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John Key interviewed on TV ONE’s Breakfast this morning

29th August, 2011

TRANSCRIPT: Prime Minister, John Key interviewed on TV ONE’s Breakfast at 7:20am this morning the 29th of August.

The full length video interview can also be seen on tvnz.co.nz at, http://tvnz.co.nz/Breakfast

JOHN KEY interviewed by CORIN DANN

Corin: Well it's one of the biggest problems facing us as a country, and now we know how the government plans to tackle it at least, the way New Zealanders drink. But some say the proposed reform just scratches the surface. John Key is with us now. Good morning Prime Minister. The response to this – well the committee's package is interesting. It seems to be that a lot of people feel it hasn’t gone anywhere near far enough to tackling booze in this country.

John: There will always be a range of views. So you’ve gotta remember those who don’t think it's gone far enough are likely to be the more vocal group, linked by Doug Selman and others. But I think if you take a step back and say we're in an interesting space actually in parliament when it comes to alcohol, because for 20 years we've been liberalising the laws around alcohol and its accessibility in this country. So for the first time we've got a parliament that’s really going the other way, starting to apply some restrictions. So it's certainly a change and that’s a good starting point.

Corin: Do you think you’ve reflected the public mood? I mean even Michael Laws in the paper yesterday was suggesting he was willing to give up some of his personal freedom to see the booze cracked down on.

John: Yeah. So the first thing you’ve gotta say is where's the problem, and I think we can identify that which is the binge drinking culture expressed by a lot of young people.

Corin: And will this bill do anything to stop that binge drinking culture though?

John: Help, but I mean I don’t think actually parliament on its own passing you know 130 odd changes to alcohol law, can fix a binge drinking culture. Actually that has to come from us as individuals, as parents, as caregivers, as the community standing up. Because look every time I go and speak to a secondary school now I always talk to them about alcohol, and I've done that now for the last 14 months, and I do that because I want to try and engage them in what I think is a cultural problem for primarily young people.

Corin: But could price help? That’s the argument. You did it with cigarettes. Could lifting the prices significantly actually really make a difference?

John: If you could do it significantly. So if you think about cigarettes we're pretty much taking them up a dollar a year per packet, and so that dramatically over time alters the price and you're right in terms of elasticity. It depends what everybody wants to pay, it takes it out of the market particularly for young people. In terms of alcohol what they're talking about is minimum pricing. Now a few places in the world are considering it. One or two states are trying things.

Corin: It wouldn’t be enough to be a deterrent.

John: No because minimum pricing is really saying that you can't loss lead. Now do you remember some years ago Jim Anderton passed a law that put the price of Sherry up.

Corin: The Sherry drinkers yeah.

John: It did a couple of things. it put the fortified wine manufacturers in my electorate out of business, and it stopped grandma having a Sherry, so she moved off to a low price Vodka. It didn’t actually change her consumption of alcohol. So yes I mean if you could get a price that was a high selling point for all alcohol, maybe, but all you're likely to do is raise excise across the board.

Corin: And annoy your moderate drinker as well. Okay, an issue that’s been bubbling away under the surface last week is national standards in education. Why hasn’t the government three years on after a key election policy into all schools? I mean there's still 350 schools or something that aren’t doing it.

John: Well you can make the same case about why that’s also true for the national curriculum, which not every school's following as well. So remembering there's over 2000 primary schools, the bulk of them in their charter work which is where they’ve gotta come back and tell us what they're doing, are actually adopting national standards, and in fact some that say they aren’t are still actually doing it. So there is a small group that’s not.

Corin: It sounds like a reasonable group though, 20 to 25%.

John: I'm not sure that it'd be actually in reality that high, but I mean again – look we could go in and be very heavy handed. My preference is not to do that.

Corin: So what would that mean? You'd essentially remove boards if you had to?

John: Fundamentally they are state servants actually, so yes you could go and remove a board, yes you could go and put in a commissioner. But I think the point here is we'd rather try and work with them. What we are seeing is a number of schools who are hesitant at the starting point basically starting to you know change their position.

Corin: But Trevor Mallard in parliament last week I think it was, or I'm not sure exactly when it was, said that you know a lot of boards are still writing letters to the Minister, 48 boards sent letters expressing concerns. So boards suggests it's not just the principals and the teachers who have got concerns.

John: Yes well there are 2000 schools though. Let's sort of understand what we're trying to do here. One in five young New Zealanders leave school with hopeless literacy and numeracy skills. So some of them are completely illiterate or enumerate, others have very low levels. When we try and take them into the workforce they really struggle to get in. National standards is taking your child, making sure that we assess the progress of them, and actually report to you as the parent, and most importantly do something about it. You may get some schools who say we don’t want to do that, but in my view they are actually robbing those children of a future.

Corin: I understand the arguments and I think we've had the debate, and the debate is that it should be implemented now because you won the election. What I'm worried about is the political management and whether your Minister's doing a good enough job to get them in?

John: Well I think she's working her way through it gently, and rightfully so. I mean there's more money in there for schools that actually do follow national standards, we put in more support. I mean in the end communities also have a responsibility, because they elect the Board of Trustees to say look we expect to see national standards implemented.
As I say in my view look everyone acknowledges there are one or two things that need to change there. We can change those.

Corin: I mean that’s the other argument. There are people saying why not just do a little review, why not have a review. You know NCEA was a moving beast, why not do the same with national standards.

John: National standards has been the same, there's a number of technical advisory groups that have been working with the Minister and making changes, and that’s right. There will be in any sort of system where you're trying to make the appropriate assessment, that there's moderation so you're getting it right from one school to the next, make sure the standards are set accurately. Look they evolve over time, but the principle in my view is absolutely the right one.

Corin: Okay. Suicide, a pretty alarming report. I mean we've still got a suicide problem, that’s what the report told us. What can be done about that?

John: Well I think that’s a very interesting question. So very quickly if you look at the stats, we have I think on a per capita basis in the developed world, the worst stat for female youth suicide, even though more males actually commit suicide, it's about third in the world. So over 550 people a year take their lives, and over a hundred of them are young people. So it's a very high number. So look presuming we win the election, I mean in fact I'm working on it now. I've asked the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to start working across all of the government departments to see what we can do. We must be able to do better at lowering that suicide rate.

Corin: Would you like to see a little bit more liberalisation of the media reporting rules about that, or are you not in favour of that?

John: I am in favour of that. It's a contentious point, and some of the academics will come on your show and argue strongly against that. Don’t worry about copycat suicides. I support that view.

Corin: You just think that people need to talk about it more?

John: What the issue is – I think in the modern world what is ridiculous is we're tying the media up very tightly, but actually in reality with the social media, Facebook and the likes, if somebody commits suicide, a young person, I'll guarantee that within half an hour to an hour there’ll be a major Facebook site. So we are really doing something to the published media that we're not doing to the social media, and I just don’t think that’s working. So I think we've gotta look at a range of things, but obviously providing early care and intervention for young people who are displaying signs of mental depression. It's critically important.

Corin: Prime Minister John Key, thank you very much.


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