Q A - APRIL 28, 2013
LABOUR LIST MP SHANE JONES, INTERVIEWED BY JESSICA MUTCH
JESSICA Shane Jones, thank you very much for joining me this morning. I want to start off by asking you are you 100% comfortable with Labour's energy policy?
SHANE Yeah, most certainly. I think it will create jobs, and I think people need to see the rhetoric coming from the merchant banking community, who are proxies for the government, for what it is. Their rhetoric is tainted, because their paid by the government to jack up the price for Mighty River, and, look, getting political advice from them is like sort of taking grooming advice from Frankenstein.
JESSICA You say you're 100% comfortable. You haven't always been that way though. In an article two weeks ago, you said you needed convincing. What's changed?
SHANE Yeah, no, that's very accurate. Look, I start these things as a Doubting Thomas. I had a background-
JESSICA Why were you doubting?
SHANE Well, the background I came to politics from was the fishing industry, and I've seen excessive regulation in that area, and I've always been a Doubting Thomas about that. But I put my faith in the utility and the enjoyment that will be widespread, in my view, once households get cheaper power and people realise, look the power sector is a very important sector, and if you're going to influence economic policy, moderating power prices for industry and households is fantastic. It's capital intensive, and I think that when you consider the value associated with that kind of redistributive decision, then light-handed regulation should move away and we take a more robust regulatory approach.
JESSICA Did you express those concerns to the Labour leadership?
SHANE I certainly- Well, how things work is that behind the team, we've got an economic sub-caucus committee and we have some fairly robust debates there. And, yeah, I said, "Look, by and large, I think light-handed regulation has a place, but after the Pike River disaster, I kind of lost a lot of faith with light-handed regulation."
JESSICA Is this, for Labour, about securing that 5%. You said yourself that Labour needs to attract and retain about 5% of the vote to be able to win the next election. Is that what this policy is about?
SHANE Well, it's probably not the most felicitous of things I've said as a politician, but the reality is that this policy is already resonating fantastically well with households.
JESSICA So is this what it's about? Is it about buying those votes?
SHANE Well, for me personally, it's about several things. Number one, although the power sector's about 2.5% of our GDP, which is about 190 billion, it's transformational impact is enormous. So to moderate power prices is something akin, really, to reducing the real exchange rate. So from my economic background, I come at it like that. As a politician, we put policies out there that will resonate with households and with the public, and I take on board the more shrill attacks that are coming from Steven Joyce. I mean, you shouldn't dismiss someone like Steven Joyce. He didn't get the name FIGJAM for nothing. So when he's attacking us, he's attacking us on our economic credibility, but people should know there's a robust debate happening, and people like myself, who have a background in business and who are Doubting Thomases-
JESSICA Well, it sounds very much, though, that you're saying you buy the policy politically, but you don't buy the policy itself.
SHANE No, no, not at all. No, as economic development regional spokesman, I see the cost of energy as being an impediment to growing industry such as forestry.
JESSICA But how can we buy this? You say that you had concerns, you voiced those concerns to the leadership, but now you're 100% on board. Is that plausible really?
SHANE You know, this is how politics works. It's dynamic. It's not static. You have your say. You debate it vigorously, and I'm a vigorous debater, and then you arrive at a position of consensus, and then you're obligated to show the public that, number one, you believe in the policy and you're capable of implementing it. And under our watch, there will be no fleecing of households any more by the power companies.
JESSICA Why now? Why bring this policy in now?
SHANE I think the decision was well timed. It's been signalled to those New Zealanders and others who are of a bent to buy the power companies once they become available that the regulatory framework will change. And that's not unnatural. All governments in a mixed economy like ours change from time to time. Look, we changed Telecom and National came in - they never reversed those changes, so that's an example where a utility has been regulated, and these utilities have now come to enjoy our attention.
JESSICA How do your friends in the business community feel about this?
SHANE Well, the merchant bankers have gone absolutely nutty, but then I accept where they're coming from-
JESSICA So you're getting a bit of slack from them on that?
SHANE Well, from time to time, but I've learnt as a politician, you sup with them with a very long spoon.
JESSICA Let's talk about the relationship that Labour has with the Greens. On a scale of one to 10, how comfortable are you with that?
SHANE Well, look, I've said some colourful things in the past, and I finally found something that I can agree with the Greens on - ie, regulating the power industry.
JESSICA Well, let's talk about some of that colourful language. You've accused the Greens of knee-jerk emotionalisim and called them the political wing of Greenpeace. How can you work closely with a party when you feel like that?
SHANE Well, you know, to quote a frequently heard phrase, one moves on. Those remarks were in relation to Te Tai Tokerau, where I come from. I actually think the extractive sector's got a fantastic role to play in generating jobs.
