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The Nation – Lisa Owen’s interview with Ardern and Davis


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The Nation: Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis

New Labour leader Jacinda Ardern won’t commit to staying on until 2020 if her party loses the election in September.

Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis says he wouldn’t expect to be deputy prime minister in a Labour-led government. Instead he would stand aside for theGreens or New Zealand First to take that role.

Ardern won’t commit to her predecessor Andrew Little’s promises of no new taxes in the first term of a Labour government.

Asked about New Zealand First’s bottom line of a referendum on the maori seats, Ardern and Davis say any decision on that will be made only by Maori, but they didn’t explicitly rule out a referendum.

Lisa Owen: When we had Jacinda Ardern here in the studio two weeks ago, she told The Nation that Andrew Little is taking us to the election for victory; there is no plan B. Well, we all know there’s always a plan B. It was new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and her deputy, Kelvin Davis, and they both join me now in the studio. Good morning to you both.
Jacinda Ardern: Good morning.
Kelvin Davis: Kia ora.
Ardern: There was no plan B. That’s why I had one hour to prepare for the quick changeover.
All right. Fair call. And you have previously insisted that you don’t want to be prime minister and you didn’t want to be leader of the party. You’re doing it out of duty. But aren’t these the kind of jobs that really need you to absolutely want to do it and to have them?
Ardern: Yeah. Look, Lisa, that’s absolutely correct. Every time I’ve been asked that question, I’ve answered in a really genuine way. That hadn’t been my expectation. I had goals and ambitions as a politician that I believed I could achieve as a minister. But, of course, that required us to be in government. And so when those exceptional circumstances arose, as they did this week, and my team asked me to stand up, there was no question in my mind that I was going to take on that role and lead our team to victory.
But they asked you, and they had to ask you, ‘Do you absolutely want this 100%?’ So there’s a difference between stepping up because duty requires you to and wanting to do it.
Ardern: And there’s a difference between whether you have the expectation that that’s where your career will lead you or not, but I am absolutely committed to taking our team to victory. I believe I’m the best person for this job and I can do it. So whether or not I’ve shown in the past that I believed that my political career would take me somewhere else actually is a moot point. I’m ready for it, and I’m going to do it.
Okay. So if it takes you longer than this election, can you commit now? Will you still want to be and be the leader of the Labour Party going into 2020?
Ardern: As I demonstrated last time, there is no plan B. The plan is to win, take us to victory, and, look, seven weeks—
But there was a plan B, so can you tell New Zealand voters now – will you take it through to 2020 whatever the outcome of this election?
Ardern: I’m not going to concede that we’re not going to win, and talking about whether or not I’m going to be the next Opposition leader after the election concedes that point. I think, actually, voters want to hear what we’ll do–
Give voters a guarantee either way, because the thing is they want to know what they’re getting. And don’t they have a right to know whether a vote for you could potentially be a waste of their time? So are you going to still be around in 2020 as leader?
Ardern: Their vote won’t be a waste of time, because we’re going to use their vote to get into government. I think if people heard me talking about these long-term strategies, they’ll think, ‘Well, what’s actually your plan when you’re in government?’ I don’t want to talk about the plan to be in Opposition; I want to talk about the plan to change the way we live in New Zealand and our vision for the country.
I understand where you’re coming from. Yeah, and I understand where you’re coming from for that, but what people might hear is, ‘Mm, she’s not committed, because she won’t say that she’ll be here either way by 2020.’
Kelvin Davis: We’ll back her. We’re going to back her, regardless.
I’m giving you the chance to put it to rest right now.
Davis: We’ll back her right through until 2035, when she’s probably had enough of being prime minister.
All right, well, seeing as you’ve dived in, Mr Davis, let’s find out what you think the top three things are that Maori need done urgently now that thegovernment needs to address – our government needs to address.
Davis: Housing, education, health, P. Yeah, sorry, there’s four there.
Okay, so are you going to give him those things in the policies that you’re going to unveil?
