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Alister Barry On What Don Brash Would Do As PM

Documentary Maker Alister Barry On What Don Brash Would Do As Prime Minister

During his tenure as Governor of the Reserve Bank, Don Brash, shakes hands with National's Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson. Still taken from Alister Barry's Documentary – 'In a Land Of Plenty'

Acclaimed New Zealand documentary maker, Alister Barry, has been following Donald Brash's career for nearly two decades. Recently his documentary films 'Someone Else's Country' and 'In a land of Plenty' screened for the first time ever on national television. Scoop's KEVIN LIST caught up with Alister Barry after his films had aired and questioned the 'Don Brashologist' on where he thought Don Brash would like to take New Zealand economically and socially should he become prime Minister after the 2005 general election.

Documentary maker Alister Barry in his studio

Scoop: Where would you place Don Brash in the political spectrum? Does he share similar views to the man he replaced as leader of the National Party, Bill English?

Alister Barry: No he is an extremist, an idealist. Perhaps there is something in his personality that means he [Don Brash] finds it easy to imagine an ideal world.

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In the case of when he was the Reserve Bank Governor and I'd say now as well, his ideal world is where the free market reigns supreme. He finds it easy to go out into the real world and try and transform that world into his idealised economic one – into that theory. In the film [' In a Land of Plenty'] the first time we see that is when he advocated the abolition of the minimum wage.

Scoop: Don Brash advocated abolishing the minimum wage?

Alister Barry: Yes, shortly after he became Governor of the Reserve Bank. Now any ordinary person with their feet on the ground - it wouldn't take them too long to decide that the minimum wage was probably necessary because people need to use their wages to live on and feed their families.

However if you have a view of the world that says 'wages are simply a cost' then according to that theory the wheels of the economy turn better if costs are reduced.
It is then that you can arrive at the point where you could say 'best we don't have a minimum wage' – 'wages should be allowed to fluctuate as low as the market dictates.'

Not only did Don Brash think that theoretically, he went out and advocated that in the political arena and wrote articles about it.

Scoop: How does it work that the Reserve Bank Governor gets out there and advocates that? Isn't it supposed to be a very apolitical post?

Alister Barry They like to pretend that they are apolitical. Which leads us to another interesting aspect of Don Brash's character. What we might expect from him if he was ever to be Prime Minister is that he believes in the idea that there are philosopher kings, there are people who are above and beyond the political process and who do the right thing.

In the case of the Reserve Bank Governor that position is sort of an un-elected benevolent dictator with huge power. As the CEO of the Reserve Bank he behaved in that manner. I think we can see some of that behaviour expressed more recently, once he's got into politics, with his treatment of Ms Te Heu Heu. Following the Orewa speech his attitude seemed to be 'I'm the boss come in to my office let me tell you why I did this…now leave.' It was arrogant.

Scoop: What policies do you think Don Brash will be looking to implement should he be elected?

Alister Barry: I think Don Brash probably doesn’t feel the need to talk too much about his policies. He knows perfectly well what the agenda is, it has been in his head for many years. The problem at the moment is to get into power and then once in power it is a simple view of the world. Once in power he will continue putting his economic agenda into place.

Scoop: Don Brash isn’t the National Party’s finance spokesperson though?

Alister Barry: Yes… that is odd!

Scoop: – John Key is - the man that grew up on the mean streets of Christchurch - the state housing ghetto of Ilam – he’s lucky to still be alive…

Alister Barry: I presume the only reason that John Key is in the position he is in is because he is completely in tune with Don Brash’s thinking. He could be the tenth member of ACT. What was it – welcome to the 9th member of ACT when Don Brash went to the ACT conference in Christchurch and he was welcomed onto the stage with ‘now give a warm welcome to the 9th member of ACT.’

Scoop: Did they really say that?

Alister Barry: Yes, it was on TV.

Scoop: Is there much point in the ACT Party, now that Don Brash is the leader of the National Party?

Alister Barry: I think at the time that Don Brash became leader it was widely viewed by political pundits that what has happened is that a lot of ACT Party supporters have gone over to National.

Scoop: What was the speech that Don Brash gave in 1996 – I thought that was one of the most interesting aspects of ' In a Land of Plenty’? What does Don Brash’s career as Reserve Bank Governor tell us about his likely behaviour as the National Party Leader?

Alister Barry: We can see a level of dissembling and half-truths during Don Brash’s career as Reserve Bank Governor that is typical of a lot of politicians and is likely we will see that behaviour continuing. A tendency to try and apply right-wing economic theory in as pure a form as possible, regardless of the social consequences. I talked about that in his advocacy around the minimum wage.

