Grant Robertson on Newshub Nation

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson was interviewed on Newshub Nation yesterday.

First, the sideshow.

imon Shepherd: It’s the highlight of the political year, for the government and one man in particular, the Finance Minister. I asked Finance Minister Grant Roberson if he was disappointed that the unauthorised early release of budget details overshadowed his first wellbeing budget. 
Robertson: I don’t think that it did. The reaction that we’re getting from New Zealanders to the budget is that they’re really pleased that we’re focused on a big, long-term issue like mental health. I don’t think New Zealanders are focused on the political games in Wellington.
But there were so many of them. There was the leak of the documentation, the allegations of a hack — you sort of seemingly linking the National Party to that, and then it wasn’t a hack. It was shambolic.
Look, I’ve expressed my disappointment in the fact that the Treasury system could be infiltrated this way and also that the Treasury didn’t do more to find out what had happened before they referred it to the police. The reality is that that’s now in the hands of the State Services Commissioner, who is doing an inquiry, and we’ll await the outcomes of that.
Well, how do you think you handled it all?
Look, I invite you to put yourself in my shoes. On Tuesday night the Chief Executive of the Treasury arrived in my office and said about an hour ago I have referred to the police 2000, of what he called, hacks into the system. I said to him, ‘Do you know how that’s happened?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t.’ I said, ‘Do you know if any other areas of the Treasury system have been compromised?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t.’ So at that point, I’m going to take that matter pretty seriously. That’s what we did. Obviously more information has now come to light. That’s what the inquiry will cover.
Do you think you acted too quickly? Do you think you should’ve waited and got some more information before you put out that press release just then, which seemed to indicate that National was linked to the allegations of a hack?
Like I say, I think most people in my shoes, having received the information I did, would react and say, ‘Well, we need to make sure, regardless of how the National Party might’ve got the information, that they were aware of what the Treasury had advised me. We all now know that the situation is somewhat different. The inquiry will look into how that happened.

Then the meat of the topic.

You named it the Wellbeing Budget, but mental health aside, what is actually transformational about it?
I think the work that we’re doing in domestic and sexual violence is absolutely transformational. We’re talking there about breaking a cycle that has bedeviled New Zealand for many years. $320 million going into that. We’re going to transform the lives of people who are on benefits by indexing that to the average wage. That’s going to lift their incomes consistently.
Okay. Well, let’s talk about that. Obviously the Welfare Expert Advisory Group said 12-47 per cent boost to benefits is needed, something like $5 billion. You didn’t go near that. You’ve done $300 million. Why not?
Well, because we’re doing this in phases. And we’ve actually done three things —we’ve done, not only the indexation of benefits, but we’ve also lifted the abatement rate — the rate at which your income drops if you’re working while you’re on a benefit. And we’ve got rid of the sanction that was on mothers who didn’t identify the fathers of their children. That’s stage one. We absolutely acknowledge that there’s further work to do in this area.
Do you think that you missed a chance to be transformational by not implementing a capital gains tax?
Well, as you well know, I would’ve like to have implemented a capital gains tax. That, of course, would not have come into force until after the election. That was always the plan, but the realities of coalition government are we didn’t have the numbers for that.
What about a greater focus on business? If you lift them and provide incentives for business, that changes the whole economy, doesn’t it? So why didn’t you do that?
Well, we are. There’s a great deal of focus on supporting business. One of the things I’m really excited about in this budget is the $300 million fund for venture investment in those businesses that have got past the start-up phase and are looking to grow to be international companies, and Peter Beck from Rocket Lab has raised this issue with us and said, ‘Too many of these companies head offshore because there isn’t investment here.’ The government’s now got $300 million of skin in the game.
But I would say to you, that this country is made up — the backbone — is small to medium enterprises, and the businesses you’re talking about there are start-ups that want to go internationally. You’re not addressing the small to medium enterprises.
Well, I’d argue we are. The biggest issue raised with me by business is skilled staff, infrastructure, making sure we get those trade agreements going so people can export. They are the issues we are working on.
Could you have been more transformational if you’d relaxed your debt rules earlier? Is there a chance you could look back at this and say, ‘I wish I hadn’t played it so safe’?
It’s always about a balance. We have to make sure that we do keep our debt under control. We’re a small country. We’re susceptible to significant economic shocks and natural disasters. We are actually borrowing more money in this Budget. The economy is growing as well. That means the percentage of GDP stays steady, but we are borrowing to invest in those areas like infrastructure, building up KiwiRail, building more schools and hospitals. But it is all about a balance, and I think we’ve got it right.
Well, what about the balance — you’ve just mentioned shocks like natural disasters or international shocks. You are actually borrowing more. You are running down the projected surpluses. Are you leaving us vulnerable to something like that?
No, I don’t believe so. I mean, we still have a surplus of $1.3 billion here. We still have debt at a relatively low level. We are creating that balance, but we made a decision in this Budget to spend more than we had originally allocated, and that’s because the need was there. The need was there in infrastructure, but the need was also there in services like mental health. We always said, Simon, is that a sustainable surplus would be one where we’d met the needs that were there, so therefore this Budget that surplus is a bit lower, but it still exists.
Are you meeting the health needs though? Because National’s Amy Adams points out that policies for midwives, no free health checks for seniors, reduced GP fees — those kinds of things are not addressed in this particular budget. And in fact, figures from the Child Poverty Action Group show that spending on public health is forecast to be the lowest in a decade by 2023.
Well, what we’ve done is prioritise mental health, and we’ve been completely upfront about that from day one. We have a mental health crisis in New Zealand. It’s been ignored, but there’s still significant resources going into the rest of our health system, around $2.9 billion into supporting DHBs, more money for ambulances. There are other areas, within our coalition agreement, within our confidence-and-supply agreement that we’ll look to address in next year’s Budget, but we made mental health a priority.
Such as?
Well, you’ll have to wait till next year.
What about teachers, though? They’re crying out for some more love from the government, and they’ve just announced more disruptive action. So why couldn’t you address that in this Budget?
We believe we’ve got a fair offer on the table, the $1.2 billion offer. The Budget also addresses some of the non-pay-related issues that teachers have been raising. Six hundred learning support coordinators for what we used to call special ed. 2480 more teachers—
And yet they’re still unhappy?
Well, that’s the reality of the world. What I hope is happening, and I’m pretty sure it is happening right now, is that the Ministry of Education and the unions are sitting down together to say, ‘Look, how can we resolve this?’ We want it resolved. We understand the frustration of teachers after 10 years of not getting supported. Let’s take these first steps together now.
What is there in this Budget for middle New Zealanders? Sort of, those low to middle income families. There doesn’t seem to be anything.
Well, I’d give you one example. We’re removing school donations for decile one to seven schools.
But in the hip pocket there’s nothing like tax bracket creep or anything like that.
Well, look, we’ve made a commitment not to change tax rates in this term of government because we believe that we need the resources that are there to meet the needs that are there.
Well, let’s talk about housing. There is nothing actually, really, apart from the Housing First — the transitional housing — there’s nothing else for housing in this Budget. You’ve got KiwiBuild, which has stalled at the moment because it’s not delivering.
We put $2 billion in last year’s Budget for KiwiBuild for the life of the programme—
And it’s not delivering.
And as you know, there is a housing reset coming forward, and actually in the Budget documents we state that we’ve put some money aside to help manage that housing reset.
How much?
You’ll see the details of that when the reset’s released.
What about the policies that you agreed with the Greens, like a shared equity scheme to get more people to be able to afford to buy into our houses. What happened to that?
As I say, you’ll have to wait for the housing reset that Minister Twyford’s going to announce, but clearly we’ve got a large-scale building programme for housing that’s not just about KiwiBuild. It’s about state housing, transitional housing. Mr Twyford’s now going to come back with that reset, and you’ll be able to see—
But there’s 11,000 people on the state housing list, and there’s nothing extra in this Budget for them.
Well, we made a significant investment in the building of 6000 state houses in the last Budget. We’ve got an integrated programme with transitional housing and affordable housing. Phil Twyford’s going to announce a housing reset. We’ve set some money aside to support that.
What would you say to business-owners, teachers and say, middle income, low-income earners — some of those feel left out by Budget 2019. What would you say to them? What hope will you offer them for next year?
Look, I’ve always said that the three budgets of this term are a trilogy. Last year we did the foundation-building of making sure we got spending back into those core areas. This year we’ve targeted areas like mental health that all of those people will benefit from. We’ve got a third Budget to come as well.
So is that going to be the blockbuster for these people?
No, I see them all as part of an attempt to start turning around a decade of neglect in a lot of important areas in New Zealand. Two-thirds of the way through, I think we’re making good progress.