Ardern: Oh, we’ve definitely had discussions about the things we want to put emphasis on. So, you will have heard that yesterday, when we announced not just our tag line but the areas where we wanted to put a few extra policy announcements, they did include housing, they included education, they included environmental issues as well but also specific policies for Maori.
I was going to say – are there going to be specific things in there for Maori?
Ardern: Yes. Yes.
Can you give us a taster?
Ardern: No.
Well, that’s a definitive answer on that.
Davis: Well, we did launch our housing policy – Maori housing policy – last week, you know. We expect to get 20,000 to 30,000 Maori into affordable housing. So we’ve already done stuff, and—
But you’re expecting more for Maori in the next seven weeks from Labour in terms of policy?
Davis: Oh, of course. There’s massive expectation on us, and we feel the weight of responsibility to deliver for Maori, but we’re really up for it. We’re really excited about the challenge.
Okay. In terms of delivering, then, do you see this change in leadership as a new, a refreshed opportunity for you to pursue the goal of a tikanga Maori prison?
Davis: Oh, absolutely. We’ll be having those discussions.
It’s back on the table?
Davis: We’ve already talked about what does it look like – a tikanga Maori Prison. Because we have to dispel what people thought it was. They thought it was a separate, Maori-only prison. No, no, we’re just talking about looking at ways of doing things differently. And one of the things that I’m really most proud of in my time as a Corrections spokesperson is that we’ve helped to move the conversation from being about, ‘Let’s build more prisons and lock more people up,’ to, ‘Hey, let’s look at doing things differently.’
Okay, well, let’s ask your leader. So you’re open to that – a tikanga Maori prison? It’s back on the table?
Ardern: Absolutely. What Kelvin is talking about is doing things differently in our Corrections system so that we reduce down that high recidivism rate that we have. And as Kelvin has absolutely confirmed, and as he’s always said, this wasn’t about creating a separate prison for Maori; we have a goal to reduce the rate of imprisonment for Maori. This was about changing the way our current prisons works so we get better results. Now, who could disagree with that?
So is that going to be one of your announcements?
Ardern: We’ve already talked about this as part of our Corrections policy is just changing up the way our system works.
So could we expect something in the next seven weeks on that particular issue?
Ardern: Look, we don’t want to use the next seven weeks to be obsessing about what’s happening within prison walls, because that’s not on the highest agenda for our voters. But they do want to hear us that we’re going to reduce the amount we’re spending on Corrections, because it is a waste of money.
Okay. Talking about money and Corrections, Mr Davis, you have been relentless in your campaign against privately run prisons, so if you’re in, is Serco out?
Davis: That’s part of our policy that as we can, we’ll get rid of the private prisons, because it comes down to an economic—
‘As we can’. That’s an interesting set of words, isn’t it? So do you need to let the contract run, or will you just can it? If you are in government, they’re gone from out south?
Davis: Well, we would really love to be able to, but if this government has committed us to about a 30-year contract, and there’s going to be fiscal implications there, so we really have to work through those fiscal implications.
So we’re stuck with them for another 30 years?
Ardern: No, I mean, we’ve had to take a sensible approach on this. We’ve been really clear – as Kelvin said when he was Corrections spokesperson, when I was Corrections spokesperson, we’ve had the same position – we don’t want privately run prisons. But we also don’t want to cost the taxpayers having to get rid of National’s commitments, which they should’ve never made.
So you accept you’re stuck with them for the next 30 years?
Ardern: Well, we’re going to try our best to extract from it, but, again, we haven’t seen the contracts. We’re not privy to those, so we’re not sure what’s possible. So we’ll do what we can but whilst being credible in the way that we do it.
Okay, so no guarantees?
Ardern: Until we see the contracts, we can’t say, but what we can commit to is we don’t believe in private prisons. As soon as we can extract ourselves, we will.
Okay. Now, Andrew Little gave a categorical assurance that Labour would not introduce any new taxes in the first term. Will you honour Andrew Little’s promise?