Alister Barry

Scoop: National seem to be doing their best to portray Don Brash as a man of the people – although he doesn’t really seem to fit the mould of past leaders such as Jim Bolger and even Jenny Shipley?

Alister Barry: No he doesn’t actually like ordinary people – I think he’s probably scared of ordinary people – most of our successful Prime Ministers have been concerned about ordinary people and felt for them. When Don Brash was Governor of the Reserve Bank it was very interesting because he knew his own people – that is financiers and those in the upper strata of society, and gave lots of speeches around the country explaining Reserve Bank policy to them.

He virtually never spoke to women or Maori who were of course the people who suffered from Reserve Bank policy. Neither did he ever speak to any group of workers – for example a trade union meeting or an FOL meeting - despite the fact that he spent most of the day sitting up there in the Reserve Bank building deciding how he was going to f**k with their brains. He was trying to create a level of fear, how was he going to control their behaviour. How was he going to stop them demanding wage increases – that is what he spent his day doing and yet he was never brave enough to meet with them.

Scoop: How influential was Don Brash in the 90s – as influential say as National Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson?

Alister Barry: The behaviour of the Reserve Bank under his reign was interesting. I think it showed an interest in manipulating public opinion quite profoundly. For example the Reserve Bank set up a chair of monetary policy at Victoria University where the employee's wages are paid either partly or wholly by the Reserve Bank.

The Reserve Bank published a text book on economics for journalism students – they created a videogame which was distributed free to secondary schools where students could play this game of keeping inflation down.

Scoop: Put 100,000 kiwis out of work and you win?

Alister Barry: Yeah – oh and 'did you overdo it and get deflation'! If you look at the long-term objectives of these policies it is that 10 or 15 years down the track these ideas will gain fruition. He had a long-term vision of manipulating public opinion towards neo-liberal economic thinking.

Scoop: What was the speech Don Brash gave in London 1996 that was featured in ' In a Land of Plenty '?

Alister Barry: That speech [the Hayek memorial speech] and the reason I chose it was because it was very interesting ideologically and from a policy point of view.

Scoop: What could you read from the speech in regard to Don Brash’s economic platform should he ever be Prime Minister?

Alister Barry: First of all he went to Britain and gave a speech at the most extreme right-wing policy think tank that exists in the world.

Scoop: In the world?

Alister Barry: Probably even more so than America – it was the policy think tank that provided Margaret Thatcher with her thinking. It was created specifically to create a new right revolution way back at the end of the Second World War. It was very successful at being able to push right the policy agenda of the Thatcher Government. He felt confident as Reserve Bank Governor that he could go and give a memorial speech at this think tank.

Scoop: Who was the speech in memory of?

Alister Barry: The memorial speech was actually in memory of Hayek who is the most revered philosopher of those that are members of the Libertarian movement.

Scoop: The privatise the libraries lobby?

Alister Barry: Yeah - so he felt confident enough in his position, and arrogant enough in a way to go.

Don Brash faces up to some questions about his Hayek memorial lecture in London 1996 – on the right is the published version which was distributed through the Reserve Bank in NZ

Scoop: Was it Mark Sainsbury that questioned him on the steps?

Alister Barry: Yes it was , they didn't get in the door to hear the speech, so he asked him questions on the steps. Another interesting thing was when he came back to New Zealand the speech that he had given was actually printed by that right wing think tank and copies were available free from the Reserve Bank. In other words the Reserve Bank was a conduit for the speech that Don Brash had given. I thought that was interesting and indicative of the sort of thinking that Brash may have should he be Prime Minister – the ideological arrogance.

Scoop: What was in the speech?

Alister Barry: It was very carefully written – it was a bit like his Orewa speech in that if you got down and read it carefully there were little caveats here and there that made it hard to say he was a racist.

In the Hayek lecture it was around the other way. If you got down and analysed the speech very carefully you could see that he was actually advocating - and will attempt to carry through - a policy that involves not only the privatisation of the remaining state owned enterprises – for example he's keen on selling TV2 – but we will also likely see the power companies go to. He is also likely to be advocating privatisation in health.

**** ENDS *****

Alister Barry's documentaries are available from Aro St Video Store in Wellington. Alternatively if you do not live in Wellington and are interested in purchasing a video contact communitymedia - videos are $30

Don Brash's Hayek Memorial Lecture is available on line at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand's website at this link -

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