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AGENDA: Andrew Little and Hone Harawira - 2/09/06

AGENDA
Andrew Little and Hone Harawira
2/09/06


© TVOne and “Agenda”
Presented by LISA OWEN

LISA: The Labour Party was born out of the Trade Union Movement and today a little over half of Labour's caucus have a union background, one of those is Mangere MP Taito Phillip Field. Field was stood down this week pending the result of a Police investigation on the same day that the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union withdrew their support for his candidacy. Earlier EPM new National Secretary Andrew Little said 'however much we slag off politicians it's a position of a high level of community trust'. Well Andrew Little joins me now.

Good morning, now the Ingram Report's been out for more than a month now why did you withdraw support just this week for Taito Phillip Field?

ANDREW LITTLE – National Secretary, EPMU
Well obviously the report comes out, you leave people including the party with a bit of time to digest it and respond to it but in the meantime there's been ongoing commentary, I think parties like the National Party have seized it as an opportunity to take a moral high ground that they are frankly in no position to take at all, and also two or three weeks after the report there's still been really no credible defence to the findings that Noel Ingram came up with, and the findings that concern me are firstly the use of under rate poorly paid labour on his properties in New Zealand, as well as the fact that a constituent who came to him for assistance winds up working on his property in Samoa. Those are issues that really cut to bedrock Labour values that an MP who does that and then can't provide a credible defence really loses the confidence of people.

LISA: Did you talk to the Prime Minister about going public with this or any of the Cabinet Ministers?

ANDREW: No, the position that I took in consultation with the rest of the leadership of the union was that if approached that is the stance we would take, it's certainly not in our interests to field the issue any more than it is, but as a union as a large affiliate to the Labour Party but most importantly as a union we can't stand by and see these sorts of things happening and not be critical of it and not have a position on it.

LISA: You mentioned there that you waited to see what the government would do, what his colleagues would do, well basically have you not been forced to take this action because the Labour Party failed to do enough?

ANDREW: Well certainly for whatever reason there hasn’t been a great deal coming out of the party, out of the caucus or the party organisation in relation to it and I have to confess I don’t fully understand why that is the case.

LISA: Why do you think it might be the case?

ANDREW: Well listen I couldn’t explain whether there is work in train to address it through the party rules and what have you, I don’t know I'm not close enough to the party to understand that, but I think a few weeks having come on and the issue now been fully debated and fully in the public and particularly where there are issues of workers being exploited, being taken advantage of, then a union affiliated to the party has to take a stand on that which is why we have.

LISA: Are you going to put a motion or do you want a motion put this week to the Council's ruling party to consider expelling Mr Field?

ANDREW: Well when the union's National Executive met this week that was an issue that came up whether we lay a complaint under the rules. We decided not to do that. During the middle of our discussion on that the advice came through that there was then the Police investigation, in respect of that we decided not to lay a complaint, take it formally, our view was that we would consult with our membership in South Auckland and talk to them about the issue but primarily about trying to identify an alternative candidate.

LISA: So why not push for his expulsion. At what point is this guy doing more damage to the Labour Party than his vote his presence is worth?

ANDREW: Well one thing is that we knew that the New Zealand Council of the party was meeting this weekend and they have to have an opportunity to make a decision on what they do and of course you read in the media in the last couple of days it's unlikely they're going to do anything because of the Police investigation, but you leave the New Zealand Council to decide what they're going to do. In the meantime we do want to send a pretty clear signal that Phillip Field has lost the confidence of the union and we want to be thinking about the future and find an alternative, and a critical part of that for a union is to refer back to its members about an alternative candidate.

LISA: What's this all doing for Labour's credibility do you think?

ANDREW: Well if you take the poll results and they're one indicator it's not doing them much good. I think really I go on the comments and the feedback I get from members and that’s pretty informal but a lot of our members are pretty distressed by what is going on because the Labour Party is a party of working people's values and here is an MP who has acted in a way utterly contrary to that, and I think that’s what people find distressing.

LISA: And the fact that Labour's hanging on to him?

