Q and A - Sunday Sept 30 Panel Discussions
Sunday 30th September 2012
Attached are the transcripts from today’s panel discussions.
HOSTED BY GREG BOYED
First of all, let’s start with the end, with Christchurch. Did this, Mike, sound to you, with the consultation, like a minister possibly easing on the line we first thought, with the Christchurch schools?
MIKE WILLIAMS, former Labour Party
Greg, what entered my head is that quite possibly was an election-losing interview. She’s not prepared to back off on the restructuring of the schools in Christchurch, and down there they’re up in arms. I think a wise move would have been to have a five-year moratorium. There’s every sign in that city of very high levels of stress, and the kids are traumatised. I was talking to someone working with the Canterbury DHB who said, for example, bed-wetting is through the roof. These kids have got to have some time to settle down. This is exactly the wrong time to throw it all up in the air and say, ‘Your school might close. You might have to go to another school.’ This should be left alone. National won the election in Christchurch last time. They could just as easily lose it next time.
GREG ‘Intolerable stress’ was the phrase she used. Given that, Fran, surely, as Mike just said, you’d just back off - put on the kid gloves for a while.
O’SULLIVAN, NZ Herald Columnist
Yeah, I really do agree with Mike on this, and I’ve been down to Christchurch a couple of times to look at what’s happening with the rebuild, and one thing that struck me- I was flying down between Auckland and Wellington a couple of weeks ago, and I picked up the Press and read it in the plane. The strength of feeling about this was massive, but also it was the same time when Gerry Brownlee had had a brain fade of his own, and had had that little slap-down against people who were opposing what he was doing. And so suddenly the whole Press was sort of wall to wall with impassioned letters and critiques and that. And I thought the same thing. I thought, ‘they’ve got a problem there.’
GREG Raymond, is this that politically damaging?
RAYMOND MILLER, political scientist
It is potentially, yeah. I thought it was a plucky interview. But the problem is really they have to back down on this one. They really have to back down. I think there’s a problem around the consultation process, because a lot of people just don’t believe it. They believe the decision has already been made, and they’re just being talked into it. And I think the problem is that they’ve had experience of Wellington making decisions on their behalf. The Environment Canterbury, for instance, decision to suspect democratic decisions until 2016. And I think the other thing, of course, is this problem that these are young children who are being affected. They’ve been through two years of trauma, and they’re being asked now to leave the one place they really felt was familiar, and that is the school.
GREG The government has to do something, though. Closing them down, no, but most of the people involved in the schools there agree that there does need to be some change.
RAYMOND Yes, there does need to be some change, and I think it’s a gently gently approach. I think community consultation in Christchurch would go a long way towards satisfying those who feel that these are decisions being made by a government that says, ‘We know what’s best for you.’
GREG Politically, is that an escape door, to say, ‘We are still gonna make change. Let’s just stretch out the time.’
MIKE I think what you’re seeing here is actually extreme insensitivity. Those schools were actually the rocks which held those communities together during this ongoing period of crisis. That’s where people gathered, that’s where the food hand-outs were, all that kind of stuff. I think to muck around with that right now is at least insensitive and potentially politically suicidal. I would just leave it alone.
GREG That said, Fran, of course, we’re all mindful – and Hekia Parata is – mindful of the fact after the class numbers, you can’t do that every time, can you? You can’t back down every time.
FRAN And there has been loss of people from Christchurch, as well, and obviously schoolchildren, and there’s been some damage to some schools as well, and obviously the geography of the city is kind of changing in that suburbs are changing and moving out, so there is an issue over time that does have to be addressed.
GREG OK, National Standards, Raymond. Relying on the data of schools. Is this somebody standing by the findings of what we’re seeing in National Standards, or somebody who’s gonna back away a little bit already?
RAYMOND Well, I noticed there was a little bit of kind of blaming of the schools if things go wrong from the minister. I mean, we think of the idea of national standards, meaning a consistency of measurement. And it’s quite clear that’s not the case. I mean, there are some admirable things about it. Parental choice is important in education. The problem with this is that data has been released which even the government believes is shonky, and if parents start making decisions about their children’s schooling on the basis of shonky data, then we really have problems. Now, it would have been much better to hold off on releasing this data until they could at least have had confidence in it, and I think this is a problem the government has really got. I mean, despite all the reasons why they’re doing what we’re doing, there will be a lot of parents who will look at that information and say, ‘We can’t send our child to that school.’
GREG Also, the example from one principal in Auckland, they don’t get it. They don’t understand it. If a principal doesn’t get it, what hope does a parent have of making something useful of it? Do you think, Fran, that this is actually going to be of any use?
FRAN Well, I think the real thing is that they really have to make those National Standards actually national standards, and they haven’t. There’s admission that it’s unreliable. So they’ve really gotta get out and implement and tell the schools, ‘this is what you’re going to have to do,’ and just get them in a uniform way so that people do have points of comparison.
GREG The note it’s offered up initially that girls are doing better than boys, Pacific Island, Maori, well, shock horror. Hold the front page.
MIKE Whoop-de-doo. We knew all that already. My question would be, you are going to get league tables out of this and you are going to get a school which is denounced as the worst school in New Zealand, and that will almost certainly be wrong. My question is, is the National government prepared for what happens next? Because if you get a mass exodus from some of these lower ranked schools into the higher ranked schools, that has a lot of ramifications.
