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Q and A - Panel Interviews Nov 25

Q + A – November 25, 2012

Panel Discussions

Hosted by Greg Boyed

In response to DAVID SHEARER interview

GREG The panel this week: Dr Raymond Miller from Auckland University – good to have you along – Fran O’Sullivan, Herald columnist; and Helen Kelly, head of the Combined Trade Unions. Welcome to all three of you. First of all, Raymond. Kiwi Build first of all. Is it a good idea? Is it a sound idea?

DR RAYMOND MILLER – Political Scientist
I think it’s a very good idea, and, you know, we do have a crisis in housing in New Zealand, particularly at the low end, and the market is not responding right now. And clearly there is a need for a lot of new houses to be built, particularly in places like Auckland, over the next few years. It’s not something that can be fixed in a few months. There are a couple of things I think that are interesting from that interview. The first is the whole question of affordability, however – whether it is possible for people on low incomes to be able to pick up a mortgage of, say, $250,000 to $300,000. It’s quite a big ask. The other thing is do we have the skills in New Zealand, at the same time as we’re dealing with Christchurch, to also produce 10,000 new houses a year? But the need is there.

GREG Fran, that’s a very good point. Do we have the plumbers, the electricians, the carpenters to talk about the sort of numbers David Shearer is proposing as far as the new houses go? And that’s putting aside the possibility of state homes as well.

FRAN O’SULLIVAN – NZ Herald Columnist
Yeah, it’s going to be quite an ask, actually, to gear up for this, because Christchurch is already – just with the replenishment of the houses down there that have been damaged by the earthquakes, but also by the build that’s coming up. But to do this, I don’t think you can kick it off immediately. I think there’d have to be a period of upskilling. It may be that they will have to import workers from elsewhere in the world, as is happening with Christchurch. And there's also issues about supply-chain management and how people like Fletchers – and not just Fletchers but other mass-housing providers – actually do gear up for this.

GREG All right, let’s talk about the leadership. David Cunliffe’s been banished to the naughty corner. Has this done anything as far as changing the public perception of David Shearer as the Labour leader? Helen, I’ll start with you. I think I can guess what you’re going to say, but we’ll start here anyway!

Well, I mean, I think he just did a very good interview, and if anything, what this has done is actually give him authority and give him confidence to move forward. And actually the really interesting thing is I was at the Labour Party conference, and if you were to pick the person who rose above it, who showed dignity and leadership, it was David Shearer. I mean, to walk out on that Sunday, deliver the speech that he delivered – it was spectacular. And he’s right – people did leave that conference feeling confident, feeling like Labour had a good plan. And the way that it’s been depicted – a left-right split, a young-old split – it just simply wasn’t true at that conference – the one that I attended, anyway.

GREG Raymond, the wider public, though – we saw David Shearer with Shane a moment ago, and there was a lot less um-ing and ah-ing and it was a lot more direct and there appears to be a bit of mongrel showing through. Are we to buy that? Are we to believe that? And is the public going to buy and believe that?

RAYMOND Well, first of all, it has been a very unsteady performance by David Shearer over the last 12 months, no question at all, and a lot of members are really wondering whether or not he has the goods. I mean, 13 percentage points behind in the polls after a relatively bad year for National – this is a concern for a lot of grassroots members. He has improved. There are times when he looks much better. He’s not good on impromptu interviews and comments. He’s quite good on set-piece performances. But he has to be the advocate for his party’s core values. And as Helen said, it’s not a question of left or right. I think it’s question of being able to advocate clearly to the public that Labour is ready to take over the government, and that’s where I think the concern has been.

GREG Fran, on the David Cunliffe side of it, to a degree, it’s shown a bit of cojones on David Shearer’s part. To the other degree, though, this has been happening the minute Phil Goff stepped down. Why now? And the fact that it’s taken until now – what does that say?

