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Q+A: The panel on David Shearer interview

Published: 4:22PM Sunday November 25, 2012 Source: Q+A

GREG The panel this week: Dr Raymond Miller from Auckland University - good to have you along - Fran O'Sullivan, Herald columnist; and Helen Kelly, head of the Combined Trade Unions. Welcome to all three of you. First of all, Raymond. Kiwi Build first of all. Is it a good idea? Is it a sound idea?

DR RAYMOND MILLER - Political Scientist

I think it's a very good idea, and, you know, we do have a crisis in housing in New Zealand, particularly at the low end, and the market is not responding right now. And clearly there is a need for a lot of new houses to be built, particularly in places like Auckland, over the next few years. It's not something that can be fixed in a few months. There are a couple of things I think that are interesting from that interview. The first is the whole question of affordability, however - whether it is possible for people on low incomes to be able to pick up a mortgage of, say, $250,000 to $300,000. It's quite a big ask. The other thing is do we have the skills in New Zealand, at the same time as we're dealing with Christchurch, to also produce 10,000 new houses a year? But the need is there.

GREG Fran, that's a very good point. Do we have the plumbers, the electricians, the carpenters to talk about the sort of numbers David Shearer is proposing as far as the new houses go? And that's putting aside the possibility of state homes as well.

FRAN O'SULLIVAN - NZ Herald Columnist

Yeah, it's going to be quite an ask, actually, to gear up for this, because Christchurch is already - just with the replenishment of the houses down there that have been damaged by the earthquakes, but also by the build that's coming up. But to do this, I don't think you can kick it off immediately. I think there'd have to be a period of upskilling. It may be that they will have to import workers from elsewhere in the world, as is happening with Christchurch. And there's also issues about supply-chain management and how people like Fletchers - and not just Fletchers but other mass-housing providers - actually do gear up for this.

GREG All right, let's talk about the leadership. David Cunliffe's been banished to the naughty corner. Has this done anything as far as changing the public perception of David Shearer as the Labour leader? Helen, I'll start with you. I think I can guess what you're going to say, but we'll start here anyway!

HELEN KELLY - CTU President

Well, I mean, I think he just did a very good interview, and if anything, what this has done is actually give him authority and give him confidence to move forward. And actually the really interesting thing is I was at the Labour Party conference, and if you were to pick the person who rose above it, who showed dignity and leadership, it was David Shearer. I mean, to walk out on that Sunday, deliver the speech that he delivered - it was spectacular. And he's right - people did leave that conference feeling confident, feeling like Labour had a good plan. And the way that it's been depicted - a left-right split, a young-old split - it just simply wasn't true at that conference - the one that I attended, anyway.

GREG Raymond, the wider public, though - we saw David Shearer with Shane a moment ago, and there was a lot less um-ing and ah-ing and it was a lot more direct and there appears to be a bit of mongrel showing through. Are we to buy that? Are we to believe that? And is the public going to buy and believe that?

RAYMOND Well, first of all, it has been a very unsteady performance by David Shearer over the last 12 months, no question at all, and a lot of members are really wondering whether or not he has the goods. I mean, 13 percentage points behind in the polls after a relatively bad year for National - this is a concern for a lot of grassroots members. He has improved. There are times when he looks much better. He's not good on impromptu interviews and comments. He's quite good on set-piece performances. But he has to be the advocate for his party's core values. And as Helen said, it's not a question of left or right. I think it's question of being able to advocate clearly to the public that Labour is ready to take over the government, and that's where I think the concern has been.

GREG Fran, on the David Cunliffe side of it, to a degree, it's shown a bit of cojones on David Shearer's part. To the other degree, though, this has been happening the minute Phil Goff stepped down. Why now? And the fact that it's taken until now - what does that say?

FRAN Well, I think partially also- I mean, it may have been happening since Phil stepped down, but also, don't forget, they were in a leadership race against each other. They did go through some party primaries, but actually the caucus overrode what the party base was saying, which, basically, they supported Cunliffe. David Cunliffe still is a far more competent politician. He's more aggressive, he has the sound bites, he's more intellectual and he's fast on his feet. But this guy is starting to catch up. I think it's a great pity that what didn't happen after Shearer won the caucus vote was that he didn't actually offer David Cunliffe finance spokesmanship. He was already in that role. He did a damn good job, and this is-

GREG This is something that's said a lot. His talent as a politician - put aside the leadership side of it and put aside that part of it - his talent as a politician has been in no doubt. Would he not have been smarter to do a Helen Clark-Michael Cullen - same sort of thing?

FRAN Or Bill English and John Key.

HELEN He did do that. I mean, let's have a look now. I mean, this leadership thing - if the line is drawn under it as Shearer says, let's have a look at the dynamic now. You've got a man who's saying, "Smart government, hands in, we can make a difference, we can deal with unemployment, we can deal with the economy and we will where that makes sense." And you've got another man saying, "Hands off. I'm not worried about the unemployed. They can take care of themselves. The market will look after the New Zealand economy." And you've got this real contrast, and I think it's going to be a really interesting year. We have these two leaders-

GREG To be fair, Helen, and I'm going to put this to Raymond - as you've said, there's been 12 months of patchy. We've had one good speech and kicking someone to the backbenches. That's happened over one weekend. It needs to be more than that.

RAYMOND Yes, it does, and, you know, the public can be forgiven for not being able to distinguish Labour from National sometimes, and, I mean, this is the concern for many Labour Party people is that they don't have a leader or haven't had a leader who has been able to effectively take it to the opposition- to the government.

GREG Do they have that now?

RAYMOND Well, no. I think they're stuck with Shearer now through to the 2014 election.

GREG Past February?

RAYMOND I think so. I don't think that Cunliffe is a realistic proposition for February of next year.

GREG The fact remains, though, doesn't it, whatever the outcome of last weekend, this is still a party divided left and right? There are factions in there. Whatever the outcome of that, there are people in there who are still not happy with David Shearer, Fran.

FRAN Yes, that's true, but the party, to some degree, is also a broad church, because there's left and right also in National. I think one of the things that I took out of that interview which actually will resonate is essentially what he's saying about being a more activist government is kind of moving as the United States is as well to shore up some of their own domestic industries. Now, this is happening because people realise the price of globalisation has been, you know, too much outsourcing and there is a need to bring stuff back.

GREG All right, we will leave that there.

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