Q+A interview with David Shearer
Sunday 11 March, 2012
Q+A, Shane Taurima interview with Leader of the Opposition, David Shearer.
Points of interest:
Labour leader, David Shearer reveals his plan to introduce private members’ bill on foreign ownership of land. Shearer says, “What we have to say is that we must get substantial benefit out of foreigners owning our land.”
He denies closing the door to foreign investment, but says “Our valuable land is best farmed for New Zealanders.”
Confirms Labour will change election policies: some will fit the new vision he’s laying out, “Some of them won’t.”
Refuses to endorse Labour’s election policy to extend Working For Families to beneficiaries or raising retirement age to 67: “Everything’s under review until 2014”
Labour won’t commit to re-nationalise state assets sold by National, despite Cunliffe’s promise last year not to rule out a buy-back.
Shearer: “We simply will not be able to have the opportunity to do that in the foreseeable future – to buy back those, because I just don’t think we’ll have the money.”
Shearer sums himself up in one line: “David Shearer’s somebody who’s spent his entire life working for others.”
Shearer point’s his finger at Len Brown on wharf dispute: “I would’ve liked to have seen the Auckland Council step up more.”
On his first three months: “If I was being asked just after I’d taken on the leadership where would I like to be, at three or four points up in the polls now would— this would be about as good as you can get.”
“My style is that I’m serious about the issues.”
Shearer’s first significant positioning speech this week will say New Zealand needs to do more to fulfil its potential.
John Key is “a good politician, and I have to match him.”
“I have got the killer instinct, and I
have got the mongrel… But what I’m not going to do is
I’m not going to get into the petty politicking that goes
on in and around Parliament.”
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE.
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Q + A
SHANE TAURIMA INTERVIEWS DAVID SHEARER
PAUL David Shearer is the new Labour leader, and he’s a fresh face – fresh face in politics, but is he the one to take on that Prime Minister, John Key, and when? An aid worker turned politician, Labour MPs voted him into the job last December. After only two and a half years, after he was elected as an MP, he represents the former prime minister Helen Clark’s old seat of Mount Albert. David Shearer himself says he is up to the job, but he is already countering some criticism that his leadership style is too laid-back. So what will David Shearer’s Labour look like? And how’s he going to woo back the voters who deserted Labour last year? We’re about to find out. Joining us this year is Shane Taurima, who is with the Labour leader, David Shearer.
SHANE Thank you, Paul, and thank you, David Shearer for joining us.
DAVID SHEARER – Leader of the Opposition
SHANE You’ve been in the role for three months. Do you think you’re doing a good job?
Well, we’ve started off by turning over the
caucus – the reshuffle of the caucus – the biggest
reshuffle we’ve had in 10 years. We’ve implemented a
review of the Labour Party – the first time we’ve done
that in 17 years. We’ve led on many of these issues that
we’ve just seen that, certainly on the assets sales and
the Crafar farms. And I think we’re doing a really good
job. If I was being asked just after I’d taken on the
leadership where would I like to be, at three or four points
up in the polls now would— this would be about as good as
you can get.
SHANE What about your own performance – your personal performance and your personal view about how you’re doing? Are you stepping up to the mark, do you think?
DAVID I am. I believe I am.
All of those things have come off the back of my initiation,
and we’re pushing those things forward. But it’s
important that I have my own style, and my style is that
I’m serious about the issues. I want to engage the
government on the issues that are important to people. And
those things that are important, as I go round the country,
and I spent a lot of time going around and visiting people,
are the asset sales in particular and the sale of our
valuable farm land. So those things are really important,
and those are the things that we’ve been taking out there,
and I have been pushing both in the House and out in the
media as well.
SHANE It’s interesting you don’t raise another sort of topical issue of the time, the Auckland Ports issue. And before we get into that, I want us to have a look at a clip with two views from within the Labour Party over the Auckland Ports issue.
obviously we would like to see workers – those workers –
back to work. We’d like to see the port working. It’s
not about taking sides.
What message would you like to give the striking workers of the Ports of Auckland?
