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Q + A Episode 13: LAILA HARRE Interviewed by SUSAN WOOD

Q + A Episode 13
LAILA HARRE Interviewed by SUSAN WOOD

SUSAN: Long time unionist and left wing politician Laila Harre is back, she's been a member of Labour, New Labour, Alliance, and the Greens, and now she's taking the helm of the Internet Party, she joins me now good morning. Most political parties are built on something positive, on a movement, on beliefs. How can the Internet Mana Party which is built on yes, wanting to change a government, but an almost pathological dislike of the Prime Minister work? How can it be a force for good?

LAILA HARRE – Internet Party Leader: We do have a very clear mission in this election and that’s to change the government, and we've got – I'd like to talk about the ways that we plan to do that.

SUSAN: Sure, but it's pretty personal. I'm going to read your tweet from Kim Dotcom 30 May, just a couple of days ago. Hi John Key forget the universe or world politics, think of how insignificant you are on the Internet. The Internet will win this election. That’s nasty, it's personal.

LAILA: Well I don’t think he's the only person who has a real concern about the way that this government is keeping it's foot on the throat of economic development.

SUSAN: Yeah but it is nasty personal politics.

LAILA: The Internet Party has grown out of an existing constituency of people who are very concerned about the lost opportunities that we're seeing day by day with a government that’s making very short term pragmatic decisions and isn't enabling the full potential of the internet and of the technological revolution, to play a part in our lives.

SUSAN: Does this constituency, and we're talking about a lot of young people, cos I know you want to connect with that generation, our kids' generation actually Laila, is what we want to connect with. Are they understanding, cos I’ve heard some commentary this week they said 'Internet Party good we understood what it was, it was pretty much a single issue party.' We got that. You come along as a middle age woman as am I, you come along, Hone Harawira's Mana Party comes along and they go well what is this thing?

LAILA: Well actually the feedback that we've had has been almost entirely positive, and I think myself assuming the leadership and giving some credibility to the political sort of fronting and leading of the organisation, my determination to help younger candidates find their feet in the political process, our incredible engine room of people who are very strongly connected to youth culture, and have the skills and the savvy to bring the political world in to contact with young people.

SUSAN: How significant is this? Hundreds, thousands?

LAILA: Absolutely significant, I mean we have – well we have professional staff working for the Internet Party who represent I think some of the cream of talent in youth culture. We have a staff of about 20 to 30 I think. 20 people who are working in professional roles on the campaign.

SUSAN: And they're all paid….

LAILA: Well we also have thousands of volunteers. So we now have about 3,000 members of the Internet Party. I know that my inbox has been full over the last three days with extremely talented competent people offering to help us with this connection that they see is vital with younger New Zealanders in politics.

SUSAN: How wilI you connect? I read a story in the Herald on Sunday this morning. You talked about tweeting and you talked about connecting on Facebook…

LAILA: Well actually I talked about a lot more than that, but it's amazing what things …

SUSAN: John Key tweets it doesn’t make it cool.

LAILA: Absolutely it doesn’t make it cool and it's not the primary way in which we're going to connect during this election campaign. We've got three main targets in terms of our objective of bringing out new voters and voters who want to see a change of government. Firstly we do have to expand the vote. We have the disaster of half our young people not participating.

SUSAN: Maybe they think it is okay as it is...don’t want to participate because…

LAILA: Well that’s not what they tell us when we're out there. They have issues with the difficulty they face in getting jobs, they certainly know about their challenges in accessing decent Internet services. They want to engage in education. They have – there are many issues that young people tell us are motivating them to be more political.

SUSAN: Free tertiary education, 1.2 billion dollars a year… Free tertiary education, 1.2 billion a year, what are you going to cut to pay for it? Who's going to pay more tax to pay for it?

LAILA: See this is the kind of problem that we have to confront in the way we have our political discussions. We've got so used to politics being about throwing you know a million here or a billion there, back and forth across the table, without actually going back to the fundamental mandate that we need to get from New Zealanders about what kind of New Zealand we want. If New Zealanders want our education to be free, and that includes free tertiary education, then we have to find a way to deliver that, and we're going out there to talk about the kind of New Zealand that we want to live in, the kind of framework that that would require, and then we need to start getting down to the brass tacks of what has to be traded off or reprioritised to deliver the priorities of New Zealanders. But that is certainly a priority for us.

SUSAN: On this programme earlier this year we had Kim Dotcom, and he talked about the party, he was talking about the Internet Party setup, and I'm quoting him ' for the New Zealand youth, for entrepreneurs, for tax heavy people'. These are people highly taxed, how can you represent those people. That is the opposite of ….

LAILA: Well I've also been one of those people myself for most of my working life and it's something that I've never objected to.

SUSAN: Sounds like he objects to it.

LAILA : Well the point you just read gave no such indication to me. I think one of the great things about this party is it represents the sort of fullness and diversity of the internet generation. At one side we have cutting edge entrepreneurs, people who really see the opportunities in an expansion of this technology for New Zealand, and there's no question at all that we cannot get beyond our current economic malaise without a massive transformation.

SUSAN: Current economic malaise and we've got record growth numbers, but let's not argue with that.

LAILA : Well we don’t actually have record growth numbers. A lack of quality digital internet services in this country is probably costing us about 9% of our GDP. Look I live 2 kilometres from Downtown Auckland. My internet speed is 8 megabits per second. In South Korea the standard internet speed is 20 megabits per second and they're moving to 80 to a 100. When I lived in Te Atatu for 17 years I had higher internet speeds than I have in Mt Eden. Do you know why because people could not afford the internet. My neighbours couldn’t afford the internet in Te Atatu which meant I got faster internet in Te Atatu than I get in Mt Eden. Now that is what the digital divide looks like…

SUSAN: Three million dollars is a lot of money and it's a great opportunity ….

LAILA: It's an amazing opportunity.

SUSAN: Would you be doing it, would you be leading the party without that 3 million dollars?

LAILA: I think that the finances and the resources that are available to the Internet Party have been critical in my decision to go into this leadership position.

SUSAN: So you wouldn’t do it without the 3 million?

LAILA: Well this is what makes it doable. We have had …

SUSAN: So how much would you have done it for if there's been a million would you have done it, for 200 not?

LAILA: Susan, your kind of in the realm of hypothesis here. What I am doing this for …

SUSAN: But you wouldn’t have done it without the money would you?

LAILA: Absolutely, the combination …….

SUSAN: ……………….

LAILA: Sorry would you like me to answer the question? There is a unique combination of circumstances here. We have for the first time a significant resource available to a movement and a constituency that have been shut out of New Zealand politics for a long time. The rort, the 5% threshold means that up to a 100,000 votes can be discounted in a general election, even when we have 4 – 4.5% support for a particular set of values, a particular policy approach. So I make no apologies for seeing the sense in taking this opportunity, the availability of resources, fantastic leadership within the organisation, and a very serious problem to solve.

SUSAN: Thank you for your time this morning, Laila Harre.

ENDS

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