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The Nation: Tova O'Brien interviews PM Jacinda Ardern

On Newshub Nation: Tova O'Brien interviews Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

The Labour Party's annual conference opened in Whanganui last night, a chance for party members to reflect on 2019, and plan for Election 2020. So, how is this year of delivery going for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern? Political Editor Tova O'Brien sat down with her this morning.

Tova O'Brien: Last night, in your opening remarks, you acknowledged the Labour bullying, sexual assault allegations saying the party isn’t perfect; it needs to be a safer place for people to come forward, people before politics. Are you there yet?

Jacinda Ardern: Sorry, are we there yet? No, no. I can’t hand on heart say that yet. But what I do know is that everyone is committed to that. Even here at the conference, there’s space for people to be part of some of the training we’ve been running through our organisation. And I think the Labour Party, like many places, is doing all it can to make sure not only do we give the skills to our volunteers in our organisation, but that we have the processes in place if something does go wrong, that we deal with it appropriately. So we’re not there yet, but we are working on it.

A lot of those assurances that you’ve given around the culture of the party were given after the Labour summer camp allegations. So why should anyone believe that it’s going to be different this time?

Yeah, and in that case, you know, clearly there was a deficiency in some of the process we had when people wanted to make allegations or when issues had arisen. And what we need to learn from is even though the party had instituted that process, clearly, it failed individuals involved. Part of what we’ve been looking at as part of the more recent sexual assault claims is what happened exactly with that process. We’ve had someone independently do that work so people can have faith that it’s not just us looking at ourselves, we’re using experts in the field to help us in that process too.

And this morning Poto Williams, one of your MPs, was having a closed session about making the party a safer environment for volunteers. What will the message be to members?

Well, ultimately, I think we’re acknowledging that we are an organisation of volunteers. So that means it’s not just about people who are employed by the Labour Party, of which there are a very small number; actually, we run local organisations. And I’ve sensed a real call from them to say, ‘actually, we’d like to be upskilled too.’ So we’re providing that training, that support here. And the message simply will be that we’re here to support everyone in the organisation, that we know that we can and should be better, and I think we’re all supporting one another to be in the place that we know we should be.

The party’s also been forced to elect a new president, a QC report into the bullying, and sexual assault allegations has been delayed. A victim of the Labour Summer Camp allegations said on Twitter the other day how devastated he is. How much of a personal toll has this taken on your reputation?

Yeah, I mean, each of the scenarios that you’ve just played out, though, obviously, those who were involved in summer school issues there — ultimately, the court has made decisions that we just obviously don’t have any control over that process. And what we do have control over is the support that we provide them in the aftermath. And I’ll be looking to make sure that we—

Clearly not feeling supported.

Well, obviously I can’t do anything about a decision that was made by a court. And I think that there’s an understanding of that. But we can as an organisation support those individuals, and that is what we need to keep doing. When it comes to the Maria Dew work, ultimately, my understanding is that those involved are finding it a good process. I want to make sure that they have the space to complete it properly. So, we’re not going to impose timelines on Maria Dew, the QC. It’s for her to do the work and for her to conclude it in the time that she thinks appropriate. Look, as an organisation, there’s no doubt this of course has had an impact. But you would expect it to.

Has it on you personally?

Oh, look, ultimately it’s not about me. But I am human. But ultimately, my job is to make sure that I take all of us, the party, through this learning process. And it shouldn’t be about me, it should be about those who have been involved in this.

You declared 2019 your year of delivery. What’s one area you feel you failed to deliver in?

I don’t ever see, when you’re coming to a massive work programme like the one that we’ve taken on, anything as being simply deemed success or failure. There’ll be things where I would have liked to have moved faster, I’ve been very open about that.

Or happen at all, like the capital gains tax?

Ultimately, we’re an MMP government. So there are some things that will never be assured. But I’ve been clear on where there have been some things that haven’t happened at the pace that I want, but ultimately within that, there’s still been success. Take for example the thousands of state houses that we are churning out
Yeah, but also take for example Kiwibuild. Do you chalk that up as a failure? Because only seven houses built last month.

Again, as I have said continuously on the housing crisis, we are the ones who stopped the sale of state houses, who are building more houses than any government since the 1970s, who have expanded Housing First, who have banned letting fees, improved rental standards and continue on with Kiwibuild. But in addition to that, acknowledged where there have been gaps in that policy and we have filled it. I think people want their governments to learn. And we are learning as we go, because some of the things that we’ve done, no one has ever done before.

You still fell well short of the promise. You won’t even build 300 houses by the end of the year, it was supposed to be more than 1000.

We are not stopping our Kiwibuild programme. And nor did we ever accept that when we found it wasn’t meeting our expectations, that there wasn’t more we could do to fix that. As a result we’ve bought in progressive home ownership, we’ve made it easier for people to access government grants relative to deposits required, we are making sure that when we see things that aren’t moving as quickly as we like, that we’re changing some of those processes. We should be able to learn from the new programmes that we bring in and do better. And I think people can see we are taking the housing crisis seriously.

In the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks, you changed gun laws, you raised the spectre of social media regulation and also hate speech reform. Do you feel like you brought the country with you? Or do you think we’re more divided now?

Actually, I still hear universal themes when it comes to the aftermath of March 15. I do think that there is more awareness in our nation around issues of discrimination, and issues that particularly members of our ethnic communities face. I think there’s greater awareness of that, but there needed to be. But I still absolutely believe that when it comes to the response of New Zealand, that there was unity in that and remains to be.

