Q+A interview with David Shearer

Press Release – TVNZ

Sunday 11 March, 2012 Q+A, Shane Taurima interview with Leader of the Opposition, David Shearer. Points of interest: Labour leader, David Shearer reveals his plan to introduce private members’ bill on foreign ownership of land. Shearer says, …Sunday 11 March, 2012

Q+A, Shane Taurima interview with Leader of the Opposition, David Shearer.

Points of interest:

Labour leader, David Shearer reveals his plan to introduce private members’ bill on foreign ownership of land. Shearer says, “What we have to say is that we must get substantial benefit out of foreigners owning our land.”

He denies closing the door to foreign investment, but says “Our valuable land is best farmed for New Zealanders.”

Confirms Labour will change election policies: some will fit the new vision he’s laying out, “Some of them won’t.”

Refuses to endorse Labour’s election policy to extend Working For Families to beneficiaries or raising retirement age to 67: “Everything’s under review until 2014”

Labour won’t commit to re-nationalise state assets sold by National, despite Cunliffe’s promise last year not to rule out a buy-back.

Shearer: “We simply will not be able to have the opportunity to do that in the foreseeable future – to buy back those, because I just don’t think we’ll have the money.”

Shearer sums himself up in one line: “David Shearer’s somebody who’s spent his entire life working for others.”

Shearer point’s his finger at Len Brown on wharf dispute: “I would’ve liked to have seen the Auckland Council step up more.”

On his first three months: “If I was being asked just after I’d taken on the leadership where would I like to be, at three or four points up in the polls now would— this would be about as good as you can get.”

“My style is that I’m serious about the issues.”

Shearer’s first significant positioning speech this week will say New Zealand needs to do more to fulfil its potential.

John Key is “a good politician, and I have to match him.”

“I have got the killer instinct, and I have got the mongrel… But what I’m not going to do is I’m not going to get into the petty politicking that goes on in and around Parliament.”

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE.

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Q + A
SHANE TAURIMA INTERVIEWS DAVID SHEARER
PAUL David Shearer is the new Labour leader, and he’s a fresh face – fresh face in politics, but is he the one to take on that Prime Minister, John Key, and when? An aid worker turned politician, Labour MPs voted him into the job last December. After only two and a half years, after he was elected as an MP, he represents the former prime minister Helen Clark’s old seat of Mount Albert. David Shearer himself says he is up to the job, but he is already countering some criticism that his leadership style is too laid-back. So what will David Shearer’s Labour look like? And how’s he going to woo back the voters who deserted Labour last year? We’re about to find out. Joining us this year is Shane Taurima, who is with the Labour leader, David Shearer.
SHANE Thank you, Paul, and thank you, David Shearer for joining us.
DAVID SHEARER – Leader of the Opposition
Good morning.

SHANE You’ve been in the role for three months. Do you think you’re doing a good job?

DAVID Well, we’ve started off by turning over the caucus – the reshuffle of the caucus – the biggest reshuffle we’ve had in 10 years. We’ve implemented a review of the Labour Party – the first time we’ve done that in 17 years. We’ve led on many of these issues that we’ve just seen that, certainly on the assets sales and the Crafar farms. And I think we’re doing a really good job. If I was being asked just after I’d taken on the leadership where would I like to be, at three or four points up in the polls now would— this would be about as good as you can get.

SHANE What about your own performance – your personal performance and your personal view about how you’re doing? Are you stepping up to the mark, do you think?

DAVID I am. I believe I am. All of those things have come off the back of my initiation, and we’re pushing those things forward. But it’s important that I have my own style, and my style is that I’m serious about the issues. I want to engage the government on the issues that are important to people. And those things that are important, as I go round the country, and I spent a lot of time going around and visiting people, are the asset sales in particular and the sale of our valuable farm land. So those things are really important, and those are the things that we’ve been taking out there, and I have been pushing both in the House and out in the media as well.

SHANE It’s interesting you don’t raise another sort of topical issue of the time, the Auckland Ports issue. And before we get into that, I want us to have a look at a clip with two views from within the Labour Party over the Auckland Ports issue.

DAVID SHEARER

Well, obviously we would like to see workers – those workers – back to work. We’d like to see the port working. It’s not about taking sides.

