Q+A: Jacinda Ardern
One week left on the election campaign trail – Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern
TVNZ’s Corin Dann asked Labour leader Jacinda Ardern on Q+A this morning if she would raise the age of superannuation.
Ardern responded saying “we’ve stuck with 65. And again,
that’s a matter of certainty for people. And my agitation
with the National government, particularly when they
announced their increase in the age,
which Bill English has described as a gift to my generation, was that they did that in the face of never having contributed to the superannuation fund.”
“They’ve foregone $5.9 billion, and that includes the cost of borrowing to invest. And that’s my criticism,” she says.
CORIN: They do need passion now. Cos now those who might have been hoping that you would be the politician that might finally deal with New Zealand’s issues with capital and taxing capital and fairness, and you’re not.
JACINDA: But I am still doing the work, Corin. And I will in government still make that decision, and if required legislate on that decision. The thing I’ve pushed out is the time it takes effect. Because that then means I can balance both the urgency I feel with the feedback that the public strongly gave me. And I had to listen to that, you know? And so in my mind, if it took just a matter of a few months to find that balance between the two, then that was the right thing to do.
CORIN: What else will you flip-flop on?
JACINDA: I haven’t. I’ve
maintained that sense of urgency. And actually I still think
there’s leadership in listening as well. And I know when I
came out on this I was taking a risk. I felt strongly enough
about it to take that risk. But if it was a question of
simply a matter of months in order to be able to listen to
people too, that seemed like
Q + A
Interviewed by Corin Dann
CORIN Well, Labour leader
Jacinda Ardern joins me now. Good morning to
JACINDA Good morning.
CORIN You spoke very passionately when you took over the job about wanting to fix the housing crisis and in particular the fairness issues around tax in this country.
CORIN What happened to that passion this week, to back down and flip-flop?
JACINDA I still absolutely maintain those two points that we do have to address the housing crisis, particularly after nine years of drift. And we do have to look at the fairness of our tax system.
CORIN But you’re not willing to put your neck on the line, and it looks like, you know, you want to get elected, so you rolled over.
JACINDA No. I am still doing the work. I’m still utterly committed to doing the work. And in fact if you look at the timeline we’ve set out, I will, in office, do that work.
CORIN You panicked. You panicked in the face of polling.
JACINDA I will produce some outcomes from that. And I will, if suggested by that working group, legislate. The one thing I have heard, though - and I’ve had to listen, Corin, on the campaign trail – I put out my case, and the public put theirs, and the case they put back to me was okay, we understand you feel that sense of urgency; we do too, but we want certainty. And I knew I could find that balance between the two by moving by a matter of months the time that that legislation would come into force into the next tax year in 2021.
CORIN But you made it a leadership issue. You made it a captain’s call.
CORIN You put it out there and said, ‘I’m going to make this my call. I’m strong enough to go to the electorate and say I’ll do this if I need to.’ And you’ve rolled back on that.
JACINDA And I will still be going to the electorate and saying, ‘This is the thing that I’ve made the decision on. This is the thing we will legislate on.’ But I also have to show leadership in listening to what people tell me. And the message came back loud and clear – we get your passion around this. We understand it, but we want to know. I have found a balance.
CORIN They do need passion now. Cos now those who might have been hoping that you would be the politician that might finally deal with New Zealand’s issues with capital and taxing capital and fairness, and you’re not.
JACINDA But I am still doing the work, Corin. And I will in government still make that decision, and if required legislate on that decision. The thing I’ve pushed out is the time it takes effect. Because that then means I can balance both the urgency I feel with the feedback that the public strongly gave me. And I had to listen to that, you know? And so in my mind, if it took just a matter of a few months to find that balance between the two, then that was the right thing to do.
CORIN What else will you flip-flop on?
JACINDA I haven’t. I’ve maintained that sense of urgency. And actually I still think there’s leadership in listening as well. And I know when I came out on this I was taking a risk. I felt strongly enough about it to take that risk. But if it was a question of simply a matter of months in order to be able to listen to people too, that seemed like it.
CORIN Well, it looks like just because it wasn’t electable, was it?
JACINDA I don’t buy that. I don’t buy that, and I still believe that there is a way to get the work done and hear people too.
CORIN What about the issue of superannuation? Can you just clarify to me what your position is on raising the age of super? You would resign before you ever raised it?
JACINDA Again, 65.
CORIN First term, second term, third term – what?
