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Jacinda Ardern interviewed by Jessica Mutch

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Q + A

Episode 22


Interviewed by JESSICA MUTCH

JESSICA And good morning to the Labour leader, Jacinda Ardern.

JACINDA Good morning.

JESSICA I want to ask you, how is the Labour of last week different from the Labour Party today?

JACINDA Obviously there is the difference in leadership. And we have to acknowledge that increasingly over the years, there has been a focus on leadership in these campaigns. And I will be bringing my own stamp, my own way of doing things, and that does represent a generational change. I do politics a little bit differently. But also we have taken some time over the last week to look at the areas we will be campaigning. Now, when Labour first said ‘We’re going to put some focus on housing, health, education,’ that didn’t come out of nowhere. That came from voters. That came from the public telling us those issues mattered. So what Kelvin and I have been doing over the last week - and with the wider team - is looking for areas we will put a bit more emphasis during the campaign. And I’ve already highlighted those areas will be housing, they’ll be the environment, they’ll be key infrastructure, which we’ll be talking about today, and some specific ones for Maori issues.

JESSICA Let’s touch on that, then. You are set to make a big infrastructure announcement. Are you going to get Aucklanders to pay for that and are we talking rail?

JACINDA And I am excited by the announcement today, because this will represent a move for Auckland coming into the 21st century in the way that we move around our city. And it will present a generational change and a big difference between us and the government. But you have asked about funding it. Yes, we will be asking Aucklanders to contribute. Now, as an Aucklander myself I think Aucklanders will be happy to put up an amount to contribute to the big plans that we have.

JESSICA How much?

JACINDA So we are talking about things like a regional fuel tax. That is not something we will set. We will give Council the ability to do it themselves. It is something that they have been asking for tools. And this is a message to the rest of New Zealand as well. Aucklanders know that we have to contribute to the problem that we have whilst building a partnership with central government and council to fix these problems.

JESSICA Out to the airport? Is that what we’re talking about?

JACINDA You have to wait till and see til 1 o'clock. But I will give you a flavour. One of the things that we want to do, for instance, is create a rapid bus transit link from Puhinui Station and Manukau Station that will then take passengers directly to the airport. Now, the reason that we want to do that is that’s a quick win for us. That is a down payment on some of our bigger plans that we have. And it connects to some existing infrastructure that we’ve already got there. We think we can deliver that pretty much straight away. But with the rapid transit arm taking a couple of years. But I think Aucklanders will see indications from ideas like that that show we are serious about changing the way we move around our city.

JESSICA I want to know what drives you and what motivates you? What is your fall back when you are thinking about where you stand on a policy?

JACINDA Yeah, I mean what drives any politician probably comes from their back story about how they came to be in politics in the first place. I did not come into politics because I enjoy the sport. I came into it because I saw it as a place where we can make change and make a positive difference. And so I often talk about my history, the time that I spent living in a little town called Murupara, where I first saw that there was significant poverty and inequality in New Zealand. And I have always had a belief that we could be better than that.

JESSICA So inequality drives you? That’s your mantra?

JACINDA It is absolutely one of my drivers. But even then, I also spent a lot of time living in a place called Morrinsville. A fantastic place to grow up but heavily dependent on the dairy industry. From growing up in regional New Zealand, I saw what can happen if you are overly reliant on single sectors within the economy and the need to diversify our economy and have strong regions. So there are a lot of things about my background that drive my focus in politics, just as they do for the rest of my team.

JESSICA You have called yourself a pragmatic idealist this week. What does that mean?

JACINDA That’s definitely coming from my Morrinsville side of things. It’s because that speaks to the fact that I think we should have aspiration for New Zealand.

JESSICA But pragmatically?

JACINDA Yeah. But pragmatically.

JESSICA So when it suits the polls?

JACINDA Oh, no, no, no. Not that pragmatism. I’m willing to make tough calls that won’t always be popular. I’ve just talked to you about a regional fuel tax. But what I mean by that is for instance I’ve talked about having a belief in things like free education, but New Zealanders will expect us to only deliver things that we can afford to, at a time we can afford to. And so I think we should speak much more often about where we would like to end up, but also talk about the path to get there. That’s where the pragmatism is.

JESSICA I want to see where you stand on some of these issues. I’m going to ask you yes or no to answer some of these.

