Espiner interviews Goff

Also from Q&A today:

PHIL: Well I certainly hope we are coming out of the recession – internationally you’re seeing signs of recovery in economies and really important economies too. It’s like China now – our exports to China have gone up 62% in the last year since our free trade agreement.

That’s the free trade agreement that the Foreign Minister in the last Government campaigned against?

But as I said at the time, Clark and Goff deserve praise for their efforts in securing the China FTA.

GUYON: Let’s look at an area that National has cut back on, and that is the Public Service. Now you’ve been very critical of that, you were in the short speech you made yesterday. In eight consecutive years in Government the Public Service grew 5.5% when economic growth was not much more than half of that. Is that the sort of levels of Public Service explosion really that you want to return to if you should take the reins of Government again?

PHIL: Well we think it’s great that there were 3 or 4,000 extra nurses that were employed in the Public Service while Labour was in Government&that the numbers of Police Officers out on the beat went up by 1,250.

Nurses and police officers are not included in the figures quoted. Guyon is quoting the core public service figures I am pretty sure.

GUYON: Yes, but they’re the glamour examples though. There were a lot of policy analysts and a lot of others.. How can you sustain a 5.5% growth in the Public Service when your economy is only growing at half that level?

PHIL: Because at the time the economy was growing fast

GUYON : at half that rate though.

Here’s the problem though. Labour do not seem to have accepted that there is a need for fiscal restraint in the face of the recession and a decade of deficits. They have opposed every spending cut there has been.

Having been spoilt with a fast growing economy, how will they cope with an economy where revenue does not grow massively each year?

GUYON: Can you say whether you would raise personal income tax, can you rule out this morning raising personal income tax should you take power again?

PHIL: It’s not our intention to raise personal income tax, nor GST – it may well be this government’s intention to raise GST.

Now that is a very welcome, and brave statement. I welcome it. Of course this creates the problem that to fund their spending promises, they will have to borrow billions more leaving future taxpayers indebted.

The challenge for Labour in 2011 will be to present an alternative budget that keeps Goff’s promise of no tax increases, but also has NZ on a believable path back to surpluses.

Goff’s ruling out of any increase in income tax or GST is very significant and the first major departure from the Clark years. The challenge is getting people to believe it by having realistic spending promises.

GUYON: You and your party, the Labour party, went after John Key very heavily in the last election campaign, you made the whole campaign about trust – the idea was that you couldn’t trust John Key. The party president was dispatched to try and dig up dirt on decades old deals to try and find some wrong-doing. Is that something that you’re apologising for this weekend as well, the way that you handled that?

PHIL: I think that both sides in Parliament probe the other side to check whether promises being made are promises being made with integrity. That will always happen in an adversarial system. I think the publicity and the looking at the finances around Mr Key at the last election WAS a mistake yes.

A welcome admission.

GUYON: but do you trust him [Key]?

PHIL: Do I believe that what is being said is always what is on the agenda, I’d have to say no. I mean they employ spin doctors, and the role of spin doctors is to have the Prime Minister saying what people want to hear.

Now Goff loses the plot. He doesn’t trust John Key because Key has spin doctors. Goff has several himself, as did Clark.

And just as relevantly, it is pretty obvious to most journalists that Key is one of the least scripted PMs of recent times. In fact the major criticism in recent days has been that Goff is the one who speaks in spin doctor sound bites, unlike Key who speaks normally.

GUYON: You talked about spin doctors, but every party employs them and in fact it looks you are employing them pretty heavily this weekend. I mean it’s an image makeover though isn’t it – you’ve tried desperately to make yourself look more human, look more relaxed, look more casual haven’t you?

PHIL: Ah, look when you talk about spin doctors we don’t have an agency like the Australian agency

Good God, Labour’s obsession with Crosby Textor is driving them demented. National has had a relationship with Mark Textor for almost 20 years.

This is a classic example of Labour still focusing on “Wellington” issues. They’ve tried very hard to have their conference focus on wider issues such as the economy, jobs, healthcare – but if you scratch away a bit, they revert to type. Absolutely no-one outside the Labour and Green Party membership cares about this crap.

PHIL: No look obviously you think, particularly when you become leader of the opposition, there’s a different role you have to perform, there are different sides of you that people have to see. I’ve spent most of my political career trying to protect my family from politics, I didn’t want them in the full glare of politics. But suddenly people say “look we don’t know anything about you, we don’t know what your family is, we don’t know you’ve got two boys and a girl”. So clearly in the role I’m playing now I’ve got to become a little more open about the sort of things that once upon a time I would’ve like to have kept personal.