But in the wake of those gun reforms, social media regulation, the spectre of hate speech reform, there was a really vociferous and ugly debate, wasn’t there?

Well, actually, that’s not my reflection. When it came to the ban on semi-automatic weapons, military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles, I actually think the nation came with us on that.

We had to call in death threats to you to the police because it was so ugly at times.

I hate to tell you that that is not new. That has been from the day I took on this job. It’s a sad fact of life that comes with these roles. But was that the right thing to do? Absolutely. The vast majority of New Zealanders supported it. Regardless of whether or not there is a minority that reacted in another way, I absolutely stand by it.

What about that directive that the Ministry of Justice work with the Human Rights Commission to review our hate speech laws. When’s that coming out? Because Andrew Little said it would be out by the end of this year.

Yeah, and that is work that he has been doing. And I think just to acknowledge that we do have laws in this area already, but they have been rather limited. In fact, the Human Rights Commission some time ago – before March 15 – recognised that there was a gap around religion that actually hate speech or threats to people based on their religion had not been included in that legislation.

So, do you think religion and perhaps sexual orientation should be included in that legislation?

I think the Human Rights Commission, they were right to point out there were gaps in our legislation. But obviously that’s something the Minister of Justice is continuing to work through. This is the kind of thing that you want to do once and you want to do right, so I’m going to let him complete his work.

Where is the line for you when it comes to free speech and hate speech? Someone ‘sieg heil-ing’ outside a mosque, for example - free speech or hate speech?

And again, I’ve always been really cautious in this space, because actually we do have a legal framework that exists so that our courts can make decisions on these issues.

You won’t acknowledge that ‘sieg heil-ing’ outside a mosque is hate speech?

Oh, look, I will acknowledge that we have had behaviour that I think is abhorrent, I think has incited discrimination against members of our community and that absolutely should be challenged through our court system. But you’ll also understand why I don’t try personally to be the individual arbiter, but there’s been many things that I’ve seen since that time by some individuals that I think have been absolutely awful and should be challenged through our justice system.

On Winston Peters, you’ve been quite defensive and haven’t really said anything meaningful in terms of the allegations against the New Zealand First Foundation. Why has that rattled you so much?

I would not characterise it in that way at all. You could have actually just made the same statement about the National Party and that would have been true. I was not drawn into the allegations that have landed them with the Serious Fraud Office.

They weren’t your government partner.

Indeed, and that’s actually a fantastic point to make. If I was going to go for anyone, you’d think I would go for the opposition and I didn’t, because for me this is a matter of principle.

You’re not responsible for keeping the opposition in line.

But there’s a matter of principle here that to have political parties you can understand that we’re not the best ones to be judging one another on the implementation of electoral law. Because we have to uphold it ourselves. So that’s why we do have independent agencies who those judgements for us. For me, this is a matter of natural justice. I’m going to allow that process to play out rather than inserting myself into it, the same way that I didn’t do that with the National Party.

What about our old mate Winston Peters going out there calling journalists ‘psycho,’ Shane Jones out on the forecourt of parliament calling protesting farmers ‘rednecks.’ You’ve said it’s not language that you’d use, but why haven’t you taken more leadership and making it clear that that is not language that is acceptable for your government ministers?

Ultimately I have to still also accept I have members of different political parties in this government as well.

Is that because you don’t have any power over them? Over New Zealand First?

No, absolutely not. My job is to enforce the Cabinet Manual when it comes to ministerial conduct. Whether or not someone chooses to use language as you’ve described is not something that really falls into the remit of the Cabinet Manual on Ministerial Conduct. And ultimately they are members of another political party. Now, some may decide that I should be the one that’s the arbiter of the way that politicians speak in parliament. I’d have to say-

You are the leader of the country and the government.

I’d have to say that as Prime Minister, that would take up a lot of my time if that was my job – to be the one who judges and deems whether or not the ‘moral code’ is being upheld in parliament. I have to say, I’ve been in politics for 10 years and I’ve seen plenty of people do and say things that I wouldn’t do. But is it my job to go around and wave my finger at them? Not always, no. But, l can-

But sometimes, though.

Look, and I will say if I disagree and I will share my view on whether or not something is appropriate. But I also have to accept that there are other political parties which I am not the leader of in our government.

We’ve been told that the government’s partner parties have been told to keep a united front until budget day-

Oh, have they?

And then after that all bets are off.


What will happen after that? Is that campaign mode kicking in or is there a risk that the government could actually implode?

No and that’s not actually true. That’s the first I’ve ever heard that, so I can tell you that certainly hasn’t come from me. We are a government-

We’ve heard it from ministers’ offices.

We are a government until the day that the election is held. Our duty is to run the country until individuals go to the poll, and in fact, until a new government is declared. And that is the job we’ll do.

Just finishing up – last question. On Ihumātao, do you regret not having gone sooner?

Actually, you know, people I think see that as a proxy, though, and I’ve wondered about this – the strength of feeling around that visit. I think people see it as a proxy, somehow, of me showing I care about the issue. I can hand-on-heart say I care deeply about this issue. I have spent a huge amount of time working on a resolution. I still am. And whether I visit or not, I’m going to keep doing that. I will visit, but I’d like to do it at a time when I feel like I actually have answer to the problem.

Just finally, one word answer – election date, September 19, correct?


Thank you very much for your time, Prime Minister.

Thank you.

I appreciate it.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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