Agenda: Winston Peters & Jonathan Hunt
Uncorrected rush transcript of
(follows at end of Peters Transcript.)
Interviewed by SIMON DALLOW
For TVOne and Agenda
SIMON: Back in 1993 when he founded New Zealand First few would have believed that
WINSTON: Peters and his party would still be a political force 11 years later, not only is Mr Peters still in parliament but his party is the third largest in the house with 13 MPs and he may yet hold the balance of power after the next election. He's with me now.
Good morning Mr Peters, current polling suggest you may well be kingmaker in the next election, what do potential partners have to do to build an alliance with New Zealand First?
WINSTON: Well really you see one of the problems with our current situation is that everybody thinks that you should, despite what the public think and the voters think, formalise this before the election and it's sure to circumvent the voters well and conspire against the voters' wishes in fact, and so we have never taken that view, we believe that voters should speak first on election night and then we will know who's in parliament and in what numbers and only then can you get around to deciding what the coalition potential might be or whether you go into coalition at all. So that’s a question that people would love an answer to excepting it's totally anti democratic in my view.
SIMON: Well you've been consistent with that, back in November you stated that as policy so there's no change to that obviously.
SIMON: Well what would they have to do post the election then I mean what are you looking for in a potential partner?
WINSTON: Well we're looking for first of all a partner that will keep their word so if you shake hands and have a contract with them to run government on certain lines for the next three years that they will keep their word and be true to that so that you can provide stability and consistency for the country, and the second thing is to have a degree of shared values and principles and policies that can provide the public with certainty as to what's going on. I think this page and a half of motherhood and apple pie agreement is always gonna be disastrous in the long term and very destabilising in terms of certainty. So what we're looking for are people who in many ways share some of the things that we stand for and believe in.
SIMON: When you say about keeping their word, given the fact that you’re not going to have any pre-election coalition agreements where are you looking at them to keep their word in the immediate post election environment.
WINSTON: In the immediate post election environment throughout the rest of the world where MMP is concerned, in some cases they take up to six months in Holland to form a government but here we've got an obsession with forming government virtually overnight. Now the trouble with that is it leads to uncertainty in the future, and what you really need to do is sit down and discuss the points of agreement, the priorities because you can't have your weight totally, I mean obviously another side can, and put that in a document so that the public will know what it is to be in terms of conditions and policies over the next three years.
SIMON: In 96 you hooked up with the Nats and that surprised a few people, could you work with Don Brash, I mean you've been fairly critical of him recently.
WINSTON: Well first of all you see one of the great things about politics is the way people spread myths and maintain them. In 96 Labour and New Zealand First had 54 MPs in a 120 parliament, now that doesn’t add to a majority, and the Alliance would not in the eleventh hour on the last day provide us with an unconditional agreement to support a Labour and New Zealand First government, so we were in a big bind then and we decided to go with National because there was no other option at all. As for the future you know it's not a matter who we're going with, it's a matter of who's prepared to deal with New Zealand First, we are not gonna sell our supporters down the drain and there are certain fundamental things that we stand for and we will not compromise on those, I mean we saw the disaster between 84 and 96 of wholesale sellout of New Zealand's asset wealth built up over generations and centuries, that’s not to happen again surely.
SIMON: So can you rule out the possibility of a coalition with the National?
WINSTON: We're not ruling anything out or anything in at this point in time, we are gonna campaign as hard as we can at the next election, we believe we will hold the balance of political responsibility and we want to be responsible about that.
SIMON: Well let's look then at New Zealand First's core policy, what's you’re attitude to Treaty claims?
WINSTON: Well our attitude since our formation is that there should be one law for all New Zealanders, it's part of our – one our founding principles on the
SIMON: I have to say that sounds like the Nats.
WINSTON: No no quite the converse. They are now trying to sound like us, because I was in the National Party cabinet of 1990, I saw the disastrous path down which they went, I warned them against it, I was expelled from the National Party before – the night after the Sealords deal, I could see that it was gonna be a huge issue of contention, I has been of enormous cost to the Maori people and the nation, but they knew better and now they're singing from our hymn sheet and making out it's our words, well it's very flattering really, imitation's a very sincere form of flattery but there is no sincerity in their policy. The DNA and handprints and fingerprints of the National Party over this Waitangi industry are to be seen, for those of us who remember what happened yesterday.
SIMON: If they're stealing your policy aren’t they also stealing your vote then, I mean is this threatening, is this undermining your support?
