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Phil Goff on The Nation

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Interviewed by DUNCAN GARNER

Duncan We're talking now about Labour's election campaign. On Friday I talked to Leader Phil Goff in an in depth interview, and I began by asking him why is he sitting at 27% in the polls and what's gone wrong. He started by blaming that infamous cuppa tea saga.

Interview with Labour Leader Phil Goff: 'Been very much a focus on the side show, but you know in seven day' time, less than seven days' time we've got an election, it's an election about whether those assets go up on the block, and we're gonna leave that sideshow behind us, however entertaining it might have been for some, and we're gonna be focused on those issues. Do we keep our assets because a vote for Labour will ensure that. Do we give people a chance to have a break against the rising cost of living? First five thousand dollars tax free, that's what's it's about. Do we give our kids apprenticeship training instead of the dole? Those are the things I think that are important for the future.

Duncan And that certainly was the focus of the debate in that first two weeks, you called that tape issue a side show, I don't want to dwell on the tape issue. Do you think it's a sideshow, or is it important that the information is out there?

Phil Well look the truth is the Prime Minister's not gonna man up and confess what he said, so that's not what this week is about. This week is about the decision we make for the future. Having a plan for the future would be great, but two thirds of business New Zealand don't think the National Party do.

Duncan So where have you gone wrong because in these polls you're all under 30%. Where has it gone wrong because if you can't get over 30 you're not going to govern in a week's time, what have you done wrong?

Phil We're gonna have to lift our polling in the last week, but it will be about the things that are important to people, it will be about asset sales, this is the one chance. If we don't stop the National Party from selling the assets now, they're gone forever and also the return that we get from them, it is about whether Kiwis are gonna have a decent standard of living and a job for their kids for the future. Those are the things that we want to be focusing on this week.

Duncan And just looking at your asset sales policy, when I've been out there people have been concerned about, they have brought it up with us, and then I've responded by saying so who are you voting for and they say John Key. It seems that you have been unable to connect your message with voters around asset sales. There's only a week to go it's too late.

Phil I think when you eyeball people, you're at a shopping mall like I was in Hamilton last week, and you put it to them, you know the decision you make, there's a lot of things that will change with the election of a Labour government. One critical thing is we won't be selling our power companies. We won't be selling Air New Zealand. We won't be selling Kiwi Bank, but you've gotta make that decision. You vote for John Key the assets are gone. And you see in their eye that they've taken on board that message.

Duncan But if you look at Stephen Sellwood from the Council of Infrastructure Development, he has written in the past few days that you're scaremongering the asset sales that people while they're concerned about it, you largely haven't been able to connect and you personally have scaremongered on it?

Phil Well how can it be scaremongering, it's a very clear choice. John Key is promising you one thing that you can believe. He's gonna sell the assets. What you can't believe is it'll only be 49%. You've heard Bill English at the National Party Conference talking quietly to his delegates about how they're gonna sell Kiwi Bank. They don't believe in having community in New Zealand owned assets. We do. We'll stop the sale. They'll sell the lot.

Duncan I want to look at some of your spending plans and we'll just quickly go back to that Christchurch Press Leaders' Debate. Do you believe that you got half that debate badly wrong, because I know you claim you got half of it right, which would assume that you got half of it wrong, around not knowing what you were going to do.

Phil We were working on the final figures, we'd just had the PREFU the pre-election financial update, we were working on the last of policies. I wasn't going to throw out figures at random. We were doing the job, you knew I think that we were putting the figures out at the end of the week, and we put the figures out and the Reserve Bank has said it's a credible path.

Duncan Yes but you went into that debate knowing the numbers, because we've interviewed David Parker for a piece on The Nation, and he has said - we asked him when did you know your fiscal strategy was ready? And he said, I'm quoting here Phil - 'the fiscal framework had been prepared in advance of the savings launch so we knew what the numbers were back then.'

Phil Yeah but we hadn't released those numbers then and I wasn't going to do it prematurely.

Duncan No that's a ridiculous position, because if you'd known the numbers and you were quizzed by the Prime Minister in front of that audience, surely you would have given him a proper response.

