AGENDA May 8 Transcript
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DR DON BRASH Interviewed by SIMON DALLOW
SIMON The week's news has been dominated by the Hikoi to parliament largely prompted by Maori dissatisfaction over the government's proposed foreshore and seabed legislation. National claims that the bill in its current form gives Maori special treatment over other New Zealanders. I'm joined now by the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Don Brash. Dr Brash how can 20,000 people have got it wrong, why are Maori upset if as you claim they're receiving special treatment in this legislation.
DON Well I think they’ve got wrong basically because over the last 12 months since the Court of Appeal decision in the middle of last year the government has dithered on this issue, they’ve gone backwards and forwards, they’ve had hui they’ve changed the position four or five times and I think that’s led to a number of people having quite unrealistic expectations about what the government could and would do.
SIMON But the hui rejected the government's proposals at the time I mean they were pretty unanimous in that.
DON That’s true.
SIMON So where did they get the misleading information?
DON Well I think the government kept suggesting that with public domain and with customary rights and with customary title and various other words they used, that there'll be more given than in fact could be given. The Prime Minister in fact began correctly on this thing, she said way back in the middle of last year the parliament should legislate for Crown ownership of the seabed and foreshore and she'd stopped a that point I think the expectations…
SIMON And legislated.
DON And legislated, expectations would have been more realistic.
SIMON That’s what we've got now, that’s where we've ended up.
DON Well no it's not, it's not, I mean basically the parliament is legislating to have the foreshore and seabed in Crown ownership and that’s good and if that’s all the bill did National would be supporting it, but unfortunately the bill goes on to day we'll create two new jurisdictions one is called ancestral connection which is only open to Maori and which some experts believe will cover a large part of the total coastline and the other thing is customary rights which in theory is open to both Maori and non Maori but to establish a customary right you have to establish you have a cultural interest in the piece of coastline that you've had that interest since 1840 and that it's an interest which you have as a group not as an individual, now realistically only Maori will be able to establish that.
SIMON But consultation rights already existed to a large extent particularly under the RMA so why complain so loudly about them now particularly vis a vis title rights being removed?
DON Well my own view is, our view, the National's view is that the RMA itself goes well beyond what it should do. I think clearly all New Zealanders should have a right to object when people are doing things which interfere with their own property rights but the RMA…
SIMON But didn’t Maori have those property rights isn't that why they feel aggrieved they didn’t have a right then to ….
DON No on the contrary Maori surrendered sovereignty to New Zealand in 1840, I think that’s one of the fundamental points at issue here, there's a feeling that somehow Maori did not surrender sovereignty and that they should therefore still own the seabed and the foreshore. Maori surrendered sovereignty in the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 clear from the preamble of Treaty, clear from Clause 1, so basically that’s the point to establish. The Crown owns the seabed and the foreshore and since the 1860s it's been a clear understanding by most New Zealanders that the Crown owned the seabed and the foreshore, and that that could not ….
SIMON Understanding based on what, why has that understanding been in place?
DON Well basically most of the laws, in fact all of the laws between 1870 and the early 1990s made it clear that the seabed and foreshore could not be sold except by Act of Parliament. Now through a drafting error in 1991 that provision.
SIMON That couldn't be retrospective though you’re saying that wiped out customary title or aboriginal title rights?
DON Absolutely clear that the law, it was unambiguous that the foreshore and seabed could not be sold by the Crown except by Act of Parliament.
SIMON Some of the precedent that you’re referring to though has been rejected by the Court of Appeal as being wrong.
DON Well the Court of Appeal of course was operating in the post 1991 environment, and it was acknowledged by the Prime Minister and indeed by us that through a drafting error what had been established law from 1870 until 1991 was inadvertently dropped. Now clearly parliament has the responsibility to put the framework back in place and that’s what we would have favoured doing, to establish the Crown owned the seabed and the foreshore for all New Zealanders and that it cannot be sold without Act of Parliament.
