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Agenda: Brash, Commentators & US Sec. Agriculture

AGENDA – TV ONE SATURDAY 27 AUGUST 2005


A Transcript from… TVOne and Agenda

DON BRASH Leader, National
Interviewed by SIMON DALLOW

ALSO
Guest Commentators
Bob Harvey, Michelle Boag & Jon Johansson

AND
US Secretary Of Agriculture
Mike Johanns

********************

SIMON: For the second consecutive month the National Business Review UMR poll has National trailing Labour. The poll was conducted before the release of National's tax policy last Monday and of course before Dr Brash told us why he won't be rude to the Prime Minister. He is with me now. Welcome to the programme Dr Brash. Bit of a debacle this week over forestry, first your spokesman Brian Connell says one thing, Nick Smith wheeled out says something else and you have to step in and sort the whole mess out. How is it spokespeople can announce plans that you then have to override, how does that happen?

DON: Well Brian made a mistake, he's acknowledged that. He released a policy document which had not been through the whole process and I made it clear what the policy would be. It was a minor mistake nothing remotely on the scale of John Tamahere's attack on his colleagues a month or two back.

SIMON: It does raise questions though whether you have the right stuff for the leadership you know can you guarantee we won't see this sort of thing again before the election.

DON: Well let's face it, Helen Clark has had to fire eight cabinet ministers during her five or six years in office and sometimes back benchers make mistakes.

SIMON: Just how in control are you though of both National's caucus and policy, I mean there are two elements here.

DON: Completely.

SIMON: Completely?

DON: No policy get signed off without my agreement.

SIMON: But it came out this time, obviously the process is flawed.

DON: No policy gets signed off I said without my agreement, the policy which was signed off was different from the one that Brian Connell announced in the morning.

SIMON: Do you have confidence in your entire front bench?

DON: Oh yes I do, absolutely.

SIMON: Why was it then that Jerry Brownlee represented National in the radio debate on foreign affairs this week? John Armstrong in yesterday's Herald suggested it was because the party was worried Phil Goff would humiliate Lockwood-Smith.

DON: Humiliation's the wrong word. Phil Goff has been banging on about comments which Lockwood-Smith is alleged to have made 18 months ago at a time when the National Party was reviewing its policy on nuclear propulsion and we thought there was no earthly advantage to us in having Phil Goff bang on about it again.

SIMON: He could still bang on against Jerry Brownlee but Lockwood-Smith is your foreign affairs spokesman why was he not there for a foreign affairs debate?

DON: And I've got confidence in him.

SIMON: Why was he not there for a foreign affairs debate?

DON: Because we saw no advantage in making a punching bag of him by Phil Goff dragging out stuff which was written by a junior official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which Phil Goff had no damn right using in a political way at all.

SIMON: Nevertheless you did not put your foreign affairs spokesman up in a foreign affairs debate.

DON: That’s a judgement I made.

SIMON: When you said this week I am not a feminist what exactly did you mean?

DON: Well I had assumed I must say apparently incorrectly that a feminist was by definition a woman, and I meant it as a throw away line, someone who was concerned about the number of women running the country and all the feminists and I said well I guess by definition I'm not a feminist, and I thought that was an obvious fact but apparently a feminist can be a man or a woman, I didn’t know that.

SIMON: Since then though you’ve obviously looked up the meaning of it?

DON: Yes I have.

SIMON: Which is?

DON: That someone who cares about the rights of women. In that sense I certainly care about the rights of women and I made that very clear to the Herald reporter who asked me about it.

SIMON: So you would consider yourself a feminist in the technical sense?

DON: In the sense that I care about women having the same rights exactly as men, absolutely.

SIMON: But when you said you didn’t want to interrupt Helen Clark on the basis that she was a woman. It suggested that you believe men and women to be unequal.

