Agenda Transcript: Former PM/WTO Chief Mike Moore
Former PM and WTO Chief Mike
Presented by LISA OWEN
Transcript Of Show Broadcast On TV One
LISA: Earlier this week former Labour Prime Minister wrote a column in the New Zealand Herald in which he complained that MMP has acted as a muzzle on free speech, he went on to say that sleeze seems too easily forgiven that’s why politicians like babies' nappies need changing from time to time. Well Mike Moore was a politician for almost 25 years and he joins me now. Hullo, what makes you think that parliamentary sleeze is more easily forgiven these days?
RT HON MIKE
Well MMP was imposed on Germany after the war by the allies with the simple proposition that no single party can govern in its own right, therefore there have to be coalitions. The allies didn’t do that in their own countries. So what does this mean? It creates what economists call a moral hazard, that is there's an opportunity for bad things to happen and it is natural that bad things would happen, so it's not who wins the elections who forms a government and that moral hazard is that you have to do deals and some of the deals are a bit on the nose and so it's whatever it takes, whatever it takes to form a government, and if anything goes therefore everything goes, and so these deals are done behind the scenes and they're not transparent, they're not done before the election and the competition of ideas, the scrutiny of politicians by politicians in the parliament is a fundamental part of our democracy, but you notice in the parliament there is not the scrutiny on the Maori Party or the Green Party, Labour's not questioning them, National's not hitting them, and question them why because they may have to do a deal after the election and so people pull their punches and I think this is a dangerous thing.
LISA: You played hardball when you were in parliament, you did, but presumably you had personal limits, I mean where did you set them, where was the line in the sand?
MIKE: Never mention a person's family, that was the key thing, and don’t say things in parliament you're not prepared to say outside, and I said some things I regret in the passion of things from time to time, and there's a personal line when you're a Minister of what is appropriate or what is not, for example I had put to me on several occasions massive TV campaigns when I did the deal with Australia as Trade Minister I had a campaign in front of me showing me in a truck starting on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and driving off at the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I'd have looked good, politicians like to look good, we love being on tele, we need to be, and I said look it's not appropriate I won't do it. I had another one as Minister of Tourism where I was the front guy and I just thought that was too close to the bone.
LISA: Can we look at some specific examples here, how do you think that Labour has handled the Taito Phillip Field affair?
MIKE: Well it's hard, I suspect that they might have been wiser to have Phillip contest a bi-election, seek redemption through the wish and the will of the people. The great thing about our society and civilisation is that we are a second chance society based on the Christian and Judean concept of redemption, forgiveness, start again, this is a wonderful generous idea, but redemption forgiveness renewal starting again is also based on accepting you’ve done wrong, you go to the people and you tell them, you can only get forgiveness if you ask for forgiveness, you can only get forgiveness if you accept you need it and there has been no display that this is not right.
LISA: But people who support Mr Field would suggest well he did apologise outside of parliament he did apologise, do you not think that that was a genuine apology?
MIKE: I saw some but maybe I'm wrong here. What I also said in my article and it was why you invited me here was I noticed something happening in New Zealand when I came back that makes me uneasy. We have adopted a sort of third world attitude to some of our problems. When Donna Awatere who stole money dedicated to children at risk, theft, went to court, I was struck by the number of Maori from all political persuasions who were backing our girl right or wrong, no remorse, no apology, no shame, no embarrassment and I understand this is happening in some sections of the Samoan community where we would back our guy whatever because we have an affinity and he's our guy. Democracy's based on accountability, you know when I was a Member of Parliament and we were in trouble if you went to the RSA or the Workingmen's Club the boys certainly let you know what they thought about you, and that acts as a constraint and you'd come back to Wellington say boy the guys are furious about this or the women are upset about this. These are values that aren’t really first world in my view.
LISA: If I can take you back then, you talk about personal accountability and perhaps that there should have been a bi-election, seek redemption, see if you get back in, that assumes that Phillip Field would have played ball with that, he could have easily just gone as an Independent, what are the issues then in terms of personal integrity?
