Transcript: Labour Party leader Andrew Little

  • 22/08/2015
Transcript: Labour Party leader Andrew Little

Lisa Owen: Now let's turn to Labour leader Andrew Little. He's been laying down some bottom lines in the last month or two as he tries to make his mark. So what does Little's Labour stand for? Good morning, Mr Little.

Andrew Little: Good morning, Lisa.

What's your reaction to that? Looking at Serco there, it's obviously keen to get more government business. Should it be banned from government contracts?

Well, I think first of all, this Government has an appalling record on negotiating contracts, whether for social services like the Mt Eden correctional facility, the SkyCity convention centre. Every time they get to negotiate a significant contract, they muck it up. But the other point is this; we know that this Government's view about social housing and the involvement of the private sector is ideologically driven. What I would be concerned about is Housing New Zealand already runs on a commercial model. They give priority to giving a dividend to the government, rather than spending it on houses, and we're now seeing an appalling track record of disasters in state houses that the private model simply doesn't enable...

That's the big picture. What about Serco? Should they be allowed to get in on the state-housing gig?

Well, they've demonstrated they can't run the Mt Eden correctional facility. Why would we be handing over the management of state housing to an organisation that has such a bad track record? And not only here, but overseas as well. I don't know why we would do that.

Okay. Let's move on to the Health and Safety Bill. Now, you're opposed to it. But Peter Dunne told us that he can't believe— and this is a quote from him. Labour's 'breath-taking hypocrisy', 'because however incremental, this bill does make things better for workers, he says. Are you playing politics with worker safety?

No, I'm not. Look, health and safety is an absolutely crucial part of, you know, good workplace relations and good workplace practice. After Pike River, the disaster and the tragedy that was Pike River, that wasn't just about a big employer. It was about small employers and businesses of fewer than 20 workers. That was a disaster that was avoidable with good systems, but most importantly, good culture. So the main thing about the Health and Safety Reform Bill was about getting things in place to have a good culture in the workplace, and there was a consensus about that, and what the bill was first introduced, it was actually in pretty good nick, and I sat on the select committee, and we heard employers, and National Party were very good. Something has changed in the last few months, and I think what's happened is that the National Party has decided, or their supporters in the farming lobbies have said, 'We don't want a bar of this.' And even though that is the sector that has the worst record of fatalities and serious accidents, this government is bending over backwards to exclude our businesses and our farming businesses that actually need legislation like this to improve their performance.

So you would want all businesses to have a safety... health and safety officer, regardless of their size or the risk? All of them?

It's about having, you know, the art of health and safety. What it makes it work is when front-line workers — the front-line workforce — owns it, understands it and is involved in it.

So would you like those front-line workers to have the option, whatever the size business they're working in or the risk level, to have a health and safety officer?

They should have the right to have one if they want it, and the reason for that is that when you're dealing with your, you know, health and safety issues, concerns you have about safety at work, actually, going to a peer, going to your equal in the workforce is a way better way to go than relying on a manager or the boss who may not know the full detail of it, which has been, unfortunately, practised in far too many fatal accidents in workplaces so far.

Yet, in saying that, you are mocking the Government. You know, you're mocking the Government. But, at the same time, you want every worm farmer, every lavender farmer, and every butterfly farmer— if you want every business to have one of these reps — you want that?

Uh, yeah. No, let's get this right. We had a— we had a bill originally that created the same rule for everybody. That was the right thing to do, and what it did was—

Including all those—? Including all those occupations I've just listed? Everybody? So they would be in the mix?

Give workers in small workplaces the right to have a health and safety representative if they wanted one. If they don't want one, no big deal. But what the government has done is said... They've taken fright and said, 'We want to exempt small businesses.' Then they decided they needed to ensure that all high-risk industries were included. So they then had to come up for an exemption to the exemption. Then they decided that they didn't want to upset the farmers. So now they've had to come up with an exception to the exception to the exemption. It's just a mess. It is a total mess.

But you want, Mr Little, would add to compliance costs for small businesses, yet at the start of the year, you said you want to take the handbrake off small businesses. So which is it?

Small businesses have health and safety practices at the moment. Good small businesses, and I've visited a lot of them. They do health and safety already, and there are good businesses involved in the workforce.

But you support those regulations being tougher, and that's more compliance, more red tape and more costs.

Having... Giving a workforce of a small business the right to have their go-to person on health and safety is not a compliance cost. There's no compliance cost in it. It's having a go-to person. It's having a point person in the workplace. A new worker, in particular, comes in. Doesn't quite get it. They know where to go to on issues of health and safety. That's what you want. That what gets better health and safety performance.

But a lot of small businesses would say that is more red tape. That is not taking the handbrake off.

Good businesses are doing it already. It's not a handbrake. It's not an impediment to good business at all. What we— but what we see in some sectors — and farming is the classic one — tend to be smaller business. They have the worst health and safety. More than a third of the fatalities, workplace fatalities in New Zealand in the past five years, have come from farms. Why would we exclude farms from having the best possible standards and procedures for health and safety. It doesn't make sense.

So you're basically saying it's all about the workers. So let's get your position, then. If it's all about the workers, on the 90-day trial, I want to get this straight. Last year, you said we don't need the 90-day law. Under Labour, it will go. But in the last few weeks, you'll say you'll keep it and tweak it instead. So are you letting—? Are you going to let that one slide?

Not at all. Not at all. What I want to be very clear is that the current law isn't working. It is wrong. We're going to restore right to fairness. Uh, what we are very clear about is ensuring... And I want to make this message equally clear for those employers who think that changing that law means that they'll never be able to take anybody on a trial period again. Employers will continue to be able to take workers on an agreed trial period because they'll always have that right to do so.

