Q+A Oct 27 - Panel discussions
HOSTED BY SUSAN WOOD
In response to COLIN CRAIG interview
Time now to welcome the panel. Political Scientist Dr Raymond Miller from Auckland University; former Labour Party candidate Josie Pagani; and Michelle Boag, for National Party President who very kindly - you are such a trooper, Michelle - you’ve dropped everything and joined us this morning because David Farrar couldn’t make it from Wellington because of the issues with the flights this morning, so thank you for joining us. Michelle, I remember interviewing, actually, on Newstalk ZB, Colin a few years ago before the last election. And I came out of the interview - he didn’t have any policy, had no idea what was going on, and I came out shaking my head. A very different sort of man we saw today, I think.
MICHELLE BOAG - Former National Party
Quite a polished performance, and you’ve got to remember that several years in politics actually refines people and gives them experience. We saw that even with John Key when he first came into Parliament. What a much stronger performer he is now just from that experience. So we’re certainly seeing that with Colin Craig, but I also think the sniff of government has focused his mind on being much more rational in terms of the issues that are important, and I think the National Party would feel quite comfortable watching that performance with the prospect of him as an ally.
JOSIE PAGANI - Former
The problem is, though- I mean, there are other party members, right, and they haven’t really had the scrutiny that other parties have had. You’re right - the sniff of government will mean there’s a hell of lot more scrutiny on them now, and if you look at some of those policies, I think National will really struggle with this. There’s binding referendums, for a start. So, we just heard him talk about compulsory acquisitions of properties after five years if you don’t do anything with them. So are we going to have a binding referendum on that?
SUSAN Got a National Government who’s doing compulsory acquisitions in Christchurch.
JOSIE Or binding referendum on no taxes. I mean, he’d probably win that one. So binding referendums are pretty, you know, difficult. From what I can see from their policies, they’re climate-change deniers, they don’t like international agreements, so presumably that means, you know, you don’t support something that impinges on the sovereignty of somebody in a country to carry out genocide. You know, I don’t know what that means, and I think that’s the problem - that we don’t really know a lot about their policies. Um, I think another one was removing the restrictions on herbal medicines or herbal remedies or something. So there’s a bunch of wacky things there that could really be uncomfortable for National.
MICHELLE No more wacky than the Greens, for heaven’s sake. I mean, some of the Green’s stuff is just utterly ridiculous. They’d have us all closed down and no one even in business. So, you know, I think it’s all very well these parties having their policies. I’m sure that come the next election, the Conservatives will have policies. Yes, they might have some bottom lines, but at the end of the day, if they’re only 3 per cent and National’s 45, then there’s only so much they can ask for. And we’ve seen that with ACT. They got a couple of things across the line, but most of their platform, they weren’t able to get adopted. So they’ll have to decide which ones are important to them and which ones they’ve got the most potential for getting across the line.
JOSIE But the point is there’s no
consistent vision there. A lot of things the Greens do, I
don’t agree with, but the Greens are
SUSAN I’ve just got to say, though, talking with Colin before than interview. We’re a year away. I said, ‘policy’. He said, ‘Look, we’ll start to see that coming out next year more.’ So I think we’ve got to cut them some slack around that, don’t we, Raymond?
DR RAYMOND MILLER - Political Scientist
Yes, I think so. What struck me is the way he talked. This is very much NZ First without Winston Peters, in fact, you know. The problem for National is Winston Peters, not NZ First, and I think they’ve adopted quite a few of the kind of populist NZ First policies, because they had, as you said, a kind of grab bag of ideas before a last election. But one of the interesting things is that they’re exploiting one of the weaknesses of MMP, which is the one electorate seat threshold, because how he’s going to get into Parliament will be by winning an electorate seat, not by reaching the 5 per cent threshold, I would think. Now, what this means, of course, is that a party’s on the cusp of irrelevance for 35 months. In the 36th month, they’re gifted a whole bunch of voters by another political party in order to win a seat, and then, hey presto, in a matter of days, they’re sitting around the table negotiating the terms of the next government. Now, this some would see as kind of a bogus political party and much like ACT and United Future, where they really are exploiting the opportunity provided by MMP to get themselves into potentially a very powerful position. I don’t blame them. If it was Labour, they would be doing the same.
