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Agenda: Mike Williams & Jeanette Fitzsimons

AGENDA
MIKE WILLIAMS & JEANETTE FITZSIMONS


Transcript ©Front Page Ltd 2006
May be used provided attribution is made to TVOne and “Agenda”
Presented by CAMERON BENNETT

CAMERON: Well just who should pay for politicking in this country, that’s the question parliament will have to address over the next year as it undertakes a review of parliamentary services' spending on political activities. The review comes as part of this week's retrospective legislation to legalise recent illegal campaign spending particularly Labour's 824,000 dollars pledge card. Labour has indicated it favours taxpayer funded party campaigns, Labour Party President Mike Williams is with me now. Good morning to you Mike.

MIKE WILLIAMS – Labour Party President
Good morning.

CAMERON: Well what is the answer to the big issues that have been raised in the Auditor General's report?

MIKE: Well I don’t know what the big answer is but one thing that’s clear that the parliamentarians will have to grapple with is there'll have to be a tidy up, the law as it's currently interpreted is a mess, I'll give you two easy examples. The pledge card here which has the parliamentary logo on it that’s quite obviously taxpayer funded an does not say vote Labour.

CAMERON: And now worth some money on Trade Me as the moment.

MIKE: Yes yes indeed we're doing well out of these. That is judged an election expense right? Now this is an Exclusive Brethren pamphlet, this was authorised by Don Brash, consented to by Don Brash, it took him a while to admit he had, it says the only way to get ahead is to change the government, it has a large blue tick, the point is that that is not an election expense.

CAMERON: So what are we talking then – state funding – is this the way out?

MIKE: I think we're talking four things, I think we need full transparency of political donations just like in Australia so these huge amounts of anonymous donations flowing into the National Party become transparent. I think we need to eliminate financial intermediaries which are used to disguise the source of the donations like the Waitemata Trust used by the National Party and I think we need some degree of public funding of campaigns and we have a very good model just across the Tasman of all of those things in the Australian Electoral Commission rules.

CAMERON: But all of this can be addressed can't it by a disclosure regime and limits on anonymous donations?

MIKE: I quite agree, I don’t think we should have anonymous donations, they're banned in Australia.

CAMERON: What restrictions do you think there should be on private donations?

MIKE: Well I think probably up ot $250 can be anonymous but beyond that it can't be.

CAMERON: This whole business that pledge card of yours there, how much damage do you think has been done to the public perception of politics and politicians?

MIKE: Well very little, I mean I'm looking at the Roy Morgan poll which has Labour and National pretty well neck and neck. I think this is something that is not of our making, I mean I have been President for seven years and Campaign Manager for nine years, I was not aware of any changes of the rules, I'm easy to get hold of, your producers had no difficulty, I've never heard from the Auditor General, I've never heard from the Chief Electoral Officer, I think I ought to be the first person to hear of any changes in the rules.

CAMERON: Well we'll talk about that poll shortly but either way all of this has left a very bad taste in the mouth hasn’t it?

MIKE: I think that’s correct yes I do and I think that it has to be tidied up, and the public expect it to be tidied up.

CAMERON: So how did your party get the public mood so wrong in the first place?

MIKE: I don’t think we did, I mean I've just said this took me completely by surprise, if there had been a change in the rules I didn’t know about it, it was not communicated to me by statutory officials and I think at the very least we've gotta tidy up the process, I mean I'm publicly known as the President and the Campaign Manager and I simply wasn’t told.

CAMERON: Well as such Mike I mean how much were you involved with the running of this campaign and how much was it run by party leaders and their advisors?

MIKE: Well it's run collectively, these are collective decisions.

CAMERON: So you knew all about the pledge card then?

MIKE: The pledge card was a collective decision made by the Campaign Committee in 1998 and we stick by it, we think that parties should be accountable and we produce these in a fashion that you can put them in your wallet and you can see whether we are keeping to it.

CAMERON: Well staying with that, who was the force behind it, was it Heather Simpson?

MIKE: No, the force behind it is the New Zealand Labour Party, it is very popular amongst the New Zealand Labour Party.

