Friday , August 18 2017
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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Willie Jackson

Labour’s Maori Campaign Director Willie Jackson says he has spoken to “two or three” Green Party candidates, about cooperating in the Maori seats, in order to beat the Maori Party/Mana Party. But Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has already tweeted telling The Nation “That is not the case. The leadership discussed this last year and agreed not to.”

Jackson says Labour’s internal polling shows Labour can win all seven Maori seats. He says the gap between their candidate Tamati Coffey and Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell in Waiariki is as little as one percentage point.
Jackson says his priority is getting the Maori electorate MPs re-elected, over his own campaign to get in to Parliament.

Lisa Owen: Well, Labour launches its Maori campaign this weekend, looking to retain its Maori seats as well as bring in some new blood off the party list. But with the party’s polls in a slump, how optimistic are they? Labour’s Maori Campaign Director, Willie Jackson, joins me now. Good morning.
Willie Jackson: Kia ora. Kia ora, Lisa.

Your job is to get Maori MPs elected, but, actually, you’re number 21 on the party list, so it’s actually in your best interests that not all of them do get elected. So how does that keep you honest?
No, no, well, my absolute priority is to get them elected. If I get in, well, then that’s fine. I don’t know what your last poll said. Did I get in on the last poll? I’m not sure.

So you’re not the priority? You’d take one for the team?
No, no, I’m not the priority. Absolutely, because I want to see a strong Maori presence – a Maori Labour Party presence – in those seats. And, look, I think I think I should get in, because the polls might say one thing, but we’ve got eight weeks to go, and I’m sure we’re going to get 32%, 33%, 35%.

Because at the moment, you’d be hanging on a ledge at number 21 on the list.
But that’s okay. I’ve been in Parliament before. If I don’t get in, such is life. You know?

So it’s a possibility you won’t, you think, on your current polling?
Oh, current polling suggests not, right? But the polling in the Maori seats tell us that we’re going very well. I think we could be looking at a sweep of the seven Maori seats.

Okay. So you’re polling in the Maori seats, are you?
We’re polling in the Maori seats. We’re going pretty well, and we’ve got some—

So what’s pretty well? Let’s be a bit more specific. How many do you expect to win?
Uh, probably all seven. I expect to win six, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we took the whole seven.

So the one that you’re, kind of, not so 100% on?
Well, Lisa, you’ve got the—

Waiariki?
You’ve got the Minister of Maori Affairs down there in the Waiariki, so it’s always hard to take out an incumbent; anyone will tell you that. However, he’s a minister under a lot of pressure. He’s in an area that’s suffering. They’ve had a Maori housing policy out, and they’ve got some funding for Maori housing. Sadly for him, he didn’t get one new house built in Rotorua, and so we’ve got an excellent candidate down there in Tamati Coffey, who’s really applying the pressure.

So if you’re polling and you’re thinking that you’re going to win them all, what are your polls telling you about Waiariki, then?
It’s telling us that we’re… Well, there’s a couple of polls out, but—

Come on. What are they telling you?
Well, you know, I’ve got a couple of other programmes I’m going on, so we’re going to talk about—

You brought it up. You brought it up. You opened Pandora’s Box here.
It’s very close. Look, I think we’re within—

So, what? 1%? 2%? 5%?
Between 1% and 6%, I think. It’s within that.

6% is a lot. 1% not so much. Which end of the scale are you on?
There’s a couple of polls out. Couple of polls out. One’s talking about 1%. Another poll that Farrar’s done – Kiwiblog – I think is about 5% or 6%.

But the 1% poll, is that your own polling?
Yeah. There’s a lot of legitimacy in our own polling; just ask Paddy Gower that.

Hang on, Mr Jackson. The 1%, is that in your internal polling? You think there’s only 1% in Waiariki?
I’ve got to have a look at that. I’m not quite sure. I’m not quite sure, but it’s pretty close, but you—

Well, so—
Hang on. You don’t want to be rubbishing internal polls. Youse jump on them as soon as we go down.

I’m not; I’m asking you if your poll is the 1% poll.
We—

Hang on. So, basically, then you are predicting the end of the Maori Party.
I think it could be very close to the end for the Maori Party if Te Ururoa doesn’t win Waiariki. You know, that’d be sad for a lot of people if that happens, but that’s the game we’re in, you know? This is the game we’re in. We’re in to sort of knock each other out. Nothing personal. Te Ururoa and Marama Fox have done their best in terms of advocating for our people, no doubt about that, but they’re with a National government that doesn’t prioritise people – Maori, working-class people.

