Q&A: Steven Joyce: ‘We are about three points shy”

Press Release – TVNZ

Steven Joyce: ‘We are about three points shy of where want to be and need to be’

Finance Minister and National’s campaign manager, Steven Joyce, says his party wants to be three points higher than in recent political poll results.

“I know that we’ve got lots of work to do. We’ve been quite clear all the way through we’re about three points shy of where we want to be and need to be. So we’ve got a lot of work to do over the next few weeks,” Mr Joyce told Corin Dann on TVNZ 1’s Q+A programme this morning.

A Q+A Colmar Brunton snap poll shows the Labour candidate is ahead in Ōhāriu, and based on current numbers longstanding MP and National support partner Peter Dunne would lose the seat and his place in Parliament.

In the poll, eligible voters were asked which candidate they would support. Forty eight percent picked Labour candidate Greg O’Connor, while 34 percent chose Mr Dunne.

Mr Joyce said National would continue to ask supporters to vote for Mr Dunne even though the party is standing its own candidate, Brett Hudson, in the electorate. Mr Hudson scored 14 percent in the poll.
“We’ve got a job to do to encourage people to support Peter, primarily because he helps bring strong stability to the government,” he said.

Colmar Brunton began polling last Saturday, finishing up on Wednesday. Five hundred and one eligible voters were polled, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

Former National Party President Michelle Boag told Jack Tame on the Q+A panel that the poll spelled trouble for the party.

“If the National Party doesn’t have Peter Dunne, they really really need ACT,” Ms Boag said.

Mr Joyce also criticised Labour’s plan to introduce royalties on commercial water.

“Labour is saying they’ll do a regional fuel tax in Auckland and possibly elsewhere. They’re doing this water tax which they won’t tell anybody what the amount is going to be. So they’re looking very shifty on that,” Mr Joyce said.

“If you want these people (farmers) to have the ability to change their farm systems, to invest in fencing off the waterways and all these things, then don’t try and tax them into oblivion.”

Q + A
Episode 23
Interviewed by CORIN DANN

CORIN Minister, let’s start with your campaign hat on first.


CORIN Ohariu, big trouble there for Peter Dunne and your support partner.

STEVEN I think Peter certainly has it all ahead of him, but there’s also quite a lot of National Party voters who are still saying they are going to support Brett at this point. Obviously all the Greens have gone over to Greg, by the looks of it. Also a bit unsure what the ‘don’t knows’ in there. We’ve been doing our own numbers there and they’re a bit closer and there were more ‘don’t knows’. So we’ve got a job to do to encourage people to support Peter, primarily because he helps bring strong stability to the government. And as we’ve seen, in New Zealand we’ve had good, stable government over the last few years as against some other countries, and Peter’s contributed to that.

CORIN Let’s break that down. Even if you got all 14% of Brett Hudson’s vote that he’s getting at the moment over, probably still wouldn’t be enough, would it?

STEVEN As I say, it all depends on a number of things – whether anybody shifts. This particular poll was done after the last couple of weeks, and there was obviously quite a shift there. I think when people focus on the issues around the country, as we’re starting to see when we start talking about who’s going to put on what taxes, it’s going to become more interesting now over the next six weeks. Presumably, the left have sorted out their seats at the moment – who’s going to be the leaders and the deputy leaders in all the parties – and then we’ll get to talk about the issues.

CORIN You think things will settle down?

STEVEN I don’t know that. Maybe Winston Peters want to kick Ron Mark just to get a bit of attention. But I suspect we’ve done with leadership changes, unless we start to do another round.

CORIN I wonder, then, if you need to hone people’s thinking a little bit in Ohariu and send the Prime Minister there for a cup of tea.

STEVEN I don’t know about that, but certainly we are being very clear in that is we are very keen for Ohariu voters to support Peter, because he’s helped bring the sort of stability that’s seen New Zealand really as the envy of the Western world compared to, say, Australia or the US or the UK, and he’s been very helpful in that regard, and for a new government to be able to achieve that same level of political stability and the economic progress that we’re achieving, Peter’s an important part of that.

CORIN Sure. Just quickly, though, will you rule out a staged event, some sort of campaign even in Ohariu that will hone the minds of those National voters – that 14% who are still backing Brett Hudson?

