Patrick Gower: Grant Robertson, thank you very much for joining us. You just heard your leader Andrew Little there say that the NZ Power policy was too complicated and likely to be taken off the policy agenda. I want to ask you about a finance policy first – the Variable Savings Rate, which was using KiwiSaver to help control monetary policy; another very complicated policy. What's the future for that?
Grant Robertson: That's under review. I mean, it's really important that we get monetary policy to work for New Zealanders. I think it's important that as well as controlling inflation, we also get a focus for the Reserve Bank on jobs, on making sure that they're thinking about the impact of their policy changes on employment. Whether or not the Variable Savings Rate ends up being part of that or not, we're looking at as whether that will be a tool in the future. I acknowledge it is actually another complicated policy, and I want to simplify down our monetary policy to be focused in on how we develop jobs, how we make sure work's at the centre of the economy.
As finance spokesman, are you committed to that Variable Savings Rate or not?
It's under review, and I can't make that commitment today.
Sure. Looking at the Future of Work Commission – a big body of work which, obviously, you've been responsible for – one of the ideas brought up in there is 'flexicurity'. Tell us in 25 words or less what 'flexicurity' is.
Essentially, it's a scheme where if you lose your job, you'll have income security and you'll automatically go into the kind of training that's going to get you another job straight away. This is commonplace in countries like Denmark, and as we go into a future of work where we hear that 45 percent of jobs in the New Zealand economy might be gone in 10 to 15 years, we need a policy that gives people the chance to get the new skills they need for the jobs of the future and have income security while that happens. So we're investigating a range of options, but what we're not prepared to do is abandon New Zealanders when these big changes are happening. We want them in work. That means we need an active policy to get them trained up.
Which means a benefit or a higher benefit, essentially, for someone who loses their job, as it means raising the levels of benefits.
It's essentially providing income security during that period of change.
Sounds like a 'super-dole'.
What it's about is making sure that we've got people trained and ready to go into the next job. I actually think it's irresponsible when you know that there's going to be a big change, there's going to be higher unemployment, that we don't take the opportunity to say to people, 'We can train you up. We can give you this income security.'
It would involve a higher benefit, wouldn't it?
The system in Denmark does, and we'll take a look at that. But what we want to make sure is that New Zealanders can feel a sense of security going into a big period of change, which is what's happening. Technology is completely changing work, and we have to make sure that New Zealanders are in a position to take the opportunity of that change, not fear it.
So it would mean getting paid something like the living wage or along those lines?
Look, we haven't settled on a figure or anything like that, but what we are saying is we want to investigate options that give New Zealanders security during a big period of change.
You're also looking at a universal basic income as well. This is… How serious are you about that? A similar payment to all adults whether they're in work or not.
Well, certainly, it wouldn't be both; I can say that straight away. We are looking at a range of options that say if a person who leaves school today is going to have six or eight different careers during their working life. They're going to be moving in and out of work more often. Work's likely to be less stable. In that situation, as a government, to be responsible, we need to provide secure income, and we're looking at a range of options for that. The universal basic income has only really been tried once or twice. There's a couple of trials underway at the moment. We want to look at how they go. But ultimately, we want people to have security in a period of change.
Sure. And just coming on to careers there, you mentioned, what do you think, having looked at it closely in the Future of Work, of careers training at school, at the end of school? Where are we at in New Zealand with that right now?
We don't do it well at all. In some schools in New Zealand, you get great careers advice. In other, the career advisor is, you know, the maths teacher who gets five hours a week to try and see if he can work out what 700 kids are going to do with their future. That isn't good enough. We want to see careers advice professionalised. We want to see students, teachers, parents and employers involved in getting a plan for every single student at secondary school about what they will do after school. The kind of skills that students at secondary school are going to need today when they get into the workforce aren't already there, so they need to be prepared to be adaptable, to be able to change with the changing nature of work.
You're talking about something simple as getting a driver's licence in school hours?
Yeah, look, we're seriously looking at the idea that the curriculum needs to include driver licensing. We've heard from employers time and time again they want kids ready out of school to be full participants at work.
So a kid learns to drive at school, between 9 and 3pm?
That's one of the proposals we're looking at. We want every school leaver to have in their tool kit a driver's licence, understanding financial literacy, understanding digital literacy, understanding their responsibilities as citizens. They're the kind of skills…
And coding? I've also seen in there coding. You want to teach kids coding?
Sure. And that's one of the proposals we're looking at as well.
Coding is like a language. It's going to be as important in the future as understanding maths, understanding English. Understanding how computers work, which will be part of almost every job in the future, is just as important as those other basic skills. Education needs to change to keep up with the changing nature of work.
Ok, Grant Robertson, that's a very good place to leave it. Thank you for your time.
Cheers. Thanks, Paddy.
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