It kind of does sound a little bit personal, because at every opportunity the Maori Party gets, they want to say that Labour throws Maori under the bus, that Andrew Little doesn’t know what ‘kaupapa Maori’ means. So why do they hate you so much?
Well, no, I don’t think that’s personal from them, and it’s certainly not personal from me. I think they’re talking about the party; they’re not talking about individuals. No, what they’re trying to do is survive. They talk a load of nonsense. They start spinning nonsense with regards to that—

So you think they’re fighting for their life?
‘Course they’re fighting for their lives. If Te Ururoa doesn’t get in, they’re gone, and there’s a real chance that he won’t get in. Look, I say, sadly, they’ve been selling us out a bit in the last year or two. The funding they got in terms of the budget was a disgrace – less than 1% of funding from the National Party government.

It’s more than what the Labour Party got in the budget, isn’t it, though? That’s their whole point – they’re at the table; they’re getting funding.
No, it’s not a very good point, because I think Bill would’ve given 1% in his sleep. It wouldn’t have mattered if there had been a party at the table or not. To get the sort of funding they got for Whanau Ora is an insult to our Whanau Ora providers. It’s just disgraceful. We’re doing the busin—Look, can I just say the Whanau Ora policy that Tariana Turia came out with – brilliant. I roll it out.

They’re getting more money for Maori than you are, because they are at the table.
You don’t have to be a genius to know that. When you’re in Opposition, you don’t get any money. We all know that.

Precisely. That’s the point.
But they should be getting four, five times more than what they’re getting. Look, they’re getting peanuts. They’re getting crumbs. They haven’t even put one house in the Waiariki.

Let’s talk about you, though. Labour and the Maori seats. Aren’t you worried that your friends in the Green Party could split the vote in some of those seats?
Having a talk to them now. Am talking to some of the individuals in the Green Party.

What are you saying to them about that, then?
That we should work together and we should do a deal because the reality is the Greens are just talking about the party vote, aren’t they? Our Maori MPs went off the list and they’re looking at just winning their seats, so—

Are they open to this?
Well, I’ve talked to two or three candidates. I can’t name those candidates—

Auckland — Tamaki Makaurau — is one of the ones where you could potentially be in strife with splitting the vote there.
Well, she’s got popular, hasn’t she, Marama Davidson? So…

High profile. So is that one of the—?
Well, I can’t divulge the type of conversations we’re having, but, obviously, the Greens should work with us.

They haven’t ruled it out, though, Mr Jackson?
They certainly haven’t. Talking with different candidates, no, they haven’t worked it out because they are very clear, they just want the list vote.

So, in some seats, would your ideal scenario be, before the election, that you will do what Bill English did this week and say, ‘In this electorate, can you please vote for this candidate?’ You want an endorsement from the Greens in some of the Maori seats?
Absolutely. I have talked to one or two of them and we’re working this through because, surely, you don’t want to put the Maori Party candidate back in who will be jumping up and down trying to deal—

Is that a dirty deal, Mr Jackson?
No, that’s what you call a New Zealand political deal that your prime minister is doing every single day and that most politicians do. So, you know, National’s been doing it in Hawera forever and National’s going to try to do it again in the Epsom electorate.

Well, you raised the issue of the Maori MPs coming off the list. How involved were you in that decision?
Not at all.

Well, how come?
Not at all.

Aren’t you, like, the strategist—?
No. No. They asked me to do that after they made those decisions.

Oh, after the list came out? The consolation prize?
No. No. So that decision was made, in terms of the campaign director, a month before the list came out. But they made their decisions with regards to coming off the list, and I was surprised. I was surprised.

Do you agree with it?
I thought it was… ‘Good on them.’ I thought it was terrific what they did. It was a principled decision that they made in terms of coming off the list, and the whole idea was to come off the list so that more Maori could come through.

All right. We’ve got a bit to get through, so I wanted to just talk to you about, quickly, charter schools. You’re involved with them. Kelvin Davis is supportive of them, but the fact is, Labour’s policy is no charter schools. So you’re on a hiding to nothing with that one, aren’t you?
Not at all because Labour has said they’ll support successful schools. Our schools are very successful—

No charter schools.
Yeah. Yeah. No, but—

I’ve got the policy right here. Let me read it to you. (READS) ‘Repeal the legislation allowing for charter schools.’ No charter schools.
Yeah, well, you mightn’t have heard the other part that they’ve spoken to us about, which is if your school’s doing well, if you’ve got qualified teachers, if you’re adhering to the rules, there shouldn’t be any problems whatsoever.