Hipkins questioned about teacher strikes and budget

With the largest teacher strike ever planned to coincide with this week’s budget Minister of Eduction Chris Hipkins was interviewed on NewsHub Nation.

“…with $1.2 billion on the table and a $10,000 pay rise for most teachers on the table, we think that that’s as far as we can go in terms of putting more money in their pay packets in this pay round.”

Simon Shepherd: This week, a megastrike. The words no Education Minister wants to hear. For the first time in New Zealand history, all state and integrated schools will strike together this Wednesday. The action comes after talks failed to secure an offer acceptable to the 50,000 affected teachers and principals. I asked Chris Hipkins if he had a last minute deal to stop the strike going ahead.

Chris Hipkins: Look, we’re going to continue talking to the teachers, right up till the point of the strike action. If we can avoid strike action, of course we would like to do that. We’ve been very clear, though, that with $1.2 billion on the table and a $10,000 pay rise for most teachers on the table, we think that that’s as far as we can go in terms of putting more money in their pay packets in this pay round. But we also recognise that for many teachers this is about more than just pay, and they’re raising a whole lot of other issues that they also want us to address.

Well, let’s talk about pay. They want a package, between them all, of like $3.9 billion. It seems you guys are like a universe apart. Is there no more money to just get this done?

We’ve been really clear that for salaries there isn’t any more money on the table, and there’s not going to be, but there are many other issues that teachers are raising. We know that there are more kids in classrooms that have additional learning needs, for example. We do need to do more in that area. We know that there are big workload issues that teachers are grappling with, and we need to do more in that area. We’ll keep talking to them about how we can address those issues, but in terms of the pay round, we’ve been pretty clear that $1.2 billion is what there is.

The Crown had a surplus in the March figures of $2.5 billion, and the teachers are going to be looking at that and going, ‘Look, there’s some money.’

I don’t think teachers will put their hands up to take a pay cut, if the surplus were to go down. You can’t base your decisions about pay negotiations based on government surpluses because actually every other workforce in the public sector is looking at that money as well. We’ve got to look at what’s sustainable. We’ve also got a number of other big workforces— nurses will be back in bargaining next year. We’ve got doctors in bargaining. You’ll have police back in bargaining next year, and we do have to think about what are sustainable pay rises across the public service? Teachers are right at the top of those. You know, they are being offered some of the biggest pay rises across the broader public sector

Secondary principals now have a pay claim as well. Are you fearful that you’re going to see another strike on your hands from them?

