The Nation: David Seymour, Peter Dunne and Te Ururoa Flavell
On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews David Seymour, Peter Dunne and Te Ururoa Flavell
David Seymour says election year a good time for his Euthanasia Bill to be drawn from the ballot, because MPs will have to listen to the public on the issue. He says 70-80% of New Zealanders support it. But Te Ururoa Flavell says he’s not keen and Peter Dunne also won’t give a definite answer, saying he’ll listen to his community.
Dunne says he is in discussions with Julie Anne Genter about her Medicinal Cannabis Bill, but says parts of it are unworkable and that it effectively decriminalises cannabis, which he doesn’t support. But Seymour says he will support it, and Flavell says his party is likely to support it to the first reading.
Flavell says the Maori Party is unlikely to work with Labour after the election. He says the party can work with others “when it fits our kaupapa” but Labour only does “now and again”. Dunne says working with Labour is “unforseeable at this point”.
On working with Winston Peters, Dunne says “New Zealand First is the negative, disruptive force in New Zealand politics”, while Seymour comepletely rules out working with Peters.
Lisa Owen: The National Government has
survived three terms now supported by its partners, ACT,
United Future and the Maori Party. As it aims for a fourth
term, it will be focused on keeping those partners onside.
So what are the minor parties getting out of it? Well,
joining me now are ACT leader David Seymour, the Maori
Party’s Te Ururoa Flavell and Peter Dunne, leader of
United Future. Good morning to you all. So, you’re
supporting the National Government, all of you, so can you
please name one area where you think they are excelling?
Peter Dunne: I think that the government’s excelling in terms of economic management. I think that the government is excelling in terms of being able to chart an economic direction and a future, which the Budget this year, with the strong surplus and the forecast of strong surpluses ahead, has demonstrated. The challenge now, though, is to make that a permanent feature and to start to see an ongoing social dividend from that change.
Is Mr Dunne right, Te Ururoa Flavell?
Te Ururoa Flavell: Yeah, I think it’s a fair assessment. We’ve been pleased with the influence that we’ve been able to have with respect to those social elements and trying to very much push towards whanau, and from our perspective, we saw that in the Budget and reactions of the government in presenting the Budget to the nation just recently. So I think that has been a turn in the tide in respect to looking at families and whanau, and that was also reflected in terms of the lifting of the benefit; last year’s Budget as well.
Okay, we’ll talk about that more soon, but, David Seymour, an area where you think they’re excelling.
David Seymour: Oh, look, I think that the area I’d say they’re excelling is actually in education and in partnership schools, which I’m happy to say is an ACT policy. We are seeing kids’ lives changed for the better. Kids who previously felt disengaged from the education system in many cases are doing very well. That’s the kind of innovation that New Zealand needs if we’re going to—
Excelling at your policy, ACT policy?
Seymour: Well, that’s absolutely right. I mean, look, you know, there’s a whole lot of policies that we support, frankly, because the alternative would be so much worse, and we need to remind ourselves of what it was like when you had the Greens and New Zealand First and Labour. Mortgage rates hit 11%. The country led the world into recession even before the GFC, because they could not control spending.
Mr Flavell, I want to go back to what you were saying about how you think there’s been an improvement in the economy and the position of families. Prisoners – Maori is represented; 51% of prisoners are Maori. We know that Maori are getting fewer degrees. They’re disproportionately still represented in those poverty statistics, and Marama Fox told us when she was on this show that she felt National was asleep at the wheel. That sounds pretty dangerous, to be asleep at the wheel.
Flavell: Well, as a party – and I think I we speak for all of us – we all want more than we can get. We’re not the government per se, but we have some huge aspirations for our people, and we’re no different. Our people expect us to be able to turn around some of the negative statistics that are faced by our people. We do our part, and we attempt – albeit from the side – to be able to influence the government in terms of changing some of their policies, holding the line with respect to key elements of their policy and yet advance others. So—
So what’s your single biggest achievement, then, in doing that? If that’s your job, to ride shotgun…
Flavell: Whanau Ora, absolutely. The government has adopted Whanau Ora as something, actually, that’s rippling across all of government departments now, whereas before it used to be sort of sidelined. It’s still there, but we’re making huge inroads in terms of making Whanau Ora roll across the country and, indeed, how the government is changing from—
How many families, though, Mr Flavell, have benefited from that? What, 10,500?
