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Patrick Gower interviews Labour leader Andrew Little

Patrick Gower interviews Labour leader Andrew Little

Little says New Zealanders tiring of focus group-driven politics and a “transactional” government; voters are looking for “value-driven leadership”

Focus of 2015 has been rebuilding a party that was in “disarray” and listening to the public. Next year will be about releasing polices and 2017 about campaigning on them.

He’s started planning his reshuffle of portfolios and reveals he’s interviewing MPs before he decides

Will decide on deputy at the end of November, but backs away from previous indications he thinks it needs to be a woman

“Well, there are a number of people who are being considered, men and women, for the role”

Patrick Gower: Andrew Little, good morning and thank you for joining us. This week you said you pitied Australia, because Malcolm Turnbull said he wanted to be like John Key. Does that mean that you pity New Zealand?
Andrew Little: If you have a look at what has been achieved under this Government – you know, seven years into it, we’ve got rising unemployment, we have a primary production sector that is really struggling now because of commodity prices, a whole range of other issues that simply aren’t being addressed. So if Malcolm Turnbull’s ambition for Australia is to replicate what we’ve got in New Zealand – you know, not very good for Australians.
So do you pity New Zealand as well?
We’re not doing well, and you get around and you see it especially in the regions. I spend a lot of my time getting around, talking to people, talking to chambers of commerce, talking to other organisations in those regions. People are really feeling the pinch now, feeling the struggle, and what they see… They know that a government can’t control what happens on world markets and commodity prices, but what they do expect a government to do is, a) understand the problem, and b) have some sort of plan to respond to it, which we don’t have at the moment.
Sure, but ‘pity’ is such a strong word, isn’t it? I mean, do you think that New Zealanders really feel pitiful, or is that just too negative?
I think you’re completely over-interpreting the thing. The question I was asked was about Malcolm Turnbull’s ambition for Australia, and he looks to New Zealand. The reality is things aren’t working that well in New Zealand. We’ve got a government that is so much focused on the short term, hasn’t thought about a long-term plan, hasn’t thought about what you need to do when you’ve been so dependent on commodity prices that go up and down, what you do for the periods when it goes down. We just don’t have that type of thinking in the Government at the moment.
Sure. We’ve seen lots of third-term-itis from this Government – you know, worm farms, Saudi sheep scandals, ponytail pulling – but still the poll ratings haven’t changed. John Key’s exactly where he has always been. What do you think it is that gives him an unbreakable bond with centre voters?
Two things. We’ve had a hell of a job to do from our electoral result last year – a party that, frankly, was in disarray. I had a big job to do not only working with caucus – getting them focused and cohesive and working well, getting the hits on the Government; but our leader’s office – getting that set up right, getting good talent and working professionally well, getting the party working, getting the party organisation, getting them sorted out, which is all the stuff we’ve been doing. And, actually, the response has been very good. What we’ve got in the Government now, you’ve seen it especially this year, a government that is totally out of touch. They were wrong on the selling of productive land to foreign buyers. They were wrong on Syrian refugees. They were wrong on the flag. This is the Government that has prided itself on being in touch with New Zealanders. They’ve proven themselves to be totally out of touch.
Yeah, but the poll ratings don’t show that they’re out of touch, because they change their position on all those things that you’ve just answered to meet what the public wants.
Yeah, did it slowly, grudgingly, reluctantly. What I pick up around New Zealand—what I pick up around New Zealand in response to Labour is people saying, ‘We see you, we hear you, we quite like what you’re saying. But we want to know… When you’ve had three election defeats, you, frankly, haven’t looked particularly cohesive, we want to know that you’re going to hold it together over a long period of time, and then we’ll think about shifting our allegiance.’ And that’s where we’re at, at the moment.
Sure, sure, sure. So in terms of what we were talking about before, which is, sort of, holding that centre ground, how is Labour ever going to get in and take that? Because you raised them yourself they’re extremely pragmatic raising benefits, the refugees, Lochinver Station. They’ll turn on a dime for public opinion. How do you beat that?
And what I think people are seeing is this is a government that’s very transactional. ‘We’re in trouble on this; we’ll do just enough to get over the line. Trouble on that issue; well, once again we’ll just fiddle around a bit here.’ What I think people are now looking for is values-driven leadership, leadership of the country that is about who we are as people, not about what flag we’re waving and all that sort of stuff, but our reputation internationally, how we feel about each other within New Zealand, a leadership of a country that actually has a moral compass for once, not just driven by the latest focus group or the latest poll result.