Oh, just stand strong. We’re with you. Labour Party’s with them, I’m with them, and we’re going to be joining them on Saturday up there in Auckland. Kia ora. Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui.
WALLACE Is Labour with
SHANE You say you don’t want to take sides, and yet your own caucus have clearly taken sides.
DAVID The last few weeks
I’ve gone around and spoken to all the union workers, the
union— heads of the union, the workers and their families.
I’ve also been out there talking to the Ports of Auckland
and mayor Len Brown in an attempt to try and bring those
groups together. Only a mediator settlement was going to
ever bring about the ports going again.
SHANE But with respect—
DAVID But on
Saturday, yesterday, I was on the rally, and I spoke at the
rally, because when you actually lay off 300 workers in the
middle of mediation, that’s, in my view, a point at which
that mediation, that good faith ends. So I went out there
and I stood with the people who have been laid off. But up
to that point, I believed the most important thing I could
do was actually try and get those parties around the table
and mediate and get a mediated solution.
SHANE So you’re saying today— you’re saying now that you’re right behind those striking workers?
Labour has always been behind people wanting to get
their jobs, and whether it’s the port workers or it’s
the rest-home workers– Look, there are rest-home workers
out there on strike at the moment, getting $13.61 an hour.
They’re getting a 1% or be offered a 1% increase. How do
you raise a family on $13.61 an hour and try and get a
mortgage on $13.61 an hour. Those are the issues that will
we stand up for.
SHANE But here’s another issue, Mr Shearer, with respect, it took you a long time to come out on this issue. When you finally spoke last week, you said you refused to take sides. Members of your own caucus came out in full support of those striking workers, and yesterday you were out marching with them. Can you understand why we may be left feeling a little confused over your position?
DAVID No, no, I’m
completely consistent. I’ve said all along I oppose
casualisation, I oppose the contracting out of labour.
I’ve always said that right throughout this dispute.
But— And I believe that those workers deserve a chance to
go back and do their jobs as they said they wanted to.
I’m completely consistent on that, but I believe that the
way to do that was to try and get those parties to
mediation. That failed, and it failed this week when those
workers were laid off.
SHANE Were you advised—? Let me ask you this – were you advised by the unions to not get involved, because you could be pigeonholed?
they didn’t. I get lots of advice from
SHANE But from the unions specifically?
DAVID No, they— Nobody’s
given me any specific advice. Look, I listen to all advice,
and I make my own decisions.
SHANE Okay. What about the Auckland Council? How do you think they’ve handled the issue?
Well, I would’ve liked to have seen the Auckland
Council step up more. My conversation with Len Brown was
that if he could do more to try and bring the parties
together, I would’ve liked to have seen that. I mean, as
leader of the Opposition, I don’t have the ability to
bring people together or force people together or twist any
arms. Other people do. My approach has been to get
alongside and talk to all of the parties and trying to make
sure that they negotiate.
SHANE Let’s move on. Let’s talk about another issue. You mentioned it before – foreign investors buying New Zealand land. Are you happy with the current rules around that?
DAVID No, I’m not. And one
of the things that we’ve done today is to announce a new
piece of legislation that we’re putting forward as a
members’ bill to restrict foreign ownership of land. And
the reason for that is that we know that there are 41 new
applications for land sitting with the Overseas Investment
Office, 16,000 hectares up for grabs. And we know that that
demand is going to increase. And what we have to say, I
think, and this is what New Zealanders are telling me when I
go around the country, what we have to say is that we must
get substantial benefit out of foreigners owning our land.
We must be able to see what can come out of that, and that
could in the form of new markets. It could be in the form
of new technologies. It could be in the form of new ways
of working around farmland, given the fact I actually think
that our farmers are the best in the world anyway, but
we’re still open to new ideas. And so what I’d really
like to do with this piece of legislation – I hope the
Government picks it up – it’s certainly what New
Zealanders are telling me – is to get this piece of
legislation through and make it more difficult to sell land
unless there’s substantial benefit for New
SHANE So you’re making it that much harder for foreign buyers to come here and purchase land? We need foreign investment, though, don’t we? And here you are potentially closing the door.
