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Q+A Panel Discussion In response to FAREED ZAKARIA



In response to FAREED ZAKARIA interview

We’re with our panel, Dr Bryce Edwards, Matt McCarten and Michael Barnett. All right, first of all, Matt, the Middle East. You draw a line in the sand for somebody like Bashar al-Assad and then you don’t look like you’re going to go ahead with it. That’s asking for trouble, don’t you think?

MATT McCARTEN - Unite Union
Yeah, I think it’s all detail. Yes, he can get away with it because he’s got Russia in the north, and they’re looking after his back. Also, like China, like all despots around the world, they’re not interested in politics; they’re interested in trade, you know? And that’s with New Zealand as well. And so he can rely on those two to stay out of anything, and Russia is actually proactive and really involved in it. So he’s got nothing to worry about. But the sanctions in the long term will get him. But I think all over North Africa and the Middle East, there is a renaissance going on, a pro-democratic - not a militant, Muslim, conservative wing - but this wing is actually going towards a more pluralistic, democratic society. So it will be messy. But it took a while in Europe too. It’s been rapid, the change. In five to 10 years, all those despots will be gone, and it will be a quite open society.

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GREG You have to say, though, in terms of-

MATT I mean, there are the pro-Western despots as well. It’s not just the Assads.

GREG In terms of all the Arab leaders we have seen tumble - Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and certainly Muammar Gaddafi - he’s almost like the acceptable face of tyranny, isn’t he? He’s a lot more moderate, he doesn’t rant and rave at people all over the place. Somebody like Bashar al-Assad is sort of-

DR BRYCE EDWARDS - Political Analyst
The West have got a huge interest in what’s going on here, so they are backing their leaders, and they’re looking for the acceptable face. They always do in the Middle East, so nothing new here.

GREG Middle East - as far as Israel and Iran, that’s just a ticking time bomb that’s due to go off in about a year.

MATT Yes, but you’ve got to keep that in context too. Israel’s got a very right-wing government. The polls there show the majority of Israelis aren’t upset at the idea Iran’s looking at having a nuclear weapon. It’s a Western news media looking through it. But, yes, if the Israeli Government can think that they can get away with it, they want to get in there. But the thing is, no one’s been able to prove the Iranians actually are doing a nuclear bomb at all. You know, can I just say, North Korea, if you look at that example, the reason they haven’t been toppled is because they have nuclear weapons, and that ain’t lost on anyone either. Israel’s got nuclear weapons. So has Pakistan, India. So I think, yes, it’s dangerous, and if Israel launch an attack, the price of petrol’s going to go through the roof. Then we’ll see how much support there is for Israel.

GREG Pacific pivot, Michael. Let’s move to that quickly. It’s potentially a gold mine, or are we just going to end up being America’s little mate in the South Pacific?

MICHAEL BARNETT - Auckland Chamber of Commerce
I think the greatest advantage that New Zealand has right now is that we are part of the Asia-Pacific. If we were placed any further north, we would be in trouble. So I think the TPP is ambitious. Removal of tariffs is going to open up. We could be a huge beneficiary of this. I think we also need to be careful. Obama has already said that he wants something that reflects US priorities and values. Um, he’s a Johnny-come-lately in this TPP. I would like to be assured that New Zealand will look for something that protects New Zealand, something in agreement that’s robust, looks after our priorities and our values.

GREG Bryce, would it be fair to say Europe’s broke, they’ve blown up most of the Middle East, and we’re the last thing left? That’s why they’re looking here? Obviously the China side of it… (ALL LAUGH)

BRYCE Oh, absolutely. But I was surprised at Zakaria’s response to your question about whether we can have it both ways, and he sort of played that down. I don’t think that’s quite right. I think broadly it’s correct, but it underplays the fact that the New Zealand state is getting closer, politically, militarily to the US. At the same time, it’s getting economically in trade and investment with China. That is going to be an increasing contradiction with this power play between China and the US, especially in the Pacific. I think it’s going to be increasingly problematic for the state. And, no, we won’t be choosing sides, but our so-called independent foreign policy is going to be increasingly at strain.

GREG Michael, can we have a bob each way?

MICHAEL Um, I don’t think we’ll have to because I think trade will out. You know, when you have a look at Europe going back in the hundreds of years, the thing that actually held nations together, um, was the fact that they were doing business with each other, and I think we’re going to have the same thing here. The thing that will hold us close to the Asia Pacific will be the fact that we have good business arrangements with them.

GREG Politically we’re going to have to get closer. I mean, are we ever going to see a return to the days of, ‘Here’s a nuclear ship. I’m going to park it in Waitemata Harbour’?

