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Q+A: Phil Goff interview - transcript

Published: 5:51PM Monday March 28, 2011 Source: Q+A

Paul Holmes interviews Labour leader Phil Goff

PAUL Phil Goff is with me. Good morning.

Good morning, Paul.

PAUL Is your leadership safe this morning?

GOFF  Yes.

PAUL Do you expect to get some aggravation on Tuesday at the meeting of the front bench in Dunedin?


PAUL You should, shouldn't you?


PAUL Because the whole thing looks very much like bad politics, you see.

MR GOFF Well, I think the bad politics is actually the introduction on the situation surrounding Darren Hughes, because is prejudges a lot of things, Paul. I had a really difficult decision to make when I head of this complaint. You, I, Darren, anybody else, like all New Zealanders, have the entitlement of presumption of innocence. Trial by media is never a good idea. It would have been politically very easy for me to say, 'There has been a complaint. I shall suspend Darren Hughes.'

PAUL It would have been political sense. It would have been sense, wouldn't it

GOFF No, no.

PAUL to have bitten the bullet right at the start.

GOFF  Let me explain why I didn't do it.

PAUL No, no, no, you've got a night out drinking

GOFF No, no, you

PAUL You've got a young man standing by the Hataitai Tunnel holding his private parts, naked, trying to get a ride, and he's fleeing the house of the deputy leader.

GOFF Let me explain to you, Paul, why I didn't make the decision that you think that I should have made, and there are several parts to that. Firstly, there is the presumption of innocence. If I had suspended Darren Hughes, it would have been seen, first of all, as a lack of confidence in his denial that he committed any offence.

PAUL Not, it wouldn't have been. It would

GOFF Let me

PAUL Mr Goff, I'm sorry, Mr Goff.

GOFF No, no, you

PAUL  I've heard all this. We've been hearing this for days.

GOFF I'm sorry, Paul

PAUL You have a sex scandal developing

GOFF You asked me a question

PAUL It's an election year

GOFF Look, you can try as you may, but I'm going to answer your question. I'm going to answer it calmly and properly, because I owe it to the people listening to this programme to do so. Firstly, I wasn't going to destroy anyone's presumption of innocence.  Secondly, think about the statement made by the mum of the complainant this morning. The last thing she wanted was this matter to be dealt with publicly instead of properly by the police in a calm investigation.

PAUL But you've been in politics, what, 30 years

GOFF OK, what

PAUL You knew this was going to get out. You couldn't sit on this.

GOFF More than anybody else, Paul, you understand that if a matter should be properly dealt with by police, that's their job - let them get on and do it. If it becomes trial by the media, then that undermines the situation for the complainant

PAUL It is not trial by the media.

GOFF for the victim and also the police. Can you imagine how welcome it would have been for me to make an announcement to bring this matter into the public arena when the police wanted to get on and do their job.

PAUL You've been in politics, what, three decades.  Three and a half, four.

GOFF  I've been in long enough to know, Paul

PAUL That you can't sit on something like this out of loyalty to Mr Hughes.

GOFF  No, look

PAUL You can't sit on something like this out of loyalty to a crony.

GOFF And hey, well, you see, you're getting very emotional about this.

PAUL No, I'm not.

MR GOFF  And the suggestions you made at the start of this programme, the suggestion you just made then are really right over the top, and I just want you to reflect on what you said then. Darren Hughes

PAUL No, no, no, I

GOFF No, let me finish, because you've said something really serious. Darren Hughes is a good friend of mine. I have not stopped my friendship with Darren Hughes leading me to make to make the decisions I needed to make in terms of fairness and in terms of propriety.

PAUL But it's very

GOFF The last thing, Paul

PAUL Don't you see how one can be tempted to think you were sitting on this hoping it would go away?

GOFF No, no, that's

PAUL  That you didn't even tell the president of the party.

GOFF Frankly, Paul, what you're saying is absolutely wrong. That was never going to go away. I knew that. But what I was determined to do was allow the police to get on, do their job. Neither you or I were there. I can't talk, I can talk to Darren. I can't talk to the complainant. I can't make this judgement.

PAUL I'm sorry, Mr Goff. Mr Goff

GOFF Let the police do their job

PAUL Your predecessor, I dare say

GOFF and that's what should have happened.

PAUL Your predecessor, I dare say, would have bitten the bullet straight away, the moment Darren Hughes took the information to her. You had no choice politically, surely, than to stand him down and be honest with the public. The police can still go and do their work.