SIMON Whatever way you look at it there's a lot of disaffection, there's disaffection with National, disaffection with Labour from the Maori side. What is National planning to do to pick up those Maori voters who have had a gutsful of Labour?
DON Well I'm intrigued by the fact that since my speech to the Orewa Rotary Club back in January there've been quite a lot of Maori have contacted me and said look that’s all we want, we want to be treated like every other New Zealander, no special rights, no special privileges, like all other New Zealanders.
SIMON But they also don’t want their rights legislated away retrospectively.
DON Well some, some, some.
SIMON Isn't this out of proportion though, we're talking some not all, and I mean at times we're being portrayed as this small minority as reflecting the opinion of Maori generally.
DON Indeed that’s right, and that’s what I'm saying, I think many Maori are agreeing with the line that the National Party is taking on this issue. Frankly the minority believe that somehow they own the seabed and the foreshore and the Crown is confiscating that, that is simply no the case.
SIMON Wasn’t the Hikoi not just about this foreshore and seabed, the Hikoi was really about an amalgam of disaffection that had built up over time.
DON That’s true, that’s true, and indeed some of it is not legal, some of it's economic, some of the feeling that we've been dispossessed we don’t have the same affluence and wealth as other New Zealanders have, and frankly that suggests to me that the present set of policies are failing Maori. I believe the National Party has got a better set of policies for Maori and other New Zealanders.
SIMON What are they?
DON Well first of all welfare reform. We've got a situation where the welfare system is creating a culture of dependency in New Zealand and Maori are in some sense the beneficiary of that, but mainly they're the victims of that. We should change that system so that Maori can perform like other New Zealanders.
SIMON And how specifically what can they do, what sort of details?
DON I don’t think we're yet able to announce that in detail, but a situation where today despite the buoyancy of the economy we have almost 330,000 adult working age New Zealanders on a benefit, that’s an outrage.
SIMON Is it essentially your position that you’re appealing to Maori on the basis that they should feel encouraged to buy a belief in a single standard of citizenship, is that what you’re saying that one standard is beneficial to Maori.
DON Absolutely, it's beneficial to all New Zealanders. If we start running a country with two different rules one for Maori and one for other New Zealanders I think we're in serious trouble right down the track.
SIMON Would you have met the Hikoi, would you have gone out and met them had you been Prime Minister?
DON Had I been Prime Minister yes, because this was a debate between the Maori community and the government, I didn’t meet them as Opposition Leader because it wasn’t a debate about what the Opposition felt. So yes I would have met them had I been Prime Minister.
SIMON Well in the midst of all the media attention on the Hikoi National's also released the socalled Creech Report looking into the relationship between New Zealand and the US and in particular the effect on our no nucs policy. Dr Brash on the nuclear question – after the break.
SIMON Well the Hikoi's been and gone and as it went National released the long awaited Creech Report examining the effects of our no nucs policy on US New Zealand relations. Well let's recap the history briefly, the early 80s were marked by protests against US naval vessels leading to Labour in 1985 refusing admission to the USS Buchanan because the United States would not specify whether it carried nuclear weapons, the neither confirm nor deny policy. Now that led to the US suspending its security guarantee to New Zealand under the ANZUS Treaty and then in 1987 the passage of the nuclear free legislation barring entry to nuclear powered vessels and requiring the Prime Minister to be satisfied there were no nuclear weapons on any vessels in New Zealand. At first National opposed that legislation but in a run-up to the 1990 elections suddenly reversed its position and backed Labour. Now National's just released a report from the committee chaired by former MP Wyatt Creech reviewing its stance. Dr Brash what's the main thrust of the report?