RAYMOND And we should point out, of course, that Labour is supporting National Standards and David Shearer was on this programme two weeks ago-
GREG All right, we will leave that there for the moment.
GREG Raymond, will the government put this behind them or will Mr Peters get further action?
RAYMOND Well, it’s very hard to imagine the government being able to put this behind them, because there are calls right now for some sort of investigation, and I think there probably needs to be- And I’m not saying that because Winston happens to be six feet away from me.
GREG Four feet.
RAYMOND Four feet. But really there are a lot of unanswered questions. I’ve always believed that we live dangerously as a democracy in New Zealand because there aren’t the checks and balances, not just to the government, but the government agencies. And I do think that when it comes to the police, the SIS, the GCSB, there needs to be some sort of monitoring agency that is well-funded, maybe a quasi-judicial body, but certainly when things like this come up, it’s not that I don’t believe the Prime Minister’s story, it’s simply that I think he hasn’t been attentive to what’s going on despite the fact that Dotcom has been in the news for the best part of a year.
GREG Mike, what do you make of Bill English’s part in all of this? Do you think he should have read further and asked more questions?
MIKE Look, I think that both the Herald on Sunday and the Sunday Star Times used the same phrase about this whole fiasco, and that is that Bill English and John Key were asleep at the wheel. Now, I happen to think that the system would have worked perfectly well had those two gentlemen asked a few leading questions, and it looks as though that John Key’s refusal to read the report on John Banks also extends to the background material on the Dotcom thing. I mean, this is a shambles. It’s a fiasco. It’s internationally embarrassing for us at a time when we don’t need it to be, when we’re trying to get a seat on the United Nations, and it really goes back to the incompetence of the people at the top.
GREG That’s the thing. It is international. We are on the radar because of who Kim Dotcom is, because of America’s involvement. We do look like muppets, don’t we?
FRAN Well, we do. America actually is very grateful for New Zealand for the actions it’s taken. And even visiting senators like Max Baucus have made that clear when they’ve come to town in private situations. The government’s gotta be very careful about this. I agree with Winston Peters - I do not think Kim Dotcom should ever have been allowed to come into this country, to buy his way in. He had a record before he came here. He didn’t pass the sniff test when it came to buying a house, but he could buy essentially a permanent residency, which has enabled him to escape, probably, the surveillance that would have been legal, for instance, if he didn’t have that.
GREG In the broad sense, if Paul Davidson hadn’t found- done some digging and found this, would we have ever found out about this?
RAYMOND This is the worry. This is the worry about the whole thing. For every one of these that we hear about, we then ask questions - were there others? It’s a funny thing, you know. It does reflect to some extent on the leadership of John Key. He’s got by up until now on the popularity of being a genial, easy-going sort of a guy, but, Fran, you’ve written about this, the need to really be attentive to the portfolios you’re responsible for, and sometimes I think you need to put the fear of God into people. I don’t know how good he is at that. I think if you set up a climate where people know that your minister is checking up on everything, you’re more likely to be careful. If it’s a back-off type thing, then anything can go.
GREG Mike, if ever there was a case to do that, not be the relaxed guy, not be the genial leader, you’d think now would be it, wouldn’t you?
MIKE Yeah, I was talking to a friend yesterday - when the Australians went off Kevin Rudd, all his positives became negatives. For example, attention to detail became control freak. A similar sort of thing is happening with John Key, and the ‘laid back’ is turning into ‘asleep at the wheel’. I think he can recover from this, and in the earlier discussion it was pointed out that this Kim Dotcom shemozzle did not occur during the capture period of the poll that we talked about earlier. So I think that they could take a hit out of this. But I think Key has gotta tighten up his act. I think he’s got to improve his relationship with his deputy. It just seems utterly incredible to me that they didn’t natter about this, and I don’t accept Geoffrey Palmer’s point. I think there is secure methods of communication these days.
GREG Fran, if we put a pin in this now and go, ‘that’s the end of it,’ it’s most likely not. It’s probably going to go to court.
FRAN Yes, it will go to court, but the interesting question is there’s been a legality by the GCSB - are they going to be charged? Does someone face criminal charges? And who charges them, because the police were fed the wrong information anyway. But there’s another issue, I think, anyway, and Key - when I was up in Japan on a recent trip, he told me then that he was planning to go to the United States, and a trip’s coming up soon to Los Angeles, where he’s going to be talking to some of the other studios. And I doubt Warners will be on it necessarily, but how does he handle all of that? I mean, it’s inevitable that this whole issue of internet cyber criminal and all the rest will come up, and Kim Dotcom. I mean, the whole of LA has been seized by this. So I want to know how does he handle that offshore? What does he say when reporters ask him?
GREG We’ll have to leave that one there.
GREG Super quick through the panel. First of all, Mike, do we have a hope of getting on the Security Council?
MIKE We do, but he used the word ‘brand’, and I think Dotcom is doing damage to our international brand.
RAYMOND He makes the point that we’re an independent and fair-minded country, and that’s the way that we’re perceived internationally. We’ve got a lot of friends around the world. We’re a small country that punches above its weight. I think there’s a very good chance.
GREG Finally, Fran - TPP, Hilary Clinton came here - is that gonna help us at all or not?
FRAN Well, yes, I think quite clearly we’re close to the United States, and I would imagine the United States would back New Zealand in this, and I think probably also the candidacy of Tim Groser for WTO. I think we are back in the club.
GREG All right, thank you very much to all three of you.