On responsibilities in the new Labour caucus.
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—
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.