STEVEN I’m not ruling anything out, but I haven’t got anything planned, let’s put it that way. But in terms of that, we’ve found in the past, I think if you took a poll in Epsom, you may well find David Seymour behind in Epsom as well. I haven’t done one recently. But what we do know is it tends to happen quite late, whether it be Ohariu or Epsom or anywhere else where these sorts of electorate contests are underway. The moves tend to happen quite late, so I would give it a bit of time. I’m not too worried.

CORIN But this is a big problem for you, isn’t it? Is this a realisation now with Peter Dunne in trouble, Maori Party not doing as well as it might like either, that you are going to have to rely on Winston Peters, aren’t you?

STEVEN Well, I’m not sure about that.

CORIN So you still think you can make it without Winston Peters?

STEVEN We’ve said all the way through we’ve got a lot of work to do, but the best thing we can get, and what we’ve proven in the last three elections, if people want to see us elected, then the best and most stable government you can get is where you have options in terms of how you form that government. If you only have one option, it doesn’t really matter if it’s Winston Peters or the Maori Party or whoever, it will be driven by those options.

CORIN He’s the last cab on your rank, right? And he’s now moving up to the top, isn’t he, because the other guys are falling away?

STEVEN No, that’s not correct. And I think it’s a bit tough to say the Maori Party’s falling away. I mean, they’re just another partner, potential partner. But to be fair, there’s been lots of talk on the left that somehow Te Ururoa Flavell is vulnerable in Waiariki, but I haven’t seen a single poll that suggests that.

CORIN There was a poll. There was the Labour internal poll suggesting he was in trouble.

STEVEN I think we should be careful with Labour internal polls. It’s a bit like me saying to you, ‘Look, I think—‘

CORIN It’s a scientific poll.

STEVEN Well, the UMR ones are scientific, but they do tend to be a little bit biased towards the left.

CORIN So presumably your polls are a little bit biased then as well, are they?

STEVEN We’ll just have to wait and see. I know that we’ve got lots of work to do. We’ve been quite clear all the way through we’re about three points shy of where we want to be and need to be. So we’ve got a lot of work to do over the next few weeks – effectively four weeks until the polls open, and that’s going to sharpen everybody’s mind – to show the sort of government you can expect under a National-led government versus the alternative under Labour.

CORIN TOP – would you throw an olive branch out to TOP if they were getting to 4%.

STEVEN Highly unlikely. Very left wing, Gareth Morgan. His policies are largely interchangeable with the left. But I just say, ‘Let’s see how things go.’ But, no, I wouldn’t have thought so.

CORIN All right.

STEVEN And to be fair, that’s one for the leader, not for the campaign chair.

CORIN All right. We’ll take that as a not completely ruled out, then.

STEVEN No, it’s not—No, no, no.

CORIN Things change in campaigns – last week. Who knows?

STEVEN Well, yes, but I think you’ll see most of the instability appears to be on the left at this point. Not that I’m pointing any fingers, but I think we’d be struggling to outdo the Greens.

CORIN How worried are you about the Jacinda effect? Because it does seem to be having an impact. Despite what Peter Dunne said there. I think it’s pretty clear it’s having an impact in Ohariu.

STEVEN No more worried than I am at this stage of any election campaign. Frankly, they’re all close. It’s MMP, you don’t get. Nobody wins by a big margin. And people seem to think that we’ve won by big margins, but actually we haven’t. Each time we’ve had an election, we’ve only got there by a seat or two, because it’s MMP and everybody can stack the Cuisenaires, just like you’re trying to do that at the moment but so I think it’s slightly different. It was looking a bit like a 2002 campaign there, with everybody’s votes going all over the shop, and now it’s looking a bit more like 2005, where National voters and probably Labour voters are a bit more focused on their—

CORIN I tell you what’s a bit like previous campaigns is I see you’ve been attacking the Labour Party, suggesting they’re a tax-and-spend party.

STEVEN Well, they’ve been helping us.

CORIN I’ve seen some social media adverts out there. Do you see this as—You’re presenting this as a party— one that’s going to tax, and you’re going to, what, offer up some tax cuts, are you?

