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Q+A: Little gives strong hint to supporters on Peters

Q+A: Andrew Little gives strong hint to left supporters on Peters support

Labour leader Andrew Little has given a strong signal to left-leaning voters that they can be "realistic" and back Winston Peters in the Northland by-election.

Mr Little told TVNZ One’s Q+A programme that Labour will not pull its candidate Willow-Jean Prime from the by-election contest, despite a Q+A Colmar Brunton poll showing Mr Peters would win if she was not in the running.

However, he called for left voters to be "realistic" with their candidate choice.

"They've got a vote they should use it. If they want to vote to send a message to the Government …

"They are intelligent enough to see how they can do that."

Andrew Little also told Q+A he is calling for ACC levies to be cut.

“ Yeah I mean, the government’s introduced some cuts that will take effect this April. It’s about $115 million worth. But that is about a third of the level that they ought to be cut to and the report I’ve got goes on to say that if that cash was with business and in the pockets of workers, through spending and investment, that could generate up to another 700 jobs.”

Link to Q+A Colmar Brunton Northland Electorate Poll

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Repeated Sunday evening at 11:35pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz

Q + A
Episode 2

HEATHER Good morning, Andrew Little. What is your reaction to that poll?

ANDREW Yeah, it’s very interesting. I mean, there are a couple of polls now that have shaped up that are showing clearly that Winston Peters is polling very strongly in the electorate. In the end, these things-- By-elections are unusual beasts anyway, and things that would not happen in a general election can happen. In the end, it’s up to the voters of Northland to decide if they want to send a message to the government. They are going to have to back who they think is best able to do that and who is most likely to win.

HEATHER Are you telling voters to back Winston Peters?

ANDREW I'm not telling voters anything. We have got a candidate in the race, Willow-Jean Prime. Willow-Jean is a very strong candidate. She is somebody who Labour wants in Parliament sooner rather than later. But this is a Northland by-election. People have got one vote. They are going to have to decide. If they want to send a message to the government that they are sick and tired of being neglected, then they are going to have to pick who they want to get that message through.

HEATHER And is that person Willow-Jean Prime?

ANDREW That is up to the voters of Northland to decide. There are three…

HEATHER Andrew, you sound very much like you are saying that voters should support Winston Peters.

ANDREW I am saying it is up to the voters of the Northland to decide. They are in the heart of the by-election campaign now. They have got another three weeks to go. We know that the National Party is on the ropes now. They will be scrambling everything they can. But by-elections are always an opportunity for voters in that electorate if they want to send a message to a government that they feel neglected by it to do something about it. They are going to have to make a decision about how they do that.

HEATHER Doesn’t sound like you’re backing your own candidate, though, does it?

ANDREW Willow-Jean is an excellent candidate. She was the first nomination in. Ours was the first campaign launched. She is going to be in that campaign talking about the issues that matter not just to Labour folks but to Northlanders – about the roads, about jobs, about health and those things that really matter. She’s going to be carrying on her campaign. I’ll will be there supporting her, as will others. But, in the end, by-elections come down to—you know, the voters have one vote. It comes down to if they want to send a message to the government, they are going to have to work out how best to do that.

HEATHER Okay, this is quite a change of position, because at the outset, you said you were not going to pull your candidate at all. You were supporting Willow-Jean Prime. So what is going on here? Are you being more realistic now?

ANDREW We are not pulling our candidate, and we are backing Willow-Jean Prime. In the end, it’s for the voters of Northland to be realistic.

HEATHER You are being very subtle, though, potentially here, and isn’t this about…? Some voters will need a very clear message. Why don’t you just send them a clear message?

ANDREW They have got a message: they have got a vote; they should use it. And if they want to use that vote to send a message to the government they don’t want to be neglected and overlooked anymore. You know, I have been up there a couple of times in the last few of weeks and looked at the state of those roads. This is State Highway 1, our principal road, the spine of our roading network going through the country, and it is in an appalling state up there because Northland is an electorate that in the decades it’s been represented by a National MP has been neglected. So the voters of Northland have a choice on this occasion. If they want to send a message to the government that they are sick and tired of being neglected, then they have got to exercise their vote accordingly. They are intelligent enough to see, you know, how they can do that.

HEATHER Okay. Let me ask you this question. Would you prefer to have a National Party MP there in Northland or a New Zealand First MP?

ANDREW I would like the voters of Northland to make a good decision.

HEATHER Which would you prefer as the Labour Party leader?

ANDREW As the Labour Party leader, I would like a Labour MP up there if I possibly could, but we have not won it for decades. We have a good, strong candidate in Willow-Jean. The polling shows that she’s running third. The two latest polls show that.

HEATHER So you yourself admit it is a two-horse race. Which of the two would you prefer to win?