ANDREW: Oh you know on one analysis you could say that they have managed this issue no differently to similarly difficult issues they’ve got, I think what really not just sticks in my craw but frankly turns my gut is that a party like the National Party which has recently and still promoting legislation that would utterly strip away workers' rights can get on their high horse and make demands of Phillip Field about the way he treats workers. The reality is Phillip Field treated workers according to the Ingram Report in a way that’s utterly consistent with the National Party. It's important in that context that I think the union, the EPMU, as the largest affiliate of the Labour Party actually takes a stand on that and correctly I think positions the issue, and that’s why we have taken the issue, this is not a National Party issue it's a Labour issue.

LISA: This isn't the only thing that arguably Labour's taken a hit on, there's the issue of the election spending or misspending as some would say, allegedly $800,000 worth that may have to be paid back, could the union help out with that?

ANDREW: Most unlikely, as an affiliate to the Labour Party we pay an affiliation fee, $25,000 a year, and during election year we make a contribution, the last couple of elections it's been in the order of 60 or 80 thousand dollars to the election, we're certainly on in a position to do that, and I think that issue has to be seen in the context of the Auditor General's draft report and the fact that a range of parties appear to have been caught by – if I put it most charitably – a misunderstanding about the rules.

LISA: No one as largely it seems though as Labour.

ANDREW: Yes, well there's an issue of quantum but there's an issue of did people clearly understand the rules, and the National Party I think have been disingenuous when it says well it was only outside the rules by $10,000 and pays it back, it still hasn’t addressed it's $112,000 GST overspent at this point. So I think that the public perception is that everybody has got their snouts in the trough and it's a pretty messy mucky scene and it's not for me to you know suggest about how to work their way out of it, it's the problem of their making and I really don’t have a view on how they should fix it.

LISA: Okay well let's move on then to how perhaps the government might be able to help you or has helped this term as a union. It seems that the Greens and the Maori Party are the ones that are pushing the Super Size Me wage campaign, is Labour living up to your expectations?

ANDREW: Oh I don’t think there's been any less support on the issues of minimum wage on the one hand, the 90 day probation bill issue from Labour than there has been from the other parties, the Green Party and the Maori Party, now Hone Harawira who you’ve got later in the programme has been outstanding on that issue, the rest of the Maori MPs have now come across on it, the Green Party has been very good on it, but the Labour Party I don’t think has been any less committed to it, we've engaged with quite a few of the certainly the back bench MPs and they’ve been very good in these issues.

LISA: What about Mr Cullen's comments in June of this year that any large wage and salary increases would be inflationary and that they couldn’t be afforded across the board. How helpful is that to you guys?

ANDREW: Not at all, very ill judged comment and he certainly got that feedback from us, and whether he thought he was assisting the Governor of the Reserve Bank I'm not sure, but I think what's important is that the Labour Party that is supported by a large number of unions, that the unions do have a key role to play which is to keep that party anchored to its origins which is protecting and promoting and preserving the interests of working people.

LISA: So is the union losing its clout with Labour, is that relationship sort of pulling back a little bit?

ANDREW: No I don’t think so at all, I think we are represented at all levels in the party, at electorate committees, at some of the national committees, on the New Zealand Council, we'll continue to do that. I think what we do acknowledge compared to for example the Australian Labour Party is that the modern Labour Party is not just a party of unions, it has adverse constituency, a broad range of people, it is a true social democratic party, we want it to continue to do that, that’s what gives it its broad appeal, but it is a party ultimately founded on the basis of ensuring that the interests of working people are promoted and looked to in terms of governance and the government of the day and that’s important and we will continue as a union affiliated to the party to make sure that it continues to do that.

LISA: Although even just a few weeks ago a senior unionist referred to some of the Labour insiders as dogs and said they hoped that a more left party would emerge, is that more than just the views of a single individual?

ANDREW: I think the great thing about the Labour Party is that it does span a large proportion of the political spectrum, so it has extreme left elements in it, it has reasonably conservative you might say right wing elements in it, and we certainly saw expression of that 1984 to 1990, but it is a party with a breadth of membership and a breadth of views in it, ultimately it's a sound democratic organisation, everybody has the opportunity to get represented in various parts of the decision making structure and they do and you know the party, any party should be open to criticism, specially internal criticism. At the end of the day the measure of it is its ability to delivery for its constituency and for the country at large and the Labour Party has continued to do that.

