This week Indian Weekender met with Stuart Nash, the Labour Party spokesperson for law and order, who was parachuted in the Mt Roskill ‘war zone’ due to by-elections to lead his party’s onslaught against the National government on the perceived increase in crime in the community. Although Stuart was keen to discuss on law and order issues, we have our eyes set on his other portfolios of revenue, energy, forestry and assistant economic development. One of our questions to him was if he was happy to be seen as a centrist within his Labour party. "Yes", came the quick reply. Here are the excerpts of the interview with Mr Nash.
IWK: What do you know about the Indian Community in New Zealand?
Stuart Nash: My experience with the Indian community in New Zealand is that they work incredibly hard, their children study extremely hard, they add significant value, and they are exemplary citizens.
IWK: Are you aware that Indian community recently facilitated a big festival? And what do you know about it?
Stuart Nash: Diwali. I don’t know much as I possibly should, but what I do know is that Indians celebrate their festivals well. The lights of Diwali are magnificent. There is an upcoming Diwali festival in Napier on Saturday (November 26) which I plan to attend and enjoy.
IWK: The Labour Party has stepped up their ante against the National government since the New Zealand statistics has reported a 12% increase in the number of recorded crimes. But the National Party had countered this by stating that this increase is still less than what they inherited from the previous Labour government in 2008 when the crime rate was brought down by recruiting 500 front line police officers. What is Labour’s response to this argument?
Stuart Nash: I think that the best policy is based on evidence and the evidence suggests that in the last 24 months crime has increased to substantial amounts. But what also has happened is that the crime resolution rate has dropped, and the nature of policing has lost. My primary concern is that there is not enough police on the ground to meet the expectations of our communities.
In my view, there are two types of policing. Community policing—these are the officers who are fully integrated into the community and they prevent crime. And traditional policing—these are the men and women who tend to be based in the police stations, and their job is to solve the crime and put bad guys behind bars. Obviously, there is a level of overlap because police in the community helps solve crime and police at stations helps prevent crime. But when these models work well our communities are safe. At the moment there is 94% of lack of resolution rate for burglary, something like 45% lack of resolution rate for sexual offences. When only 6% of burglary is being resolved, and 94% are not being resolved, then we have a problem. The only way we can solve this issue is by having more police staff. That's why we (Labour Party) have come out and said that we want 1000 more police staff.
IWK: Police Minister Judith Collins is repeatedly hinting that the Prime Minister would be announcing something big on the Police, suggesting a hike in police numbers. If that happens then what will be your reaction?
Stuart Nash: If Judith Collins or the Prime Minister make an announcement that they are going to increase Police numbers by 1000, then I am going to stand up and shake hands with the Prime Minister and say thank you very much for adopting the Labour's policy. The reason why I say that because in March this year the Police Minister signed on Police Strategic Plan, which is a four-year program from this year to 2020. And it states that no more police for the next four years. We got hold of that, and we are saying that this is not acceptable as our population is increasing, crime resolution rate has declined, and community policing is being withdrawn. Therefore we cannot have a police force without increasing numbers. We have highlighted the demand for increasing numbers, and since then the Police Minister has come out and accepted that they had made a mistake and that we need more police. If they adopt that policy, I will be flattered.
IWK: What will your government do differently from the current National government to create more jobs?
Stuart Nash: The main difference between the Labour’s and National’s perspective is that the Labours believe that the government has a significant role to play in driving economic growth and creating a kind of environment where businesses can thrive, whereas National thinks that if we leave things to market, it will come with optimal outcomes.
I believe that we have seen in certain areas like housing, forestry, etc. where a monopolistic behaviour is seen occurring then it is not in the best interest of the community.
I fundamentally believe that the government has a role to step in and tweak the settings to get things right. You can argue that in an economy of the size of America, or China, or India, where the market can self-correct but in New Zealand, the government has to play an important role.
IWK: So you want to see for the government to play a significant role in the market and the businesses?
Stuart Nash: Through a legal process, though. Let me give you an example in the forestry sector. It is now 70% owned by foreign companies, and there is one in particular which have held this forest for 20 years, and they had promised in their application to build a state of the art processing facility which will give employment to locals in Gisborne. Now in 20 years nothing has happened. In my view it’s wrong, and when a Labour government is there, we will hold them to account to what they have promised and not delivered. Whereas Nationals have said in answer to my questions that let the market determine the best outcome. In that situation, the government has a significant role to play and holding that company to account.
IWK: As a business owner yourself would you support demand for the tax-cut for New Zealand’s businesses to support job creation in New Zealand?
Stuart Nash: I think at this point the business tax rate is nearly at a right place. Australia’s business tax rate is 30%, and some time back they had signalled that they are going to drop it to 28%. NZ promptly followed that and went ahead to cut the tax rate to 28% whereas Australia became reluctant. I would love to be a Finance Minister and be able to go to businesses and say that we want to give you the tax cut. However, the only way we can do that is by first getting our basics right on issues such as education, health system, policing, and housing. I think it is little irresponsible right now to offer business tax cuts when our health system is underfunded; there are not enough police staff on the ground to keep our communities safe.
IWK: Are you saying no?
Stuart Nash: (smiles) Let me tell you Labour’s policy. Andrew Little has stated that we are going into 2017 elections without any Capital Gains Tax. What we have said, and I completely agree with that, is that we will set up a high powered Tax Working Group in the first 100 days. This working group, unlike the Bill English’s one, will not be constrained by any directive of which tax to consider and which not to. Instead, we will give only one instruction to them that design us with a world class tax system for the 21st century. We will then go to the electorate with that recommendation in 2020 so that voters will have all the transparency to vote for the Labour government in full knowledge about what we want to do. I think that the electorate demands that transparency in this day and age.
IWK: Are you happy with a tag that you are more a centrist than at the left within your party?
Stuart Nash: Absolutely! I am a political pragmatist, and by that I mean that I want this country to be brilliant. I want Kiwis, young and old, to be able to achieve to their best of ability. I am not saying that I have all the answers or the Labour has all the answers but what I am saying is that we need to create an environment where businesses thrive, we need to create an educational environment where our children are aspirational, and they can achieve to the best of their abilities. I do think that we can do things better than we are doing now. I am also not saying that everything that Nationals are doing is wrong. We believe that our vision for New Zealand is much more aspirational.
IWK: Give me three main issues on which the Labour party will fight elections in 2017?
Stuart Nash: Law and Order, Education and Health Care. Can I have three more (laughs)?