Phil No, the response I gave is we're releasing them, they'll be transparent, they'll be fuller than any opposition party has ever released to public scrutiny in the past on that.

Duncan But you looked vacant that night on that.

Phil Oh look he was doing the showmanship with the show me the money, I could have I spose responded show me the jobs, cos you know the 170,000 jobs wasn't very credible either, and nor is his money budget.

Duncan David Cunliffe also told us that the team knew the numbers.

Phil Of course we had the numbers we hadn't finalised them.

Duncan But why didn't you tell him because I felt you lost a lot of momentum that night?

Phil Yeah because I wasn't about to flip them off at the top of my head when we were going to release them fully for your scrutiny and the rest of the public to look at in detail, a couple of days later.

Duncan One of the crucial questions that John Key asked you that night was around capital gains, and he asked you in your first year what sort of money do you raise in the first year, and you didn't know.

Phil Well the figures are out there, the figures are it'll raise 26 billion in 16 years. And what I said, let me finish this, it starts slowly, it starts with you know 20 - 50 million or whatever, it gets up to half a billion very quickly, gets up to a billion in about eight years, and then it hits about three billion.

Duncan But do you know in the first year what it raises.

Phil Yeah I've got it right here?

Duncan No - do you know without looking? It's 68 billion.

Phil It's 78 billion but by 2015 it's close to half a billion, by 2018 1.1 - by 2021 close to 2 billion. You know when John Key sold the assets and they're gone forever, we've lost the dividend stream, but this will enable us to keep our assets, pay off our debt and keep on funding New Zealanders.

Duncan But shouldn't you know that sort of stuff off the top of your head, if you're putting together budgets and you have been. I must say you're quite comprehensive in your numbers compared to what we saw in 2008, but surely you know the major issue this election is who's credible around spending and borrowing and so forth, and off the top of your head the question that Key asked you two weeks ago, you couldn't answer to me without looking here. It's 78 million bucks.

Phil Oh no, look there's 70 different figures here Duncan, and I'm sure you wouldn't remember them off by heart as well. What I do know is this. We get into surplus again in 2014, made that clear on that programme. We pay off the debt faster than National by 2021. We end up with a hell of a lot more money and we still have our assets. Now you know that's what New Zealanders want. They know we've gotta pay down the debt. They know that they need tax relief, the first five thousand dollars tax free. That's worth a thousand dollars a household. That's gotta be paid for, and we've set out here exactly what we're spending and exactly how we're raising the money.

Duncan So looking at the asset sales, if you were to get into government and not sell those assets, how would you control power prices? Because that has been a major issue over the last ten years, and National one of their big attacks in office has been that under your leadership, when I say leadership I talk about the Labour government, power prices went up 70-80% over ten years. What will you do? What reassurance can you give to voters that you'll control power prices.

Phil Oh the power prices are gonna fluctuate depending on how much extra you build in terms of generation. No but what you can assure them is this. That you don't have an outside foreign investor coming in, wanting a really big return on their investment, because you know, and you know from Contact Energy that this happened, that your power prices will go up if you privatise. Contact Energy was charging 500 bucks a year more for an average family of four, than any of the SOEs.

Duncan But you need the dividends don't you, because your comprehensive list of numbers is banking on the dividends going forward for the next few years. So if you control power prices, if you control power prices and say to New Zealanders we'll make your power prices cheaper? Well first of all can you make power prices cheaper? Yes or no?

Phil Look no, I don't think power prices are gonna go down, but you can control the rate at which they go up.

Duncan Okay so are you willing to take a lower dividend?

Phil Yeah look I think that that's part of the equation that you look at, and I said that a couple of years ago at a Labour Party Conference.

Duncan So you are committed to lower dividends?

Phil No let me make this point. What you've got is a situation where you can take a bigger dividend and you can give it back to the New Zealanders as a dividend that pays for your health, for your education and so on. Or you could take a more modest dividend and keep power prices down.

Duncan I'm gonna ask you the question again, cos it's really important. are you prepared to take a lower dividend, which effectively means New Zealanders gain because they will have lower power bills? Yes or no?

Phil Look you go through that in the budget process. That is an option that you can take, and if you take that option you've got less money to meet the debt repayment.

