Leader of the Labour Party, Andrew Little is five months out of a general election, an election which will decide whether he will assume the country’s top job of Prime Minister. With a background in student politics and a love for apple and cream donuts, Little is leading a Labour Party campaign with a focus on more homes, jobs more support for those in the mental health sector. Massey at Wellington Students’ Association President Adam Logan Cairns sat down with the politician last month for an exclusive interview with the politician for Massive Magazine.
You studied in Wellington, tell me about your experience as a student?
I was a student at Victoria, it was thoroughly enjoyable. From day one basically I just felt totally at home. Wellington is a funny place to be a student because of course when you’re not on campus it’s not like there is a student village, not like Otago where everyone is next door neighbours. But, I loved studying in Wellington and my time as a student.
A lot of student’s typically don’t vote in the general elections, what are you going to do to make sure students vote this year?
The challenge of politics in this day and age is to reach as far and as deeply as we can. I think a lot of people, young people in particular, think why bother, my vote doesn’t count, these people are a bunch of turkeys so why would I give them the time of day. But every vote does count and MMP makes sure that every vote counts. And it is about making sure everybody has their say. In terms of political campaigning and political out-reach we use every device and every technique available, but there is no substitute for getting in front of people, face-to-face so we try to do that as much as possible.
We know there is huge pressure on students in terms of the cost of living and the cost of studying, we have a policy which is the three years free post school educational training. It won’t affect a lot of people at university or polytechs now, but it is about accepting that the state should invest more in people’s foundation of tertiary learning. Because pretty much everyone is going to need that to participate in the world in the future.
You were once the president of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Association, what were the biggest issues students were facing at that time?
Student fees were the big issue, and it was just the start of the debate about students having to pay more for tertiary education. So there was the paying more then there was the mechanism to do it, so there was talk about a graduate tax and obviously loans were in the mix.
In the 1990 election… National promised they would not lift student fees and literally within months of getting elected they announced their student fees policy. It was so brazen that they got away with it.
What do you think the biggest concerns facing students right now are?
Certainly I know the living cost issue is real, it’s big. We don’t have a specific commitment to make on that, because it’s a big ticket item. Trying to reduce the tuition side of the cost of education, we are very serious about that.
The life of a student, the way students study, the technology they use, that has changed significantly. That will create its own pressures too, the expectation you’re going to have access to more research, so the expectation that the study that you do is going to be arguably of a higher standard than it was 20 years ago, I think that pressure to succeed is possibly greater than it was in my generation. In my generation you could quite comfortably cruise through, get C grades and still get a good job at the end of it. You can’t do that now.
The cost of rent nationwide has gone through the roof, and that again goes back to the housing shortage we have. Our policy is a massive state lead house building programme. So 100,000 houses over 10 years – half of them in Auckland, half across the rest of the country. They are houses being aimed at being sold to first home buyers but it’s adding to our housing stock, it’s on top of what has already been built.
Only 33 per cent of students are entitled to student allowance, do you think this needs to be reassessed?
What I understand is the level of student allowance isn’t enough. It has fallen short of what the real cost of living is. However, even minor changes are a significant cost which is why we are not in a position to make a commitment about that at this point. We have said three years free in terms of tuition fees. There is no easy fix we can make. With transport we can look at things like regional transport subsidies to make sure students, in particular, are getting the benefit of the fact that public transport service have state subsidy. We could look at the laws around that to make sure that is better targeted. I think there might be scope to look at that. We have to live with what we have got, so we can’t make financial commitments.
Use three words to describe your time as a University student?
Stimulating, Challenging, because my time in student politics was challenging and I guess the third one would be satisfying, turning the student association into a strong advocate for students.
You’re a student and you’re down to your last $5, what would you spend it on?
I can get a coffee and that leaves me $1. I would have to negotiate with the cafe owner about getting a frangipane tart or something. If I don’t get the coffee I probably just have to get one of those big mother donuts with cream, maybe a bit of apple on the top, lots of sugar.
What would the Labour Party do if they got into government?
Build houses, restore the cuts to health over a period of time and the priority will be mental health. We are going to also restore the cuts to education funding, we have to have good schools, good early childhood education, and we have already made the commitment about post school educational training. Those are the three priorities. Next if you want a fourth, it will be jobs and we are targeting the 90,000 18-24 year olds who are not in educational training. That has to be the priority because that number is getting bigger and their opportunities and their sense of hope is getting worse.
Prime Minister Bill English puts spaghetti and pineapple on his pizza. What are your toppings of choice?
Definitely not spaghetti and pineapple is a fruit and it should be eaten as a dessert on its own. Pizza for me, I like tomato, basil, feta and maybe a bit of bacon.
Can you tell me a little about Labour’s healthy homes policy?
I have a bill going through parliament at the moment, the healthy homes guarantee, which I know will effect a lot of students. The government did their healthy homes thing which was putting in insulation and smoke alarms. And actually that’s not enough. You can put in all the insulation you like, if you don’t have a heating source there is no point having it there in the winter. We are saying you need to have a heating source, and we also have got to have ventilation. You have got to be able to open the windows. The problem is a lot of houses are causing respiratory conditions. Drains also have to take the water away from the property and not pool around it. They are the basic health needs.