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Q+A Panel Discussion 1 - Response to Peter Dunne Interview

Sunday 5th  May, 2013
Attached is the transcript from today’s first panel discussion.
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PANEL DISCUSSION 1 - in response to Peter Dunne interview
Time to welcome the panel. Dr Raymond Miller, from Auckland University; Josie Pagani, former Labour Party candidate; and the CEO of Business New Zealand Phil O’Reilly. Good morning to you all. Rod Drury came out this week, Phil, and said government’s IRD computer systems should be made locally, should be done in smaller packages, I think he was saying. Have we got the capability to do it here?
PHIL O’REILLY, CEO of Business New Zealand
I was talking to Naomi Ferguson just this week, who’s the commissioner of IRD, and she’s made a real commitment to actually trying to involve and engage New Zealand companies, and that’s great. One of the things you notice about systems like this is that inevitably it’ll be a bit of a world effort. There’ll be some companies in the United States or the UK that’ll have particular skills. But the fact that the commissioner is really engaging locally is going to be quite an important piece. Bear in mind that the cost of this thing is nothing much compared to the benefit of what New Zealand will get. Some of the opportunities for business to reduce compliance costs alone would blow a billion dollars out of the water right there. So the trick is, I think, to have a debate about what the value is to New Zealand Inc. rather than simply saying, ‘Oh, it’s a lot of money.’ We should think about those two things.
Josie, you could argue that, actually, for computer systems right across the government services, couldn’t you? That there’s benefits in having efficient, up-to-date modern technology.
JOSIE PAGANI, former Labour Party candidate
Oh, absolutely. And, I mean, listening to that interview, he sounds imminently sensible, doesn’t he? And that’s the thing that Peter Dunne has. There were some great quotes in that interview. ‘The flickering flame of liberal democracy’; the Peter Dunne matrix, how he decides how he’s going to vote. I often disagree with Peter politically, but you’d have to say that he has wielded his vote and his influence responsibly, and I think most people would look at him and go, you know, ‘you’ve used your swing vote for an extension of paid parental leave, for Monday-isation. You’ve taken a considered position; you haven’t necessarily backed the government’. And I think he deserves respect for that.
Raymond, on this big IRD $1.5 billion spend, Peter Dunne made the point that this is a long-term thing, as we know. Now, Novopay, of course, we saw Labour started it, National brings it in. Something like this needs a commitment of many governments, doesn’t it, whatever colour or shade they may be.
DR RAYMOND MILLER, Political Scientist
It does, and I agree with Josie - I think he has presented very credibly, because the numbers, quite frankly, feel, to the general public, mind-boggling. People just can’t understand why $1.5 billion. But he’s saying it’s over a period of time. There’s going to be a review process. And he’s holding out the hope that a lot of local companies will be able to buy into this. So I think he’s done it very well and said it’s over a long period of time. It’s going to obviously be done by other governments as well as his one. So I think it’s going to be very credibly presented and I think it’s not going to be an issue which is going to incite much public debate.
He also talked about lessons learned, Phil, and we go right back to the police computer- There have been plenty of cock-ups with government computer systems.
In Wellington Novopay’s turned into a verb. ‘You’ve been Novopaid’. It’s crazy. And as a result, there’s a real political desire to make sure that these things run well, hence all of the work going on. I’m sitting on several committees with IRD trying to work out how we do this best, for example, so lots of consultation, lots of consideration. This thing’s taking place over 10 years or so. That’s all not just because it’s the key system - IRD is the thing; you need to raise tax in order to run an effective government - but it’s also just a reaction to all of that stuff.
The future of United Future. They were a lot bigger.
They were. Now, he’s a political survivor. He’s been in parliament 28 years. He was a minister under a Labour government, then under National, then under Labour, then under National. I mean, it’s quite remarkable, really. But his value has been somewhat discounted of late because he is a sole member of parliament for his party. Now, when you have a look he has been trying to appeal to Labour voters in his constituency by saying that he can work constructively with Labour. He has been appealing to National voters - ‘I can work constructively with National’ - which has worked quite well for him in the past. But we now do see his majority slipping quite badly. It’s 12,500, then it went down to 1000 and now 1400. So he’s in a highly marginal seat, and the problem for him, I think, that unlike 2002, when he brought eight other MPs into parliament, there’s just the one. That’s Peter Dunne. So the problem is it’s harder for him to sell his value to either Labour or National when it’s just him.
And I think there’s a sense, isn’t there, that he’s got principles, but how deep are they? And there’s a feeling that, ‘I’ve got principles, but if you don’t like these, I’ve got some others’. And there’s that generally slightly negative feeling that if you can go with National one day and Labour another day, how deep do-
Is that a fair criticism or is that just being pragmatic? Is that pragmatic politics?
Well, he is a pragmatic politician. If he were in Britain he would be in the Liberal Democrats. He is a kind of old-fashioned liberal politician. But on the other hand he is highly pragmatic. He understands MMP well. His first party, United Party, was formed in the expectation of MMP.
And I would say, too, that not all deals are the same. I mean, Jessica mentioned the cup of tea - ‘will you have a cup of tea with the prime minister next time round?’ I mean, Peter Dunne is like Jim Anderton. He won that seat. Jim Anderton won Wigram. Labour couldn’t win it off him, and National probably couldn’t win it off Peter Dunne. So they actually have a legitimate claim on that seat, unlike John Banks or ACT Party in Epsom, where it’s basically a National seat and National just threw the ball to them and said, ‘Here, have it.’ So I think not all deals are the same, and it’s worth actually looking at that and going, you know, Peter Dunne has earned that seat.
I’ve been dealing with him for 25 years now, and I think the reason that it works for him is that he’s very approachable, he has an excellent offsider, a guy called Rob Eddy, who’s his senior private secretary - an outstanding political operator. And yes, to all the points you’ve made, he’s pragmatic, but he’s also predictable, you can talk to him, he’s always open to a meeting, he’ll change his view if there’s a sensible debate to be had. So he’s the opposite to this kind of politician who says, ‘What’s in it for me?’ He’s actually a much more reasoned sort of guy. I actually find him very very simple to deal with, very easy to deal with, as a matter of fact, when he was in Labour or National governments.           
This guy’s seriously influential. I mean, he managed to bring the global phenomena of planking to an end just by doing it. Imagine if he- If he took up binge drinking, we could solve teenage binge drinking. It would stop overnight.
Look, here we have it. This on Back Benches. Peter Dunne planking. (CLIP PLAYED) That was the end of it. It was no longer cool.
He will be remembered for more than that, I’m sure.
We could have asked him to do it here, really, couldn’t we?
But Labour will think they can win that seat next year. They’ll be less inclined to do deals with Peter Dunne. But really quite seriously, there is a need, perhaps, for a cup of tea with the prime minister very close to the next election. In the meantime I think it’s very important to keep his party, his profile as high as possible with a view to pushing it up in the poles.
And it’s a different kind of cup of tea. That’s my point. I mean, he actually has a legitimate claim on that seat.


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