WALLACE CHAPMAN

What message would you like to give the striking workers of the Ports of Auckland?

RINO TIRIKATENE

Oh, just stand strong. We’re with you. Labour Party’s with them, I’m with them, and we’re going to be joining them on Saturday up there in Auckland. Kia ora. Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui.

WALLACE Is Labour with them?

RINO Absolutely.

SHANE You say you don’t want to take sides, and yet your own caucus have clearly taken sides.

DAVID The last few weeks I’ve gone around and spoken to all the union workers, the union— heads of the union, the workers and their families. I’ve also been out there talking to the Ports of Auckland and mayor Len Brown in an attempt to try and bring those groups together. Only a mediator settlement was going to ever bring about the ports going again.

SHANE But with respect—

DAVID But on Saturday, yesterday, I was on the rally, and I spoke at the rally, because when you actually lay off 300 workers in the middle of mediation, that’s, in my view, a point at which that mediation, that good faith ends. So I went out there and I stood with the people who have been laid off. But up to that point, I believed the most important thing I could do was actually try and get those parties around the table and mediate and get a mediated solution.

SHANE So you’re saying today— you’re saying now that you’re right behind those striking workers?

DAVID Labour has always been behind people wanting to get their jobs, and whether it’s the port workers or it’s the rest-home workers– Look, there are rest-home workers out there on strike at the moment, getting $13.61 an hour. They’re getting a 1% or be offered a 1% increase. How do you raise a family on $13.61 an hour and try and get a mortgage on $13.61 an hour. Those are the issues that will we stand up for.

SHANE But here’s another issue, Mr Shearer, with respect, it took you a long time to come out on this issue. When you finally spoke last week, you said you refused to take sides. Members of your own caucus came out in full support of those striking workers, and yesterday you were out marching with them. Can you understand why we may be left feeling a little confused over your position?

DAVID No, no, I’m completely consistent. I’ve said all along I oppose casualisation, I oppose the contracting out of labour. I’ve always said that right throughout this dispute. But— And I believe that those workers deserve a chance to go back and do their jobs as they said they wanted to. I’m completely consistent on that, but I believe that the way to do that was to try and get those parties to mediation. That failed, and it failed this week when those workers were laid off.

SHANE Were you advised—? Let me ask you this – were you advised by the unions to not get involved, because you could be pigeonholed?

DAVID No, they didn’t. I get lots of advice from everybody.

SHANE But from the unions specifically?

DAVID No, they— Nobody’s given me any specific advice. Look, I listen to all advice, and I make my own decisions.

SHANE Okay. What about the Auckland Council? How do you think they’ve handled the issue?

DAVID Well, I would’ve liked to have seen the Auckland Council step up more. My conversation with Len Brown was that if he could do more to try and bring the parties together, I would’ve liked to have seen that. I mean, as leader of the Opposition, I don’t have the ability to bring people together or force people together or twist any arms. Other people do. My approach has been to get alongside and talk to all of the parties and trying to make sure that they negotiate.

SHANE Let’s move on. Let’s talk about another issue. You mentioned it before – foreign investors buying New Zealand land. Are you happy with the current rules around that?

DAVID No, I’m not. And one of the things that we’ve done today is to announce a new piece of legislation that we’re putting forward as a members’ bill to restrict foreign ownership of land. And the reason for that is that we know that there are 41 new applications for land sitting with the Overseas Investment Office, 16,000 hectares up for grabs. And we know that that demand is going to increase. And what we have to say, I think, and this is what New Zealanders are telling me when I go around the country, what we have to say is that we must get substantial benefit out of foreigners owning our land. We must be able to see what can come out of that, and that could in the form of new markets. It could be in the form of new technologies. It could be in the form of new ways of working around farmland, given the fact I actually think that our farmers are the best in the world anyway, but we’re still open to new ideas. And so what I’d really like to do with this piece of legislation – I hope the Government picks it up – it’s certainly what New Zealanders are telling me – is to get this piece of legislation through and make it more difficult to sell land unless there’s substantial benefit for New Zealanders.