But that’s not the policy. The policy is no charter schools.
But we support the policy. We support the policy.

Are you just going to call it something else?
They can call it whatever they like, but myself, Kelvin Davis and Peeni Henare will never walk away from our kids and we’ll work with any government that will support our kids in terms of advancing.

Labour’s going to backtrack on the charter schools—?
No. Labour’s not going to backtrack at all. Labour is saying we don’t want a charter-school policy in that’s very similar to America. They don’t want a policy in where big companies can come in and run schools in terms of profits.

Show me a charter school that’s run by McDonald’s, Nike or a big American corp here in New Zealand.
Well. No. What I’m saying, here in New Zealand, they’ll support schools like ours who are run by social providers who live off the smell of an oily rag.

No, they won’t. Their policy is no charter schools. There’s no exceptions. There’s no buts. No charter schools.
Have you not been watching the news? Maybe you’re watching the wrong news. Andrew Little’s been very clear. ‘If your school’s doing well, if your school’s successful, if your school’s advancing Maori aspirations, we’ll find a way to accommodate it.’ I think that’s pretty clear.

Let’s talk about Metiria Turei because everyone’s been talking about Metiria Turei. Are you OK with her committing benefit fraud? Is it OK to pinch money from the taxpayers and other beneficiaries?
At a personal level… From a personal perspective I could do nothing but support Metiria because I represent beneficiaries and I’ve represented them for years and years.

Her actions? Are you OK with those?
Well, it’s not about being OK. It’s about understanding what she did and I understand—

I’m asking you a specific question. We can talk about whether beneficiaries get enough money on one hand. I’m asking you is it OK to break the law.
Of course it’s not OK to break the law. Of course not. But I still have a lot of sympathy for what she went through at the time and I understand the plight of our people and I understand that we had a National government at the time that was bashing beneficiaries. That there is no doubt about.

So how worried are you that her admission of a fraud is damaging to Labour’s brand because you’re a package deal?
We’re a package deal and we need to work together. She’s probably got as many supporters as she’s got detractors, so I’m not worried about Labour. It’s the Greens. They need to worry about their own strategies.

Yeah, but it could have an influence on people who vote for you.
It could have an influence. I mean, Winston, at the moment, is stealing some of our votes, you know. People need to understand that a vote for Winston looks like it’s going to be a vote for National. He seems to be gravitating, going down that track.

Well, hang on a moment. He’s saying he’s leaving his doors open. If your internal polling is right, which you’d like to think it’s right in the Maori seats, so let’s assume it’s right across the board. If it’s right, Winston is above the Greens, so does that make them potential senior coalition partner above the Greens if you get together to form a government?
Well, no, because we have an agreement with the Greens—

Yes, but it only lasts until election night.
Yeah, well, we’ll just see how Winston goes. He’s been a bit out of hand in the last couple of weeks, you know. You know, you’ve got him… And Shane Jones wants to nuke all his nephews up north.

If he gets more at the polls than the Greens, then that would make him the senior coalition partner with you, wouldn’t it?
Well, we’ll see what happens after election day.

Is he good for Maori?
Well, getting rid of the Maori seats is not good for Maori. But is Winston good for Maori? Well, he gets a bit of Maori support, right?

Yeah, well, you raise that cos the Greens are currently trying to scare voters when it comes to Winston Peters, but here’s the thing. Maori voters do like Winston. If you look in the Maori seats, New Zealand First is the third most popular party behind Labour and the Maori Parties. So should you have done an MOU with Winston Peters?
The problem with Winston, you don’t know where he is sometimes. You know, you’ve got to remember, he started his political career in the Maori seats. Then he had all the Maori seats, so he was backing in the Maori seats. Now today, he’s not backing the Maori seats. He was the minister of Maori affairs. Now he thinks Maori Affairs is a waste of time. It depends what week it is with Winston. If we get him on the right week, we probably could do a deal.

We’re out of time, but your party is polling sub 30 pretty regularly, so is this the life time we’re going to see you or—?
Well, no, I’m available again next week, if you like. I can come in again and tell you all about the Maori campaign tomorrow.

Well, nice to talk to you, Willie Jackson.

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