Labour leadership debate reveals tax split

David Parker during the debate

A Hamilton debate has revealed a rift between Labour's leadership candidates on a key tax policy.

Grant Robertson David Parker support a capital gains tax.

Andrew Little blames Labour's poor result on September 20, in part, on the unpopularity of two key policies: introducing a CGT, and raising the retirement age to 67.

Nanaia Mahuta says there isn't enough support for the tax and the party should only implement it when there is.

During the campaign, CGT was highlighted during the second debate between John Key and David Cuniffle on September 2 as the Labour leader stumbled. He was unable to remember if Labour's capital gains tax policy applied to homes owned by trusts, such as his Herne Bay property (the correct answer would have been "no").

Mr Parker — Labour's deputy and finance spokesman during the campaign — did not shirk from responsibility for it. "I also take my share of the responsibility for restoring our fiscal credibility and producing a balanced alternative budget."

None of the candidates said they supported the  policy to raise the retirement age.

Mr Parker said the party should hold a referendum on the retirement age to gauge public support.

Elsewhere in the debate, Grant Robertson named Chariots of Fire as his favourite movie;  Mr Parker said his favourite album was Cat Power's Sun, Ms Mahuta picked Katy Perry's Roar was her favourite song and grim-faced ex union boss Mr Little claimed his favourite film was Sleepless in Seattle.

The debate was hosted by TV3's The Nation. A panel on the show thought Ms Mahuta won the support of the audience in the debate with a home advantage. However, overall there was no clear stand out, with each having a different approach.

Labour's new leader will be announced on November 18.

The ballot will be weighted 40% to caucus, 40% to party members and 20% to affiliated unions.


RAW DATA: The Nation's Lisa Owen moderates a debate between Labour leadership contenders Grant Robertson, Nanaia Mahuta, David Parker and Andrew Little

Watch the full debate here.

Lisa Owen: Welcome. It is great to have you here with us at the Clarence St Theatre. Now, this is the electorate of Hamilton West. It is an electorate that's gone with the government every election since it was created in 1969, with only one exception. And over the last three elections, National has grown its majority here. When you take a look at this electorate, it's typical of New Zealand and typical of the New Zealand voters that Labour seems to have lost touch with. So we have brought here the wannabe leaders of the Labour Party, and they will have the live audition of their life.

So let's start by introducing you to Grant Robertson, David Parker, Andrew Little and Nanaia Mahuta. And before we get started, we've given out these — clickers — about 200 of them to audience members. They were asked to vote when they came in on who was their preferred candidate. We'll ask them to vote again at the end of the debate, and I will share those results with our panel and the audience a bit later in the show. But now let's get down to business. So, candidates, you're not just vying for the Labour leadership; you all think you can be the next Prime Minister. This week John Key told us that New Zealand used to be a benign threat environment, but that's changing, he says. So, Mr Robertson, are we in more danger now in New Zealand than we were six months ago?

Grant Robertson: Well, we have to trust John Key in terms of the information that he gets. What we do know is the threat level has gone from extremely low to low, so we do have to be realistic about the fact that New Zealand is still a peaceful, secure country. What's important is that the decisions that we make and that the Prime Minister makes about committing us to a war overseas is the most serious one that he can make. And I don't think the case has been made for New Zealand to enter into this conflict at this stage.

So, Mr Little—

Robertson: We simply don't know what the plan is, what the exit strategy is, and for him to use the kind of fear tactics that he has used up to now is something that I think a lot of New Zealanders are worried about.

Okay, so, Mr Little, is John Key scaremongering, then, as Grant Robertson would have us believe?

Andrew Little: Well, he hasn't made the case for us to put combat troops into Iraq to deal with the Islamic State. He controls the information, and there's information that he can't disclose, but the things we need to know is what exactly is the objective of a mission should we go there beyond just talks about training. But we know that we've sent troops off for training other troops before and they've wound up in combat zones. So we need to know what the objective is, how long we expect to be there, what success looks like and how we get out if we want to get out. And we haven't had any of that presented to the public in New Zealand.

Ms Mahuta, John Key says that there's about 80 people who are pretty disgruntled in New Zealand, who are potential terrorists or sympathisers. Do you believe that?

Nanaia Mahuta: Look, the fact of the matter is that New Zealanders don't— There's simply not enough information out in the public domain to give confidence for the way in which the Prime Minister's making his decisions. And the voting public — New Zealanders — need to be respected. They need to be given the information. They need to have confidence that if we're going to go into something, you know, on ISIS, it has to be supported by UN resolution, and it simply isn't.

