The ‘Dirty Politics’ dead horse versus a positive future

The “Dirty Politics” campaign initiated by Nicky Hager’s book dominated a big chunk of the election campaign but it backfired, probably helping John Key and National win as close to one party power that we’ve seen under MMP.

It political scalp of Judith Collins but an inquiry has since cleared her of any serious misconduct, leaving the way open for her to climb back into cabinet next time there’s an opportunity. And her demotion also probably helped more than hindered National’s campaign.

There are significant problems for those who think it’s worth continuing with the largely failed campaign.

  • There is scant substantive evidence and unlikely to be any more.
  • Outside the activist and media bubbles most people don’t care about it.
  • There’s a significant chance of a legal backlash if the hacker is prosecuted, and if associates prove to be political embarrassments.

‘Dirty Politics’ has already missed most of it’s target and in fact backfired as Tracey Watkins and Vernon Small conclude in One bumpy ride of an election:

THE BIG BACKFIRE Hager and Key’s opponents hoped Dirty Politics would put the skids under National’s campaign. It had the opposite effect, driving up support for Key and ensuring National voters turned out in force. A post-election inquiry linked the former boss of the Security Intelligence Service and central figures in Key’s office to an attempt to discredit Labour MP Phil Goff. Would it have made a difference to the outcome if the inquiry had emerged before the election? Probably not.

What now? ‘Dirty Politics’ failed to produce anywhere near enough damning evidence, and it seems that all shots have been fired from that side of the battle lines.

Re-thrashing a dead horse is not likely to be productive. It’s more likely to be counter-productive for Andrew Little to do any more than pop wee reminders into other more substantive discussions.

A Bryce Edwards headline summarises the dirty hubris – A year of controversies that didn’t matter

Most significant of all was Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics, which produced the biggest scandal of the year and helped bring Collins down. The substance of the book will continue to be discussed for some time. But overall, these controversies seemed to produce something of a scandal fatigue for many New Zealanders. The media covered the debates in detail but for most, these simply weren’t issues that mattered. Perhaps the overload of scandal, controversy and personality politics spooked voters.

And between elections nit’s more likely to turn people off politics rather than turn into a triumph for the left – who are hardly innocent of playing dirty politics either, as seen by many voters .

Edwards predicts a continuation of scandal-mongering.

Get ready for more scandals
The public’s scandal fatigue won’t prevent politicians from attempting to create more controversies. Headline-hungry parties will continue to escalate the strong aggression we have witnessed this year.

So expect more scandalmongering. Some of this will be useful – we do need politicians and the media to uncover abuse of power and faults of politicians. But in the end, quality not quantity might be what the public wants from such controversies – that is, scandals that matter. The lesson from this year is that some controversies were more important than others, and that it takes a lot for a controversy to eclipse what voters are really interested in: improving our everyday lives.

A scandal in left wing activist circles and left wing blogs does not make it an issue the public care about. Even efforts by mainstream media to scoop the ratings with scandals are frequently futile.

Crying wolf over and over again makes it less likely rather than more likely yet another over-hyped scandal will break out of the bolshie bubble.

The events covered by ‘Dirty Politics’ were three years ago. Little and Labour need to be focussed on the next three years. They need to be the party of promise, not a party pissing in history.

Cameron Slater keeps promising he’ll strike back hard. Time will tell whether he has anything substantive and whether anyone outside his fan club will take any notice but it’s possible the police will take some legal action against the hacker (or hackers) and perhaps others complicit in the use of illegally obtained communications data.

If Little is as astute as he has shown signs of being he will keep as much distance from any of this as possible. The chances of him being tainted are higher than of scoring a political hit, and even if ‘Dirty Politics’ pulls a success out of the hat the public are likely to continue to see all parties as complicit in the mud slinging.

One of the biggest problems is that if a scandal comes to light that has sufficient evidence and seriousness to genuinely warrant holding politicians to account it’s impact will be severely diminished if it is seen as ‘just another round of mud slinging’.

The left wing social media campaign to associate only Key and National with ‘Dirty Politics’ looks like continuing. Most see it as disconnected from reality as associating only the All Blacks with ‘Playing Rugby’.

‘Dirty Politics’ is as relevant to the next three years as ‘Vote Positive’ – there could be some flow on effect but it was largely a failed campaign slogan.

How about ‘act Positive’? The left wing activists may find it difficult to change entrenched habits but Little and Labour would win much more support if they launch into the next three year campaign looking like a positive alternative.

And John Key needs to get over his annoyance and arrogance and concentrate on getting his Government on being  positive about making New Zealand a bit better.

Positive politics will do far more for people and the country in the future than pissing in the dark past.