Look, we’ll go into those negotiations in good faith. The secondary principal bargaining is just getting underway, and we need to let that take its course.

You talk about this pay round. What about next pay round? Is that one of the reasons that the government’s decided to loosen its debt cap — to create more money, to be able to borrow more money, to be able to make these kind of pay rounds work?

I’m not going to pre-empt the next pay round before we’ve even concluded this pay round. I’ve always been very clear with the teachers — as long as I have been doing this job for the Labour Party, and that was five years in opposition as well — that they need to think about their pay strategy over every pay cycle and not just a big action roughly every 15 years when there’s a Labour government.

This mega-strike that’s coming up on Wednesday, I mean, that’s hundreds of thousands of children, parents affected. Do you understand what kind of effect that this is going to have for families?

Well, look, I know that this will have a big impact for families. I don’t think that the strike action is justified. As I’ve said, the pay rise on the table now over the next two years is worth an average of $10,000 to the majority of teachers so that is a pretty sizeable pay increase. It’s $1.2 billion, and actually parents are also saying that they want the government to get serious about mental health, they want the government to properly fund district health boards, so that the hospitals that they go to are well-funded and well-resourced. They also want us to deal with the housing shortage and the housing crisis. They want us to lift children out of poverty. We need to be able to do all of those things.

But how long can you let this drag on for? One of these pay negotiations has been going on for more than 18 months.

Look, we continue to negotiate. We went to the Employment Relations Authority late last year. The Employment Relations Authority, in fact, said to the primary school teachers at the time that they thought the government’s offer was very competitive — ‘handsome and competitive’ was how they described it. We’re doing everything that we can.

And you’ve gone back there now? I mean, there’s new, urgent talks on the table, isn’t there?

That’s right. We are doing everything that we can to continue to sit around the table to try and resolve the issues that the teachers are raising. But obviously, any government — whether it’s our government or any other government — is always going to have a limit to the amount of money that they can put on the table in any given pay round.

Okay. Let’s talk about this week in parliament. Haven’t really seen anything like this before with allegations of bullying, harassment, sexual assault — how surprised were you at the findings of the Francis Report?

Look, I think parliament has come a long way over the last 20 or 30 years in terms of changing its culture, being more representative of all New Zealanders, but we’ve still got a long way to go nad I think the Francis Report clearly highlights that. We need to change the culture around this place. We need to create a much more people-friendly environment, and clearly there are some big areas for improvement.

You’ve been here — what? —almost 10 years, 10 and a half years, have you been involved, have you seen, have you experienced bullying and harassment of this nature?

Look, I wouldn’t say that I’ve been the victim of bullying. I have seen people treating other people inappropriately and unfairly. Now let’s just be clear about this — in a democratic system of government, like we have here in New Zealand, an adversarial approach is built into it. You know, it’s designed to be adversarial, and that is going to create conflict. There’s a different between legitimate conflict, legitimate scrutiny, legitimate accountability, and bullying. And certainly the staff, the interactions that some MPs have with staff, the interactions that some staff would have with each other — they’re not okay, and we need to be really clear in saying that. You can be adversarial, you can do your job in a democratic system without treating people as abysmally as some people around here have been treated.

It’s also been described as a very high-intensity workload. I mean, you’re a father, you’ve got to manage your family as well as this. I mean, how hard is it to be able to do the job?

Look, it’s a tough job. MPs are away from their homes a lot. I’m lucky in one sense, as a Wellington MP, I get to go home every night to my family. I think everybody who’s working who has a family struggles with this. I think MPs particularly, given the lengths of time they spend away from their families, do really struggle with that.
Okay, but what changes do you think should be made within parliament, both for staff and members, to make it more family-friendly?

Well, I think that the Francis Report, again, sets out some good recommendations around how we can improve the culture of this place.

What recommendations do you like?

Well, I think having a single point of contact or various points of contact for people who are feeling bullied or feeling harassed, so that they know where they can go to get extra help. We’ve been working for some time to make this place a bit more family-friendly. I think it humanises parliament a bit more, and I think we’ve made real advances in that in recent years, and there’s more that we can do there too.

So do you think we need a wider review, like the Francis Report, but for the wider public service? Do you think this kind of culture exists out there?

Look, I think any workplace is going to have challenges, if they have a culture that allows bullying. Now, without going through every different department or agency, I can’t say where that might exist, but my message to every chief executive in the public service, is my expectation of them is that they will ensure that their workplace is not one of those workplaces that has that type of culture.

Okay. It’s Budget Week, and Finance Minister Grant Robertson has been looking around for extra cash, and he’s taken $197 million dollars from the tertiary education policy — the ‘fees-free’ policy. Why not just give that to the teachers?

Well, when we set up the ‘fees-free’ policy, we deliberately budgeted conservatively because it’s very difficult when you’re introducing a new policy like that to understand the behavioural effects of that. You know, enrolments could have gone up significantly, they might not have. You’ve got to be conservative. You have to make sure that the money is there if you need it. We knew that we were probably going to get some money back from that. That money is going to go back into tertiary education, particularly into vocational education — where we know that our polytechs have been scaling back, where we know we’ve got critical skill shortages in areas like building and construction. so that money is still going into education, and it’s going into an area where we’ve also got a big pressing need.

