The Nation: Shane Jones
Simon Shepherd: He's the Minister with a lot of money. Not only does he oversee the three billion dollar Provincial Growth Fund, Shane Jones is in charge of even more billions in infrastructure spend. But he's also the target of a Greenpeace campaign to remove him from government decisions on commercial fisheries - alleging he is too close to the industry. Minister Shane Jones joins me now. Morena. Thank you for your time, Minister. So, Greenpeace wants you and your party excluded from any fisheries decisions and for any decisions involving fisheries company Talley’s to be reviewed. What do you say to that?
Shane Jones: Look, I’ve always had an open book in terms of fisheries. I believe that New Zealand industries such as fisheries need a champion. I’ve had a professional background in the industry, and I just think that Russell and Greenpeace – they’re enthralled to this conspiracy, thinking that somehow I’ve fallen under the influence of Goldfinger in the fishing industry.
So, Talley’s, the company, gave you ten grand in Election 2017. What did they get for that?
See, that’s not how the system works. They are participating in the political process, and what really puzzles me is what is really at stake here in these campaigns to demonise and stigmatise New Zealanders who are legitimately participating. Now, if they find in me a champion for industry, and the party and its policies, that’s how democracy in New Zealand works.
So, you can guarantee you’d not let Talley’s or other commercial fishing companies influence your decision making about that when it comes to government policy?
No, absolutely not. The ideas and policies which New Zealand First had when we came into the government, which is very strong on fisheries, very strong on aquaculture, they’re out there for the public to vote on.
There’s some examples here to talk about. I mean, you commented on a court case involving a Talley’s boat, your party has sort of opposed bottom trawling, the amount of cameras that actually ended up on boats shrank dramatically. Has your party and your position on those shrunk with those policies?
No, these are ideas of contest - They’re in a spirit of contestable ideas. In Taranaki, fisheries has been driven out by the mythical Maui dolphin. There is no Maui dolphin. They’re just a Hector’s dolphin.
Right. So, you’re saying it’s not endangered? It shouldn’t be looked after?
Well, you can’t blame exclusively the fishing industry for the demise of that subspecies of Hector’s dolphin.
Okay, but are you exerting an influence which is beyond your remit? You are not the Fisheries Minister.
That’s absolutely true. I’m not the Fisheries Minister, but I am the Regional Development Minster, and when regional industries attract my attention and they want to ensure that the debates are balanced and they’re not overtaken by these shrill voices not based on science, in terms of Greenpeace, then they should expect that my loud voice will be brought to bear.
Look, according to reporting by Radio New Zealand and Stuff, Talley’s also gave almost $27,000 to the New Zealand First Foundation. So, first of all, what do you know about that? Did you know about that money?
Well, the first thing I know is that the SFO have their process, so I don’t want to run afoul of that. But in terms of the functioning of the foundation, I don’t know anything about that.
You don’t know anything about that money?
It was created before I came back into politics. For three years, I was a fisheries ambassador in the Pacific, and I’m told, during that period of time, the foundation was created.
Okay. So, just to be clear, because, you know, you were involved in fisheries, you were the chair of the Maori Fisheries Commission and throughout the Pacific, and Talley’s have given to your election campaign – that was declared – but you don’t know anything about the Talley’s donations to the New Zealand First Foundation?
No, I’m not across the detail of who and how various people, but I would say-
You’re not across the detail? So, that means you were aware, but you’re not across the detail?
No, no, no. To be honest with you, what has antagonised me is that these are God-fearing, patriotic New Zealanders. They have given money within the law. Sure, it’s now in the clutches of the SFO, and I’ve had a gutsful of people putting out conspiracy theories that, somehow, they represent the Goldfinger of New Zealand democracy. It’s wrong, and it’s tripe.
Okay. The Cabinet manual says care should be taken to avoid creating a perception that representatives or lobbyists from any one organisation or group enjoy an unfair advantage. Are you taking that care?
Yeah, I think I’m implementing the Cabinet manual in the same way that John Key did.
But Jacinda Ardern has often said, or has said for you to go away and have a re-read of it every now and then.
Yeah, and she’s got every right as the Prime Minster to remind me that there’s a perception that some of my statements or the stances I take- But I’m not going to part company with those proud New Zealanders who are participating in the political process, and I’m not going to shut up while they’re stigmatised and demonised for operating within the law.