So should he—?

Mahuta: Not enough information.

So should he reveal sensitive security information?

Mahuta: Sorry, what was that?

Should he reveal sensitive security information if you say there's not enough information out there?

Mahuta: He should certainly give New Zealanders confidence that if there is a threat of such a significance that he believes that military action is required, then that information should be in the public domain. New Zealanders deserve that much, because it's about our domestic security, but also it's about how we enact our role in the international domain. Now, I believe that New Zealand's role is about humanitarian aid, peacekeeping, and he also hasn't reached out to the Muslim community here in New Zealand to actually ensure that where if there is any discussion about how New Zealand goes forward on these issues, we're actually talking to the diversity of our own country as well. We need to give our own people confidence.

All right, Mr Parker, do you agree with Winston Peters? Are we at war now?

David Parker: I think New Zealand's still one of the safest countries in the world, but I think most people — they find the barbarity of ISIS just beyond the pale. You know, they're cutting the heads off journalists, they're forcing women to marry, they're killing children. But that's not the issue. The issue is what's the appropriate response to that, and will New Zealand make things better or worse with what's being proposed? Now, it's a hideously complex situation over there and we know that some of the prior attempts to sort it out made it worse, so the fundamental question for New Zealand is will we make things better? Now, we've got lots of things we can do. We're on the Security Council from the 1st of January. We should be encouraging all nations to block the supply of arms, of money, of people to ISIS. I can agree that those things are appropriate to do. What I'm not convinced of is that it's appropriate for New Zealand to lend their weight to armed efforts. There's lots of humanitarian work that needs to be done, millions of displaced people. There's plenty to do without getting involved with the arms stuff.

So should—?

Mahuta: But the fact is very simple. The Prime Minister hasn't convinced the majority of New Zealanders that military action is warranted. There is no UN resolution, and there's no information in the public domain that gives confidence to people that we should be taking that type of action. And just because we're sending non-combat troops over there doesn't mean they won't be involved in combat, because they're going into a live war zone.

Okay, well, what about on our own home turf? I want to know how much of our privacy you're prepared to sacrifice to keep us safe. Is it okay, Mr Little, to spy on people for 48 hours without a warrant? Is that okay?

Little: The problem we have with security issues like this is that a lot of the case for intervention or that sort of surveillance is never made public. So what the Government has proposed is a 48-hour warrant with ability to do that sort of surveillance to allow a warrant to be prepared. I think when people are, you know— New Zealanders want a secure country. They want to know the people that they're living alongside are safe and are engaging in safe activities. We might have to accept that small erosion of our protection and our rights to allow that to happen. But I think with all these things, when we trust our security agencies to get it right but knowing that they sometimes get it wrong, there have to be safety valves. And people need to know that when they get it wrong, there is a place they can—

Okay, with all the candidates—

Robertson: But, Lisa—

Just a minute, Mr Robertson. With all the candidates here, who of you will support— would put your weight behind this? The Prime Minister wants cross-party agreement. Which of you support it? By show of hands, please? Would you support the rules?

Robertson: Well, quite frankly, going ahead with 48 hours where you don't need a warrant, I do not think is justified. We saw with the GCSB situation that John Key has pushed out the powers of these agencies. We need these agencies in New Zealand, but it's a balance between our freedom and our security. And the idea of warrantless surveillance for 48 hours I think takes it far too far, and I don't support it.

Parker: I think it is a bit absurd that the SIS don't have the powers of surveillance that the police do. The issue is what checks and balances you need around those additional powers. Now, I agree that they should have to have a warrant. I can't see why they need 48 hours to get one. If there's an extremely urgent thing that they need to do immediately, they can still go to a judge within a day.

All right, Ms Mahuta, we know, as mentioned by your colleagues here, that the SIS has spied on 88 people illegally, and we know that in some cases, the police have overreached their powers. How concerned are you about abuse of power?

Mahuta: Look, the difference between the police surveillance power is it's subject to a judicial review. You get a warrant. If you're going to extend the SIS surveillance powers, they won't be subject to a judicial review, and that's the problem. Again, it's about having enough information to act, and I think that we are treading in some very difficult territory. It's not straightforward, and if the Prime Minister is making the accusations that he is, I think there needs to be more public disclosure of information.

If any of you want to be Prime Minister, you're going to have to beat John Key. So, the Prime Minister has said in his speech that the Five Eyes alliance hasn't cost us our independence. Do you agree with him, Grant?