With this tertiary policy— I mean, the Labour policy was to roll out free years in the second and third year by 2024. Has that gone?

No, that hasn’t gone. That continues to be the Labour Party’s policy. Of course, it’s a coalition government, so everything is—

So you can’t commit to that for the next election, is that what you’re saying?

Well, what I’m saying is we’ll go into the next election campaign with a very clear policy. Under this government where it’s a coalition government, the commitment that we made in this term was to introduce the first year free, which is what we have done. You know, beyond the next election, of course, that’s going to depend on the outcome of the election.

Okay. Finally, one last word to the teachers and the pupils and the parents who are going to be the subject of this strike this week, I mean, what would you say to them?

I would say that this strike isn’t necessary, that we are hearing the concerns of teachers. We are committed to addressing them. We have given teachers a very significant pay offer, the largest that they’ve had in over a decade. In fact, it’s worth more than all of the other pay offers that they’ve had over the last decade put together, and we’re also committed to working on the other issues that they’re raising.

Shane Jones interview on Nation

Shane Jones on Newshub Nation:

Have you offered your resignation to the Prime Minister at any point?

Oh, no. Absolutely not.

Newshub:  Shane Jones drops capital gains tax clue (includes video of the interview):

Shane Jones has hinted the upcoming capital gains tax announcement could include relief for the regions.

The Regional Development Minister declined to comment on what exactly the Government has come up with, following the Tax Working Group’s recommendations, which were made public in February.

The Regional Development Minister told Newshub Nation on Saturday revealing its contents was off-limits.

“There’s various ways that I could be sacked,” he told interviewer Tova O’Brien.

“One of them that will definitely get me sacked by the end of this programme is if I offer any view whatsoever in terms of what lies exclusively in the realm of my leader and Prime Minister.”

Asked if he could give assurances that “farmers and regional businesses” wouldn’t be hit hard, Jones gave one of his typically cryptic replies.

“Well, in the near future, all I would say is that to the folk who have dirty boots and hard-working calloused hands, watch this space.”

Transcript:


Tova O’Brien: He’s the self-styled champion for the north – as he so often likes to remind us – the first citizen of the provinces, but does Shane Jones’ bluster and bravado mean he gets away with far more than most other ministers? Once again he’s in hot water, once again he’s been reprimanded by the Prime Minister and once again it’s over allegations of a conflict of interest and interfering in a judicial process. Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones joins me now. Kia ora, Matua. Thank you for joining us. Minister Jones, you directly spoke to the Chief Executive of the NZ Transport Agency about its case against Stan Semenoff Logging failing to meet safety standards. A High Court case, you’re a minister, you’re not allowed to interfere. Why did you?

Shane Jones: No, well, the facts are being distorted by the National Party. Not once have I ever had anything to do with the prosecution decision that you refer to. Those decisions, I imagine, are made in windowless rooms by lawyers and an independent body. I have no delegations for those matters.

The brief discussion I had with the acting CEO of NZTA, I’m glad to see, has been taken up now by the industry leadership. I accept, however, the cautionary words that the Prime Minister expressed with me. It is a distraction.

It is very difficult to maintain the entirety of the Cabinet Manual if perceptions start to grow that a minister’s interfering with a High Court case. But I’ve probably seen more High Court cases and, in the Maori Fisheries, funded more High Court cases than any other MP. I know exactly where the boundary line is.

But you’re related to the managing director of this Northland company. You once received a donation from him. What made you think it was appropriate to get involved and make that call to the NZTA CE?

You see, I have not made any call to the NZTA CEO. I have raised, in Parliament, with him issues that are now actually being agreed to by the broad leadership of the industry, and people misapprehend what my role is. My role is to isolate those issues that time to time thwart and undermine regional development.

Now, try as much as the Tories might to brand me as someone breaking High Court rules, the reality is I am a feisty, earthy, industrial-grade politician. That’s what the people expect of me, and when I’ve been around the motu, the country, over the last two weeks, not one single garden-variety Kiwi has raised this with me as being a problem.

That’s not necessarily on them, though, and being feisty and industrial-grade doesn’t preclude you from the Cabinet Manual and interfering in judicial processes is against the Cabinet Manual. The NZTA had taken a case against Semenoff Logging.

And that case is, I presume, going to continue in the High Court, and I have nothing to do with that case. I’ve never had anything to do with that case. They are a body that exercises statutory power, and our democracy works on the basis that when we who hold power, i.e. the officials, they’re capable of looking after themselves and having their decision tested in any court. Just because I raise an issue about the essential importance of logistics, supply-chain, doesn’t mean that I’m involved in a High Court case. I absolutely reject-

The reason the ministers need to keep an arm’s length is because of ministerial influence, so even having that conversation can be perceived as influence.

So this is where, Tova, I think that you run the risk of repeating non-credible memes being driven by the National Party. I utterly reject their assertions, and the reality is that I will remain the champion of the regions. The industry love my contributions. From a party that is pro-industry, you should not expect me to shut up. Just because I say things that make the windy bureaucrats feel a bit nervous, in actual fact that makes me more popular amongst the people who back me.

Yeah, there’s windy bureaucrats and then there’s ministerial interference. But anyway, this isn’t the first time you’ve been accused of this. You were also accused of interfering in legal proceedings against fishing company, Talleys, the PM hauled you over the coals for overstepping with the Serious Fraud Office investigation. You have form here.

Well, I don’t recall saying anything untoward about the SFO. I remember giving a general debate speech.

It was enough for the Prime Minister to give you a call and to tell you not to.