Ardern: What we’ve said, as I’ve already outlined, is that we’ve got some policy priorities. They include housing, the environment. We’ll also be focusing on key infrastructure, which we’ll be talking about tomorrow.
Yeah, but are you going to honour that promise he made?
Ardern: What I haven’t put emphasis on is outside of those areas. But be clear on this – this is a new leadership team; we’ll bring a different stamp, and there will be different ideas in there. But beyond that, people will have to wait and see.
Well, the voters have been made a promise, and as far as they are concerned and know, that promise is still on the table. Can you commit to that promise? I’m not asking you what taxes you may or may not bring in. Are you standing by the promise he made publicly?
Ardern: And what I’m saying is that after 72 hours, we’ve given a clear direction of travel, but I think people will appreciate that we are a different leadership team; we do need the space to have a bit of a review about where we would like to take theLabour Party this election.
That sounds like maybe some new taxes.
Ardern: There will be no lack of clarity in voters’ minds; they will be absolutely clear on the difference between what Labour presents and what National presents when we come to the voting booth.
Okay. But you can’t honour that promise at this point here and now. So thedoor is still open?
Ardern: I want to give our team the space to look openly at all of our policy platform and to be open with New Zealanders about what we want to present.
What you have committed to is to stay within those fiscal parameters you sent in the Budget Responsibility Rules.
Ardern: That’s correct.
So the top new tax rate that the Greens are proposing would give you an extra $163 million a year. Wouldn’t that give you the headroom that you need to do the bit extra that you’re so committed to doing in health, education, housing?
Ardern: Mm. Look, and you’ve raised the Budget Responsibility Rules. They remain incredibly important for Labour, and I am absolutely committing us to staying within those parameters. Economic credibility for the Labour Party is key, and so we’ll make sure that whatever we announce stays within those rules and requirements. So I give that guarantee.
So it could possibly require you to get some more revenue from somewhere, though.
Ardern: We also– As our fiscal plan demonstrated, which we talked about a few weeks ago, that there is a little headroom already. And keeping in mind on the 23rd of August we also have the PREFU. Government projections at the moment suggest that there will be a little bit of extra headroom provided by the PREFU. So we’ll be taking our time to look at where we’re at then. It’s very hard for us to commit without knowing what the books will look like. And I imagine the public will expect us to make sure that we’ve got all the information before we make any spending decisions.
Davis: Can I just butt in there. Because when we reduce the prison population by 30%, as we say, that’s going to free up hundreds of millions of dollars as well.
That takes time, though, doesn’t it? Even you can see that that takes time. And your first policy cab off the rank is going to be an announcement about infrastructure this weekend happening in Auckland. So that’s going to be rail to the airport. How much is that going to cost you?
Ardern: Look, people can guesstimate about what that announcement might be, and it’s certainly fair to say that we’ve been advocates of rail to the airport, most certainly. The government’s talked about that being delivered within the next, you know– by three decades.
Yeah, but Phil Twyford has publically said Labour wants this now, so I’m picking it’s rail to the airport.
Ardern: Oh, you can probably put a wager on that if you’d like, but you’ll have to wait and see till tomorrow.
The details.
Ardern: The full plan. The full plan. But what I can say is that we’ll also, while we’re announcing that, talk about our plans to make sure that that’s deliverable. People want to see that if we’re going to talk about delivering something, that we’ve got a plan to do it, that we’ve got a way to ensure that the spending is available for that infrastructure. Big difference between us and National, and as we set out again in those Budget Responsibility Rules, is that we will focus on long-term investment. That includes infrastructure.
OK, so rail to the airport in the first term?
Ardern: I’m not giving away anything until we have a chance to make an announcement on our terms, and that will be tomorrow.
OK. Mr Davis, Te Tai Tokerau. Hone Harawira is offering voters a two-for-one deal.
Davis: There’s no deal.
Hang on. That’s what he’s offering. I’m telling you what he’s offering. They can back you and get you on the list. They can back him in the electorate and get both of you. That sounds like a good deal for Maori, doesn’t it?
