Saturday , July 22 2017
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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews new political candidates

Lisa Owen: When Parliament sits for the first time after the election in September, there’ll be a raft of new faces on the backbenches, and some of them are with me now in the studio — National’s Erica Stanford, Priyanca Radhakrishnan of Labour, the Green Party’s Jack McDonald and Brooke van Velden from ACT. Good morning to them all. I want to start by asking you, in one sentence, tell me what you think the most important political issue is at the moment. Erica.

Erica Stanford: I would have to say housing.

Why?
Stanford: Look, I absolutely think that there are a number of young people who can’t get into houses, and it’s against everything that I believe that when you work hard, you save money and you still can’t afford to buy a home, that’s a big issue for me.

Priyanca, do you think that’s the top issue?
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: I’ve spent most of my working life advocating for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and I think we’re actually going backwards in a number of sectors. Housing is definitely one of the top issues people talk to me about, but equally, health is an issue and community safety is too.

Jack?
Jack McDonald: As a young person active in politics, I’m prioritising this year youth unemployment. We have 91,000 young people not in employment, education or training, and I think that’s a national disgrace. That represents such wasted opportunity. Our young people, people I grew up with on the Kapiti Coast, without jobs, looking at the prospect of never owning their own home, runaway climate change and not even having a job. So youth unemployment, I would say.

What about you, Brooke?
Brooke van Velden: The biggest problems that we face are housing affordability and superannuation, and I think the ACT Party is the only party that’s actually really sticking up for young people and intergenerational unfairness.

Okay. Most people have touched on housing, so how much do you think an affordable house should be?
Van Velden: Definitely a lot less than what it is now. I think a few years back it used to be said three times your income was an affordable house, and now it’s over 10 times. I look at people my age, and I don’t think we’re ever going to be actually affording a home.

Priyanca’s nodding her head. What do you think the price of an affordable house is?
Radhakrishnan: I was just looking at some figures last night. I’m the Labour candidate for Maungakiekie as well in Onehunga, which is the suburb I started my work life in. You’ve got to have a joint income of about $160,000 to afford anything. That’s ridiculous.

So, Erica, the National government thinks that 650,000 is affordable. Do you think it’s affordable?
Stanford: I think the most important thing that we have to be doing right now is increasing supply. There’s no question. We have to be reforming the RMA, Special Housing Areas, infrastructure funds, and we also, what we’re promising, is to build 35,000 homes in the next 10 years, half of which will be social housing. That is the most important issue — is to be increasing the supply of homes — and that’s what we’re working towards.

A maximum of 20% of those houses are going to be affordable, aren’t they? So I’m just going to ask you again, do you think 650,000 is affordable?
Stanford: I think that’s a good start, yes.

Jack, do you agree?
McDonald: I mean, the National government has completely failed on the housing crisis, and they don’t even accept that it’s a crisis. I mean, the Special Housing Areas, for example, have been a complete failure, and National is selling off state homes when the Greens would be building thousands more state homes. We also would introduce a progressive ownership scheme, which is essentially rent to buy, because young families can be paying for their rent and actually buying equity in their own home. We think that’s a really good way of getting young families into home ownership.

Okay. Another hot topic at the moment is immigration. Jack, your party’s just dumped its immigration policy. And immigration is a legitimate conversation to have, isn’t it? But are you just too scared to have it?
McDonald: Absolutely not. So what this new position is saying is that we are the party that is going to stand up and say that migration is actually good for our country, and it’s the failure of government, who have failed to invest in our services and infrastructure, that we have the social issues that we have at the moment. It’s not the fault of migrants. And, actually, we are proud to be the most progressive party standing up for the rights of migrants.

Okay, so the old policy named figures about how many people should be coming in. What’s the new policy? Have you got one in terms of numbers?
McDonald: So you’ll see our new policy announced in the next few weeks, but we have ditched the 1% target.