WINSTON: Not really, I think New Zealanders have a far greater sense of what happened in the past and do remember as time goes by and the worst thing that National's got going for it and Don Brash, is that this is a long run to the next election and they are being exposed every day in the House and outside of it for what you might call boomerang question and boomerang issues. Every time you look at what they're saying they have their fingerprints all over it. Well how can you trust someone who fouled it up last time you see.
SIMON: Let's go back to policy, what would you do with Defence, would you increase the spend?
WINSTON: Look long term given the instability in our area and it's starting to look very unstable in the arch around New Zealand from Fiji going north and into the west of the Pacific there's great uncertainty there and we will not get away with not pulling our weight, so in the long term we've gotta spend about two percent of our GDP on Defence. New Zealand is in a critical position and the idea that we live in a benign environment is just not to be trusted given as I say things that are happening in the Pacific today which ten years ago we would have thought were never going to be the case and we will not get away in the west not pulling our weight.
SIMON: Does that also mean then it's time to revise the nuclear policy, I mean you state that New Zealanders' desire for a non nuclear future will be respected, I mean how flexible is that?
WINSTON: Well we don’t believe it's a matter that’s negotiable, New Zealand people I would think in excess of 75, 80% are for a nuclear free New Zealand and we've gotta respect that.
SIMON: Would you take that back to the public I mean would you have a referendum?
WINSTON: Well you can have a referendum, I think we'd all know what the outcome is now, but the National Party's double dealing on this matter, of course it's gonna cost them because they're saying one thing to the Americans and something else to the New Zealand people. In the end it is a matter of our sovereignty.
SIMON: Haven't we moved on though, isn't nuclear propulsion now being distinguished in the minds of the average person from nuclear weaponry?
WINSTON: I don’t think that’s the case, what the public is gonna be concerned about is whether or not you could be absolutely certain that there will be no accident, because an accident where nuclear propulsion was concern would be you know something that will last ten thousand years, as people well know.
SIMON: Let's move to health then, is the only answer within health to spend more, I mean it's constantly a problem and it always seems to be it's about money.
WINSTON: Well first of all, take the money situation, see we're a country that claims our economy's in great health, the truth is it's not, all these problems were having today are because the economy's not growing at the speed it should be and it's the wrong sort of growth, it is consumption rather than out of productivity. Our exports per capita look very sad against Australia's very sad against Ireland's very sad against Singapore's and we keep on ignoring it.
SIMON: What would you do to stimulate the economy?
WINSTON: Well I mean the first thing that I'd do is to get a consensus that New Zealand must treble its exports as fast as possible and our research and development and our education, our immigration, our taxation policy should be all focused on that outcome, then we would be able to spend on the things we need to spend. The French template for example if put over the New Zealand health system would see about three billion being spent more being spent now, so it is a question of money and we haven't got it because we're not running a first world economy any more. We haven't got it in Defence, we haven't got it key areas of education. So basically get the economy going right, get the growth in the economy for extra dollars from abroad, treble your exports which we can achieve with sound policy.
SIMON: So with the Budget out this week do you believe then as a former Treasurer should we be spending more or should there be tax cuts?
WINSTON: Well frankly what New Zealand needs is to spend more to make more, so I'd be out there trying to get our exporters or half of whom and 50 percent of exporters export 50 thousand a year, that’s too small. So get the economy soundly based. We've grown it since 84 a third less in real terms than Australia, so if we had a third more – the size of our economy a third larger now we would not be having these problems. What you see in parliament today and all these arguments about social policy are symptomatic of economic failure and all you've got now is an escalating drive on the part of those who were right in 84 to try and defend these failed policies, it's not going to work. Just compare what happened to Australia. Since 84 they’ve grown a third larger in real terms. They made incremental change and built a form of their established successes. We had an economic revolution here, and it's failed. Until New Zealanders confront that then we're not going to improve as a nation. Just one last comment, the Economist, the very respected Economise magazine in London said three years ago that New Zealand looks to be the first country in 50 years to go from the first world to the third world – what did we do, well we decided to ignore that very serious and alarming statement.
SIMON: We'll be back in a moment with more on Mr Peters, politics, parliament and points of order.
SIMON: In the same week our parliament celebrates its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary the latest NBR Phillips Fox poll out yesterday shows it has the confidence of only one in four New Zealanders and is less respected than wait for it – even the media generally. Does parliament receive the respect it deserves or is it just sport for our elected representatives. Here's a snapshot of Mr Peters during question time last Tuesday.
SIMON: That montage from Tuesday just gone, Mr Peters isn't that sort of, well let's call it gamesmanship, the very reason why the public have lost respect for parliament as an institution?