National down, Labour up in latest Roy Morgan poll

This may be the last political poll of the year, from Roy Morgan:

  • National 46% (down 3.5% in a month)
  • Labour Party 27% (up 3%)
  • Greens 12% (down 2.5%)
  • NZ First 7% (up 0.5%)
  • Maori Party 2% (up 1%)
  • Act NZ 1.5% (up 1%)
  • United Future 0% (unchanged)

Parties outside Parliament:

  • Conservative Party 2.5% (up 0.5%)
  • Internet-Mana Party alliance 1% (up 0.5%
  • Independent/ Others is 1% (down 0.5%).

National won’t be too worried about slipping at this stage of the term. They and key particularly have had a rough few weeks.

Andrew Little and Labour supporters will be encouraged by their rise, but 27% is still not a good number. An early impression next year will be important.

Greens are back down as Labour went up. There’s little of note with the rest.


McCarten retained as Little’s Chief of Staff

It has been confirmed that Matt McCarten has appointed Matt McCarten as his Chief of Staff, continuing on from holding the position under David Cunliffe’s leadership and a post election temporary continuation of that.

Audrey Young reports Labour leader appoints new-but-old chief of staff Matt McCarten

Labour leader Andrew Little has appointed left wing strategist Matt McCarten as his chief of staff.

Mr McCarten was chief of staff for former leader David Cunliffe and was kept on in a temporary basis after Mr Little won the leadership a month ago.

McCarten’s appointment by Cunliffe raised many eyebrows. McCarten had formely been involved in the Alliance Party (with Laila Harre) and had close connections to New Zealand socialists (there’s still a few hopeful reds) and to the Mana Party. And…

Mr McCarten’s appointment in February stunned the Labour caucus because as a founder of the break-away Alliance, he had spent years opposing Labour.

One of his strengths was his supposed campaign ability, but Labour’s campaign was an embarrassing failure. Little mustn’t blame McCarten for this, or he may think enough has been learned to turn things around for Labour.

McCarten also has strong union links, like Little.

Mr McCarten helped to found the militant Unite Union for low paid workers and Mr Little is a former national secretary of the Engineers’ Union.

Some have claimed the reappointment is a condition of union support for Little  for the Labour leadership – the unions helped Little win the contest by a whisker.

There are signs that the Labour caucus is happier, more confident and more united behind Little than they have been since Helen Clark left a vacuum.

This will make McCarten’s job easier, but there are significant risks, which will be touched on in the next post.

Colin James: Labour’s opportunity

Colin James thinks Labour has a ‘new generation’ opportunity:

Labour’s opportunity
That is both the challenge and opportunity for Labour as it rebuilds from its 25.1% party vote. Can it recover the lead in policy thinking and reform that it had in the late 1930s and the late 1980s?

Labour went into the 2014 election still in the long shadow of Helen Clark’s “third-way” modification of market-liberalism (though it did add some substantial modifications reminiscent of the 1940s-70s mixed-economy) and stamped with the Clark-era image as the party representing disparate minorities – gays, feminists, ethnic groups and the disabled – and the poor (and unions) and so not as a party of the majority.

Grant Robertson, a gay and also a former front-row prop, summed up the party’s dislocation from the majority in a Nine-to-Noon Radio New Zealand interview on September 22 when he said Labour had to be “part of the communities we live in”, implying that it wasn’t and isn’t. Many MPs are well-ensconced in their communities, as evidenced in Labour’s 34.1% of the electorate vote (down only 1.1% on 2011).

But the party generally is not a strong, visible presence, especially in the provinces and mortgage-belt suburbs. Its membership is much smaller than National’s and so the networks which tie a party into the public are less pervasive and visible. For most voters Labour appears to speak for others, not them. If Labour is to “swim among the people”, as Mao Zedong put it, it needs multiples of its present membership.

And in policy the party has often (as a British Labour MP, Simon Danczuk put it in a Prospect magazine interview in the wake of a poor by-election result on 9 October) sounded “as if we talk from the head and not from the heart”. Some of Labour’s 2014 policies, for example to control the electricity market or adjust monetary policy, had a “geeky” feel. [Lowe 2014]

New leader Andrew Little brings from his union background a blunt, direct way of speaking which may reconnect lost voters. The commission he has set up under Grant Robertson to refashion economic policy is predicated on a very different notion of “work” from that of the Clark generation. Robertson has international contacts on whom to draw. He understands the need to apply Labour first principles to modern realities.

And at 43 Robertson is of the under-45 generation. His No 2 in economic development is David Clark, 41. His running-mate in the post-election leadership contest was Jacinda Ardern, 34, who might possibly be deputy leader a year from now. With Chris Hipkins, 36, in the crucial education portfolio, and Megan Woods, 41, in environment and climate change, and Carmel Sepuloni, 37, in social development, Labour has a claim to be the party of the “new generation” despite the fact that Little is 49.

That gives Labour the opportunity to present itself as a party focused on aspiration, not problems. It was not in 2014.