CAMERON: But was the main push coming from the Prime Minister's Department?

MIKE: No, no.

CAMERON: Because Heather Simpson attended the meeting of course with the Auditor General.

MIKE: Of course she does, she attends meetings with me, but that’s not where the decision to publish a pledge card was made. The pledge card decision was made collectively in 1998 and reviewed every election and we think it's worth doing.

CAMERON: Well going back to this debacle, I mean who's going to take responsibility here, it is going to be Heather Simpson, is it going to be the Prime Minister herself?

MIKE: I'll take responsibility for it, I'm the Campaign Manager and we will pay back the money, we'll refund the money, we've said we will, the party collectively takes responsibility for this.

CAMERON: So you'll take responsibility but were you left in the dark over any doubts about whether it was legal or illegal, were you brought into the loop on this?

MIKE: There was no doubt before the election whether it was lawful or unlawful in my mind and as I said to you my cellphone number is well known, my email address is well known and I had no knowledge of changes of the rules, I was not called by the Auditor General, I was not called or communicated by the Chief Electoral Officer, and this would have to happened at least a year before the election because that’s when we make budgets.

CAMERON: Mike, so let's moving on now to again what happens next, how do you think things will change?

MIKE: Well I think first of all we've gotta have a proper definition of what is electioneering and what is not, I mean I've just showed you those two pamphlets. Here's another example, this is the website of Brian Sinclair and Brian Sinclair's services are described as campaign design, election campaigns, marketing strategic communications. Now this guy worked for the National Party for two years, he doesn’t cross the Tasman for less than a million dollars a year and this is a definition of electioneering and yet this is not taken into consideration by the Auditor General.

CAMERON: Why did there have to be such haste for this legislation to be put through now?

MIKE: Oh a purely technical matter, the government's books must balance and the only way to make them balance is to render that spending lawful, and I would point out Cameron that that spending has been lawful since 1989, for 20 odd years we've had that kind of expenditure, nobody in my party thought the rules had changed.

CAMERON: But of course this could have been validated further down the track couldn’t it?

MIKE: Oh strike while the iron's hot, get it off the agenda I'd say, it's a political decision yes get rid of it?

CAMERON: What to cool the temperature, cool the political temperature.

MIKE: Yeah sensible political strategy by the parties affected and it was not just the Labour Party.

CAMERON: Or that you realise look the public are just fed up with this they’ve had enough and it's not looking good for Labour?

MIKE: Well I think we also want to get on to the real issues, the real issues are around you know Don Brash hiring Brian Sinclair, this is something I expect Audrey Young of the Herald to follow up very strongly because the next question we know he was paid out of taxpayers fund and Dr Brash dissembled about that for about a week before he admitted it. The next question is of course how much, because we've got two definitions of what Brian Sinclair did, we've got that he's a right wing ideologue a political consultant and an electioneerer, or you’ve got Gerry Brownlee's definition of he put the chairs out. Well that will be settled by how much he was paid.

CAMERON: Alright, now the big whip around, how much money has been raised so far?

MIKE: Well I haven’t checked and there's a difference between how much pledged and how much raised, but how much raised in the first few days is pushing 60 to 100,000 dollars on the 0900 Labour number coming into PO Box 184, you knew I was going to do this, and in for the bigwhiparound.com, I think it's going well, we've got a series of seven fundraising activities, they’ll be launched at our conference, we've already had the commitment of the parliamentary caucus unanimously.

CAMERON: You’ve chipped in your bit to the fund?

MIKE: I've put mine in yes, my cheque.

CAMERON: And the caucus has as well?

MIKE: The caucus is doing so yeah.

CAMERON: Joining us our guest commentators Bernard Hickey and Grant Robertson, well you heard what Mike had to say, what do you make of it?

BERNARD HICKEY – Managing Editor, Fairfax
Mike I'd be curious to find out if we do have public funding of political parties doesn’t that entrench the existing parties in government given that they're the ones who are in parliament, they're the ones who are allocated funds and anyone coming off the reservations is not going to have access to those funds.