WINSTON: Well you know you can get a series of clips like that there and run them all together and make out that it's of a type of treatment or behaviour that is not acceptable, but I could do that to any member of parliament any time I liked and to most journalists as well. The reality is that that is over a long period of time, it's about a range of issues and it's important that there is disclosure as to for example what is going on with a document, with official papers that are being used, what's in those papers and it was to do with what Mr Brash and Lockwood Smith said to the Americans when they saw them a the beginning of the year. This is no light matter it goes to the core of our Defence and Foreign Affairs policy. So a point of order in that respect is to seek the information to be tabled so that everybody in New Zealand might see it and know what the truth is.
SIMON: Does it actually reflect your frustration with question time though as well, I mean isn't question time a pointless exercise if ministers aren’t obliged to answer questions specifically?
WINSTON: Well that is a problem with our standing orders and precedents because you can actually get up as a minister and say rhubarb and that is technically an answer. Now we're always going to have difficulty as parliamentarians accepting that, but you know question time is the most exciting time of politics, it's when you get far greater disclosure than any other time in a concertinaed or very short period of time, so we should not overrule the importance of it, it's just that I think in recent times the various governments have been less than assiduous in giving out the truth in the way that used to be the case in the old days. I mean I remember one of the ministers, his name was Fraser Coleman, who you couldn't nail if you tried cos he'd get up and just tell the truth, and as briefly as possible, now that’s a fail safe method.
SIMON: Has that degree of disclosure diminished over the years though?
WINSTON: I think as we've got more and more spin doctors and more and more socalled media spin merchants around politicians and ministers in particular that there's crept into it a greater degree of deviousness and a lack of desire to tell the public really the proper answer to a question. I don’t blame anyone for that other than to say it's a very unfortunate development.
SIMON: You've been an MP for most of the past 25 years, how has parliamentary behaviour as a whole changed over that time, better or worse?
WINSTON: Well strangely enough I think it's actually better and I can probably go to some Hansards in the old days where it was vicious and vindictive and really dog eat dog. I think that parliament has actually improved, excepting half the people making this judgement don’t know what it was like in the old days and so they think that it's bad now. Actually we rate higher than we used to rate just ten years ago, I mean we were down there with the Welsh weightlifters ten years ago, coming in about three percent. I think the media rating of course is dramatically lower than ours and it's artificially being inflated by you people to defend yourselves.
SIMON: With apologies to Welsh weightlifters, how has MMP affected the quality of debate in the House?
WINSTON: Well I think it's improved in this context that there is a far more representative House of Representatives, now whether you like the certain parties or not the fact is there is a consumer demand for them and they should be in politics. That’s influenced of course the government in many ways to improve on its policies and be far more attentive and pay attention to what the community thinks and people to be more responsive, there's no doubt that had we had MMP in 1984 this country would never have gone into the asset sales binge which we went into at great cost to the country, and all the promises that were made you know just didn’t turn out to be a fact at all and that’s why we've got Air New Zealand back, that’s why we end up getting the railways back. There was at time when a party could abuse power without any check on it now I think that we have a better parliament than back then in terms of being more representative. The fact is though we need a bit more time for MMP to settle down, but remembering in our first 40 years of first past the post this country was in fact quite chaotic in its political management and administration. I think after 2005 MMP will have had time to bed in, it'll be a much improved situation.
SIMON: Well there's no doubting that MMP's served you reasonably well.
WINSTON: We were a first past the post party, New Zealand First, we first got in as a first past the post party.
SIMON: Under a first past the post system you wouldn’t have 13 representatives currently.
WINSTON: Oh we might have 25.
SIMON: You might, emphasis on might. Well MMP it seems likely to throw up a Maori party a new Maori party this time around, what do you expect to see?
WINSTON: I don’t believe that this is gonna work and I've kept my counsel in this matter but I look at the people involved, I looked at their lack of focus, their lack of discipline and I think Tariana Turia may well win her seat in the bi-election in fact she's fully guaranteed to, but forming a political party is a different matter and even in Maoridom, in Maoridom today they're looking at the socalled high personalities of leadership in this new party and they're getting concerned as we speak, so I do not think it's gonna be a success story at all.
SIMON: So you don’t reckon they can unite Maoridom?
WINSTON: Well no because they have not go the record, they haven't go the agreement, they haven't got the experience. You can't just fall of a log in this business and go into politics and think you’re gonna survive, experience does matter like it matters in Rugby that’s why we didn’t win the World Cup last year, we went for youth and you know if we'd have gone for experience as the Australians did and as the British did we might have had a chance, but it showed, that’s why the Crusaders have got every chance tonight because they’ve got experience, so have the Brumbies.