JACINDA We’ve stuck with 65. And again, that’s a matter of certainty for people. And my agitation with the National government, particularly when they announced their increase in the age, which Bill English has described as a gift to my generation, was that they did that in the face of never having contributed to the superannuation fund. They’ve foregone $5.9 billion, and that includes the cost of borrowing to invest. And that’s my criticism.
CORIN It’s a fair point, but they’re separate in a way, because let’s put it out there – that only partially prefunds super. The country still has a major problem in terms of aging population, in terms of paying for its healthcare, regardless of the Cullen Fund and the good work that that could do. Why have you made this decision?
JACINDA In part, because the time I spent on the campaign trail alongside Andrew Little, I could not deny the one-third of New Zealanders who are in hard-labouring jobs, who I saw come to him in that period and say, ‘Thank you for making that decision on behalf of us.’ I still remember the gentleman who came and talked to me about his job working under Auckland’s wharves, hard labour in the cold water most of the year. And he said to me, ‘I just couldn’t do it if you extended it out.’
CORIN But how are you going to pay for that person’s healthcare in 20 years’ time? Because that is the issue.
JACINDA It’s all about priorities. And we’ve seen that in this election campaign. You know, we’ve made the decision that if you want to make sure that just, for instance, your health spending, based on population changes, based on inflation, if you plan and you choose not to do things like tax cuts, you can prioritise people’s health, well-being and give them certainty about their retirement.
CORIN I just want to be very, very clear. Are you saying you will resign full stop if you won a second term, a third term – that’s it, no raising of the age?
JACINDA I’ve said I will not raise the age, because I believe that if we plan properly and we invest properly, that we can give people that certainty.
CORIN But you said you’d resign.
JACINDA That was the question I was asked.
CORIN This is the bit I don’t understand.
JACINDA That’s because I’m presented constantly with questions in absolute terms, in absolute terms.
CORIN You gave an absolute answer.
JACINDA Indeed, because certainty in this area is what people crave. And, to be fair, Corin, I do believe in elements of universalism. It’s something we’ve lost from the conversation in New Zealand, which is why we’ve also done that in the early years.
CORIN You’ve had a chance to leave open an option, whereas John Key did it for a reason of trust, because he was worried people didn’t trust him. You didn’t have that same problem. And it seems extraordinary to completely rule that out.
JACINDA The problem we’ve had is this issue has bounced back and forth between both political parties. People needed certainty. I wanted to give that to them. I also want to demonstrate that we can plan for the next generation’s future. They are the ones who’ve been sold down the river by not enough planning. I don’t think it’s fair that they be lumbered with the cost of not planning for retirement, not planning for environmental degradation, not planning for healthcare and education. It’s time we actually said, ‘You deserve what the rest have had.’
CORIN All right. Free trade – what happens if South Korea says to you, ‘No, we’re not going to renegotiate that free-trade deal?’
JACINDA Well, of course, if you ask me to give away my negotiating position right now, it’s going to make it harder for me when I go into those talks.
CORIN No, here’s the thing.
JACINDA If it looks like I don’t care enough.
CORIN We are a country that needs to know whether you would be prepared to walk away from a hard-fought free-trade deal over your policy, which is to ban foreigners buying houses in New Zealand.
JACINDA And you’re asking me
to give away the terms of my negotiation. But, look, what I
absolutely believe is that our friends and allies, given
Korea negotiated that position for themselves in that
agreement, will look kindly to us seeking the same
CORIN But nobody in the trade world accepts that they’re not going to want something in return.
JACINDA Well, we will make sure that we protect New Zealand’s position when we go into those negotiations, but Corin, the point—
CORIN You’ll give them something in return?
JACINDA The point we’ve always made—Again, I’m not going to negotiate a free trade agreement on Q+A, but the point we’ve always made is how do we know, because the government never tried. Australia negotiated successfully with Korea. Korea negotiated successfully with us.
CORIN And they had different things that they wanted. I mean, the point is these are incredibly hard deals to get. We’ve seen how difficult they are to get. Why would you put that at risk?
JACINDA And I will maintain that we need to generate an agreement that preserves New Zealand’s trade benefits but also does not sell down the river our ability to remove the heat from the market.
CORIN Do you actually believe in free trade?
JACINDA I do.
CORIN So why would we want to risk that? That’s done and dusted, that deal.
JACINDA You’re implying that we are risking it. Of course, keeping in mind that we don’t know the strength of feeling that exists in that area because, again, as I say, our government never tried.
CORIN What I’m trying to get at is how credible it is for Labour to go back to South Korea and say, ‘Just give us what we want,’ and not really want anything in return.