MIKE: That doesn’t seem to be the experience overseas, one of the earliest state funded polities was Germany and you’ve had new parties pop up there, so no I don’t think so.

BERNARD: I mean how would you regulate funding for those new parties?

MIKE: Well in Australia it's retrospective after an election you get paid I think it's just just over two dollars per primary vote and even parties which don’t win seats in parliament get that payment, you remember there was a controversy a couple – maybe three or four years ago about the Hansen Party which didn’t actually win any seats still was eligible for state funding, so I think those things can be sorted out they're not show stoppers.

GRANT ROBERTSON – Former Labour Political Advisor
Given the public cynicism about politicians in general Mike how do you think you convince people that it's a good idea that their taxpayer dollars actually go to their political parties?

MIKE: Well they do anyhow it's just where they flow to. At the moment you’ve got state funding of parliamentary parties, what we're talking about is state funding of all politics of democracy. Now what I'd point out is that in local bodies there is a department in every territorial authority called Democracy Services and that effectively is state funding of politics and it's non controversial at a local level so people do get used to it.

GRANT So there'd need to be some kind of oversight department or agency looking after it is that what you're saying?

MIKE: Well yes something like the Australian Electoral Commission that’s produced this document here. We have a model.

CAMERON: And there'll be a bit more time taken over shaping that model than has been taken over putting through the legislation I would suspect.

MIKE: I would imagine so yeah there are many different models, the model that might work for us is a sustentation grant for all parties in parliament because we actually have quite a lot of compliance costs, I mean we're expected to provide a CEO, well a decent CEO costs you 100 to 150,000 dollars, we're expected to have an accountant, we're expected to survey our membership every year to prove we have 500 members. Now these are compliance costs which are not met at the moment.

CAMERON: Were you both astonished or concerned about the haste in which this legislation was rammed through this last week?

GRANT: Oh I think Mike's already made the point, I mean this was an issue that was front and centre for the government and they needed to deal with it and I think the decision that was made allows some time now for the rules to be set through to the end of 2007.

CAMERON: Okay, now of course the issue now is where is the money going to come from, who's going to be pitching up in terms of private donations and so forth, or more importantly should I say the immediate case of the parties themselves rounding up the money for current debts, who's gonna be paying that do you think?

GRANT: I think there's gonna be rather a lot of cake stalls and wine auctions over the next little while.

CAMERON: Bernard what about your own take on it?

BERNARD: Well the one thing I worry about this drift toward state funding of political parties is it again disconnects the people from the political process, why bother to go out and have a chat with people and do the wine stalls and the cake stalls if you don’t need the money, why bother to even talk you can just stick in your little beltway in Wellington, get your funding talk to each other and away you go, why bother, I mean that’s one of the disciplines really of having individuals fund political parties is that they are forced to speak to individuals, wouldn’t that break that connection?

CAMERON: Well it just might because in the meantime Labour has still got to find the more than 800,000 dollars it's committed to pay back after the illegal spending on its pledge card, about half of that will come from a levy on its MPs, the party wants its supporters to make up the rest, it's a big ask. Simon Pound reports on a fundraising effort by Labour members from Auckland University.

SIMON POUND
This was the first week of the big whip around, the Labour Party attempt to raise the near 800,000 dollars identified by the Auditor General as illegal electioneering. With fundraising in the spotlight then we went along to see how a new approach from the Princes Street Labour branch would go down.

Tonight sees them at the politically themed pub Forde's Front Bench with a novel fundraising idea. David Do, Princes Street, Labour President.

DAVID DO David Do, Princes Street, Labour President.
Usually we rely on the usual barbecues, we were gonna do something different this time with the pub quiz to raise money.

SIMON: That’s right a politically themed pub quiz, and there's more, an auction is planned too with a star item.

DAVID: it's called The Men who made Labour, it's based on stories and personalities of the New Zealand Labour Party in 1906 and it's also autographed by Tony Blair, several parliamentarians so it's quite a valuable item.

SIMON: A 7.30 start was planned and 50 to a 100 people expected, but by 7.30 there are worrying signs for the organisers.