Priyanca, you came here on an international student visa, didn’t you, and look where you are now. But your boss wants to cut down the number of overseas students who can stay on in New Zealand. And I’m wondering why shouldn’t those people, why are they being denied the same opportunity that you had?
Radhakrishnan: We agree, actually, with the sentiment that Jack’s expressed here that it’s an infrastructure deficit and a lack of planning that’s led us to where we are today. And we’ve just talked about the issues in housing as an example of that. Population increase has exacerbated that, and migration contributes to an increase in population. I came here as an international student, that’s right, and I got a wonderful education. And that’s going to be open— There’s no change to international students coming in at the university level, which is where I came in. What we are doing is—

But you’re cutting down the number of students who can stay on.
Radhakrishnan: We’re cleaning up a lot of dodgy practice that has happened in the PTE sector. I’ve worked with so many students who’ve been affected first hand by that. And what we are saying is we will disincentivise study below a level 7, because I’ve seen the amount of exploitation that happens to students who are sold a picture of New Zealand, they come here, and the reality’s different for them.

So you’re happy for those students to be denied that opportunity? You’re comfortable with that policy entirely?
Radhakrishnan: It’s about us safeguarding the wellbeing of students who come here as well.

Okay. Erica, you’ve been described as a blue-green. Is that fair?
Stanford: Yes.

Can you remind me what National’s greenhouse emission targets are?
Stanford: I can’t tell you off the top of my head, I’m sorry. I can tell you I’m more of a local girl when it comes to the environment at this stage. I’ve become a brand new MP, and I have been advocating very strongly for clean waterways. I’ve got a marine reserve in my electorate that is having sediment dumped into it on a daily basis. And I’ve been working really hard out there to get this issue in the media to try and make sure they stop doing that. I’m the one out there on the Browns Bay beach cleaning up spills. That’s my focus at the moment being a local MP.

All right. Well, those emissions — 11% below 1990 levels by 2030. But one thing I did read that you said was if the Greens could just relax a bit, they could work with National and do a lot of good things. So I’m wondering, could you just let Jack know what policies he needs to relax on? What do you think they are?
Stanford: Look, I think when the Greens came into existence, they came into existence because they were environmentalists, and that’s what they cared about. And along the way, things have become muddied with all of their social policies and their socialist rhetoric. I think if they just, like I said in that article, relaxed a bit and said, ‘Hey, you know, our core beliefs are green, and we can work with any party across the political spectrum on green issues,’ then they would go a long way, because I’m sure that in future, National would work with them if they came to that decision.

Let’s ask Jack. Are you relaxed enough to work with the National Party?
McDonald: So, it’s not a case of us relaxing our policies. And I’ll just go to the point, I think it’s really good to hear that Erica cares about the environment and cares about waterways. I hope you take that issue up with Nick Smith, who has completely moved the goalposts and actually just lowered the standards for swimmable rivers and water quality.

Stanford: You misunderstand.

McDonald: No, I don’t. But what I’d also say is that the Green Party was founded on four principles — social responsibility, ecological wisdom, appropriate decision making and non-violence — and we’re committed to those principles equally and a commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. So the environment is one of our core issues, but—

Stanford: But you only talk about it about 10% of the time to your detriment. Because you know at this election, Labour will ditch you quicker than…

McDonald: We know that National has been so bad for our environment and so bad for our people, and so it is unfathomable that we could work with them in government.

Let’s bring Brooke in on this, because you’re interested in the environment as well. In ACT, are you concerned about global warming? That’s a big issue for you?
Van Velden: The ACT Party is quite big on conservation.

I’m asking you, though. Global warming, it’s a concern?
Van Velden: I think emissions are a big concern for our country, and, in fact, the ACT Party is saying we need to cut back on emissions by introducing road-user charges, because our second-biggest emitter is just congestion.