FRAN Well, I think partially also— I mean, it may have been happening since Phil stepped down, but also, don’t forget, they were in a leadership race against each other. They did go through some party primaries, but actually the caucus overrode what the party base was saying, which, basically, they supported Cunliffe. David Cunliffe still is a far more competent politician. He’s more aggressive, he has the sound bites, he’s more intellectual and he’s fast on his feet. But this guy is starting to catch up. I think it’s a great pity that what didn’t happen after Shearer won the caucus vote was that he didn’t actually offer David Cunliffe finance spokesmanship. He was already in that role. He did a damn good job, and this is—

GREG This is something that’s said a lot. His talent as a politician – put aside the leadership side of it and put aside that part of it – his talent as a politician has been in no doubt. Would he not have been smarter to do a Helen Clark-Michael Cullen – same sort of thing?

FRAN Or Bill English and John Key.

HELEN He did do that. I mean, let’s have a look now. I mean, this leadership thing – if the line is drawn under it as Shearer says, let’s have a look at the dynamic now. You’ve got a man who’s saying, “Smart government, hands in, we can make a difference, we can deal with unemployment, we can deal with the economy and we will where that makes sense.” And you’ve got another man saying, “Hands off. I’m not worried about the unemployed. They can take care of themselves. The market will look after the New Zealand economy.” And you’ve got this real contrast, and I think it’s going to be a really interesting year. We have these two leaders—

GREG To be fair, Helen, and I’m going to put this to Raymond – as you’ve said, there’s been 12 months of patchy. We’ve had one good speech and kicking someone to the backbenches. That’s happened over one weekend. It needs to be more than that.

RAYMOND Yes, it does, and, you know, the public can be forgiven for not being able to distinguish Labour from National sometimes, and, I mean, this is the concern for many Labour Party people is that they don’t have a leader or haven’t had a leader who has been able to effectively take it to the opposition— to the government.

GREG Do they have that now?

RAYMOND Well, no. I think they’re stuck with Shearer now through to the 2014 election.

GREG Past February?

RAYMOND I think so. I don’t think that Cunliffe is a realistic proposition for February of next year.

GREG The fact remains, though, doesn’t it, whatever the outcome of last weekend, this is still a party divided left and right? There are factions in there. Whatever the outcome of that, there are people in there who are still not happy with David Shearer, Fran.

FRAN Yes, that’s true, but the party, to some degree, is also a broad church, because there's left and right also in National. I think one of the things that I took out of that interview which actually will resonate is essentially what he’s saying about being a more activist government is kind of moving as the United States is as well to shore up some of their own domestic industries. Now, this is happening because people realise the price of globalisation has been, you know, too much outsourcing and there is a need to bring stuff back.

GREG All right, we will leave that there.

Q + A – November 25, 2012


Hosted by Greg Boyed

In response to 2012 WRAP

GREG All right, so first of all left to right – politician of the year. Helen?

Well, it would have to be Russel Norman. I’m hoping it’ll be David Shearer next year and he’s starting off the end of this year in a good way. But, you know, he really has got— across his portfolios, he’s got mana, dignity, he works with principle and he’s really performed very well.

GREG Raymond?

DR RAYMOND MILLER – Political Scientist
Over the last three years, I would have said John Key – an outstanding leader for National. But not this year. For me, it’s Judith Collins. I think she’s one of those quiet achievers. She’s tough. She sounds as if she’s going to be the replacement to John Key when he eventually decides to go. So I would say Judith Collins.

GREG Fran?

FRAN O’SULLIVAN – NZ Herald Columnist
Russel Norman, and largely for the same sort of reasons as Helen’s enunciated. I mean, he has actually filled the vacuum as the de facto Opposition leader while David Shearer been on his training wheels. So his policies – a heck of a lot of them will not stand up fiscally, but the interesting thing about him is he is positioning himself for a very senior role in a coalition government if a left government takes over at the next election.

GREG For me it’s Winston Peters. He’s the Keith Richards of Parliament. Sure, he’s not leading it, but it’d be boring without him. Who struggled the most do you think, Fran?

FRAN Well, clearly Shearer. Shearer has struggled, and he’s been let down by poor staff work and particularly that big credibility problem over the tape that he couldn’t produce from the GCSB.

GREG Beyond that?

FRAN In terms of struggling with David Shearer?


FRAN Just a failure to really get across what he’s about. He started off with a vision, but we heard little about that, and now that vision has kind of become more morphed into what perhaps the party might want.

GREG Hekia Parata has had a shocker. John Banks hasn’t had a golden year. Who would you say struggled most, Raymond?