MICHELLE Well, Labour did do the same thing. Jim Anderton for many years.
JOSIE No, no, no. He won his seat.
MICHELLE He won his seat.
JOSIE And he would have won his seat off Labour.
MICHELLE Yeah, but that’s not the point.
RAYMOND They did it with United Future.
MICHELLE And they did it with United Future as well, and I think Raymond’s point about NZ First is quite right. And let’s not forget that most of us wouldn’t have a clue who all the other people are in NZ First, and they don’t undergo a lot of scrutiny. NZ First is Winston Peters, and if the Conservatives is Colin Craig, it’s not going to be much different. In fact, I think-
JOSIE The interesting thing, though, is that they’ve got Winston Peters keeping them in line. That’s the other thing. But I don’t think John Key has ruled out a cup of tea. He’s just not going to pay for a cup of tea. He’s still going to want to do some sort of deal, and the National Party’s talking up Conservatives big-time, so that’s that only pathway into government.
MICHELLE But that’s not their only pathway. They could still do a deal in Epsom, and I’m sure they will. If they have the Conservatives- One extra bonus about the Conservatives - not only is the new seat out that way, but I’m sure Raymond’s right. The Conservatives will take votes from Winston Peters, and that’s something very critical for John Key.
SUSAN Raymond, let me ask you, because I sitting out there chatting to Colin before that interview. He talked about the party mechanism of NZ First and some real problems behind the scenes with that, he thinks, and he thinks their party is way more together. And he made the point in that interview. He talked about it being a functional, united party. That’s pretty important, isn’t it?
RAYMOND Yes, it is important, but, of course, he wants to try to reveal whatever weaknesses he can see in NZ First. I mean, let’s face it, um, NZ First will reply. This is not a grassroots party, this Conservative Party. This is a party that is bankrolled by a very wealthy individual. He has built the party up himself. In a way, Winston did the same thing way back in 1993, but there are a lot of people who have been solid supporters of NZ First since then. There’s no question that it’s a party that really would not function without Winston.
JOSIE And interestingly enough, Winston’s announcement this week about nationalising KiwiSaver, that’s a very cynical appeal to elderly New Zealanders who don’t have KiwiSaver, who are not putting money into KiwiSaver. And if you think about it, I mean, that tells you a lot about what NZ First’s tactic is going to be again this election. That they will go after the elderly vote, they’ll pitch young against old. They used the KiwiSaver policy announcement as a way of attacking, saying, ‘We’ll bring back the assets.’
RAYMOND One of the interesting things Michael did ask about was the Christian aspect, and he didn’t stand away from it. But he can see to be an avowedly Christian party means there’s certain stigmatisations, certain marginalisation. He doesn’t want that.
SUSAN So there’s a line that’s been drawn between them. The Conservatives, not the Christian Conservatives.
RAYMOND That’s right. ‘We are social conservatives. There are Christians who might support us, but social.’
SUSAN Social and fiscal conservatives.
RAYMOND That’s right.
JOSIE Then he’s going to do things like their policy is to remove GST off healthy foods. Now, that was a Labour Party policy in the last election. So there’s a funny smorgasbord mixture here of slightly leftie policies-
SUSAN But, Michelle, an older voter, perhaps, a conservative voter and small business. Talking to them is not silly, either, is it?
MICHELLE Absolutely. I think the risk for National is that some of those Conservative voters will come from a National vote, but if they’re going to dislodge, they’d much rather have then dislodging to a party on the right than the Labour Party. And so I think, for National, the rise of the Conservatives, the reasons why they’re talking them up, is to give themselves more choice. ACT, plus the Conservatives, and with a bit of luck, the Conservatives will gut NZ First.
RAYMOND They’ll be lucky if there’s ACT, but, I mean, I do-
MICHELLE There will. There will be ACT in Epsom.