Yeah, I mean, the reality is that there’s the role that I have as a minister and then there’s the role that I have as a politician. Look, I wouldn’t read too much in it. I think that people from time to time in the media misapprehend the role that I have. In terms of any other court cases — well, I’ve got nothing to say about them. The people that are embroiled in litigation, they can look after themselves.

So was the Prime Minister wrong to reprimand you?

No, she is totally within her rights to do what she does. I thoroughly understand the Westminster system of democracy. I’ve just got a very robust— and as I’ve said, I’m a retail politician, I’m industrial-grade and I don’t care if it sounds as if I’m always leading with my chin. That is what the people who support me expect me to do.

Yeah, perhaps there needs to be more of a demarcation between those two hats because former National minister, Maurice Williamson, he interfered in a police case, made a call, also said he wasn’t trying to influence an active police case, but he was forced to offer his resignation to the then Prime Minister and resigned. Have you offered your resignation to the Prime Minister at any point?

The difference between Maurice Williamson and me is that I was an ambassador, then I became a politician. Maurice was a politician, now he’s an ambassador in America. He’s done it the other way round.

Have you offered your resignation to the Prime Minister at any point?

Oh, no. Absolutely not.

OK, what about — because it looks a bit like the Prime Minister, she kind of hauls you into the office, says, ‘Don’t do this, Shane.’ You say, ‘Sure, sure, sure.’ Then you walk out and perhaps do it again. Does she have any control over you?

No, I take very seriously what the Prime Minister says, but the Prime Minister also realises that there has never been a consistently loud, focused voice from the regions and the provinces. She, I believe, realises that from time to time there might be a bit of bump and grind, and she’s well within her rights to caution me to ensure that I don’t represent an unwelcome distraction to the overarching narrative of the government. I don’t believe I do. In fact, where I go, I’m met with popular acclamation.

What about Winston Peters? Has he ever chastised you or cautioned you?

What happens in our caucus is tapu. That’s where it stays.

Okay, on the Provincial Growth Fund, how many full-time jobs is your PGF, Provincial Growth Fund, created so far?

Yeah, so the most recent announcement was well over 500. The challenge that I’ve got is that although we’ve allocated $1.6 billion the pace at which the bureaucrats and officials can roll out the approval process, I can’t interfere with that. I can encourage them to go quicker. I do, every week. But at the end of the day, there are strictures that they have to observe in terms of the allocation of public money.

You say over 500, but the list provided by your office says that only 272 full-time jobs have been created so far. That’s a long way off the 10,000 promised.

Yeah, well, look, can we just deal with the 10,000? That 10,000 figure is an extraordinarily important and ambitious figure associated with the full import of the programmes, once they’re up and running. And as I said to you, the Provincial Growth Fund, whilst we are allocating putea, there are other things happening in the provinces. I’m a great supporter of those other things because I’m pro-industry. I’m pro-fishing, I’m pro-dairy, and I’m pro-mining. The fact that oil and gas is actually going to get a boost down in the South Island, then they’re going to find in me a great champion.

Let’s talk about oil and gas. Let’s talk about a region that is crying out for more funding and jobs, Taranaki, thanks in large parts to your government’s oil and gas ban. What responsibility does the Government — and you, as champion of the regions — what responsibility do you have to ensure economic stability there.

Well, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but in the near future there’s going to be a transitional, large meeting up there. But I would say that Taranaki stakeholders, they have various proposals that they’re promoting. There is a proposal doing the rounds called 8 Rivers. That’s associated with storing gas in the ground, using gas for hydrogen energy.

But I want to remind everyone, Tova, that when the Prime Minister made her announcement, which I supported, but we secured the on-going existence of entitlements that are already in place, which is why I’m an enthusiast for the various mining entities, oil and gas mining in the South Island, who are rolling out through the process that they’re entitled to do.

OK, so, 8 Rivers, you raise that now, you also raised that last time you were on this programme, last year. But we haven’t heard much more about it, so what’s happening with that? It wants $20 million from the PGF, is that right? Is it going to get that money?

Yeah, well, it’s just going through the process. I mean, obviously these things take a bit of time, because it is an enormously large project. I’m not the only Minister that would make that decision. And, look, I accept that when I associate myself with the oil and gas industry it does lead to criticism.

And you mentioned Greenpeace, well, you mentioned the accusations that Greenpeace made against me about a fishing court case. I’ve got no time for their lime-coloured righteousness. And if people in the South Island are allowed to use their rights to explore and develop oil and gas, I know the South Island people want that to happen. And before Greenpeace lecture me about that, they can explain to New Zealand why their boat has been under investigation for polluting the Bluff harbour.

Greenpeace aside, what about Labour and the Greens. What do they think about what you’re saying today?

No, they know, the Prime Minister knows that when we made our announcement, no more fresh mining applications offshore. We did, however, retain the ability of International and Domestic firms to use their current entitlements.

Which means 8 Rivers could go ahead, cause they—

Well, they would need to go through a statutory consent process, but the point I’m making—

With the help of your $20 million dollars from the PGF?

Well, we don’t know what the amount of putea is.

But there is going to be some?

Well let’s not taint the process, allow them to go through the process. Ministers will make a decision, yea or nay. But the point that I’m making — I can’t fund, and we don’t fund everything that happens in provinces. We make decisions that have impacts. An impact that was made from our oil and gas decision is people are legally allowed to continue to explore and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the South Island.

