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Q+A: Andrew Little and James Shaw

Q+A: Labour Leader Andrew Little and Green Party Co-leader James Shaw interviewed by Corin Dann

Labour leader Andrew Little says voters will choose between the status quo and change at the next election

Labour leader Andrew Little told TVNZ’s Q+A programme that voters will choose between the status quo and change at the next election

“What Labour and the Greens have said is we are committed to changing the government, and next year will be a ‘change the government’ election. It’ll be ‘do you want the status quo or do you want change? Do you want the past or do you want the future?’”

Green Party co-leader James Shaw agreed, saying the National Government was focussed on staying in power:

“I mean, the one thing that this government has been singularly focused on for the last eight years is staying in government, right? That kind of grey managerialism in which there’s no real vision for the country. It’s just ‘what do we need to do? What’s the absolute minimum that we can do to stay in power in the future?’ And so they’ve been papering over the cracks when they should’ve been building houses.”

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

Thanks to the support from NZ On Air.

Q+A is on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/NZQandA#!/NZQandA and on Twitter, http://twitter.com/#!/NZQandA

Q + A
Episode 40
Interviewed by Corin Dann

CORIN Andrew Little, you’d positioned yourself as the person who wasn’t the show pony to go up against John Key. That’s all changed now. You must be over the moon.

ANDREW Well, what hasn’t changed, actually, is that if you’re a young couple in Auckland, you still struggle to be able to afford your first home. If you’re homeless, like 41,000 New Zealanders are, putting Bill English and Paula Bennett in the top two positions in the National government, both of whom have had housing responsibilities, isn’t going to change. They’ve been around—

CORIN Sure. So you’re still going to attack them on those issues, but you must be excited about the change in the dynamic. Because, you know, I mean, John Key was a very popular leader.

ANDREW It’s a change in the dynamic, no question about that, but the issues haven’t gone away. The people who have missed out, been left behind for the last eight years, they’re still left out, they’re still behind, and these new guys offer nothing.

CORIN James Shaw, do you accept that there is some rejuvenation here in National? In fact, does it make it potentially harder? Because they’ve done the hard change here and given themselves a chance to offer something new. Do you buy that?

JAMES Well, look, Bill English has been the philosophical and policy engine in the National government for the last eight years, so the idea that it’s going to be somehow radically different from what you’ve seen over the last eight years I think is highly unlikely, especially with someone like Steven Joyce on finance.

CORIN We heard from him today. He made it clear that they’re looking at a reset. They do have an opportunity here to, sort of, wipe away some of their mistakes and try again, don’t they?

JAMES Well, they have that opportunity; let’s see if they take it. I mean, the one thing that this government has been singularly focused on for the last eight years is staying in government, right? That kind of grey managerialism in which there’s no real vision for the country. It’s just ‘what do we need to do? What’s the absolute minimum that we can do to stay in power in the future?’ And so they’ve been papering over the cracks when they should’ve been building houses.

CORIN Andrew Little, does this bring--? We heard David Seymour talk a little bit about that he doesn’t think National can get 45. So we’ve got a situation where a centre-left bloc and National are now vying for Winston Peters, aren’t you? And potentially other minor parties like the Maori Party?

ANDREW Look, there’s a whole heap of issues out there. We know that housing is front and centre. If you look at the Mt Roskill by-election result, what really tipped that, why we did so outstandingly well, is housing. And the government and John Key, who campaigned for seven days in the electorate, had nothing to offer. So those things are still there; those problems are still there—

CORIN But you’re now facing a government, though—

ANDREW When we get out and campaign hard on those things that we know New Zealanders are most concerned about, we do very well.

CORIN But they know that, don’t they? He’s talking about a reset, and let’s face it, he’s going to reset on housing. Your job’s just got harder—

ANDREW Really? Does anybody take that seriously? So you’ve had—So, Bill English and Paula Bennett have been two of the troika of housing ministers, and nothing has happened, nothing has improved. Steven Joyce, who’s been, you know, senior in that cabinet, now Finance minister. Is anything really going to change? I don’t see anything changing at all.

CORIN Well, he’s got a big war chest now, doesn’t he, James? I mean, he’s got a war chest which he can throw at it. He’s got $2 billion plus a year extra in infrastructure spending, which a lot could presumably go to housing.

JAMES Yes, it could, but you’ve got to acknowledge that the reason why they’ve got money in the bank at the moment is because in real terms, budgets in health and education, conservation, police – core public services have actually been declining over the course of the last eight years. And that’s really starting to bite, particularly in the regions. And so you can say, well, look, you know, we’ve done such a great job. We’ve got all this money, but it’s actually by cutting core public services to the bone. And people are really starting to notice that.

CORIN Just coming back to the point about Winston. Do you see Winston’s role increasing in this environment? I mean, National was trying to eye up going alone or going with some of the minors, but realistically now it’s hard to see Winston with 10% not being the kingmaker.

