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Patrick Gower Interviews Labour Leader David Cunliffe

Patrick Gower Interviews Labour Leader David Cunliffe

Patrick Gower: Yes, David Cunliffe, let’s look at the polls. Any way you slice or dice it, you’ve got a lot of convincing to do with voters to get that left block across the line. How are you going to do it? How are you going to make those numbers add up?
David Cunliffe: Well, let me say this. We’re going to win this election. There’s a number of polls recently that show National at 45%, 46% in both the TV3 and TV ONE polls. That’s the danger zone for National, because it means we’re only a couple of percent off a left-right balance tip, and that’s doable.

But you’re not, actually. You’re actually 5% off a left-right tip. You need to find 5%.

You move 2% from one side to the other, that’s a 4% change, because you go from the right to the left. That’s a 4% difference. 2.5% move – that’s a 5% gap close. That is very doable in the last seven days.

That’s your job. You’re the one who meant to move that centre vote.

That’s right.

You’re the one who hasn’t been moving the centre vote. The Greens are doing their job; New Zealand First are doing their job. You’re the one who’s got to do it. How is Labour going to do it? What have you got up your sleeve? Have you got anything up your sleeve?

Yes, indeed, we do. And let me just lay out the programme. There are four things that I want to touch on. Obviously, we’re running on a ‘Vote Positive’ campaign, and our grounding values are to put people first and that every Kiwi matters. I want to talk about building a strong, smart, sustainable economy and one that New Zealand can own – and we’re going to be saying more about that over the next few days – that delivers better jobs and high wages, because everybody knows the gaps between the haves and the have-nots has just got too wide. We know there’s a housing crisis. That’s why we’re going to be building 100,000 new homes, and we know we need to give the best start to all our kids, not just some. And those are policies that are connecting on the ground. They are great for New Zealand.

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We know all this, but what have you got to get that extra percent? You’ve got about $100 million, $200 million in the kitty there. Are we going to see a policy that starts to change things? Have you got something to throw out there?

Well, you may very well think so, but I couldn’t yet possibly comment, Paddy. What I will say is that over the next seven days, we are going to be going around the clock from dawn till just about the next dawn, connecting with voters in their workplaces, in our shopping malls, all around the main centres, all around the country. And here’s two other things—

Is it a state-asset buy-back? Is that what that money is for? Is that why you have that?

You can count pretty well, and you know that there isn’t enough fiscal headroom to go around buying back a whole lot of state assets.

But I know there’s $100 million, $200 million there. That’s the start of a fund, isn’t it?

And I think you can probably predict that we will do something different and innovative and interesting that will reflect our core values. Let me say again – a strong, smart, sustainable economy—

New Zealand owned?

Which is something that New Zealand can own.

Which is something that New Zealand can own. So will we see some sort of fund this week using—

I’m not going to go beyond that today, but what I will say is that we’ve had our thinking caps on, and we do believe that we can make a positive difference for New Zealanders in a way that supports that economic trajectory that we’ve been talking about. We don’t just want to be the farm. Being a farm is great, and there’s a place for mining, but we’ve got to add value to what we produce, because it’s got to earn more on the world stage so we can pay more to our people.

Yeah, so some sort of fund. Now let’s move on to Russel Norman this week talking up dealing with the National Party. It’s defeatist talk.

Well, you’d have to ask him about that. What I understand they’ve been up to is trying to talk to a few people who might be National voting on economic issues who care about the environment. That’s up to them. What I know—

They’re talking to National. That’s what people do when they know they’re going to lose.

No, that’s what they do when they’re looking for a few crossover votes, and Metiria Turei in the ODT today has been absolutely clear, as have been the assurances that we’ve received, that they’re going to be working with Labour, and that’s important.

So you think you honestly are going to stand here and say that you think it’s helpful for Russel Norman to talk about dealing with National one week out from the election?

Well, actually, I’m standing. I’m sitting, Paddy. Let me say this, as I have all the way along—

I apologise.

There will be three parties—

I’m taller than that, honestly, as you are.

There will be three parties in the government, right. The core of it will be the Labour Party. We’re the largest party of the Opposition. We’ll be the largest party in the incoming government. On one side, there is the Green Party with whom we have a long-standing and positive relationship, for whom we have high regard. On the other side, there is Winston Peters and New Zealand First. Of course he plays his cards close, but I don’t think Winston wants his legacy to be propping up a third term National Government that is beset with the kind of problems that they have. I really don’t believe that.

In that kind of government, would the deputy prime minister be the Greens? They want a co-deputy prime minister. You’re OK with that concept?

Well, let me be really clear that we have said that we will reserve the finance portfolio for Labour, because the public needs confidence about the books.

But deputy prime minister.

Putting that aside, the rest of it, what I’ve said is it’s a matter, firstly, for the public to see how the numbers look, and, secondly, for negotiation. And I can’t go beyond that today.

But co-deputy prime minister – the two of them working together. Are you OK with that?