From Colin James to the Victoria University post-election conference, 3 December 2014 DRAFT – MAYBE SUBJECT TO ADJUSTMENT

Looking up for Labour under Little

Andrew Little has made a very good start to he leadership of Labour. He seems to be on a refreshingly sensible track.

Colin James writes in his weekly column The big Little start to Labour’s rebuild (emailed but also published in ODT)

Can Grant Robertson count? Will Jacinda Ardern stick it out? What does an Andrew Little smile look like? Where does a theology degree fit in politics? Does any of this matter?

Plenty think Labour is mere amusement or an historical relic awaiting embalming.

They might have cause to think again.

One cause is Little.

There is already a distinct change in Labour under Little.

He lost the party vote and the MPs’ vote to Robertson and is leader only thanks to an historical hangover, the “affiliated” unions’ privileged role. One-person-one-vote is not the Labour way yet.

But Little has quickly won authority.

In part that is because he came to the top job without a caucus factional taint.

That gave him the scope in last week’s skilful remake of the shadow cabinet to both contain resentment and open wide room for up-and-comers to prove themselves (or not). He pointed ageing MPs towards the exit.

The shadow cabinet looks to be a good start, challenging some to step up and suggesting some step out.

Next, he made the most of John Key’s tortuous mishandling of the report on Key’s office’s scummy dealings with an over-helpful Security Intelligence Service and his own chumminess with the nefarious Cameron Slater.

Key subjected himself to three days of Little’s jaw-jutted, union-boss sermonising. Ian Rennie got a deserved whack, too, from a bloke who knows employment law and practice.

He scored points here but he has to be careful on ‘Dirty Politics’ that could end up being as political quicksand if he agitates too much. If the other side of the story emerges (as Cameron Slater promises it will) Little will not want to be to closely associated.

Little looked the strong leader (as, by the way, he had in his presidential speech to Labour’s 2010 conference). Party faithful perked up.

By the end of last week he was shaping as someone they could back, whatever their disappointments. That includes Robertson and running-mate Ardern.

And at least some of the anti-Little activist seem to have been won over.

Little did two other things likely to grow his leadership.

One was to commit to emulate Helen Clark as she clawed Labour up from 28 per cent in the 1996 election to 38 per cent in 1999: tirelessly tour the country to build his and the party’s all-but-evaporated presence in the suburbs and provinces.

That addresses the need Robertson identified on September 22: to be “part of the communities we live in”. And, yes, Little can produce a twinkling smile which, liberally employed, could engage potential voters.

A good plan. He has obviously done his homework, or has some very good advisors that seemed to have been absent during the Goff, Shearer and Cunliffe leaderships.

The second leadership-building move was his speech yesterday on “the future of work” where he sees a “new insecurity”. Labour, he said, must “be there for all the people who make their living from their own work”.

The nature of work has been changing fast. Many jobs don’t pay enough to live on (so taxpayers top them up, in effect subsidising employers). Many are employed by agencies, not their place of work’s owner. Many are on “zero hours”. Some have scurrilous clauses in their contracts.

Many who would once have been employees are contractors or in small businesses, by necessity or by choice.

How to ensure a dependable livelihood — “a fair shot”, Little called it — in a small, open country in a highly globalised world is a complex challenge, especially for Labour.

This is a very important thing for Little to achieve the right balance with. He has to support the unions but also widen Labour’s appeal to a much wider group of working voters.

Shadow finance minister Robertson will head a “commission” to do this “signature piece of work”, as Little called it. Robertson will draw on his international contacts, including Matt Browne, the English head of the Centre for American Progress, and on the musings at a conference in Amsterdam in April where he was on a panel.

Little said they would concentrate on researching and developing forward looking policy rather than sniping negatively. About time someone in Labour got this.

Robertson is also eyeing a root-and-branch tax rethink. Taxing income from capital gain is not dead. Land tax is back on the table.

Robertson will follow Michael Cullen’s 1996 example and bury his head in economics textbooks through the summer (and, yes, he can count). He has a new lease of political life.

With him is theologian David Clark, a three-year Treasury alumnus (similar to English), in economic development, David Parker in trade (focusing on exports), former business-consultant Stuart Nash in some sector portfolios — and Ardern, who asked for small business to apply some of the learning from her time in the Blair British Labour government’s regulatory reform taskforce.

Keeping Parker committed could be a challenge, he seemed very demoralised after his second failed leadership bid.

Clark is yet to prove himself, last term he seemed to be underdone and floundering.

I don’t know about Nash apart from some cringey posts at The Daily Blog. He will need to be guided.

Ardern is often thought fragile, from her looks and dress. And she did go gloomy after the election and leadership losses and her downranking by Little to ninth. She might yet be tempted to a private life in the private sector.

But underneath Ardern is tough. She is well thought of in some, including business, quarters in Auckland — at her best a potential star. Watch to see if she is deputy leader this time next year.

