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Sunday2nd August 2009: Q+A’s Panel Discussions with Paul Holmes, Therese Arseneau, Mike Williams & Sir Douglas Graham

The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning’s Q+A can be seen on tvnz.co.nz at, http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news


Response to PAULA BENNETT interview

PAUL So what do our panel make of Guyon's interview with the Minister of Social Development and employment? What do you make of that performance?

MIKE WILLIAMS – Former Labour Party President
That story was actually dead and she brought it back into the media and it dominated all week. Now I have no doubt that the vast bulk of New Zealanders actually support what she did, but there is a danger here. There's about a quarter of a million people who voted Labour in 2005, who did not vote at all in 2008, and what she's done is highlighted benefit cut, and that is a weapon Labour can use.

PAUL What she also did though in revealing those two monetary sums, was just highlight the magnitude of the welfare bill in this country which we learn is 16 billion.

SIR DOUGLAS GRAHAM – Former National Cabinet Minister
Absolutely, I think that’s what most people would be interested in. I personally didn’t take any affront at all, it seems to me that if somebody goes to the media and says I'm not getting enough from the State, then the public are entitled to say well how much are you getting. I don’t have any problem with that at all.

PAUL Would Jim Bolger have come down hard on a Minister if they'd done that?

DOUG No I think he would have been totally understanding too, it was initiated by the beneficiaries, so I think people are entitled to the debate. When I was in government I used to try and say if I went in next door and asked them for the money to do something I wanted to do, how would I get on, and it's a good rule, and if you say well if I go in next door and say I want some more money for my training please, and they'd say how much are you getting, and if I say $700 they’ll say no.

THERESE ARSENEAU – Political Analyst
Look I actually respect more that she said it up front than leaked it, and I think that is much better. What I take issue with is she made it personal. The story became those two women, it was a case of shooting the messenger instead of the message, and I think we all lose something when that happens, in particular it took the debate away from where it should have been and the debate very solely should have been about should we get rid of this training incentive allowance, you know what are the pros and cons of that, and I think the other scary message for me is I'm constantly saying to my students you know let your voice be heard, you know it's important, and what the message that she sent, and similarly David Garrett in front of the Select Committee, I mean the message sent this week to them is if you do as the public if you make your voice heard, you may well find yourself becoming the story.

DOUG But the argument was whether she ought to get a benefit or she should go and get a student loan, and the government are saying well we haven't got the money any more for benefits so go and get a student loan.

THERESE Isn't it interesting that the mother down in Invercargill was the one who came up with the solution to the problem.

PAUL She said let me borrow a bit more I'm quite happy to have a student loan. I'm interested in what you think of the character of Paula Bennett shortly, but first of all she was very you know, she's hardly rabid, this is what she said about a beneficiary getting a decent about of money.

Paula Bennett: 'I think that there are circumstances where those costs are such that it's fair that they get what they need, so that they can live and raise their children, that’s the sort of state that I want to live in, that’s the sort of state assistance I want to be given, and in some circumstances those are the real costs.'

PAUL What did you make of the character of Paula Bennett though when you look at that performance, I mean we see the new pragmatism don’t we, we see what I believed some four years ago, but I've changed my mind and I said we've going to do something but we can really afford it. Does she connect with people? Michael.

MIKE I think she does, I think she does. It's been an interesting week because neither of the women were getting as much as Bill English was charging the State to live in his own house, so you’ve gotta be careful when you're in that kind of area, but that was a good performance, there's no doubt about that, and I said to the panel off screen that that could have been a Labour speaker.

DOUG Well I agree, I think she performed extremely well. I think it shows for somebody in the National Party that there's a hard ... and she's been there done that, understands the plight of those people, and she was there, and so she's expressing a view which many of the National Party would find, well I've never been there and I don’t understand, and so I think she's done extremely well.

THERESE And I think she performed very well in very tough question times this week. She can hold her own there, and what she does well is she doesn’t play for the parliamentary audience she plays for the public audience, and that is her strength.