DON: No no I did not say that. I was asked – you weren’t shouting and screaming as much as Helen Clark was in the debate was the question. I said look I don’t regard it as terribly mature for adults to shout and scream at each other in any circumstance and particularly inappropriate for men to shout and scream at women. There's too much of that going on now. Now it was a light hearted remark, it did no suggest in any way that I was reluctant to interfere, interrupt, interject against Helen Clark, she was shouting like a banshee quite frankly, that’s not my style.

SIMON: You say it was a light hearted remark, you said the feminist remark was a light hearted remark, these light hearted remarks are the ones that get you into trouble, they suggest that you're politically naïve don’t they?

DON: I'll stop making jokes hereon.

SIMON: Yesterday's Herald digi poll though has Labour 20% ahead with female voters, what's National's problem with women?

DON: I have some problems with that whole poll I have to tell you not just about the women but also about Auckland, our own polling suggests we are slightly behind with women that’s true, our own polling shows we're actually level pegging in Auckland if not slightly ahead, so I don’t fully understand that poll, but the point that Michelle Boag made a moment ago I think is right, that the tax package which the National Party launched this week is very attractive to most New Zealanders, 85% of New Zealanders will face a tax rate no higher than 19% under our tax pack.

SIMON: You're back on message here aren’t you. I want to stay with women though your problems with women have extended into your caucus, you had problems with Catherine Rich who you didn’t take seriously after her concerns on social welfare following your Orewa speech, you’ve got problems with Georgina Te Heu Heu over Maori policy, it suggests why – the question is why don’t you take women seriously?

DON: I take women very seriously indeed, and I utterly reject any proposition that I don’t, I've dealt with women in professional capacity all my life and I've hired women into senior professional roles long before in fact it became fashionable to do so. I totally reject the idea that I don’t work well with women.

SIMON: So the problems with Georgina Te Heu Heu and Catherine Rich are purely coincidence.

DON: Georgina Te Heu Heu couldn’t sign up to a policy which the other 26 members of the caucus believed in, it was that simple. She said look I cannot sell that. I said fine, that situation you can't realistically be the Maori Affairs spokesperson. In the case of Catherine Rich she agreed with 90% of the speech but said look I cannot in good conscience sell this particular bit of it.

SIMON: That raises the issue of compassion doesn’t it and women have more compassion perhaps than men and National maybe seem to be lacking that?

DON: Well I don’t accept that at all, the National Party is a very compassionate party, we want in fact to give every person in this country access to decent education, access to decent welfare, but we don’t want people who are able bodied living off the generosity of the taxpayer.

SIMON: I'll come back to Georgina Te Heu Heu she's also Maori is that her real problem within National?

DON: No it is not. It is absolutely not. I get on well with Georgina she's got a good spokesmanship and she'll be in the cabinet after next election if National wins government.

SIMON: In Monday's debate when asked who is a Maori you said and I quote, 'for some people it's a serious issue because they are substantially Maori, for others they can't be told frankly from you and me.' That seems to suggest you consider who's Maori by their physical appearance how so?

DON: Maori legally is someone who has any Maori ancestor and one of the crazy things about Maori policy in New Zealand right now is making a distinction between people who are 100% non Maori and people who are 95% non Maori and that’s crazy.

SIMON: So how do you make a distinction?

DON: I don’t want to make a distinction at all. I want to make no distinction of any kind between any New Zealander be they Maori, Pacific Islander, Asian or of European descent, I want everyone treated equally.

SIMON: So who is a Maori then?

DON: I'm relaxed who wants to define themselves as a Maori I don’t care because I don’t want any special privileges, any special rights, any differentiation between Maori and non Maori. I don’t need to define Maori.

SIMON: Well can a New Zealand government really have full legitimacy, full moral authority without any recognition of Maoris' unique place in New Zealand.

DON: Look the Treaty of Waitangi was an important historical document, it established the basis for a country which is a democracy where everybody has equal rights. I think the Crown does have an obligation to protect the Maori language but I do not accept separate Maori representation at national level, local body level, DHB level, PHO level and all the rest, that’s nonsense and it's leading New Zealand to an absolutely desperate situation.