It looks like she is being lined up for deputy leadership. She will need good mentoring and has to demonstrate she is capable of stepping up

So, even though Little is 49, the Robertson-Ardern leadership campaign promise of a “new generation” to contrast with National’s 50-somethings is still alive. Clark, Chris Hipkins (education) and Megan Woods (environment and climate change) are all under 45.

Through 2013 Labour-plus-Greens averaged 0.5 per cent more in polls than National. If Little can sustain his strong start, if Robertson can count and deliver and if the 2013 Green connection can be reforged, Labour-Green might be competitive in 2017.

Little has made a very good start and should be rewarded with some poll recovery, especially while Key flounders with his ongoing association with Slater.

This year is nearly over politically. It will be important for Little to start next year strongly. He has resolved to tour the country next year, but he can’t disappear into the provinces.

Cunliffe blundered by having such a weak start to this year. It was if he had switched off over an extended holiday period.

Little just needs to hold his current impetus into the silly season, and then hit next year running with early impact – as do his caucus.

If they can avoid too many major mistakes and don’t revert back to negative nit-picking – picking battles is important rather than getting sucked into silly skirmishes.

Things are certainly looking up for Labour under Little.

Vernon Small at Stuff:  ‘Work’ speech a giant leap

Andrew Little’s call for Labour to redefine what it means by working people – a broad church that embraces contract workers, the self-employed and small business – is on the face of it no great revolution.

But for a party that sprang from the union movement, and which has for several elections tried to get out the “missing million” non-voters among the mainly low paid and marginalised, it is a telling nod in the direction of . . . call them what you will.

Small concludes:

It may not have been the most dramatic or detailed of announcements – a commission set up in Opposition barely rates as news really.

But Little has set in motion a 150-week trek to reposition Labour, if not towards the Centre, then at least alongside a much broader group of voters than it won over in 2014.

Video at NZ Herald: Little: ‘Labour Party will work for you’

Key texts to Slater

John Key has released texts he exchanged with Cameron Slater on Monday – and admitted he made an incorrect statement in Parliament: Stuff reports in PM reveals Slater texts.

This evening, during the second reading of the Parole Amendment Bill, Key returned to the House to make a personal statement acknowledging his answers were wrong.

He claimed that he believed Woods was only talking about one of the reports, when in fact she had asked about both.

“On Monday the 24th of November I received an unsolicited text message from Mr Slater with a reference to the IGIS report. There was a very short exchange where I briefly acknowledged that text message.”

Stuff quotes from some of the texts but curiously leaves a name out. Here are the texts as published on Whale Oil:

The Goff leak (yet another) could blow up in Labour’s face. But there could be more explosions. Labour chief of staff Matt McCarten has been named as being involved in the hack of Slater in January.

New Labour leader is attacking Key on “Dirty Politics” strongly. On this he said (NZ Herald Key comes clean over Slater texts)

Labour Leader Andrew Little said there was “an air of unreality” about the texts. “Some of them look somewhat delusional.”

He scoffed at the claim Mr McCarten was involved in the hacking. “I don’t think his computer skills go that far.”

Slater didn’t claim the McCarten did the hacking, he said “he was involved in the hack”. Little and Labour are in very risky territory attacking on “Dirty Politics” This could come back to bite them. Hard.

Little’s big reshuffle

Andrew Little has played his caucus reshuffle cars well, with some risks (there’s always risks).

1. Andrew Little
Leader of the Opposition
Security and Intelligence

2. Annette King
Deputy Leader

Good move having King as deputy, keeps some continuity with a lot of experience and should help get the Caucus onside and supportive.

3. Grant Robertson

A big play. Robertson wanted a top job, this isn’t what he wanted but this is perhaps next best. It will be a real test of his ability. If he doesn’t measure up Little has a couple of ex Finance spokespeople sulking but in a year may be ready to perform.

4. Nanaia Mahuta
Maori Development

Reward/conciliation here. Mahuta needs to show she can perform far more visibly and effectively than she has so far.

5. Phil Twyford

Not sure about this one, maybe he’ll be good enough. There’s one way to find out.

6. Chris Hipkins
Shadow Leader of the House
Senior Whip
Early Childhood Education

A good promotion of new blood, Hipkins has to learn to lead and not work in the shadow of fellow henchmen.

7. Carmel Sepuloni
Social Development
Junior Whip

I have no idea how she will go with this sort of promotion and only just back in Parliament.

8. Kelvin Davis
Associate Justice (Sexual and Domestic Violence)
Associate Education (Maori Education)
Associate Regional Development

A good move. One Labour candidate/MP with fairly wide support and respect and he eliminated a pesky Mana left flank for Labour.