Flavell: 11,000, actually. In that last year—
That’s a drop in the bucket, though, isn’t it?
Flavell: That’s true, but if the programme is about what influence we can have, first part is that we have been able to put Whanau Ora fairly and squarely on the government agenda. We have been able to put whanau front and centre with respect to how they’re dealing with the nation’s issues, as expressed in the recent Budget, and been able to hold the line on other issues. Can I just talk about—?
Just on that note, you raised the Budget there. So over the last three Budgets, you got about 300 million for Whanau Ora, which is exactly around about what the film industry got in subsidies this year in the Budget.
Flavell: Yeah, so first part is—
How does that sit with you?
Flavell: Well, if we take it back to the Budget, first thing is – I say, we say that we actually had a huge influence over the whole Budget package with respect to the focus around changing of the tax levels as well as the help by way of income because we sit at the table – number one. Number two, that we were able to get those amounts of money you talked about – over 122 million under Te Puni Kokiri. Over the last three years – 400 million. Over the last nine years – $2 billion. And the last part is, actually, we have an opportunity to work with the other ministers because of our relationship accord to be able to do things like Passport for Life, which was announced just recently.
Okay, I want to bring David Seymour back in the conversation, because Te Ururoa mentions all those things in the Budget. You have criticised Bill English when he was Finance Minister for governing from the left. Is he too left as prime minister for your liking too?
Seymour: Oh, absolutely. Look, that is the National Party mantra – campaign from the right and govern to the left, and if you look at the Budget that we’ve just had—
So in what way specifically?
Seymour: If you look at the Budget that we’ve just had, it’s indistinguishable from a Labour Party Budget. It basically says that we’ve got a lot of problems – we’ve got massive problems with accommodation and housing, for instance – but the solution is simply to tax and spend more. I mean, that’s what Michael Cullen used to do, and that’s what Steven Joyce is doing now, and the ACT Party stands—It’s the only party saying that if you’ve got a $24 billion surplus – which the government does over the next four years in this Budget cycle – should actually give it back to the people who earned it, and so, you know, this is a government that is hard left.
Your tax policy would give back about $5 billion in tax breaks for businesses and personal tax, so where are you going to get that $5 billion from? What are you going to cut to afford that?
Seymour: Well, actually, nothing, because the thing about a surplus is that government revenues exceed current expenditures. So Act’s tax plan would allow current expenditures to be maintained; in fact, they’d increase on baselines by $14 billion over the next four years with demographics and changes to population and inflation and so on. So we wouldn’t touch any of that. What we would do is we would give back the excess revenue to the people who earned it, so it’s about people who earn money being able to keep it.
And the people who’d benefit most from that are the ones in the top tax bracket?
Seymour: Well, that’s because they pay, overwhelmingly, the majority of tax. The top 10% of taxpayers pay 38% of all income tax. So if you want to reduce taxes, then yes, people who pay the overwhelming majority of tax are going to get more tax relief.
Let’s bring Mr Dunne into the conversation. You’re concerned very much about affordable housing, and you’ve unveiled a proposal to—a ‘lease to buy’ scheme. But that would only apply to about 10,000 houses built by the government. That will make virtually no difference, would it?
Dunne: Well, it’s a start, and I think you’ve got to start to build on a series of packages. What we want to see is the infighting over housing stop. You’ve got government, central government, builders, financiers, social and housing groups all disagreeing at the moment about what the biggest priority is. So the first thing we would bring together would be a national housing summit to get a national housing strategy about how you release land, what the responsibility of central government is. Where does local government fit in?
That just sounds like more talking, doesn’t it?
Dunne: What have we got at the moment? We’ve got confusion. We’ve got this situation that emerged in Auckland just yesterday where a plan to build new houses in south Auckland has been stifled because of an Auckland City Council decision. We can’t go on this way. The rent-to-buy scheme would enable half of the houses that the government intends building over the next number of years to be available for young families to rent to buy. So about half of their rent contribution would be set aside as a deposit towards their house. We’re also looking at a scheme—
How long do you think—? Have you worked out how long it would take for a family to accrue the deposit to purchase a house?
Dunne: Well, it would depend on two things. It would depend on what the market rent of the house was, and it would depend on their rate of contribution.
$445 is the average for a two-bedroom house.
Dunne: What I’m saying is you’ve got to build the houses—
You’re talking seven to 10 years under that scheme to accrue the deposit.
