncan You’ve talked to no one in the Labour Party even at a chit chat level about his leadership?

Stuart The thing we tend to talk about is what can we do to help New Zealanders out of strife. Do you know if you have got a million dollars a week….

Duncan Are you saying to me that of the 40 odd plus Labour MPs no one's talked about their concerns about Mr Goff's leadership?

Stuart We have concerns about what is happening to New Zealand families.

Duncan That isn't my question though Stuart.

Carol The caucus is united, and we are going into the election with Phil Goff as our leader.

Carmel Absolutely.

Duncan Alright, well thank you so much for coming in this morning, you gave up your Saturday and your Sunday and you'll be knocking on doors of course.


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