So, 8 Rivers, for those who don’t know, is a development project – it would create hydrogen, urea, and electricity using natural gasses. So, that’s controversial within your Government. How much biffo is going on behind the scenes between you and David Parker, say?

Oh, no, David Parker is a very good friend of mine. Although as Attorney General, he has been known from time to time to warn me to be very conscious of the blurry lines between my writ as the champion of the provinces and other legal obligations.

OK, let’s move on to Westland Milk. Chinese Company Yili is buying Westland Milk for nearly $600 million dollars, $588 million dollars. Are you comfortable with China buying such a significant New Zealand dairy asset?

Well, in phase two of the overseas investment rules that David Parker is leading, he is going out to consult whether there should be criteria dealing with a test of national significance, not necessarily for land, but for strategic industries.

Is that a ‘no’?

No, what I’m saying is that I don’t want to say anything that taints the ability of the Mongolian milk company to acquire whatever consents that they might have.

Well, one of your colleagues, Mark Patterson, has said that it’s an erosion of New Zealand control in our significant dairying assets. Do you agree with him?

Well, you’re talking to me as a Minister of the Crown. And I feel like I have an obligation—

Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate.

Yeah, fair point. But please listen with your taringas. I don’t want to taint whatever process the Mongolian milk company is going through. Mark is a dearly loved colleague of mine and I thoroughly understand his anxieties, but people are playing by the rules. And the rules at the moment allow them to proceed. I’m disappointed with the ineptitude and how absolutely useless the directors of New Zealand’s second-largest dairy co-op are, but that’s not the problem of the Mongolians. That’s the problem of how useless those directors are.

The $10 million that the Provincial Growth Fund loaned Westland Milk, was that an attempt to stave off an offshore purchase like this?

Well, I must be very honest, I had no idea that the directors had only one plan in mind, and they never ever shared that with me that they were preparing the company for sale via Macquaries, I think those are their advisors. So we put a caveat on that $10 million dollars in the event that there was a change of ownership, then the deal would vaporise.

Now it’s been suspended. And it’s not the only time you’ve offered a loan through the PGF. You also gave Oceania Marine in Whangarei a $4.8 million dollar loan. Is the Government becoming a lender of last resort?

Well, look, the policy underlying the Provincial Growth Fund is imaginative. It is bold. And, look, I accept that it inverts what used to happen. And I realise there are risks in doing that. But if there is a genuine case of market failure, then we have the criteria, endorsed by Cabinet, for the four ministers to proceed in that direction. Now, I know I’m attacked by the National Party for doing this, but I’m reminded of that great saying which I’ll adapt from my Grandmother, which is that if the Epsom cat wants to eat fine fish, then he’s got to get his feet wet.

OK, let’s move on to the capital gains tax, an announcement is going to be made very soon by your Government. Are you happy with where the Government has settled?

So, there’s various ways that I could be sacked. One of them that will definitely get me sacked by the end of this programme is if I offer any view whatsoever in terms of what lies exclusively in the province of my leader and Prime Minister.

Yes, but as the much-lauded, by your good self, champion of the regions, that includes farmers and regional businesses, can you give them assurance that they’re not going to be stung by a capital gains tax?

Well, in the near future, all I would say is that to the folk who have dirty boots and hard-working calloused hands, watch this space.

Sounds like New Zealand First got a win, and perhaps the tail is indeed wagging the dog. It was Winston Peter’s birthday this week, 74-years-old, what did you get him?

Every time I go overseas I bring a gift back for my rangatira, and that gift is the subject of great privacy between him and I. But we shared a day yesterday in Whangarei, and although the announcements were relatively modest, it’s always a pleasure to be with, yeah, the rangatira of New Zealand First.

What about the gift of succession? Who would win in a leadership fight between Shane Jones, Ron Mark and Fletcher Tabuteau, say?

Right, well, I don’t think we should contemplate a future at all without our leader, Winston Peters. And when I had the opportunity, Tova, to come back into politics, I wanted to demonstrate that the provinces would have a champion, and that champion doesn’t need to hanker after anything else.

Yeah, that’s not a no. Thank you very much for joining us, kia ora, Matua Shane.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

Chris Hipkins on education reviews

Whose cracks are more problematic – Simon Bridges’ or Tova O’Brien’s?

Newshub journalist Tova O’Brien has written some scathing reports and opinions about Simon Bridges and his leadership. They have just exchanged jabs on Newshub Nation.

Bridges: “And I know that will disappoint your commentators today such as David Slack and Tova O’Brien, but I’m here to stay.”

O’Brien responded “I think it’s problematic that Simon Bridges keeps having these cracks at press gallery journalists…”

Bridges certainly has problems and challenges as National leader.

But I think it is more problematic that journalists like O’Brien use leaks to make stories out of molehills, and use polls to make baseless predictions based on nothing but a need or desire to make a dramatic story out of something relatively mundane, like a single poll taken at a fairly irrelevant time of the political year.

O’Brien broke the expenses leak story last August:  Simon Bridges’ roadshow cash splash: $113k in taxpayer money on limos and hotels

Simon Bridges is spending up large – using taxpayer funding to pay for his limousine.

Newshub has been leaked MPs’ expenses, which show the National Party leader has spent far more money on travel and accommodation than MPs usually manage to chew through.

This turned out to be a bit of a beat up. The expenses were due to be released through normal procedures a few days later anyway.

But that doesn’t come cheap.

Not due for public release until later this week, the leaked figures show Mr Bridges has been splashing cash.

Travel and accommodation topped $113,973, and most of that – $83,693 – was spent on travelling the country by road and in style.