STEVEN We have a strong economic performance, and there’s a number of things that have contributed to that economic performance, and adding taxes on the productive economy all over the shop is not one of them. And I think that’s part of the differentiation. Labour is saying they’ll do a regional fuel tax in Auckland and possibly elsewhere. They’re doing this water tax which they won’t tell anybody what the amount is going to be. So they’re looking very shifty on that. And then yesterday Grant Robertson is out saying, ‘Oh yeah, we might do a capital gains tax.’ Then there’s the matter of the top income tax. All those things.

CORIN No, he said he’ll have a tax working group.

STEVEN Hang on, but that’s a cute—

CORIN Yeah, but that’s three years down the track.

STEVEN No, no, no, no. He saying they’ll form a tax working group to tell them what policy they—

CORIN Yeah, it doesn’t mean they will follow through on a capital gains tax. It’s an argument for another election.

STEVEN No, it isn’t. No, it’s another way of saying, not an argument for another election. It’s a very important argument at this election. You either go in with your tax policy clear or you don’t.

CORIN They have been clear in that they have got a water tax and they have got a petrol tax.

STEVEN They don’t know what the water tax is, and they’re they would like to do a capital gains tax, but actually they can’t bring themselves to say that, so what they’re going to do is hand it to a working group and then when the working group comes out and says ‘capital gains tax’, they’ll say, ‘There. We told you we’d come up with one.’

CORIN But working groups in the past have come out and said those things and governments have ignored them. We know that.

STEVEN Right. And if you trust Grant Robertson on tax, you can ignore it.

CORIN I want to come back to water.

STEVEN Yep. Sure.

CORIN So you are saying you would okay with a royalty on bottled water, but the farming sector is off limits. You would not impose any sort of pollution tax, whatever you want to call it, on them for water use.

STEVEN Our food producers are some of the most efficient in the world, but they are in a very competitive situation. So whether it’s in Marlborough or in Hawke’s Bay or in the Bay of Plenty or in Canterbury or Otago and so on around the country, they need to be competitive. Putting more taxes on them will reduce their employment and also challenge the viability of regional New Zealand.

CORIN I don’t want to denigrate farmers here, because I know a lot of them are doing a great job here, but have you put that focus on that agricultural sector at the expense of the environment and of water quality? Your government.

STEVEN Absolutely not. Just nobody can argue that. Because we are putting in this National Policy Statement. We’re requiring people to measure their water use and control their water use. And we’ve also got the farmers fencing off all the waterways. There is absolutely no way.

CORIN I’ll argue it, because your Chief Science Advisor to the government has argued there’s a clear link between intensifying of dairying and water quality. The Parliamentary Commissioner has consistently warned that intensifying dairy farming is hurting water. The Canterbury Medical Officer of Health this week said that midwives have become the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff because they’re worried about pregnant women drinking water from polluted nitrates in private bores.

STEVEN Can we start for a second on the whole issue of how a region actually affords cleaning up their waterways, which is what’s going on right now? They’re getting cleaned up now.

CORIN I want to give you that. Yep, you’re doing a lot of stuff to clean it up, but the point I’m making is you took your eye off the ball for the last nine years.

STEVEN Oh, no, I’m sorry the eye has been taken off the ball for the 20 or 30 years before that.

CORIN So that makes it all right for the last nine years?

STEVEN No, because actually these are the things we’ve done over the last nine years. There is no way that people can be critical of the progress this government has made compared to all previous governments.

CORIN You’ve also added a million cows and you’ve also put up $400 million for irrigation – millions on irrigation. You’ve encouraged more dairy farming.

STEVEN Hang on a second. Let’s talk about that. Because the irrigation projects were required to get through the RMA, which has stringent requirements around the environment and in most cases improve water quality, in fact, probably all cases.

CORIN And you think that’s worked well in Canterbury?

STEVEN Well, I think they are working well.

CORIN You had to put commissioners in there.

STEVEN Excuse me for a second. The commissioners had to come in because of the inactivity over the previous—

CORIN Because the system wasn’t working.