MIKE: I guess that’s where governments say well is this worth collapsing the government over, is this worth having a general election, but there has to be a bottom line somewhere and you know I don’t have all the information obviously, I saw some of the apologies but it's a curious sort of event that any Labour MP has so many houses, most of us left parliament after 20 years in overdraft, but the people are terrific you know, if you say I made a mistake here or I didn’t understand it, or perhaps there was confusion the people will forgive you if you're up front and transparent and then there'd be renewal, start again, and then Phillip would come back into parliament I believe and could be back in the Cabinet but at the moment he's gonna have to suffer this for the rest of his life.
LISA: Another issue finds itself in hot water over is campaign funding obviously, the spotlight is on them about allegations of misspent public money, you're an experienced campaigner how do you raise campaign funds and do you need to be dipping into the leader's fund?
MIKE: Well it's hard, I mean I'm going to a Labour Party fundraiser tomorrow, it's hard. What's happening I think again the moral hazard theory, is that every government gets worse than the other in terms of using taxpayers' resources and it's just really blown out of control by governments over the years. I mean my inlaws got a letter from the Prime Minister telling them about the pension then got a letter from the local MP.
LISA: But should that pledge card have come out of the leader's fund?
MIKE: Well the rules are pretty vague from what I see, I suspect we need to have a clean sheet of paper and start again, with the computer technology that’s available, with the systems that are available it's so easy to tick something. Now I pushed the envelope but that card cost more than I spent in my whole election campaigns as Leader of the Labour Party, but they are vague rules and you know I think ….
LISA: But you mentioned clean slate maybe we should have a clean slate, so does clean slate mean paying back that money, National's paid up, should Labour?
MIKE: Well I don’t wanta go there, I think we need to have more transparent rules, there's too much money slopping around, and there's confusion between what is public information and what is party campaigning, I mean whenever there's a problem in New Zealand there's a TV campaign sponsored by the government about it whether it's swimming, driving, drinking, eating, the government is out there with a campaign. This happens in all democracies by the way, we are now in a telecratic form of democracy where governments from the right and the left, National and Labour, run these publicity campaigns, when the National Party did it when I was Leader of the Opposition I was horrified.
LISA: You’ve just told us about your own experience with the ad campaigns and the fact that you wouldn’t go there is that the difference between you and the Labour government that we have her?
MIKE: …maybe I was wrong, I think there has to be a start again and clean it up and there's too much money out there, and also it doesn’t work, when there's a problem whether it's driving drinking swimming smoking eating a TV campaign is all interesting but it's normally attacking symptoms isn't it, it's not getting to the substance of the problem.
LISA: Is it time then now for state funding of election campaigns?
MIKE: I've always thought that but that has to be in a simple transparent way and most countries do it, take the Australian system set up by the Conservatives where you get 50 cents or something after an election.
LISA: You're paid by your votes.
MIKE: And it's absolutely clear and people can understand it, and maybe government campaigns ought to be audited by somebody an ex judge or something who says look this is two party political, so it's a fine line isn't it between advising people of their rights of rates rebate and sending a letter to every elderly ratepayer saying aren’t I good a politician I'm giving you this, and I think successive governments over the years that line is difficult and would I have done it differently, I like to think so but probably not.
LISA: What's all this doing for public perception then of MPs in parliament?
MIKE: Well the public have always had a healthy attitude towards politicians and car dealers, but I think it's true that parliament is in lower regard than it has been, I think MMP, the telecratic society is part of that, and there's another moral hazard and we'll talk to these journalists later about it and that’s the belt way of Wellington, and what's happening is this. You have journalist there who have great credibility in the media who are running businesses outside and consultancies that need the favours of government and bureaucracy. There's a tiny pool of people in Wellington who are insiders who know nobody else who doesn’t think about politics, that’s all they think about, and there an unhealthy – I don’t know what to do about it because I did it – number of the press gallery who move from the press gallery to ministers' offices and back again, there's a circular thing here, so if you're a journo and you have to provide scrutiny on the politician what happens when half you go into the ministers' offices when the change of government comes, what about people who are running private businesses and say they're journalists? Now this is sweeping but it's infested by likeminded people who their partners their friends are all junkies and groupies and advisors in the exhilarating theatre of politics but it's a very small pool in Wellington and they really don’t understand the heartland and they don’t like raw meat and they love certain types of foods.
