Yesterday Labour leadership contender Nanaia Mahuta had a Q & A at The Standard. Her introduction:
I am proud of our country and the Labour Party and I know that it can be better.
We are a progressive movement for change and we are at an important juncture. We must take stock to assess the challenges we face in a political landscape where we must earn back the confidence of New Zealanders.
Hard-working Labour members and supporters campaigned for the types of policies that could lift our desire to become a smart, innovative and caring nation in the 21st Century. The election outcome told us that we just didn’t get cut through, the missing million didn’t mobilize, the prospect of Dotcom raised more concern than support and ‘Dirty Politics’ may have turned punters off altogether. We must keep confidence with the base of support we do have as we work out our way forward.
We need to be prepared to do things differently. The Party has started its programme to modernise the way we do things and that must continue. The Parliamentary wing needs to modernise its approach and represent the aspirations of New Zealanders who despite their working class roots may see their needs better responded to by other political parties. We need to reclaim this space.
My upbringing and my world-view are different. Leading a life of service, contributing to the collective aspirations of community and working amongst diverse groups are just some of the experiences that have shaped my approach.
Being involved in change programmes has given me insight. The Organisational Review for the Party and the Governance and Representation Review for my tribe have tackled challenges of structural, cultural, organisational and leadership change.
When I entered Parliament the caucus culture was that one must ‘do their time – look, listen and breathe through your nose’. Mentoring was a myth and it wasn’t until the 2004 foreshore and seabed issue, I took my place in the caucus as an elected equal with my colleagues. I used the process to effect change for my electorate where they have never been prejudicially affected by any subsequent piece of legislation.
Where you stand in the hard times are a good test of character. After 5 elections I have retained the confidence of Hauraki-Waikato people whom I have never taken for granted.
New Zealand is now more diverse as a nation. The challenges of modern society require a collaborative and sustainable approach. Communities, Business, Local Government our academic institutions are already moving in this direction.
We can uphold our values of a fair and decent society. We can promote economic prosperity and environmental responsibility as mutually inclusive aspirations.
We can ensure that our children and old people are cared for at the most vulnerable times of their life cycle.
We can affirm to working people, and those who share our aspirations in the productive sector that there is everything to gain when we have thriving communities and regions.
We can explore the rich contribution of diversity.
We can be stronger when we work together.
Edited questions with full answers.
Will you work collaboratively with other parties on the Left?
In opposition I think that building a strong relationship with potential coalition partners is important and I would take a constructive approach across the parliamentary and party levels of leadership over the next 3 years.
Do you consider a strategy for the LP to get MPs on the ground over the next 2.8 years working on a nationwide education programme with Unions, utlising their extensive infrastructure to educate NZ workers about the value of union membership as a way to improve their wages, working conditions, security of job and family a worthwhile strategy? If yes, how would you instigate it. If no, why not.
I would tend to agree with the approach you have imied and would work in partnership with unions to achieve that objective. Our effort in Parliament would amplify to hard working New Zealanders that a productive economy and the protection of worker rights have mutual advantage to regional growth and productivity.
Very general answers to begin with.
I am interested in caucus dynamics. I am not breaking any confidences by saying that the dynamics within Caucus are not ideal.
What changes do you think should be made to improve things?
It appears to me that this decision will again be one where the membership will express a preference and Caucus will need to act in a more disciplined way or risk further perception that the party and parliamentary wing are not in sync. We must be disciplined in the next phase to rebuild confidence that we will get our house in order.
Very good. Thank you Nanaia for that gracious and thoughtful, in depth, reply.
“Thoughtful, in depth” seems out of sync with her answer.
More specifically are you able and/or willing to face down the Right Wing ABC faction to give David Cunliffe a senior role in your shadow cabinet?
All members will be treated without fear or favor based on their aspiration to work towards a united team, a focussed opposition, a strong voice for working people and able to build credibility around a credible Labour alternative to Create a vision for NZ where all peoples can live, work and thrive.
I believe that DC has a huge contribution to make as do other members of our caucus. Our commitment to the team will determine how talent will be recognised.
Mahuta has been a supporter of Cunliffe and only stood for leadership when he withdrew.
If at the next election Mana were the make or break for the formation of a left wing government, would you choose to take their support on confidence and supply or would you choose to remain in opposition? (note, I am not asking if you would go into coalition with Mana, just if you would accept their support on C and S). If you would accept their support, how will you communicate this to the electorate pre-election?
It seems to me that it will be very hard to regroup with no presence in Parliament. I remain open to conversations to opposition parties represented in Parliament as a first step to build the campaign to change the Government.
Do you intend for Labour to develop policy specific to Work and Income beneficiaries, esp those who are not in a position to enter the workforce? (as opposed to policy directed towards low income people in general). Will you support Labour rolling back the worst of the Paula Bennett welfare reforms?
How do you intend for Labour to address the cultural and structural problems within Work and Income? How do you intend for Labour to address the wider society cultural issues regarding welfare eg the bludger memes?