Duncan But you're not taking that option at the moment with your numbers are you, because your numbers are locked in?

Phil No the project that we've put forward there clearly sets out those dividends as meeting other costs. But if you ask me the question this way. Do I think it'd be great when New Zealand's in a stronger financial position that we take less in the dividends from the SOEs so that people get more reasonable power prices, the answer is yes.

Duncan Do you think just looking at your history and what you did in the 80s, do you think that you've sold out to the party's Trade Union left wing group of the party? Has it been a struggle for you to reconcile your past with that?

Phil Not at all. We were wrong in the 80s to sell the assets. We were wrong, we learnt from that mistake. God knows there was enough evidence that it was a mistake, and in the next Labour government we didn't sell anything, we bought some of it back.

Duncan So you've had some Trade Union concessions as you developed the policies over the last two years?

Phil Oh we changed our policy on asset sales way back in the 1990s, this was long before this term of government.

Duncan And industry wide agreements?

Phil Oh industry - when I look at the figures and I see - I was at the Salvation Army yesterday I was talking to you about it before, that one in four of the people that come in there are working poor. They're working poor, they're not getting enough. And one of the reasons they're not getting enough is so few people are covered by a collective agreement. Now what we're saying is let's give people in like industries the chance to have the chance to negotiate a higher wage rise. That's not unreasonable.

Duncan Okay, coalition building to finish this interview. Winston Peters, can you work with him? Yes or no? We're a week away from the election.

Phil We don't know whether he's gonna be there. I'm gonna let the people decide. He's gotta decide what role he wants to play in parliament. But what I'm gonna do is this. The day after the election if we've got a chance of setting a coalition up, I'm gonna enter into negotiations. I'm going to negotiate with whoever the people returned to parliament?

Duncan And Peters is one of those, the Greens are one of those.

Phil Whoever is returned to parliament that I believe can share our values and give us stable government.

Duncan And Russel Norman has been pushing for an economic role. They're doing very well in the polls, would you consider that for Russel Norman? It's got to be under consideration if you get across the line.

Phil I would think that if we had a coalition government we would have the Greens as part of our Cabinet. Now I'm not about to divvy up Cabinet responsibilities now. I'd look at what strengths people had, and what they're best able to do.

Duncan Would you consider Hone Harawira?

Phil No, I've ruled him out on two basics. One, he and I don't share the same values. The really important things about a multicultural society, and secondly I don't think it's a stable partner.

Duncan But if you were a vote or two away from governing he said we're gonna back you Mr Goff, you'll take his vote and allow you to form a government?

Phil I'm not gonna be in coalition with Hone Harawira.

Duncan No, but you'll take his vote? Cos you can't stop him voting for you?

Phil No no, that's true. But I'm telling you this, I'm not gonna be in coalition with him.

Duncan How would you hold a hotch potch group like that together?

Phil Oh Labour in 1999 we put together a coalition government, some pretty difficult people to deal with in that. We did it again in 2002, we did it again in 2005. We can do it and we will do it.

Duncan And the Maori Party if they hold the balance of power do they have any option?

Phil I think the Maori Party would be very foolish to go in with a National government that's pledged to sell off the assets.

Duncan What will you do on the night, election night? I mean you saw Helen Clark when she lost - resigned on the night? Has it gone through your mind what you'll do?

Phil I'll have a beer.

Duncan And then what?

Phil I'll have a talk to the people.

Duncan Are you contemplating life after politics?

Phil I'm contemplating what will happen if we can set up a Labour government and I'm Prime Minister, that's what I'm looking forward to.

Duncan I mean you've talked about being the underdog, have you contemplated losing. Does it go in your mind, as a human being Mr Goff, and you've been behind in the polls for an enormous amount of time, does it go through your mind losing?

Phil No. I'm focused on winning. I think the thing that you do during an election campaign, you focus on your target, you focus on your goal, you focus on telling people what your values, your beliefs are, and the difference that a Labour government led by me can make in their lives. Keeping our assets, making sure their kids are in training not on the dole. Making sure that people have got a boost against the rising cost of living.

Duncan Alright Phil Goff, thanks for joining us this morning. All the best.

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