Robertson: We don't know enough about the Five Eyes alliance. We're just learning more about it now. What I do know is that what John Key did with extending the powers of the GCSB and the way that those agencies have behaved under his watch has unbalanced the freedom and security of New Zealand. We need those agencies, but New Zealanders have got to have confidence in them. And while he's running them, I don't think New Zealanders should have confidence in them.

Ms Mahuta, what do you think John Key's greatest strength is?

Mahuta: Oh, that's a difficult one.

Well, he's—

Mahuta: To be honest, I can't quite answer that.

Are you saying that the Labour Party is three times beaten by a weak opponent?

Mahuta: What I'm saying is it's difficult to point to a strength when the full character isn't totally revealed to the New Zealand public, because there have been many times where he has said one thing in the public and recoiled. And for some reason, people tend to believe that that's okay. I think, slowly, in this next three years, with a strong Labour opposition, we will unstitch that.

Okay, you can't name a strength. Can any of you?

Robertson: I think what it is, is that he has been a good manager and New Zealanders have looked at him as a good manager. But that's not what we need. What we need is a leader who's going to take us forward to a better place for families, who's going to grow jobs. John Key's managed the shop; it's time for us actually to get some progressive change.

Parker: He relates—

Mr Parker?

Parker: He relates well to people. He relates well to people, but he doesn't deal with the fundamental challenges that our country faces. And I think our opportunity lies in stripping bare the rhetoric. You know, he's pretending that he's dealing with home ownership problems when we've got the lowest rates of home ownership in 60 years. He's pretending that he's going to deal with child poverty, when it's on the rise. Now, after six years, it's our task to make him take responsibility for those steps, not by insulting the man, but by actually having an adult conversation with New Zealanders is how you address these things that New Zealanders want fixed.

Mahuta: But the challenge here is not about personalities. If we want to improve the lives of New Zealanders, reduce the inequality that exists in our country, improve economic opportunities so all boats rise, it's not about people.

I want to go to Andrew—

Mahuta: It's got to be about the issues.

To Andrew Little now. You're a two-time loser in New Plymouth. If you can't win an electorate, how can you win the nation over?

Little: Yeah, since 1960, the New Plymouth electorate has had a non-government MP four times. It's an electorate that typically goes with the government, and the boundary changes have made it an even more rural seat than it was before. I enjoy campaigning in New Plymouth. It's where I grew up. I know a lot of people there. But, listen, it is a true blue seat, but I campaign in that area because it's important to wave the Labour flag. There are some good supporters there, but the prospects of winning were always pretty bleak. Listen, you know, Labour has— Regardless of that, Labour has to be well connected with the regions, and, actually, we need more MPs well connected with the regions, and that's why I go there.

Quick-fire question here. I want a sharp answer from you. Grant Robertson, favourite movie?

Robertson: Chariots of Fire.

Mr Parker, favourite band or song.

Parker: Oh, at the moment, probably Cat Power from the album Sun.

Andrew Little, favourite movie?

Little: Favourite movie? I was tempted to say Sleepless in Seattle.

Nanaia, favourite band or song?

Mahuta: Roar, Katy Perry.

All right. Now, we’re going to break now. Later we will have analysis from our panel. They are Porirua mayor Nick Leggett and Pacific Studies lecturer Damon Salesa, and of course our political editor Paddy Gower will join me. But after the break, the policies that went wrong, and what these candidates stand for.

Welcome back to this Nation special. Now let’s talk about policy. What is the biggest issue facing New Zealand right now, David Parker?

Parker: Economic fairness. Gaps between the haves and the have-nots are growing. The home ownership rate’s the lowest in 60 years. Middle income people pay higher rates of tax than the wealthy. We need a stronger economy, we need a tax system that deals with some of these problems, and we all need to go forward together to a prosperous future.

Nanaia Mahuta, is he right? Is that the biggest problem facing us?

Mahuta: That is a big problem, but it has other consequences – inequality and poverty and the effects on vulnerable families, but also indebtedness of a generation of young person who wants to be a part of a productive economy but just can’t quite reap all the returns because they’ve got huge student loans. You’re paying more for education. And the Government is creating an education system where there are winners and losers and eroding confidence in our public education system.

Andrew Little?