DON Well let me first of all begin by saying this is not National Party policy at this stage, it's a discussion document released for public and party reaction. The basic thrust of the report is that over the last 20 years as you have indicated in your intro, the relationship between New Zealand and the US and also New Zealand and Australia as a consequence, has been a little more distant than it used to be in the past, and the report is basically saying look if we want to get that relationship back on track we have to try to find some way through the current impasse. What it says is there's no question at all that we must retain a legislative ban on nuclear weapons, that’s not on the table for discussion. What they're saying though is that we might be able to follow Denmark's example and remove the legislative ban on nuclear powered ships but still retain a policy ban on those, that’s what Denmark does. Denmark has no ban on nuclear powered ships in its law, but nevertheless has made it clear it does not want nuclear powered ship and hasn’t had any since 1964.
SIMON We'll come back to the Danish solution in a little moment but firstly from a media perspective it's curious that you released it in the middle of a domestic political maelstrom, it's as if you were trying to bury the report.
DON Well that was certainly the impression created and I regret that, basically we had hoped to release this report later in May, we'd hoped to have a nice printed glossy document to release, but over the weekend gone last weekend and Monday and Tuesday there seemed to be indications that quite a lot of the contents of the report had been leaked, and we were getting media reports about what it said and what it might say and I judged that it was important to get the document out quickly, so we released it in fact in photocopied form, unprinted, yes we released it on the day of the Hikoi and that created the impression we were trying to bury it but frankly if we'd released it the following day we'd have been accused of burying it under the seabed and foreshore legislation. If one of the Maori MPs had resigned on Thursday night or Friday morning we'd have been accused of burying it under that, so this has been a turbulent week and almost no matter which day we used people might have suspected us of trying to bury it, we're not trying to bury it, we're trying to be open transparent and say look this is a proposition from Wyatt Creech and six others, let's look at it seriously.
SIMON We understand you've got a trip to the US coming up, what's that for?
DON More than that, I have a trip to the US to the UK to China and to Australia, it's my first major trip overseas since becoming Leader of the National Party, I think it's important as Opposition Leader that I have contacts with those governments and indeed the opposition parties in those countries.
SIMON What will be national's Approach regarding the no nucs legislation, if this isn't policy yet how are you going to go about attacking it?
DON Well I've said basically we're looking for feedback from the public and from the party, it appears to be a possibility of a win win situation, but what I've said very clearly in releasing it there will be no change in National's policy on this issue, which is basically support for the current law banning both weapons and nuclear propelled ships without some kind of explicit public mandate for that.
SIMON So a referendum?
DON A referendum or a National victory after we've made it quite clear what our policy will be in the next election. We will not try to sneak this through under cover of some other policy.
SIMON If you do put it to a referendum will it be binding.
DON Oh it would have to be, I think we can't say we'll have a referendum on this issue and then ignore it, what we are saying I think is that this is such an important issue for New Zealanders that it would be inappropriate to change the policy whenever governments change. Clearly this has gotta be something which New Zealanders in general feel comfortable with and we're saying we can maintain an effective ban on having nuclear ships in our ports without having that written into law. It's worth recalling also that the only American naval ships now nuclear propelled are the submarines and the very large carriers.
SIMON Well they removed nuclear weapons in 1992.
DON Weapons have gone more than ten years ago.
SIMON But how many ships are we actually talking about that carry nuclear weapons, how many surface ships?
DON None, none at all.
SIMON Aircraft carriers?
DON No, they don’t, the Americans said in 1992 as you indicated there are no American surface vessels carrying nuclear weapons.
SIMON How many are nuclear propelled should I say then?
DON Nuclear propelled, only the aircraft carriers.
SIMON And so they're likely to come here?
DON Well basically not, they're very large, most of them couldn't get into New Zealand ports, but in a any case any naval ship comes at the invitation of the New Zealand government.
SIMON What guarantees then would there be that the ships do not bring in nuclear weapons, is there any way of guaranteeing that?
DON Well you can never guarantee that for anybody, but what the American government has said explicitly none of their surface ships carry nuclear weapons and frankly that’s not affected by whether the law says one thing or the other, basically the law would remain, no nuclear weapons, that would not change. So the only thing we're talking about is nuclear propulsion and even that we're saying we could not move on that without a strong public mandate for change.
