Jacinda Ardern doesn’t have all the an­swers ...

Ardern ex­plains why buy­ing a $1 mil­lion house helps her un­der­stand the hous­ing predica­ment young peo­ple face. Watch­ing her preg­nant sis­ter jug­gle work­life bal­ance in­spires her to pro­vide more sup­port for fam­i­lies, says Labour leader.

Sunday Star-Times - - FOCUS -

QNow, I’ve asked you for a short pitch – no more than 140 char­ac­ters, the length of a tweet – why vote Labour?

Be­cause af­ter nine years we have the po­ten­tial to turn around our stag­ger­ingly low home own­er­ship rates, our de­clin­ing home own­er­ship, our lack of . . .

QI’m go­ing to have to beep you there, be­cause I think you were over the 140 char­ac­ters.

I saw that you were about to come in. There’s so much to say, Jonathan!

QAnd why vote Ardern? We know about your pol­i­tics ex­pe­ri­ence in New Zealand, UK and the US. Clarke Gay­ford, your part­ner, seemed pretty de­fen­sive when he ac­cused crit­ics of ‘scare­mon­ger­ing’ about your lack of real world ex­pe­ri­ence? Well, I would con­test that I do ac­tu­ally have real world ex­pe­ri­ence. Nine years in op­po­si­tion has cer­tainly taught me about the ma­chin­ery of gov­ern­ment; as did my time work­ing when Labour was in gov­ern­ment in He­len Clark’s of­fice.

I would con­tend that I have more ex­pe­ri­ence than Bill English did be­fore com­ing into Par­lia­ment. But, by virtue of be­ing young, I do pol­i­tics dif­fer­ently. I think there’s the abil­ity for us to col­lab­o­rate on more is­sues. I’m pretty as­pi­ra­tional about some of those gnarly things like our pro­duc­tiv­ity chal­lenges, like the en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges.

QYou worked as a teenager in a fish and chip shop? At the Ware­house, Count­down, a job trainer for peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties, soup kitchen; a range of things. It’s not all pol­i­tics. I learnt about small busi­ness by work­ing in small busi­ness.

My time in the UK I re­viewed polic­ing in Eng­land and Wales. I sat along­side busi­nesses who were reg­u­lated; that was my job, to im­prove the way that busi­ness worked with gov­ern­ments.

QYou promised $10 mil­lion for 100 more Plun­ket and Tamariki Ora nurses. You’ve al­ready sig­nalled nearly a bil­lion more dol­lars in tar­geted Work­ing for Fam­i­lies Sup­port. So, here’s a ques­tion I’m ask­ing Bill English as well: what per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence do you bring to the ta­ble that helps you un­der­stand the chal­lenges faced by dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies? There’s the ex­pe­ri­ence that I wit­ness just through my fam­ily; my sis­ter try­ing to bal­ance her life with her baby on the way and my four-year old niece, and my friends bal­anc­ing work and life as well. And, then there’s my ex­pe­ri­ence hav­ing wit­nessed just how much we need to in­vest in chil­dren if we want to sup­port our fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. That in­vest­ment in Plun­ket and Tamariki Ora, that’s about say­ing, much ear­lier on, I want there to be sup­port for our fam­i­lies, par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble fam­i­lies. 90,000 more vis­its in the home for those who need it most. It’s about not as­sum­ing that ev­ery­one had what my sis­ter had; which was mum there by her side sup­port­ing her in that re­ally early pe­riod when times were tough­est. Not ev­ery­one has that. I con­sider my­self lucky. I know I’m priv­i­leged.

QYou and your part­ner Clarke bought a new house in Point Che­va­lier over sum­mer. How much did you pay for it?

Less than the aver­age house price in Auck­land, which is sur­pris­ing given prices around the place. And, I con­sider my­self lucky. I know I’m priv­i­leged.

