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The Salient editors sat down with Andrew Little, leader of the opposition, to chat about recent events, Labour’s intended policies if elected, and stuff that affects students. Below are the juicy parts of the first half of the 45 minute interview, including commentary on Little’s nomination of Willie Jackson, plus Labour’s policies to tackle rape-culture and the housing crisis. The second part will be printed next week and an audio recording of the full interview is being broadcasted on Salient FM.
Listen to the full recording here:
There has been some backlash against your backing of Willie Jackson. Would you be able to explain your reasoning for his nomination?
He’s not the only person I’m backing. […] There are some candidates I back for winnable electorate seats, so I asked, for example, Deborah Russell to stand in New Lynn when that was vacated by David Cunliffe. We had a strategy up to the last election to get more women in on the list — it was a failed strategy, because when you poll low they’re the ones that miss out. So I said we have to actually get women into winnable electorate seats, so that explains […] what we’ve been trying to do.
Why Willie Jackson? Not just through his broadcasting role, where he has established a profile — but through the other work he has done particularly in the Māori community in West and South Auckland, […] he runs an outfit called the Manukau Urban Māori Authority (MUMA), that does a whole range of stuff, one of the programmes that it does following the, ah… interview he was involved in on the Roast Busters issue, [is a] domestic violence programme, he actively went out and got advice on [the programme], about was needed, and how to put it together, and that authority now runs domestic violence programmes for families in South Auckland.
The risk factor for Willie Jackson was some of his past conduct. I looked at that — not so much his apology that he gave at the time, but his actions since, and I’m satisfied that what he does and what he stands for is totally consistent with Labour’s values. He might have rubbed people up the wrong way, but that’s not a reason to not let someone stand for office. He has the qualities and experience that I think stand him in good stead.
You have suggested that nominating Willie Jackson is about garnering support from urban Māori.
He has a connection and a reach to a part of the constituency that we don’t reach well. We’ve got some outstanding Māori MPs, working right across the country, but in terms of urban Māori, we don’t have as strong of a connection as we could have. And he will assist with that.
Do you think that Willie Jackson will be a valuable MP in terms of the policies he can put forward to support urban Māori, or is his appointment more about garnering votes from Urban Māori?
Well, um, I make no apology for the fact that politics is about getting every vote you can. That’s the life of politics. But you look at the people you’re bringing on board in the team, I look at what he has done — other stuff he does in the community, which is supporting young Māori, in terms of education and training, getting skills – he supports a lot of that work — he is very supportive in terms of culturally talented young Māori, not tikanga Māori, as such, but the arts, and he’s a big supporter of that. I think in terms of lifting people up and ensuring there is opportunity for young people, he absolutely lives that. And that’s why I think he’s got something to bring for us.
What kind of policies are Labour looking to implement to support urban Māori?
Knowing that Māori are totally, disproportionately represented in our unemployment statistics, particularly young unemployed, we have a policy saying, if you’re out of work for more than six months, […] [you will be] working with DOC, or a local authority, or an NGO, on environmental projects. That’s really about giving those young people something to get up for in the morning; and looking at, ‘is there something we can do to help further?’ For example, if you don’t have your driver’s license, if there is a certificate we can get you, can we put you on a training course. For a lot of young people who get put off by constant rejections, and dip out of trying to get work or training, it’s about getting them into habits about getting up and having somewhere to go, rebuilding their self esteem, then getting them thinking about the next steps. The thing that I lie awake most about, worrying the most about, is the idea that so many young people [are unemployed] — 90,000 — because if they aren’t brought into doing something constructive, it gets harder and harder the longer that time goes on, […] and that’s got to be a priority. It’s a personal priority for me.
What kind of policies does Labour intend to implement to prevent or minimise the types of harm caused by rape culture brought to public attention by the Roast Busters scandal?
We have two very fierce advocates on sexual and domestic violence — Poto Williams and Kelvin Davis. Kelvin Davis has led the cause and the debate in Northland about getting communities out there to take these issues seriously and to do something about it. One of the biggest impediments to victims of sexual violence is reporting to a criminal justice system that is completely unsympathetic. In fairness, Amy Adams has started some work on this and we support the government on measures to make the criminal justice system more accommodating and empathetic to victims of sexual violence. That means when you go to the police, you have properly, professionally, trained police personnel interviewing victims and understanding things from the victim’s point of view, not putting the blame back on them. Then a court system which treats victims as victims, doesn’t re-victimise them which is often the case. We are committed to a range of changes to make the system more responsive to victims of sexual violence. One of the more disturbing reports I have read from 2009 was that of the convictions for sexual offences, [they represent] 1% of the offences actually committed. We need to make changes if we are going to get justice.