And it was revealed recently that the leader of the Opposition is ‘charged’ far more than Ministers:

It was National leader Simon Bridges’ $83,693 in VIP transport costs in the June quarter last year were the catalyst for the breakdown between the party and MP Jami-Lee Ross after they were leaked to the media early.

Bridges’ VIP transport would have been $33,281 if he had been charged at the same rate as ministers.

As stated there the leak through O’Brien led to the Jami-Lee Ross debacle, which Newshub was very involved in (various journalists, not just O’Brien), with headlines like:

In one particularly odd report O’Brien discussed various possibilities about the leak – Tova O’Brien says ‘anyone’ could have leaked Simon Bridges’ expenses – but presumably she knows how it happened and who the leaker was, as they leaked to her.

Last month O’Brien fronted a series of stories on a Newshub/Reid Research poll, which was scathing of Bridges, and also grossly overstated to importance of a single poll.

The poll result is newsworthy. Dramatic claims about what might happen as a result of the poll is very poor journalism – it is trying to make a huge story out of just one poll. O’Brien followed up with: Tova O’Brien: Simon Bridges’ trifecta from hell

This is a trifecta from hell for Simon Bridges:

  1. National has plunged under his leadership;
  2. Voters don’t want him as Prime Minister, and;
  3. Judith Collins has overtaken him in the preferred Prime Minister stakes.

And it just gets worse…

Four weeks later, nothing much has changed. In fact, Bridges’ performance as leader has improved a bit, he has effectively applied pressure to the Government over their botched handling of the Tax Working Group report, particularly the possibilities of a Capital Gains Tax.

More recent polls suggest that the Newshub poll may have been more of a temporary drop than a sign of a trend – see UMR and other polls – Labour and National even – which highlights the overblowing of O’Brien’s and Newshub’s coverage of their poll (they also, unusually, held back the results for a week).

On Newshub Nation yesterday questions were asked about polling:

What are you going to do to turn around your poor personal polling, Simon?

I think actually, just what I’ve said to you. It’s two things. Firstly, elections are a referendum on the government. It’s governments that lose elections. At the moment, I think they’re going about that pretty well, from my perspective, with some of the things that they are doing and not doing. What I need to make sure National is doing…

People do say that Jacinda actually won the last election, though.

Well, I think Winston Peters won the last election. I think there’s quite a few that say that as well. He won it for her, and now Michael Cullen’s doing a good job to try and win it for her again – or lose it for her, perhaps. But I’ll hold the government to account. I’ll make sure that National is developing plans so people have got a real choice at the election, and they’ll make up their minds when that election comes.

At what point do you decide you need to step down for the good of the party?

I won’t be. And I know that will disappoint your commentators today such as David Slack and Tova O’Brien, but I’m here to stay. I believe in what I’m doing, I think I’m the best person for the job, and I lead a terrific team that is putting out policy, that is leading the debates. We’re going to continue doing that.

So we’ll definitely see you as leader at the next election?

You sure will.

So Bridges made a direct reference to O’Brien, who was on the panel. She responded directly:

Perhaps if he keeps talking rubbish like, um but actually there’s there’s…who’s the leader of the National Party has absolutely no bearing on me or any other journalist.

I think it’s problematic that Simon Bridges keeps having these cracks at press gallery journalists, um, for reporting the facts, for reporting on his leadership. It’s not our fault that he has abysmal poll numbers, it’s not our fault that he’s failing to resonate with voters, it’s not our fault that people in his caucus are murmuring to us on the sidelines and talking about his leadership.

I think there’s no doubt that Bridges has problems as leader of the National Party. One of these problems has been a person or people leaking information to O’Brien with an obvious intention of establishing Bridges’ leadership.

But I think more problematic are the actions of journalists like O’Brien who seem to be deliberately fomenting dysfunction and disunity to create stories and to create headlines.

Journalists should not be immune from criticism by politicians. I think that Bridges is justified in having a mild crack at O’Brien given the nature of some of her coverage, her leaker enabling, and some of her unjournalistic dramatics in some of her stories. Bridges hasn’t been her only target, but she seems to see him as fodder for fame as maker rather than a breaker of stories.

Ardern explains ‘well-being’ approach to budget, sort of

The Government is promoting it’s next budget (due in May) as a world first ‘well-being’ focussed budget. They may be putting more focus on aspects of well-being, but it’s only the label and the emphasis that is different.

The last National government had a different label – social investment. Their emphasis may have been different but they were trying to address a similar approach to spending decisions.

Jacinda Ardern was asked about her wellbeing approach on Newshub Nation.


The government’s about to deliver the world’s first well-being budget. Okay, so there seems to be concerns from economists that this budget might not be so much based on data. One of the examples that’s come up recently is the Treasury’s cost-benefit analysis, where it puts a figure, a specific value on things like contact with a neighbour or feeling lonely. I mean, how do you put a value on those things that you can’t count?

Incredibly difficult, granted.

Yeah.

Actually, what some of the Treasury have used actually were — some of the modelling, as I understand, was actually developed under the last government, when they were doing social investment. These are all pieces of information that we use in a budget process. But it is not the thing that determines precisely what we then prioritise. It’s an input. It gives us extra information. Because you’re right — some of it— it’s quite hard to build evidence base in some of these areas, and yet we know the economic impact of, actually, some of the social issues we’re trying to address. Now let me give you an example. Internationally, a big discussion around the economic impact of mental health and well-being — we know that there are groups of our society who are experiencing more social disconnection, less contact with the outside world, greater levels of loneliness. Now, that might seem fluffy, but there actually is an economic impact for that downstream. How do we make sure we prioritise investing in the areas that help us from a social perspective, but also, ultimately, economically too.