JACINDA If free trade agreements when you signed on the bottom line never had the ability for renegotiation, no one would ever sign them. If they were locked, done and dusted, no one would enter into such agreements. There is room for that. We are going to—
CORIN But you accept that it’s not an even fight, is it? We are the small player here. No one does us any favours in the world. Why do they want to do us a favour?
JACINDA Which is why it should have been negotiated in the first place, and that should continue to be the cause of concern for New Zealanders – that it was never attempted in TPP and it was never attempted in that deal. Look, I am not going to trade off New Zealand’s incredibly important need to increase our exports and remove those barriers for trade, but I am also going to advocate for our ability to regulate our domestic housing market. We need to make that effort.
CORIN On foreign policy, are we going to continue to have a close relationship with China in the way we have under this government if you were to be leader?
JACINDA Indeed. In fact, I would say that it was Labour that forged that close relationship.
CORIN Would you go to China basically every year like John Key has?
JACINDA I can’t see why I wouldn’t. Kirk first forged our relationship. That was extended by, of course, Labour negotiating our free trade agreement, the apology on the poll tax. Labour has long held a very close relationship with China. I’ve travelled there in an official capacity several times before and I absolutely believe we’ll continue that.
CORIN All right. Well, let’s try you out on that. Should China be building up military installations on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea?
JACINDA Our free trade position with them was negotiated at a time when we, of course, had concerns around labour practice as well, and human rights issues. I remember when I worked in Phil Goff’s office in the time that he was working through those issues. We’ve always raised concerns whilst maintaining the need to advocate—
CORIN Would you raise concerns with China about the South China Seas?
JACINDA Oh, we’ve continued to raise concerns across a number of human rights issues. That doesn’t preclude our ability to advocate for New Zealand.
CORIN Do you think they should be building military installations on islands in the South China Sea?
JACINDA That would be a number of—along a long list of issues that I would always raise. That’s what you do in a close relationship.
CORIN What about the US? Would you accept an invite to the White House next year if you were to be prime minister?
JACINDA Yes. If it means I can further New Zealand’s position, keep a close relationship with the United States, then I would.
CORIN And the Five Eyes?
JACINDA Again, that’s something, obviously, that has in some part benefited New Zealand. Those are ongoing relationships that would not end under my leadership. Again, though, I’m not going to remove our ability to continue, as a close friend and ally of these nations, to raise issues of concern where we have them.
CORIN Are you committed to the Five Eyes arrangement?
JACINDA That won’t be changing under Labour.
CORIN What do you make of this campaign in terms of its tone? I mean, do you feel it’s fair for Labour to have criticised you on the numbers? I mean, they did raise a point—
CORIN Sorry, National. They did raise a fair point. You have not left yourself very much money at all to deal with a wide range of issues. I mean, that is something that economists have agreed on.
JACINDA And we took the numbers from PREFU. But, look, to the question of whether or not I felt it’s fair, the attack that we had from Stephen Joyce and Bill English was utterly incorrect, but it’s not just been that. They’ve also purported and told the public that we’re going to do things like increase income tax. That is patently untrue. It’s always been untrue. So, yes, it has been frustrating to battle a campaign on false information when we could have debated the real issues.
CORIN You left the door open yourself, though, didn’t you?
JACINDA No. No, we—
CORIN Yes, you did.
JACINDA Not on income tax.
CORIN Because you made tax an area that was unclear and there was uncertainty, and that was your captain’s call.
JACINDA I raised the issue of the unfairness in our tax system, particularly as it related to speculators and particularly as it related to the effect on our home ownership rates. We ruled out right from the beginning any increase in income tax. We were utterly clear. The National government campaigned on something that is untrue.
CORIN But to be fair to Bill English, why shouldn’t he be able to highlight the fact that they will bring in tax cuts next year and you’ll get rid of them?
JACINDA Yes, if National wants to raise the fact that we voted against their tax cuts and won’t bring them in and instead have a targeted families package that makes sure 70% of families are better off, that’s fair because that’s the truth. Saying we would increase income tax was not true and it was not fair.
CORIN Why wouldn’t--? Why won’t you raise income tax?
JACINDA It’s not something that we see as necessary. We’ve been able to lay out a fiscal plan that says actually we can achieve our goals. What we want to do by reprioritising – by not delivering tax cuts but by reprioritising and, for instance, cracking down on negative gearing in New Zealand, increasing the taxation on multinationals – that’s how we deliver on our promises.
CORIN Jacinda Ardern, thanks very much for your time.
JACINDA Thanks for yours.
Please find attached the full transcript and the link to the interview.
Sundays on TVNZ 1 and one hour later on TVNZ 1 +
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