SIMON: So the only obligation you see in preserving Maori culture is the language?

DON: Yes that’s right.

SIMON: You’ve also been explicitly seeking the support of mainstream New Zealand, that’s a phrase you’ve used a lot. Let's clear this up once and for all, define that term.

DON: Mainstream New Zealand I think is New Zealand that most of us occupy, they're New Zealanders who care about their own families, who want to support themselves, who want to get up in the morning and look after their children or go to work or whatever.

SIMON: It's very broad and vague though.

DON: It is a broad term.

SIMON: You said it doesn’t include gays?

DON: Well no I don’t accept that, I think many gays are absolutely mainstream.

SIMON: So how do people decide whether they are mainstream or not?

DON: Well if they support Labour Party they're probably not mainstream, that’s a good definition.

SIMON: Well they may have the broader number of votes. Maori and Pacific Islanders mainstream?

DON: Absolutely. Well no reason not to be, no reason not to be at all.

SIMON: And you think you're inclusive with all these mainstream with all these areas?

DON: Of course, of course,

SIMON: Do you know the name of your Manurewa candidate?

DON: Yes I do.

SIMON: What's her name?

DON: Pou Aiono. I can't pronounce the whole name. Pou Aiono. Pou is the first name the name she uses mostly, Aiono is the surname.

SIMON: It's on the screen right now do you want to have a go at that, here it is here.

DON: I know I've seen it, I don’t try and pronounce the whole name I'm not sure anyone does.

SIMON: You're also intending to abolish all forms of dedicated Maori representation at government, local government, but even without a Maori mandate what effect do you think that would have on race relations?

DON: Look the Maori seats were set up in 1867 for a very good reason, at that point the only people who had a vote in New Zealand were men who owned property and of course most Maori property was communally owned, the Maori seats therefore were an attempt to redress that balance. Look we've all got a vote now men and women, we don’t need separate Maori representation.

SIMON: I understand your reasoning for it, but what effect do you think abolishing it will have on race relations, do you think it will have an effect?

DON: I think many Maori would welcome that, many Maori would welcome that, many Maori are not on the Maori role they're on general role.

SIMON: And many would not?

DON: Some would not certainly.

SIMON: You may well need the Maori Party to govern, could you go into coalition with them if that was what was needed to take power?

DON: I think that would be almost impossible because the positions we've got on things like the Maori seats are diametrically opposed to theirs, we want every New Zealander to have a vote and to have a vote in the same constituencies not break New Zealanders up on the grounds of race.

SIMON: What if their support was needed to form a coalition?

DON: Listen I don’t want to conduct negotiations pre election but I cannot see the National Party backing off the policy of having equal representation regardless of race.

SIMON: So it's a non negotiable bottom line?

DON: it's a non negotiable bottom line.

SIMON: And if the Maori Party that is their condition that that is waived you will not waive it?

DON: That’s right.

SIMON: Okay, let's have a look at your coalition options beyond the Maori Party. Obviously they're more limited than Labour you acknowledged that during the debate the other night. Would you consider telling voters that National may need ACT?

DON: Look I think there are three centre right parties with which we could in principle go into coalition ACT is one of them, United Future is another and New Zealand First is potentially a third. Now what proportion of parliament those parties will have after the election I can't judge.

SIMON: Well see ACT's newsletter this week says tracking polls in Epsom show that 38% of voters now say they’ll vote for Rodney Hide if that will give the centre right a winning coalition. That may be the case, would you support him? Why don’t you do what Helen Clark did with Jeannette Fitzsimons have a photo opportunity, take the stroll, the stroll down Remuera Road as Rodney Hide suggests.

DON: I think the point we're trying to make is if you want a change of government the important party to give your party vote to is the National Party.