GOFF No, look, that's simply not true. If you talked to the police and they were willing to talk to you, I'm sure they'd say the best thing that could have happened in this, just as the mother of the complainant has said, is for them to have done the investigation, to determine whether there's any substance to it. Had they turned that complaint into a charge laid against him

PAUL Again, Mr Goff, you're the leader of the Labour Party.

GOFF No, no, no, look

PAUL This is politics. The temptation is for one to think you put friendship

GOFF And frankly

PAUL over stewardship.

GOFF No, frankly, Paul

PAUL Friendship over stewardship for the party.

GOFF Frankly, what you're showing me is showmanship. I'm trying to deal with this seriously.

PAUL Well, you had a chance to deal with this seriously

GOFF It is a difficult

PAUL and you dealt with it, most people seem to think, incompetently.

GOFF No, no, no, no

PAUL That's why the whole thing has become about your leadership.

GOFF No, no, you, It is not about my leadership, and there's no substance to that part of your allegation either. What I'm saying is the way to deal with this is to let the police do their investigation. Let them determine whether there's substance. If there was substance and a charge was laid, I knew what my decision would have been immediately.

PAUL I'm sorry, Mr Goff, I go back to that central premise

GOFF I am not prepared

PAUL that this was about politics. You are the leader of the Labour Party. This is election year. You're struggling as it is, and you had this nightmare situation come along, and the better thing would have been to have nipped it in the bud. You didn't even tell the party president. Why didn't you?

GOFF Because this is a caucus matter, and I'm the leader, and I've dealt with it.

PAUL And he's the party president. He's got to know what's coming.

GOFF Look, what I'm saying to you is that I needed to have the police conduct their investigation in a way that would not have jeopardised the privacy of the complainant, nor jeopardise the presumption of innocence. What is it about that, Paul, that you don't understand?

PAUL Mm. You say you believe what Mr Hughes told you, yes?

GOFF Oh, look, I

PAUL Do you believe what Mr Hughes told you?

MR GOFF No, look, well, let me answer the question. I have known Darren Hughes for a long time. Everyone in this room, including yourself, have known him to be a decent person that we would probably believe personally would not be capable of committing a criminal act.


GOFF I can't make that decision. That is not a decision for me to make. It's a decision for the police to make objectively, hearing it from the complainant and hearing from Darren.

PAUL Because presumably if you believe everything Mr Hughes tells you, as you would be inclined to do, I guess, you therefore disbelieve the complainant.

GOFF No, no, what didn't you understand about what I just told you, Paul? I said it's not my position to make that judgement. How can I make that judgement?

PAUL Here's

GOFF I've got, No, let me finish, please. I've got to lay aside my friendship with Darren in making a judgement in this case, and I've done that. But it's not my position to make a decision as to whether the complainant is justified in his complaint.

PAUL Yeah, of course.

GOFF or if Darren is right in his denial of the complaint.

PAUL Yeah, but you're talking about

MR GOFF That is the role of the police.

PAUL You're talking about it like it's

MR GOFF  And that is the role [sic] for them to make. Let them get on and do their job.

PAUL And you are talking about this like it is a straight criminal or police complaint matter, when, in fact, it is politics. It is the worst nightmare that could have happened to you in election year. Now, here's the other aspect of your leadership.  Matt McCarten, sitting over there, has written about this this morning. He said you've done a terrible job in the past fortnight. You had no plan. You

MR GOFF Well, no, you're wrong and Matt's wrong.

PAUL First of all you're sitting on it

MR GOFF Just calm down for a minute, Paul.

PAUL inviting questions of friendship over stewardship.

MR GOFF No, no

PAUL And you had no plan, because when it came out, first of all he stayed home for the day.

MR GOFF Paul, you're not listening.

PAUL Second day, you stripped him of the portfolios. Third day he resigned.


PAUL There was no plan.

MR GOFF Paul, you're not listening.  What I, I had a hard decision to make. I took it very seriously. It's a matter of justice, first and foremost. Justice ahead of politics, actually, if you really want to know what influenced my decision. I needed to be fair to the complainant, to the persona against whom the complaint was laid and to the let police get on and do their job. This is not about politics. Matt might have that view. He's a political opponent. He can well have that view.

PAUL But you're leader of the Labour Party, Mr Goff.

MR GOFF Of course I am, and I have taken

PAUL You have an obligation to look after the interests of the Labour Party.

MR GOFF That is absolutely true

PAUL And you sat on this late-night mad incident.