ANDREW That’s not for me to choose. That’s for the voters of Northland.

HEATHER Andrew, I am surprised by this, because you are the leader of the Opposition. Surely you would prefer to have another Opposition MP than a government MP?

ANDREW I’m leader of the Labour Party, and my obligation is to the party. We have a candidate in the race, and she’s a good candidate, and she’s somebody who we want in Parliament. I have a duty to back her. But in the end, I want Northlanders to exercise their choice, to see that they could make a difference here. If they want to send a message to the government that we are sick and tired of being neglected, then they know what their choice is. But that is a matter for them. Those who, you know, want to support Willow-Jean, they will carry on supporting her. Those who can see the opportunity to make a difference, they will cast their vote accordingly.

HEATHER I am interested in your relationship with your coalition partners. In the last few weeks, you have had a go at a couple of them. You have booted the Greens off the Intelligence Committee. You have essentially called Winston Peters ‘twilight’, which I think we can read as a little old to be running in Northland. Why are you doing this? Why are you cutting them down to size?

ANDREW I am saying it how I see it. I think that was the right decision to make, no matter the mistake that I made in not notifying the Greens beforehand. Winston has been around in politics 37 years. He is not at the beginning of his career. He’s at the other end of it. There is nothing there particularly unusual with that. When we get into government, we are going to have relationships with coalition partners. It will be the Greens and New Zealand First.

HEATHER Shouldn’t you be working on those relationships now? Because right now there is a perception of disunity, and you guys look like you are too arrogant to be having a relationship with these two.

ANDREW Not at all, because I think you will see that, actually – might not be seen in public – we work very well on forming and developing and maintaining those relationships as much as we can with the Greens and with New Zealand First. We are working very well, by and large, the odd misstep notwithstanding.

HEATHER So you agree that those were missteps?



ANDREW No, hold on. I mishandled the issue about notifying the Greens about the appointment to the Intelligence and Security Committee. I have fronted up to the Greens and said that. My descriptions about Winston and his ability to campaign? Winston is a great campaigner. Of course he is. We know that. The cast-iron law of New Zealand politics is never. underestimate Winston Peters. Nothing to change there in my estimation of him. But we will continue to forge the relationships that we need as we head towards 2017.

HEATHER Four months into the job, you’ve already earned the nickname Angry Andy. I think we know where that comes from, but are you getting too angry in public.

ANDREW Listen, the only angry outburst we’ve seen since I’ve been leader of the Labour Party was in Parliament in the debate—

HEATHER To be fair, you got pretty snippy with some journalists once. That was over the unpaid bill incident.

ANDREW In four months. Yeah, yeah. No. No, I’m not, actually. I think what actually the feedback I get is people appreciate the level-headed approach. I don’t do outbursts in Parliament on issues that I think I’m on the back foot on. I leave that to the Prime Minister to do that. I take a very sensible, I think, practical, reasonable, level-headed approach to the issues that I deal with.

HEATHER Okay. I’d like to talk to you about spying. It’s obviously been quite a big issue this week. Were you surprised at the level of spying that New Zealand does?

ANDREW Yeah, I mean, taking those reports at their face value, yeah, absolutely. I think—

HEATHER Why were you surprised?

ANDREW Well, the idea that we are gathering every piece of electronic communication into and around the South Pacific, I thought, was completely over the top. I accept the need for the security agencies we’ve got, and the work that they do, but I would expect them to be targeted to things they are meant to be doing, which are the counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and those sorts of things.

HEATHER But, Andrew, you, as leader of the Opposition, are entitled to get briefings from the GCSB on, I understand, a three-weekly basis. You’ve been in the job four months. Why haven’t you had one?

ANDREW I’ve had an initial sort of introductory session with Ian Fletcher just before Christmas. He’s now left the role, so they’re in the process of replacing him. I’ve had a GCSB official at one other briefing I’ve had. But we haven’t— The briefing’s about GCSB and what they do and what they’re actually doing. They haven’t started. And so that is yet to commence.

HEATHER When are you having a briefing?

ANDREW Well, it looks like I am now going to have one next week, so I am looking forward to that. But this information is out there now. And in spite of the attacks on Nicky Hager from the Prime Minister, Nicky Hager has not been proved wrong in the material that he has put in the public arena for the last 10 years, so I have no reason to doubt the accuracy and the veracity of this stuff. But it is disturbing. It is disturbing that the volume of material that has been collected by our security agencies that seems to be completely unrelated to any particular security threat.

HEATHER All right. Under you, the Labour Party seems to be repositioning itself slightly to be a little bit more business friendly. What you actually--? I mean, as Josie Pagani says, we need to get a little bit more substance from you guys. What are you actually doing for small business?

