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Q + A: Panel Discussions

Q + A
Panel Discussion 1
Hosted by GREG BOYED

GREG Welcome to our panel this week. Dr Claire Robinson from Massey University, good to have you along, Helen Kelly, head of the CTU, and Stephen Franks, former ACT MP and lawyer. Welcome to all three of you. First of all, Stephen, you heard what Nathan Guy had to say. Is it time to be drawing a line in the sand? Is this the right line and the right patch of sand to be drawing it in?

Well, the best way to defend yourself is always to make it plain that you are willing to fight. I mean, the people who say we don’t need an army, because it’s vicious, or they want to be compassionate forget that those who have to fight the most are those who look as if they can be beaten. And the best way to avoid having this problem is to make it unattractive in the first place, which is where John Howard ended up – and Keating, in fact. Keating under pressure from the unions in Australia in the early ‘90s developed their first line of defence. Howard developed it. Australia’s now gone back to it – Gillard and Rudd. Gillard has agreed to go back to John Howard’s policy almost exactly because— I brought that along. Can you see that graph?

GREG I don’t think they can. I can, but, yeah, yeah. It goes up.

STEPHEN That’s what happened when John Howard brought in his Pacific strategy. The arrivals went down like that. When Rudd got in, the arrivals shot up. They had almost zero arrivals during the strategy.

Like New Zealand.

STEPHEN And now we’ve got a situation of 300 or 400 people’s deaths really should be on the consciences of the Australian Labor Party.

GREG Helen Kelly, is this something we even need to be getting into? Are we drawing attention to something that we could well just avoid?

HELEN Yeah, all this language about risk and fighting actually ignores the fact that these are the most vulnerable people in the world, often, you know, kicked out of their country or fleeing from real violence. And you can just see what’s happening now in Syria. Should Turkey shut its border and not let all those Syrian refugees go in? The whole world is hoping that they will open up their border to allow those people through. And, actually, we need to take a humanitarian approach to this. One of my proudest parts of being a New Zealander was when we took the kids off the Tampa, brought them to New Zealand and looked after them. Those kids have grown up to be wonderful New Zealand citizens. One of them won the New Zealand spelling bee, you know. I mean, all of this, we need to remember who these people are and take a humanitarian approach.

STEPHEN What about—?

HELEN They’re entitled to come here.

GREG Actually, just on the Tampa—

STEPHEN 45 million of them want to come.

GREG No, but just on the Tampa, because you raise an interesting point. One of them actually came out and said before arriving there and then subsequently coming to New Zealand, they hadn’t even heard of New Zealand. And this, I imagine, would be the policy for a lot of these people, would it not, Claire?

DR CLAIRE ROBINSON – Political Analyst
I think the issue here is that the government agencies spend a lot of time looking at risk and looking at ways of mitigating risk. And so what we have here is the classic it’s not necessarily going to happen. It’s not even about our humanitarian response to refugees; it’s about a group of officials sitting down and deciding that there is a gap in our ability to manage human people traffickers. And so the Government’s response is entirely along those lines. Now, in terms of our humanitarian response, I don’t think there is any. I think we do manage them quite well.

HELEN But we’re changing the law, Claire.

CLAIRE But, no, no, it’s about—

HELEN To lock them up for six months as a collective punishment…

CLAIRE It’s about the traffickers.

HELEN …for arriving here in a big group, rather than one at a time on a plane.

CLAIRE It’s about the traffickers. The legislation’s entirely about people traffickers.

HELEN Charge the traffickers – got no problem with that. But these people – they can be processed; 75% of them are being turned away once they’ve been processed. There’s no doubt that if people are not here genuinely, they shouldn’t be allowed to stay. But actually saying that when they arrive here they’re a threat, we need to fight. That exercise Barrier that he referred to cost $200,000 for a threat that we don’t even have.

GREG But again, coming back to – you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one – the Tasman Sea’s there and they don’t come here, because it’s just too damn far. You take away your steel-hulled boats from Canada to Indonesia, that’s not going to change.

CLAIRE I know, but again if you’re sitting down there with your domestic and external security officials, and they are being informed by the same officials from, you know, Australia, America, Canada, Great Britain, they’re all saying that this is a risk. Now, it may not ever happen, but it is a risk and we, in terms of New Zealand’s response, there is a gap that we haven’t yet filled, which is what this legislation is trying to do.

HELEN We’ll ruin our reputation in doing it more like this.