LISA: Do you think that the House of Representatives is really that, a house of representatives, do we need to see more people like mental health workers, the night watchman on the dredge, rather than history lecturers and teachers?
MIKE: Well it's for the people and the parties to decide. I think the problem we have is with MMP where List MPs do not have an electorate to go home to, they're not going round the clubs or listening to people in their electorates and this creates …
LISA: Does that diminish accountability?
MIKE: I think it does and here's the thing. You go home to your electorate they beat you up, they argue, they point out the problems, you take that back to Wellington say god this is bad and you reflect the views of your electorate. With the list system and the centralisation of political power inside all the political parties List MPs have to suck to their leadership, they have to be appointed by their party bosses and therefore they are safe. It's natural if I was leader I'd want likeminded people around me and it's nice having agreeable people but they're not gonna challenge the status quo are they, they're not gonna challenge an raise tough issues and cause the scrutiny that’s necessary to get good results, they're going to be politically correct as far as their central decision makers have it and they don’t have to go to the local Plunket, they don’t have to front the RSA when you close down the local meatworks, and I think that takes away representative democracy. At the time of MMP I said look it won't be the tail that wags the dog it'll be what's under the tail that wags the dog.
LISA: Let's bring in our panel now going first to John Roughan, it's fair to say that Mike had some criticisms there of the Press, are they doing as well as they could in the gallery questioning politicians do you think?
JOHN ROUGHAN – Columnist,
I think they are Mike was suggesting that the propensity for some of them to go across to work for ministers and to set up business consultancies and things is interfering with that role, I'm not sure it does I think when a journalist goes across to work as a Press Secretary for one party or the other there's a certain amount of embarrassment and declaration on the part of that person, Richard probably has some views about that.
LISA: Richard the former Chief of Staff or Don Brash, what do you think?
RICHARD LONG – Columnist, Dominion
It's a tradable skill, it can't stop this is a tradable skill.
MIKE: You can't stop it by rules but do you concede there is a difficulty that could arise here? Also the number of corporate relations and lobbyists that never used to exist repeat this circular thing around here where they need the favours and graces of bureaucracy of politicians or whatever, you never had paid lobbyists in the past and this is a huge industry.
RICHARD: You may have had it is the past but may not have known, so it's probably better that it is known. Mike I want to take it back a step or two your comment about the spending, let's go back to spending rules, your comment that they're very confused. Well you were probably out of the country at the time but perhaps I could correct you on that, they're not confused they were redone after the last election because of the wroughting which went on and the rules are very clear, and I mean I was there at the time and you knew what was right and what was wrong.
LISA: The question is where is the integrity.
RICHARD: National didn’t overspend its budget but Labour's provided itself with eight hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money to fight and win an election, so yeah what do you feel about that integrity by your old party?
MIKE: Well I know when I was in Opposition I got angrier and angrier at the amount the National Party was spending on ads and cutout pictures of policemen and things so I think it needs to be taken from the government and put into some sort of transparent accountable system to measure it and I'm not here to make free kicks. I mean what also confuses me – well it doesn’t confuse me but the idea of codes of ethics, well ethical people don’t need codes and unethical people will break them, and particularly if you have one that’s retrospective, you either have it or you haven’t. One of the good things perhaps of a code of standards is that would strengthen the case of the parliament when they went to the Speaker on a privileges case.