Three. We could have four. Who knows? It could be a collective. No, no. I’m just kidding you on that, but it is a matter for negotiations.

I mean, you could have Russel, Metiria and Winston.

It’s a matter for negotiations, and what counts over the next seven days, firstly, is that New Zealanders realise that they get a different future. They get a different kind of country based on what they decide over the next week. And that those differences are clear. The centre-right gives them a different future from the centre-left, and that we are all about jobs, homes and families and putting people first, and I think that’s what New Zealanders would want.

You’re talking there about a three-way, basically. The Greens and Winston. You ruled out the Maori Party. Why did you do that? Was that a mistake?

Absolutely not.

Was it an accident?

No. And let me just firstly go to the principle, and then I’ll talk about the politics. The principle of this is clear – that we will talk with a range of other parties after the election, because there may be others who want to support a new government, and that will be a matter for them. Now, that could potentially include the Maori Party. It could include others. What I’ve said, though, for public certainty is that they need to know—

Not with Winston, though.

They need to know that the incoming government will be strong and stable and smart and sustainable and that therefore, they need to know the core of it will be limited to a small number of parties around the Cabinet table. Unlike National, who may be requiring the ACT Party, God forbid, the Conservatives. Can you think of anything worse? And other raggle-taggles. We are being very clear. It’s Labour, the Greens, NZ First.

You have ruled out three potentially game-changing Maori seats. Are you saying today that you would rather go into Opposition than use those three votes?

I haven’t ruled out talking to them at all. I haven’t ruled out working in some way with the Maori Party. But I have been clear with voters, which is that a vote for the Maori Party is essentially a vote for National. This is important—

No, no, no. So you haven’t ruled out the Maori Party?

This is important. I’ve ruled them out from being around the Cabinet table. That’s what I’ve already said. Let me say this. Labour—

You’ll lose them straight away.

Labour is the Maori Party. We have 14 Maori candidates. We have the Treaty partnership at our heart, and we have the aspirations of Maoridom carrying in our cloak. That is the Maori Party – the Labour Party. And it’s 14 fantastic candidates. And if Maori want to change the government, and they want a deal that’s fairer for them, it’s a party vote Labour and a candidate vote for the Labour Maori candidates that delivers that.

Winston Peters has ruled out the Maori Party. He has ruled out Mana. You are utterly dependent on Winston.

Look, we have a long-standing relationship with Winston. We believe—

When was the last time you talked to him?

Oh, within the last couple of weeks.

What about?

Oh, we were in the Koru Lounge, actually, and we had a pleasant little chat about a range of things, and I’m not going into it.

What about a programme to buy back state assets or something?

I haven’t discussed that with him, but it’s an innovative idea, Paddy.

Listen, you swore hand on heart in the debate the other night about tackling child poverty.

Absolutely, and I meant it.

And what are you going to do about it? You’ve only got $100 million or $200 million. You’ve already said today that that’s going to the asset fund. Where’s the extra money?

I’m sure you’ve noticed a couple of things that we’ve already promised hand on heart. The first is that we’re going to raise the minimum wage $2 an hour. That puts $4000 a year in the pockets of minimum wage earners. That will lift kids out of poverty. The second thing is six months’ paid parental leave and $60 a week per child. Hell of a lot better than a block of cheese.

The experts say, and I’m talking about the Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills and Jonathan Boston, that is not enough. Russell Wills says you’ve got to raise benefits. Would a Labour government raise benefits to help child poverty.

Well, here’s a news flash for anyone who didn’t get it the first time round, and those are all very good people you’re talking about. Our Best Start package goes including to beneficiary families. You don’t have to be working to get the Best Start payment of $60 a week. And we’re—

Aside of that, are you prepared to raise benefits?

Benefits are already going to be inflation indexed under us. Beyond that, we are making sure that we run fiscal surpluses and paying down debt. Now, let me just be really clear about some other things that we’re going to do that will help people move from welfare to work. Firstly, we’re raising the abatement levels form $80 a week to $150. We’re getting rid of secondary tax.

We have to be quick here. Glenn Greenwald is sitting outside. Personal view here – do you think the Prime Minister was telling the truth when he said he didn’t know about Kim Dotcom before that raid? Do you think he was telling the truth?

I think we should see the evidence before we make up our minds on that.

Do you think the Prime Minister’s telling the truth or not?

I suspect he was being a little bit glib.

Sure. Now, listen, here’s an important question. If Labour loses this weekend, are you going to stay on as leader?

Well, you know what? I have got seven days to get our vote to where I want it, and, as I say—

If Labour loses, are you going to stay on as leader or not?

I am going to get every single vote out over the next seven days, and I really haven’t thought about after the weekend at this point.

Of course you have. If Labour loses, will David Cunliffe try and stay on as Labour leader?

I am focussing on this election, Paddy Gower, and that is all you’re going to get out of me today.

Thank you for your time, David Cunliffe. Good to have you here.

Thank you. Cheers.


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