SIMON: You can still do that and support Rodney Hide within Epsom and then you could have a viable coalition partner.

DON: No deals are contemplated, we could also do a deal of course with United Future.

SIMON: No deals are contemplated but maybe contemplated in the next three weeks?

DON: Look I think that’s extraordinarily unlikely.

SIMON: You're not ruling it out?

DON: Look I think it's so unlikely as to be …

SIMON: Okay unlikely but not off the table?

DON: it's not on my table.

SIMON: It's not on your table at the moment but you won't rule it out.

DON: It's not on my table.

SIMON: Will you categorically rule it out?

DON: It's not on my table.

SIMON: Helen Clark said yesterday she was likely to appear on the campaign trail with Peter Dunne as quoted in the press yesterday, surely this is a reality of MMP you now need these people. She may be picking off another one of your few viable coalition partners.

DON: Look I think people who are appalled by the Labour government's social engineering over the last few years don’t see United Future as a terribly attractive option at the moment, I think it's much more likely in fact that they would gain votes if they indicated they have a preference for going with National.

SIMON: Opposition Leader Don Brash thank you very much for joining us on Agenda today.

DON: Thank you.


**************

GUEST COMMENTATORS

SIMON: Joining us again are our guest commentators Bob Harvey and Michelle Boag and in Wellington, Jon Johansson for reaction to the Dr Brash interview. Bob I'll begin with you, what did you think?

BOB HARVEY – Former Labour Party President
Well I thought it was a damn good interview really and I was interested in his body language and I thought his body language was terrific until you dropped him with the Samoan unpronounceable name, although I mean with due respect to that person. I actually would have walked, if I was Brash I'd have walked, I'd have said okay that is an absolute trick, it's an absolute capture and I'm not wearing that, I'd actually have walked from that interview but I thought it was a damn good interview, his body language changed from that point on, he became tense. I mean this is a very cruel election. We've got to extraordinary people I think both Clark and Brash. Brash has risen more than I thought he could possibly have done but you’ve got Clark who is dominating this election because she's good a directed traffic really, she's wide and smart and he's not wide smart politically and I think that’s the difficulty and I thought although the interview went very well for those viewers out there I thought it was a bit of a capture of that name.

SIMON: it's a difficult name to pronounce, I thought he handled himself responsibly well, Michelle?

MICHELLE BOAG – Former National Party President
Yeah but nobody could handle that name, I mean I spent five years immersed in Samoan culture and I even speak a bit of the language much more than you do, and it would take me a couple of minutes to figure that out, it would take anyone a couple of minutes to figure that out actually and I thought it was unnecessary.

BOB: Your brain is working flat out and you're trying to cope with what you're doing, the viewers out there watching this programme and then suddenly whammo, it was a whammo.

MICHELLE: Can you pronounce it Simon, that’s the issue.

SIMON: If you put it in front of me I can pronounce it, but I again had a couple of minutes with it as well.

MICHELLE: But you're a newsreader you're trained to break those bits down.

SIMON: Well I'm not trained actually, I trained myself but that’s by the by, but it surprises me that you take so much exception to this given that it's such a minor part of the debate, minor part of the interview.

MICHELLE: Oh I just think it was a dirty trick.

BOB: Sitting there ticking away and then wham it went off.

SIMON: Jon Johansson let me bring you in, were you as surprised by this, what about the substance of the interview?

JON JOHANSSON – Political Scientist, Victoria
Yeah I'll save you here Simon, look the substance of the interview you asked that key question of Dr Brash and he just didn’t answer the question which was the impact on social cohesion if you do away with the Maori seats with white votes, that is a crucial question and you sort of got the historical you know record of why they came to pass, but I mean it's just such an important sort of feature of our children's generation coming through, and this is how – you look at the effects of poor cumulative decision making, so like for instance Muldoon's superannuation policy in 75 left problems for all his successors, I feel the same way about this idea to do away with the Maori seats with white votes, that will leave the successors of Dr Brash with a far more difficult race environment because he didn’t answer what happens – does it peel off some moderate Maori to become more radical, what does it do to the radical element that already exists. I cannot see how it will improve race relations in this country. So good on you for asking that question.