DAVID: There's about 25 people here tonight, we were expecting at least double that, yeah we're not sure we're gonna collect the money tonight.

SIMON: A waiting game begins. Despite hundreds of emails, plentiful RSVPs and all their best efforts the punters fail to appear. As the light gets darker decisions are made.

DAVID: We've decided to call off the quiz tonight, we didn’t get as many people as we hoped, about 25, we were hoping to get twice that.

SIMON: Well Princes Street Labour is known for having ideas ahead of their time, they were long supporters of the recently passed Civil Unions Bill, perhaps this is another such case. Tonight though the branch packed down the Labour signage, not delivering this time. And with that 800,000 odd to be paid back they’ll be back to the drawing board looking for new ways to pledge their share of the big whip around.

CAMERON: Well Mike looking at that it seems like you’ve got a bit of a problem.

MIKE: We've got a long way to go on that basis yes we do.

CAMERON: Are you very much looking to next weekend's conference to sort of rally the troops and pass the hat around?

MIKE: Yeah very much but mainly, I mean this is an enormous sum, this is kinda close to what we raise for an election campaign so effectively we have two election campaigns in three years, what we will be doing is setting up the system, you're not gonna raise 820 odd thousand at a conference, but I would make a couple of points that where countries have public funding of campaigns there is still a lot of fundraising because you’ve got to get above that amount and you're still competing for money, you're competing in public though and transparently and the second thing is that a party's contact with the general public and you make a good point there, is not primarily fundraising it's canvassing for votes, and a party that stops doing that goes down the tube very rapidly.

CAMERON: And what do you both think, you're looking at 800 plus thousand dollars to raise, you know confident Grant that it can happen?

GRANT: Oh it's a huge ask but I guess it's an opportunity for the Labour Party to actually go out and make those connections that Bernard's talking about.

BERNARD: And the other thing I worry too about their move to regulate the way groups participate in the political process is that even if you're not part of a political party obviously the Brethren were another case altogether but let's say you're a lobby group and there are lots of them for example in the United States where the campaign laws essentially have allowed them to form, how would you manage that so that you didn’t over regulate those non political groups who do want to participate in a political process?

MIKE: Well I've actually just discussed that matter with Jeanette Fitzsimons and there are two ways of doing that, one is full transparency it was fairly clear that the Brash Brethren pamphlet campaign was attempted to happen under the radar, they didn’t want us to know who was doing it and it was a sheer fluke that there was a leak of a Brethren list that we were able to identify where that was coming from so I think that’s the most important point, the other point is that in some polities overseas yes they do have lobbying but this is transparent and it's capped and this is found to be necessary in Canada which is a very similar political structure to us.

CAMERON: Thanks for that Mike.


CAMERON It's almost 12 months since the sudden death at 48 of the Greens Co-leader Rod Donald. Since then and so the party has elected Russell Norman as a replacement there are questions about whether it has really recovered from the loss of Mr Donald's political skills. Jeanette Fitzsimons is the Greens Co-leader and she's with me now. Welcome to you Jeanette. Are you – going back on our earlier discussion are you happy with the new legislation?

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS – Co-leader, Green Party
We didn’t vote for it, we said more than a month ago that we would pay back the money but that we would not vote for validating legislation because it's kind of a bad look when MPs use their power to legislate to justify something they’ve done, we feel more comfortable with it now that most parties have agreed to pay back, potentially all parties depending on what New Zealand First decides and therefore the moral duty to the public has I think been satisfied. We do think it was essential to have some rules around what we can spend money on now because frankly the Auditor General's report has left us totally in the dark as to what we can and can't do, the rules are so inconsistent and so inconsistently applied I daren't spend any money from my leader's budget and so the legislation has clarified that for a short time until we develop some more long term rules.

CAMERON: Because using the definition of electioneering that you just being here now I guess represents just that.

JEANETTE: Oh absolutely you have to ask not just about the communications budget but about the air fares, about the phone accounts, about the accommodation, about the staffing time, most people still don’t understand what it was that the Auditor General's report ruled out. Most people think there's a distinction between you can use your parliamentary funding to put your policies in front of the public but you can't go out and campaign on them, but the Auditor General ruled out everything that simply set out our policies, I put out a number of advertisements in papers in different communities saying you're invited to an evening to look at a film on peak oil and climate change and discuss the issues with Jeanette Fitzsimons that’s all it said, they were all categorised as election spending. So it makes life impossible.

