Agenda Transcript: Hodgson Brownlee IV
Agenda Transcript: Hodgson Brownlee IV
Interviewedby SIMON DALLOW
SIMON:Allegations of dirty tricks have been as much a part of this campaign as differences in party policy. Labour and the Greens complained this week when it was revealed that National Leader Don Brash knew about plans by members of the Exclusive Brethren to distribute anti government pamphlets.
National'scountered with complaints about the degree of pro government advertising by the unions. I'm joined now by National's Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee in Christchurch and Labour Campaign Spokesman Pete Hodgson in Dunedin. Welcome to you both gentlemen.
I might start with Gerry Brownlee, front page news this morning that John key hints at petrol tax cut, this despite of course the Leaders' debate and the Finance Leaders' debate in which he had the opportunity to mention this, it was not mentioned, what's going on.
GERRY:Oh well that price is moving round quite a bit, I guess the question really for Pete Hodgson since he's here is how much will the Kyoto charges, the carbon charge put on to the price of petrol in the next 12, 18 months.
SIMON:No no, nice try to deflect, I want you to answer that question, are you making policy on the hoof because this was not mentioned when he had an opportunity to by John key and Don Brash.
GERRY:No we're not making policy on the hoof I think you'll see that that whole petrol price or fossil fuel price is an issue that’s going to bubble round for quite some time, it's a very big concern for a country like New Zealand that’s so dependent on imported stock and we are expressing a view that at some point a government is going to have to take seriously any slow down that might result from that. Well come you tell me what's really discussed during those debates, such short efforts, your last one with eight leaders there was an utter joke, in the one to ones you go back some time previously when they were put out there, this is an issue that’s going day by day right to the pay packets and pockets of New Zealanders.
SIMON:You're deflecting and diverting attention aren’t you, you’ve taken attack on Exclusive Brethren over the course of the past week and suddenly you come out with nine press releases yesterday this suggests policy on the hoof is that how you'll run government?
GERRY:Nine press releases yesterday talking about the utter hypocrisy of Labour getting wound up over this, pointing out that they’ve had seven ministers go west over issues around their recollection and in some cases honesty, and then of course the whole range of things that get us back on to the agenda for this election which National has run, has controlled right from the start. We've set the agenda and New Zealanders know that and they know the issues that we are talking about, those that affect them very very directly.
SIMON:Pete Hodgson what's your reaction?
PETE:Well I've just been witnessing a debate of the deaf where Gerry wants to talk about petrol prices and you want to talk about National's credibility...
GERRY:Tell them about the Kyoto charge while you're there.
PETE:And I don’t remember interrupting you. I think what needs to be said about the issue over the last week is that Don Brash has apologised for confusion, he has yet to apologise for deceit. He has been failing to tell the whole truth, he hasn’t even told Gerry Brownlee the whole truth, this is how Gerry got into trouble…
SIMON:What evidence is there that he actually deceived?
PETE:Well he hasn’t told the whole story yet, I mean I've got two really good questions that need to be answered straight away Gerry, the first is, is the Exclusive Brethren involved in any way in push polling or telephone canvassing for the National Party.
Second question has the National Party found any influence on its policy from the Exclusive Brethren and the reason for asking that question is the Exclusive Brethren concern themselves with taxation, immigration and superannuation, those sort of issues but they're putting out pamphlets on Green stuff and on health. What's going on here?
SIMON:Gerry Brownlee would you like to answer?
GERRY:Well look I'm not answering any questions about the Exclusive Brethren because as I've said right through I sit on the party's campaign strategy committee, there is no link between us and the Brethren church, we have nothing to do with those pamphlets, and we have nothing to do with the funding or preparation of those pamphlets.
Furthermore in our electorates we have hundreds of volunteers come out to help us some of those – from an audit that we did in the last 24 hours because Labour is so paranoid about it – as it turns out are Exclusive Brethren, but we don’t ask people when they come through the door what's your religious preference. We just accept that they're good honest New Zealanders who want a change in government and what to help us do that.
PETE:I accept that Gerry so what about an answer to the two questions, are they involved in telephone canvassing and are they involved in policy development?
GERRY:They're most certainly not involved in policy development, telephone canvassing's taking place in electorates throughout the country for us just as it is for you or even for the ACT party who are now using electronic means, and I don’t know if they are or not, I can't answer that.
PETE:Do they get access to electoral information which is available only to political parties?
GERRY:I would very much doubt they would get it in the sense that you're talking, my information would be that if they are involved in that it would be from our own database, it's the blue dot system similar to your red dot system Mr Hodgson.
PETE:Yes but are you making it across to them because you are not in law allowed to?
GERRY:Oh Mr Hodgson I've just told you that we're using National Party information in all of our telephone polling and if Exclusive Brethren happen to be on the end of the phone I'm not sure about that, they would be there because they’ve volunteered to help the National Party get rid of the government and I don’t believe that …
PETE:I'm not talking about volunteers I'm talking about a sect that is organised to work with you, I'm not talking about volunteers, I understand what you're saying, I'm talking about a relationship between the National Party and a sect and I'm asking you again whether the sect has access to electoral information which by law is available only to political parties.