LISA: So in its third term then what has it delivered, at the moment you’ve got this bitter dispute going on with Progressive, you’ve still got the Mapp 90 day bill sort of lurking in the background there, what does all this say about the state of industrial relations in this country right now?

ANDREW: The state of industrial relations is generally very good, I think the Progressive dispute is – what's behind that is a very aggressive Australian owner, it is engaging very aggressive industrial tactics, there's no question in my mind that it's a forerunner of what they would like to do in Australia and you know the best will in the world won't stop aggressive employers trying that on.

LISA: We were talking about the state of industrial relations right now, we've got this Progressive lockout going on, has the union left its run a little bit late trying to push for those things like a raise in the minimum wage given that we're now seeing a slowing economy, rising inflation, is it too late for you to be pushing for these things?

ANDREW: Oh no you can only - at any time it's the wrong time to do something because in the middle of the good times you’ve got the prospects of a downturn. We happen to be in the middle or the tail end of a downturn at the moment and there's never a best time to put in the claim for a better minimum wage, lifting wage rates overall. The reality is the reason why wages need to lift in this country is an acceptance that we are no longer just a single New Zealand isolated labour market, our labour market is now trans Tasman, in fact if you read the Ingram Report you can see that our labour market extends to Asia even for semi skilled and unskilled work, and if we aren’t competitive particularly with Australia we are going to lose labour and we are going to lose our skilled labour, offshore we are already doing that, we need to be competitive in terms of the wage front. That doesn’t mean to say we don’t work on issues like productivity, lifting the value and what have you, but if we're serious about retaining a good quality productive capacity in New Zealand we need to address that wage issue and we need to address it now.

LISA: Let's bring our panellists in, we're going first to Deborah Hill Cone.

DEBORAH HILL CONE – Columnist
Mr Little you were saying that you think that industrial relations are in sort of fine fettle in this country, I just wondered how you can see that when as far as I know union membership is declining.

ANDREW: Well union membership is a reasonably small proportion of the workforce. In terms of the conduct of industrial relations' ability to get agreements, ability to get reasonably good settlements, that’s all working pretty well at the moment, and there is a change happening too, I was talking to a group of HR Managers at a conference recently and what they indicated to me is what their biggest demand is clear signals about wage expectations and they don’t as they said to me, they don’t mind if it's you know 5%, 7% whatever, what they want is a clear signal, and the more I talk to employers particularly the larger employers, they say to me what they want is in terms of stability and knowing the outcomes is clear indications about what wages – what we're settling on, what our expectations are and what have you. I hear more and more employers using the language of awards because the old award system provided some certainty and some stability, so irrespective of the reasonably small proportion of our unionism in New Zealand we clearly have a major impact on what happens in the labour market and what happens with wage rates and we'll continue to do that.

DEBORAH: So just a follow up question. Wouldn’t you have to actually admit failure though in the sense that when Labour came into power everybody expected that this would be the renaissance of the union movement and that there would be a huge interest in unionism and that hasn’t happened.

ANDREW: I don’t agree with that, I can certainly say of our union we've had a reasonable size of increasing membership, you know the interesting thing is that after having a few redundancies particularly in the manufacturing sector kicking in the last half of last year the beginning of this year, the last two or three months we've had quite a significant increase in membership. If you're looking at union activity you look at not just our union you look at Unite, you look at the NDU at the moment, you look at Service & Food Workers Union, you look at Finset and high profile activities and campaigns that they’ve been running. The union movement is in good heart.

LISA: Let's bring in Chris Niesche here, going back to the Phillip Field affair, has the union, has Andrew Little shown up the Labour Party?

CHRIS NIESCHE – Business Editor, NZ Herald
Look yeah it seems to me that the Prime Minister wants you're saying let's just wait and see what we'll do about this, you're calling for Phillip Field to resign, isn't your stance a very strong implied criticism of the way Helen Clark has handled this issue?