JACINDA That is cruel for a politician.

JESSICA Yeah, but I’m sure you can handle it. Working with the Maori Party - yes or no?

JACINDA All of these questions, when it comes to coalitions, that is for after the election. Capital gains tax?

JESSICA Capital gains tax - yes or no?

JACINDA I will not be campaigning on that this election.

JESSICA So no for a capital gains tax.

JACINDA But let me be transparent, though, here. I won’t be campaigning on it in the next seven weeks. I don’t think anyone would expect us to generate a policy like that in seven weeks. But I'm very clear on is that we are giving a mandate to a tax working group, as we’ve always been clear that we will, to look at the way we tax assets and wealth in New Zealand.

JESSICA So laying the groundwork for post-election?

JACINDA Yeah. That work will be done after the election. We do not tax assets and wealth the same way as other countries do. If we want to look at inequality, then it is necessary that we do that. But I will not be doing that in this seven weeks.

JESSICA Retirement age 65 - yes or no?

JACINDA I am not campaigning on that either.

JESSICA Charter schools - yes or no?

JACINDA Charter schools are gone. But as we’ve always made very clear, any charter school that exists now that has qualified teachers that will teach to a curriculum, they have the ability to transition into being an integrated school or a school of special character. There’s a pathway for them. But charter schools as a model is absolutely gone.

JESSICA To get to this position where you are able to make these kind of decisions, you obviously have to grow the vote. There’s a lot of people who voted for Helen Clark and haven’t voted for Labour in the elections since. Who are those voters and how do you get them to vote for you?

JACINDA Yeah, and I think it’s probably a lot of people sit around and breakdown those individual voting blocs and groups. But actually I am not interested in doing that.

JESSICA But you have to get that centre vote, that light blue vote, don’t you?

JACINDA Well, indeed. Actually, we have just got to grow our vote. We have to grow our vote. That’s clear. But I am not interested in breaking down where that comes from. I will take votes from whichever New Zealanders simply agree with our vision for New Zealand.

JESSICA But how are you going to grow it?

JACINDA So we are going to grow it by being ambitious, by talking positively about what’s possible, both when it comes to things like our key services - health, housing, education - but also about what’s possible for New Zealand to set itself apart as being world-class, world-class in innovation, particularly around environmental issues, world-class in well-being for kids. I hope to draw in voters who believe in the same kind of New Zealand that I do. And I don't care how they have voted in the past.

JESSICA Taking votes from the Greens, though, that’s not how you are going to be in a position to form government. Are you focused more on those centre voters?

JACINDA Again, as I say, I am not sitting down with every single policy and going, ‘Which bloc does this appeal to?’ My test for policy - I know that people probably think politicians are slightly more cynical than this - but my test for policy is what are the problems we need to fix, what is the right thing to do, what will move New Zealand forward? And from each different policy area, that may encourage people from different areas to vote for us. But the lens we start with isn’t, ‘Which voters do we need and what should be say to them?’ And that may come as a surprise to people, but that’s not my starting point.

JESSICA But that’s the basics, though, isn’t it? I mean, you have to have the numbers to be in Parliament.

JACINDA The basics is growing your vote. There is absolutely no doubt. But that is not my starting point for how I deliver policy. I look for the ideas that we need to make New Zealand better.

JESSICA Why do you think you can you do a better job than Andrew Little?

JACINDA Yeah, look, it is hard as someone who was in the leadership team to sit there and be able to objectively reflect on that. And I'm not the best person to ask. I was there with Andrew. And from where I was sitting, he was working incredibly hard, doing the best job that he could. And I have huge amount of respect for him.

JESSICA He only was on 24%.

JACINDA I understand. And that’s why he made the decision he did and then went on to immediately nominate me to come in as the new leader. And that was a phenomenal thing to do. But all I know is I bring my own style of leadership, and people will make a decision as to whether or not that-

JESSICA What is your style of leadership?

JACINDA I’m relentlessly positive, which I’ve already said. I want to grow a vision for New Zealand, a positive vision for New Zealand, as to how we can rebuild a reputation as being world-class. I am focused on issues like inequality, but when I talk about that, I also acknowledge that actually the people who are feeling the squeeze right now are people who have traditionally been considered to sit in the middle. They are our New Zealanders who are also feeling the squeeze. So those are the individuals that I want to look to me and hear from me a vision that they think will make a difference in their lives.

