Shearer may reshuffle front bench
Shearer may reshuffle front bench
Labour Leader David Shearer is talking about a reshuffle of his front bench. Speaking this weekend on TV3’s “The Nation”, Mr Shearer said the party was doing well. “But will we have some changes later on? Quite possibly” he said. He wouldn’t say whether that would be before the end of the year. He said he disagreed with the claim earlier this year by Economic Development spokesman, David Cunliffe that voters who deserted Labour did so because they party’s policies as not very different to National’s. However he said there was room for Mr Cunliffe inside Labour because it was “a broad church”.
“There are many people who vote Labour from what you might call left and to the right as well.
“It's a broad church and what we're looking for is to be a party for all New Zealanders, not just one of the other.”
Mr Shearer said that the idea of a social contract was fundamental to Labour’s economic policies.
And he rejected criticism from his party’s left over his references to a sickness beneficiary who had been well enough to paint a roof.
“You know you work, you pay your taxes, and then when you need it you lose your job, you have an accident, the State looks after you.
“As soon as you're able to get back onto your feet again, the expectation is that you go back and you start paying your way again.
“That’s the social contract, now if that is broken at either end, somebody avoiding paying their taxes, or somebody bludging or doing whatever they're doing at the other end, then that’s an issue of fairness, and New Zealanders are very concerned about fairness, and we need to make sure that that system works.”
He also defended criticism of his performance in Parliament’s debating chamber and his own low poll rating.
“Nobody likes to be criticised but that just comes with the territory, I don’t have a problem with that.
“But what I will say is that as a politician I will not be a politician that personally goes after my opponent, I'll play the ball and not the man.”
Asked if the performance continued whether he might relinquish his job, he said: “2014 is what I'm aiming for and then to be Prime Minister in 2014, and leading the Labour Party into government.”
with ALEX TARRANT & JOHN HARTEVELT
hosted by RACHEL SMALLEY
Rachel This morning we have an extended interview with Labour Leader David Shearer. Let's meet our political journalists first, Alex Tarrant from interest.co.nz and John Hartevelt, Fairfax Political Reporter, welcome along to you both, and Sir David Shearer, Labour Leader. Thank you too for coming in this morning.
I'd like to start off with what is the pressing news issue at the moment the GCSB. You want an inquiry into that organisation. Can you have a public inquiry into an agency that’s so private and so secretive?
David Shearer – Labour Leader
Yes, is the answer. I mean obviously what you don’t do is reveal enormous number of secrets, but what you can do is get somebody trusted to go in and actually take a really good look at what's going on, the procedures, the accountability line. They did this in Australia after the Iraq War with the failure of intelligence in and around the weapons of mass destruction, and made some big changes as a result. Not because of the issues the actual details, but actually because of the way that the accountabilities actually worked. We need this actually. If we don’t have this New Zealanders are not gonna have confidence in our security agencies and our intelligence agencies. And right now in the United States the story about New Zealand bungling intelligence. It is very embarrassing. We've gotta restore that reputation that we have.
John Hartevelt – Fairfax Media Political Reporter
You mention the United States, I'm interested on your view. There have been suggestions that this whole episode has been symptomatic of us just getting too close and too cuddly with the United States. Do you think that’s the case?
David I think there's an element of that. One of the things I'm particularly worried about is that the Intelligence Coordination Group which is the body which is supposedly meant to coordinate all of the intelligence agencies, including GCSB, it's headed by Roy Fergusson, ex Ambassador to the United States. I can't believe that he didn’t know about everything that had been going on in and around the Dotcom case, because it was so intricately linked to what the US wanted to do. So if that information has gone up there and he knows about it, it hasn’t gone on to John Key, or John Key hasn’t been asked the right questions, that’s exactly the sort of thing that an independent inquiry would be able to answer.
John The climate of the friendliness with the United States comes straight from the top doesn’t it? If you were Prime Minister would you be so friendly with the United States as John Key has been?
David Oh look the United States is a long term ally, and obviously an important ally to us. But we're an independent country and we stand up for ourselves, we do unto ourselves as we feel we should do. We have our own laws and we should obey our own laws, and what we've done her is broken our laws, possibly in bending over backwards for the United States, and that’s definitely not on.
John So how would Labour's relationship with the United States be different to National's?