Little: There’s no question that incomes are a major problem. There are far too many people now who are dependent on low-paid, short-term, part-time work, sometimes multiple jobs to make ends meet and to keep their family together. There’s a growing question now about availability of work, and the truth is that there are jobs today that we take for granted that won’t be here in 10 or 20 years’ time, and there’s a real question facing New Zealand and many other countries about whether we will have an economy and a society that can provide people with the means to earn an income so they can provide for themselves that far out to the future. We have to be addressing those sorts of problems now. The present government’s not doing it, but we need to be thinking of coming up with solutions now.

Grant Robertson?

Robertson: Look, it is. It’s economic opportunity and I think also financial security. If you’re earning the minimum wage, 14.75 an hour, trying to bring up a family, that’s impossible. If you’re equally earning a little bit more than that, buying a home is getting out of your reach every single day, you’ve got a huge student debt, you can’t look to the future. The people I talk to want to know that the next generation will be better off than them. That’s the dream of most parents and grandparents. And we’re facing down the barrel of the next generation being the first one that’s worse off than the one before. We have to change.

Okay, so what was the biggest mistake that Labour made during the election campaign?

Robertson: I think it came before the election campaign. I don’t think people saw us as a unified force or an alternative government. My view is that for many people we didn’t even get to have a policy discussion because they’d already written us off as not being able to form a government, and at 25% we were struggling to do that. That actually happened before the campaign. Sure, there were mistakes in the campaign, but the reality is we have to build trust with New Zealanders over a three-year period so that they know what an alternative government looks like and they know what we stand for.

Nanaia Mahuta, you were part of Team Cunliffe. Was that the problem – a lack of unity?

Mahuta: Not at all. And let’s look at what went right. We won six of the seven—

No, to go forward, I would like to know what you think went wrong.

Mahuta: Let’s look at what went right, because I think there’s the solution. We won six of the seven Maori seats. In South Auckland there was a strong campaign absolutely consistent with our values and our policies that were targeted to that constituency, across the Pacific vote as well. Now, we need to keep confidence with the 25% as we broaden our appeal.

Mr Parker, Ms Mahuta won’t name what went wrong. Will you? What went wrong for your party?

Parker: I think we’ve lost our connection with working New Zealanders, and we need to focus on what’s important to them. New Zealanders want a fair go and a fair share. For them, they need secure work for themselves and their families, decent pay, an affordable roof over their heads. And I think that so many New Zealanders who used to vote for us don’t think they’re our priorities any longer. For us to win, we’ve got to return to that essential purpose of making the lives better of working New Zealanders. And New Zealanders are fair; they’ll look after those who need a hand.

Mr Little?

Little: I think the election result we achieved this time hasn’t been one election or one campaign in the making; it’s been three elections, it’s been nine years. The unusual thing for us in this electoral result – and that goes against what’s happened in history – is that whereas previously when we’ve been out of government for an extended period, after one or two election defeats our vote has started to lift. We’ve now had a third successive drop in our vote, and it’s because, as Grant, I think, has said, we have lost the trust of people. We’ve been seen as being too concerned about ourselves. We’ve lacked cohesion. And I think there are at least a couple of policies that have turned a lot of people off who previously voted Labour. I’ve said what they are – they’re lifting the age of eligibility for superannuation and the capital gains tax. Much as we in the party might like these policies, there are people who don’t like them.

Parker: Can I talk about the capital gains tax? Cos this really is a contentious issue, you know? The fundamental problem that seeks to address is not going away. We punish work and we reward speculation. Every dollar of wages is taxed; the wealthy don’t pay tax on some of their income. We encourage investment in the wrong parts of the economy. So if Labour’s capital gains tax is not the answer, what is? Because we need to address this issue if we’re gonna have a fairer New Zealand.

Robertson: The capital gains tax was actually more popular than the Labour Party. That’s the reality. So I don’t think we can go around blaming a policy like the capital gains tax. What New Zealanders want to know is that there’s a way that they can make themselves financially secure. Previously, we’ve encouraged them to go and speculate on houses to do that. We’ve got an alternative way of doing that that’s also fairer in terms of making sure that people who earn money from selling off a second rental property pay tax, just like the person who earns minimum wage in the supermarket.

I want to know, by a show of hands, who of you personally believe that we need a capital gains tax in New Zealand. Raise your hand if you do think we need it.

Parker: Or a substitute.

Mahuta: It’s not that simple.

Little: It’s not that simple. Here’s the thing – the reality is a lot of New Zealanders on reasonably modest incomes have worked hard, salted a bit of money away, have got themselves a second property, and they call that their retirement plan. And they’re the people who would be hit by it.

Parker: Don’t people on the minimum wage work hard?