The team I lead will be highy motivated to present an alternative economic vision where regional development will provide tangible opportunities for the productive sector to grow jobs and transition to a low carbon economy, we will further establish credibility and support for education and training investment and ensure that our public health and education system become a hallmark of a caring society and where opportunity is available to all.
There doesn’t seem to be anything original or informative in that answer.
What policies will you bring forward to address and eradicate poverty in NZ?
We will emphasise policies that promote a high value productive sector to grow good quality jobs, we will push for targets on child poverty in order to keep the Government accountable to its responsibility, and we will further advocate for the rights and interests of the most vulnerable.
For those modest hardworking families we will ensure that there is a coherent policy package that addresses their needs so they can see that we support them. Housing, Working for Families, the cost of child care and cost of living pressure are the range of issues that would need to be factored into this approach.
Interesting to see her emphasis on “we”.
 Have any of the Pākehā caucus members (non Maori, non PI) indicated their first preference vote for you? If yes, is that number at least two?
 Please describe briefly what your approach will be to reduce the ever increasing wealth and income gap in our country.
Please see previous comments above. In addition to that I would take the approach that Labour would need to lead an inquiry on the changing nature of work to better understand sector by sector the extent of the challenge to reduce the wealth and income gap and to better inform where our ‘investment’ approach might best be focussed. As we move from a high volume to high value economy we need to transition the current and future labour market towards that goal.
 Do you have enough confidence that you can take on and fight Key for the Prime ministerial position during the next election campaign?
With a United and Focussed Team Labour is formidable. I will certainly change the landscape on which that fight will take place.
 Will you be able to be a fair and effective leader for all New Zealanders?
That can only be assessed over time.
That’s right – until anyone becomes a leader and is seen in action over time it is difficult to assess how they will perform. Some rise to the challenge, some don’t.
During your 18 years in parliament what 3 achievements would you consider your greatest triumphs?
1. Being an effective advocate for my Electorate where I was unafraid to test my mandate on the hardest of issues (Foreshore and Seabed) where Labour suffered huge electoral damage. I continue to serve my electorate and hold their confidence.
2. I have always put my name to comments to the media and have not brought the Party into disrepute.
3. As Minister of Youth Affairs I initiated exactly the types of projects that grew participation of young people in decision-making, that fostered mentoring, that tackled issues of their time mental, sexual and reproductive health initiatives and teen pregnancy.
There are other things but these particular three speak to the values that I hold as a person.
Mahuta’s lack of apparent impact and visibility over 18 years in Parliament is a common criticism. Maori MPs often seem to have a lower public profile, I’ve wondered if that’s due to lower effort or if the Maori way of representing is just more discrete, or regarded as not newsworthy.
Would you consider overseeing the establishment of an independent commission against corruption for NZ, tasked with cleaning up all relevant areas?
In the first instance I support greater transparency in the political system as we unravel issues raised in ‘dirty politics’ there may well be greater impetus to pursue your suggestion.
If you are elected leader of the LP do you accept that the right both directly and through their channels will seek to undermine you with fact and fiction? If you do accept this what strategy do you and your advisors have to get beyond that to ensure the LP messages are heard?
Connect with more New Zealanders and enter into a broader range of relationships with stakeholder groups and communities that tend not to have affinity with Labour. It will take effort to earn the confidence of more New Zealanders they need to know how and why we think the way we do and what motivates us to build a New Zealand that works for everyone.
Do you think that there are enough activists in the Labour Party who you can work with to further the interests of the country and the people on the lower to middle-income strata? Do you agree what is needed is more supportive and effective welfare and creation of jobs through work schemes, small loans and business and government service initiatives?
I agree that there needs to be a strong emphasis on work that is genuine and sustainable. I also recognize that by ensuring the most vulnerable are cared for we create a fair society. Work and better paying jobs has to be a core motivation. But we can’t stop there as people should aspire to achieve more no matter where their starting point.
Will you consider measures to stop the sale of NZ land and assets to foreign interests?
Our policy on the first issue proposed to do just that stop further asset sales and raise the bar for foreign ownership.
That didn’t answer the question, she says what was Labour policy, not what she would consider.
Do you like Bob Marley?
Do you think liberalism as an economic theory works for Maori?
Your husband is awesome, does he look after the tamariki [children]?
Yes with whanau help.
Is it ok to call you kaitiaki?
[kaitiaki: trustee, minder, guard, custodian, guardian, keeper.
Kaitiaki is a term used for the Māori concept of guardianship, for the sky, the sea, and the land.]
Mmm not sure about that one.
How do you propose to deal with National’s lack of aroha [love]?
That’s not for me to do we as a Labour team need to practice the values of aroha through a fair and decent society.
It’s wise to avoid a loaded question like that but not useful to end with a “fair and decent society” generality.
There were a handful of mixed responses to Mahuta’s Q & A. It wasn’t very illuminating and unlikely to have won or lost any support.
I haven’t seen Mahuta reveal much about herself in any of her engagements apart from her ability to memorise well worn phrases, something she shares with many bland politicians.