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PoliticsMarch 13, 2017

Sugar shot Monday: How did Bill English cope on the interview rounds after last week’s debacle?


Can the PM recover from last Monday’s ‘wait and see’ shambles, in the face of questions on tax cuts and abortion? Toby Manhire tunes in.

You think your Monday morning is a struggle, but spare a thought for the prime minister, whose week begins with four broadcast interviews, pretty much back to back. Imagine trying to get to sleep on a Sunday night with the pneumatic jaws of Duncan Garner, Mike Hosking, Guyon Espiner, Susie Ferguson, Hillary Barry and Jack Tame ripping into your reveries.

Last week it wasn’t good. It wasn’t good at all. Even Bill English was laughing at himself by the end of the circuit, as he said “we’ll let you know shortly” and “wait and see” over and over to the point where the words lost all meaning.

So it was with some trepidation that we tuned in to this morning’s tour of Auckland’s broadcast studios.

6.38am: The AM Show with Duncan Garner

Last week was miserable for the prime minister from the start, setting the tone for a morning stroll in a baffled void. Not only did he not have anything to say to Duncan Garner about the super changes, he also didn’t know anything about the deletion of a tweet from his account.

This week, with English in the Newton studio rather than beamed in from the Beehive, things were comparatively triumphant. Tax cuts was the order of the day, and while the PM wasn’t providing a lot of detail, tax cuts were “on the table”, and he could cheerfully equivocate about how “we’d like to help low and middle income households”. But core services would not suffer as a result, he insisted, adding: “It won’t be some kind of sugar shot.”

Our panel’s verdict: 7/10

Bill English with the AM Show hosts and a giant tooth with banknote

7.08am: Breakfast with Jack Tame

More tax cuts? Not on TVNZ 1, where Jack Tame followed on from Corin Dann’s Q+A interview, putting to English the calls for New Zealand’s anachronistic, Crime Act-based abortion law to be updated.

“That’s the law on the books in New Zealand,” said English. “My view on it isn’t that relevant.” Tame made the point that it is kind of relevant given his job as the prime minister of the country. English, who acknowledged that he is “not pro-choice”, said it wasn’t a priority for his government, and that in any case it would be a conscience matter. He looked like a man who would rather be discussing, say, tax cuts.


Here Bill English is hoping he might get asked about the Vancouver Sevens

7.36am: Mike Hosking Breakfast with Mike Hosking

The Hosk settled on a shopping list approach, beginning with a brutal grilling over government funding of a golf tournament.

Hosking: “But the pictures go to the world, eh? For all the people that did get upset about it and said, ‘Look, you shouldn’t be putting money into sport like this,’ you can’t argue with those sort of pictures going out the world, can you?”

English: “No, that’s right, and particularly pictures of Queenstown. Look, it’s just straight up promotion for New Zealand.”

Hosking: “Exactly.”

What’s up with the white T-shirt, though?

Later in the piece, Hosking made reference to the “wait and see” debacle, which had left both he and the PM laughing incredulously. “God forbid we repeat last week’s exercise,” said Hosking, before going on to ask whether the superannuation announcement had really been intended for last Monday afternoon or had been expedited following the embarrassing interviews. It was just “respect for my colleagues and the collective process” that had prevented him from divulging more before last Monday’s cabinet, English assured the nation.

On the tax cuts, meanwhile, “there’s not going to be some big sugar shot”.


7.55am: Morning Report with Guyon Espiner

And so up the road to RNZ, where Guyon Espiner was readying the death stare. Tax cuts? “Yeah, tax cuts are on the table.” Asked for more detail, the PM sailed dangerously close to the wait-and-see wind, saying, “That’s yet to be seen.” These putative tax cuts – did he mention they were on the table? – wouldn’t come in to effect until after the election.

For a moment I thought Espiner was about to ask him if they would come into effect in 2040, but I think I was just drifting off as English entered cruise control. And don’t forget the bit about the sugar, Bill! “We’re not putting forward tax cuts,” he said, “as some kind of sugar shot”.


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