But some of the, sort of, criteria seem a bit out of whack, as it were. Like, you’ve got minus-$17,000 for loneliness, and that seems to be a greater figure than avoiding a heart attack and all these kinds of things.

And, unfortunately, the Opposition have completely misused the tool that Treasury has created by comparing cost benefit and outputs incorrectly.

Okay.

Treasury have debunked the way that that’s been dealt with, but the primary point I’d like to make is these are just different pieces of data and evidence we can use. Ultimately, though, we are still the ones making the decision over what changes these things at an intergenerational level.

So tell somebody. I mean, it sounds lovely and a bit woolly. So tell someone. It’s a tangible difference about having a well-being budget. What’s a concrete example?

Let me give you an example. So health, for instance. In the past, we’d just tell you how much we’d spent in the health budget. It doesn’t really tell you anything about the well-being or the health of New Zealanders. So then you’ve seen governments over time would instead tell you how many operations we’re purchasing. But, actually, again, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re investing in a way that saves us money in the long term. What we’re trying to do is factor in, for instance, the fact that children that grow up in poverty are more likely to have health problems as adults just by virtue of that trajectory, and they have the equivalent of what looks like post-traumatic stress. So, actually, if we want to save health dollars here, it makes sense for us to invest in the health and well-being of kids.

Hasn’t that been the motivation of government ministers? Shouldn’t that be the motivation — you know the general well-being of the population from day dot?

It should be, but—

So why do you need the marketing stuff over the top? That should be your primary motivation.

It’s not the way policy is developed or spending decisions are traditionally made. Unfortunately, when you’re a minister — and this has happened through successive governments over decades, and it’s an international problem that was being debated at Davos, for instance —individual ministers, of course, make budget bids in their own area, and so that means that, you know, the Minister of Education might not be thinking about, you know, mental health and well-being issues even though he actually has a role to play in that area. The Minister of Health isn’t necessarily— has the responsibility to deal with what happens with child trauma and child poverty, and yet he picks up the pieces. It’s about trying to get everyone to work together to resolve what are long-term challenges. So, actually, this isn’t about ideology; it’s not about left and right; this is just, I think, a good methodology to use in the future.

Nation: Andrew Little on abortion law

The New Zealand Law Commission has made some suggestions on abortion law reform – see Law Commission – alternative approaches to abortion law overdue.

This morning on Newshub Nation (9:30 am) the Minister of Justice Andrew Little will be interviewed on this.

Nation: Jess Berentson-Shaw on ‘fake news’ and it’s effect on our lives

There could be more fake claims about fake news than there is fake news. Media is rightly being criticised for lack of care in reporting, and for slanted reporting, but generally newspapers correct news that they get wrong.

But who should correct those who use ‘fake news’ accusations as an attempt to discredit news or opinions they don’t like or don’t want published?

On Newshub Nation this morning:

And as hundreds of newspapers across the US fight back against President Donald Trump’s attack on the media, we speak to author Jess Berentson-Shaw about the prevalence of Fake News and the effect it’s having on our day-to-day lives

A book by Berentson-Shaw – A Matter of Fact: Talking Truth in a Post-Truth World – was recently launched, and was the basis of a panel discussion last weekend,


Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw describes misinformation as ‘sticky’, says it is very hard to change someone’s mind once they are convinced of a falsehood, regardless of what evidence they are presented

She says misinformation is not new, the Trump administration just gave it a new name with ‘alternative facts

Education: Nation interview with Chris Hipkins

Chris Hipkins has had a challenging start to his job of Minister of Education (he is also busy with other things, being Minister of State Services, Minister Responsible for Ministerial Services and Leader of the House).

He has had a lot of pressure from the National opposition over his determination to see the end of partnership (charter) schools.

And he has had to deal with teachers striking, taking advantage of a Government that should be more impressionable to their needs.

He is being interviewed on Newshub Nation this morning (9:30 am, also 10:00 am Sunday).

Won’t commit to smaller class sizes, says more support for students with special needs is the current focus

Nation: James Shaw on climate change progress

This morning on NewsHub Nation James Shaw fronts up to report progress on consultation on climate change and the net zero carbon bill.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says the independent climate change commission will be charged with making the big decisions about what areas NZ prioritises in terms of emissions

There have been 15,000 submissions on the zero carbon bill – Shaw says it’s going to take a bit of time to go through them

Shaw not willing to make any big calls on agriculture – kicking it back to that independent commission.

Shaw said he has a goal of every vehicle being net zero emissions by 2023. Far out!

Making older higher emission vehicles more expensive? He really avoids answering this by diverting to alternatives like public transport.

80%-90% of the new vehicles purchased in NZ are company fleet vehicles. James Shaw says that’s one of the big targets in terms of transitioning to more electric vehicles.

Shaw avoided addressing that. And also – where is all the electricity going to come from for electric vehicles?

So will there be incentives to companies etc going electric? James Shaw keeping mum on that.

Shaw says the Government will be working with National on the zero carbon bill. He’s hopeful there will be bipartisan support for a way forwar.

A lot of unanswered questions on this, which is a bit alarming considering the radical changes that will be necessary to come close to achieving goals.

Can we hit 90% of our cars being electric within 30 years?! James Shaw says NZers tend to hold on to their cars for a long time. I own a 1995 Toyota Corolla.