PAUL She is normal, that why I like her I suppose. You had a very interesting observation about her before, about the way Labour are handling it.

THERESE Well I do think Labour has a tendency to underestimate her, and I think it's partly because she would not fit naturally I think in the previous Labour government, you know there was much more of an intellectual base to cabinet. What she has is I think street smart, and she does as I say play well to the general public, and also I think she's on to something, you know what we are seeing in polling is that people do think perhaps that welfare breeds dependency and that people who are on unemployment benefit should have to work. That was before the recession hit, I mean I think you might expect that during a recession where everybody is hurting that there's going to be even more questions asked on benefits.

PAUL I think one thing about Annette King talking about her as being Muldoonist doesn’t work because nobody remembers Muldoon, we've moved on, it's a very long time ago.

DOUG I do.


Panel Response to JON JOHANSSON interview

PAUL Bolger Sir Douglas, did the public underestimate him?

DOUG` Yes I think they did, of course I worked with him so I know him pretty well, he was a much more intelligent man than anybody ever gave him credit for, and he did a lot of good things, but I think if I may say so, he and Helen Clark, when you listen to those comments from Jon it just shows you that we have people coming forward to serve their country selflessly, not like overseas where they do it for themselves, and we've been very very fortunate in having some outstanding leaders particularly in the last 30 years really.

PAUL Do you agree with his analysis of Clark's nine years Therese?

THERESE He's raised many interesting points, I do think it's interesting when he compares Clark and Key, and you know one of the fatal mistakes Clark made was that she underestimated Key, cos Key really understood MMP, he moved the party to the centre, and I think Jon is right that it's his different background that really became a strength for him, the fact that he is the master of the well timed compromise, and I think we see that in this government now and how effectively I think he uses Rodney Hide as a lightning rod, that makes the government look extreme and then he gets to come up the middle and again offer the well timed compromise.

PAUL I meant to ask Jon that actually, never got time to, but he makes the point in his book that Helen Clark failed to understand I think what Jon Johansson calls the political dimension of John Key, failed to see him coming. Do you think she underestimated him.

MIKE That’s a really hard question. To some degree yes, you know the 2008 election in my view, and I've been through 46 elections was actually unwinnable, and I'm not quite sure when it became unwinnable by Labour, but what I would say about the book is, it's a good read, you don’t have to be a political junky to read it, go out and buy it, but it's much too early. Now I've just finished Barry Gustafson's magnificent biography of Keith Holyoake written nearly a couple of decades after Holyoake's death.

PAUL Yes but he acknowledges that, that it's fairly soon.

MIKE Oh absolutely, but I also think history will judge the Helen Clark Labour government rather differently, if you look back at, you were just talking about Seddon, Seddon's remembered votes for women, old age pensions, Clark I think and it's hard to say, Labour extended education at both ends, in early childhood education, and the re-announced policy today of guarantees.

DOUG But people don’t remember that.

MIKE They will though, that’s my point.

DOUG No I don’t think they will. I mean what Jon Johansson said in his book was that every 25 years you have a sort of great revolt, revolution, like Roger Douglas, Ruth Richardson, and then since then it's all been sort of flat and fairly uninteresting and a little tinkering on the sides by both parties, and what he's saying is is it time for another one, and there's no sign of that I'd have to say.

THERESE It's interesting that two of the big change moments came from Labour governments, Savage government who brought in the social welfare state, and then David Lange which is ultimately ironic, he actually undid the other big change that had come from the previous Labour government.

PAUL We could speak about so much but I've got to cut it short and think about what is going to be in the week ahead, what would you expect? Mr Williams.

MIKE Taito Phillip Field, there will be a verdict on that, I think that'll dominate the headlines.

DOUG Well that, but the emissions decision, we're 24% more being emitted now than we were in 1990.

PAUL Did Jim Bolger ever regret that Mother of all Budgets, allowing that budget, allowing Ruth to do that budget?