RICHARD: But if you don’t have a code – first of all I'm against these sort of codes, I was against them in the newspaper industry, it was there but it became in the end the industry needed it for show purposes and that wonderful Chairman of the Press Council Sir John Jeffries the best Chairman of the Press Council that’s ever been he was solidly and strongly in favour of it so we went that way, but if you don’t have a code of ethics ultimately in this area for politicians what happens in the Phillip Field case – nothing.
MIKE: Maybe you're right.
LISA: Can politicians be relied on to police themselves when it comes to ethics? Arguably not.
MIKE: I just see in countries where there are these codes are sometimes the most corrupt of the lot, but what I guess it does do it has a measurement and the media can question it and then in the parliament the speaker has to refer to it and therefore it goes off to privileges committees or whatever.
JOHN: My feeling is that it always doesn’t say something. Something's always gonna happen that the code doesn’t cover and therefore it's okay and we know it's not okay.
MIKE: Well there's things like declaring your assets when you're a politician, well it was easy for me never had any, but it's not your assets that are the trouble it's your debts.
JOHN: Or your partner's debts.
RICHARD: I mean you could have a catch all phrase in the code like anything – a politician doing anything …
LISA: We don’t have a code.
MIKE: The ultimate sanction is the people isn't it, and the people can decide, however under MMP and List how do you get rid of somebody who's on the List.
LISA: Well how do you bring someone like Phillip Field to account?
MIKE: Well the people will bring Phillip to account at an election, he's a constituency member of parliament and I'm told a very hard working one and the public will bring the governing party to account and judge them have they handled it in an appropriate way, so it must always go back to the people, they make the decisions.
LISA: But arguably that’s a well delayed justice isn't it? Is that acceptable?
RICHARD: That also gets back to your problems with MMP though doesn’t it? You see if Phillip Field goes and wins an election then there'd have to be more dealmaking – I mean you made the point about the cost of dealmaking that goes on behind the scenes in MMP and it's a huge cost to the taxpayer but if Phillip Field went there and in effect ended up by holding the balance of power in his own hands then Labour would have to do even more deals with someone else.
MIKE: Or National cos National would have done a deal – that’s the nature of it, it's systemic, same in Australia where a couple of rogue senators can hold a government account or you can say blackmail a government to make sure their electorate gets something, so it's not just MMP.
RICHARD: We went to MMP after the Muldoon years and after Rogernomics, can you really see it going back. I mean I'd like it to go back but can you see it?
MIKE: No I can't because I remember going on platforms with Rod Donald and I'm saying Rod you're a politician and you're gonna get in under MMP but you couldn’t get elected to the school committee or the union executive in your own right, and he said I'm not a politician of course you know what happened. The minority parties would not allow it to happen and I think it's gotta shake down I actually don’t think we should get rid of MMP yet, our problem is we don’t have the German system, we think we have. The Germans also funded political parties but from the political parties they expected transparency accountability and rules that were accountable to the courts in terms of their selection and management.
LISA: Thank you very much for joining us this morning Mike Moore.
LISA: While New Zealand debates election spending, in Britain the debate has been over election funding. Austin Mitchell is a British Labour MP and he knows both systems well having spent time here in the 60s as an academic and one of our first TV interviewers. Mitchell is in New Zealand to speak at a conference which is a tribute to Canterbury University Political Studies Professor Keith Jackson who began his 30 year TV career with Mitchell on those early current affair shows. Austin Mitchell joins me now. Good morning Mr Mitchell can you put it in perspective for us what's Keith Jackson's contribution been to the political landscape?
AUSTIN MITCHELL –
British Labour MP
Oh I think it's been fundamental, I mean first of all he's been a man who devotes enormous attention and effort to his students so there's a huge body of students graduated through the universities taught at Otago and Canterbury who've been well grounded in politics and political science through Keith, but he's also laid the kind of basis of books and writing and analysis of the system and popularised all that through his appearances on radio and television, in fact I well remember when it all began which was 1965 Keith and I with Bob Chapman were covering the Labour Party Conference which was in Wellington and it turned out that the NZBC as was hadn’t made the arrangements for us to get in to the conference, I was admitted because I was also a delegate which of course shouldn’t have happened for an impartial commentator but the rest were excluded until suddenly passes were provided. It was those pioneering days and Keith brought us through it so well, he was always wise and sensible in what he was saying.
