RAW DATA: Joyce and Robertson go head-to-head over foreign land sales, more

RAW DATA: The Nation transcript: National’s Economic Development Spokesman Steven Joyce and Labour’s Economic Development Spokesman Grant Robertson go head-to-head with Lisa Owen (watch the full debate here)

Lisa Owen: Good morning, gentlemen.

Both: Morning.

I want to start with you, Mr Joyce. Ownership of assets is what makes you wealthy. So what do you think of this 18,000 hectare Lochinver Station being sold to foreigners?

Steven Joyce: What I think it it’s election time because we’re getting a sale of land, and therefore a couple of people now – it used to be just Winston; now it’s Colin Craig as well – beating the anti-foreigners drum, and I suspect we’ll see a bit more of this between now and election day. But it’s as regular as every three years that this comes up.

Grant Robertson, it’s just electioneering?

Grant Roberston: Well, no. I mean, New Zealanders are actually sick of our assets being sold off, and it’s the same for farms as it is for Steven selling off energy companies. We want to see value held by New Zealanders. We don’t get this land back once it’s sold. It’s gone.

Joyce: Well, actually you do.

Robertson: Well, no, we don’t.

Joyce: No, you do.

Robertson: And it’s New Zealanders who need to have jobs being created from assets that we own. Our message for foreign investors is if you want to come into New Zealand, help create jobs.

Joyce: That’s right.

Roberston: Build a processing plant. But we don’t want to sell off the land like this.

Mr Joyce, this is—

Joyce: Well, actually, I need to answer that, because, actually, I mean, Grant, you’re interesting there, because I haven’t seen you out protesting James Cameron’s land purchases in the Wairarapa, so I’m assuming it’s only Chinese investors.

Robertson: No, it’s not. The allegation is just wrong, Steven.

Joyce: When did you go out and oppose purchasing James Cameron?

Roberston: We’ve never opposed foreign investment that is not productive for year.

Mr Joyce, can we--?

Joyce: Give me a chance. When did you go out and actually oppose the last purchase of James Cameron’s land? Where’s the press release on that?

Robertson: We have been opposing the purchases of dairy farms by anyone, and wherever they’re from, if it’s strategic land like this—

Joyce: But this isn’t a dairy farm. You know that, don’t you? This isn’t a dairy farm.

Robertson: That’s right. But this is about what New Zealanders want, and New Zealanders what to control their own land.

Gentlemen, gentlemen. Mr Joyce, Mr Robertson.

Joyce: So this is not a dairy farm and this is not James Cameron, therefore you’re opposing it?

Mr Joyce, I just want to ask you about your own leader’s comments.

Joyce: He’s against Chinese investment.

Robertson: Oh, for goodness sake, Steven.

Mr Joyce—

Joyce: Little xenophobia from the Labour Party to start the day off.

Mr Joyce—

Robertson: See, this is typical of the personal politics. He doesn’t want to debate what New Zealanders want, which is to control their own future. Steven’s happy to sell off our future rather than have New Zealanders in control.

Mr Joyce. Can I ask a question please, gentlemen?

Joyce: Yeah.

Your own leader has said that he doesn’t want us becoming tenants in our own country, but isn’t this exactly what is happening under your watch?

Joyce: No, it’s not. No, look, it’s a tiny amount. It’s actually a ridiculously small amount of land than under Labour, because, actually, under Labour, the average over the last five years they were in office, 90,000 hectares a year were sold to offshore purchasers. Under National, it’s been an average of 39,000 hectares a year. So it’s ridiculous for Labour to turn around—

So that’s the point, isn’t it? More under Labour, more under National. The pie being sold off is even bigger.

Joyce: But let’s look at the real benefit of international investment, actually, because, I think, all this hysteria which Grant’s trying to stoke this morning is actually incorrect, because there’s plenty of fantastic examples of international investment in this country which has brought real benefit. For example, Whirinaki, the big forestry processer in Hawke’s Bay, owned by OG for 43 years. The investment, it hasn’t had much—

So are you happy, Mr Joyce, that an enormous amount of productive New Zealand land is going offshore?

Joyce: So, the investment hasn’t had much—No, let me take this through. Just let me take you through. You’ve got to let me answer the question, Lisa. Would you like me to answer the question about the benefits of international investment?

I’d like you to answer that question. Are you happy-?

Joyce: You asked me about the benefits of international investment. It’s very straight forward.