GERRY:Any information that they would be using if they are a volunteer for the National Party would be from our own databases.
SIMON:Mr Hodgson you released a press release yesterday in which you claimed there is involvement by the Brethren at all levels of National's campaign, what proof have you got that there's involvement at board and caucus level for National?
PETE:None at caucus level I am sure.
SIMON:You said at all levels of the National campaign.
PETE:All levels of campaigning, that is to say telephoning, door knocking, possibly push polling, we have yet to establish that, certainly leaflet distribution, certainly leaflet production, certainly funding for leaflet production, that’s what I mean by all levels. These guys are in the National Party boots and all and I didn’t know that at the beginning of this week and it was only because we had attention placed on it from the media that we finally got Don Brash to tell some of the truth. The whole truth is not yet out. Don Brash doesn’t tell the whole truth easily.
SIMON:What is it then, you seem to suggest you know something.
PETE:I'm telling you that for every two or three hours of the past week new information has come, new information has come to me this morning.
GERRY:This is getting laughable, this is getting utterly laughable, in the start of this campaign the allegation was that we were being run from Washington, from Trevor Mallard, no substance whatsoever to that. Then all of a sudden we're being run by some clever Australians and then we were being run by the Round Table and now apparently we're being run by the Brethren Church.
Get up and get over it Mr Hodgson you're in an election campaign you're on the back foot, New Zealanders want a change and they want that change in big numbers and I think let's get back to the issues and I'll tell you what the Labour Party don’t want to talk about those issues because they're in trouble on all of them.
SIMON:Mr Hodgson what is this evidence that you're talking about?
PETE:We're finding – we put out an all points bulletin yesterday afternoon I think it was to as campaigns around the country to give us evidence and the evidence has started to come through that it looks like there is telephone canvassing going on.
SIMON:It looks like it.
PETE:Yes it does.
SIMON:Can you state that substantively?
PETE:As we get stuff clarified we will certainly put it into the public arena, but I'm telling you that as every few hours go by we find closer linkages between the National Party and this sect, it is a remarkable thing.
GERRY:Oh look this is unbelievable, I can't believe that we're actually sitting here on national television talking about a Labour Party beat up, what's wrong with New Zealanders volunteering to help a political party change of government.
GERRY:That’s why we're a democracy Mr Hodgson.
PETE:Nothing is wrong with it.
GERRY:There is no big agenda here, we have made it clear right from the start what our campaign planks are, five big issues, we're sticking to those, you're in trouble on all of them, now start talking the issues.
PETE:Gerry we don’t have any trouble with the Exclusive Brethren helping the National Party, we are a little surprised but we have no difficulty with it, they're entitled to it's a free country, what is different that they didn’t fess up, and what is more different is that the Leader of the Opposition didn’t fess up either, he had one meeting which became two meetings and now it's up to four meetings, this is a guy who can't remember any of these four meetings and this is a guy who says that policy wasn’t discussed, I'm not sure about that.
GERRY:Oh look Simon you’ve also got a very big farming lobby out there campaigning for the National Party as well, I don’t recall any campaign strategy meeting where we've discussed that particular effort, and certainly the Brethren are not part of our big campaign plan either. At a very low level they may be helping in some local campaigns but the rest of it nothing to do with the National Party.
SIMON:They're entitled to their viewpoints aren’t they – just like the unions.
GERRY:Well take the unions, a good example, I mean I'm sick of saying it this week because it falls apparently on deaf media ears but there are literally millions of dollars coming out of the unions into the Labour Party campaign and it's too coincidental that some of the advertising for Labour placed by various unions happens to be in similar publications on prime pages, now it looks like collusion but we haven’t got time to go running round that sort of garbage, there are big issues for this country, they are on the table in this election, they’ve been put there by Don Brash.
Helen Clark can't answer those things, she's got a government full of ministers that have gone west because of various misdemeanours and incidents of dishonesty and we just are not gonna be further diverted by this utter tripe over the involvement of the Brethren Church.
SIMON:There have been a series of scandals though, where did the leaked emails come from?
GERRY:Well who knows, I mean you can hack into any system these days, we're told that no email is secure. I don’t think there's anything particularly damaging in those emails personally and you know I guess one of the things that’s interesting is the fact that the Labour Party is so very concerned about our internal security.
SIMON:One of the emails of course suggested that Don Brash buy his way to the Treasury benches.
GERRY:Yeah the email came from a guy who was employed by Don to make sure that the halls are open at public meetings to put out the chairs, to make sure the microphone works and to give them a cuppa tea when the meeting's over.
SIMON:And clearly he's offering strategic advice as well though.
GERRY:Well a lot of people offer advice.
SIMON:This is Bryan Sinclair we're talking about.
GERRY:Yeah a lot of people offer advice, the difference is that we listen to a lot of other people. This guy's not part of our strategic campaign committee and has not been part of the advice stream going to the campaign committee.
SIMON:Has Don Brash received adequate media training and support from those close to him such as yourself?
GERRY:Well I think he has, Don Brash has been in the public eye for 16 years and I think you know one of the fascinating things is this week people have said that suddenly he's starting to look like a politician and that's a negative, you know you can't win with this stuff, Don Brash is a great New Zealander.