JESSICA Some of the things you described there are similar, somewhat, to John Key. How do you feel about that comparison this week?

JACINDA I have heard that comparison. I have heard a number of others, some more flattering than others. I have heard Helen Clark comes up a bit as well. Look, ultimately, we will all be our own leaders, with our different styles. People make their own comparisons, but I am not fixating on them particularly. If the common denominator in all of them is victory, that element I would be happy to take.

JESSICA Let’s talk about this week because on Friday, with Metiria Turei, before she decided that she was going to not seek a ministerial role, your office gave her a call and said you wouldn’t have her, then you talked about it in your media conference. Why not give her some dignity in that?

JACINDA To be very, very clear, I can't tell you 100% at what point Metiria made her own decision.

JESSICA But you said you wouldn’t have her, so that makes her decision, she’s only got one decision.

JACINDA She may have already made that decision at that point. And actually, I pushed back very hard and said anyone who implied that what I did pre-empted that decision actually is the one not giving the dignity to Metiria.

JESSICA But it doesn't matter when she made the decision. You wouldn’t have her. So that’s the full stop in the conversation.

JACINDA It was only fair, It was only fair that I convey to her team and to Metiria exactly what I would say if I was asked.

JESSICA So then why talk about it in public?

JACINDA Because I was asked. I was asked. And it was important that I give an honest reflection of what I would do in that scenario. And I’ve been very clear. The only reason I'm talking about that question is because if we were in a situation of being in Cabinet, as Prime Minister, I would be asked to make that call, and so would answer that question.

JESSICA But it also shows that you have grit and you’re steely, doesn’t it? It shows that you’re not a pushover. And is that what you wanted to demonstrate?

JACINDA It shows I work with integrity and that I will also be very open and transparent with the support partners I work with but also with the public when asked.

JESSICA Is it important that you show that strength and that steeliness?

JACINDA I think it’s important that I just be myself. I didn’t sit there and reflect about what this demonstrated. I just did the right thing.

JESSICA In terms of working with the Green Party, why even have the MOU? Why not ditch it? Wasn’t your MOU. Get rid of it - they’re not going anywhere - and talk after September 23rd?

JACINDA I do still think that the MOU offers something to voters.

JESSICA What does it offer to you guys, though?

JACINDA It offers to voters, who we’re asking to support us, some transparency. And I think this has been one of the major issues with MMP is that we are continually drawn into long conversations about the what ifs and who might partner with who. And it tends to unfortunately dominate conversation I think sometimes more than it should. And so we are going to focus on ourselves this election. But I do think giving some transparency to voters, to say, ‘But if we are in a position to govern, yes, we will work with the Greens.’

JESSICA James Shaw - ministerial position?

JACINDA None of those different elements-

JESSICA Would you rule it out, though?

JACINDA Look, all of it depends on the make-up that voters deliver us. As much as anything, that’s in voters’ hands.

JESSICA Would you rule out deputy prime minister for him?

JACINDA We are not having coalition negotiations on Q+A. I appreciate the question. But all of it will come down to what New Zealanders deliver us on September 23rd.

JESSICA But on one hand you are saying you need to know what it looks like, working with Labour and the Greens, but then you won't say who you will have in a leadership position. We can safely assume you’d prepared to have him in a leadership position.

JACINDA What’s obvious to voters, because they’ve seen it before, is that if a party plays a significant role in a coalition, they tend to have Cabinet positions. I mean, that’s obvious. But the whys and wherefores of that, I don’t think it’s helpful to get into that at this point.

JESSICA People have been questioning this week about whether you can work with Winston Peters. Do you know what he is like?

JACINDA Well, of course. I have been in and around politics for a number of years. So I certainly anticipate what his working style would be. I do find it interesting, though, as to why the question is being asked could I work with Winston. I don’t hear that question as often asked of other political leaders.

JESSICA Do you feel like it is motivated because of being a woman? Is that what you mean?

JACINDA I am not going to waste too much time thinking about that.

JESSICA Is that what you meant?

JACINDA My assumption from that is they might be drawing- No, I don't know. It could be a whole manner of things. But I think I'm as equipped as anyone else to work with Winston Peters.

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