Yeah, because it’s easy to say that they’re poll-driven or whatever, but the public doesn’t see that. The public sees a government giving them what they want.
Well, that’s not what I pick up, and it’s not—
That’s what the polls say. The polls put them at 47%.
Yeah, and we’re two years out from an election. We know that there’s a lot of people feeling a sense of disquiet about where New Zealand is at, about what the Government does and how they conduct themselves and wanting something different. So I feel very good about the work we have to do within the Labour party to get ourselves functionally viable, getting hits on the Government and what we need to do to lift people’s confidence in us, and I’m very confident in the progress we’re making and where we’re going and where we’ll be in 2017.
Sure. So is all that work done? Can you get out there and focus on voters now, or have you still got work to do rebuilding not just in the leadership office and the caucus, but within the party? Is that work done?
We’ve been very focused, actually, on what New Zealanders are concerned about. That’s why we’ve raised the issue about house prices in Auckland, we’ve talked about the economy, we’ve talked about what’s happening in the health sector; we’re dealing with those issues. We’ve had to do the rebuild at the same time. We—
Is the rebuild done?
By and large, yeah. I think there’s a bit of work to do in the party, but I think—well, now we’ve got, kind of, the policy stuff to do. I said at the beginning of this year that this year would be a year for me and the party to get out and about and to listen. Not to do all the talking and telling people how it should be, but to listen to New Zealanders. Next year will be the year for bringing together the ideas and putting out the policies. 2017 is about campaigning to win. That’s the programme, and that’s what we’re sticking with.
Okay. So, let’s look at it this way – why would a swing voter, someone in the centre, switch from National to Labour? Why would they do that? Can you give me a practical difference?
Because right now this Government has no answers to the problems that we’re facing with slowing economy.
What’s a practical thing that Labour would do that would make someone who has been voting National switch over to them, an actual practical example of something?
So, if you’re struggling to get your first home because that’s just so unaffordable and your income’s not keeping up, we have a programme to build affordable homes.
Okay, Kiwibuild. That was brought in under David Shearer years ago.
Yeah, it hasn’t happened. What’s the big failure in the housing market right now? Just a lack of affordable houses.
So beyond David Shearer’s Kiwibuild policy, what’s a practical example of something that Labour offers that National won’t give them?
Well, that’s one.
Is there another one?
There is plenty.
Not a David Shearer one, and is there an Andrew Little practical difference between Labour and National?
So I’ll go back to what I said before. We had a big job of rebuilding to do for a party that was unnecessary.
Yes, I know that.
No, no, no, well, because you’re asking the question, what’s the new idea that Andrew Little’s come up with, and it’s a good question, it’s the right question to ask, which is why I said at the beginning of my leadership, this is not a year for, you know, within a matter of weeks or days, turning round our policy and coming out with the 2017 manifesto. This was a year of getting out and about and listening to New Zealanders. That’s what we’ve done. We’ve had our Future of Work Commission project that Grant Robertson’s been leading. That’s dealing with a bit long-term issue that we have to start thinking about now. Next year is the ideas and the policies that we’ll take into 2017.
To clarify, the big Andrew Little idea that’s practicably different to anything that National’s got is coming next year?
No, no. I was very clear about what we needed to do for the party, for the Labour Party to reconnect, to rebuild. And we’re on that programme. So if I said at the beginning of year, ‘Don’t expect any big ideas, because we’re doing this other stuff,’ don’t ask me.
I’m looking forward to next year. But I’ve got to move on. I’ve got to move on quickly. Annette King – do you want her to stay on as deputy?
Well, I’m looking at all those portfolio allocations at the moment. There’s a number of people in the frame.
Do you want Annette King to stay on as deputy?
There are a number of people in the frame for that role, and what I’ve got to do, what I want to have is a team that’s going to take us through into 2017.
Would Jacinda Ardern make a good deputy?
Well, there are a number of people in the frame for that role, and I’m having the interviews and giving considerations now.
How many are in the frame, then, if you’re having interviews and stuff?
Well, I’m not conducting the caucus review on live TV at the moment; I’m going through the interviews, I’m giving very careful consideration to the team we need to take us into and beyond 2017.
You’ve previously said that the deputy should be a woman.
Well, there are a number of people in the frame.
Does that still stand, though – should the deputy of the Labour Party be a woman?
Well, there are a number of people who are being considered, men and women, for the role. And I’ll make those decisions - it’ll be roughly the end of November - for the team that’ll take us through to 2017.
That’s a good place to leave it. Andrew Little, thank you very much.
Cheers, Paddy.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz


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