SUSAN All right. We have to leave it there, panel. Thank you.
HOSTED BY SUSAN WOOD
In response to STEVEN JOYCE interview
Welcome back to the panel. Dr Raymond Miller, Josie Pagani and Michelle Boag. A spirited defence of what the National Government is doing in the regions, Josie. Are you buying it? They say it’s about exploring economic opportunities.
PAGANI - Former Labour
I found him defensive, actually, and if I was sitting in the regions listening to that, I’d think, well, there’s no great urgency from the government here that there’s a problem even to fix. You know, he seemed to be saying, ‘Well, there isn’t really a problem, and you can always get on a train and go to Wellington if you live in Shannon.’ So I think that’s the first thing. That you either believe that the regions are the engine driver of our economy, or you don’t. And if you don’t, you think that the economy’s driven by latte-makers and hairdressers in Auckland. So, you know, I don’t see any vision there for taking us anywhere beyond- I mean, I’ve heard every politician for years talk about the logs on the wharf front, to turn those logs into something like the IKEA of the Pacific. That requires a sense of urgency and a bigger vision than simply build more roads and get people into the cities. Um, I was in San Francisco recently watching us lose the America’s Cup, and out at Stanford University, and when you get to Stanford University, you realise that the fact that that university exists, the fact that all the best minds and IT minds in the world came there is why Google and Apple and Facebook sort of gravitated to that region and built up around Stanford University. So that’s what we need here. Now, a city like Nelson, a region like Nelson is the biggest seafood region in NZ, so that’s where all the scientists go because we built a research centre there. We made sure that the best fish scientists would go there. The industries are based there. So there’s a real business-government partnership there that works, and, as a result, Nelson has one of the lowest unemployment rates in NZ.
SUSAN Michelle, are you hearing a lack of vision from this government around what’s happening in the regions?
MICHELLE BOAG - Former National Party President
Not at all. I think that what we’re suffering from here is a very simplistic argument, and it’s very easy to say, ‘Oh, gee, the regions are suffering.’ The facts don’t bear that out. The facts are that every region except Southland has grown, and Southland just has stayed the same. It hasn’t gone back. Josie’s right. Nelson has the highest per capita, per household income of any of the regions, and that’s because there’s so much economic activity there, and that translates into lower unemployment rates. Can I just say here I thought it was completely inappropriate for Michael to accuse Steven Joyce of Cunliffe bashing when all he was doing was responding to something that Cunliffe had said in attack on government and the policy, and in fact all he was doing was giving the facts. And I thought that was indicated a journalist who perhaps needed to think a bit more about the substance of his argument.
SUSAN Well, he’s not here to defend himself on the panel, sadly.
MICHELLE Yeah, but that’s pretty indefensible to call it Cunliffe bashing when it’s purely political debate. But the fact is that the information about what’s happening in the regions bears out that they are all growing, and, of course, the ones that have the lowest unemployment are the ones where there is economic activity, like Taranaki, like Waikato. Wellington is actually bolstered by all the government activity there, and the areas that need economic development, like Northland, should be exploiting their resources, because jobs is the only way to create that wealth.
SUSAN Let me bring Raymond in here. It is interesting, because we’ve seen David Cunliffe out in the regions this week, talking to workers. Labour making a big play about the differences between the regions and Auckland and Christchurch, essentially. Is it going to get some political mileage, this?
DR RAYMOND MILLER - Political
The problem is it is a lopsided economy. No one would dispute that. I mean, you just need to look at the United Kingdom. The southeast of England, for instance, is so much more prosperous than the rest of the UK, where there is a lot of regional decline. This is going to be a big issue over the next few months, and, in a sense, both are right. National is right to say there’s been modest population growth in many of the regions and that there is uneven performance that some regions are doing well. Labour is right in saying there are a lot of unemployed people in certain pockets of the country.
SUSAN Northland, particularly.