ANDREW: No I think what Helen Clark did that was right was that when he was under suspicion and the inquiry was launched he was taken out of Cabinet, she's refused to have him back in Cabinet given the allegations still surrounding him, that was the right thing to do. I think what is important is that given the findings of the Ingram Inquiry and the findings in relation to using under rate labour and the guy in his Samoan house, those are things that from the union's point of view frankly cut to the quick they're things that we can't accept, they're things that undermine the credibility of any MP that would do that, and as a union we need to take a stance on it.

LISA: But they would as Chris said be called Labour values so why shouldn’t the Labour Party feel the same way?

ANDREW: Well I'm not sure you can say that they don’t feel that way, I know that there are members of the Labour Party caucus who are in full agreement of that, there is this anxiety about natural justice and following through, my view is that the issue is less one now about legalities, it is one about ethics and moral standing which is why we've taken that stance.

LISA: Who within the Labour Party caucus would share those same views as you then, who think it's time for him to go and resign?

ANDREW: Oh a large proportion of the Labour Party caucus.

LISA: Who?

ANDREW: Well I'm not going to disclose private conversations but …

LISA: Why aren’t they speaking up then publicly, why aren’t they underwriting this as an issue of integrity for the government?

ANDREW: Well that’s a matter for them, I mean I saw Winnie Laben on TV the other night, she made some pretty pointed comments about you know Pacific Island MPs, one thing they definitely do know is right from wrong, I think there's some fair signals about that, and you know they are a caucus they are a team and whether they feel some constraint by their support for each other or solidarity who knows, but the point is that as a union and certainly invited to make a comment on it we have made our views clear, made our views known, we've made them known to the party and that’s the way it is.

LISA: Okay, well thank you very much for joining us this morning Andrew Little.


LISA: Yesterday Police in Auckland and Wellington began a 12 month trial of Tazer stun guns. The decision was made without inviting public submissions and not everyone thinks it's a good one. The Maori Party has laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission amidst concern that Police will target Maori and Polynesian males. A former activist, Maori Party MP, Hone Harawira has previously said that his political aim is to capitalise on the racist intentions of this government. Well Hone Harawira joins me now. You said this week that this Tazer gun trial is 'an attack on black' those were your words, what evidence do you have that the use of these tazers is racist?

HONE HARAWIRA – Maori Party MP
Well the evidence in America is that overwhelmingly it's Black and Latino and surprise surprise where they're trialling it here – Porirua and Manukau City – need I say more.

LISA: Manukau City though 2005 they had the highest rate of violent crime in Manukau City and the Police are saying this is to …

HONE: This isn't about public safety though is it? It's about Police safety, you're not gonna get to carry a tazer around, neither am I, only the Police.

LISA: Just on that issue of racism you have previously said that the institution of this government is inherently racist, do you still believe that having spent a year in parliament now.

HONE: Sixty six percent people who get pepper sprayed are Polynesian, nearly 20% of the population. Yeah of course it's racist, what the use of pepper spray, the use of tazers, it's gonna be targeted at Black people. if this government is gonna sanction that kind of activity then they're sanctioning racism, of course they're making that accusation. It's my people who are gonna suffer. Now when you see that nice Police, nice happy big policeman with a heavy jacket on get tazered, what does he fall on, hullo, the whole place has got big fat gym mats spread around the room, when I get tazered or my whanangas my cousins get tazered they're gonna be coming out of a pub, coming down the steps, out on the street, their heads are gonna bounce on the curb on the steps as they come out of the pub, they are gonna get seriously injured, somebody's gonna say oh it wasn’t a tazer though it was cos they fell down.

LISA: Mr Harawira the Labour Party has a number of Maori MPs why don’t they see this necessarily the same way that you do?

HONE: For a couple of reasons, one cos they're getting paid a lot of money not to say anything, two because they want to hang on to their seats, three because they think they can do a deal, they think that if they shut up on this they're gonna get something back on that, well they're shutting up and shutting up and shutting up, and what are we getting apart from nothing – we're getting nothing.

LISA: So what do you think we need, this country needs to make Maori and Pakeha true partners in the running of this country, do you still want to see a separate Maori parliament is that the answer?