DAVID Yeah, but
what I’m doing here is saying we’re not closing the door
to all foreign investment. I mean, it’s very clear in the
bill that I’m putting forward. What we’re saying is
that our land, our valuable land is best farmed for New
Zealanders and the value flows back to New Zealand as well.
What we don’t want to see is foreign corporates coming in
here, buying up lots of land, and the value and the benefits
flowing out of New Zealand, and that’s very very
SHANE Let’s move on to some other issues. After being elected leader last year, you said that you were ‘very happy with Labour’s election policies’. Is that still the case?
DAVID What I
said was that our policies are on the table. They’re on
the table until we take them off—
SHANE You said you were very happy.
went into an election with a set of policies on which I was
happy to have campaigned on. As we come out of that
election, and obviously we lost, we’ve got to go back and
review those. And we’ve got to review where we’re going
and what policies are still—
SHANE So everything’s under review?
Everything’s under review until 2014,
SHANE Well, let’s in the interest of getting to know you a bit better, let me go through a few of the policies and let me ask you what you think, you as David Shearer? I understand that the party’s still reviewing the election policies. Working for Families – do you think beneficiaries should be entitled to Working for Families?
Look, we can through a shopping list of
SHANE No, no—
But I’m telling you—
SHANE But what does David Shearer think?
Yeah, but what I’m telling you – that the
policies are there on the table and in the next few weeks
and certainly this week, but over the next weeks I’ll be
laying where I believe New Zealand—
no, no, because— Let me finish it. Where New Zealand—
where New Zealand needs to go. And some of those policies
will fit with that future that I’m going to be laying out,
and some of them won’t. But I’m not going to go through
now a whole list of our policies and say whether they do or
they don’t out of context.
SHANE Well, why not? Let me refresh your memory if I can, please, with respect. During the election campaign last year, you said that we shouldn’t reward those on welfare. I think it’s a very pertinent question to be asking you now whether or not you feel beneficiaries should be entitled to Working for Families.
DAVID Well, let
me tell you about welfare. We have a social contract in New
Zealand, and that is about if people find themselves in
tough times that the state and all New Zealanders help them
out. The other side of that contract is about
responsibility. And when those people get through that
point, they then have a responsibility to re-enter the
workforce and to do their bit as well. That’s the way it
works. The government’s part of that contract is to make
sure that people have the opportunity to get off of the
place where they are and get back into work and to make sure
that they are able to play a real part in New Zealand’s
future. That’s the contract. Now—
SHANE I understand that. With respect, and I’m sorry to interrupt you, but we understand that, but surely why can’t you answer the question whether you feel beneficiaries should be entitled to Working for Families?
Well, because what I’m saying to you is that
I’m not going to go through a set of policies—
SHANE But why not?
Because I’m looking forward into the future,
I’m going to be setting out a vision, and I want to see
where those policies fit with where we want to go. I’m
not looking back to where we were in the last election.
I’m looking forward to where we want to go. And when we
map that out, some policies will naturally fit and some
policies will naturally fall out.
SHANE Okay, well, let’s pick on an issue that you raised yourself earlier on about state assets. Would you look at renationalising some of them?
DAVID I don’t
think we’ll have the opportunity to do that.
Because I don’t think we’ll have the money, and
that’s the key issue about selling off assets. We’re
selling off our legacy that we inherited from our parents
and our grandparents, and I would like to think that we
could pass on to our children and our grandchildren, but we
simply will not be able to have the opportunity to do that
in the foreseeable future – to buy back those, because I
just don’t think we’ll have the money.
SHANE David Cunliffe—
they’re gone, they’re gone.
SHANE David Cunliffe looked down that camera barrel last year and he said that he would. Can you do the same? Can you look down that camera barrel and say that?
DAVID I can’t give people a
commitment that I can do that No, I can’t.
SHANE What about the retirement age? Do you like it as it is? Should it be raised?
DAVID I think
there’s some strong arguments for making sure that our
future – our economic future – is preserved, but again
I’m not going to go down the track of ticking or crossing
policies as we go through them.
SHANE So you’re happy to talk about state assets but not Working for Families and not retirement age?
