Give me just one name: How Guyon Espiner tried to get to the bottom of that ‘$11.7 billion hole’

Yesterday on RNZ’s Morning Report journalist Guyon Espiner brought finance minister Steven Joyce together with Labour’s finance spokesperson Grant Robertson, and asked them both about Joyce’s accusation that Labour has a $11.7 billion hole in its spending plans. Here’s the transcript.

In the interview, Guyon Espiner is sitting between the two politicians, with a laptop in front of him. Steven Joyce is to the left and Grant Robertson to the right, both of them facing inwards, although they rarely look at each other. The interview is 25:54 minutes long and sometimes agitated but always fairly civil. After 23 minutes they turn to Joyce’s accusation about that “$11.7 billion hole” in Labour’s spending plans.

Guyon Espiner: All right, let’s talk about whose fiscal plan stacks up and why. Have you, Steven Joyce, found one other person in New Zealand who believes there is an $11.7 billion hole –

Steven Joyce: Yes.

Espiner: Who?

Joyce: Lots of people.

Espiner: Who? Name one.

Joyce: Well people I talk to all the time –

Espiner: I just want one name.

Joyce: Well –

Espiner: It can be a cab driver if you like. I just want one name.

Joyce: Well the simple fact of the matter is –

Espiner: I want one name.

Joyce: No, the simple fact of the matter is –

Espiner: Just one name. One person.

Joyce: Well, Guyon.

Espiner: Just one person.

Joyce: I’m not going to reveal –

Espiner: There’s 4.8 million people in New Zealand, or whatever. I want one person who agrees with you that there is an $11.7 billion hole, just one name.

Joyce: If you do their allowances –

Joyce is referring to his accusation that Labour’s budget over several years does not make “allowances” for enough future spending. Labour presented parts of its spending in different line items in its budget.

Espiner: You can give me someone in your own party if you like.

Joyce: … the way that everybody else does their allowances it’s an $11.7 billion dollar hole.

Grant Robertson: Rubbish.

Joyce: They’re now saying they won’t do it that way, they’re saying they’ll run zero budgets, which is entirely unbelievable.

Espiner: Can you give me one name?

Joyce: And as a result of that –

Robertson: He can’t.

Joyce: … there are a bunch of people –

Robertson: Guyon, he can’t.

Robertson: looks up at the clock.

Joyce: … who are saying it could be made to add up –

Espiner: One name.

Joyce: … it could be made to add up –

Espiner looks up at the clock: he’s got nearly 2 minutes left till the news.

Robertson: Guyon.

Joyce: … if they have zero budgets.

Robertson: Can I come in here please Guyon?

Espiner: Can I ask the question again?

Joyce: No, you can ask the question all you like.

Espiner: Can you give me …

He pauses, lowers his voice and points at Joyce.

Espiner: One … name –

Joyce: There are literally …

Espiner: … of a person who agrees with you.

Joyce: There are literally –

Espiner: It can be Bill English if you like.

Joyce: … millions of people. Well, obviously Bill English, and the National Party, but ..

Espiner: Oh, so we’ve got one.

Joyce: No, there’s literally millions of people in New Zealand –

Robertson: Guyon, we haven’t got long to go here.

Joyce: … who are concerned about –

Espiner [to Robertson]: And you’ll get a right of reply.

Joyce: … the increased debt that would come under the Labour Party. So for example, they’ve already acknowledged their own position, that they would increase debt by $8 billion, right now, over the next four years. That’s their position, and then you look at their numbers and their numbers don’t add up, so all the economists that have been running round saying it might not be $11.7 billion are also saying that the actual budget that –

Espiner looks at the clock again as Robertson starts chuckling.

Espiner: Okay. Grant Rober –

Joyce: … Labour have put on the table –

Espiner: Okay. So Grant Robertson –

Joyce: … are entirely unachievable.

Espiner: Because we are running very short of time. We’ve got a minute left.

Robertson: So Steven made a very specific accusation earlier this week –

Joyce: That’s right. That’s right.

Robertson: … which was a lie.

Joyce: No.

Robertson: Not one person in New Zealand has backed that up.

Joyce: No.

Robertson: Steven, this is a disgrace.

Joyce: No it’s not.

Robertson: You have damaged democracy by what you’ve done.

Joyce does a high-pitched laugh, a kind of giggle.

Robertson: This is fake news.

Joyce: By questioning you, Grant?

Robertson: No, because you –

Joyce: By questioning you.

Robertson: … because you made an accusation you know not to be true –

Joyce: It’s an entirely reasonable accusation.

Robertson: … that no other person has backed up.

Joyce: No.

Robertson: You’ve questioned my competence.

Joyce: You’re absolutely right.

Robertson: Do you know what New Zealanders have learned this week, Guyon? They can’t trust the minister of finance –

Joyce: No, that’s not true.

Robertson: … to tell the truth.

Joyce: That’s not true.

Robertson: It is a disgraceful situation, Steven, and you know it and you owe New Zealanders an apology.

Joyce: Grant, you’re overreacting. If you cannot –

Robertson: I’m not, because you threw –

Joyce: … if you cannot –

Robertson: … this on the table –

Joyce: No hang on, if you cannot bear to be –

Robertson: You threw this on the table to try to get the reaction that you got. You knew it wasn’t true.

Joyce: No.

Robertson: And that’s damaged democracy.

Joyce: No, that’s democracy.

Espiner holds up his hand to stop Robertson.

Espiner: You’ve had a good go and we’ve only got 20 seconds left.

Joyce: I need a minute’s response actually.

Espiner: No, you’re not going to get a minute because we’ve got the news –

Joyce: Well I’m sorry –

Espiner: OK, you go.

Joyce: … but I’ve been accused of a number of things.

Espiner: Yep, you have –

Robertson: You have and they’re true.

Espiner: … and away you go.

Joyce: The simple, the simple –

Espiner: Last words, last words in the debate to Steven Joyce. You’ve got 15 seconds.

Joyce: Thank you. The simple reality of it is you need to be able to cope with being questioned on your numbers. I made the questions because they’re accurate. You’ve changed your figures.

Robertson: We responded and you kept lying.

Joyce: No that’s not …

The pips for the news have started.

Espiner: All right, we’ve got to leave it there. We did promise there’d be a scrap at the end, didn’t we?

Joyce: Yes.

Robertson: Thank you, Guyon.

Robertson sits back, hands clasped on the table, looking straight ahead, with a face registering grim frustration. Joyce also has his hands clasped on the table. He’s looking down at his papers, grinning, but also registering frustration.


Feature image via Radio NZ

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