SHANE So you’re making it that much harder for foreign buyers to come here and purchase land? We need foreign investment, though, don’t we? And here you are potentially closing the door.

DAVID Yeah, but what I’m doing here is saying we’re not closing the door to all foreign investment. I mean, it’s very clear in the bill that I’m putting forward. What we’re saying is that our land, our valuable land is best farmed for New Zealanders and the value flows back to New Zealand as well. What we don’t want to see is foreign corporates coming in here, buying up lots of land, and the value and the benefits flowing out of New Zealand, and that’s very very important.

SHANE Let’s move on to some other issues. After being elected leader last year, you said that you were ‘very happy with Labour’s election policies’. Is that still the case?

DAVID What I said was that our policies are on the table. They’re on the table until we take them off—

SHANE You said you were very happy.

DAVID We went into an election with a set of policies on which I was happy to have campaigned on. As we come out of that election, and obviously we lost, we’ve got to go back and review those. And we’ve got to review where we’re going and what policies are still—

SHANE So everything’s under review?

DAVID Everything’s under review until 2014, absolutely.

SHANE Well, let’s in the interest of getting to know you a bit better, let me go through a few of the policies and let me ask you what you think, you as David Shearer? I understand that the party’s still reviewing the election policies. Working for Families – do you think beneficiaries should be entitled to Working for Families?

DAVID Look, we can through a shopping list of all—

SHANE No, no—

DAVID But I’m telling you—

SHANE But what does David Shearer think?

DAVID Yeah, but what I’m telling you – that the policies are there on the table and in the next few weeks and certainly this week, but over the next weeks I’ll be laying where I believe New Zealand—

SHANE But—

DAVID No, no, no, because— Let me finish it. Where New Zealand— where New Zealand needs to go. And some of those policies will fit with that future that I’m going to be laying out, and some of them won’t. But I’m not going to go through now a whole list of our policies and say whether they do or they don’t out of context.

SHANE Well, why not? Let me refresh your memory if I can, please, with respect. During the election campaign last year, you said that we shouldn’t reward those on welfare. I think it’s a very pertinent question to be asking you now whether or not you feel beneficiaries should be entitled to Working for Families.

DAVID Well, let me tell you about welfare. We have a social contract in New Zealand, and that is about if people find themselves in tough times that the state and all New Zealanders help them out. The other side of that contract is about responsibility. And when those people get through that point, they then have a responsibility to re-enter the workforce and to do their bit as well. That’s the way it works. The government’s part of that contract is to make sure that people have the opportunity to get off of the place where they are and get back into work and to make sure that they are able to play a real part in New Zealand’s future. That’s the contract. Now—

SHANE I understand that. With respect, and I’m sorry to interrupt you, but we understand that, but surely why can’t you answer the question whether you feel beneficiaries should be entitled to Working for Families?

DAVID Well, because what I’m saying to you is that I’m not going to go through a set of policies—

SHANE But why not?

DAVID Because I’m looking forward into the future, I’m going to be setting out a vision, and I want to see where those policies fit with where we want to go. I’m not looking back to where we were in the last election. I’m looking forward to where we want to go. And when we map that out, some policies will naturally fit and some policies will naturally fall out.

SHANE Okay, well, let’s pick on an issue that you raised yourself earlier on about state assets. Would you look at renationalising some of them?

DAVID I don’t think we’ll have the opportunity to do that.

SHANE Because?

DAVID Because I don’t think we’ll have the money, and that’s the key issue about selling off assets. We’re selling off our legacy that we inherited from our parents and our grandparents, and I would like to think that we could pass on to our children and our grandchildren, but we simply will not be able to have the opportunity to do that in the foreseeable future – to buy back those, because I just don’t think we’ll have the money.

SHANE David Cunliffe—

DAVID Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

SHANE David Cunliffe looked down that camera barrel last year and he said that he would. Can you do the same? Can you look down that camera barrel and say that?

DAVID I can’t give people a commitment that I can do that No, I can’t.
SHANE What about the retirement age? Do you like it as it is? Should it be raised?

DAVID I think there’s some strong arguments for making sure that our future – our economic future – is preserved, but again I’m not going to go down the track of ticking or crossing policies as we go through them.