RAYMOND Well, I’d have to say Hekia Parata. I mean, really. At the beginning of the year, people were telling me that she was the future prime minister.

GREG She was the chosen one.

RAYMOND I mean, she was going to take over as National leader one day. But clearly she has not been able to get on top of that portfolio. Now, I know it’s tough to be an education minister, because there are all those teachers as well as all those parents and all those kids. But nevertheless, she mishandled a lot of things during the course of this year and had to back down and get help and so on, so I’d have to say her.

HELEN You have to like teachers, parents and kids to be the minister of education. I would…


FRAN That’s a good call.

HELEN I would say Bill English. I mean, actually, if you want to look at achievement – you know, really, the economy has been in a mess. He’s been unable to predict any of the things that— been unable to achieve the sort of fiscal balance he’s been seeking, been unable to go ahead with their policies on the asset sales—

FRAN Mm, but he’s retained confidence of the rating agencies.

HELEN …and unemployment has gone through the roof. Well, he might have retained the confidence of the rating agencies who have been proven wrong through the entire fiscal crisis. That’s not my badge of a good-performing politician.

GREG Probably most interesting I think politically this year – the two biggest influences on politics have been non-political figures. Kim Dotcom and Bronwyn Pullar have played a huge sway in the way the things have laid, haven’t they?

FRAN Mm. Mm-hm.

RAYMOND Yes, absolutely. And I mean, really, the Kim Dotcom thing hasn’t gone away.

HELEN There's been a stink about both of them and the issue of the integrity of this government has been raised on both of those issues.

FRAN Well, there's also the issue of the integrity of the actual people – Kim Dotcom, and also Bronwyn Pullar to a degree as well.

RAYMOND Kim Dotcom, a brilliant public relations effort from him—

GREG OK, really quickly, starting with you, Fran. The headline of next year is going to be what, do you think?

FRAN Well, I think early into the new year, and it’s too far ahead to predict otherwise, I think the headline is going to be the contest over whether the government will have the right to implement policy, particularly with its partial privatisation programme.

GREG Raymond?

RAYMOND “Case Against Kim Dotcom Fails”. I do honestly believe that there has been such an almighty mess-up by so many agencies – by the GCSB, by the police, by the government. I honestly do believe that one of the headlines next year will be that they failed.

GREG And Helen?

HELEN Massive vote against asset sales in the referendum which will be on next year.

GREG All right, all three of you, thank you very much. We will leave it there.

Q + A – November 25, 2012


Hosted by Greg Boyed

In response to JOHN KEY interview

GREG You’re back with Q+A and the panel – Raymond Miller, Fran O’Sullivan and Helen Kelly. First of all, a year into the second term, Raymond, there have been a lot of stumbles. Is this a prime minister and a party losing its way? The polls would suggest not.

DR RAYMOND MILLER – Political Scientist
The polls would suggest not, and I thought that was quite an accomplished performance today. You know, he is still rating at 42%. His party is rating at 45%. I checked on how Helen Clark was rating after four years in 2003, and she was at 36%. So despite the problems that National has had, its leader has really enjoyed strong popularity. And I think there are concerns, however. I mean, the unemployment issue I thought he dealt with rather poorly, because really, you know, we’re waiting for something to happen there.

GREG On the unemployment issue, in the clip Shane played to him, he did predict that it was going to keep falling. When we asked about it in the studio, he said, “It’s not for me to predict.”

And so did all those other economists predict that it was going to keep falling, and it keeps going up. And for him to say, the Prime Minister with these unemployment figures to say we’re on the right track is an absolute insult, and what a contrast with David Shearer, actually. Ideas, activism, get involved versus “we’re on the right track”. I mean, how can you possibly consider what's going on in the economy—?

GREG I feel like you’re going to start singing shortly!

HELEN Yeah, well, I might do.

RAYMOND It’s interesting that, you know, here at 7.3% – if you factor in all those New Zealanders who’ve gone to Australia who have been jobless, then it’s over 8%.

HELEN And we’re slipping relative to the OECD—

GREG Fran, on the Kim Dotcom thing. I found it very interesting. After we played the Kim Dotcom, he shot both those things down straight away. Didn’t ask for a question. Bang into it: “They’re both wrong.” What did you make of that?