Can I ask about the perception of the party, then? I mean, the revelations by Radio New Zealand and Stuff reporting that Rich-Listers are reportedly donating to the foundation, hence bankrolling the party – what does that do to the perception or to the image of the party? It doesn’t really say that you are ‘a battler’ or ‘common sense’ or ‘centrist’ or ‘heartland.’ Isn’t that at odds with the image that you project?
Well, I think the image of the party is that our roots are in the heartland, which- I’m a heartland politician, and a lot of the industries – can I just use one that you’ve referred to, the fishing industry – is a heartland industry. The racing industry is a heartland industry. Now, this notion that just because people are willing to contribute within the political process that they should be either crippled or face allegations that they’re rupturing democracy – I say to you that that’s conspiracy thinking, and it’s designed to drive New Zealand First out of politics, and it’ll be unsuccessful.
Okay, well, let’s talk about that in a moment, but one of the founding principles of New Zealand First is transparency. Do you believe that the party’s living up to that?
Well, I don’t want to talk about the SFO investigation for fear of running afoul of the law, but where I’ve been concerned, just go and read my donations, and I will not flinch from sticking up for mining, for fishing, for forestry or farming. The three Fs. In fact, I’m a three F politician.
The Serious Fraud Office, you’ve mentioned, is investigating the New Zealand First Foundation. Do you believe that that is having an effect on the party’s polling?
Well, I’m not across whatever internal polling the leader’s office might be doing, but look, the reality is when you have all this smudging driven by Radio New Zealand suffering a bout of distemper ordinarily associated with cats and dogs-
Or just reporting on undisclosed donations to the party.
Well, I mean, they’re not being fair or balanced in my view, and I genuinely feel that Radio- Well, not all of Radio New Zealand. The gallery are quite sensible, and I accept that Stuff have also run these stories.
But I think they’re possessed by a conspiracy spirit, and it’s writing out of the script what ordinary people think. Ordinary people aren’t interested in what Guyon Espiner is warbling on about.
Okay. Well, let’s talk about your polling. I mean, at the moment, according to which poll – Newshub poll, Colmar Brunton poll, 3.6% - 3%. So, it’s less than the 5% threshold. Surely, it’s having an effect.
Well, the reality is that our polls during the course of the government’s life have never been all that flash, but we poll very good as we approach an election. We’ve always been under strict instructions from Winston Peters not to toss and turn about the polls, get out and do the job, and I think no one could doubt that the job that I do out in heartland New Zealand is gold medal status.
What is going to happen to the New Zealand First Foundation?
Well, look, that would be up to the trustees and the architects. I genuinely am not across those details. No doubt they’re engrossed at the moment with legal advice in terms of working through with the SFO investigators.
As a senior member of the party, what would you like to see happen to it?
That’s party business, and I’m certainly not going to in a fit of enthusiasm make announcements that I’ve got no mandate to do.
I mean, should those kind of foundations exist? Do they have a role going on this election year in terms of raising money for parties?
Well, yeah, but let’s establish a fact here. They are established within the ambit of the law. Now, if you’re asking me should the law change, well that’s definitely an idea that’s going to be contested, no doubt, in this election. But let’s be very careful that a lot of these fears aren’t driven by conspiracy, and in my view, a body of animus designed to destroy New Zealand First and drive Winston Peters out of politics.
Well, let’s talk about your potential— Well, you’ve thrown your hat in the ring for Northland, right? It’s going through the process for approval by New Zealand First. Are you confident that you can win Northland when your leader lost it last election?
Well, he did obviously win it in the by-election.
But he lost it in the general election.
In 2017 he went across the pall winds of the country, and that gave us seven and a half percent of the vote. Look, you’ve got to be confident whenever you stand for election. I’m not underestimating the difficulties. Wellsford has been taken out of the seat of Northland. Mangawhai, Dargaville, Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Kerikeri — they’re the big centres of population. And I’m not taking anything for granted, but there’ll be a genuine option when I finally emerge from the end of our constitutional process.
So you’re confident that you get the nod?
Well, let’s just, uh— I’ll abide by the process.
Okay. How serious a threat is it that National has refused to work with New Zealand First post-election? Is that going to ruin your chance of an election?
Well, it just depends whether or not Simon Bridges is outed in this upcoming court-case. If it comes to pass—
What are you saying, that Simon Bridges is in charge in this court case?