David Well it would be on a case by case basis. I mean we for example under Helen Clark, did not go into Iraq. John Key wanted us to go into Iraq. We stood up and said no, that’s not the right decision to make. We've stood firm on the nuclear ships issue. These are things that are important to our sovereignty. We stand up as an independent nation. It doesn’t mean to say though that we don’t have good relationships with the United States, and wouldn’t have ongoing good relationships with them.
Rachel The other big issue at the moment Mr Shearer is the high New Zealand dollar, and Labour has you know rested much of its economic policy on amending the Reserve Bank Act. How would that work under Labour?
David Well the way that the dollar has gone up, vis-à-vis other currencies has meant that many of our exporters are not doing well. We export to live, and if we export and our exports are doing well, then New Zealand does well. Right now the United States, the European Central Bank, Japan, South Korea, have all effectively devalued their currencies and ours are still very high. It makes it very difficult for our exporters to be able to compete in those sorts of bargains.
Alex Tarrant – Political Journalist
So they’ve all got very low interest rates obviously. So would Labour want to see the OCR lower, would Labour want to do what the United States and ECB is doing and intervene the foreign exchange markets?
David Well what we've said is that the Reserve Bank Act needs to be amended so that inflation is not just simply the one target, so that we actually broaden that outlook, so it gives the Reserve Bank the ability to be able to take a look at how exports are doing and how our exchange rate is doing.
Alex So you cut the OCR to try and get the exchange rate down, it fuels inflation, what's the right level of those two? Who tells the Reserve Bank that?
David Well it's not for the politicians to run the exchange rate, but what you do need to have is a wider toolbox for the Reserve Bank to be able to make those sorts of judgements, and if they're only concentrating and focusing just on inflation, which was an issue, well it's still an issue – but it was certainly the big issue 15, 20, 25 years ago. But it's not so much the issue today. When you look around the world today how it is we're going to be able to compete, our exchange rate is killing us.
Alex Yeah but basically what Labour's effectively saying is you want them to cut interest rates so that the pressure comes off the funds coming into New Zealand, to try and get the exchange rate right. Isn't that the point of what Labour's saying with their policy.
David Well it may involve the interest rate coming down, but what we are saying is that rather than politicians becoming involved in setting exchange rates, what we are saying is that the Reserve Bank should have more ability rather than the very narrow….
Alex This is exactly what's happening though, Labour is saying we don’t want the exchange rate at where it is on the market level. It's there because of market dynamics at the moment. Labour's saying we don’t want it there for the market dynamics. That’s politicising the Reserve Bank Act again.
David No I don’t think that’s the case. What many people are saying, including the IMF are saying that our exchange rate is overvalued by the IMX at 15%. David Parker has been in the United States recently talking to Joseph Stiglers the head of the IMF. A whole bunch of economists who are saying the era of focusing solely on inflation is now over, and we need to be looking at a wider range of economic measures and therefore giving the Reserve Bank the ability to actually take….
Alex They’ve got that ability now. It seems to me Labour just thinks oh just tell them to do it, I mean why doesn’t Labour ask them to do other things as well?
David No, I don’t agree. What we are saying to them under the Act now is that inflation is the primary target, and what we're saying is that needs to be broader.
Alex And now you don’t mind if inflation goes a bit higher if it allows for more employment or growth in the economy?
David No, what I'm saying is, is that inflation is one aspect, but it's not the sole aspect. It was the sole aspect 20 years ago, but today we've got other pressures on our economy, and that’s about exchange rates and actually growing our economy.
Rachel So is this Labour's magic bullet to stimulate the economy?
David No, there is not magic bullet, but this is one issue that we are exploring and putting out there because it is where other countries are going to and we are needing to take real notice of that. Now if you look at many other countries as I said, they are already doing that. This government is currently saying, no were just gonna leave it up to the world market, we're gonna be okay. Well actually that’s not the case. But coming back to your point, what we need to be able to do, is not only just to focus on, just on exchange rates obviously, but it also is about making sure that we are investing in productive enterprises, and that is run a Capital Gains Tax that we've been talking about. Universal savings so that there's more capital to be able to be invested in businesses. There's a whole series, I mean Superannuation which we're worried about, growing so that it's starting to soak up government expenditure.