9. Jacinda Ardern
Small Business
Arts, Culture, Heritage

Nowhere near where she wanted (deputy to Robertson) but lucky to get a chance under Little, she’s been a bit lightweight. If she performs she could replace King in a year – is she being mentored for this?

10. David Clark
Economic Development
Associate Finance
Associate Health (Mental Health)

Maybe in his second term he realises that hard work is necessary and he’ll be prepared for serious debate.

11. Su’a William Sio
Pacific Island Affairs
Local Government
Associate Housing (South Auckland)
Interfaith Dialogue

Reward for PI support. I don’t know if he otherwise deserves it.

12. Iain Lees-Galloway

Could be part of the new wave but needs to improve.

13. Megan Woods
Climate Change

Some rate her but I haven’t seen it. Her demeanour in Parliament hasn’t impressed, too angry/snarky.

14. David Cunliffe
Regional Development
Tertiary Education
Research and Development
Science and Innovation
Associate Economic Development

A fair placement for him. He needs to prove he can work hard with a team.

15. David Parker
Trade and Export Growth
Shadow Attorney General
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations

Also fair placement after his sulking in failure. He has to prove he wants to help the cause or drop out.

16. David Shearer
Foreign Affairs
Consumer Affairs

Seems to be good with Foreign Affairs but not so good with party affairs.

17. Phil Goff
Veterans’ Affairs
Auckland Issues
Ethnic Affairs

About here he should be, if he wants to put the effort it.


Trevor Mallard:
Assistant Speaker 
Internal Affairs (excluding Gambling)
Sport and Recreation
Animal Rights
Parliamentary Reform

He might be better with his Assistant Speaker role requiring a more responsible performance – if he can leave his dirty politics in the past.

Ruth Dyson
Senior Citizens
Disability Issues
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery

There for experience, not for future prospects.

Damien O’Connor
Primary Industries
Food Safety

Not likely to rise to greater heights.

Clayton Cosgrove
Building and Construction
Earthquake Commission
Associate Finance

Significant demotion deserved. He campaigned for electorate vote and blatantly ignored party responsibilities, and a fairly toxic brand that Labour needs to leave on the past.

Sue Moroney
Women’s Affairs
Associate Labour

She hasn’t been stellar but I don’t know why she’s been slid backwards so much. Mustn’t be seen as a future prospect.

Little has made some major changes. Labour needs major change.

Putting them on notice that  all positions are up for review in a year is smart – Little needs to change things but needs to not aggravate old and recent wounds too much as he gets himself established.

If the polls have recovered enough he will be able to assess things and then act decisively this time next year to prepare a credible team for the election in 2017.

Little has played his first hand with a good balance of old and new, carrot and stick. It’s up to all of them to step up.

A Little lineup leaking

Andrew Little will announce Labour’s new line up this morning, but some key details seem to have been leaked. Is this the infamous Labour caucus sieve still at work, or are snippets deliberately being drip fed by Little?

Patrick Gower has tweeted that “word from inside Labour” is that Annette King will be Little’s deputy, Grant Robertson will get the Finance role and David Cunliffe won’t be on the front bench.

David Parker has already said he doesn’t want either the deputy nor finance roles and there was speculation he may quit Parliament after seeming to be hit hard by his leadership bid failure.

But the Herald ‘understands’ that Parker has been brought back “into the fold”.

Mr Little also said he had brought David Parker back into the fold after speculation last week that he could leave Parliament. After coming third in the leadership contest, Mr Parker said he did not want to retain the finance or deputy positions, which prompted questions about whether he would remain as an MP at all.

Mr Little said he had “a very good discussion” with Mr Parker and he was confident that the role he had been given would “meet his expectations”.

King as deputy would be good, she is one of Labour’s most respected old school MPs and has been acting as leader during the leadership contest. She was deputy leader under Phil Goff’s leadership from 2008 until she resigned after Labour’s defeat in 2011.

She would also help Little bridge the caucus divides.

Robertson in Finance is interesting. It is one of the most demanding and important roles. It is also a nod towards bridging divides, but keeping Robertson as busy as possible may also be a crafty move. Helen Clark did similar with Michael Cullen after beating him in a leadership contest.

Little said he would review his MPs’ portfolios after a year, and that he wanted his MPs to have at least two years’ experience in their roles before the general election.

“We’ve got three years … and we want the best going into 2017.

“So I’ve made the judgment that I’ve got a year to try some people out, to try some new things, try some new combinations and see how those work.”

“I think you’ll see that this reshuffle is about bringing the caucus together as a team.”

“Bringing the caucus together as a team” will be one of Little’s biggest challenges and a key responsibility of deputy King.

And if these details are unauthorised leaks and the leaking continues then the King should start beheading any offenders.

Gower: Cunliffe not on Labour’s front bench

Maybe Labour’s leaks haven’t been plugged yet.


Word from inside Labour that David Cunliffe has been ABCed. Not on Front Bench.