GREG Stephen. What about the cost, Stephen? 80% dearer than the way it’s working at the moment. I mean, that’s going to hit people in the hip pocket. That’s going to get people up and noticing if this goes ahead.

STEPHEN Look, immigration is one of the worst portfolios to have. MPs who get assigned to do it hate it because the people you meet are not criminals. They’re decent, hard-working, often the most enterprising people. You really want to help them, you’d love to have them here, but it’s that age-old dilemma that if you help five, 10, 50, what about the 50 million? And there’s—

HELEN None of them are here.

STEPHEN There’s 35 million refugees under UN control, and there’s thousands— There were a million refugees in Syria before the current uprising. It’s saying we can’t open our doors, so we’ll take a programme which New Zealand does – Canada, United States and New Zealand and Australia are the most generous in number terms on this policy – we’ll take those we can, but we cannot create an incentive. We cannot create an incentive that says, ‘There’s a soft touch. Let’s bring shiploads.’

HELEN There’s no incentive. The incentive is to get out of a dangerous situation, and what the research shows is that whatever laws you put, people will prefer the risk of being incarcerated here for six months than the risk of living in a place like Syria or other places—

GREG That is something I have read as well about the immigration people that they see it almost as a rite of passage if they’re going to have to get here and go to a detention centre. It’s a damn sight better than getting bombed.

HELEN So why not treat them humanely when they get here, allow them to settle, process them properly, reject those that are not genuine—?

CLAIRE But that’s also what the Government is actually saying.

GREG All right, we’ll leave this one here. We’ll come back to it, I’m sure.

Q + A
Hosted by GREG BOYED

GREG Our panel Claire Robinson, Helen Kelly and Stephen Franks. First of all, Claire, it’s a backdown no matter which way you paint it. How damaging has this been for the Government this week?

CLAIRE Not hugely, actually. I think if you’re thinking about it in terms of their ability to be re-elected, their public opinion poll standings, this is an ongoing issue. This isn’t one of those issues that’s going to be a game-changer for the Government. It’s not an issue that is affecting most people in the immediate pocket. It’s not an issue that is being, you know, led by the Labour Party. It’s not a— It’s one of those issues that is absolutely at the forefront of political discourse, but it’s not going to be the issue that is going to impact on the Government’s ability to win or lose in 2014.

GREG Does it look like, though, in the broader sense, Helen, that the Government has kowtowed to what Maori wanted? Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or is that not how it’s going to be perceived?

HELEN Look, this government is a one-trick pony. Its one trick is to sell these assets, just replace one ownership – good state ownership, which is returning a good dividend – with private ownership, which we know will drive up prices and all of that sort of thing. What Bill English talked about this week about the things the Government should be doing – promoting growth, providing jobs – they are not doing. They are blatantly failing, and that’s what New Zealanders do care about. And so the combination of only having one economic focus, no economic plan to grow jobs and to create some sort of environment where people feel hopeful I think is what’s going to bring them down. And you heard his response – this is just for the market to create jobs. We’ve got Solid Energy laying people off because it is being prepared for sale, and John Key describes it as a cost adjustment. You know, these are real people, real jobs. There’s no plan.

GREG Let’s talk about dollars and cents here, Stephen. The five to seven billion figure that’s been talked about so much – listening to what Bill English said, it’s more towards five billion. They’re revising that down, aren’t they?

STEPHEN I’d be surprised if it goes ahead. I mean, at the moment the markets are so uncertain, the reason they’re laying people off is there’s no point in digging out coal that you can’t sell. Coal deteriorates. Genesis spends nearly 20 million a year just turning its coal stockpile over so it doesn’t catch fire. So there’s a whole lot of reasons why you lay people off when you can’t sell stuff. And the significance of what’s happened over the last year – if we’d sold them a year ago, they might have been worth seven billion. But it’s now realised that, in fact, power prices are likely to go down in New Zealand. The major exporters are using less, and it’s quite likely that if they had sold a year ago, the people who bought would be saying, ‘Why did you sell me this? My shares have gone down.’

GREG Do they even have the option to not go ahead with it, though, Claire? This is what they staked everything on in the election.

CLAIRE Oh, no. Oh, no, they don’t have any option. They have to go ahead with it, absolutely. I mean, if they didn’t go ahead, that would be the clanger for them. They would absolutely, you know, have gone against everything that they have promised over the last, you know, three, four, five years. So, no, it isn’t an option.

HELEN That’s a different question from should they go ahead. And the answer to should they go ahead is no. And, you know, there’s been figures produced in the last couple of weeks that show the New Zealand books—

GREG So how do we get into surplus, then?