HONE: Yeah I do, but in terms of what we've got at the moment I want to see all of the Maori seats go to Maori Party in piece because we are an independent dedicated to Maori voice in the House of Parliament. What that means is now that we are there and we are independent Labour recognises it, National recognises it, everybody considers the Maori point of view before they think of pushing through legislation that is likely to be contentious, before National never bothered considering the Maori point of view because all of the Maoris were over with Labour, Labour never bothered even asking their own people, just like the Foreshore and Seabed, did they ask Parekura Horomia or any of the Maori MPs before they announced they were gonna steal the Foreshore and Seabed? Not even. Helen Clark, Michael Cullen, Margaret Wilson, they made the decision, never mind the Maoris.

LISA: Alright let's move on to Taito Phillip Field because this has obviously been something that’s …..with the government, National's come out really hard on Mr Field, should he resign or is this brown bashing?

HONE: Yeah it's brown bashing.

LISA: David Benson-Pope, prima face case according to the courts, Heather Simpson, prima face case according to the cops, Helen Clark and the Labour Party, over the pledge card, Auditor General says they're in deep trouble, everybody's in trouble who gets the cops thrown at them, who does the Prime Minister say I think we should have a Police inquiry on? The brown boy. Look I'm not trying to defend what Taito's done, but what I am saying is this, how come all the white guys get off and the poor little black boy has to get a Police inquiry? My view is this if Taito's gotta go let him go, the day after Helen Clark and the rest of them go.

LISA: Let's bring our panel in on that point there, is Hone right do you think?

DEBORAH: Oh yeah I absolutely agree with you there Hone, I know you'll find that hard to believe but there've been so many issues that this government seems to have got off the hook and there've been questionable decisions made in terms of prosecutions and I think that there really should be some doubt about the Police and the Solicitor General choosing not to prosecute on all sorts of issues while they prosecuted National for driving a tractor up the steps of parliament.

LISA: What do you think all this is doing to the credibility of the Labour government?

HONE: Oh I think it's great for the Maori Party, it's great for the Maori Party because people can see that where all of the Maori votes have been going in the years gone by is to a very very corrupt organisation. I mean front up, you know if they owe four hundred thousand bucks then pay it, don’t even consider what they're considering at the moment, passing an act to validate their theft.

LISA: But let's look at say Taito Phillip Field, do you think he has a clean slate as he says that he's been proven innocent?

HONE: The most intelligent comment I've seen on this whole debate come from Peter Fatialofa in this morning's Herald, he says that sort of thing happens all the time in his society, all the time.

LISA: Of a giving of a koha for services?

HONE: Yeah sure, it happens to me, I mean I'm on a – you know before I become an MP is still the same, I help people on different things, and I come home and hullo there's some paua in my freezer, where did this come from – I dunno, the house is never locked.

LISA: Have you ever been offered cash though?

HONE: Yeah I've been offered cash.

LISA: And do you take it?

HONE: Yeah of course I take it.

DEBORAH: That’s so dodgy though.

HONE: What's dodgy about it, do I keep it, do I spend it on myself? No, my wife takes it off me and gives it to my school.

LISA: So you take koha from people and do what, hand it on?

HONE: Well you know if they insist that it's not to go to the party it's for me then I take it for me, my wife takes it off me, it goes to the school.

LISA: What do you do to earn that koha? What's the exchange of money for?

HONE: I had an aunty come up to me and she just pushed this money into my hand and I said oh no aunty, no she said boy I can't do much to help you you take this, and when I looked at it I thought no I can't take this and so I gave it back to somebody else to give it back to them.

CHRIS: Does it not concern you that there are people who feel they should have to pay their MP if they want help?

HONE: Have you asked any of those people who think they have to pay their MP? I know that’s what most Pakehas are thinking that these people think they have to pay their MP, I suspect it's more like what Peter Fatialofa thinks, which is that that’s the way they do things in their society. I don’t know that that is exactly true, but what I do know is this, that somebody put some pauas in my freezer, my uncle comes all the way down from Te Hapu comes down to do some shopping, he's been a main supporter of the Maori Party ever since we started, he always brings some oysters down, drops them at my place, you know whether I'm doing anything for him or not.