SIMON: Let's get back to parliament, how does our parliament stack up against Britain's or even Australia's for that matter.
WINSTON: Well it's a different environment and it's a much smaller country, I would say this sadly has been a development, we don’t tend to provide a climate where you can either debate and survive, if you can't debate your can't survive, I think we are encouraging too many people to be involved who are not really politicians in that sense.
SIMON: Well who in your experience have been the most effective debaters in your time in the House?
WINSTON: Well there's been a lot of them, Lange, Muldoon, Tallboys was a brilliant debater, in fact a very good debater, Brian Tallboys – you've got Cullen today who's got what it takes, some people find him a bit nasty, I personally think if you can't take what are you doing down there you know, so it's always interesting when he speaks. There's been a good range of them but we're not encouraging enough of them I think in comparison to say the UK in particular or Australia.
SIMON: What about leaders though has New Zealand had any truly great world class leaders – long pause.
WINSTON: Not lately.
SIMON: Not lately? Who do you see as them?
WINSTON: Well the best of the great leaderships of this country I think was Holyoake going back then, people of the left of course or the sociologists and political scientists at university might think otherwise but the reality was that we had a country number two in the world I think in per capita terms of living far greater wealth and social justice than any other country on earth and looking back on it it was a bit of a paradise but the tragedy for New Zealand in say the last 20 years is that we don’t have as consensus on what matter in the way you'll see in Ireland, as you'll see in all of the first world economies, they have an agreement on the things, so the high priorities that matter in government. We don’t have agreement on the health system, we don’t have agreement on exporting, we don’t have agreement on the importance of focus taxation on growing wealth. We sadly in our great periods had those sorts of things across the divide between Labour and National there was agreement on these fundamental things, now there is none and sadly that is how shall I put it, that is not providing the kind of leadership that we need.
SIMON: Thank you very much Winston Peters, thank you very much for your time.
WINSTON: Thank you
SIMON: Coming up the man who's job it is to keep order in the House, Speaker,
SIMON: Well if any MP personifies parliament it's surely the Speaker, Jonathan Hunt, not only does he preside over the House but he's also the father of the House, it's oldest member having first been elected in 1969 – 66 sorry our apologies for our research, and he joins me now. Is the debating chamber still effective as the principle forum for democracy?
JONATHAN: Yes, very much so in fact moreso. I was one of those who opposed MMP, I now support it I changed my mind having observed it not just as an MP but a Speaker over the last four and a half years.
SIMON: Because of the breadth of its representation?
JONATHAN: Yes, I'd far rather have Sue Bradford in the House arguing with the Prime Minister and with the Leader of the Opposition than out on the streets demonstrating, she's an effective MP and she's made a good contribution.
SIMON: Isn't it an antiquated institution, isn't it an anachronism in the electronic era, I mean people are really disconnected from what goes on there.
JONATHAN: No I don’t think they are, I'm staggered at how interested people are in politics and I think the media have got a great deal of blame particularly some of the television you see for the triteness with which they treat politics. I had more publicity about banning smoking on the steps of parliament buildings than about important issue as to whether or not you should have research into smoking that’s causing lung cancer.
SIMON: What's your attitude to the tape we just saw of Winston Peters?
JONATHAN HUNT Winston's a supreme showman and he's one of the most effective performers and debaters in the House. Every MP's entitled to raise a point of order because it's in the standing orders and I am obliged to hear them, I have no option, but as he himself said of you, you can get any set of clips and make them unrepresentative of the total time. I think our question time is probably the most vigorous and demanding of any in the western world. Let me give you a direct comparison. In Australia the questioner has one question, 45 seconds, the Minister has two and a half minutes to reply, a wonderful thing for a government and of course all oppositions promise to change it when they become the government they never do. In New Zealand you are really tested if you’re the government and tested as the opposition because you've got to ask good questions.
SIMON: You talked about the effect of showmanship particularly from Winston Peters, I mean doesn’t – people like Winston Peters who are very effective at using the media, doesn’t that reflect the fact that television and radio have really supplanted parliament as the people's forum?
JONATHAN: No, because in the end while it's true that television is supremely important, nevertheless in the end ideas and issues will come – will predominate.
SIMON: But you can get far more political mileage out of the media than you can within the House surely.
JONATHAN: For a time, but in the end if you don’t succeed in being influential in the House you’re not going to be a good and effective politician, and I look at the three perhaps best opposition politicians in the House at the present time – Peter Dunn, Richard Prebble, Winston Peters, long serving, different parties and very effective performers.
SIMON: Don Brash?
JONATHAN: I think he's still got a way to go.
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