No, I did not ask you that question, Mr Joyce.

Joyce: You did. You did.

Robertson: Are you going to guarantee, Steven, that when this farm is sold off, this estate is sold off, that there will be some kind of added jobs? There will be processing coming and there will be something in the economy for New Zealanders? Rather than just selling off our—

Joyce: That’s one of the criteria that we put in in 2010, so absolutely.

Robertson: And you have not stuck to that.

Joyce: We have absolutely stuck to that.

Robertson: No, you haven’t.

Joyce: Mr Platitude has turned up again. He’s actually saying that he wants to do something that is already being done and he’s protesting that we’re already doing it.

Gentlemen, excuse me. We’ve spoken to sources at Tuwharetoa and other iwi who said this farm was outside of their price bracket. $70 million. So I’m interested to know where are the New Zealanders who are wealthy enough to buy our own assets? Isn’t that part of the problem?

Joyce: Well, actually, there’s plenty of New Zealanders that are wealthy enough to buy our own assets, but, look, the point of view is international investment is very important to New Zealand. It’s been very important all the way through, and it’s important to our future. And there are plenty of examples. I was actually at one the other day. Frucor, which is now owned by Suntory, a Japanese company, and they’re making big investments in their processing plant, and all the workers are in favour of that. Now, if you take the example of this particular company, Shanghai Pengxin, they have made investments in the older Crafar farms. Nobody, I think, is arguing that the Crafar farms used to be well-run. My understanding is there’s been some good investments out of that and more investments expected. So that’s all good stuff. There has to be a benefit to New Zealand—

Robertson: What Steven fails to understand here is that New Zealanders are completely sick of seeing their land sold off. This is about our lands and our future. Steven, the thing is we have learned our lesson.

I want to ask you—Mr Roberston, the Labour Party—No, no, let me—

Robertson: Steven Joyce refuses to learn the lesson that New Zealanders want land retained in New Zealand ownership.

Labour plans to stop foreign purchases. People who are not living in New Zealand, under Labour, would only be allowed to buy up to 5 hectares of land. So, would you stop the sale of this farm?

Robertson: Our criteria would definitely mean that a sale like this would be highly unlikely, unless—

How are you going to police it?

Robertson: Because we’re going to have proper criteria and limit the ability of ministers to make decisions like the National Government did to allow the Crafar farms to be sold off. And this one will go through because Steven Joyce and his ministers don’t believe in protecting that land.

Joyce: What a load of rubbish.

Robertson: We want to make sure that there are jobs generated when there is foreign investment, that it’s more than a New Zealand company that owns it. Steven doesn’t want to listen to what New Zealanders think. (JOYCE LAUGHS) This is what New Zealanders believe. You’re on the wrong side of this one.

Joyce: Absolutely not.

Mr Joyce, I’d like to talk about dairying, because land relates to dairying. This government—

Joyce: Well, just before we go, this isn’t a dairy farm. You know that?

No, I do. This government has championed—

Joyce: So would you make James Cameron sell his land? Is that the deal, Grant.

Excuse me. This government, Mr Joyce. I’m trying to ask you a question, Mr Joyce.

Joyce: Would you make James Cameron sell his land back to New Zealanders? I just need to know the answer.

Robertson: Be respectful, Steven. (JOYCE LAUGHS)

This government has championed dairy, so the primary sector – exports are up 25% since you came into power in 2008. But manufacturing is down almost 18%.

Joyce: No, that’s not correct.

Robertson: It is correct.

Are we a one-trick pony and we’re now selling the pony as well?

Joyce: Absolute rubbish. So, here we go. Dairy is roughly 22% of New Zealand’s exports. Dairy is 22% of New Zealand’s exports of goods and services. It’s a great industry, does well for New Zealand and it’s great to see it investing and growing. We have other industries that are doing just as well. ICT, for example. You’ve seen a lot of companies list on the New Zealand Stock Exchange last year in the ICT sector. Food and beverage generally. The wine industry, exports are at record levels. There’s the high-tech manufacturing industry, which has got excellent prospects.

So, in terms of dairy, though, Mr Joyce—

Joyce: But you asked me about the balance, so I’m saying the balance is very good.

We saw this week – what – about $4 billion go down a sinkhole because Fonterra’s milk price payment has gone down by $1 a kilo—

Joyce: Off record levels to slightly back from record levels.