MR GOFF and I have, No, no, I have several obligations. First, the interests of justice, and that was the predominant concern that I had. Secondly, I am leader of the Labour Party, and I have an obligation to minimise the damage being done to the Labour Party by the sort of allegations that you're making. And that obligation was fulfilled

PAUL That the entire country is making.

MR GOFF When I talked

PAUL That anyone who observes politics is making, Mr Goff.

MR GOFF No, no, no, these are assertions.

PAUL Tell me, Let's move it on.

MR GOFF These are assertions that you're making. Let's move on, because I think I've answered your question several times.

PAUL Good. You certainly have.

MR GOFF And no matter how many times you make the assertion.

PAUL You certainly have.

MR GOFF we're not going to reach agreement on that.

PAUL No, no, you certainly have. Have there been other similar incidents involving Mr Hughes?

MR GOFF Not that I'm aware of, no.

PAUL There's one reported in the paper today.

MR GOFF I saw a report in the paper that said that he may have made a pass at somebody who described it as that, and didn't think it worthy of a complaint. I don't.

PAUL Did it come up to your office?

MR GOFF No. I don't know anything about that.

PAUL It would be a worry, wouldn't it, if there had been another such incident?

MR GOFF If there was any incident involving a police complaint, yes. My understanding is that there is no such incident.

PAUL Why did you move David Shearer, who's been in politics all of five minutes, up to education?

MR GOFF Because he can do the job as acting spokesperson on education.

PAUL Yes, I'm sure he can, but there might be several others who felt they had earned the right to have that spokesmanship.

MR GOFF Oh, I'm blessed with a caucus where many people could have carried out that spokesmanship.

PAUL Or is it a case of keeping your friends close and talented friends closer?

MR GOFF No, I think that, you know, that's not true. I've put people into my shadow cabinet on the basis of their ability on merit and merit alone.

PAUL Go back to Andrew Little. I mean, he is aggrieved. He wants to have a chat with you about why he wasn't told about this.

MR GOFF This is a matter for caucus. I've explained that.

PAUL You see, why didn't you? Again, I go back to your having no plan. Why didn't you sit down with senior people in the caucus and say, 'What are we going to do when this breaks? I am, for the right reasons, keeping this quiet - for justice - but if it breaks, what are we going to do?' And what we had was a political mess, Mr Goff. On the first day, he stays home - Mr Hughes stays home. Second day, you strip him of his portfolios. Third day, he's got to quit. No plan, see.

MR GOFF No, there, I've explained to you what my thinking was and what my reasoning was. I've made the decisions that I've made in good faith, out of interests of fairness and integrity. And I'll stand by my judgement in that. I may make wrong decisions. We all do that as human beings. And where I've made wrong decisions, you know, I'm prepared to acknowledge that. But let me say this: why did it take the course that it did? It took the course that it did because, as I feared and as you would have known as a journalist, as soon as that matter became public and was leaked, then there was no prospect of Darren

PAUL Then you're on the back foot.

MR GOFF No, no, no
PAUL You could have taken, and this is the question about your judgement

MR GOFF Would you?

PAUL Could Mr Goff have taken the front foot?

MR GOFF Would you like to let me finish the sentence or, Paul, would you like to interview yourself?

PAUL No, no, no, I'm explaining that if you nipped it in the bud and been straight-up and honest with the public


PAUL you would not now have this political embarrassment.

MR GOFF Let me tell you, there has never been any question about my honesty with the public. I made a judgement call, and that was that justice could be done by letting the police get on and do their job, rather than having the sort of

PAUL Alright.

MR GOFF the media maelstrom around I that would impede them, hurt the complainant and hurt Darren Hughes' prospect of justice.

PAUL I don't want to put this question to you, but I'm going to. You know, I think there's widespread opinion that, really, you are only sitting here as leader of the Labour Party because there's no one else in the caucus who's got the numbers.

MR GOFF I'm sitting here as leader of the Labour Party because on two occasions, when it arose constitutionally, I was elected unanimously to do that job.

PAUL Party support's just above 30 at the moment, isn't it?

MR GOFF No, that's wrong.

PAUL If it were to drop, say, I don't know, below 30 - say, 28 - and members of the caucus started to worry about losing their jobs in November, would you expect to go?

MR GOFF No, let's have a look at the situation. The party support is in the mid-30s. That's higher than we had at the election, and it's a lot higher than Bill English had in 2002, when it was about 20%.

PAUL I thank you very much indeed for your time.

MR GOFF And thank you, Paul.

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