CAMERON: And what do you think it's gonna take to clear this up, I mean do you support Mike Williams' vision of clarification?

JEANETTE: I do think there is a case for state funding of parties, I think it should not be the total amount they need for election, I think it's really important that parties still have to go out there and fund raise but there should be enough to cover the basics because otherwise you know there's two halves to the democratic process, there's the right for everybody to exercise a vote and that was fought for very hard and long, but the other half of it is a right to the information about what it is they're voting for. Now if they can't find out what is on offer because some parties have so much more money than other parties to put their policy out there the whole election is skewed from the start.

CAMERON: Well speaking of which your party owes 65,000 dollars.

JEANETTE: Eighty seven.

CAMERON: But hasn’t it been reduced to 65 – 30 off 95?

JEANETTE: No the Auditor General changed his mind about Green times and we're up for 87,000.

CAMERON: Eighty seven – a huge amount of money for you to raise.

JEANETTE: Much more per MP than the Labour Party.

CAMERON: Is the rank and file resentful of this?

JEANETTE: No, there's been very good response, we've put out a request for help as the Labour Party has, people can donate to our website greens.org.nz. I had to get my bit in too.

CAMERON: You got it in, can you really afford to pay this amount back?

JEANETTE: Well no of course not but you know the MPs agreed unanimously. When I put it to a caucus meeting more than a month ago nobody demurred when I said we've gotta come up with the bulk of it out of our pockets, we already contribute 10% of our gross pay to the party in recognition that the party works to get us there, this is probably going to be something like another 10%.

CAMERON: So double tithe. Now of course the anniversary of Rod Donald's death coming up. How much as a party are you really missing his political skills?

JEANETTE: We still miss him terribly, his enormous energy, enthusiasm and political nous and just his friendship, you know we had a really close working relationship and I miss him enormously and it doesn’t actually get any easier with time, but it's pulled us very close together as a group, we're pretty united around the theme of future proofing New Zealand against the threats of climate change and peak oil, and we're all working on that together which is good and having Russell on board is great and he and I are developing a really good working relationship.

CAMERON: Are you as a party having trouble I guess getting traction when so much of the environmental policy that you're about has been mainstreamed?

JEANETTE: Well actually almost none of the environmental policy we're about has been mainstreamed. We still have huge problems with water quality and very little is being done, neither large party has got a policy on climate change, we don’t have any preparation to deal with what is happening to oil supplies in the future, our fisheries are in trouble, the language has been mainstreamed but the action actually hasn’t.

CAMERON: Although your own blogg site has supported National over some of its environmental policy, you know munition trading for instance.

JEANETTE: Well they’ve come up with a few ideas that we could potentially support but they're still a long long way behind where we've been for 15 years.

CAMERON: Can you see the day coming when the Greens might abstain on confidence and supply during the term of a National led government.

JEANETTE: Well we take each situation on its merits. We don’t have a lot of policy in common with National but we have worked together on some issues and we can work with them where we have common policy. We make those decisions on the basis of the policy rather than anything else.

CAMERON: And now what about you personally, your future what are the plans, are you going to be around for the next election?

JEANETTE: I'll make that decision next February, Rod and I had planned to leave at different times in order to facilitate the transition to a new leadership, I'm enjoying what I'm doing enormously at the moment, I'm in extremely good health and I certainly haven’t made a decision yet as to when I'll step down. I haven’t made any decision. If I were to decide not to contest the next election I would step down as leader next year, but at the moment I'm minded to continue.

CAMERON: And if for instance you are not to contest the next election who would you nominate as your successor, that’s the big question.

JEANETTE: That’s absolutely not my role to nominate a successor, you know the Greens are different from all the other parties, we don’t have the luxury of a leadership coup in caucus behind closed doors with no notice, our leaders are chosen by our annual conference, that happens in June, there has to be quite a long preparation for that which is why I need to make up my mind early next year, but I haven’t made it up yet.