Alex That brings up a really important issue as to why the exchange rate is so high is because foreign funds have been flowing in to fuel the housing market. Labour says that’s because of a lack of a Capital Gains Tax. That’s got nothing to do with the Reserve Bank does it?
David No, this is what we're coming back to Rachel's point about a silver bullet, there are no silver bullets. There is no silver bullet but there are a series of measures that we can take to readjust our economy and refocus our economy towards productive enterprises rather than speculating ….
Alex And government can take the fiscal and tax settings not monetary policy really, it could be?
David Absolutely, it's not one or the other, it's both. I mean there's a whole bevvy of things that we're able to do. And what we're saying, and what we are very different from where National is going, is National is saying we can't do anything more it's hands off. What we're saying is no no it's not hands off, we can make some big changes, and this is the very big difference between us and National, some big changes around monetary policy, taxation, savings, superannuation.
John You're talking about a more regulated economy aren’t you? So why are you protecting unproductive jobs? You want a modern economy so why protect jobs that don’t work in the market. Uneconomic mining.
David Well just a minute, I mean we're not actually talking about it. Those four things that I was talking about is not regulating more. Capital Gains Tax is just simply readjusting the signals so people who have been investing in the property market in Auckland actually start to invest in …
John … Labour has been talking this week about a bail out for Solid Energy to keep those mines working.
David What we said on Spring Creek and it's very interesting. Spring Creek is owned by Solid Energy. Solid Energy is on the shelf to be sold. If you are going to sell a business you certainly take a different approach to the approach you might want to take if you were saying this is going to be something we're going to be keeping for a longer term period. So the owners of – which is the government – but the people who are selling Solid Energy off, it makes very good sense for them right now to be covering workers than closing down the mine.
Rachel Okay what our economy does need is capital, foreign investment. So where do you sit on overseas investment. Would you approve for example Heier taking over Fisher & Paykel?
David Well what we've said in our policy is that if there were transactions more than $100m at the moment it goes to the Overseas Investment Office, and we would take that further and take it a ministerial level as well. So it's just not bureaucrats that would look at that. But I have to say that it would be very very rare occasions where we would intervene into that market.
Alex Because it would be politicised wouldn’t it? It'd be politicised much more than it is now.
Rachel Would be giving ministers more discretion as well.
David Well you'll give ministers discretion and we've talked about this, and it's stated very clearly in our policy. This would be in the case of we give the example of rare metals being found in New Zealand, that we would want to make sure that they stayed under New Zealand …
Alex There's no certainty though is there, it could be that foreign investments decisions are just decided on the TV polls.
David No I don’t think that’s the case. I mean we have run an economy before and I'll remind you that in the nine years of the Labour government we rang surpluses every single year.
Rachel Okay I just want to bring you back to that issue of Heier and Fisher & Paykel, sure you'd give the ministers more discretion on this, that would be your policy. In principle would you agree to it?
David I don’t know the details exactly about Heier because it's not in my purview but I mean certainly, but I mean certainly Fisher & Paykel is one of those industries that I see being the future of New Zealand in terms of being research and development orientated, innovative type of a business, but I don’t see us intervening in buying Fisher & Paykel.
Rachel Or blocking Heier from doing that?
David It comes back to a broader point which is if our economy is in a better state where we have universal savings and we have the degree of capital markets that have some real depth, then we actually do get New Zealand buyers rather than having overseas buyers coming in and taking some of our best companies.
Rachel Mr Shearer earlier this week with the job losses at Spring Creek Mine, Steven Joyce came out and he said he wanted everybody to pull back on their court action on the Denniston Plateau, he said there were 228 jobs there and the miners from Spring Creek could in essence be placed in that mine at Denniston Plateau, keep those jobs going. Do you agree with that? Should the court action be stopped on the Denniston Plateau?
David Well first of all Steven Joyce is – it is typical political diversion. We have a huge number of job losses that are going to really affect Greymouth profoundly, and what he comes out with is a diversion about another mine somewhere else. The Denniston Plateau is going through its resource consent process, that’s the way it should go. We have nothing to do with it, we are not stopping or standing in the way of that process going through, and we accept what the process comes out with.
John But you know full well Mr Shearer that if Labour was to get together with the EPMU and the Green Party and call off those litigants, that would have a major impact wouldn’t it?