Davis: The Tai Tokerau need quality not quantity.
So what?
Davis: Look, I’ll stand my record of the last three years up against anything in theprevious nine years. The biggest issue in the Tai Tokerau at the last election was Statoil. Well, they’ve disappeared. There’s Serco. They’re gone. There’s the Minister of Corrections. He went. There’s all the work around detention centres.
But you’re on the list. They’re going to get you anyway. They can have Hone Harawira as well.
Davis: That’s what I’m saying is quality over quantity. And, you know, he’s yesterday’s news. I don’t think he has anything positive to offer. And if that’s his only campaign cry – two for one – it’s a waste of time because they could get a deputy prime minister or a deputy leader in the government as well as the MP for Tai Tokerau. So that’s the two for one.
OK, well, while we’re talking about the Maori seats, Winston Peters– This is another one of Winston’s bottom lines is to have a referendum on the Maori seats. Would you pay that price? Would you be prepared to pay that price to get into government?
Davis: We’re not going to have a referendum on Maori seats. It’s off the table.
I see a head shake. A referendum is asking the people. You know, you would find out whether you have to get rid of them or not from the people. Definite no? Even at the price of government?
Davis: No, Hone Harawira tried to sell the Tai Tokerau for $3.5 million last election to Kim Dotcom, and here’s Winston trying to give away all seven for nothing.
OK. So, Ms Ardern, definite no on a referendum, even if it’s the price of a deal with Winston Peters?
Ardern: What we said on Tuesday is that we don’t want to spend the entire election campaign talking about other parties’ policies. So I’m happy to share with you Labour’s policy in that area.
Well, this is about how you would form a government. This is about how you would form a government. And voters want to know that, and that’s why I’m asking you. And you were shaking your head, so no referendum on the Maori seats?
Ardern: The makeup of government will be determined by voters. So voters deserve to know what each political party’s position on those issues are. Labour’s position on that issue is that the Maori seats are for Maori to decide. Labour will allow only Maori to make the decision about those seats. That is our position.
All right. So, is Labour’s position, Labour’s policy, no referendum on Maori seats?
Ardern: Only Maori should have the decision around whether or not those seats remain. We’ll stay firm on that.
That sounds like you could have a referendum where only Maori on theelectoral roll could vote.
Ardern: I believe that’s what Shane Jones might have– See, there’s not even clarity within New Zealand First on this position.
That’s why I’m wanting clarity around your policy. You’re saying Maori should decide, so Maori on the electoral roll, they could be polled whether they think that the seats should stay.
Ardern: Well, that’s a question for Winston because he’s the one coming up with–
No, I’m asking you your policy. I’m asking your policy.
Ardern: And I’m being very clear – only Maori will decide whether those Maori seats remain. We have no reason right now– I have not heard from–
That leaves the door open for a referendum of people on the Maori roll.
Ardern: No, it does not. Maori have not raised the need for those seats to go, so why would we ask the question?
Davis: Those seats were foisted upon Maori back in the 1860s just to really control our voting power, and we’ve become quite fond of them, to be honest, so we really don’t want them to go.
Ardern: It’s not on the agenda.
So, when I talked to you last time, you said that you would happily step aside when you were the deputy leader to let someone else be deputy prime minister in order to form a coalition.
Ardern: Are you going to ask me if I’ll negotiate away being prime minister?
No, I’m not going to ask you that because I know where you stand on that. I’m going to ask you whether you would expect the man sitting to your left to step aside…
Davis: We’ve already had this conversation.
…for a deputy prime minister from another party.
Davis: Look, we’ve already had this conversation. I’m not going to get in the way of Jacinda being prime minister. If I have to–
So that means you would take one for the team?
Davis: Yeah, absolutely.
Would you prefer that to be Winston Peters or someone from the Green Party?
Davis: Oh, I’m not going to go into that, Lisa. You’re throwing out the hook there, but no.