LISA: But is that not a far cry from say the Ingram Report which says Mr Field had immigrant workers who were overstayers working for below market rate wages – is that acceptable Mr Harawira?

HONE: You think they're the only people working for below market rate wages in this country?

LISA: Employed by an MP?

HONE: Employed by – yeah I bet you employed by MPs, I bet you there's a number of MPs that run businesses that they're doing their best to pay people below market rates, absolutely.

LISA: Have you got any overstayers working on any projects for you for below market rates?

HONE: Ah, I don’t know, I don’t employ people from overseas at the moment, I do know – I do know this, that they just moved up the what do you call the minimum wage, I had to go back to the station where I was working and say hey are we paying above the minimum wage, because what we're paying in Kaitaia I think is a good liveable wage, I don’t think about what the minimum wage is until I get to parliament then I realise oh that’s no the minimum wage – you know what I mean, out there in the real world you're often not worrying about what the realities are that politicians have to live with.

DEBORAH: I don’t know – I just think we seem to be on different planets today actually Hone Harawira. I mean I'm outraged that you take money from your constituents because even if you say they don’t feel obliged the perception is that we're a corrupt country we have to pay…

HONE: No no no, hang on hang on hang on, did I ask for somebody to give me money to do something?

DEBORAH: That’s not the point.

HONE: If I come out here and I give you a rose, I say lovely person I want you to take this rose, what are you gonna say sorry I can't take that because that would look like a bribe from a politician – bullshit,

DEBORAH: it's not the same you are an elected representative.

HONE: No no no, you can play your pakeha corruption bullshit on somebody else but not on me, when people give things to me it's cos they genuinely want to give a koha, my aunty – I point blank refused to take it, she wouldn’t hear about it, I had to give it to somebody else to give to somebody else to give to somebody else to give to her husband.

DEBORAH: You said you did take, you said you did take koha and you are an elected representative…

HONE: Yeah yeah sure I do, and my wife takes it off me and puts it into the school. Look what do you do about it when people insist on doing it, it's our way and it's our way of life here.

DEBORAH: We are part of a system of democracy.

HONE: It's our way of life here.

DEBORAH: No it's not, that’s not the way of life here.

HONE: Well it's our way of life it may not be yours, but I don’t care about your way of life. I live in my world, you live in yours, the people who vote for me and I, we work things the way we work things, you live the way you live your life.

LISA: The debate though is not going to end there. Thank you very much for joining us Hone Harawira.


FINAL THOUGHTS – GUEST COMMENTATORS

LISA: Joining me again is our panel for their final thoughts for the day, let's go first to Deborah.

DEBORAH: Well I just would have liked to have carried on debating with Hone Harawira, because I do think that there's an issue there that needs to be addressed about the robustness of our democratic system and we have this reputation for being this corruption free society and if we want to actually show that is the case we need transparency that constituents don’t feel obliged to have to pay their MPs to ask questions in parliament or do anything.

CHRIS: I agree but there's a real clash of cultures here isn't there?

DEBORAH: Not really cos I think we have a Westminster democracy, that’s it.

CHRIS: Yeah but I guess we're a sort of accommodating other cultures within that democracy.

DEBORAH: Well I don’t think we should in this particular case.

LISA: And your thoughts generally Chris?

CHRIS: Yeah something that stood out for me was the possibility that New Zealand might lose the hosting rights to the World Cup in 2011. For New Zealand to lose hosting rights twice would be an absolute disaster to the country's credibility and I think New Zealand would struggle not just to attract another rugby event but to attract a Boy Scout Jamboree or a Startrek Conference.

LISA: No, it's big business isn't it. What did you make of the poll this morning though that basically ratepayers don’t want to stump up the cash for it?

DEBORAH: Well this government seems to find money for all sorts of weird and whacky things that they manage to pay for, I'm sure that they just have to write the cheque, or what about a PPP I mean is that something that’s been considered, getting some private public…

LISA: Partnership.

CHRIS: Yeah I've got a feeling the money will come somehow, the government will find the money, there's just too much riding on this.

LISA: Alright well thank you very much for joining us this morning, our panellists there.

ENDS

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