Okay. Well, I’m interested because your leader made a comment in a speech he gave in 2016 where he said he was sceptical about the degree to which global warming was dangerous and how much of it was down to humans. Do you agree with that? Do you agree with his sentiments?
Van Velden: I think the climate is changing and we do need to protect our environment, which is why the ACT Party has a lot of conservation policies. You might notice that we have the policy to sell off Landcorp and—

To fund sanctuaries?
Van Velden: To fund sanctuaries for birds and wildlife.

McDonald: It’s not really a climate policy, though, which was the question.

So do you think that global warming is dangerous?
Van Velden: I think there are a lot of things that we can do on this issue, and I’ll bring back the point of road-user charges. And it’s something that we can do. We can’t be a leader in the global talk about climate change, but we can actually enact some policies which will see emissions decrease.

I see Jack wants to say something.
McDonald: Yeah, I just think that’s an example of if you really want action on climate change, you have to give your party vote to the Greens, and we need the Greens at the heart of the next progressive government if you actually want real change on these critical issues.

Okay, Priyanca, let’s talk about possible coalitions, eh? Would you be happy to serve in a government with Winston Peters as prime minister, or would you rather stay on the backbench?
Radhakrishnan: Look, we have such good policies that will, at the end of the day, affect so many people’s lives, and that’s what we’re there for. We’ve got comprehensive policies around health and housing and—

Gotcha. Heard that. Heard that before. Heard that. But would you rather be in government with Winston Peters as prime minister or not in government? What’s the preference for you?
Radhakrishnan: Look, that’s something that the leaders are going to have to discuss, I think. That’s not something that I’m going to be able to make any decisions on, and but I want Labour to be leading the next government.

All right. Erica, you’re, in essence, being gifted a seat, some people would say, a bit like Todd Barclay was. But we know it’s possible, even, to blow a job for life, so how are you going to stop yourself becoming complacent and entitled?
Stanford: The reason I got into this and the reason that I put my hand up for this seat is because I love the East Coast Bays. I am a local girl, born and bred. I’ve lived there my whole life. I’m raising my family there. I went to school there. I met my husband at the local high school. The reason that I’m doing this is for the East Coast Bays, and when I put my hand up, I said it’s the East Coast Bays or nowhere. And not because it’s a safe seat; because it’s my home, that’s my community, and I absolutely love the place. And I’ve been working in the electorate office for the last four years.

But when you get in, you need to represent everyone, don’t you?
Stanford: Absolutely. Of course you do.

Can you do that, though? Everything that you’re saying about your focus on that electorate…
Stanford: I’ve been working in the electorate office for the last four years, and I have been dealing with people from all walks of life, and generally they come into the electorate office because they’re not having a good day. In fact, sometimes it’s the worst day of their life. And my favourite thing about that job and the reason that I’m getting into this is because I love making a difference in their lives.

So do you know enough about people outside of East Coast Bays, people struggling with poverty? Do you know enough about those issues to be helpful to them?
Stanford: Of course I do. In fact, we have those issues in my electorate. We have issues of poverty. I’ve had people come into—

With the fifth-highest income of all the electorates in East Coast Bays.
Stanford: We still have problems. I have had people in the electorate office who have been living on Browns Bay beach in their car, and I have helped them get into a social house. It’s a problem that spans all electorates.

Priyanca?
Radhakrishnan: Look, all power to Erica for understanding the issues of poverty, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to be with the party that will implement solutions to reduce inequalities, and we’ve seen the National Party in government for nine years, and that hasn’t happened.

But your party voted down budget changes were targeted at poor families.
Radhakrishnan: That’s because that would’ve seen an extra thousand dollars in pockets like yours and mine — people who are at the higher end of the tax bracket and don’t actually need that help.

Stanford: That’s how percentages work with tax bracket shifts. What we did was lift 20,000 children above that poverty line, and that’s what is so important. And they didn’t vote for it.