Dunne: There is no magic bullet here to say you can solve the housing problem overnight. I think you’ve got to start to take some long-term steps. And this isn’t the silver bullet. It’s one of a set of measures, and—
Dunne: Can I just finish?
Seymour: With the greatest of respect to Peter, these are accounting changes, and the fact of the matter is that as New Zealanders today, we build half as many homes per capita as we did in the 1970s, when the baby boomer generation was at peak home-building age. The fact of the matter is that if we don’t free up land wholesale and dramatically change the way that we fund infrastructure, we will continue to have a massive shortage of homes – half a million homes short of what we would’ve had if we’d kept building at 1970s rates. And we will have people in cars and garages, and this winter is going to be hard for the government, because there’s going to be story after story that comes out of the shortage of housing. But with the greatest of respect to my colleague, changing the accounting – whether you’re renting, whether you’re buying or leasing – is not going to solve the fundamental problem of too many people chasing too few houses.
Dunne: The issue here is multi-faceted. You’re right in what you say, but again, that’s part of the solution. I’m proposing another part. The point is you cannot have a situation where everyone is saying ‘this is the answer, this is the answer, this is the answer’ in an uncoordinated way. You need a national strategy. Every night on television, you’ve got companies advertising ‘we can build the house of your dreams’. Why can’t we actually organise them to build affordable housing for young New Zealanders?
Seymour: Well, maybe because they have no land and infrastructure. Those are the issues the government has failed to attack.
Dunne: They do, because they’re saying, ‘We can build you your house right now,’ so they’ve got the land. They’ve got the infrastructure. Let’s utilise their talent more effectively.
Mr Seymour, I want to bring up your bill that was pulled from the ballot this week – euthanasia. Is it good timing for you, or could this end up being a bit too controversial for an election year?
Seymour: Look, I think it’s an important issue, and I think that the fact that it’s come up in election year is probably the best time for the bill, because MPs are overwhelmingly out of step with public opinion. I think that there are a majority of MPs that will support it, but nowhere near as close as the overwhelming support—70%, 80% of New Zealanders want this change.
You have quite a conservative voter base, though. What do they think? Is this party policy for Act?
Seymour: I think that people in the Act Party are in favour of freedom and choice. The Act Party board blessed me putting this bill into the ballot.
Well, let’s test the water with these MPs, then. Te Ururoa, you’re not keen on passing this bill, are you?
Flavell: No, and I suspect that many of our own people are. There’s some issues around whakapapa that are hugely important here. And the decision-making – actually, who has the decision-making right at the last minute, the ability of whanau to have an influence in the decision—
So is it a definite no for you?
Flavell: At the moment, it is leaning towards no, but we’re led by our people, and I’m pretty sure that that’s the feeling of many Maori.
If your people tell you otherwise, will you vote for this?
Flavell: We have to give it consideration. I mean, it’s a conscience vote, so we’ll cross that at the time. But certainly, this is one of the major issues that you’ve just got to go back to the people on.
OK. Mr Dunne?
Dunne: Well, I think you’ve got to respect the rights of people who are terminally ill to make their own decisions and to have those upheld by those around them. But I think—
So you’ll vote for this bill?
Dunne: No, what I’m saying is I think this is an issue where we’ve got to be very careful that we have a very clear sense of where the community stands. I’m going to do a lot of listening over the next few weeks, because this bill is not going to come before parliament – probably in the life of this parliament – but I want to hear what people say, because I think this is—
But as Mr Flavell says, it will be a conscience vote, so what does your conscience vote—?
Dunne: Well, I’ve told you where I’m tending, but what I’m saying is that this is a decision that will have very widespread ramifications whichever way it goes. It’s important that we take the bulk of the population with us and we understand what their concerns are, and that’s why I’m going to do a lot of listening and not a lot of talking.
The other private member’s bill that was drawn this week was the medicinal cannabis, Julie-Anne Genter’s bill. It goes further than what you have done in terms of medicinal cannabis. Will you support that bill of hers?
Dunne: At this stage, I’m still in discussion with Julie-Anne about some provisions in her bill. I think that the bill, in one sense, is unworkable. I think, in another sense, it actually changes the whole ball game in a way that’s not what was intended. But I need to talk more with her about that.
So what’s that? Probably a no?
Dunne: Well, what she’s saying, effectively—
No, is that probably a no, Mr Dunne?