Or perhaps it’s a managed leak to get this news out prior to the main announcement tomorrow, to dilute the potential negative coverage.

UPDATE: more from  ·

Word from inside Labour is that Annette King is deputy and Grant Robertson has finance.

Word from inside Labour is that Little is his own man, kept Cunliffe back, wasn’t pressured by ABCs.

Andrew Little on The Nation

New Labour leader Andrew Little was interviewed on The Nation yesterday by Lisa Owen – Little to put Labour members on trial.

Key points:

  • On Dotcom and the Internet Party – “…the fact that a single person wealthy enough to write out a big fat cheque to fund an entire election campaign, it wasn’t seen as the Kiwi way.”
  • Compromise your fundamental beliefs in order to get votes? “Uh, well, no. You have to make a political judgement.”
  • “The fundamental belief is fair tax system.”
  • Two houses, is that OK? Three houses? “With all due respect, Lisa, it’s a silly question. That’s not what the issue is about.”
    So you don’t want to answer that question? OK. “No, the question doesn’t get us anywhere.”
  • “So there’s talk now about, ‘Do you have special conditions? Special interest rates for after you’ve bought your first house?’ And those sorts of things.”
  • “We look for every opportunity we can to raise funds—”
  • “We need to do a lot better at fundraising”.
  • “I’m going through the process of the moment of interviewing everybody as we prepare for the portfolio allocations.”
  • “We haven’t seen indiscipline in the caucus so far, but people will get the message very clearly that this is what we are here for. These are the objectives. This is your job; this is your role. Anybody who steps out of those expectations can expect there’s gonna be a response, and there will be.”

On policies:

  • He likes “ KiwiBuild – our plan to build 100,000 houses”.
  • “I haven’t spoken a great deal about Power NZ or NZ Power.”
  • “Capital-gains tax, I’m very… my view is, and I’ll be putting it to the party forums that make these decisions, is we should not go into the 2017 election with.”
    “capital-gains tax is not the solution to a whole heap of problems.  It is one part of a range of things that are needed to address a number of issues.”
  • “Lifting the age of eligibility for superannuation – take it off the agenda.”

On responsibilities in the new Labour caucus.

  • “I haven’t talked David Parker around.”
  • “‘Let’s try some people in new slots. Let’s try some combinations.’ But, listen, we may well come to review those, and it may well be that we’ll have people in place for the next year or so. But, in terms of the team we go into 2017 with, that might not become absolutely crystal clear until the end of next year. So give people a year to try a role—”
  •  I’m gonna try people out.”
  • “By the end of next year, two years out from the election, let’s crystalise who the team will be that’ll take us charging into 2017.”

Full transcript:

Lisa Owen: Good morning, Mr Little. You heard Laila Harre there saying that, basically, Labour and the Greens lost the election to the left. What’s your response to that?

Andrew Little: No, I don’t accept that. I think all the Labour Party activists and campaigners who I’ve spoken to and picked it up myself were very clear. New Zealanders didn’t like the deal that was done between the Internet Party and the Mana Party, and the fact that a single person wealthy enough to write out a big fat cheque to fund an entire election campaign, it wasn’t seen as the Kiwi way. It wasn’t acceptable to people. They were suspicious of it, and they didn’t want a bar of it.

OK. Well, these are new times for Labour. You are the new leader. You’ve been saying over the last few days – even the last month – that there’s policies that didn’t work for you with voters. Capital-gains, raising the super age, the state-power agency. So what policy do you actually like that Labour’s got?

Well, there are a lot of policies. I think a very important one right now is KiwiBuild – our plan to build 100,000 houses, uh, through state support, and then selling them and going through over a period of 10 years. You know, one big issue right now is housing affordability. Far too many people can’t get into their own homes, we’ve seen now, and the attempts by this government and the Reserve Bank to try and suppress house prices, not working, and in fact, it’s keeping first homebuyers out of the market, and it’s allowing property speculators to get into the market. So, listen, housing and homes is absolutely crucial.

I want to talk about KiwiBuild in more detail in a little moment, but first, just to be clear – capital-gains tax, raising super-eligibility age and Power New Zealand, do you personally think they should be off the agenda for Labour? Go on.

Well, I haven’t spoken a great deal about Power NZ or NZ Power. Capital-gains tax, I’m very… my view is, and I’ll be putting it to the party forums that make these decisions, is we should not go into the 2017 election with.

Ok, super eligibility?

Lifting the age of eligibility for superannuation – take it off the agenda.

OK, anything else that you think you should ditch?

Well, no, because, I mean, those are the policies where, when you talk to people, overwhelmingly, they come back and say, ‘That’s the reason we didn’t vote.’ But what people do—

But, in saying that, Mr Little, those are very core policies, or were very core policies, to Labour going into this election. So are you saying that the Labour Party that people saw at the last election wasn’t real Labour Party?