So are we over-reliant, though, still on dairy?

Joyce: No, I just told you. It’s 22%.

At 22%, are we still over-reliant?

Joyce: No, we’re not.

Mr Robertson?

Robertson: No, we are, because in the last quarter, export value went down by 7.4% because of our loss in dairy. There is going to be, for five years, an oversupply of milk in the world market. We have got to diversify.

Joyce:  Because Grant Robertson says so. (LAUGHS)

Robertson: No. Because economists around the world say so.

Joyce: Oh, no, no, no. It’s Grant Robertson seven weeks out from an election.

No, it’s actually Goldman Sachs who says that.

Robertson: If Steven’s going to sit here complacently believing that we can ride the wave of commodity prices and live off the Christchurch recovery, that’s not good enough for most New Zealanders.

Why not stick to our knitting, Mr Robertson? Why not stick to what we’re good at. We don’t tell the All Blacks to go play netball, do we?

Robertson: No, we don’t. We want to see the primary sector succeed and add value, but we have to do it, because if we want jobs that pay well. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I let Steven talk, and he talks continuously over the top of me. If we want to have jobs that pay well, we need to invest in manufacturing. We need to invest in ICT. We’ve got to lift schools right across the regions. But it’s not working, Steven. It’s not working. It’s not working because in every region of the country other than Canterbury, there are more people unemployed than when National took office.

All right. I want to speak, Mr Joyce, about diversification. You say we are diversifying. We are diversifying, you say. And it’s important to diversify, you agree? OK. Well, your finance minister was on radio earlier this year, saying, ‘We’re good are supplying raw materials to Asia, so why not stick to it?’ So are you are loggerheads with your finance minister about the direction you should be taking?

Joyce: No, we’re flat-out investing as I said, in our high-tech industries and ICT, food and beverage. No, we are—

Robertson: Manufacturing outside the primary sector has dropped.

Joyce: You’ve been listening to David Parker, have you?

Robertson: You’ve narrowed our economy down to logs and milk. Excuse me a second. You have narrowed our economy down.

We want to hear what you’re saying. One at a time, please.

Joyce: Thank you. I need to have to opportunity.

Robertson: You’ve had a lot of opportunities.

Joyce: No, I need the opportunity now. And the opportunity is that it is completely rubbish, and Grant Robertson’s cartoon of the New Zealand economy is completely wrong. New Zealand’s economy is growing in a whole range of areas. It is seen as the most broad-based economic growth currently in the world. It’s the third-fastest growing economy in the world right now. When we came into office, Labour left the New Zealand economy in recession while the rest of the OECD—

Robertson: This is nonsense. This is absolute nonsense.

Joyce: No, it’s not. It happens to be true. When we came—

Robertson: Go and visit a town like Wanganui.

Joyce: Excuse me, don’t interrupt. I thought you were going to—

Let’s give Mr Robertson a right of reply.

Robertson: If you’re going to give me incorrect assertions about we did… We had unemployment down under 4%. If you go and visit a town like Wanganui or Gisborne, you will find people there saying, ‘Where is the support for our economy?’ Just because things are going well down in Canterbury recovering doesn’t mean people in regional New Zealand have got jobs with good wages.

Gentlemen, we will pick this up after the break. Mr Joyce, I’ll come back to you.

Welcome back. We’re with National and Labour’s economic development spokesmen, Steven Joyce and Grant Robertson. Before the break, we were talking about how to diversity our economy. I’m going to give you each 30 seconds to sum up how you think we can best do that. You first, Grant Robertson.

Robertson: Well, the Government’s got to be an active partner in supporting economies right across New Zealand. We want to see regional development. We do that by supporting new businesses, by supporting new industries – manufacturing, forestry and wood, ICT. To add value and to develop our primary industries. We don’t do that by standing by, trying to ride the wave of commodity prices and hoping that the recovery from the Christchurch earthquake will be enough. If  we’re gonna get decent jobs with higher wages, we need to see development right across New Zealand in a diverse range of industries, built on what we’re good at.

That is your time, Mr Robertson. And now, so, Steven Joyce. Your 30 seconds.