SIMON: Helen Clark said it would be dangerous Bob. She said it would be dangerous if we were to abolish the Maori seats. You'd expect that of course.

BOB: I agree, we're both Westies as you know.

SIMON: All three of us.

BOB: I came down the West today, most of the hoardings had been trashed overnight most of them have been graffitied.

SIMON: Both sides?

BOB: Both sides, the whole lot. I mean I think people are feeling that this election is really reaching a level and I think it is really. It's more aggressive than they thought, it's got more energy to it I have to say, well that’s great for the punters, but there's something happening in this country right now about this election and each of these things raises that issue and certainly you know a guy in Wellington he's smart I mean he's probably adding another dimension that we're not, we're adding an emotional dimension and I don’t mind that, but I think this election is about two people really, forget the tax thing.

SIMON: Forget the tax thing?

BOB: Well I'm saying it's just a bit of bait, and I don’t know if we're wearing all that bait.

SIMON: How much are we being diverted away from the substance Michelle?

SIMON: I think there are efforts to divert it away but when I talk to the man in the street or the woman in the street it is about tax and I think that’s what people have overlooked. National has made tax the issue of this election.

BOB: It's a bribe.

MICHELLE: I tell you what there is no way it is a statement of principle, National's tax policy is a statement of principle, and they’ve been talking about that for months. They’ve made tax the issue, the Labour Party has responded with bribes and that’s why it's looked like a bidding war, but the fact is to the people out in the street tax is the issue.

SIMON: Money in their pocket matters doesn’t it Bob?

BOB: Three million bucks went in the pokies this year, I mean the three million bucks didn’t come out, I mean this is a country that is doing so damn well right now, I mean we are not into bribes, we're not wearing that kinda stuff.

MICHELLE: Well the student loans thing from Labour was clearly a bribe, clearly, so they are the ones that are bringing out the bribes, trying to match National's tax package which clearly according to the poll in the Herald this morning has very broad appeal.

SIMON: The mother of all auctions according to John Armstrong in the Herald and that’s bribes on both sides, and both of you are calling each others and your own bribes. Jon have we lost sight of the growth picture?

JON: The growth picture?

SIMON: Yeah where the vision for growth, both sides are going on bribing us.

JON: And that’s really I think part of Labour's strategy is to essentially neutralise the whole tax and economy argument so that it grinds into you know essentially some sort of morass that no one can sort out exactly who's getting what and who's gonna be better off and then switch to more favourable ground like the foreign and defence policy and the race stuff perhaps, so we have lost sight of that and I mean it was never more evident that poor old Gareth Morgan trying to be the voice of reason earlier in the week when Cullen and Key were both at each other and talking over the top of each other you know.

SIMON: Thank you Jon and thank you both. Coming up next what does New Zealand have to do to get a free trade deal with the US?

************

MIKE JOHANNS
US SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE

SIMON: The US Secretary of Agricultures Mike Johanns was in New Zealand this week to talk trade. The US is our biggest market for agricultural exports and the second biggest source of agricultural imports. Secretary Johanns is the first member of the Bush administration to come here. His two day visit came at the end of an international agricultural meeting in Australia. I caught up with him on Tuesday and began by asking this son of a dairy farmer what he hoped to learn from little old New Zealand.

MIKE: Well a lot of things, if you'll remember New Zealand in the mid 1980s went about some very significant economic reform in agriculture. Prior to the mid 1980s New Zealand was subsidised agriculture if you'll allow me to use that terminology and really kind of in one fell swoop that was changed. Now these farmers that I visited yesterday are competing in an international marketplace and I might add doing that very effectively, so there is always something to learn. The other thing I would tell you they're great producers, they know what they're doing they're sophisticated producers they have an idea what the world is about and they're doing a great job.