Ardern: I mean, ultimately, though, beyond that, so much of that is out of our hands. But we’ve focused on putting Labour into the strongest position possible to form a government. That’s why our entire focus for these seven weeks will be about talking about our ideas rather than imaginations of a potential coalition.
Yeah, but you still have to form a coalition unless you’re planning to get so many votes that you can govern on your own.
Ardern: Well, you know, it’s not without question.
Mr Davis, you’ve said that Metiria Turei was straight-out wrong to break the law in terms of getting more of the benefit than perhaps she was entitled to. She’s ruled herself out as a minister, but is she fit to be an MP?
Davis: Look, I’m not too fussed about what she did 20 years ago. What I don’t like is the fudging now. I think that that’s really where she’s gone wrong. Is she fit to be an MP? I don’t really want to get into the Greens’ problems. I want to talk about what Labour’s up to.
OK. Well, you guys have a deal with the Greens – the memorandum of understanding and a no surprises policy. So have you been assured, from theGreens, you personally or your party, that there are no more surprises coming on this? Because the last one, arguably, is hurting you. More than 50% of thepeople we polled who were your voters said this was not on.
Ardern: Our view is that we’ll answer questions where it falls into our responsibilities. So the issue of whether or not Metiria would be at a Cabinet table would be a question for me as prime minister. So I’m happy to answer that question. And I said clearly yesterday I agree with the decision that Metiria made to rule herself out because it was the right thing to do and it’s a decision that I would have made also. When it comes to which MPs stay or go within their own parties, that is solely a decision for another party. We wouldn’t expect National to be making decisions about other political coalition partners of theirs, and we won’t be commenting from our side.
And I understand that. That wasn’t my question. My question was, ‘Have you been assured that there are no more surprises coming on this?’
Ardern: I haven’t asked the question.
How come?
Ardern: In fact, I haven’t had an opportunity to meet with the Green Party yet. Because that is a matter for the Greens. We are separate parties. We will be campaigning on our own terms. Issues around how they manage their MPs, their policies, is for them and not for us.
If it damages your vote, arguably, it is an issue for you. So why not clarify thesituation or seek clarity?
Ardern: I would rather clarify that actually what we’re campaigning on this election is not anything to do with the Greens’ MPs or their party policy. We are independent parties campaigning on our own terms. As I say, yes, there was a point at which it could affect us if we were talking about a Cabinet position. And on that front, they were exceptionally sad circumstances, but I had to be clear, Metiria could not be around a Cabinet table under those circumstances.
OK. In terms of your vote, then, Andrew Little conceded that Labour was dropping into a danger zone where you possibly wouldn’t have a mandate to form a coalition government. What number do you need to hit to have that mandate? Not what number you’re expecting out of the election, but themandate. What is it?
Ardern: And I’ve reflected on this quite a bit. Higher than where we were, absolutely. Obviously, the pattern of where we were going, Andrew made a massive, selfless call on behalf of the party and then went on to nominate me.
So is a mandate 30%? Is it 28%?
Ardern: I’m not going to put a number on that because we’re committed to absolutely lifting Labour well beyond where we were.
Don’t voters have a right to know what to expect in that regard? Because that’s whether you have the credibility to form up a government. So what’s thedanger zone number?
Ardern: That is totally unpredictable, though, Lisa. As I said, all we can do is focus on being in the strongest position possible. Everything else will be determined by not just–
Are you too scared to put a number on it?
Ardern: No, no, no. I mean, I imagine, no matter what number I get, I’ll either meet people’s expectations or fail them. I’m sure that’s absolutely the case. But actually, it’s just not something that’s easy to do at MMP. You know, National is sitting on, obviously, a relatively high percentage right now. We’re working to change that. But even they wouldn’t be in a position to be able to govern on that percentage. So I could say 43, and we still might need others.
All right. We’re going to have to leave it there. No number in the meantime.
Ardern: No number.
Thank you both for joining us.

Transcript provided by Able.

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