David Actually that’s not true at all John, I mean we can't get together with anybody that’s objecting to that mine. This is a process that’s going through. We will accept the process, and the outcome of the process whatever it comes out to be. We're not gonna be politically involved in it.
John Isn't there something wrong with a process that’s taking over two years and costing a company hundreds of millions of dollars for that company?
David Well that could be a problem with the process, but it's got nothing to do with Steven Joyce saying suddenly to take attention off the fact that his selling of Solid Energy is actually gonna be responsible for closing down Spring Creek Mine, to turn his attention on here and say Labour it's your fault for not calling off….
John But it's a valid question for the Labour Party isn't it? I mean do you think the Resource Management Act needs sharpening?
David Well the Resource Management Act is there obviously to balance off our economic interest and our environmental interest, and obviously as a country that prides itself in being clean and green, we need to make sure that that goes through the right process.
John Two years is too long.
David It could be long, but actually two years in something this large I'm not qualified to say whether in fact it's too long or not, but something this large might be in fact a reasonable length of time. But the point is, it's a process and the problem with a process, then change the process Mr Joyce you're in government, change the process, but don’t come to the Labour Party and say somehow that we're blocking mining.
Rachel Labour was essentially born in the mines though, you were the party of the oppressed and the downtrodden, you know. Do you still believe the Labour Party stands by that principle, to each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs – that famous principle?
David Oh absolutely. I mean that is a core value of the Labour Party, and one of the things we stand up for of course is good jobs and good jobs 200, 350 of them are actually good jobs are going in Greymouth as a result of the Spring Creek Mine closing down. So that’s part of who we are, but I think we're talking about something else according to the process around mining.
Rachel How do you reconcile then, that with that sort of traditional compassionate approach that Labour has taken towards people with a more hardened line if you like on issues like welfare, you know the man on the roof who's ripping off the country. How do you reconcile those two sides of Labour?
David There's no problem there. Our welfare system is based on a social contract. The social contract works. You know you work, you pay your taxes, and then when you need it you lose your job, you have an accident, the State looks after you. As soon as you're able to get back onto your feet again, the expectation is that you go back and you start paying your way again. That’s the social contract, now if that is broken at either end, somebody avoiding paying their taxes, or somebody bludging or doing whatever they're doing at the other end, then that’s an issue of fairness, and New Zealanders are very concerned about fairness, and we need to make sure that that system works.
Alex I put it to you that there is a problem reconciling those two, because you're activists were very unhappy when you made that comment are you activist based, were very unhappy with you when you made that comment about the man on the roof. They said you were taking the party in a direction towards the centre.
David Well you'd better read the speech – the speech that I made is about fairness, and it is about a social contract, and it is about paying your way, and then living up to your responsibilities at the other end. That’s all it was, and New Zealanders are very very attuned to somebody doing the right thing, whether it be paying their taxes, or not taking advantage of the welfare system.
Alex Just on that is Labour's position to be in the centre, cos I'll read you a quote, and that was 'nearly one million voters deserted after the last election, those voters saw our policies with the exception of asset sales were the same as National's'. Now would you agree with that?
David No I don’t, and I would say that right now, and we were talking about in the first segment about where we are taking the economy along innovation, hitech. Much more interventionist economy is very very different to where National is going.
Alex Right because that was David Cunliffe's New Lynn speech, that quote was from. He thinks the party should really go further towards the left. Do you think it should stay in the centre where Phil Goff and Annette King took it?
David No, no, the Labour Party is a broad church. There are many people who vote Labour from what you might call left and to the right as well. It's a broad church and what we're looking for is to be a party for all New Zealanders, not just one of the other.
Rachel So where does David Cunliffe sit then? He's more left.
David No I think this is a false dichotomy. I mean David Cunliffe is the Economic Development Spokesperson. He's just been in Scandinavia looking at the clean tech and many of the innovative industries, and how they do it there. It fits very well within where I want to take the Labour Party. David Parker has just been in the United States looking at monetary policy. It's about looking for the direction for Labour to move New Zealand into the future.
Rachel You say it's a broad church though but you know you’ve got different people in different areas of centre left, or extreme left.
David No you don’t. I mean it is a broad church but in our party those people talking about those issues are talking about issues that are of real concern to New Zealanders, all New Zealanders.