I've certainly learnt a tremendous amount from him working with him, he will be a splendid Prime Minister because he has such a clear mind about what he wants for New Zealand and he's set the agenda in this election, no one can argue that and we are very pleased to be leading in those agenda issues, next week will be a great week for us, we will culminate that week by being able to form the government after the votes are counted on Saturday night.
SIMON:We're all certainly looking forward to it. Gerry Brownlee and Pete Hodgson thank you so much for joining us on Agenda today.
SIMON: Joining us our guest commentators Bob Harvey, Michelle Boag and in Wellington Jon Johansson. What did you think?
BOB HARVEY – Former Labour Party President: Well you know in this morning's Herald they talk about charisma, I'm talking about charisma here and I looked at Gerry and I look at the National Party, there's no charisma there. By the way charisma is a male thing, women have leadership they don’t have charisma it's a bloke's thing and it's very dangerous because if you drink too much of it you die you know what I mean.
SIMONHelen Clark's got no charisma, is that what you're saying?
BOB: No I'm saying she's got leadership, they say tell us about a charismatic politician maybe Peters used to have it but when I looked at that interview I thought Brownlee was like the New Orleans swamp.
SIMON:You're saying Gerry had no charisma, unlike Pete Hodgson?
MICHELLE: Funnily enough I'm going to disagree with Bob here very strongly and I thought Pete Hodgson looked terrible, I thought he looked like he had a bad liver, he looked tired he looked drained, I tell you what Gerry looked great, Gerry looked relaxed, I think that was a good performance from Gerry, I think he really gave as good as he got. Pete was trying very hard to make it a big conspiracy and it isn’t a big conspiracy it's just a whole lot of people who want to get rid of the government wanting to help the party that they support and I think Gerry did a great job there.
SIMON:There you go, Jon Johansson do you agree?
JON: Well I think if Pete Hodgson has a bad liver I probably don’t have one at all. Gerry's right that you know they set the agenda but the real political import of the Exclusive Brethren story is for a whole week they lost it, they’ve definitely lost the agenda, there was no talk of tax, no talk of race, and the other point I'd just make about Bryan Sinclair if in fact all he does is open doors and shuffles round chairs he must be the highest paid door opener in the country.
SIMONDo you think for a moment Don Brash sees him in exactly that same way that Gerry Brownlee see him?
JON: I'm almost certain that is not the case Simon. you know Bryan Sinclair has been sort of like the limpet mine attached to Don Brash ever since he became leader and you know from those earlier emails that was on other's recommendations. You know National – the Wellington Central result today just if I could just briefly bring that up accentuates the problem National have heading into the last week, there is a massive blow out in Wellington Central amongst female voters with Hobbs up 26 points amongst female voters and the party vote 27 points, this is the real fraught danger for National with the Exclusive Brethren story I believe.
BOB: And that will stay this week that story. I thought Brownlee and Pete were both working very hard, I thought seriously they were working hard but we didn’t get the message, maybe we've gone beyond those kind of messages, I think that this is not a week of advertising, this is a week of issues and you don’t think about those lumbering two big party elephants running along crushing everything in front and the side, you know they're just racing to a goodbye smaller parties, we're not interested in those smaller parties now, all those bits and pieces, that fall off the elephants, we're interested in that race to the tape, that’s what it's about.
SIMON:We'll come and look at the smaller parties a little later, are you happy with the state of things?
MICHELLE: I think National are very well poised going into the last week.
SIMON:I want to come back to Bryan Sinclair though. Gerry Brownlee's dismissive of him and he's obviously very close to Don Brash, the question is are they singing off the same song sheet, where's the unity between your leader and deputy leader?
MICHELLE: This isn’t about who is employed to do what, this is about Don Brash and his policies and Helen Clark and her policies and some people don’t like Helen Clark's policies and apparently they're not allowed to say so, that’s the impression you get.
SIMON:There's been very little talk of policies this week.
MICHELLE: That’s what those pamphlets are about and this is the thing everyone's objected about the pamphlets, the media are calling the pamphlets a smear campaign but there's nothing in it that’s a smear, they're only saying that because they don’t like the people who are doing it.
SIMON:Well the Labour and the Greens called it a smear campaign actually, and the media reported that as is their role.
MICHELLE: Yeah and the media have picked it up and the media have called it a smear campaign and it's not it's simply saying we don’t like these policies and we think you shouldn't vote for the government.
BOB: Labour was always accusing the media of not giving them a fair go. Well right now they can't accuse the media of that, the National Party is fumbling and falling and so is Don Brash and the media's hanging him out to dry, all those mistakes, they don’t say oh thanks Don do it again, they let us see just what's going on.
MICHELLE: What we haven’t had is any talk today about this eviction notice which the Labour Party have sent out which has grossly upset people, now that’s a dirty tactic, that’s a dirty tactic.
SIMON:Right now we've gotta move on, this week's latest poll of course puts National and Labour neck and neck, but in the closing weeks of the campaign the battle for the Maori seats is just as intense. The Maori Party could win as many as five Maori seats and therefore influence the next government.