JESSICA So can you trust the Greens?
JESSICA Do you trust the Greens?
SHANE Oh yeah, yeah, of course. At the end of the day, you do a deal in politics. What the final shape and form of a government might look like after the next election - that's above my pay grade. You should talk to David Shearer about that.
JESSICA Well, on that, do you think that your leader, David Shearer, was right in holding that joint press conference with the Greens and sending that very clear signal to everyone that they're a "buy one, get one free" deal?
SHANE Well, I think the optics are that after the next election, the public will demand that one of the largest parties - either us or National - will have to find some bed fellows.
JESSICA So was he right to do that joint press conference?
SHANE Without a doubt there's a lot of common ground, and there won't be common ground on everything, but there's a lot of common ground on the power industry and the need to regulate it and strip out these sort of monopoly profits, so I think it was a very sensible gesture, and it showed purchasers that if there is a future centre-left government, this industry will be further regulated.
JESSICA Did you advise him against that - doing that joint press conference?
SHANE No, look, when those discussions took place, in all honesty I was up Tai Tokerau, so I was out of the loop there.
JESSICA If he'd asked you, would you have said it's a good idea?
SHANE Well, it's sort of a bit above my pay grade, actually. That happens at the top.
JESSICA Do you or do you not think it was a good idea?
SHANE Yeah, no, no, the fact that the Greens and Labour sat together and talked about moderating power prices for the benefit of industry and the households is good optics.
JESSICA Steven Joyce put out a press release last night saying that the Greens are having a lot of influence and saying "more middle-of-road MPs like Shane Jones are now isolated and forced to recite the anti-growth agenda". What's your response to that?
SHANE No, well, anyone who's got a sliver of knowledge about me knows that I'm a firm believer in growth. There will be occasions where we continue to have a different position with the Greens, but, look, Steven Joyce-
JESSICA But does Steven Joyce have a point?
SHANE He's just being hysterical. It's pretty sad that he's having to recite my name at a National Party-
JESSICA So you're not having to swallow dead rats here?
SHANE No, it's not how politics works. You have your say. You may be a bit frustrated, etc. I mean, I'm a Maori politician. I live with frustration. And then once having arrived at a position, then you go out, you robustly sell it, and then you convince the public that this is good for the economy, this is good for households and the people who are against it are tainted because they're paid by the government to oppose our policy.
JESSICA So what you're basically saying is you have to suck it up and go out and sell Labour's policy.
SHANE Without a doubt. You don't-
JESSICA Even if you don't believe in it?
SHANE No, no, no, no, no. What you do is you have your debate and you'll never ever completely agree with everything behind the scenes, but you show loyalty, and unless the voters believe that you're a united team, then why would they ever support you?
JESSICA And is that what you're doing here? Are you purely showing loyalty to your party?
SHANE No, what we're doing is actually providing a fillip for households and industry. Look, industry have told me if the provision of power and the affordability of power improves, there's at least 5500 new jobs in the forestry and manufacturing sector, and one of the impediments is this system of energy management which we have in New Zealand, power manage, which really just fleeces both industry and households.
JESSICA You've got this relationship with the Greens. Would you like to see New Zealand First play more of a part in that mix? Does that sit more comfortably with you?
SHANE Well, look, the reality is, as I've said, that's above my pay grade, but obviously Winston's-
JESSICA At number seven, though.
SHANE Yeah, but Winston's from the north; I'm from the north, but who knows what's going to happen after the election, and it's idle and it's quite dangerous to speculate about that before the election.
JESSICA Looking forward 18 months, how do you rate your leader's performance going into the election in 2014?
SHANE Oh, I think we're going from strength to strength, without a doubt.
JESSICA What about your leader, specifically?
SHANE Yeah, we're going from strength to strength. In fairness to David Shearer, he's not an institutionalised politician. He's been an international man. He's been a man in education, etc. And I think what afflicted Phil Goff was our own disunity, and the public treated us appropriately when we showed disunity.
JESSICA On a scale of one to 10, 10 being he's doing a stellar job, how would you rate your leader?
SHANE Oh, very close eight, nine, 10 - somewhere up there. And I think, look, the reality is that not one person is going to kick a goal. It's a team effort. But a team has got to be strong enough to robustly debate things behind the scenes. But also I think honest enough to go out there and show the public that not only are we united, but we're capable of implementing transformational policies, and believe you me, taking an axe to the profiteering motives of the energy industry and putting industry and households before the gold-plated sort of executive salaried ones is good for the country.
JESSICA And that's a nice place to leave it. Thank you very much for your time this morning, Shane Jones.