DOUG You'd have to ask him that, but it would be fair to say that we had a lot of very tense discussions in 1993.

MIKE He's being diplomatic.

THERESE I'm looking forward to hearing the Prime Minister's announcement, I think at noon today about the youth opportunity package, which is expected to be major, and he's already highlighted that it's going to I think incorporate two of the real hallmarks of a National approach, which is opportunity plus responsibility. I'll also be watching for the Pacific Islands Forum, because I think it's sitting this week, and it'll be interesting to see whether Fiji again is front and centre.


PETER GOODFELLOW, New National Party President
Interviewed by GUYON ESPINER

PAUL We have got now to go back to Political Editor Guyon Espiner who is at the National Party Conference in Christchurch. The new president was elected not by the 500 delegates attending the Conference but by the National Party board.

GUYON Well thanks Paul I am with Peter Goodfellow who's just been announced as the new President, congratulations.

PETER GOODFELLOW – New President of the National Party
Thank you Guyon.

GUYON Look a lot of New Zealanders won't have seen you won't know much about you, can you tell us briefly a bit about yourself, your key aims are as President of the National Party?

PETER Well I'm a long time member of the National Party, and I've been involved with the party for many decades since the 70s and so I'm interested in using my skills from that time, and my commercial skills to be able to ensure that we get into the 2011 campaign with a good head start.

GUYON We've seen some quite sort of high profile presidents, one of them an ex Labour one is on the panel this morning, and your own party has had people who have had a fairly big profile in the media, do you see the new role of the President in the modern National Party as more of a managerial role and less of the El Presidente sort of role?

PETER Sure Guyon I think we've got a highly successful and popular Prime Minister, so the role of the President is to support the Prime Minister to ensure that the Board and the Party are right behind him.

GUYON There was a lot of talk about whether Wira Gardner would get this job, some were saying well look you know the Maori Party are gonna be a key coalition partner perhaps over several years and he would have had some obvious advantages there. Do you think that that was a good point and has National missed an opportunity there in some respects?

PETER Well look I think the delegates here have spoken, we've had 700 delegates, and it's been a pretty closely held contest for the Board, we've got three new members on the Board, and the delegates have decided that those are the ones that they want to see working with me to take the party forward.

GUYON Fund raising is one of the key things that any President sort of gets involved with, is the party short of funds at the moment?

PETER Oh no look Judy Kirk's done a fantastic job both in getting our membership up and also ensuring that in the last campaign we had the funding to go right through that campaign, we're not short of funding but it is an expensive business to run elections, and part of my role, one of the major parts of my role is to ensure that we are well funded for the next campaign.

GUYON One of the features of your role too could be exactly how the law operates around this, we've had the Electoral Finance Act which was very controversial, that’s been repealed, and the government is working on a replacement. I mean what are your thoughts about how we should go, do you support state funding or do you support a more liberal regime, have you thought about exactly what the submissions from the party will be on that very key thing which is funding political parties?

PETER Well we're working through that process right now, I think we are looking at how we are going to fund ourselves in the future, but I think the current system or the system prevailing before the one imposed by the last Labour government, is the better model for New Zealand and that’s where we'll be.

GUYON So you'd like pretty much to go back to the status quo as far as that goes?

PETER Oh I think we need to have transparency that was introduced then, there's no question that we want to continue to have transparency around funding of political parties during elections, in fact I think the National Party would probably like to see more transparency.

GUYON Just before we leave it with you, how will you judge your success as President of the National Party, what are the key things that you are going to look to either change or to implement to make sure that your tenure is a successful one?

PETER I think we want to continue to build on our membership, to extend that so that we have more supporters amongst the million and 50 thousand people who voted for us, and also that we're well funded for the next campaign, that we have very active policy people in the party who get to be heard and have some influence over the cabinet.

GUYON We'll see how that goes, thank you very much again for joining us this morning.

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