I’m pleased to see Phil take my advice that New Zealanders do want to know more about him – and by default his family. Not in a hugely intrusive way, but to understand more about who he is. It is not that easy for either politician, or family, but people do want to feel they know something about the person who may be Prime Minister.

GUYON: You lost the working class at the last election , a good strand of them, in some pretty important seats like Waitakere and other areas, Chris Trotter calls these people the sort of guy who likes to have a few beers on a Sunday afternoon sitting on a deck that he built himself. How do you win those people back next time?

PHIL: It’s a point well made and I think you’ve got to win back those people by those people perceiving you to understand what their concerns are and what there hopes are.

GUYON: And how do you do that?

PHIL: I think by showing that most of us have come up by that same particular route, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I grew up in a working family – we worked hard for everything we got. I’ve got my family that I’ve worked hard to bring up, I can identify with those people . I’ve got two sons who are tradesmen. They are exactly the sort of people that Chris Trotter gave as a Waitakere man. Those are the sorts of things that they’re interested in – I believe I’m in touch with those things.

Goff is certainly better positioned than Clark and Cullen were to win back that working class vote. In fact of the entire Labour caucus he is probably the best person to try and do that – apart from possibly Shane Jones who has potential appeal there also.

GUYON: But the voters want to know is there a place for Winston Peters in a few years time to become a part of Government?

PHIL: There’s a place for anybody who is prepared to work on-side Labour for the values, the ideals, and the policies that we put forward. I don’t rule out Winston Peters any more than I rule out the Green Party, the Maori Party or the United Future Party and obviously the Progressive Party

There was a missed opportunity there. I’m not saying he should have ruled Peters out (that then becomes the major story) but he could have said that for Labout to work with Peters again, we would have to be convinced that he would conform with the Ministerial and Parliamentary rules on conflicts of interests and disclosures.

The danger for Goff, is that he looks to be saying he will be the same as Clark, and let Winston get away with anything in exchange for the baubles of power.

GUYON: And we have a referendum to this whole electoral system, what is Labour’s position on that? 1997, as Justice Spokesman, you called for a binding referendum on whether we should chuck it out or not, what’s your view now?

PHIL: I think if you’re going to change the system it MUST be with the mandate of the people and that must be by a binding referendum.

GUYON: So you support going for a referendum?

PHIL: yes, we’re not opposing the Government on that at all

That is interesting.

GUYON: ..How would you vote?

PHIL: At this stage I’d probably vote for MMP but we’ve had at this conference quite an interesting discussion about that and the members I’ve talked to have said look we’d like to see fewer list MP’s and more Electorate MP’s. We’d like to see electorates a little bit smaller so that electorate members can give a bit more personal attention to their constituents. Our people tell me that we can do that, we could have as many as 80 electorate MP’s with the balance of 40 being list MPs. It may be that we’re looking for a variation on MMP to make it work better, to use its strengths to counteract its weakness.

More interesting is that he would only “probably” vote for MMP.

Labour need to be very careful of their numbers. Chris Hipkins said yesterday:

The analysis I have seen suggests we could have 90 electorates and 30 list MPs and the proportionality would be preserved. From memory applying that to the 5 MMP elections we have had the biggest overhang would have been 4 extra seats. That’s just from memory though. Someone else might have the actual nos handy.

I responded:

Chris – your memory is faulty on MMP with a 90/30 split. Assuming parties won the same proportion of electorate seats, a 90/30 elect/list split would have seen Labour in 1999 with a 6 seat overhang and in 2002 with a 7 seat overhang. That would be almost as unproportional as SM.

On the plus side it would have meant in 1999 every Labour List MP would have been wiped out so no Cullen and Wilson :-)

Goff is now talking 80/40. If you assume they would have won the same proportion of electorates (which is not that likely) it would in 2002 have left Labour with either 0 or 1 List MPs – very close to overhang.

But what Goff overlooks is that every census the number of electorate seats increases by 1 or 2 as the North Island has faster population growth than the South Island. Hence within a decade that 80/40 could be 84/36 and overhang could well become a regular thing.

And the issue of Maori Party overhang would also get worse. Ironically what Goff is talking about would move MMP closer to an SM system.

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