Little: And the truth is that it’s that policy and the superannuation policy that has not just caused people not to vote for us, but to actually stop listening to us altogether. My position is that if we wanna start reconnecting with New Zealanders and them hearing us, we need to move the obstacles aside. It’s not about abandoning policy, it’s about a strategy for 2017. And let people start to hear the bigger plan, the bigger vision that Labour offers.

Mr Parker, these are your babies, these policies, so if they are wrong, are you going to take responsibility for them?

Parker: Uh, yeah, I’ll take my share of responsibility. I’ll also take my share of responsibility for restoring our fiscal credibility, producing a balanced alternative Budget. Look, I agree with Andrew that you’ve gotta get the balance right between principle and pragmatism, and for that reason I’ve said, ‘age of eligibility for Super, let’s not carry that cross ourselves, let’s put it to a referendum’. But if you abandon all principle, you actually can’t deal with the fundamental unfairnesses. If New Zealanders want rising rates of home ownership so their kids can buy a house without inheriting from a millionaire; if they want secure jobs where we’re investing in productive jobs and exports, instead of kidding ourselves that selling houses to each other in Auckland makes us richer, well, we actually need something like a capital gains tax. Now, if it’s not a capital gains tax, what’s the answer? That’s the question that I pose to Andrew.

Robertson: I think people will respect us more if we stand there and say, ‘We have a principle of fairness.’ And it’s not fair in the taxation system that salary and wage earners pay tax on every dollar they earn and people who speculate don’t. That’s a principle position.

If a capital gains tax isn’t the answer, Nanaia Mahuta, what is?

Mahuta: The simplicity of the issue is that the message was too complicated for voters. Our members told us that, and so did voters. So if we’re going to present a credible economic plan, the speculation tax is within the context of a fair economy that works for us all. Now, it got too difficult when you were out on the street campaigning with people. But I still believe that pursuing a capital gains tax will require building a constituency of support. And then there’s a political judgement at the election point at which we say, ‘Do we have enough support amongst people to take this to the vote?’ I don’t think we do right now, but we’ve got three years to tell the story within the context of our economic plan, ‘This is Labour’s vision for an economy that works for everybody.’

Little: At 25%, there’s no margin for error now for Labour. And we need a political strategy. That’s all I’m asking for – can we please have a political strategy that makes us a winning party, that reconnects us with way more New Zealanders who have stopped listening to us, and gives us a chance in 2017. Because there are far too many people who are hurt by policies at the moment by this government who are looking to us to come up with a solution to their issues and have us back in government.

Parker: I would say the answer to that is to elevate economic fairness. A fair go and a fair share. We should be talking about our objectives here more than the means. I’ve heard Grant say that we focused too much on the detail of the means. And I think Grant’s right. We do need to reach out to New Zealanders and show that if they vote Labour, they will have a better life.

But if your policies scare people, that matters. So by a show of hands, who supports raising the Super to 67 years old? Who supports it? Are you too afraid to say?

Parker: What I support is telling the truth to New Zealanders. Next year, New Zealand spends more on edu—

I’m inviting you to tell the truth, Mr Parker. Do you support raising the age to 67?

Parker: I’ve been telling the truth for years on this, Lisa. I’ve been telling the truth for years. Next year the government spends more on Super than education. Having said that, I agree with Andrew, we need to be pragmatic. I think New Zealanders will take this decision for themselves. They just don’t want the Labour Party imposing it upon them. So put it to referendum. But let’s not pretend the issue is not real.

Little: But let’s also not think that there is a single solution at a single point in time that will fix the problem. There are a number of responses, either to the fiscal question raised by the cost of superannuation, or indeed to the issues that underpin the capital gains tax. And we need to explore all those solutions as we come up with our new plan, our new vision that’s gonna reconnect us to New Zealanders. But it’s not about a single solution at a single point in time.

Mahuta: Raising the superannuation age, that whole debate cut us away from some core support, and I think we lost the confidence of people. I think we have to take responsibility for that. However, we must again consider the affordability of universal super, going forward, but I don’t think the age issue, we can’t take that to the next election. I heard lots of stories on the street where this was a real concern.

Robertson: We came at it from the wrong end, Lisa. If we’re just talking about lifting the age, we’re missing the point. Actually, what we want to do as a Labour Party is secure universal superannuation. It is one of the great anti-poverty measures of New Zealand’s political history. Labour should be standing up for that. If we just start talking about lifting the age, we don’t sound like the Labour Party.

