'This hasn't been too bad a week at all' — Cunliffe
RAW DATA: The Nation transcript: Lisa Owen interviews Labour leader David Cunliffe
Lisa Owen: After the week you’ve had, could it get any worse?
David Cunliffe: Look I actually think this hasn’t been too bad a week at all. What’s happened is that support for me within my team is absolutely rock solid and I think public support has galvanised in the face of what people can see is pretty petty politics by the current government.
Let’s just take a look back at your week. I’m wondering why you would have used or inferred that people who don’t support you within your party are scabs, when it’s such an emotionally charged and derogatory term. What were you trying to do?
I made the point Lisa that particularly for the Labour movement over many decades when we’re up against very powerful forces one of the most important things, if not the most important thing that we need to do is to stick together and present a united front. And I’m very pleased that that is exactly what my team is doing and will do. And what we’re going to do now -
And did you need to remind them of that, that they needed to be united? Did you need to remind them?
And what we’re going to do now is to focus on the issues that matter to Kiwis. And that’s about their jobs, it’s about their homes and it’s about their families.
-So if you could answer my question. Did you need to remind them to be united?
No, I don’t think that any member of my caucus was in danger of doing anything else. But think there’s a message there for everybody who wants a change of government that we need to work together to bring better opportunities to New Zealanders, that’s the task at hand. We’ve got three months to do it and we have some exciting policies to bring forward and are determined to work with New Zealanders to make this country a better place.
Isn’t the reality that you are safe at the moment because none of your colleagues want to take the helm of the Titanic? That’s the reality isn’t it? They can see the writing on the wall?
No, let me give you another maritime analogy, occasionally sometimes because people are fanning it the wind comes up and the waves get steep. And as any sailor knows when the waves get steep you plough straight into them. That’s why this week I have absolutely fronted up. I have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. This week has galvanized support for me and for Labour because people can see a dirty tricks campaign by this government. And they want to see politicians focusing on the issues that matter to them and their families. Not eleven-year old pro forma letters.
But the thing is you’re not galvanizing support are you if you look at the polls you’ve had a run of poor polls which put you below thirty-percent, so the thing is you’re not galvanising support.
Well actually on Monday there was a major poll which had Labour and me going up and was over 30-percent. And most of the polls since I’ve been leader have had us well over 30-percent. And on average when you look at them and you add up the left bloc and right bloc, we’re within the margin of error occasionally plus or minus a couple of percent. Now does history show us that election campaign can shift public opinion by that much? Absolutely, Labour has got at least double the members it had a year ago. We have the best organized operation on the ground around the country. And Lisa, if I can just -
But the long term trends are showing that you are making any gains against National. That’s what the long term trends are showing
No I disagree with that. But what I know is our organisational machine can easily pull out at least enough votes to tip that left bloc/ right bloc balance. And we all know and the Governor-General has said that it is coalitions that determine the outcomes of elections, not individual parties.
Well on that point the people who are likely to be working with you like for example Russel Norman and Hone Harawira, both expressed concern this week that you’ve done some damage to the left bloc, that you’re making it hard to garner that support. And those are your mates.
To the contrary, Mr Harawira has been very clear that he thinks this whole thing has been a beat-up. And I’ve had many messages of support from people across the spectrum on the left, both for me and actually for Labour, to say just don’t take any notice of this nonsense. The idea that an 11-year old pro forma letter which did not show up on a file – no excuse me – that did not show up on a file search, that that would be -
But didn’t Mr Harawira -
No excuse me – that did not show up on a file search, that that would be -
Mr Harawira also thinks that you might be being white anted from within your own party -
Well he’s wrong. He’s wrong.
So he’s right about on the other thing but wrong on the white anting?
That’s my view. That’s my view.
So are you enjoying the leadership at the moment?
You know I get up every day grateful for the privilege to do this job. It is a tough job, I mean we have about –
Are you doing a good job?
Oh I’m doing a good job I think, yes I do. But yes there’s still stuff to learn and I’ve got a lot of work to do between now and the election.
If you’re doing such a good job I’m wondering why you’re not resonating with voters, why your preferred Prime Minister polling is around 11 percent, it’s dropped below 10-percent. What is the problem?
Why aren’t you resonating with voters?
Lisa again, earlier this week there was a major poll out from a major newspaper that showed my personal popularity rising by a couple of percent and that’s in the right direction. Now the Prime Minister has been in his job for six years, I’ve been in my job for about 10 percent of that time and I’m learning as I go. So have I got things to learn? Sure. Are we going on the right track? Yes we are. And we’ve got a fantastic team, we’ve got wonderful policy that will make a real difference to New Zealanders. And I am looking forward over the next three months -
You say you’re learning as you go, but you do only have three months -
Over the next three months I am looking forward to getting those policies in front of the New Zealanders. I’m really proud of our team, I’m really proud of our policies and I know that we can make a positive difference to New Zealand.
The Prime Minister has said that there’s more to come on Labour and Donghua Liu. Is there?
Well you know, I’ve said before if there Prime Minister has got stuff he wants New Zealanders to see nobody will be more interested to see if than we will, so he should put it on the table. When I see newspaper reports this morning that show Mr Liu is not going to be doing an affidavit and is not going to be making any further statements about donations to political parties. Perhaps that’s because he’s given more to National than he has to Labour.
Can you categorically say that there is no more?
Look I can’t disprove a negative. And in any case those would be matters for the Labour party. And they would be historical. And they would predate my leadership. So I can not be personally responsible for those matters. What I would say is that whatever evidence and I use the word evidence -
So a bit like the letter, you’re not sure, you don’t know? Can’t remember?
No, I’m saying it is impossible to disprove a negative for matters that are a matter for the party and are historical, the party will do everything it can to be open, transparent and well-governed. And I will personally ensure that going forward systems are tight and that probity is paramount.
Alright, I just want to use the time we’ve got left to talk quickly about Iraq. The Prime Minister in the US has said that basically they would support strikes, military strikes if the Iraqi government agrees to it and if it’s the result of a terror threat. Do you maintain that same position? If you were Prime Minister would you take that approach?
Well firstly I must say that we certainly support the fact that a New Zealand Prime Minister has access to the President of the United States. That is the culmination of a significant diplomatic effort; I know that because I used to work in the diplomatic service in Washington. And that is good for New Zealand. So we are certainly bi-partisan in our approach to his access. We’re also good friends with the United States but we are not writing a blank cheque. We expect any operation in which we are involved to be compatible with international law and to have the support of a broad coalition of the international community. And it is our very very strong position that we would expect the United Nations to sanction whatever operations are undertaken.
So alone, we are not prepared to ride shotgun. That’s your view?
I’m saying that it’s very difficult in a very complex situation to write a blank cheque. And our view will be whatever operations are conducted, as in fact the Congressman said who was previously interviewed, must be lawful, for example because they pertain to a declared war.