No, but you said it would go, Mr Little. You said it would go. That's a direct quote from you. 'Under Labour, it will go.' So you've changed that position. It's not going?

No. No, no, no, no, no. That's not it. Part of the confusion is we have two laws that are both inadequate. So what I am saying is— because when I talk to employers, they want to understand this — employers will still have the right to take a worker on a trial period, because they always used to have that right. What they don't have a legal obligation to do at the moment is ensure rights of fairness to those workers, and we will restore those rights of fairness. That's what it comes down to.

So will you repeal this law? Yes or no. Will you repeal it?

There are two laws—

No, it's a simple yes or no question, Mr Little. Will you repeal the 90-day trial?

Which trial-period law are you asking about? Because there are two. So if I talk about—

The one you were referring to last year.

Both are inadequate. Both existing laws are inadequate. So we — I'm being very clear — we are going to ensure that when an employer wants to take a worker on, on a trial period, they continue to have the right to do so, because they always did. And that worker will have rights of fairness that this Government took away.

Well, we'll leave you sitting on the fence there and move on to the TPP.

Not sitting on the fence, Lisa.

You're lining up with the critics on the TPP. So let me ask you, if the deal doesn't meet Labour's five bottom lines, there is an out-clause, we've checked this: you just have to give six months' notice. So if you are in government, would you consider getting rid of it, getting out?

If that agreement doesn't meet our bottom lines, it undermines our sovereignty, it fails to protect Pharmac, it fails to protect the Crown's obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi, and there's no material benefit to us in it, we won't be sticking around in it.

So you will exercise that clause?

Well, if there's a right to get out of it, we're not going to stick with an agreement that takes all the rights of citizens away from citizens in terms of a sovereign government and gives no material benefit.

What do you think that would do to our international reputation, though, if you pulled a plug on a deal that had already been signed and sealed?

If we are doing a deal with countries representing 40 percent of the world's GDP, and the price of that is that New Zealanders lose the right to have their sovereign government, to legislate in their best interests, for example, restrict land sales to protect the rights of New Zealanders or to undermine the obligations of the Crown under the Treaty, or to undermine Pharmac and its ability to purchase medicinal drugs for New Zealanders, and there's no trade benefit in it for us, we get no agricultural access to the biggest markets — the US, Canada and Japan — there's nothing in this for us. Why would we be in it?

All right. I want to quote from a recent speech of yours. You said, 'Sustainable wealth creation will be at the centre of the mission of the next Labour Government. It will be a personal priority for me as Prime Minister'. Now, some in Labour want you to be the party willing to curb the Greens, but it seems that you're stepping up to compete for that vote.

Well, having a sustainable economic strategy is not just confined to the green parties of the world. Actually, it's sensible economics. Climate change is the biggest moral issue of our time. Every country has to deal with it. Sadly, under this Government, New Zealand has become a laggard, actually become an embarrassment to many others in the rest of the world. We have to do better. And we can take measures, and we should take measures. And under the next Labour Government we will take measures that will be part of a sustainable economic strategy.

Okay, well, if it is such a big deal, then can you be clear about the cutting back on no mining, no drilling?

Well, I'm not sure which mining you're talking about. If you're talking about coal mining, because that's the one that comes up most often — we have a steel industry. If we want to make steel, we still need coal. So we will still have a mining industry to feed that coal industry.

Can you match the Green policy — no deep-sea drilling? If you're serious about it.

Should we... Well, no, we need to transition our economy away from fossil fuels. The biggest contribution we can make in the short to medium term is in our transport fleet, making that transition away from fossil fuels. But in the meantime, we are still going to use those. So in the meantime, while that need is still there, we're not closing down our oil and gas industry. But we accept that we need to do our bit as part of the rest of the world — and particularly with our South Pacific neighbours, who are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change — we have to do our bit when it comes to future economic strategy, our plans, and we've got to do things differently.

So with the Greens, are you creating a joint front, or can you imagine a Labour Government without them?

Well, the Labour Party is doing what we consider is necessary and responsible in terms of future government of New Zealand. Because under MMP we will need a coalition partner or partners, we'll continue to work on and build our relationships with both the Greens and New Zealand First. We will continue to do that. But we will make the decisions on our policies and on our strategies that suit the New Zealand Labour Party, not any other party.

Well, all roads to power at the moment lead through Winston for you. You need him, don't you?

I don't know what you mean by needing him. We have a good relationship with New Zealand First.

For the numbers, Mr Little. For the simple numbers. You need him.

If we want to get something through Parliament at the moment, and we can do, we're reliant on a number of parties beyond just Greens and New Zealand First. I'm not quite sure what you're getting to there.

In the future government, you would need Winston. On the numbers, you would need Winston.

Let's see what the next election holds for us. But we will work on building our relationships with the two most likely coalition partners for our party, Greens and New Zealand First.

In your mind, are you saying you won't need Winston for the numbers?

I'm saying that under MMP, the lead parties will need coalition partners. We are working on our relationships with New Zealand First, as we are with the Greens.

Would you be in a government with him if Winston says that he wants to be Prime Minister for at least part of the time. Because that's what we're hearing.

That's news to me. We will continue to work on our relationships with both the other two parties that we joined with in Opposition.

Yes or no, could you live with that? Running out of time.

We're two years away from the election. We haven't even had the next election. We're not negotiating coalition deals right now.

All right, thank you very much for joining us, Andrew Little.

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