FRAN O’SULLIVAN – NZ Herald Columnist
Well, he’s prepared and he’s done his homework and he’s not going to be caught flat-footed again. He’s had this come out of left field while he’s been away after the interview with Paul Holmes, so he’s had his team do a real recce through everything, and that’s what he should have been like earlier in the year, so he’s learnt some lessons by being caught out. He’s been much more—

GREG He said something there which I think— something that’s not been said. We had all the GCSB, we had the raid, all the rest of it. And the bottom line is Kim Dotcom still has questions to answer in America, and that’s not— if Kim Dotcom has his way, not going to happen any time soon. Shouldn’t that be the line John Key should have taken months ago on this, Raymond?

RAYMOND Yes, I agree with Fran. I think he really has— He handled it very badly and it began to have a corrosive effect on his credibility, because this sort of brain fade is not something you want as prime minister.

GREG What has it done trust-wise?


GREG What's it done trust-wise?

RAYMOND Well, I think it’s raised questions and, you know, there's still speculation around what Kim Dotcom has actually got by way of evidence, and that’s going to go— We won't know about that till next year.

HELEN And the raid – the type of raid raised questions from the beginning. Key’s taste for celebrity raises questions. The connection between Hollywood and him raises questions. I mean, actually, if this had just been a normal extradition process in the way that would normally be dealt with, then there wouldn’t be the questions raised. But, honestly, the old SWAT team coming in and the whispers behind closed doors with the Hollywood crowd has really raised serious questions about this whole affair.

GREG The Kim Dotcom affair aside, there have been a number of stumbles this year by the government. How long is the easy-going “oh, I can't remember. It’s not a problem. I don’t see it as an issue” – how long is that line going to hold him out for, Fran? Because it appears to be wearing a little bit thin.

FRAN Yes, it has worn thin, but I think what we saw today was perhaps a very determined attempt to put a line under that. I would imagine he’s going to be much more demanding of his ministers, being much more demanding that they’re on top of their stuff so that they don’t have the SNAFUs. But I think the greatest gift he’s had has actually been all his things being pushed off the front page by all the drama in the Labour Party. He’s been blessed with a lot of luck in this last part of the game.

GREG The other thing I’ve noticed as well – and this isn’t any conspiracy theory; this just appears to have happened – everything blows up and he’s not here. I mean, the Labour Party conference, he was away. So many things, he’s just been not here. Has that worked in his favour to an extent? It’s not sticking to him.

RAYMOND It’s not sticking to him and sometimes he’s Mr Fix-it. He’s there to try and, particularly in areas like education, try and sort things out. So he’s been very lucky to that extent. But back to Fran’s point, I think the public might begin to get tired of blaming the last lot for what's gone wrong. And secondly blaming the global financial crisis. I mean, that has worked up until now.

FRAN Well, it’s going to be a problem again, because Australia’s in a fair degree of trouble now as a result of, you know, the mining slow-down. I mean, we’re not out of the woods.

HELEN But we’re failing relative to Australia, relative to OECD countries. Our unemployment is worse relative to other countries—

FRAN We have been failing relative for a long, long time.

HELEN …so we can't keep blaming the international climate, and now, if Shearer gets on his tracks, which he appears to be doing, Key’s going to have this contrast which he hasn’t had to date. So he’s going to be the go-easy, easy-going—

FRAN But at the end of the day—

HELEN …glib sort of comments versus someone taking the economy very seriously.

FRAN …somebody’s going to have cost Labour’s promises.

GREG And it does come down to contrast. It does come down to contrast as well. You remember back to Helen Clark – John Key was a breath of fresh air to Helen. David Shearer is going to have to do that to the power of 10 to be a real alternative to John Key.

FRAN But when David Shearer was first elected as leader of the party, he said at that stage that they would adopt a conservative fiscal stance if they became government, and he really went back on the idea that you could just push stuff out again and they were going to meet the numbers and that. I think they will face constraints, and I don’t think it’s going to get any easier, because we’re still in relatively difficult climate internationally, and it’s not easy to do things like manipulate the exchange rate down. There's potentially a huge fiscal risk to the economy.

HELEN Easy to build trains here—

GREG All right, we’ll leave it there.

HELEN …and to have a triple bottom line.

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