So, Jack, did Labour cut off its nose despite its face? Because the Greens voted for that.
McDonald: We did vote for it because we’ve been campaigning for years and years to extend the parental tax credit and those other changes, but at the same time, the National Party gave huge tax breaks to upper-income earners, which we didn’t support. And I’ll just say that the National government has refused to even accept, as you heard this morning, Judge Andrew Becroft’s request for a target for child poverty reduction. In my electorate, Te Tai Hauauru, in parts of the electorate we have the highest rates of rheumatic fever among children and teenagers in the developed world. We have to address this. We have a huge issue of child poverty in this country with over 200,000 children living in poverty, and the National government just refuses to even acknowledge it.

All right. Let’s bring Brooke into this part of the conversation. We were talking to Judge Becroft there about children, and I’m wondering, if people on sole-parent benefits should have their benefit cut after a certain amount of time or a certain amount of kids, where do you sit on that?
Van Velden: I’d like to focus more on social mobility, and I think what we need more—

But can you give us an answer to this question?
Van Velden: Um…

Should there be a time limit on the time that they can collect a solo parent’s benefit or should it be docked if they keep having kids?
Van Velden: I think so. We shouldn’t be trying to encourage people to continue a cycle of needing to be beneficiaries. But benefits shouldn’t be for everyone.

What do you think that filter-down effect of that is going to have on the children of those—?
Van Velden: For children we need to focus more on the education, which is why I talk about social mobility. If you’re coming from a poor family, it’s more important that we’re giving all of those kids the opportunity to actually make a start in their life that is going to lead them to a successful life. So giving them an opportunity and an education like charter schools.

But I suppose the counter argument to that is if they’re worried about whether there’s food on the table because the benefit’s been docked, that doesn’t help, does it?
Van Velden: No, but if you’re giving those children a good start to life, they can get themselves out of that poverty.

Okay. Well, let’s do some quick-fire questions. I want some fast answers from you guys. Let’s go to Erica first. Is it okay for a prime minister to knowingly lie to voters? Is that acceptable?
Stanford: Of course not.

Okay. Priyanca, should we legalise cannabis?
Radhakrishnan: We should legalise medicinal cannabis.

But not recreational use?
Radhakrishnan: Well, honestly, those who need it for recreation are the ones who have it. We need to start looking at the drug reform issue as a health issue.

All right. Team New Zealand getting five million bucks to help retain its crew for next time. Are you okay with that?
McDonald: I don’t personally support it. I think there are a huge range of areas where the government should be investing money. For example, just this week, the Green Party announced our support for light rail to the airport in Auckland for the next time we have the America’s Cup, because that’s one of the most critical transport issues in the city.

All right. This week, Brooke, the government apologies to homosexual men who had convictions for homosexual acts. Should they be compensated as well, do you think?
Van Velden: I think it’s a civil rights issue. I’m not sure about the compensation, but I think it’s a good thing that they’ve been apologised to.

All right. Erica, Todd Barclay — should he just leave Parliament now so taxpayers don’t have to keep paying him until the next election?
Stanford: To be honest, it’s something I haven’t even thought about. It’s literally at the other end of the country.

I’m asking you to think about it now. Yes or no? Should he still be collecting a pay cheque in Parliament?
Stanford: I think the current situation is fine.

So it’s okay for him to get paid? Alright. What do you think the corporate tax rate should be, Jack?
McDonald: The corporate tax rate?

Yeah.
McDonald: We’d actually reduce the company tax rate for our climate tax cut policy by 1%, because that’s actually about putting money back into the hands of families and businesses. But we’d raise income tax and we’d raise taxes on eco—

We’re almost out of time. Quick yes or nos to these. Priyanca, are you going to vote for or against David Seymour’s euthanasia bill? It’s going to be a personal choice.
Radhakrishnan: Yes. With the adequate safeguards, I would be inclined to support.

Need an inquiry into state abuse, Brooke? Yes or no?
Van Velden: I’m not sure about that one.

On the fence again?
McDonald: Yes, we should. We absolutely should.

All right. Thank you all for joining us this morning. Really appreciate your time.

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