LISA: Can I turn you now to politics on your home turf, how long as Tony Blair got and has his time passed?
AUSTIN: Well I mean I think Tony Blair's been a very successful Prime Minister, a great leader, and he is the great explainer. The problem was he explained us into the Iraq War and that’s been his damnation in a sense because he's lost credit and influence and all power since then so I think had he not gone in to Iraq as playing Robin to America's Batman then we'd all be saying Tony stay on ten more years but as it is I think the party hopes that he will hand over power to Gordon Brown probably next year.
LISA: Well is Gordon Brown the man for the job or perhaps some people are now suggesting it might be Mr Reid, John Reid the rather dry Scottish Home Secretary who's come into the media over the whole terrorism thing?
AUSTIN: I doubt it, we'd all be wearing heavy boots if John Reid became leader, no doubt conscription would return, I think we'd have massive Police and security framework. No no I think John Reid isn't really a contender, Gordon Brown is the more or less inevitable successor, he's been there so long, he's built up so much strength and reputation and so much support in the party that he's going to take over I think unchallenged. Well there might well be a contest in fact there will be a contest for the deputy leadership.
LISA: You have said in the past that you reckon two terms for Prime Minister is enough, you say six to eight years you're either broken or bonkers after that. So tell me where does that leave your good friend Helen Clark our Prime Minister?
AUSTIN: Well it's no comment on Helen but certainly it's comment on the British system, the American presidential limit is two four year terms and I think after that the strain of being a Prime Minister certainly in the British context where the Prime Minister is also really a presidential figure, a dominant figure driving the machine forward, the strain is so great that they are either broken – Tony Blair's health has been broken, Mrs Thatcher was undoubtedly bonkers by the time her party pushed her out, because you know there's continuous ventures into things like the poll tax which were damaging the party actually produced a reaction against her, so I think you know eight years is for a British Prime Minister and for an American President on whom the concentration of power and effort is enormous is about right.
LISA: Then why not New Zealand?
AUSTIN: Because I don’t know the New Zealand context, I mean politics here are a lot more straightforward and I think probably the strain is less, certainly Helen Clark is showing every sign of bearing up with that strain very well indeed in a way Tony Blair hasn’t. There haven’t been such major mistakes as the decision to invade Iraq.
LISA: Alright well let's talk about campaign funding now, or campaign spending which is under scrutiny on your side of the world – allegations of money for peerages, millions and millions of pounds of these secret loans, I understand Labour still owes 22 million pounds, if you were a company you'd be bankrupt, can it claw its way out?
AUSTIN: I think all parties are bankrupt at the moment, I mean as Mike Moore pointed out the Tory record is probably worse in raising money from business and they’ve raised more in the form of loans, the parties prefer loans because they don’t have to be declared and accounted for. To be fair to Labour to my party we did bring in publication of our income and expenditure accounts and the revenues from the trade unions, the revenues from donations and all that’s been published, this thing which is actually I find it appalling was produced by the pressure of the last election and Tony suddenly panicked and thought he was gonna lose and he called in clearly – this is the way things work in a presidential system – Lord Levy's fundraiser and said get some more money as quickly as you can and no matter how, and that was raised in forms of loans which weren't declarable. Now of course the chickens have come home to roost and it's become public, it's a major scandal, four people who were nominated for peerages have had to give up the prospect and say well I don’t want it any more because of their contributions to party funds and it's ripe now for effective regulation which we will get I think in well this month September.
LISA: Let's bring in our panel now Mr Mitchell, first we'll go to Richard Long Columnist for the Dominion Post and former Chief of Staff for Don Brash.