Well, it depends what the nature of the evidence is that’s going to be put before the court. I mean, everyone at the moment is piling in on Jami-Lee Ross, but if Jami-Lee Ross and these donors can show that the leader of the National Party is absolutely across the detail, then he won’t be the leader of the National Party.
So, you’re willing to comment on National’s SFO court case, but not the SFO investigation into New Zealand First.
No, I’m commenting on media reports and Jami-Lee’s own statements.
All right. Do you believe that this whole donations law should be reviewed?
Well, without a doubt the Prime Minister has put her finger on the pulse in the sense that increasingly more commentators… I do find a lot of these liberal, left-wing commentators out of universities, they don’t understand how politics really works. And they bring a fresh bout of conspiracy thinking, and they forget that these are Kiwis that have participated in giving donations legally, within the ambit of the law, and that’s the type of political engagement that they’re comfortable with.
Let’s move on to the comments you made at the infrastructure conference yesterday. You said that you wanted a maximum population policy to reporters afterwards. What does that mean? What is a maximum population policy?
Well, I think one of the problems in New Zealand with infrastructure is our population has grown well beyond originally what the architects thought was the case. Now, population policy has long since been surrendered to the employers of New Zealand, and in my view, employers are only interested in net profit after tax. They’re not interested in nationhood. So that’s what a population policy will do, is put the employers where they belong.
So what is an ideal population policy?
Yeah. Well, what is the maximum?
But these are exactly the ideas that Kiwis should debate and Kiwis should rely on New Zealand First, my colleague Tracey Martin, to take forward. I, personally, am astounded at how quickly the last million people have arrived in New Zealand.
Okay. So, is this a way for you in election year just to go back to one of the never-ending issues that gets New Zealand First re-elected, immigration?
Well, immigration is unfettered. Immigration has got out of control in Auckland, and it’s put enormous stress on our social and our economic infrastructure, and you can’t walk away from that. Unfortunately, immigration has for too long been surrendered to employers, and they do not have the best interests of our nationhood at heart. Their interests are in making a profit every year.
So, you’re not going to say that we should restrict population growth to a certain percentage at the moment?
Well, we’ve got a host of ideas. We want to see population growth speak to the interests of New Zealand’s regional areas, not only our urban areas. But I say to you, what sort of country do you want? We were originally settled through the Treaty of Waitangi, the indigenous people coming with their Pacific roots, the Maori people, then the Anglos came, and in my case, the Croatians came. If you want another million, two million, three million people, then we should debate it and there should be a mandate, rather than opening up the options unfettered, and everyone comes here from New Delhi. I don’t like that idea at all.
You don’t like the people coming from New Delhi?
Oh no, I think that the number of students that have come from India have ruined many of those institutions. I think it’s a backdoor to citizenship, and I think it’s a good debate to have what blend of policy do you want for your population? What size, what skill-base, how many untrained people, how many investors.
In election year, people will label this dog-whistle politics.
Um, well, there’s an appetite out there to talk about a population policy. Now, look, I accept that the National Party won’t, because they’re funded by certain very rich overseas donors, and I accept that Labour won’t because it offends their sense of political correctness. But I’m from New Zealand First and our heartbeat is in the provinces.
Okay, I’ve got one more question for you before you go — coronavirus is obviously having an impact economically around the world, not only in New Zealand. Logging has come to almost a standstill in terms of the exports. What is the impact having on those jobs, and what is happening in terms of the workers that get laid off?
Well, I’m told that Phil Twyford is going to Gisborne, I presume to make some announcements, because the package is being driven by MBIE, and he’s the MBIE Minister. Look, what I’ve focused on is encouraging the social welfare to be very liberal in the interpretation. I don’t want to see any Kiwi without income for 30 days. I think that there’s a case for further interventions. The ideas are with cabinet, the Prime Minister and my leader will be working through. But it’s not just forestry, unfortunately, there’s a lot of other areas.
So forestry shouldn’t be getting the benefit alone, you know, tourism workers should be subject to no 30-day stand-down if they lose their jobs because of coronavirus?
Oh no, I’ve been very clear with my colleagues. I think we need to be very robust and have the social welfare department exercise great liberal interpretations so we don’t have Kiwis in Strugglers Gully. We’re trying to get kids out of poverty, we can’t have their parents living in unnecessary straightened circumstances where a lot of the ideas coming out of Wellington won’t necessarily work.
Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones, thank you very much for your time this morning.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz