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Q+A panel discussions

Sunday 21st August, 2011

Q+A panel discussions.

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

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE. Repeats at 9.10pm Sundays, 10.10am and 2.10pm Mondays on TVNZ 7

Q+A is on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/NZQandA#!/NZQandA and on Twitter, http://twitter.com/#!/NZQandA


In response to AFGHANISTAN

PAUL Time to welcome the panel now – Jon Johansson from Victoria University; Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly, who’s been hosting an annual conference this week – it’s very nice to have you here; and the former National Party president and consultant Michelle Boag. Welcome all of you. Vietnam.

JON JOHANSSON – Political Analyst
Yeah. Just like Vietnam, 10 years on, there is a completely unstable security environment. Just like Vietnam.

PAUL Just like the south were trying to keep the north at bay.

JON Just like Vietnam, Paul, we— our presence there is propping up a corrupt regime that will never win the hearts—

PAUL The alternative is a regime that won’t let women go to the doctor on their own and won’t let children fly kites.

JON OK, just like Vietnam, what is the vital national interest that our troops over there are representing? What are they advancing?

HELEN KELLY – President New Zealand Council of Trade Unions
And just like Vietnam, a created narrative by the West about the issues dressed up in this military glorification around, you know, New Zealand’s troops are the most highly qualified, they died saving lives. You know, there isn’t an ability to have a proper debate about what started this war.

PAUL You’ve got to keep the historic— Sorry.

HELEN You know, why bin Laden was in Pakistan, for example, in a completely different country, a country that’s supported by the USA.

PAUL But he was in Afghanistan.

HELEN Why the hijackers were all Saudi Arabian. You know, I mean, really—

JON Out of there by 2002, 2003.

PAUL John Key says we can’t cut and run. Why not, Michelle?

MICHELLE BOAG – Former National Party President
Well, I think we’ve got put this whole thing in perspective, and as much as people might like to debate the political polemic, the fact is that our troops are there trying to uphold the values that we hold dear of democracy. And there may well be corruption, there may well be internal conflicts, but the fact is that there are some things that we believe in terms of basic human rights—

HELEN Well, if they’re—

MICHELLE Hang on. Let me finish. You’ve had plenty of time. But nevertheless, that’s why we went there. Let’s also remember that our military people, if they are never going to get into theatres of war, what on earth are they doing all this training for? And let’s not also forget that we are there because the SAS wanted to stay longer.

PAUL Yeah, Helen, soldiers want to soldier.

HELEN You can’t say, ‘Let’s create war because our soldiers need the practice.’ I mean, honestly—

MICHELLE No one is saying that.

PAUL No, no, no. There was an election— Helen, there was an election there, and 13 million people—


JON Nobody claims that this a functioning democracy, I don’t think, Paul. No one’s serious about this issue. The other thing is since when does the civilian leadership in pursuit of its foreign policy objectives give primacy to what troops on the ground want to do? I mean, that is a— It is naive, and I don’t actually—

PAUL You’re talking about the National Government?

JON Yeah, damn straight. I think it’s naive by Key, and this cut-and-run thing – I haven’t heard anyone suggesting we cut and run. I don’t even know how this has been created.

PAUL Well, presumably he was asked if this would encourage him to bring the SAS—

JON And presumably he’s not implying, then, that all those countries who having reviewed their vital national interests and having chosen to withdraw from Afghanistan, presumably he’s not accusing those countries of having cut and run, or is he?

PAUL Again, if you go back to Vietnam, you know, they may have got their nationalistic objectives of one country with the foreigners gone, but they’ve been damn poor a damn long time.

HELEN They’re doing very well now, actually—

MICHELLE And it’s because they’ve embraced capitalism that they are actually doing well. And the lesson, I think, from all these countries is there are internal conflicts that outsiders can never solve. What we need to do is make sure that innocent people aren’t being intimidated and killed, which is exactly what the Taliban are doing, that we try and promote the values that we hold dear. I believe there will come a time when we do withdraw – I think it will be worse for the people of Afghanistan because there will be more bloody conflict until – and I mean bloody in the literal sense – until one side or the other establishes supremacy. But the fact is we made international commitments, we’ve stood by those commitments, we expect people who we go into those battles with to protect us in the same situation if it were to happen, and that has been a bipartisan effort, Paul

PAUL Still, it shows us, though, the dangers of getting into war, as Colin Powell apparently said to George Bush about Iraq – ‘You break it; you own it.’ And it’s very hard to get out it.


JON And, unfortunately, I do feel angry about this, because I think this soldier’s loss is going to end up feeling very very hollow for his family, because the very Taliban that have killed him will sit there at the table and be part of the Afghan solution and the Afghan government when the foreign troops leave. Does anybody honestly not think that that is the path to resolving Afghanistan?


In response to ASSET SALES

PAUL Jon Johansson, Helen Kelly and Michelle Boag. Well, asset sales – where do you get your power from?


PAUL Where do you get yours from?

MICHELLE I pay the bills in my house.

PAUL (laughs)
JON That bundle of wires and things that push through into the roof, mate – I’ve got no frigging idea either.

PAUL Who do you pay?

JON I have no idea.

PAUL Who do you pay, Helen?

HELEN Contact, I think.


PAUL Can I ask you – does anyone actually – when it comes to asset sales, there’s the government saying, ‘We’re going to do asset sales,’ they’re still tooling along at 55% at the ratings – does anyone actually, when it comes to asset sales, anyone give a rat’s?

HELEN Yeah, they do, and anyone that understands the New Zealand economy will really give a rat’s about this, because, actually, this is, as David said, about our long-term future. We don’t just own strategic assets because of the return they give to government, although that’s pretty compelling. But we also own them because we can then do things like if we want to save energy as an environmental issue, we can do that. The incentive of private companies is just to push more and more sales of energy—

PAUL Now, but as Guyon was saying—

HELEN can have subsidies, we can have social solidarity.

PAUL It doesn’t matter who owns the damn things – the prices keep going up.

HELEN Yeah, but it mattered when—

PAUL That’s all we know about power.

HELEN It mattered when we didn’t own the airline and the trains and Telecom. Telecom’s been a disaster.

PAUL Well, the trains were a dog.

HELEN Yeah, the banks were a dog, the planes were a dog.

PAUL (laughs)

MICHELLE I’d actually disagree with Helen. I don’t think Telecom has been a disaster. I think the way it was sold was a disaster. Let’s not forget we’re talking a couple of decades now that Telecom was sold. What we have now 20 years later is, in fact, a very competitive telecommunications market—

HELEN Use broadband recently?

MICHELLE where people get phones immediately, transfer phones immediately.

PAUL Look, that is dead right. I always tell people this – in the old days when it was a government-owned monopoly, it operated for the convenience of the Public Service Association, and a telephone came in blue, green, red—

HELEN Phones are old technology. Nobody uses—

PAUL You could only have a cord this long, and you had to wait three months.

HELEN We’ve got no—

MICHELLE And the fact is, Paul, that in those days, those government departments as they were were delivering no dividends to the government. Now, what’s happened since then – we’ve had corporatisation of those entities, and they have started to deliver dividends, but this is actually about the bigger picture. This is about our debt situation. And you think of yourself – would you rather own a whole lot of things and have a huge mortgage and huge debt, or would you like to rationalise some of those assets, maybe get rid of the second house or the boat or trade down in your car and have less debt? And that’s exactly the situation New Zealand is in.

PAUL Hang on, can I say to you if Helen is right that this asset sales business does matter and National have clearly signalled they’re going to do assets sales up to 49% of some companies, why doesn’t it hurt the government, sailing along at 55%?

JON Because the framing of the issue – people’s perceptions of the government are not just driven by this one issue. And, in fact, you know, and I guess there’s polls coming out tonight, right, and I’d imagine that they’d continue to be status quo polls because people are thinking of the contrast between Key and Goff and, you know, National are winning hands down on that. But where the rubber hits the road is if the government claims a mandate as a result of winning the election, to do this and progress us down that road, if that then leads to a big drop of support, that will be the consequence of claiming such a mandate. A couple of other things – just breathtaking of Dr Brash to accuse anyone of populism. He’s lost any moral claim to using that word, frankly. But the reason why there is a deep emotional underlay to asset sales is because of the experience of the ‘80s and ‘90s that scarred, you know, New Zealanders then. But I have one economic point, Paul—

PAUL But we’re better at selling them now. We’re probably better at—

HELEN No, we’re not. It’s illogical.

JON It’s the economic – is this a good time to be divesting oneself of assets, given the global financial— Are we going to get a decent price?

HELEN But also, Paul, they’re strategically important to New Zealand. Selling our power companies at a time when, you know, power is becoming sort of the driving force of the economy, innovation in power is huge. Telecom has been a disaster. 4.2 billion we sold it for, and the people who bought it have earned over 10 billion from it.

PAUL Well, let me tell you something about your wonderful state assets. Yesterday in Pokawa valley, my poor wife woke up to a power cut– in a freezing house, woke up to power cut that lasted five hours. When she got through to the 018 and bloke realised she didn’t live in Auckland and lived in Hawke’s Bay – you know what mean, the bloke in India – (laughs) they said, ‘Sorry, you have to expect delays because you’re rural.’

HELEN And that’s the trouble—

PAUL Unison is the name of that company, whoever the hell they are.

MICHELLE And the fact is, Paul, that a market is much more responsive, and that’s why – I mean, telecommunications is just as strategic as power – that’s why we have a competitive telecommunications market.

PAUL Look, and to be fair about Telecom, if you can really get through to someone and say, ‘I’ve really got a deficiency in the service here,’ Telecom will do their very best to fix it.

HELEN Unless you want to use broadband. You try downloading a movie in this—

PAUL In the Pokawa valley. (laughs)

HELEN You could have made it yourself by the time you download—

MICHELLE Paul, if the government still owned Telecom, we wouldn’t even have broadband. Let’s be clear. We wouldn’t have a competitive market.

PAUL They would’ve found a way.

MICHELLE Just on terms of the power prices—

PAUL If the government still owned Telecom, they would’ve found a way to ban cellphones.

HELEN The government’s now got to invest huge amounts of money in putting broadband in because the market for telecommunications hasn’t done that. And we’re a little island on the other end of the world. Imagine if we had good broadband in terms of our production.

MICHELLE Well, actually, the government is investing billions in broadband because it’s good for growing the economy—

PAUL No, but the market didn’t build it. The market didn’t build it.

MICHELLE Because we are too small. The market didn’t build the railways. The market didn’t build the roads—

HELEN The market doesn’t work.

MICHELLE has to do those things.

PAUL But if the government is so determined to do this and to go to the polls saying, ‘We’re going to be selling 49% of blah, blah, blah,’ why are they so reluctant, why are they frightened of coming on the programme this morning?

HELEN Exactly. It’s indefensible.

MICHELLE Well, clearly—

PAUL Why did Tony Ryall say no? Why did Bill English say no?

MICHELLE I think Bill English should’ve been here because I think he can put a very strong case for the issue. And let’s not forget, actually, what Guyon said was underestimating it. I think the power prices under a Labour government went up about 75% in that time. Now, owning those power companies did not do anything for the consumer. All it did was deliver big dividends back to the government and allow them to spend more money. We’re not talking about selling a majority shareholding here. We’re talking about selling 49%, and Guyon’s quite right that there will be loads of people lining up, because our capital markets have a shortage of good investments.

PAUL Just to finish – do you think this is going to be a critical issue in this campaign, the asset sales business, because around here they do. I’ve been arguing with my people here. I don’t think so.

HELEN It’s going to be contrasted with the fair tax system that Labour’s promoting – the capital gains tax versus selling the assets. The trouble with the mixed model, if I can just comment on Michelle’s comment about 49%, that’s the worst of both worlds. You then have to maximise shareholder return, you can’t do the social solidarity sort of stuff, the government invests money, the private shareholders gain the benefit. That’s the worst model of all, and, yes, it’s going to be a big election issue.


In response to JOHN MINTO interview

PAUL Jon Johansson, Helen Kelly, Michelle Boag. All right, then. (laughs) John Minto, hero or lunatic?

MICHELLE Look, he’s neither of those. He’s a very ideologically driven man who has very firm beliefs, and I respect those beliefs, but I have to say communism failed. Around the world, it failed, and the people that he’s talking about who are at the top of the rich list – those people own assets all around the world. That’s how they got rich. You know, those people say, ‘Oh, we can’t have people coming here and owning our assets.’ The richest New Zealanders own corporations overseas in other countries, and that’s why they’re so wealthy.

PAUL Oh, yes?

JON Lunatic on the basis of anybody who wants to stand— (laughs)

PAUL (laughs) Saying that $250,000 – after that, 100%. (laughs)

JON I just— I’m failing to see how this is a viable long-term project

PAUL Mana?

JON Yeah, Mana, the movement itself. Whilst they have Hone’s seat, they will have some relevance, but only round the fringes. And I can’t see how— I mean, I can see how the Maori vote is going to fragment at this election – seriously fragment to both potentially Mana, but certainly Labour’s benefit. I don’t see how they’re going to grow their pie.

PAUL Yes. Isn’t there a case to say that the reason Mana is producing itself, the reason John Minto’s gone to Mana is there is frustration on the left at the perceived ineffectuality of the Labour Party, according to the polls?

HELEN Well, I think there’s a couple of issues. I think there’s a couple of issues here. The first thing is that single-personality parties have failed under MMP. They’re not sustainable, and I would suggest John’s been associated with many unsustainable parties under MMP on the left. And reliability is an incredibly important component—

JON So you’re verging lunatic, then?

HELEN and political issues, but the issue of equality is a very big and growing and important issue in New Zealand. 1% of the New Zealand population hold more wealth than 60% of other New Zealanders, so I don’t want to write off the issue, but my view is—

PAUL No, but his solution is bring back the old Ministry of Works and hire everyone again.

HELEN Hone Harawira promised us that the Maori Party was the saving grace of the New Zealand working class. He sat through Parliament in a National coalition for two years, voting for the GST increases. It’s ironic to hear that GST’s going under Mana when it’s gone up to 15% with Hone voting for two Budgets which cut taxes for the rich, put up GST – effectively tax for the poor. And reliability and sustainability are a very important component.

PAUL But, you know, he’s— Where does he fit into the political spectrum of this country? He seems to be kind of conservative– conservative Labour. It’s—


PAUL He harks back to the past.

MICHELLE I hope for John’s sake that he doesn’t get into Parliament, because he would hate it.


MICHELLE He would find the constraints, the rules, the procedures, having to comply with the disciplines. It was like Pam Corkery – she didn’t like it. There are some people who just are not comfortable in that format

JON Well, what’s the crux of the parliamentary democracy is, you know, compromise.


JON And that’s why ideologues run.

MICHELLE That’s right.

HELEN Forgetting about the personalities, the issues around who’s getting wealthy in this country and who’s getting poorer has to be on the agenda at this election—

PAUL But the people who are getting wealthy are creating—

HELEN No, Paul, the people who are working every day in the productive sector are creating the wealth. The people who are trading dollars are not creating wealth. The people who are buying and selling our assets on the sharemarket are not creating wealth. The people are investing in the work—

MICHELLE So why didn’t communism work?

HELEN We’re talking about communism. We’re talking about—

PAUL He’s talking about communism.

MICHELLE If you don’t have wealth creators, if you don’t have people owning companies, running companies—

HELEN They’re not wealth creators.

MICHELLE They are wealth creators because they are creating jobs, and jobs is what we need.

JON Communism works because the Chinese didn’t run it.

PAUL (laughs)

MICHELLE Well, they did, and they couldn’t make it work.

HELEN Working people create wealth as well.

PAUL They’re great communists now. We will continue— I thank the panel, thank you, Helen, Michelle and Jon very much. We’ll continue this discussion from our web-only panel – our X-rated web-only panel. That’ll be online at tvnz.co.nz on Monday morning.

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