I know on the salary that I earn I’m the lucky one, and that is prob­a­bly why I have that ex­tra strength of feel­ing around mak­ing sure that we do more for the next gen­er­a­tion to im­prove home own­er­ship. Nearly a mil­lion bucks right? Yeah, pretty close, yeah. So how does that help you re­late to that younger gen­er­a­tion who think they’re never go­ing to get a foot on that prop­erty lad­der?

I know that I’m priv­i­leged in the fact that I was able to buy that house. It was eye­wa­ter­ing. Look, I come from Mor­rinsville; house prices like that still make my jaw drop.

When we were look­ing around it was still hard for us to find some­thing that we could af­ford to buy and I’m on a good wicket.

So, of course that made me sit there and think what about the rest of New Zealand, and what about those other fam­i­lies? So, that was an ex­pe­ri­ence that I hold in my mind. I’m the lucky one.

It shouldn’t be that way. We should be open­ing up home own­er­ship for others.

QI’ve given both you and Bill English the op­por­tu­nity to ask one ques­tion of the other. Na­tional Party leader Bill English asks of you:

It’s a com­pli­cated ques­tion. Of course he’s point­ing to cap­i­tal gains and whether or not some­one be­comes the owner of a sec­ond home by hav­ing it left to them. My fo­cus is on im­prov­ing home own­er­ship. Deal­ing with the hous­ing cri­sis and fair­ness is my pri­mary fo­cus.

QDoes that mean you’re happy to es­sen­tially rein­tro­duce death du­ties through an in­her­i­tance tax?

No. An in­her­i­tance tax isn’t what’s go­ing to en­hance our home own­er­ship rates in New Zealand.

I know Bill English has run around list­ing five dif­fer­ent taxes.

The point I raise back to him is, why did you in­tro­duce a form of pseudo cap­i­tal gains tax? And, he did. With­out go­ing to vot­ers, with­out can­vass­ing it, he did.

And, the rea­son I imag­ine that he did it is be­cause he knows we’ve got a cri­sis on our hands.

QYou’re go­ing to stop the sale of any more state houses, even though Hous­ing NZ says the houses that they’re sell­ing aren’t fit for pur­pose and are be­ing re­placed with brand-spank­ing new homes that meet the needs of 21st cen­tury fam­i­lies.

Yeah, I would dis­pute that. I mean, for in­stance, 2500 homes in the Can­ter­bury area where they have a wait­ing list, peo­ple down there don’t be­lieve that they should be los­ing those homes. We’re 3000 net homes down rel­a­tive to where we were when Na­tional started. Yes, we need to ren­o­vate our stock; yes, we need to make sure that it’s warm and dry; but sell­ing off our stock, when al­most ev­ery area they’ve sold we have a need, isn’t right. I’ll give you an ex­am­ple.

In Napier, where I was yes­ter­day, Hous­ing NZ knocked down 100 homes. There’s a wait­ing list of over 150 there and they haven’t re­built them. There’s a hand­ful now on that site. If they wanted to mod­ernise why weren’t they re­built? They’ve had nine years.

QYou also want to ban land sales to off­shore buy­ers. Is that just a dog whis­tle to racists? No.

QThere will be per­ma­nent res­i­dents re­turn­ing home who can sit in the UK and vote but aren’t ac­tu­ally al­lowed to buy a home here.

We want those who have the right to call New Zealand home in the long term to have the right to pur­chase homes.

QUn­der An­drew Lit­tle, Labour was char­ac­terised by knee­jerk pop­ulist poli­cies. When Key pro­posed a flag ref­er­en­dum, Lit­tle turned around and op­posed it. When English agreed to raise the Su­per age, Lit­tle did a flip-flop and op­posed it. When he re­alised how un­pop­u­lar a cap­i­tal gains tax was he booted the idea out of the elec­toral cy­cle; and the ‘Chi­ne­sesound­ing names’ dog whis­tle –

Oh, but­ter. I was go­ing to say if you’re ask­ing cheese it’s as­tro­nom­i­cal; I think the last block I bought cost me ten bucks. But­ter, I’d say from mem­ory, was about $6ish the last time I went. I made scones and I was out­raged.