Uh, it was very much the real Labour Party. There were a whole heap of other policies that we didn’t get to talk about, ironically, because the very reasons that Laila Harre’s just talked about. But what people want to hear from Labour is they want to know what our priorities are about, uh, solutions to the problems that they’re facing. We know right now. I’ve talked about housing. Another big problem. A growing number of people can’t get decent work; can’t get decent pay for their work. And we’ve seen the horror story this week, now, of, you know, some rogue employers who think it’s OK to deduct pay for things that are well beyond the employees’ control. I mean, it’s those sorts of things, and there are little stories like that that end up all over the place.

Do you think it was the real Labour Party…? If you think it was the real Labour Party, is it just that it’s the Labour Party that you don’t wish to lead? Because you’re not just tinkering around the edges. You’re getting rid of some fundamental policy plans or you want to.

Well, capital-gains tax is not the solution to a whole heap of problems. It is one part of a range of things that are needed to address a number of issues. You know, making sure that investment goes to productive purposes. Making sure that the tax system is fairer. Um, making sure that the Government can raise additional revenue. Well, we can look at each of those objectives, and we can find other solutions around them. I’m not saying abandon capital-gains tax. I’m saying let’s come back to it. Let’s come back to it in a bigger context.

But you defended that policy. Mr Little, you defended the capital-gains tax on the campaign trail. In fact, uh, so you’re flipping now. Were you just toeing the party line then?

Well, I’m obliged as a candidate to promote the party policies, which I did, and then, listen, actually, I do believe in it. But also—

No, but you also said it was a matter of fairness. You were at an election meeting in Taranaki with the Taranaki property investors there, and you said, simply, ‘it is a matter of fairness.’

Yes, that’s correct, and I don’t resile from that at all. But what I do have to do, and what the party has to do, because we are a political party and we’re trying to win the confidence of the people, we have to make a political judgement.

So compromise your fundamental beliefs in order to get votes?

Uh, well, no. You have to make a political judgement. It is quite clear—

Mr Little, I am asking you – compromise some of your fundamental beliefs? You said it was a matter of fairness. Compromise those to get votes?

The fundamental belief is fair tax system. Broadening the tax-based Crown revenue and directing investments into more productive uses. Those are the principles. The capital-gains tax was a policy that sought to achieve that, but it turned a lot of people off. There is no question – capital-gains tax prevented people from voting for us. And, in fact, it didn’t just prevent people from voting for us. It stopped them listening to us. So, at that point, you have to make a political judgement. Do we carry on beating this drum, which we have done for two elections in a row, or do we say, ‘Let’s clear the obstacle out of the way for a moment, and let people hear the rest of what we’re saying like KiwiBuild, like better employment laws.’

If not capital-gains tax – as Mr Parker said – if not capital-gains tax, then what?

Well, if the objective is to broaden the tax base, let’s look at alternatives. Let’s look at, you know, taxes on wealth. Let’s look at property speculators. Not the mums and dads who, you know, do all the extra overtime, get a bit of money aside and buy themselves an investment property that they use for their retirement. Let’s look at the people who are buying 8, 10, 12 houses. Let’s look at the people who are buying houses one day, 18 months later selling them again—

So are you saying to me that it’s OK to own two houses? Three houses? Four? Where’s the cut-off, Mr Little? How many houses is it OK to own?

Let’s go back to what we’re talking about here. So it is about a tax system that, overall, is fair. It raises revenue. It treats people fairly, uh, and it allows people to get ahead. So that’s what it’s all about. When it comes to designing a tax system, I think that’s an exercise better done when you’re in government; when you have the resources of Inland Revenue, Treasury, various other government departments. You have all those resources, and you have the bully pulpit of government to go and debate the issue and lead up a public debate and discussion about it. Very hard to do in opposition.

Mr Little, you’re promising a direct, um, style of leadership. I’m asking you a direct keystone, personally. Two houses, is that OK? Three houses?

With all due respect, Lisa, it’s a silly question. That’s not what the issue is about.

So you don’t want to answer that question? OK.

No, the question doesn’t get us anywhere. If you’re asking about tax policy, let’s talk about that. But if you’re asking about how many houses you should own, I don’t care how many houses you own. What people want to know is that people are going to be treated fairly when it comes to their tax, uh, they’re gonna be taxed fairly. That’s what that issue is about. And I am saying is, you know, when we are putting out policies, we have to make a judgement. Is this fixing a problem that we see today? Well, we put that capital-gains tax policy out there two elections in a row, and the judgement is very clear. People don’t see it fixing a problem at all. So let’s take it off, and let’s start again.

Towards fixing the problem, then. Towards fixing the problem. The day after you were elected as leader, you sent out an email saying that you want to launch a housing campaign to fix the country’s housing crisis. So what is your idea? Is it Kiwi Build?