All right, Mr Little, analysis of the election results shows that Labour lost ground in all areas except with the poor. So why does nobody else like the Labour Party?

Little: It goes back to, I think, the point we raised before, that through a combination of things, and not just over the last three years but longer than that, Labour has lost the trust of a lot of New Zealanders. New Zealanders were looking in this election for a sense of security and stability as we’ve just started coming out of a very difficult period economically. And it didn’t matter that a lot of people who were on insecure jobs, low-paid jobs, they were looking for that – we didn’t offer that. I think we forget sometimes that a lot of people are not gonna go on websites and give deep-seated analysis to the various policies that we and other parties put up. They get their news from a range of sources, and they get grabs, and they heard what we were saying. So they hear about superannuation, they hear about more tax here, and it didn’t win people’s confidence and trust. And so now we have to work on that.

Robertson: I think it’s quite simple, actually, Lisa. It’s the fact that we need to be both the party of fairness and of aspiration. Those two things go together for me. One actually drives the other. But too often people have only heard the fairness message and not the fact that actually the Labour Party was born to give working people the ability to go on and achieve their goals and dreams. We have to be the party of both.

All right, we’re now going to go to a quick-fire question. I want a quick answer. It’s word association. I’m going to give you a couple of words, you tell me what comes straight to your mind. Mr Parker, your words – John Key.

Parker: Uh, trusted by New Zealand, but there’s a veneer that papers over the realities.

That’s a lot of words. Ms Mahuta – Russel Norman.

Mahuta: Australian first. Two words.    

Andrew Little – David Cunliffe?    

Little: A hard worker and served the party well.   

Grant Robertson – Winston  Peters?   

Robertson: Suits and suave.   

Well, after the break who are they really and what do they think of the Greens and the Internet Party. We'll be back soon.

Welcome back to our leadership debate. Now let's find out exactly how ambitious our candidates really are. So, Mr Little, what's your goal for Labour’s party vote with 26% at this election? 

Little: Well, we should be aiming for a 50% if not more. That's what  we want to do to confidently form a  government, and even at 50% we would  still need supporters in parliament  because you're planning to hold on  to that forever. So we need to be as strong as we possibly can — maximise our party vote. We have to have responsible and mature relationships with those who are naturally aligned to us.   

So are you talking 2017 or beyond then, or for when — 50%?   

Little: I'm talking about pretty hard work by every caucus member and the party organisation for the next three years to maximise our party vote. There are big issues that are going unanswered in this country today. A lot of people who are missing out, a lot of people being left behind.

So 50% by the next election?  To be clear.   

Little: We can put a strong campaign together and we can win back our party vote.     

So 50% by the election, Mr  Little?   

Little: That's the target.    

Grant Robertson, you said it needs to have a four in it. Do you think it’s still sitting around there?   

Robertson: Well, of course we want 50%. The reality is when we were last in government, we were governing at 40%, and that's the party I want to be a part of. I think it's also the level we need to be at for New Zealanders to have confidence that we can be an alternative government. At 25% we just did not look like a party large enough to lead an alternative government. I believe we've got the policies and the people to be well over 40% by the 2017 election.   

Okay, Nanaia Mahuta, Mr Little there said that you're still going to need friends; you're probably going to need the Greens. So do you think you blew it with the Greens this election?   

Mahuta: I think that there's an  opportunity to build a relationship  over the next three years leading  into the next election, and that's  important, because I've long  believed, and I continue to, that  Labour is about people. So my approach will be to ensure that people are absolutely core to building the types of relationships that will earn the confidence of voters based on a coherent vision of New Zealand, which is a New Zealand that works for everyone.   

So you did blow it with the Greens this time round? Audience deserves an answer. Did you blow it with the Greens this time around?   

Mahuta: I think that the relationship is important and that we probably spent enough time developing that relationship in the short time available to David Cunliffe.    

Do you think that you should have told people exactly which policies you'd keep, how many ministers people might expect from the Green party — detail like that, who would be deputy? Should you have made that public?   

Mahuta: Look, I think that there was an enormous task. Economic confidence was high and Labour was going into this particular campaign knowing that there was a lot of options on the left of the voting spectrum. The most consistent thing that we did do was to ensure that we were reaching out into communities and alongside people. Obviously, it didn’t work out. It needs to—   

I'll put that to Mr Parker if you're not going to answer it. Mr Parker, should you have done those things, made those details clear to the voting public?   