CAMERON: Returning Jeanette to our panel for a minute, you’ve heard what Jeanette's been saying and particularly on the issue of the legislation, what do you both make of that?

GRANT: Well the other point really about having Russell as a co-leader outside of parliament, do you think that might have contributed to a lowering in the Green's profile, not having a co-leader inside parliament with you?

JEANETTE: Well no I don’t think so because Russell's been getting out around the country and working with the branches and he's been very active with the media and we did have some concerns initially that the media might not take seriously a leader outside parliament, that has not turned out to be true, the media seem to like him and he's had a lot of profile, it is harder in parliament not having someone to share the leadership with, but I think you know it balances out and I don’t think we have don’t badly, our poll ratings have been consistently well above what they were in the election, in fact the history seems to be that the Greens are the third party in all the polls except the one that actually counts on election day.

CAMERON: Bernard what do you make of the Greens' performance then over this last year?

BERNARD: One thing I'd love to see is the Greens able to make a choice between the two parties because in the public's mind right now they almost see the Green's as rusted on to Labour and I wonder if you can really attract a much bigger audience when the perception is that you're always gonna go with Labour. Having the leverage to say well we might go with National could maybe open up a broader audience for the Greens.

JEANETTE: Well let's look at the reality. This term we are abstaining on confidence and supply so we are not supporting either side to govern, we have some cooperation with Labour over certain policies, we work with National on a few as well. Last term we voted against Labour on confidence and supply because they refused to continue the moratorium on genetic engineering and we had made a promise to the public that that was our bottom line for the election, there's only been one term when we actually supported Labour on confidence and supply, so the Greens are an independent political party, our policy has so far tended to be closer to Labour than to National, but there's nothing I'd like more than to see a competition between Labour and National as to who can get closest to our policy on the environment and social justice in order to win our support.

CAMERON: I mean do you both see – you know Jeanette disputes the mainstreaming of environmental issues into the main parties, there has been more of that, do you see a problem of the Greens gaining traction …

BERNARD: I think now is the most fertile time for the Greens, I cover business that’s my job and the amount of focus on the environment in business on saving money by being more efficient and looking after the environment is enormous and there is a fertile territory there for the Greens to jump into as much in I spose an area that perhaps the Greens haven’t looked at too much or as much publicly in the past in the area of business and I wonder whether there's an option there.

JEANETTE: I really agree with you business has gone further than the two big parties have got on a lot of issues, and we're actually developing some quite good working relationships with businesses on sustainability.

CAMERON: Thank you very much Jeanette Fitzsimons.


UMR OCTOBER POLL

CAMERON: And now just how have the dramatic politics of the past two months affected the two main parties. We have a UMR poll taken between October 5th and October 8th and it shows a dramatic turnaround. National has dropped by 3.1% to 41.7%. Labour's static on 41.1% now just 0.6 of a percent behind National. New Zealand First is on 3%, ACT up on 1.7%, the Greens 6.9%, United Future 1.8% and the Maori Party on 2%. What's really interesting about this poll is that it shows there's been a big turnaround in Auckland, Labour's up there by nearly 5% while National has fallen by nearly 4%.


CAMERON: Well the future of Fairfax's nine daily newspapers in this country is up for grabs as Australian media is carved up with a series of ongoing takeovers and investment moves. The activity comes in the wake of new legislation freeing up the previously heavily regulated 12 billion dollar Australian media industry. Bernard Lagan is Australian correspondent for the Times I talked to Bernard last night and began by asking him what all of this meant.

BERNARD LAGAN – Times Correspondent, Australia
Well that’s anybody's guess at the moment Cameron, the first obvious move was Packer selling his media interest to American Equity Funds. I don’t think too much is gonna change publicly for the Packer organisation in the short term. The really interesting move I think is Rupert Murdoch's securing 7½% of the Fairfax organisation last night, that’s Rupert Murdoch buying into his great rival in Sydney and in Melbourne and people are asking why, is he there to take a strategic stake to influence the direction of the company or to something more than that. We don’t know at this stage.