RICHARD: Hi Austin, talking about spending, what would happen in Britain if say Tony Blair had taken 800,000 dollars or pounds worth of taxpayer money and spent it on his election campaign illegally when the rules were quite clear and which had been spelt out in advance by the Auditor General, what specifically would happen?
AUSTIN: What a hypothetical to put to us - I don’t know what the authorisation procedure is here but I take it that that money is going to be spent with some form of authorisation at the start and you can't change the rules afterwards, in Britain it wouldn’t have been possible to do it that way, the pledge card was financed by the Labour Party which you know means we might not get one next time because the Labour Party is going bankrupt, so in Britain the rules are different and I don’t know the rules here so I can't possibly comment on them, but the grey area in Britain is advertising for health purposes or social purposes which also praises the party, I mean claim the family credit, claim the child benefit which helps Labour because people feel gratitude but also pushes a social benefit which should be promoted.
JOHN: John Roughan from the Herald Dr Mitchell, who in Britain defines then that the pledge card has to be paid by the party and other things can be paid from the public purse?
AUSTIN: Oh well I think the rules are fairly clear, I don’t know who defines it but it's clear that money spent for party campaigning purposes comes from the party and that’s the essence of the problem, campaigning is so expensive that the effort of raising that money has brought up into a real discredit, I think it looks sleezy and it is sleezy, but it's clear that political spending has to be financed by the party, advertising for social purposes or promotion of government policies is financed by the department and that comes out of the public accounts and is audited by the controlling Auditor General.
LISA: How has the public reacted to that sort of socalled sleeze as you call it?
AUSTIN: I think with disgust, I think you know one of the problems of our modern society is people don’t trust politicians they don’t believe what they say any more, they think they can talk their way out of anything, and they're just generally suspicious and this adds fuel to that fire, it makes them more suspicious, because one of the problems of politics is that you know there's a general feeling that politicians are in it for themselves, it isn't true actually because most of us do a job out of duty and a desire to serve, but we hang under a cloud of suspicion.
LISA: That’s a good note to end on, thank you very much, that’s Austin Mitchell, British MP.
FINAL THOUGHTS – GUEST COMMENTATORS
LISA: Back to our panel now for their final thoughts, we'll come to you first Richard.
RICHARD: Right, well I thought it was interesting that Austin Mitchell made the comment on state funding that the same problem wouldn’t have happened in Britain because the rules are quite clear, well frankly the rules are quite clear here too, they were revised and refined after 2003, they were made clear to all parties, all parties accepted them and in the lead up to the election there was absolutely no doubt you knew what you were supposed to be doing. Now to spend by sort of $800,000 when you're specifically told that a pledge card doesn’t apply, when you're told over and over again it doesn’t apply is in effect Labour moving to a de facto state funding of political parties for themselves while leaving others out.
LISA: Mike Moore suggested time for a clean slate start again so does a clean slate in your mind involved Labour paying back the dollars?
RICHARD: It does because the clean slate, the line in the sand as the Auditor General said was drawn after the last election that’s why we had the new clear rules which were ignored by certain people. So yes I think it has to be paid back in some form but it won't be they’ll move to retrospective legislation because it suits them and it suits some of the smaller parties who followed Labour's lead and also misspent.
JOHN: I'm still smarting over Mike Moore's challenge about journalists crossing the line in Wellington so much and he has a point, but it struck me that when Richard was telling us about the rules that he obviously clearly understands from being on the inside and working there for National is something – he probably knows those rules much more clearly than any journalist does and can write about them now and fairly usefully. I think in the Press we probably tend to get a bit precious about this and think that we have to preserve you know our anonymity and our neutrality at all cost but the public I don’t think expects that always, the public think that we're biased anyway whatever we write and often think we're biased both ways, but I think we can be quite mature about journalists who cross the line and come back and give us the benefit of their experience really.
LISA: Thank you very much to our panel this morning Richard Long and John Roughan.