Little: No, we didn't blow it with the Greens; we blew it with the public. To get back there, I'm going to take votes off National, New Zealand First and the Greens. Now I want to get us into the high 40s if not 50%. For a position of strength, then we can deal responsibly with others. We don't denigrate the Greens. We don't denigrate New Zealand First, but I'm here for the Labour Party, you know, to prove to New Zealanders that we're worthy of their trust and vote.   

Robertson: I do think that New Zealanders nowadays want to know what an alternative government would look like. It doesn't mean dividing up the spoils before you've won, but it does mean going in to the 2017 election with a good mature relationship with the Greens, so that people can see this is what an alternative government would be. I think we owe that to New Zealand.   

Because Shane Jones said that he wasn't interested in promoting the Labour Party if it meant that  you had to be some sort of Green  organ transplant.   

Robertson: Well, we're not going to be that. We're the Labour Party.  We've got a strong heritage and history of protecting working people, of growing the economy, of giving people a fair go. I believe in those values strongly. I want Labour to be the strongest possible partner in a future government. But every government under MMP has needed a coalition partner. We’ve got to build mature relationships with those parties.   

Little: But the rubber hits the road with the party vote. The Greens come along to our electorates, and they say, 'Give your electorate vote to the Labour Party and we want your party vote. I'm not up for that. I want party votes, and so I'll be competing with the Greens until Election Day. That doesn't mean I’ll denigrate them, because they're not bad people, and we will probably need them in coalition, but it’s Labour first.   

Mahuta: Actually, I think the world’s moved on, and we can have a mature relationship with the Greens, and it's very important that we do do that because to cut off options so early before the election won’t help us.   

What about the Maori Party?  Do you think that was a mistake to rule out the Maori Party?   

Mahuta: Well, the Maori Party have shown now that it has chosen to go into government with National—   

So you're saying it was a mistake?   

Mahuta: By making their choice, the Maori Party will be tested by voters on that decision, but it is important for those in the opposition, New Zealand First and the Greens, in the first instance, over this three-year period that we develop a mature relationship with them.   

Mr Little, was it a mistake to rule out the Maori Party?  

Little: Well, I think what voters expect now in an MMP environment is that before the election, the lead  parties will indicate who their  coalition partners are likely to be, and it is quite legitimate to make a judgement, and in this case to say,  that it wouldn't be the Maori Party. But we shouldn't—   

So should you have taken a stronger line about the Internet Party, Dotcom's Internet Party?  Should you have told people that you’d rather stay in opposition than do a deal with them? Were you clear enough?   

Little: No, and what I'm very clear, we were far too equivocal about Internet Mana and we should have been very clear. I think it was very clear during the campaign, the feedback people were giving, is that they did not like the idea of a very wealthy person being able to write out a big fat cheque to fund an election campaign that was really a grudge match. People didn't like that at all. And there was something a little unethical about the conduct around there. We would have made that clear, said that they would not be part of our coalition, or any sort of arrangement for Labour.   

So to be clear. No, excuse me, candidates. To be clear, would you all rule out doing any kind of deal with the Internet Party next time round? Would you all rule it out? Nanaia Mahuta.   

Robertson: Certainly, if it's in the same space it was in now, with the way it was run — yes, I would.   

Okay, Mr Parker?   

Parker: Yeah, I've got no truck with Dotcom.   

Mr Little?   

Little: Yes.   

Nanaia Mahuta?   

Mahuta: I would, yes.   

Okay. Mr Robertson, what is new generation leadership? What is that?   

Robertson: Well, it's a good-looking young person like me, isn't it, Lisa? What it means is—   

You're only 12 months younger than the next candidate on the stage, so what is new generation leadership?   

Robertson: What it means is that's a new way of doing things for the Labour Party. It means going out into our communities, being a presence there every day, being able to be alongside people campaigning with them. It means also, Lisa—   

So does that mean you are gonna get rid of the old guard, Mr Robertson? Are you going to get rid of people like Phil Goff, Annette King and Trevor Mallard? People who are likely to vote for you? Are you going to get rid of them? Because they’re the old guard. They're not new generation.   

Robertson: Look, there will be a lot of MPs who will be thinking about their future, and that's the kind of discussion that you have once you are the leader, but what I'm talking about is a new way of looking at things. We need to be the party that is once again leading on issues like climate change, the gap between the rich and the rest, the changing nature of work. That's what a new generation means. That means facing these issues of the future.   

Hang on. You just said— You’ve just told our audience that people need to know what their government’s going to look like. So I’m asking you a straight question.  Are you going to get rid of some of the old guard?   