STEVEN Give me a moment. The inactivity over the previous couple of decades, that’s why the commissioners went in. And actually most people would recognise that Canterbury now has an operative water plan for the first time ever and it was this government that actually forced them to achieve it. It’s this government that’s given them the National Policy Statement. It’s this government that’s making all the progress. Now, what we don’t want to do is actually tax these regions to effectively to make them poorer, because there is no part of the world where there is a poor country that does a good job with its environment so you have to balance it. You have to both improve the environmental outcomes and—

CORIN You’re putting lots of work in. Great. But can you give me an answer – have we reached peak cow? Will you continue to increase the herd? Because it seems to me the argument from these guys is that unless you reduce the amount of dairying or at least slow it down, you’re never going to get water quality back to good standards.

STEVEN I’m sorry. It’s unfair to pick on the dairy industry on its own, because actually this is also a very big problem in urban waterways. And notably most of these people are very quiet about the quality of urban water, because they don’t want to upset consumers. So this a bit of a left-right battle in many ways – not in all ways, but in many ways – because the left are keeping very quiet on some of the quality of water in our municipal waterways.

CORIN I’ll have David Parker on about that in a few moments.

STEVEN And that’s really important, because he’s proposing, for example, to charge the farmers, the horticulturalists and the winemakers and leave the industrial users in the cities completely off scott-free.

CORIN I will pick him up on that. But I want an answer, because this is crucial for the economic direction – as Finance Minister, are you going to allow the cow numbers to increase? Are you going to keep the focus on dairy? Because Prime Minister John Key was quite comfortable with getting more out of the dairying sector, but do you see there actually being a limit having been reached?

STEVEN Well firstly, most of the growth we’re getting in the dairy sector is in productivity, based around, for example, the mozzarella cheeses, the higher value usages of existing dairy, which is fantastic. In terms of whether there can be more cows in any one area, that’s controlled under the RMA and it’s controlled by the local governments in those areas. And that’s the right place for it to be done, because they’re able to make that assessment. You don’t want central government politicians like me running around saying, ‘Well look, you have the exact right number of cows in Taranaki is X,’ because it just doesn’t make any sense. You’ve got to measure them against the environmental outcomes. But I firmly believe that we can achieve improved environmental outcomes and also increase the economic performance of our regions. And in fact, if we don’t, then we’ll end up with poorer regions and very rubbishy waterways, because you can’t do these things unless you have the money to do them. And that’s what our farmers are doing. They’re profitable. They’re fencing off waterways. They are taking the steps that’s required.

CORIN They’re not paying for their fair share of the pollution.

STEVEN Well no. I know that’s Mr Parker’s argument. But actually they are paying, because these guys are doing all—

CORIN What are they paying in terms of the pollution they caused in waterways?

STEVEN You go and have a chat to them. Most of them are doing things like big stands to put their stock on in winter. All these things that are being required to be done be the regional council.

CORIN That’s mitigation.

STEVEN But that’s actually the true outcome. If you just tax them, all you do is take their income off them and give them less ability to respond.

CORIN No, don’t you incentivise them to perhaps look at other farming? You could argue you’re giving them a subsidy at the moment by not making them pay for that.

STEVEN I know there are those that argue that. I disagree entirely. But let’s go there. Let’s just say what we should do is tax these people, so their incomes drop, so they can’t afford to change the way that they farm. This is a good idea?

CORIN They’re either competitive on their own or not.

STEVEN No, no, no. But if you, say, for example, take out $50,000 or $100,000 out of a farmer’s income, then that’s money they don’t have to spend on—

CORIN You’re a free-market economist. You like businesses to be able to stand on their own. You don’t want to be propping them up, do you?

STEVEN I just don’t want to hit them with a 50K or 100K tax just because David Parker and the Labour Party think so. And that’s a crazy thing. If you want these people to have the ability to change their farm systems, to invest in fencing off the waterways and all these things, then don’t try and tax them into oblivion. It’s crazy. It’s the left. It’s the left’s approach – if it moves, tax it. But as I say, the New Zealand economy is performing well. We’ve got many steps in place to improve our environment. And the way we afford those things – for example, electric vehicles, announced just yesterday – is to be wealthy enough to make those changes.

CORIN Steven Joyce, thank you very much for your time.

Please find attached the full transcript and here’s the link to our interview and our panel discussion.

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