JAMES Look, you know, every election for the last 20 years, there’s been this great game about ‘what will Winston do?’ What Labour and the Greens have said is we are committed to changing the government, and next year will be a ‘change the government’ election. It’ll be ‘do you want the status quo or do you want change? Do you want the past or do you want the future?’ And, look, if New Zealand First wants to be part of changing the government, that’s great. But so far they haven’t signalled which way they want to jump.

CORIN Andrew Little, how’s your relationship going with Winston Peters at the moment? Do you think you can bring him on board?

ANDREW Yeah, it’s fine. Winston’s pretty clear; he doesn’t, you know, want to give the appearance of doing deals or cuddling up to anybody. He very much wants to – as he’s described himself – cut his own path. But New Zealanders will have a choice next year, and it will be about ‘do we accept 41,000 homeless? Do we accept it’s okay for freezing school funding so that parents have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay more towards schools? Is it acceptable that somebody like Trixie Cottingham, at 96 years old, who only has an hour and a half home care each week, should have that cut because the local hospital says they can’t afford it?’ There is a real choice for New Zealanders next year. There are two parties committed to real change, changing the government. That’s Labour and the Greens.

CORIN I wonder if we’re going to get choice, too, around social issues. James Shaw, your party’s just announced a policy on marijuana. Bill English is a social conservative. You would imagine he’s not going to go anywhere near that. Are you, potentially, as a coalition signalling change in that area? Andrew Little, is that something that Labour could adopt?

ANDREW We’ve long supported medicinal use of cannabis. That’s why Damian O’Connor has a bill in the ballot ready to go for that. We have a different view to the Greens, I think, on broader liberalisation of cannabis. I’ve a personal view from my personal experience of dealing with workplace drug and alcohol policies about more liberal access for young people, and by that I mean up to 25, to cannabis, because I know of the long-term harmful effects that even modest use can have. So there will be a difference between—

CORIN You did talk about a referendum at one point not that long ago.

ANDREW It was put to me if there was a referendum. That’s always a possibility, but I’m telling you, when it comes to drug law reform, it’s a conscience issue. I‘m telling you where I stand on that issue, and it comes from my personal experience of dealing with this issue in the workplace.

CORIN So, James, I’m sure you might have a hard task there to convince Labour of going down that road.

JAMES Corin, the whole point of the Memorandum of Understanding is to build a strong working relationship with our coalition partners, or our likely coalition partners, in advance of the election. And that’s pretty unusual in New Zealand politics. And I think one of the things that we learned from the last election is that voters really want to see parties working closely together. And so we’ve got policies that are identical, we’ve got some that are similar but a little bit different, and then we’ve got areas where there are differences. And the whole point of the Memorandum of Understanding is to get into the practice of working together effectively as a credible alternative government before we actually get into government.

CORIN Sure. David Shearer’s departure – you still of the view that there’s no point having a by-election? You want to see the poll early.

ANDREW David’s been up in New York this week, so we’ll see when he gets back what the arrangements have to be. He tells me he has to be in place in South Sudan by the end of January. His resignation will have to take effect from around that sort of point in time. So you’re looking at, if you follow the six-month rule, you’re looking at, roughly, July. I don’t know what the scope is to push that out. What I’m saying is, you know, having a by-election in the same year as a general election – I don’t think many voters are going to be particularly fussed about that. We are practised, we are tried, we can succeed when we campaign; we’ve proven that with Mt Roskill and the local government elections. I say we’re ready, bring it on.

CORIN I’m just wondering as you guys are sitting here if you’re presenting yourself, effectively, as an alternative leader and deputy leader in waiting. Is that how you see it?

ANDREW Well, that’s not part of the MOU. We work very well together because that’s what we’ve been able to do, actually, before the MOU. The MOU crystallised what was already happening. But what we are saying is we, as parties, are committed to one essential thing if we want to get people into homes, we want to get schools funded properly, we want to get hospitals funded properly, and that is to change the government.

CORIN Sure, but James Shaw, if you can poll half the size of Labour, which you’re not far off at the moment, you’d expect to be deputy, wouldn’t you?

JAMES We haven’t talked about it, to tell you the honest truth. It’s more important to me that we get the policy changes that we want; that we actually finally do something about climate change in New Zealand; that we go from being a follower to a leader; that we fix the housing crisis; that we get some of this entrenched inequality and start to sort that out. And actual job titles are less important to us than what are the policies that we’re going to do that are going to make a transformational difference to this country? Because we’ve had eight years of grey managerialism, and it is time for a government that has some actual vision.

CORIN So what’s the view on deputy? I mean, you don’t want to be deputy?

JAMES Look, we’ll see how it goes, right. I mean, all of those jobs – the only two jobs that are actually set in stone are the Prime Minister and the minister of finance, because they go to the party that’s the largest. Anything else that happens in that cabinet is ultimately a function of what happens on election day, in terms of how the numbers fall. And so I think you’ve got to wait and see until then.

CORIN James Shaw, thank you very much. Andrew Little, thank you very much.

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