ANDREW Well, I'm getting out and about and talking to a lot of business audiences, as I am to workers. There are a number of issues that come up. But a big issue’s that come up in all the conversations that I’ve had with small business owners is about, for example, ACC. In fact, I’ve commissioned an independent report now on the levies that ACC charges. That reports show that businesses and workers in New Zealand are being overcharged each year to the extent of $350 million, which is just outrageous.

HEATHER So you’re calling for levies to be cut?

ANDREW Yeah, I mean, the government’s introduced some cuts that will take effect this April. It’s about $115 million worth. But that is about a third of the level that they ought to be cut to and the report I’ve got goes on to say that if that cash was with business and in the pockets of workers, through spending and investment, that could generate up to another 700 jobs. So this is the stuff about making a practical difference for small business. We can cut those ACC levies. They don’t have to be at the level they are. This government has rejected advice for the last two or three years on cutting ACC levies to a more realistic level, but they don’t act on it.

HEATHER What is a more realistic level?

ANDREW Well, we can cut a total of $350 million off the amount of levies that ACC collects each year.

HEATHER But what does that mean for the average business or the average person? What do they pay?

ANDREW For an average business – to the extent that there is an average business. For a small business, it would be hundreds of dollars a year. For medium-sized and bigger businesses, it would be thousands to tens of thousands of dollars a year. For workers, it could be a couple of hundred bucks a year, potentially. But, you know, in aggregate, it’s a huge amount of money. If $350 million was taking out of the reserve sitting in ACC—you know, they’re investing it, but a lot of it’s going off shore. But if it was back here in New Zealand, circulating, being used to consume and to invest, it would make a huge difference here in New Zealand. It’s those things that in the bigger picture of government probably sound a bit small, but they make a big difference in aggregate to the performance of New Zealand business and the New Zealand economy.

HEATHER You’re talking about 350 million. That seems to be roughly about double what Treasury suggested to the government it should cut. Is that really sustainable -- 350 million?

ANDREW It is. I mean, Treasury itself takes a pretty conservative view, and so that’s why I went independently to get some advice on it. ACC has collected enough levies in each year to pay the costs that year, plus the full life of any claim they’ve got. And even doing that, even if you calculate the levies that allow them to do that, they are still overcharging by $350 million a year. There is scope to cut ACC levies further – much further. And the government should be doing that. I’m going to be contacting as many businesses as I can over the next few weeks, enlisting their help to put the pressure on the government to do that, because I think they deserve it.

HEATHER Okay, so this is a pretty business-friendly idea that you’ve got here. What about 90-day trial period? Do you think that should stay or should it go?

ANDREW There’s a myth being put about for a long time that Labour doesn’t support trial periods or probationary periods. We always have done, because we actually always had them in our laws—

HEATHER Andrew, can I just stop you there and say that mid-way through last year, and I think it might have been June, you said, ‘We don’t need the 90-day law, and under Labour it will go.’

ANDREW Yeah, so but we’ve always supported the right of employers to take somebody on and try them out. The difference between what we believe and what the National government has done, is we actually believe in fairness – that there should be fairness requirements. You know, in all the conversations that I’ve had with small-business owners about this, and I say what we want to put in as a requirement, for example, to give feedback to somebody on trial and so they get a fair idea about how they are tracking and all of this-

HEATHER But you seemed pretty unequivocal in this.

ANDREW Yeah, so we’re talking about the specific law that the government’s got at the moment, but when you talk about the right of an employer to take somebody on and try them out and decide whether they want to hold on to them. We had that law. We’ve had it for decades on our statute books. And we want the law that we’ve got to require employers to just deal with people fairly. Every time I have that conversation with small-business owners, they say, ‘We already do that – we give feedback.’ And so I say to them, ‘Well, then you couldn’t possibly object to us writing in some fairness requirements that require you to do that.’ They say, ‘Yep, no, that’s sweet.’ So it’s about getting the balance right. The balance is wrong at the moment and we want to get the balance right and put fairness back in.

HEATHER Okay, looking to the future, where would you like to be in the polls at the end of this year?

ANDREW Well, I want to be as high as we can get, but impossible to put a figure on it.

HEATHER What about 30%? Would you like to be higher than 30%?

ANDREW Yep, I’m pretty confident we are tracking that way right now. I think the big challenge for me, or the priority I’ve set myself for this year is getting out and about, getting into the communities, getting out of Wellington a lot and just talking and listening to people. That’s what I’m doing. I have to say the feedback I’m getting is pretty positive. And there will more of that. Next year we’ll focus on more of the policy making and the announcements and things like that. And we’ll get to 2017 and people will have a clear idea about who I am, what Labour stands for, what our priorities are and I’m looking forward to 2017.

HEATHER Fantastic. Thank you very much for joining us.

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