INDEPENDENT NEWS

Q+A: Jacinda Ardern

Published: Sun 17 Sep 2017 02:07 PM
One week left on the election campaign trail – Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern
TVNZ’s Corin Dann asked Labour leader Jacinda Ardern on Q+A this morning if she would raise the age of superannuation.
Ms Ardern responded saying “we’ve stuck with 65. And again, that’s a matter of certainty for people. And my agitation with the National government, particularly when they announced their increase in the age,
which Bill English has described as a gift to my generation, was that they did that in the face of never having contributed to the superannuation fund.”
“They’ve foregone $5.9 billion, and that includes the cost of borrowing to invest. And that’s my criticism,” she says.
CORIN: They do need passion now. Cos now those who might have been hoping that you would be the politician that might finally deal with New Zealand’s issues with capital and taxing capital and fairness, and you’re not.
JACINDA: But I am still doing the work, Corin. And I will in government still make that decision, and if required legislate on that decision. The thing I’ve pushed out is the time it takes effect. Because that then means I can balance both the urgency I feel with the feedback that the public strongly gave me. And I had to listen to that, you know? And so in my mind, if it took just a matter of a few months to find that balance between the two, then that was the right thing to do.
CORIN: What else will you flip-flop on?
JACINDA: I haven’t. I’ve maintained that sense of urgency. And actually I still think there’s leadership in listening as well. And I know when I came out on this I was taking a risk. I felt strongly enough about it to take that risk. But if it was a question of simply a matter of months in order to be able to listen to people too, that seemed like it.
Q + A
Episode 28
JACINDA ARDERN
Interviewed by Corin Dann
CORINWell, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern joins me now. Good morning to you.
JACINDAGood morning.
CORINYou spoke very passionately when you took over the job about wanting to fix the housing crisis and in particular the fairness issues around tax in this country.
JACINDAYeah.
CORINWhat happened to that passion this week, to back down and flip-flop?
JACINDAI still absolutely maintain those two points that we do have to address the housing crisis, particularly after nine years of drift. And we do have to look at the fairness of our tax system.
CORINBut you’re not willing to put your neck on the line, and it looks like, you know, you want to get elected, so you rolled over.
JACINDANo. I am still doing the work. I’m still utterly committed to doing the work. And in fact if you look at the timeline we’ve set out, I will, in office, do that work.
CORINYou panicked. You panicked in the face of polling.
JACINDAI will produce some outcomes from that. And I will, if suggested by that working group, legislate. The one thing I have heard, though - and I’ve had to listen, Corin, on the campaign trail – I put out my case, and the public put theirs, and the case they put back to me was okay, we understand you feel that sense of urgency; we do too, but we want certainty. And I knew I could find that balance between the two by moving by a matter of months the time that that legislation would come into force into the next tax year in 2021.
CORINBut you made it a leadership issue. You made it a captain’s call.
JACINDAYeah.
CORINYou put it out there and said, ‘I’m going to make this my call. I’m strong enough to go to the electorate and say I’ll do this if I need to.’ And you’ve rolled back on that.
JACINDAAnd I will still be going to the electorate and saying, ‘This is the thing that I’ve made the decision on. This is the thing we will legislate on.’ But I also have to show leadership in listening to what people tell me. And the message came back loud and clear – we get your passion around this. We understand it, but we want to know. I have found a balance.
CORINThey do need passion now. Cos now those who might have been hoping that you would be the politician that might finally deal with New Zealand’s issues with capital and taxing capital and fairness, and you’re not.
JACINDABut I am still doing the work, Corin. And I will in government still make that decision, and if required legislate on that decision. The thing I’ve pushed out is the time it takes effect. Because that then means I can balance both the urgency I feel with the feedback that the public strongly gave me. And I had to listen to that, you know? And so in my mind, if it took just a matter of a few months to find that balance between the two, then that was the right thing to do.
CORINWhat else will you flip-flop on?
JACINDAI haven’t. I’ve maintained that sense of urgency. And actually I still think there’s leadership in listening as well. And I know when I came out on this I was taking a risk. I felt strongly enough about it to take that risk. But if it was a question of simply a matter of months in order to be able to listen to people too, that seemed like it.
CORINWell, it looks like just because it wasn’t electable, was it?
JACINDAI don’t buy that. I don’t buy that, and I still believe that there is a way to get the work done and hear people too.
CORINWhat about the issue of superannuation? Can you just clarify to me what your position is on raising the age of super? You would resign before you ever raised it?
JACINDAAgain, 65.
CORINFirst term, second term, third term – what?