Robertson: I'm just not going to answer about individuals today because I don't think that’s respectful. What I do know is that the Labour Party will renew because it will grow our vote.   

Okay, Mr Little, does the Labour caucus need a clean out? Mr Little, does the Labour caucus need a clean out?   

Little: Well, we need more members, is what we need, because we're down to 32 now. But we do that when we get our act together — both as a caucus and a party and when the confidence of New Zealanders and we get more members in the next election is what we will do. What individual current members chose to do in the meantime, well, that’s further down the track.   

Leadership's about making decisions, Mr Parker, so would you ask some of the old guard to bow out?   

Little: Look, I think some of the longest serving Labour Party members need to bow out, but they’ll bow out when, you know— Annette King, she is one of our stars. She can stay forever as far as I’m concerned, but she won't. She won't.  Renewal is very important to political parties and I have to say, I think John Key has done renewal better than we have recently, and we’ve got to take a leaf out of that book. But more importantly, I think, we've actually got to reach out to New Zealanders and deal with the  issues that are important to them,  but they're not so interested in  us looking at ourselves and looking  inwards; they want us looking outwards to their interests, instead  of focusing upon ourselves.   

But you do have to keep that inward politics in check, don't you, Mr Little, so how will you deal with errant MPs as leader?   

Little: It's going to be made very clear if I'm successful in being the leader that what the expectations are. That there's only one team.  There is one objective and it is rebuilding the trust of New  Zealanders in the Labour Party, and  that means every caucus member,  every caucus member, doing their  role, being supported to do their role, and if anyone steps out—   

So if they don't, do you sack them, Mr Little?   

Little: Well, I'm not sure the leader has the right, the ability to sack them, but the leader certainly has the ability to deal with them, to deal with those that step outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour.   

All right, this is a contest where people get to make a preferential vote, so Nanaia Mahuta, who are you encouraging your supporters to tick as their second choice?   

Mahuta: I think my supporters are being encouraged to support the people that will best advocate for alignment between the parliamentary wing and the party wing, so that we can get Labour into a different place. I am advocating a different way of doing things, and that is so important. The membership is actually wanting to see greater unity of the party.   

Who are you asking them to vote for as a second choice? Is it the man standing to your right?   

Mahuta: No, I trust in our democratic process. Isn't it great that we're having this type of debate in public, and I think the membership will make the right decision.   

We're almost out of time. Mr Little, who are you advocating as a second choice for people who are supporting you?  

Little: I'm not advocating anybody for a second choice. I think, listen, with all due respect, we are—   

The reality is no one is likely to be the winner out of the first round, so second choice votes, Mr Little?   

Little: There is a good team here, and people will make their judgements, and make their decisions, and cast their votes accordingly.   

Parker: I'm standing for myself. I’m not standing against anyone. If I win, all of these good people on the stage will be part of the team that I take forward to win the 2017 election.   

Robertson: So we all have to work together after this election, so I don’t think you're gonna get an answer on that from anyone, Lisa.   

So you're all dodging that one, okay. Let's have one last quick-fire question. New slogan for Labour? Grant Robertson, go.   

Robertson: A new generation to win.   

Mr Parker?   

Parker: Working New Zealanders should be voting for us.   

Andrew Little?   

Little: No one left behind.   

And Nanaia Mahuta?   

Mahuta: A New Zealand that works for all of us.   

Well, thank you. That is all we have got time for. So thanks to the candidates. We wish them all well.


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Great debate. Six more years for National! Some of them (and why name names - it will only help them) just don't get it do they?

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Yes good debate. However Mr Little needs to stop the rhetoric about boundary changes making New Plymouth a “blue” electorate. Yes the boundary changes have move into the rural area, and that’s the key word RURAL. Adding 50 farmers to the electorate does not make it ‘Blue’, Labour and Mr Little’s predecessors need to take the responsibility for the shift. Its time Labour faced its real problem, a bunch of Grey (not so arrogant now Cunliffe’s gone) people who wish to lead New Zealand, Please!

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Where does Parker get his stats from regarding the 'increasing gap' in wealth equality - his claims are not supported by the facts but no-one ever calls them on it. Also, they all still miss why working New Zealanders don't vote for left-wing parties. The fact is working NZer's are doing it hard and are working hard - they don't want their taxes going to people who are not willing to work and who's only talent is high fertility.

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Andrew Little was slaughtered by a very average National candidate in New Plymouth who cannot get into cabinet after six years in office. That says a lot about Little who then wants to be leader of the Labour Party.

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