CAMERON: So I mean that’s turned up the temperature on things greatly, has it been a frenzy of activity over that?

BERNIE: Oh it's just been an absolute frenzy of activity, especially in the light of the Communications Minister's caution on Monday or Tuesday of this week when she said no I don’t think these changes will lead to immediate takeover or merger activity. She was proved wrong probably within 12 hours once the West Australian entrepreneur and owner of the Seven network in Australia, Mr Kerry Stokes, moved to buy West Australian Newspapers which not only owns the West Australian newspaper but also a string of radio stations right throughout Western Australia, he began it, the Packers followed with the unloading of half of their Leader empire to American Equity Funds and then Murdoch followed last night, there may well be more before Monday.

CAMERON: Now a change of media legislation this week prompted all of this, why was that introduced?

BERNIE: The Howard government ever since it came to power in 96 had a policy to lift foreign ownership restrictions on ownership of Australian media, foreign owners have been until now limited ot 15%, and he also had a policy to allow people who owned television stations in the major cities such as Packer to also own newspapers. Why they wanted to have that policy it was done at the bidding of the media owners, not Fairfax but certainly Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer over a number of years but they could never get it past the Australian parliament because the senate always blocked it. The Labour Party and the Independents controlled the senate, and there were many battles fought by Fairfax journalists over the years to convince the senate not to pass it and they were very successful. What changed? In 2004 John Howard gained control of the senate.

CAMERON: Alright Bernie now of course what matters to us on this side of the ditch is of course Fairfax and what's going to become of it. what developments do you see happening here in New Zealand?

BERNIE: Well I think there's no question that the ownership of Fairfax New Zealand is going to change.

CAMERON: Trade Me of course being the big plum that’s waiting out there.

BERNIE: That’s right, I mean Fairfax New Zealand's a different company from when it was sold to Fairfax by Murdoch, then it was just a newspaper company, now it's a fully fledge net company because Fairfax New Zealand have acquired Trade Me as you know and that has certainly added value to it, and if we think as most people do that the Packer organisation are interested in new growth media i.e. the Internet then you have to say that the Packer organisation could certainly be interested in acquiring the New Zealand asset. Equally Rupert Murdoch could be interested in acquiring the New Zealand asset back again because he has also become belatedly more interested in the revenues generated from the net.

CAMERON: Excellent, thank you very much Bernie Lagan in Sydney.

CAMERON: Well we're returning to our panel on that Bernard in particularly, what do you make of the potential fallout here in New Zealand over the news from Australia?

BERNARD: Oh it really all depends on whether certain deals happen and no deal's happened yet which would change the situation here. Obviously Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has bought 7.5% stake in Fairfax but also at the same time PBL Media which is owned by James Packer have done a deal which frees up a lot of cash for PBL Media and the speculation is that PBL Media might be interested in Fairfax. A deal has to happen before anything else happens on this side of the Tasman. The other thing is that Fairfax is not the only player involved here, there's three of the major media companies in New Zealand are owned by Australian companies or controlled by Australian companies including TV3 in which the Financial Review and Business Day reported this morning that Canwest's Canadian owners have put both the Australian and the New Zealand operations up for sale effectively by appointing an investment banker, so that has actually happened before any of the Fairfax elements.

CAMERON: And what about you Grant?

GRANT: I think it'll be really interesting if we see the re-entry of Murdoch into the New Zealand media market and I suspect that the Trade Me purchase by Fairfax will make that quite attractive to him.

FINAL THOUGHTS – GUEST COMMENTATORS

CAMERON: Returning to our panel for your final thoughts over the week.

BERNARD: Well I'm really interested obviously in the changes that are happening in the media landscape but today's a great day for the Waikato Times and the Dominion Post, Waikato versus Wellington couldn’t be better and I'm cheering for Waikato, I'm a farmer's boy and am hoping that they get it up tonight.

CAMERON: And Grant – yours?

GRANT: Oh I think that poll result we heard before means that perhaps things aren’t quite as bad as some people are making for Labour.


ENDS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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