MATT No, because the Americans don’t want to push it any more, that nuclear weapons. We’ve won the global debate on it. No one is saying in America that they need more nuclear weapons. Going back to a bob each way - of course. This is business. I mean, we saw one of our former politicians and this guy up in Hong Kong and that. You know, they’d sell our country out for $1. It’s about business. And so what you’ve got is America now is declining, or the others are rising, and so the influence they’ve had- We’ve always been linked up with the Americans. The Asia Pacific is the new playground, but that’s because of our neighbours in the north - Japan, China. If we do it right, we’re very well positioned.



GREG Bryce, is this the thin edge of the wedge? How many roulette wheels are we going to have to stump up with to get a second harbour crossing?

BRYCE Good question. But, I mean, John Key has to answer that. He’s going to have increasing difficulty doing it, because this is a no-win situation for them, especially coming after the ACC scandal with questions being raised about deal making and behind the scenes influence. So that’s why this deal looks bad. I think there’s three main perspectives on this we can look at: on the left there’s this argument that this is bad for the social fabric of the country. It’s gambling, it’s a big Sky City business. On the right we’ve also got some similar points of view saying, ‘This is crony capitalism. It’s not what neo-liberals should do. The government should be keeping out of the market place, not picking winners.’ And then in the centre you’ve got this argument that, ‘Well, let’s be pragmatic. This is good for the country. It gives us a convention centre. It saves the taxpayer millions of dollars.’ And that could be a powerful argument, but I don’t think the government are making that line very well.

GREG Matt, the problems in Auckland - things like traffic, nowhere for people to live - I wouldn’t have thought the convention centre was right up there in the top list of things that need to be addressed.

MATT No, it’s not, and just to clear my conflict of interest, I represent the workers at Sky City.

GREG You don’t get free lunches there, do you?

MATT No, I don’t. I have to pay. Although I’ve never been offered a free lunch there. But, anyway, look, this is just a deal, you see. And this is the Joyce influence in this government, I think. What they’re saying with private businesses is, ‘We will help you if you do this for us,’ and I think this is taking the partnership model even further. It’s crony. It is. Because what they’re saying is, ‘You put up $200 million, we’ll let you have 500 more machines.’ Let alone the morality bit. Just look at the business sense. That’ll make them $40 million a year. In five years’ time, they’ll have their $200 million back.

BRYCE The argument is everyone wins.

MATT No, no, no. But the thing is in the day where we actually took responsibility as a community, if there was such a good case to have such a big convention centre, it stands up on its own model. It shouldn’t be subsidised by 500 machines.

GREG I just want to give you some numbers here. John Key says he doesn’t believe a small number of pokie machines would make a difference to problem gambling. We’re potentially talking about 500 here. According to its website, there’s only 1600 machines there. It’s not a small number ; it’s a quarter. It’s a lot.

MICHAEL I think Matt’s partially correct. For them to spend $350 million, get a $42 million return, that’s 12%. That’s the same amount of money that the city’s been asked to get out of the ports. It is a good business proposition.

MATT And they own it at the end.

MICHAEL But I think that it’s a good proposition for others. They would equally employ people, they’d run conferences, they’d do tourism, they’d attract people and so on, so it’s a good proposition out there. There is a moral issue here.

GREG What about the convention centre down at the waterfront, Michael Barnett? I know that’s something near and dear to your heart. Why is that not enough? What is that not doing the job this is supposed to be doing?

MICHAEL I think the issue around convention centres- I don’t think we’re ever going to attract those large conventions that happen around the world. There’s a tier of convention that we can do here - will attract tourism, will attract business, will attract investment ultimately. Um, to me, I think it’s good business that we should pursue. But I’m saying that other people could have provided this other than to sell our souls for 400 more pokie machines-

GREG If would have to be a fair point, wouldn’t it: if it’s going to make money, then you would like there would be people lining up.

MICHAEL There were.

GREG Sky City is the only one who has got $350 million?

MICHAEL There were others. Aotea was there and so on.

MATT Well, the city council wants to get involved. I mean, they want to make this as part of The Edge thing, but they’ve been locked out. So why isn’t the government doing a deal with Auckland Council? You see, there has been- I mean, good on Sky City, right? They’re in the business of making money. But they’re making deals with the government. Key and Joyce are giving them sweetheart deals. From a business point of view, they’re taking it.

GREG All right, guys, we’re going to have to leave it there. Matt McCarten, Dr Bryce Edwards and Michael Barnett. Thank you all for coming in.

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