RAYMOND In Northland, around the Huntly area, and we could go on, in areas like mining and forestry and so on. I think this is going to be a big issue over the next 12 months, in part because Labour did very badly in the regions over the last two elections. Not only did they lose virtually all their regional seats, including seats like East Coast and Rotorua and Taupo and New Plymouth and so on, but it saw its party list vote drop by one third to one half in many of these seats. So from Labour’s point of view, they’ve got a lot of gains to make, and they realise that the election could well be fought in the regions of NZ.
JOSIE That’s very interesting, and I agree with that. I think Labour has been very weak in the regions, and it’s interesting that David Cunliffe has chosen regional development as his portfolio. Also interesting that National has never had a minister of regional development. Now, you know, Labour had Jim Anderton in the last government, and, you know, boy, did he get involved in the regions. I mean, that’s why Nelson is so strong, because he went down there and he opened a research centre. There’s a wine research centre. There’s an economic development base down there that was started under that government. So-
MICHELLE Yeah, but there’s also a very strong economic base on the West Coast based on mining. And if we have a Labour-Greens Government, that’s going to disappear. I mean, the West Coast has an average house price of $86,000-
JOSIE No, I disagree with that. It’s not going to disappear.
MICHELLE They have unemployment of around 5 per cent. Now, you can’t have one the one hand saying we can’t have resource development, and on the other hand, have a region that’s doing well. Even though they have had some shocks over the last couple of years, they’re still doing incredibly well.
SUSAN Well, same in Taranaki. Really high income because of the oil and gas.
JOSIE And I agree. Yep, absolutely. That’s right. And, I mean, I come from the side of the Labour Party that’s pro-development, because whether we like it or not, we’re going to depend on oil for the next decades or so, and I’d rather the benefits were in NZ. But one thing that the botulism and the Fonterra scandal showed us is that you cannot be dependent on one or even two export bases.
SUSAN It sounds like an argument for developing oil and gas and all those things.
JOSIE Absolutely. No, but what I’m saying is that it’s not just oil and gas. If we think oil and gas is going to save the regions, it isn’t. You know, we’ve got to do that and more. And that’s what I’m not seeing in this government. I’m not seeing anything that says here’s the Stanford University Google vision, you know?
RAYMOND I don’t think there are any quite-fix solutions to some of these problems. This is the point. I think in Steven Joyce, the government has got an extremely articulate defender of its position on regional development. It’s very hard to challenge some of the things he says simply because he’s always very well-informed. He can be very clever, but on the other hand, it’s really behoves Labour and the Greens to be able to demonstrate that they can provide realistic answers in areas where there is economic decline.
SUSAN Very good, and, Josie, they’ve come up this week with something about a regional taskforce. What are they actually offering? what is Labour offering the regions?
JOSIE I think it’s got to come from the regions. That’s the point. And when it’s worked, it’s been because, let’s say, the people of Nelson and that region have gone, ‘Well, we do seafood and wine. Those are our areas of expertise, and here’s what we want from government.’ So you’ve got to do it.
MICHELLE But they’re exploiting a resource.
JOSIE Yeah, and it’s good.
MICHELLE And we’ve seen the Greens saying, ‘Oh, no, you can’t have salmon farming, you can’t have aquaculture’, and that’s what that region is built on.
JOSIE So let’s look at another region, for example. Down in Southland, the government’s just given $30 million to keep Rio Tinto here only in the short term. That’s not a growth plan, right? If you’d given $30 million to set up a design school, set up a place where you actually look at what you do with that aluminium.
MICHELLE That’s what the Callaghan Institute is.
JOSIE Exactly. Yeah.
MICHELLE That’s what it is, and that is going on. The fact is that Southland is the only region where population didn’t grow. So if they hadn’t given them that money, they’d be in decline, and the Labour Party would be saying this is absolutely terrible.
JOSIE If you drop that money into design so you were making the iPod chassis. We’re never going to make iPods, but we could make the aluminium chassis-
MICHELLE But we’re doing that.
SUSAN We’ll leave you two ladies to argue on in the break. (ALL CHUCKLE)