Joyce: Well, actually, we have now the third-fastest growing economy in the OECD, and it’s a broad-based recovery. It’s acknowledged by nearly all economists as being across the whole range of sectors, and the challenge is to simply continue what we’re doing. But, funnily enough, I agree with Grant that it’s actually about encouraging investment in ICT and high-tech manufacturing and so on. That’s exactly what we are doing, and we’re seeing that happen across New Zealand. Funnily enough, it’s the regions that are leading the economic recovery. Eight out of the 11 regions have lower unemployment that Auckland, and I go around the regions, and there are all these manufacturing—

And that’s your time, Mr Joyce. Right. I’d like to move the conversation on to jobs and wages. Grant Robertson, Labour wants to raise the minimum wage by 2 bucks an hour. Do businesses really have an extra $4000 sitting in the coffers to pay every worker a year? Because that’s what it’s gonna cost.

Robertson: Well, the way I look at it is that workers in NZ deserve to earn a wage that allows them to live and support their family, and at the moment, we’ve got 100,000 working families who are reliant on some form of benefit or going to a food bank—

But if businesses can’t afford that, Mr Robertson… If businesses can’t afford that, then people will lose jobs, and the estimates are that this could cost us 6000 jobs a year.

Robertson: Those figures are hugely challengeable, and in fact, Treasury said a couple of years ago that there would be probably no job losses. When Labour increased the minimum wage by over 70% when we were last in office, unemployment dropped hugely. This is important for New Zealanders –to earn the wages that allow them to support their families. None of us could live on $14 an hour and support a family. $16.25 is fair. It’s affordable.

Mr Joyce. 100,000 people are on the minimum wage in this county, around about. This is a low-wage economy. What are you doing to fix that?

Joyce: No, it’s not a low-wage economy, but there are people on low wages. I agree. But the challenge is also keeping people in jobs and growing employment. Unfortunately, Labour’s solution is actually to say there’ll actually be a lot of people that go into unemployment as a result of an artificial increase in wages when there’s no productivity increase. So the challenge is actually to encourage the very sort of investment that Grant was critical about at the start of the programme. To encourage more job opportunities for New Zealanders to grow their businesses, and that employs more people. That’s the way you grow jobs, and we’ve grown 4000 more jobs in the last year, which is actually the highest job growth in a decade.

Robertson: The thing about people on the minimum wage is that they will spend that money, and it goes back into the economy right away. It will actually help create jobs and produce that, because we recognise that New Zealanders deserve a chance to move from $14 an hour that Steven Joyce thinks is good up to $16.25 an hour. We think that’s fair. We think that’s affordable, and it will put money into the economy.

Joyce: So what’s the magic of $16.25, and why don’t you go a lot higher than that? Because if you’re argument is correct, that’s what you do. The reason you don’t is because of the loss of jobs that’s caused by artificially putting up wages. And if you don’t believe that, then sorry. You need to take economics off the front of your title because, actually, that’s what happens.

Robertson: This is about creating a much fairer economy. Steven is quite happy for the rising tide of the economy to lift the super-yachts but now the ordinary people. We wanna make sure that everyone gets a fair share of economic growth. Steven might not care about that, but we do.

Joyce: I do need a chance to respond to that, and the simple reality is that’s exactly how you invest in jobs and growth; encourage investments so employers employ more people at higher wages. And that’s what this government is doing.

Robertson: That’s what our rate’s about.

Joyce: I thought you were going to give us a break this time?  Now, you’re saying that I was interrupted.

Robertson: Carry on. Go for your life.

Excuse me, gentlemen.

Joyce: I do need to finish that response.

I want to give you an opportunity to talk about the regions. You raised the regions there. As Auckland and Christchurch are going gangbusters, there is concern in the regions… there’s concern in the regions that they’re not doing as well. So what are you gonna do for those people that you’re not already doing?

Joyce: Eight of the 11 regions have lower unemployment that Auckland right now, and I can tell you for free, cos I spend a lot of time travelling around, that in places like Rotorua, they’re desperately trying to get skilled people to come and work in their industries and in Southland. And, actually, we need more people to move into those regions to actually take up the very many job opportunities that are there. South Island unemployment and we’re not talking about Christchurch. We’re talking about around the whole South Island—

You don’t need to do anything for the regions?

Joyce: We are doing things for the regions now, but I tell you what you don’t do is try and invest in railway lines that nobody uses. What you do do is invest in things that actually encourage growth, and that’s including the roading network, for example. Ultra-fast broadband, for example. Whangarei – New Zealand’s first fully fibred city. And the other thing you don’t do is put things like big carbon taxes, big water taxes and big capital-gains taxes on regional businesses and force them to pay the same wages as Auckland.

