PHIL GOFF interviewed by GUYON ESPINER
GUYON Thank you Phil for joining us this morning, we really appreciate your time. Thursday's Budget we're almost certain to see a rise in GST to 15%. Now I know you're looking possibly at some exemptions to GST, but can you say that Labour would restore the general level of GST back to 12ý%, should you be elected in 2011?
PHIL GOFF -
No I can't make that promise because I don't know whether it'll be financially viable, or whether the situation can be reversed in that way. Let's get it totally clear, we're against the increase in GST, John Key promised sincerely he wouldn't raise it, he broke that promise, and he also broke the contract that if GST was going to be across all goods with no exemptions, then it would be kept low.
GUYON What I'm interested in is your promise. Can you make one on GST?
PHIL There are three options that we have on GST. One is to reverse it, we haven't ruled that out. The second option is to take the revenue from GST and distribute it fairly to middle and low income people rather than overwhelmingly to the top income earners, as this government is intending to do. The third is simply to look at the option of whether any exemption is viable, for example for fresh vegetables and fruit. There are two reasons for that. One, dropping the price of basic commodities for lower income people, but secondly the School of Medicine has said very clearly in the last few weeks, if you do this, people will consume more of those goods. There is a real health bonus.
GUYON Okay, but is this just talk from you, you've talked about it this week. Will you do it?
PHIL Well I've told you those are the options, we will look at those options. I think the most likely option is to ensure that the tax cuts that compensate, will be fairer for middle and low income people.
GUYON Okay so that's the most likely option.
PHIL That's the most likely option.
GUYON So is the GST exemption on those certain foods, is that an unlikely option?
PHIL No that's one that we've said we'll look at all aspects of it.
GUYON Surely Mr Goff you wouldn't float an idea that you had no intention of carrying through?
PHIL No, we're looking at it seriously. Why are we looking at it seriously? Because people have told us, I was at the Otara Budgeting Service on Friday, they said that would be a huge help to people in that income bracket.
GUYON Sure, I think everyone can understand why it might have some advantages, but let's look at the disadvantages. And they're things that you've raised yourself, about the anomalies, about the red tape. Financial Commentator Bernard Hickey, raised some questions this week about this policy, see if you can help him out. Fruit and yoghurt - GST or not?
PHIL No fresh fruit and vegetables, it's easily definable that's why we're doing it.
GUYON Well what about the example that Paul Holmes gave in the introduction about salted peanuts versus unsalted peanuts?
PHIL No, anything that's processed is out. You can make the definition. It's not difficult to do, it's probably not difficult to do, it's probably not difficult in terms of compliance costs either, but we're looking at it.
GUYON So why wouldn't you do it?
PHIL Well I want to look at all of the evidence. I've put the idea forward. Let New Zealanders discuss it. We've had time and again from New Zealanders that suggestion raised, and governments, including my own in the past, have said no we know best. And why did we knock it back? Because the original idea of GST was low GST, no exemptions. We're now talking about 15%, Treasury would like it to be 17ý, 20%. You're now starting really to eat into the costs the people face on their basic food items. It is very difficult for a lot of families out there, we need to know how we can help the pressures on them.
GUYON Before I leave the economy, the super fund. You said this week in your speech, Labour would restore contributions to the super fund, that's about two billion dollars a year. Where are you going to find that money from, borrowing or tax increases?
PHIL The answer is this, that in the last year since Bill English wrote that fund off, it's increased by 3.5 billion dollars. This is an investment&
GUYON That's talking about the return. I want to know from you Mr Goff where the money is going to come from, are you going to borrow that money?
PHIL It is affordable, because it's an investment in the future, it's not about consumption, if you understand what I'm saying about that, it's about an investment in the future, and it's about a guarantee that my generation, the baby boom generation, pays our share towards super.
GUYON Where is the money coming from?
PHIL Well the same place that money always comes from, from government, you raise it by revenue, you raise it by borrowing, there's a range of different things. I can tell you some savings that we could make, it's the two billion dollars a year that it's costing us to subsidise polluters under the government's Emissions Trading Scheme, now covering 800 companies when it was covering 60 under Labour. So you know, you've gotta work out your priorities. Our priority is to ensure that when people go into retirement they can rely on a retirement fund to support their needs. With this government they say we'll keep the entitlements, but they've stopped paying into the investment fund. Bill English says he'll bring it back, so you put the same question to Bill English. How's he going to fund it? We're saying we'd bring it back immediately.
GUYON Let's move to Maori issues, which have been in the news this week. John Key has ruled our returning to Tuhoe the Urewera National Park. Do you think that Tuhoe should have control of the Urewera National Park?
PHIL Well under the Labour government we looked at it somewhat differently, we looked at restoring mana, we looked at co-management.
