Full transcript of an interview with Helen Clark by senior political journalists Audrey Young and John Armstrong,

Key Points:

Q: What is your vision for New Zealand?


My vision for New Zealand is for our country to be a place that offers every person who chooses to live here - and they do have a choice - all the opportunity and security in the world and to be fair and inclusive. That's it is a nutshell. So we have to offer opportunity through education, we have to offer the opportunity to work, and we have to deal with all the underpinnings of that - the health system, housing, security in old age, support for children. But we have to ensure that people of very diverse cultures and faiths and beliefs all feel that they have got a stake in New Zealand because they are fairly treated.


Q: How do you respond to people who complain about "nanny state" and that they are"sick of Labour telling them how to run their lives"?


I can't relate to the criticism at all. It just doesn't square to me with anything we have done. I stand for the maximum possible freedom of people but any democratic society will place some constraints on that, for example racist abuse. There is always a line that is drawn somewhere but I am someone personally who likes to be left free to live my life. I think the people who scream 'nanny state' are usually the ones who want to be the most prescriptive about the way people live their lives.

Q: Is that a problem for Labour though?


I don't think particularly. It is a right-wing mantra. I can say it is something that almost never arises on the road.

Q: When you came to power in 1999, the priority was to restore the social services which had been run down or cut completely during the 1990s. What are the social policy priorities for a fourth term Labour-led Government?


The big reform in secondary education so that we can retain in education more teenager for longer and build the basis for life-long learning and upskilling. I think that is one of the most critical things now. And linking that to the skills strategy which has got very, very big buy-in from industry, training providers and the CTU [Council of Trade Unions]. So that would be a huge area of focus for us. Secondly in the housing area, as you know the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet brought together quite a lot of work on the underlying dynamics of the housing market and what has happened to affordability for the starter-home young couple and more innovative ways of making the starter home a possibility for those for whom it traditionally was a possibility. That is very high on my agenda.

Thirdly with health care, I am going to keep a focus well and truly on primary care and affordability. Just keeping barriers to access as low as possible is absolutely critical. As you know I've always had a big interest in public health. Information is power - trying to pre-empt the obesity epidemic. I think we have done tremendous work in this country over a lot of years on issues like tobacco. We have to take those very pro-active approaches into other areas where people's health is being destroyed. So it's education, health, housing.

Q: If the election is about trust, why should New Zealanders be persuaded that Labour can be trusted to run the economy any better than National would?


Because we have. Simple as that. And have the economy in a resilient position for what internationally is a very slow year with the worst crisis in the finance markets since the 30s. Obviously it is slow here this year but slow with unemployment still under 4 per cent, with business confidence starting to pick up a bit in the latest surveys and consumer confidence picking up a little. Let's hope we see the US sort out their bail-out fairly soon so the rest of us don't get another jolt from that. But fundamentally in a slow year, the resilience of this economy is showing and I believe we have shown a lot of leadership both in the way we have managed the Government's finances but also for the leadership we have given for economic development and innovation in our industries and getting people more export focused, taking the product upmarket, supporting the new technologies, getting in behind new possibilities.

Q: Do you think the financial crisis and potentially an economic crisis or people's concerns about it might actually play in Labour's favour?


I think it certainly gives people reason to pause and think `do you want to risk change? Labour has been pretty sensible, been a pretty good steward, things have been a lot better, have worked very hard to get debt under control.' Do you want to risk a radical change in all that in a very uncertain international environment. This is probably a time for some orthodoxy and common sense rather than big radical gestures.

Q: How did you come to define the election on the trust issue?


We feel that obviously while the 'time for a change' mantra got up a bit of steam, actually there wasn't a lot people wanted changed. So it was very superficial and fundamentally there was quite a lot of distrust of what the National Party stood for. But turn it round, we are known for doing what we said we would. We have made promises that we could keep and did keep. So we have endeavoured to create a higher trust environment in politics and in ourselves as people who if we say we are going to do it, we'll do it. That has been the thinking. People don't really trust the National Party but there are reasons to trust Labour as delivering what it says it will.

Q: How did you literally get to point though? Was it an ad company, your idea, focus groups?


It is evolved over a period of time. It is evolved over a period of time. Obviously we do a lot of research as to what people are thinking so we know there is distrust of National and its intentions. On the other hand, people give us credit for doing a good job. Then obviously we brain storm in here [her office] because we have to be comfortable. There's no point going out and saying it's about trust if we don't think it is about trust. So it is an iterative process.