Robertson: This level of complacency about the regions is what’s really worrying people out there. We’ve got one of our most respected economists saying that we’re going to have zombie towns in New Zealand. Saying there’s gonna be zombie towns. Steven’s happy for zombie towns to be created. We want to make sure that places like Wanganui and Gisborne and Rotorua actually do have industry, and we’re gonna support that with economic upgrade and forestry and wood and ICT. That’s not happening under National.

11 of the 16 regions experienced growth in the first quarter of this year. So this government is working for small-town New Zealand, isn’t it?

Robertson: No, they’re not. Coming from a very low base. All you have to do is go to a place like Wanganui or Gisborne, walk along the street and play the memory game of what shop used to be where an empty window is now. Those economies want Labour and other governments to invest with them.

Labour’s going to investment $200m into a regional development package. But, actually, what you’re gonna do, isn’t it, is do a few hero projects in these places that, potentially, will turn to white elephants. Mr Joyce raised the Gisborne-to-Napier rail link. You’re gonna invest lots of money in that, and it only carried 2% to 3% of freight when it opened. How is that gonna help?

Robertson: The thing is that these projects have got to be a part of a regional economic plan. If we look at the region like the East Coast of the North Island, if we get in there and develop their wood-processing industry, there will be a lot more freight to go on that railway. There’ll be a lot more freight to go into ports as part of a coastal shipping strategy. We actually have to back these regions rather than say we’re gonna leave that to be zombie regions. We have to have infrastructure that will support that. The projects that we will back will be ones that actually are part of a regional economic growth plan and part of what local communities want. We’re not gonna abandon them like this government.

Joyce: Well, I’m sorry. I need to—Can I respond to those things? Because Grant is out to create all these straw people. He makes all these accusations about how the Government is  behaving, and he’s completely wrong—

Mr Joyce, respond or we can move on.

Joyce: Well, no, I will respond to that. The reality is we are encouraging investment in those regions and getting very good investment. But the idea of suggesting that just because you open up that railway line – which, as you correctly point out, is getting about 2% of the freight on it – will suddenly change things again is a fool’s paradise. And that, unfortunately, is Mr Robertson’s paradise. I am ambitious for New Zealand, but there’s no point creating white elephants everywhere.

Mr Joyce, I want you to…. Mr Joyce, you raised the issue of investment. And so new ideas is the next big thing that comes out of R&D. So what I’m wanting to know – you spend about 1.3% of GDP on R&D, and the average OECD country is 2.4%. What are you doing to increase that?

Joyce: We are looking to double the companies’ investment in R&D, and we’re having real success in doing that. We’ve seen a very significant growth with the introduction of Callaghan Innovation. We’ve now got 563 companies around the country who are getting assistance with their R&D. We’ve got 300 postgraduate people alongside those businesses—

The Greens are gonna spend $1 billion over three years. Can you match that?

Joyce: Well, actually, that’s not as big a growth as we’ve been getting, and that’s the irony of it, and that’s where the Greens actually need to go and look at what’s actually happening.

Robertson: What we need here is to give researchers and developers some certainty. We’re gonna bring back research and development tax credits rather than making them subject to the lottery that the National Party set up for grants. There’s a place for a grant scheme, but what companies need is certainty that they will be backed. 15% R&D tax credit – we‘ve got to do better in innovation. We only do that when we give certainty.

I just want to ask you one final question. I would like a brief response from both of you. If you had $10 million cash, Mr Joyce, in your bank account, why would you invest it in New Zealand?

Joyce: Because New Zealand is full of productive and exciting individuals who have innovation and creativity at their heart. They are great and resourceful. They come up with new ways of doing things all the time. When I get to travel around the country, as I do a lot, I get the privilege of seeing an amazing array of companies. For example, Stabicraft in Invercargill. All these companies that are doing a fantastic job, and I would invest in those.

Mr Robertson, $10 million cash, why would you put it in New Zealand?

Robertson: Because there are people with fantastic ideas. We’ve got an incredible natural environment that we can protect and also enhance through that investment, but also because it will be worth it under a Labour government because we’ll have a capital-gains tax and investment, and that economy will be better than how it is.

Thank you for joining us this morning. Steven Joyce and Grant Robertson. Thank you, gentlemen

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