KiwiBuild is part of the issue. That’s on the supply side. We have to get more housing and more affordable housing too. That’s the problem we’ve got. First homebuyers can’t get into the houses. The Government and Reserve Bank’s LVR policy is failing. Failing everybody outside Auckland. Not even helping people in Auckland. So we have to do something. We have to do something else. So more affordable housing. Then there is the issue of how we deal with property speculators – those people who are in and out of houses, clearly doing it as a business. Clearly doing it to raise income, but, um, are inflating house prices. So there’s talk now about, ‘Do you have special conditions? Special interest rates for after you’ve bought your first house?’ And those sorts of things. So there’s a range of things that we can look at, but we, you know, if we want to make housing more affordable, two things – we’ve got to have more supply, and we’ve got to take measures to dampen down house prices.

OK, well, KiwiBuild – 100,000 affordable homes over 10 years, and Labour says it will generate about $2 billion in economic growth a year, apprenticeships, two-thirds of the houses in Auckland. The Nation has talked to some people about this, and the feedback we get is, ‘It sounds great. Sounds really good. In fact, too good to be true.’ Is it?

Uh, no. It had been very carefully prepared, that policy, and the Labour Party has spoken to people in the industry, in the business, and they say it is doable. I mean, part of the thing is—

How do you pay for it? Because your books were balanced on the basis that you were going to raise Super eligibility as one element, and that balanced your books out. So how are you going to pay for that?

Well, this is a capital expense. So we build the first 10,000 houses. They get sold. The revenue raised from selling those houses funds the next tranche of houses, and so it goes on.

So you do need to get a flow-on for that? So, initially, there’s gonna be an outlay that you’d need to pay?

Yes, and so you know, as the Government always does, it raises the finance. It’s capital expenditure. You do it to fund the first set of houses. You sell those, raise the revenue, carry on with the rest of it, and then there’ll be a little bit of margin in it. So, um, so it can… The fore cost of it, ultimately, can be self-funding.

OK, well, talking about raising revenue, also in that email, you were appealing to people to give you money. It was basically a ‘give a little’ campaign. You were asking for donations. So is Labour out of cash?

We… Look, for every opportunity we can to raise funds—

That being said, are you down to your last dollars now?

Well, we are more secure now than we have been for a long time. So we had an election campaign – we got to fund that. We are in good heart. We need to do a lot better at fundraising, and one of the things that I’ll be putting together with a team in the next short while is a three-year fundraising campaign. But, listen, an exciting event like the election of a new leader – new party leader – is good for the party, and so we put the message out there, and we have raised money off that. A pretty healthy sum, I understand.

OK, well, your caucus – how are you going to keep that caucus unified?

Well, I’m going through the process of the moment of interviewing everybody as we prepare for the portfolio allocations. I have to say there is a high degree of goodwill. I think everybody’s got the message, and they will find, with my style of leadership, that I will be very clearly communicating the purpose we’ve got, the objectives we’ve got.

So how are you going to enforce discipline? Can you give me one concrete way in which you will enforce discipline within the caucus?

Well, we haven’t seen indiscipline in the caucus so far, but people will get the message very clearly that this is what we are here for. These are the objectives. This is your job; this is your role. Anybody who steps out of those expectations can expect there’s gonna be a response, and there will be.

So, this next week, you’re really gonna be building the foundations for your leadership going to the election. How are you going with things like deputy leader and have you talked David Parker around?

I haven’t talked David Parker around. I had a very good—couple of very good conversations with David Parker. I’ve had very good conversations with every caucus member. You know, I think—

Jacinda Ardern?

Yeah, a very conversation with Jacinda—

About the deputy leadership?

No doubt more to come about the roles that people are most suited to and I’d like them to be playing in the party—in the parliamentary wing of the party. I think what I’m looking at at this point is we’ve got three years. We’ve got, uh, we’re trying to achieve a fresh look. We want to harness the talent that we’ve got. So I may play a bit of the role of the coach and say, ‘Listen, let’s try some people in new slots. Let’s try some combinations.’ But, listen, we may well come to review those, and it may well be that we’ll have people in place for the next year or so. But, in terms of the team we go into 2017 with, that might not become absolutely crystal clear until the end of next year. So give people a year to try a role—

So you’re gonna try before you buy?

Yeah, a bit of that. I’m gonna try people out. This is… We’ve got some new people. We’ve got people that have been around a while but haven’t been tried in senior roles. So we wanna do that, and I think for the sake of their own confidence and confidence of people looking on, let’s try. Let’s give them a go. Let’s try them out while we’ve got a bit of an opportunity to do that. But, by the end of next year, two years out from the election, let’s crystalise who the team will be that’ll take us charging into 2017.

All right. Thank you very much for joining me this morning. The new Labour leader, Andrew Little.

Pleased to be here.

Source: Scoop


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