JACINDAWe’ve stuck with 65. And again, that’s a matter of certainty for people. And my agitation with the National government, particularly when they announced their increase in the age, which Bill English has described as a gift to my generation, was that they did that in the face of never having contributed to the superannuation fund. They’ve foregone $5.9 billion, and that includes the cost of borrowing to invest. And that’s my criticism.
CORINIt’s a fair point, but they’re separate in a way, because let’s put it out there – that only partially prefunds super. The country still has a major problem in terms of aging population, in terms of paying for its healthcare, regardless of the Cullen Fund and the good work that that could do. Why have you made this decision?
JACINDAIn part, because the time I spent on the campaign trail alongside Andrew Little, I could not deny the one-third of New Zealanders who are in hard-labouring jobs, who I saw come to him in that period and say, ‘Thank you for making that decision on behalf of us.’ I still remember the gentleman who came and talked to me about his job working under Auckland’s wharves, hard labour in the cold water most of the year. And he said to me, ‘I just couldn’t do it if you extended it out.’
CORINBut how are you going to pay for that person’s healthcare in 20 years’ time? Because that is the issue.
JACINDAIt’s all about priorities. And we’ve seen that in this election campaign. You know, we’ve made the decision that if you want to make sure that just, for instance, your health spending, based on population changes, based on inflation, if you plan and you choose not to do things like tax cuts, you can prioritise people’s health, well-being and give them certainty about their retirement.
CORINI just want to be very, very clear. Are you saying you will resign full stop if you won a second term, a third term – that’s it, no raising of the age?
JACINDAI’ve said I will not raise the age, because I believe that if we plan properly and we invest properly, that we can give people that certainty.
CORINBut you said you’d resign.
JACINDAThat was the question I was asked.
CORINThis is the bit I don’t understand.
JACINDAThat’s because I’m presented constantly with questions in absolute terms, in absolute terms.
CORINYou gave an absolute answer.
JACINDAIndeed, because certainty in this area is what people crave. And, to be fair, Corin, I do believe in elements of universalism. It’s something we’ve lost from the conversation in New Zealand, which is why we’ve also done that in the early years.
CORINYou’ve had a chance to leave open an option, whereas John Key did it for a reason of trust, because he was worried people didn’t trust him. You didn’t have that same problem. And it seems extraordinary to completely rule that out.
JACINDAThe problem we’ve had is this issue has bounced back and forth between both political parties. People needed certainty. I wanted to give that to them. I also want to demonstrate that we can plan for the next generation’s future. They are the ones who’ve been sold down the river by not enough planning. I don’t think it’s fair that they be lumbered with the cost of not planning for retirement, not planning for environmental degradation, not planning for healthcare and education. It’s time we actually said, ‘You deserve what the rest have had.’
CORINAll right. Free trade – what happens if South Korea says to you, ‘No, we’re not going to renegotiate that free-trade deal?’
JACINDAWell, of course, if you ask me to give away my negotiating position right now, it’s going to make it harder for me when I go into those talks.
CORINNo, here’s the thing.
JACINDA If it looks like I don’t care enough.
CORINWe are a country that needs to know whether you would be prepared to walk away from a hard-fought free-trade deal over your policy, which is to ban foreigners buying houses in New Zealand.
JACINDAAnd you’re asking me to give away the terms of my negotiation. But, look, what I absolutely believe is that our friends and allies, given Korea negotiated that position for themselves in that agreement, will look kindly to us seeking the same position.
CORINBut nobody in the trade world accepts that they’re not going to want something in return.
JACINDAWell, we will make sure that we protect New Zealand’s position when we go into those negotiations, but Corin, the point—
CORINYou’ll give them something in return?
JACINDAThe point we’ve always made—Again, I’m not going to negotiate a free trade agreement on Q+A, but the point we’ve always made is how do we know, because the government never tried. Australia negotiated successfully with Korea. Korea negotiated successfully with us.
CORINAnd they had different things that they wanted. I mean, the point is these are incredibly hard deals to get. We’ve seen how difficult they are to get. Why would you put that at risk?
JACINDAAnd I will maintain that we need to generate an agreement that preserves New Zealand’s trade benefits but also does not sell down the river our ability to remove the heat from the market.
CORINDo you actually believe in free trade?
JACINDAI do.
CORINSo why would we want to risk that? That’s done and dusted, that deal.
JACINDAYou’re implying that we are risking it. Of course, keeping in mind that we don’t know the strength of feeling that exists in that area because, again, as I say, our government never tried.
CORINWhat I’m trying to get at is how credible it is for Labour to go back to South Korea and say, ‘Just give us what we want,’ and not really want anything in return.