Q: Why do you never mention John Key by name?


Why give him profile? Jim Bolger very successfully ignored me for three years. He never mentioned my name. It was devastating [laughing]. From 93 to 96 he never mentioned my name, he never engaged. And by and large I haven't mentioned opponents' name though Brash was probably an exception. He became such a folk-devil in the end.

Q: Isn't John Key a living example of exactly the kind of success stories that Labour policies seek to achieve in terms of helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds fulfilling their potential? So why does Labour spend so much time trying to denigrate him?


I don't believe we do. Every party researches the other. I've been in politics 27 years. I've been under intense scrutiny for 27 years. The National Party go back 20, 25 years to find my speeches and try to find some inconsistency. Enter the real world. The minute you put your hand up and say I'd like the top job, you are going to come under scrutiny. It goes with the territory. Everything I have done in my life has been under scrutiny. So why would someone complain about being under scrutiny? That's the reality. We are under scrutiny by definition of being in these jobs. That's life. And in that scrutiny every little flaw, wart, incident will be brought out and people will make an assessment overall about your character. That's the way it is.

Q: You don't think there is a risk the attack will backfire on Labour?


I think that you have to expect in this life that what you stand for and who you are will be under scrutiny. There is not point complaining about it. It is the way life is.

Q: Will you be attacking the Maori Party this election as a possible vote for National - as you did last election?


I think the approach is likely to be the only way to be sure of having a Labour-led Government is to vote for it. I've often made the point in elections that if you want a Labour Government, please vote for it. Don't cast a vote trying to find us a coalition partner. We can deal with the issue of relationships after an election. But give us the strength to do that and we only get that strength if you give your votes to Labour. That will be the approach we will take and it was very much the approach in 2002 where, when it was clear National was crumbling, people started saying 'should I vote for so and so to give you a partner?' I said 'look, we'll work that out after the election but we need to have the strength as a party in our party vote to be able to do that.'

Q: How much contact have you had with the Maori Party this term?


Quite a bit. At the level of the Maori MPs there is constant contact. Always has been. But there has been contact at a leadership level formally and informally. Certainly contact at the chief-of-staff level. I think you'd have to say quite a lot of contact.

Q: Their contact with National always seems to attract a lot of attention. Do you think National have got any more advantage over you should the Maori Party hold the balance of power?


Absolutely not. I think the National Party is overstating these things.

Q: Do you have less money to fight this election than the last one?


I suspect everybody has in a way because the greater transparency required [under the Electoral Finance Act] does dry up donations.

Q: Will Labour run other negative attack-style election advertisements this election?

We will certainly be putting the others under scrutiny but we also have a lot of positive things to say.

Q: Coalitions: would you let Winston Peters and Peter Dunne again dictate who you could have in cabinet [they would not work with the Greens in 2005]?


It is a hypothetical question but one thing I do feel sad about was that veto last election because I campaigned and the party campaigned on the basis that we were ready to have a formal Government relationship with the Greens. And then the Greens polled quite low and given the situation with the Maori Party which was very new on the block and not really in a position to commit to relationships at all, for the Greens to have had the sort of relationship we envisaged we needed New Zealand First fundamentally to go along with that. They weren't prepared to do that. I did feel extremely sorry for the Greens because I didn't think it was fair. I would certainly hope that that is not the way things work out again.

I think it does say to smaller parties that they need to think of relationships not just with a big party but with each other. We are sitting in here for a month after the last election working to put a Government arrangement together and we can't in that month repair bad relationships that go back years.

Q: How would you expect the influx of new blood in the Labour caucus to change party thinking?


It is going to be quite a big change - a lot of familiar faces going and very good people coming in. I think it will be quite refreshing actually. I think it will be a big boost of energy in the Labour caucus when you look at people like Phil Twyford, Stuart Nash, Jacinta Ardern, very, very fresh faces. That will challenge the people who have been there for a while but that is a good thing. We should be challenged.

Q: Who is Labour's next Maharey?


It may well be people like Phil Twyford who are thinkers. Steve is unique. He came out of that background in sociology - a thinker about society and social policy. But someone like Phil Twyford who has a good broad perspective, worked overseas, worked for Oxfam, interested in development, I think he is the sort of person who will develop into that kind of thinker and play that sort of role.

He has been the key co-ordinator of the party policy outside the parliamentary wing so he has played a pretty critical role in putting policy together. Phil's a person of the future.