John Well one of the issues where the party seems a little unsure of itself, and I think that this dichotomy actually is showing, is in education where you're talking about making national standards voluntary. Well if you make national standards voluntary they're not national standards any more are they?
David Well Labour has always been the party of education, let's start there. All of the major innovations in education have come from the Labour Party that have been the positive ones. We agree that parents should have clear reporting about how their children progress in clear language, and that we should be setting targets for achievement. The thing about national standards that we don’t like is that the information around national standards is junk, it's been put into …
John Not junk according to the unions.
David Well actually that’s not true, the information cannot be moderated across schools, so you can't compare one school to another, and then it's put into a league table and the league table itself …
John Who's made league tables?
David Well Fairfax for example.
John Well who's top ranked in that league table Mr Shearer?
David I don’t know I haven’t looked at your league table.
John Well how is it a league table if they're not ranked?
David Well because everybody looks at those schools to see how their school is doing compared to other schools. So I don’t believe, I don’t believe that because a school is for example a decile one school where kids perhaps come to school with less than they would in a decile ten school, where they come to school possibly, as my old school I went to, come to school with no English, and then advance through that to go to the right level that they should be at, and then you compare it against a decile 10 school that perhaps only just moves the kids as much as they should be. Now this school is a great school, this school is not working as hard as it should be and yet this school will be seen as a failure because perhaps the kids aren’t getting to quite the right level.
John Do those teacher unions have too much influence in the Labour Party? I mean are they holding you back in terms of where you might like to go on education?
David This is not about teacher unions John, this is about good education policy, it's as simple as that.
Rachel Mr Shearer, your background is in humanitarian work where you have nurtured and sheltered people, where there's been racial issues, ethnic divide, political unrest, war zone, and now you're in an environment where it's New Zealand politics, it's aggressive, it's people always trying to kneecap you, there's bloggers trying to criticise you. Do you struggle a little bit with that very aggressive approach?
David No, I don’t, I don’t read bloggers. So that eliminates that particular problem. I don’t respond to them either. It's a different environment but it's not a foreign environment, there were certainly times in my past where I was facing real challenges, and there are real challenges obviously in this job as well.
Rachel How does it sit with you in parliament though, it's pretty aggressive, people yelling, people standing up people pointing the fingers, people being you know pretty critical of you at times.
David Well look nobody likes to be criticised but that just comes with the territory, I don’t have a problem with that. But what I will say is that as a politician I will not be a politician that personally goes after my opponent, I'll play the ball and not the man.
Rachel Okay how long have you given yourself to get it right, before you would consider relinquishing the role.
David Well 2014 is what I'm aiming for and then to be Prime Minister in 2014, and leading the Labour Party into government.
Rachel You're down in the polls though for preferred Prime Minister, you're around 12% in the latest poll, the Prime Minister around 44%. Given those figures can you lead Labour to victory in 2014?
David But you forgot to mention the other part of the polling which is the party has gone from 27% up to 32–34%.
Rachel That’s right, the party is up, you're not for preferred Prime Minister.
David It's one of these things. Polling is useful to look at trends and where things are going, but we have come up 6-7 points in the past few weeks, few months. That’s a pretty good effort. We have come up twice as much as anybody else in the polls, so the fact that we are getting up to where we should be is good.
John Could you work with Russel Norman as your Deputy Minister and Finance Minister?
David I think that’s gonna be up to the voters who comes in as our coalition partner.
John Would David Parker accept that?
David We haven’t even discussed that let alone even thought about it actually.
Alex And you gave your front bench a year to show themselves, do you think they're performing given the polls?
David We're doing well and I think we're taking the key issues to the country that are important to people. I mean it's in around jobs, it's around education, and obviously the economy, and I think actually the standards and ethics of government, I think that’s a worry for people as well, given what we've just seen. I think we're doing well. Will we have some changes later on? Quite possibly.
John Before the end of the year? A reshuffle?
David I'm not gonna say John.
Alex But you're looking at it?
David Certainly looking at where we could improve. Obviously you would be – you know you would want to go that.
Rachel Where do you think you can improve?
David Oh well I'll tell you a bit later on.
Rachel Alright, Labour Leader, David Shearer I appreciate your time this morning, thank you for joining us.