HELEN Well, that the dividend from these assets actually will return more in the long term than the sales will. So, actually, the figures produced this week, I think by the Green Party, show that by 2015, even the amount of money the Government would have got back in dividends is more in terms of the interest it would save if it sold these assets and paid off debt. So there’s—

STEPHEN The Green Party doesn’t even realise. For example, the Green Party’s policy – I think Jeanette Fitzsimons is a lovely woman, but when she said that we need Manapouri to ensure that households all over New Zealand can use the power didn’t realise that Manapouri— that Comalco actually uses 30% of New Zealand’s entire power overnight. Now, what are we all going to turn on in the middle of the night to use that up?

HELEN There is a good reason why…

STEPHEN Why do you say the power prices are going up?

HELEN …300,000 people are going to sign a petition to stop the state asset sales.

STEPHEN Many more people than that signed the petition against smacking.

HELEN We’ve seen the failure. We’ve seen the failure of these asset sales in the past. People built these, New Zealanders built these, they want to own them, they know power prices will go through the roof if these are privatised, and what we want, actually, is an economic plan that builds growth, builds jobs. And New Zealanders are really suffering in terms of the unemployment figures growing. Construction’s down. You see Bill English saying Christchurch is going to save us. Construction figures are down 8% this year. Christchurch is not the answer to a long-term economic strategy.

GREG Claire, he said he’s not afraid of the referendum. Is it going to potentially take some trouble and quite a bump in the road for them?

CLAIRE No. Referendums are one of those things that, you know, they are part of our legislative framework, people use them, they— He’s right. They do use them as a political tool. They’re a very populist response. But most governments basically ignore them. They’re a very expensive way of making a point.

GREG All right, we will leave it there.

Q + A
Hosted by GREG BOYED
In response to US ELECTION

GREG Claire Robinson, Helen Kelly and Stephen Franks. Is voter indifference going to be the undoing of Barack Obama? That they just won’t have that mobilised effort, particularly of black and Hispanic voters?

CLAIRE Yeah, that’s the risk, and I think that the tragedy for the Democrats is that, yes, they’ve got a whole lot of voters that voted Democrat last time round who may not turn up to the polls, who are also not necessarily giving the same degree of funding that they gave in 2008. And as a consequence, they may hand— by their indifference, they may hand the victory over to Romney. But the secret lies in the Hispanic vote, actually. It’s the— you know, he’s got the blacks, he’s got the under 50s, he’s got the – this is Obama – he’s got the urbanites, he’s got a lot of women, and he’s got most of the Hispanics. So it hinges around Hispanic voters in a few key states. So at the moment it’s really close on the national polling, but it, you know, comes down to those few voters.

GREG Stephen, the message last time – ‘yes, we can’. This time it’s ‘yes, we can, but give us a bit more time’ – are Americans running out of patience? Are they going to give him a bit more time?

STEPHEN I was at dinner one night with a group of Americans who were working in Wellington for Peter Jackson, and they were talking about politics, and they have quite a low turnout in the US. And I asked them, you know, what they thought would happen and all the rest of it. And at the end of it, they all said– because one of them said, ‘I won’t be voting anyway.’ None of them were going to vote or try to. And they had quite an interesting attitude, ‘Look, we aren’t there. We don’t know enough. It’s too unpredictable. I just don’t think it’s right to cast my vote unless I really feel strongly.’ So that indifference factor that he talked about – I think it’ll be the biggest factor. If you don’t really know why you’re going to vote, a vague preference and you’ve got a culture that doesn’t say go and throw a stupid vote out anyway, then he could lose for that.

GREG A number of the surveys in America says there’s only 5% of real swing voters who aren’t red or aren’t blue. That’s what they’re going for, isn’t it, Helen?

HELEN Yeah, so turnout will be very important, which means that a lot of the effort will be on turnout. And obviously, the Democratic base is harder to turn out, harder to contact and harder to connect with, and there’s been a lot of efforts by the Republicans to stop people voting – introducing voter ID and shorter voting hours and all of that. So, really, turnout is going to be the key. Isn’t it interesting how the whole world does have an interest in this election? It’s possibly the only other nation where the whole world has a real, real interest in the result of this election. And I think a lot of us are very very anxious that Obama does get re-elected, because of this international attitude. And so New Zealanders will watch this election very closely.

GREG All right, we will leave it there. Thank you to all of you.

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