SIMON: New Zealand farmers have proven that you can be competitive without subsidies, why isn't that happening in the US?

MIKE: Well over time it is, you know if you chart the farm legislation over a period of time the whole idea here is to move more to a free market system but therein lies the issue, we have always said that we believe we can compete in an international marketplace no doubt about it and I am absolutely convinced of that. Our farmers and ranchers can compete with anybody in the world but for us we need access to markets, we are a very large producer and so as we sit down at the negotiating table whether it's the WTO or bilateral agreements one of the things that’s very important to us is to gain access into a market. We have very very low tariffs, our average tariff in the United States is like 14% so we're a very open market and New Zealand farmers can attest to that, but the important thing for us is we have to be able to access other markets.

SIMON: Let's look at GAT how critical is that the Dohar round be successfully completed?

MIKE: That’s very important for a lot of reasons, one is that I really believe that the opportunity for developing countries really lies in trade in that relationship that is created, but the other piece of this is that as I said recently and have said a number of times if we don’t have a successful WTO round you might end up with another farm bill in our country that lasts until 2012 that becomes very impossible to change. The timing is perfect for this WTO round it can be factored in as we start to think about the next farm bill.

SIMON: How strong though is the pressure US farmers are putting on you to retain subsidies?

MIKE: Well we are protectionists, our market is very very open, in fact if you charted the growth of imports of ag products into our country it's been very very dramatic substantial growth of imports, in fact today our exports and imports are about equal.

SIMON: Does your administration consider our security relationship particularly vis a vis Iraq and our nuclear free legislation an impediment to New Zealand achieving a free trade agreement with the US?

MIKE: No, we don’t link those issues at all. We have feelings about those issues, your country does also but when it comes to trade agreements we look at those independently. It really comes down to a decision of the economics and trade opportunities on both sides of the equation for both countries and then there's just the reality of you have so much time, you have a timeframe in which to negotiate trade agreements and how much can you get done in that timeframe but as other US officials have indicated we don’t link those issues, we look at trade agreements from the standpoint of the economic opportunities.

SIMON: You said though you do have feelings about it, what are those feelings?

MIKE: Well I think that’s obvious, I think those feelings have been expressed by the State Department and by your country, but again …

SIMON: How would you summarise them?

MIKE: I don’t summarise them at all, because from my standpoint in agriculture I'm over hear to try to understand your agricultural system.

SIMON: If it's not linked to the security relationship why then has Australia been more successful in securing a free trade agreement?

MIKE: You know here's what I would offer on that, we looked at the Australian agreement and the opportunity for a free trade agreement made a decision that it made sense economically but again you should not read anything into that, we just completed a free trade agreement with the central American countries and there were reasons for doing that.

SIMON: There are strategic reasons for that obviously but why not a trilateral deal with Australia and New Zealand?

MIKE: You know I wasn’t in my position back then but again we look at trade agreements from an economic standpoint and I try to make a decision as to what the best culmination is to do that trade agreement.

SIMON: What does Washington actually consider New Zealand at the moment, friend, ally, or something else altogether?

MIKE: I think our prior Secretary of State described our relationship as a very positive working relationship. We have found that in the agricultural arena, we work with New Zealand officials literally on a daily basis relating to trade issues and it's been a very positive working relationship, a relationship that one would very easily call as a relationship based on trust and friendship.

SIMON: Despite all that though we've made more progress towards a free trade agreement with China than with the US, how is that perceived in Washington?

MIKE: You know we're a major trading partner with China ourselves so we supported China's entry into the WTO, that just simply doesn’t impact how we view this relationship.

SIMON: Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, thank you so much for making time to appear on Agenda.

MIKE: Absolutely thank you.

- A Transcript from… TVOne and Agenda

ENDS

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