GUYON Well people are looking for alternatives Mr Goff, they're looking for your alternative. What is that?
PHIL I'm telling you the answer and you keep interrupting my efforts to tell you. I'm not going to, not being part of the negotiation, say precisely what we'd do. I tell you what I wouldn't have done. I would not have gone in, and I wouldn't have promised Tuhoe that I was going to pass over ownership like John Key did, and then renege on the promise, that breaks the promise...
GUYON But you're talking about John Key, you're critiquing John Key which is fine. But I would have thought New Zealanders want to see whether you have an alternative. You're an alternative Prime Minister, I'm asking you should they have control of the National Park, and you can't tell me.
PHIL No what I'm telling you Guyon, is that I'm not gonna pretend I'm part of the negotiations when I'm not. Secondly what I've said is that under a Labour government we looked at co-management, rather than passing ownership across of national parks. And thirdly I'm telling you the fundamental error, if this was to resolve grievances from the past, this has continued the grievance, a promise was made and broken again, expectations were raised and dashed. That was bad politics, there was a lack of credibility and a lack of integrity.
GUYON Tuhoe might want to know, should you be Prime Minister, would you be prepared to give them the park. What's your answer?
PHIL And what I said to Tamati Kruger is exactly what I've said to you. I'm not gonna pretend I'm at the negotiating table when I'm not. I'll tell you what I wouldn't have done, I've don't that already, I would not have raised promises, made promises that I then broke, as John Key did. I would not have raised expectations that I didn't intend to deliver on. That is a lack of integrity.
GUYON The Sunday Star Times this morning, asks 50 prominent New Zealanders to ask questions of John Key. One of them's from Colin Meads, and he asks whether the government is doing too much for the Maori people. Can I ask his question to you? Is the government doing too much for Maori people?
PHIL I think it's doing the wrong thing, it's entirely about symbolism, you know a flag over the Harbour Bridge - what we should be looking at is the 37% of Maori boys aged 15 to 19 who are currently not in work, not in education and not in training. Are we doing too much there? No, we're not doing enough, and that spells out economic and social disaster for this country if we tolerate that situation.
GUYON In the remaining few minutes I'd like to talk about the Labour Party and the Labour leadership. To what extent are we going to see a new look Labour Party fight the 2011 election?
PHIL Well you'll see a Labour Party that will continue in the values and the principles that we've always had, that's important.
GUYON What about personnel though Mr Goff? Let me ask it another way. How many of the current sitting Labour MPs will make 2011 their last election?
PHIL I don't know the answer to that question yet.
GUYON Have you had discussions with those people?
PHIL I've had a discussion with some people.
GUYON How many roughly?
PHIL I'm not going to pre-announce how many Labour MPs might stand down at this time.
GUYON I'm not trying to trap you. I'm just trying to ascertain to what extent are we going to see a new look Labour Party.
PHIL You're seeing it now Guyon, a third of our caucus was elected in 2008 or at the Mt Albert by-election in the case of David Shearer. We've had that rejuvenation, a third of that caucus is new, fresh ideas, many of them very young members, so that has changed the face of our caucus.
GUYON That's important. So we've seen the rejuvenation, that's it?
PHIL Oh, that's not to say there won't be more rejuvenation, we're looking at more MPs coming in, we're looking at some MPs that will step down, we're looking at some people that will step up to greater responsibilities, probably before the election rather than after it.
GUYON George Hawkins for example, has he got a future past the election?
PHIL I said before, I'm not going to talk about individual MPs on this programme, you wouldn't expect me to.
GUYON Let's end with your own leadership. Party poll ratings aren't so bad, I mean you're early 30s in most polls.
PHIL Mid 30s actually.
GUYON In our poll you're in the early 30s but some you're in the mid 30s. Your own personal poll rating though, just 8% of people want you to be the Prime Minister, which shows that a vast majority of Labour supporters want John Key to be the Prime Minister. Doesn't that tell you that the problem is not the party but the leader?
PHIL No I don't think that is the problem. Do I want to do better in the poll ratings, of course I do. But as Helen Clark reminded me on a number of occasions, she was polling at about 1 or 2, two years before she became Prime Minister.
GUYON But the vast majority of your own Labour Party supporters want John Key to be the Prime Minister, doesn't it worry you?
PHIL I've said before, John Key is very slick, he's a master of the photo opportunity, he's done very well in that area, but in the end I think substance counts, not simply photo opportunities.
GUYON Are Kiwis so dumb that they just see the photo opportunities and not substance&
PHIL No, no, Kiwis aren't dumb, they will make their decision, in the end they'll make their decision on reality rather than just perception.
GUYON That's all we've got time for, thanks very much for joining us this morning.