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Agenda Transcript: Don Brash I'view 27 Aug 2005

Agenda Transcript: Don Brash I'view 27 Aug 2005

Leader, National
Interviewed by SIMON DALLOW


SIMON For the second consecutive month the National Business Review UMR poll has National trailing Labour. The poll was conducted before the release of National's tax policy last Monday and of course before Dr Brash told us why he won't be rude to the Prime Minister. He is with me now.

Welcome to the programme Dr Brash. Bit of a debacle this week over forestry, first your spokesman Brian Connell says one thing, Nick Smith wheeled out says something else and you have to step in and sort the whole mess out. How is it spokespeople can announce plans that you then have to override, how does that happen?

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

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

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

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

DON Completely.

SIMON Completely?

DON No policy get signed off without my agreement.

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

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

SIMON Do you have confidence in your entire front bench?

DON Oh yes I do, absolutely.

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

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

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

DON And I've got confidence in him.

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

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

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

DON That’s a judgement I made.

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

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

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

DON Yes I have.

SIMON Which is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

DON I'll stop making jokes hereon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SIMON So how do you make a distinction?

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

SIMON So who is a Maori then?

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

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

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

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

DON Yes that’s right.

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

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

SIMON It's very broad and vague though.

DON It is a broad term.

SIMON You said it doesn’t include gays?

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

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

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

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

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

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

DON Of course, of course,

SIMON Do you know the name of your Manurewa candidate?

DON Yes I do.

SIMON What's her name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SIMON And many would not?

DON Some would not certainly.

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

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

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

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

SIMON So it's a non negotiable bottom line?

DON it's a non negotiable bottom line.

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

DON That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DON Look I think that’s extraordinarily unlikely.

SIMON You're not ruling it out?

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

SIMON Okay unlikely but not off the table?

DON it's not on my table.

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

DON It's not on my table.

SIMON Will you categorically rule it out?

DON It's not on my table.

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

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

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

DON Thank you.


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

BOB HARVEY – Former Labour Party President

Well I thought it was a damn good interview really and I was interested in his body language and I thought his body language was terrific until you dropped him with the Samoan unpronounceable name, although I mean with due respect to that person. I actually would have walked, if I was Brash I'd have walked, I'd have said okay that is an absolute trick, it's an absolute capture and I'm not wearing that, I'd actually have walked from that interview but I thought it was a damn good interview, his body language changed from that point on, he became tense.

I mean this is a very cruel election. We've got two extraordinary people I think both Clark and Brash. Brash has risen more than I thought he could possibly have done but you’ve got Clark who is dominating this election because she's good a directed traffic really, she's wide and smart and he's not wide smart politically and I think that’s the difficulty and I thought although the interview went very well for those viewers out there I thought it was a bit of a capture of that name.

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

MICHELLE BOAG – Former National Party President

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

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

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

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

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

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

MICHELLE Oh I just think it was a dirty trick.

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

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

JON JOHANSSON – Political Scientist, Victoria

Yeah I'll save you here Simon, look the substance of the interview you asked that key question of Dr Brash and he just didn’t answer the question which was the impact on social cohesion if you do away with the Maori seats with white votes, that is a crucial question and you sort of got the historical you know record of why they came to pass, but I mean it's just such an important sort of feature of our children's generation coming through, and this is how – you look at the effects of poor cumulative decision making, so like for instance Muldoon's superannuation policy in 75 left problems for all his successors.

I feel the same way about this idea to do away with the Maori seats with white votes, that will leave the successors of Dr Brash with a far more difficult race environment because he didn’t answer what happens – does it peel off some moderate Maori to become more radical, what does it do to the radical element that already exists.

I cannot see how it will improve race relations in this country. So good on you for asking that question.

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

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

SIMON All three of us.

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

SIMON Both sides?

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

SIMON Forget the tax thing?

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

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

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

BOB It's a bribe.

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

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

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

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

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

JON The growth picture?

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

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

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

Ttranscript courtesy of Agenda Saturday mornings TV One 8:30am and repeated later that evening (time varies)

Agenda website - http://agendatv.itmsconnect.com/


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