JACINDAIf free trade agreements when you signed on the bottom line never had the ability for renegotiation, no one would ever sign them. If they were locked, done and dusted, no one would enter into such agreements. There is room for that. We are going to—
CORINBut you accept that it’s not an even fight, is it? We are the small player here. No one does us any favours in the world. Why do they want to do us a favour?
JACINDAWhich is why it should have been negotiated in the first place, and that should continue to be the cause of concern for New Zealanders – that it was never attempted in TPP and it was never attempted in that deal. Look, I am not going to trade off New Zealand’s incredibly important need to increase our exports and remove those barriers for trade, but I am also going to advocate for our ability to regulate our domestic housing market. We need to make that effort.
CORINOn foreign policy, are we going to continue to have a close relationship with China in the way we have under this government if you were to be leader?
JACINDAIndeed. In fact, I would say that it was Labour that forged that close relationship.
CORINWould you go to China basically every year like John Key has?
JACINDAI can’t see why I wouldn’t. Kirk first forged our relationship. That was extended by, of course, Labour negotiating our free trade agreement, the apology on the poll tax. Labour has long held a very close relationship with China. I’ve travelled there in an official capacity several times before and I absolutely believe we’ll continue that.
CORINAll right. Well, let’s try you out on that. Should China be building up military installations on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea?
JACINDAOur free trade position with them was negotiated at a time when we, of course, had concerns around labour practice as well, and human rights issues. I remember when I worked in Phil Goff’s office in the time that he was working through those issues. We’ve always raised concerns whilst maintaining the need to advocate—
CORINWould you raise concerns with China about the South China Seas?
JACINDAOh, we’ve continued to raise concerns across a number of human rights issues. That doesn’t preclude our ability to advocate for New Zealand.
CORINDo you think they should be building military installations on islands in the South China Sea?
JACINDAThat would be a number of—along a long list of issues that I would always raise. That’s what you do in a close relationship.
CORINWhat about the US? Would you accept an invite to the White House next year if you were to be prime minister?
JACINDAYes. If it means I can further New Zealand’s position, keep a close relationship with the United States, then I would.
CORINAnd the Five Eyes?
JACINDAAgain, that’s something, obviously, that has in some part benefited New Zealand. Those are ongoing relationships that would not end under my leadership. Again, though, I’m not going to remove our ability to continue, as a close friend and ally of these nations, to raise issues of concern where we have them.
CORINAre you committed to the Five Eyes arrangement?
JACINDAThat won’t be changing under Labour.
CORINWhat do you make of this campaign in terms of its tone? I mean, do you feel it’s fair for Labour to have criticised you on the numbers? I mean, they did raise a point—
JACINDANational.
CORINSorry, National. They did raise a fair point. You have not left yourself very much money at all to deal with a wide range of issues. I mean, that is something that economists have agreed on.
JACINDAAnd we took the numbers from PREFU. But, look, to the question of whether or not I felt it’s fair, the attack that we had from Stephen Joyce and Bill English was utterly incorrect, but it’s not just been that. They’ve also purported and told the public that we’re going to do things like increase income tax. That is patently untrue. It’s always been untrue. So, yes, it has been frustrating to battle a campaign on false information when we could have debated the real issues.
CORINYou left the door open yourself, though, didn’t you?
JACINDANo. No, we—
CORINYes, you did.
JACINDANot on income tax.
CORINBecause you made tax an area that was unclear and there was uncertainty, and that was your captain’s call.
JACINDAI raised the issue of the unfairness in our tax system, particularly as it related to speculators and particularly as it related to the effect on our home ownership rates. We ruled out right from the beginning any increase in income tax. We were utterly clear. The National government campaigned on something that is untrue.
CORINBut to be fair to Bill English, why shouldn’t he be able to highlight the fact that they will bring in tax cuts next year and you’ll get rid of them?
JACINDAYes, if National wants to raise the fact that we voted against their tax cuts and won’t bring them in and instead have a targeted families package that makes sure 70% of families are better off, that’s fair because that’s the truth. Saying we would increase income tax was not true and it was not fair.
CORINWhy wouldn’t--? Why won’t you raise income tax?
JACINDAIt’s not something that we see as necessary. We’ve been able to lay out a fiscal plan that says actually we can achieve our goals. What we want to do by reprioritising – by not delivering tax cuts but by reprioritising and, for instance, cracking down on negative gearing in New Zealand, increasing the taxation on multinationals – that’s how we deliver on our promises.
CORINJacinda Ardern, thanks very much for your time.
JACINDAThanks for yours.
Please find attached the full transcript and the link to the interview.
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TVNZ 1 and one hour later on TVNZ 1 + 1.
Repeated Sunday evening at around 11:35pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz
Thanks to the support from NZ On Air.
Q+A is also on Facebook: here and on Twitter

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