SHANE So you’re happy to talk about state assets but not Working for Families and not retirement age?

DAVID Well, I said about state assets – this is something that we are campaigning for right now in the Parliament. We’re getting behind the citizens-initiated referendum. Grey Power’s leading it. Certainly, we’ll be behind them, and we think we can get at least 300,000 signatures, which will force the Government to have a referendum on the issue. When I go around the country, that’s what people tell me about, and I’ve got to listen to people. And I’ll tell you what they don’t ask about – they don’t ask about the policies of the last election. They’re thinking about the future, and that’s where we want to go. I want to look into the future and say, ‘If we want to be down here, what policies are going to fit?’ And some of them are going to fit and some of them aren’t.

SHANE What can we look forward to in your big speech this week?

DAVID I’m going to lay out where I believe New Zealand should be going. I think New Zealand has an enormous amount of creativity, an enormous amount of potential, and I don’t think we’re using it sufficiently. If you just give Kiwis the opportunities, the opportunities they need particularly in education, they can do fantastic things, but I don’t think we are doing as well as we could. And when I look at other countries around the world that are like-sized – they’re about the same size as New Zealand – and we look at Finland or Singapore and look where Singapore was 30 years and look where it is today—

SHANE So is it about us as New Zealand catching up with the rest of the world?

DAVID I believe that it is, but it’s also about the way that we catch up, and you don’t catch up by selling off your assets. You do it through your own creativity and your own talents and making that we can harness those talents through our education system. And at the same time as we harness those talents, we make sure that our education system’s a great one. But we’ve got an enormously long tail on our education system. A lot of people are dropping out, and we need to make sure that those people are picked up as well.

SHANE You sound a little bit like John Key.

DAVID Well, I’m ambitious for New Zealand, and that was something that John Key said.

SHANE Is that what you have in common with John Key?

DAVID Well, I think New Zealand could do a lot better, but the problem— the difference I have with John Key is that I have a— my future is about building on the creativity and the talents of New Zealanders and not selling our assets in order to try and get to where he wants to go.

SHANE On the matter of John Key, how are you going to beat him? Because that’s part of the game. That’s part of your job, isn’t it? It’s about beating John Key.

DAVID It’s— Obviously, John Key is a popular politician. There’s no doubt about that. He’s a good politician, and I have to match him.

SHANE Do you think you match him?

DAVID Absolutely, I do. I think what we need to be able to do is to put out to New Zealand a plan of where we think New Zealand should go, and I think that’s missing at the moment. I think what I need to be doing is be serious about where I want to be taking New Zealand. And lastly, I think as an opposition we need to be taking the fight to the government on the issues that we feel very strongly that they need to be held in account for.

SHANE The challenge I put to you – the challenge that lies ahead of you is that people know who John Key is – they can sum him up in one line, if you like. He came from a state house and he’s good with money. He understands money. What about your one line? Can you give us one line this morning about who David Shearer is and what he represents?

DAVID David Shearer’s somebody who’s spent his entire life working for others. I’ve worked in the service of others. I’ve done that because I believe that I can lift people out of their circumstances, particularly in my past work. I believe I can make a difference to New Zealand. It’s part of who I am. I didn’t get into this to be a politician. I am a politician, but the way to making a difference and making a positive difference in New Zealand is through, I believe, through politics, and that’s why I’m here. Now, it will— You’re right. It will take some time before people get to know me. I’ve been in the job two and a half months, and we have to remember that this is not a sprint. It’s not a marathon; it’s like a 1500-metre race.

SHANE Can I ask you briefly, because we have to wrap, but can I ask you briefly – you say you don’t want to be called a politician. The politician we know needs a bit of mongrel, don’t they?

DAVID Yeah.

SHANE Have you got that mongrel? Have you got that killer instinct?

DAVID I have got the killer instinct, and I have got the mongrel. I’ve shown that in every area that I’ve worked in in my past. But what I’m not going to do is I’m not going to get into the petty politicking that goes on in and around Parliament. I’m not going to be a politician that takes cheap snipes. I want to play the issues, and, I guess, I want to play the ball and not the man.

SHANE And what a good place to leave it. David Shearer, thank you for joining us.

DAVID Thanks.

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