DAVID Well, I said about
state assets – this is something that we are campaigning
for right now in the Parliament. We’re getting behind the
citizens-initiated referendum. Grey Power’s leading it.
Certainly, we’ll be behind them, and we think we can get
at least 300,000 signatures, which will force the Government
to have a referendum on the issue. When I go around the
country, that’s what people tell me about, and I’ve got
to listen to people. And I’ll tell you what they don’t
ask about – they don’t ask about the policies of the
last election. They’re thinking about the future, and
that’s where we want to go. I want to look into the
future and say, ‘If we want to be down here, what policies
are going to fit?’ And some of them are going to fit and
some of them aren’t.
SHANE What can we look forward to in your big speech this week?
DAVID I’m going to lay out
where I believe New Zealand should be going. I think New
Zealand has an enormous amount of creativity, an enormous
amount of potential, and I don’t think we’re using it
sufficiently. If you just give Kiwis the opportunities, the
opportunities they need particularly in education, they can
do fantastic things, but I don’t think we are doing as
well as we could. And when I look at other countries around
the world that are like-sized – they’re about the same
size as New Zealand – and we look at Finland or Singapore
and look where Singapore was 30 years and look where it is
SHANE So is it about us as New Zealand catching up with the rest of the world?
DAVID I believe
that it is, but it’s also about the way that we catch up,
and you don’t catch up by selling off your assets. You do
it through your own creativity and your own talents and
making that we can harness those talents through our
education system. And at the same time as we harness those
talents, we make sure that our education system’s a great
one. But we’ve got an enormously long tail on our
education system. A lot of people are dropping out, and we
need to make sure that those people are picked up as
SHANE You sound a little bit like John Key.
DAVID Well, I’m ambitious for New Zealand, and that was something that John Key said.
SHANE Is that
what you have in common with John Key?
DAVID Well, I think New Zealand could do a lot better, but the problem— the difference I have with John Key is that I have a— my future is about building on the creativity and the talents of New Zealanders and not selling our assets in order to try and get to where he wants to go.
On the matter of John Key, how are you going to
beat him? Because that’s part of the game. That’s part
of your job, isn’t it? It’s about beating John
DAVID It’s— Obviously, John Key is a popular politician. There’s no doubt about that. He’s a good politician, and I have to match him.
SHANE Do you
think you match him?
DAVID Absolutely, I do. I think what we need to be able to do is to put out to New Zealand a plan of where we think New Zealand should go, and I think that’s missing at the moment. I think what I need to be doing is be serious about where I want to be taking New Zealand. And lastly, I think as an opposition we need to be taking the fight to the government on the issues that we feel very strongly that they need to be held in account for.
challenge I put to you – the challenge that lies ahead of
you is that people know who John Key is – they can sum him
up in one line, if you like. He came from a state house and
he’s good with money. He understands money. What about
your one line? Can you give us one line this morning about
who David Shearer is and what he represents?
DAVID David Shearer’s somebody who’s spent his entire life working for others. I’ve worked in the service of others. I’ve done that because I believe that I can lift people out of their circumstances, particularly in my past work. I believe I can make a difference to New Zealand. It’s part of who I am. I didn’t get into this to be a politician. I am a politician, but the way to making a difference and making a positive difference in New Zealand is through, I believe, through politics, and that’s why I’m here. Now, it will— You’re right. It will take some time before people get to know me. I’ve been in the job two and a half months, and we have to remember that this is not a sprint. It’s not a marathon; it’s like a 1500-metre race.
SHANE Can I ask you briefly, because we have to wrap, but can I ask you briefly – you say you don’t want to be called a politician. The politician we know needs a bit of mongrel, don’t they?
SHANE Have you got that mongrel? Have you got that killer instinct?
have got the killer instinct, and I have got the mongrel.
I’ve shown that in every area that I’ve worked in in my
past. But what I’m not going to do is I’m not going to
get into the petty politicking that goes on in and around
Parliament. I’m not going to be a politician that takes
cheap snipes. I want to play the issues, and, I guess, I
want to play the ball and not the man.
SHANE And what a good place to leave it. David Shearer, thank you for joining us.