We have talked in the past about what we can do to put healthy eat­ing into our schools, and we did have a plan around that, it got dumped and now the gov­ern­ment has seen that there were some virtues in that. We have a role to play along­side in­dus­try; to say, look, we’re over-us­ing sugar in our prod­ucts. Taxes on sug­ary drinks don’t ad­dress the is­sue across the board, be­cause it’s in our ce­real, it’s even in tomato sauce. surely a low point in Labour’s his­tory. Do you stand by Labour’s han­dling of all those is­sues?

Yeah, look, we’ve got to bring our own per­son­al­ity and our own lead­er­ship to the job.

On is­sues like the Chi­nese sur­names, I’d like to think that that wouldn’t have hap­pened un­der my lead­er­ship. But it did hap­pen and we have to then man­age that.

Given the af­ter­math of feel­ing amongst the Chi­nese com­mu­nity, that’s some­thing we need to re­pair. Is­sues like the Chi­nese sur­names, I’d like to think that that wouldn’t have hap­pened un­der my lead­er­ship.

QIn 2012 you ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of be­tray­ing fu­ture gen­er­a­tions by fail­ing to raise the New Zealand Su­per age. ‘Rather than tackle this big is­sue for the sake of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions who want a home, a se­cure re­tire­ment and a coun­try with a sound sav­ings plan, they con­tinue to tar­get them and bur­den them with debt,’ you said. ‘Pol­i­tics . . . has to be about do­ing the right thing.’ Is do­ing the right thing no longer im­por­tant to you?

No, it is. And, my ref­er­ence there to a sav­ings plan ac­tu­ally stands as true to­day as it was then. The fact Na­tional didn’t con­trib­ute to the Su­per­an­nu­a­tion Fund has been one of my pri­mary sources of anger. $5.9 bil­lion we’ve fore­gone be­cause there hasn’t been that in­vest­ment in that fund.

QHere’s a ques­tion from Ian Crighton; he was a reg­is­tered nurse for 50 years and he wor­ries the needs of pro­vin­cial New Zealand are be­ing for­got­ten. He says: Kim Jong . . . oh, South Korean; I went straight to North Korea.

Well given that he was smart enough to ne­go­ti­ate that for him­self, I think he would un­der­stand that we would want to do it for New Zealand.

That’s a story that I’ve heard from a num­ber peo­ple; even just try­ing to get spe­cial­ist ap­point­ments now. Some of the tar­gets that have been set by gov­ern­ment means that peo­ple don’t even get their ap­point­ments to try and keep those num­bers down.

QSo what are you do­ing? It’s un­der-fund­ing at its most sim­ple. They’re down over $2 bil­lion in health fund­ing. Es­sen­tially that’s why we voted against the tax cuts. That’s why we said, we can’t af­ford that right now. We put aside an ex­tra $7 bil­lion worth for health ex­plic­itly, and that’s to go in and make sure that those DHBs are prop­erly funded.

QWhat are you go­ing to be do­ing on elec­tion night next week? Will you have friends and fam­ily around?

I’ll have a small group of peo­ple with us, but I’ll be with Clarke which will be good, be­cause we haven’t spent a lot of time to­gether over these last few weeks.

QWin­ston Pe­ters says he’ll talk to who­ever has the most seats. If you need him to form a gov­ern­ment will you call him on elec­tion night or will you wait for his call?

Ac­tu­ally, prob­a­bly we need to have a lit­tle bit of time to let the re­sults bed in. I don’t imag­ine ac­tu­ally that will nec­es­sar­ily hap­pen on elec­tion night.

QDo you ex­pect we’re go­ing to know who’s Prime Min­is­ter next Satur­day night? To be hon­est, on cur­rent polls, I don’t know. I hope so.

QPeters hopes a gov­ern­ment can be de­cided by Oc­to­ber 12. How long do you think is an ac­cept­able time­frame?

I would hope within a week or two. As quickly as we can. You want to make sure you do it prop­erly. It’s got to last the dis­tance.

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