Would you be considering bringing in a specialised court for survivors of sexual assault?
Our justice system is getting more sophisticated in the way it deals with special classes of crime, for example the drug and alcohol courts in Auckland, family court, youth court […] I think it is time for us to look at a specialised sexual offences court so that it can manage those offences, the victims of it, and the defendants as a better way of ensuring justice for the victim.
So Labour is committed to a specialised court?
Labour stated in 2013 that it was committed to a gender-balanced caucus after the 2017 election. Is this still feasible?
Of 38 selections we’ve made so far, 18 are women, […] some of them are in seats we don’t necessarily realistically expect to win, […] but some of those will be women who I’ll be supporting for winnable places on the list. Our total selection process doesn’t finish until May, and it’s a combination of completing the electorate selections and putting the list together, […] and I’m totally confident that we will achieve our target.
How then would you respond to the statement by Maryann Street on social media, which spoke specifically about Rachel Boyack and other female candidates getting to where they are through “hard work and loyalty to the party,” not “shoulder tapping and list-jigging,” in a direct response to the Willie Jackson nomination.
Look, Willie Jackson still needs to go through the list selection process. The whole idea of MMP, and having the list, is that you not only get people who win electorates, but you get people who will make up the full range of talent you would like in caucus. We have always put people in on the list who have not necessarily been time-servers in the party […]. I don’t have any qualms about using that list process to round out the full range of talent we want and need in our caucus.
In Question Time on February 14 you grilled Bill English with the knowledge that 250 state homes have been empty as they wait to be put on the market and asked “how on earth does he justify selling state houses in the middle of a housing crisis.”
He’s talking about the private renting market. That’s his and National’s instinctive response, the market will fix everything. The reality is that, in the rental market because of the pressure of housing, rents are now getting out of control. That’s why we have the homelessness problem we do, 41,000 people — and that’s a 2013 figure, not even a current figure. […] There will be a lot, lot more than that, ince 2013. […] This is a chronic problem now. The whole reason we had state housing and Housing New Zealand is precisely because for people for whom the private rental market was too exorbitant, they would still be able to get a decent house — we’ve lost sight of that. […]
These 254 houses, that are habitable, good houses, you could walk in there today and they would be perfectly suitable and comfortable, and they are sitting there empty because the government is waiting to sell them. And I think that’s a total abdication of the principle and philosophy of having state housing and Housing New Zealand; it’s there to help people who are being shut out of getting a decent house on the private market.
On Monday, February 13, the NZ Herald reported figures released by the Labour Party that the housing shortage has reached 60,000 and that the gap between supply and demand is 4000 per quarter, or 16,000 per year. The Labour Party has committed, if elected, to building 10,000 affordable houses a year — what about the 6000 shortfall?
So, our figures are on top of what is being built at the moment. […] We don’t have enough big, large scale projects where the Government has gotten involved and provided the set capital needed to get the projects going. Our programme is about getting 100,000 houses over ten years. It won’t be a straight line 10, 000 houses per year, because the first few years we need to build up the workforce that goes with it. We are trying to train as many kiwis as we can to get into the industry, we will have to bring in some people from overseas to be part of it as well. So I’m confident that with those sorts of numbers and with the construction that will carry on regardless anyway, we will close the gap and keep up with the increased population.
While this may aid those seeking to enter the property market, the reality with house prices at the moment is that people will be renting for an extended period of time. What are you thoughts on current tenancy law and what would Labour do to improve tenants rights?
They need to change. Another part of our housing plan is renters’ rights […] — we do need to look at Residential Tenancies legislation, renters do need to know that they have greater security of tenure than they do at the moment. We need to look at the European model, the German model in particular where you have […] more scope and rights in the house, with longer tenure and the inability of the landlord to, with the flick of their fingers, kick you out. […] So we will review that, and provide more secure tenants rights than there are at the moment.
The second half of this interview will be published on Monday, March 6.