SIMON Phil Goff maintains you told an American congressional delegation back in January that the nuclear policy – the nuclear ban would be gone quite before lunch, did you, did you say that?
DON This was four months ago, it was an informal meeting before the American senators had a golf game, it was back in January, we chatted amicably about a range of issues, certainly I'm sure I said something like I'm hoping very much we can resolve this impasse and from my point of view.
SIMON Yes, no, or I don’t remember.
DON I don’t remember.
SIMON You don’t remember.
DON I mean before lunchtime sounds a most implausible thing for me to have said frankly.
SIMON Did you make any implicit promises that National come to power.
DON I can't make implicit promises because clearly this is a legislative thing we had not discussed it as a caucus, now I couldn't make a promise of any kind, but what I do what is a resolution to the impasse which for 20 years has kept us at arms length from our closest friends.
SIMON How important then is it to get ANZUS up and running again, this is really what your alluding to isn't it, we must have ANZUS back?
DON Well I'm not sure whether the particular framework of that treaty is necessarily important.
SIMON But the relationship.
DON But the relationship is important, I mean Australia is also kept at a distance because Australia was within the US security loop and within the US intelligence loop, we're outside it and I think in a dangerous world that has risks for us.
SIMON This morning in the Dominion you've probably heard already on the programme Simon Power saying that National would essentially if in power cede defence sovereignty and go wherever America Britain and Australia goes.
DON Yes, I think that was a very unfortunate interpretation of what Simon Power said. It's certainly not my view, any sovereign country has to retain a right to say when they send troops to war.
SIMON You said it's an interpretation, what did he say then?
DON To be absolutely honest I'm embarrassed to say I have not the read the speech. Now most I think people hadn't read the speech either which is why it didn’t appear until this morning's Dominion. It was actually given last Saturday.
SIMON So when you say an unfortunate interpretation it's the interpretation that you’re assuming that we've made, you can't say for certain that he didn’t say those words?
DON I can't, I haven't seen either the speech or the Dominion Post's report on the speech, but I think it'll be quite clear no National government, no New Zealand government, Labour or National would be willing to cede sovereignty over who sends and when troops are sent to war.
SIMON Let's go back to the report, the report concludes with the recommendation as you said earlier that we follow the Danish example, Denmark has a no nucs policy but nothing in legislation. You’re saying that we should follow that simply by repealing the ban on nuclear propelled weapons and that is a hybrid.
DON Nuclear propelled ships.
SIMON Sorry nuclear propelled ships yes.
DON I'm saying we should retain the legal ban, the legislative ban on nuclear weapons, but I'm saying we do not need the legislative ban on nuclear propelled ships and effectively that would enable us to do as Denmark does, simply not invite nuclear propelled ships to New Zealand.
SIMON Denmark's situation is not as simple as it's portrayed in that report, I mean Denmark's had a number of instances of its no nucs policy being breached by the US.
DON No no, the references in the Dominion to that effect are quite incorrect they’ve had ships in their ports which may have had nuclear weapons on before 1992 because the Americans at that point had nuclear weapons on their surface ships.
SIMON It goes beyond that though, I mean we've got the bulletin of Atomic Scientists in November December 99 refers to this situation and says effectively that the US has taken advantage of Denmark by having this policy that there have been a number of nuclear weapons deployed post the agreement between the US and Denmark, that weapons were deployed in 1957 and 1968 so of course we had Tulagate, so what I'm saying is that we've got a situation here where you’re holding Denmark up as a model but in reality there have been breaches.
DON No no, no breaches at all. We're talking about two different things, weapons and propulsion. The Americans had nuclear weapons on their ships until 1992, our ban on that will remain. Nuclear propulsion is the only thing on the table for discussion and that hasn’t been breached since 64.