Dunne: No, I’m going to answer the question this way. What she’s saying is that she’s effectively going to decriminalise cannabis across the board. That’s not the position of a number of other political parties. I don’t think it’s where the public is at. To be fair to her, I don’t get the sense from her that that’s necessarily where she’s even heading, so I need to sit down and talk with her about precisely what she’s—
Yes or no on Julie Anne Genter’s bill?
Seymour: I’ve told Julie Anne I’m going to support the bill.
Flavell: I haven’t seen the detail of it, but generally we support these sorts of bills, in particular around this issue, to first reading, to allow people to have their say and then make our decision from there.
Okay. The other week on The Hui, Shane Taurima said that we need to taihoa on immigration. So too many people were coming in, he said. What’s the right number in the Maori Party’s point of view, if 75,000 is too much?
Flavell: From memory, I can’t exactly remember the amount that we set previously, but I think against the issues that have been raised around housing and those sorts of issues recently, we have to reset that. We haven’t come to a figure at this point in time.
Are you kind of aligned with Labour? You want it to go down to about 25,000 a year?
Flavell: Not aligned with Labour too much.
On the number. On the number.
Flavell: Look, the issue we have is about saying, on one hand, we suggest that it’s fine to bring other people here in the spirit of manaakitanga to allow them to come into this country, especially those who have suffered from issues in their own country that have left them damaged in one form or another. So we want to express manaakitanga to those sorts of people.
So you’re talking about lowering it by what, tens of thousands?
Flavell: I said I haven’t got a number for you.
Flavell: But what we do want is to look after those people who do suffer from, you know, tragedy or otherwise, and set a number that is manageable. Because at the moment, clearly, one of the huge issues that we haven’t talked — well, we have actually talked about — housing is a major issue here in Auckland and indeed throughout the country. And, you know, if you were going to ask about what were the issues that haven’t necessarily stacked up well for National, one of them would definitely be in the housing area.
Okay. Can you put your hands up if you’ve got a deal with the National Party for an electorate seat or any kind of arrangement that’s going to assist you to get re-elected? For this term.
Seymour: No, there’s no such thing as a deal.
Oh, Mr Seymour. There is such a thing as a deal. You’ve had them.
Seymour: You journalists love this. You journalists love the idea that all the politicians—
You said last time you were on here that they’d be mad not to endorse you. “Mad not to endorse me” were your words.
Seymour: Yeah, but that’s not a deal. That’s just their self-interest.
So you’re expecting an endorsement?
Seymour: Oh, look, I think they probably will.
What about you, Mr Dunne? Are you expecting—
Dunne: Same space. There’s been discussions.
Seymour: It’s actually up to the voters to decide.
Dunne: But, really, the National Party will make its call about its position, and David’s right, voters will determine the outcome.
In the past, arguably, you haven’t needed them to do that. But now that the Greens have stepped aside, Mr Seymour has said you’re up against it in Ohariu. Is he right?
Dunne: Oh, no, I don’t think that’s correct. All of the feedback I’m getting suggests that a number of people are very unhappy about what’s happened, and I’m getting more support now than I’ve been getting for about two or three elections.
Are you going to need National’s help, though, by way of an endorsement?
Dunne: An endorsement from any quarter is always welcome. But at the end of the day, when voters go into a ballot box, they decide the outcome, not the political parties. Britain should tell you that alone.
Flavell: No endorsement for me.
Well, okay, about that, Mr Flavell. The thing is if National’s going to govern without New Zealand First, it needs to bolster the numbers of its support parties, and your party, realistically, is the one that is a contender for getting extra seats. So what can they do for you — the National Party, to help you get more of your people over the line?
Flavell: Well, that’s for them to consider.
Have you had a chat about it, though?
Flavell: No, we haven’t had a chat about it, because that’s our responsibility to convince our people that we are the right option for them, against a party that continually throws them under the bus. You know, we’ve got to remember, in terms of our relationship—
Which party throws them under the bus?
Flavell: The one that’s coloured in red. But in terms of our position, most people don’t recognise that we get there on the back of an invitation from the National Government. They don’t need us. They give us an invitation, which we consider after each election. And I’m pretty much clear that it’s going to happen again after the next election.
Okay, well, you’ve raised Labour there. Can you actually work with Labour in government? You say you can work with both parties, but you keep saying, and your people keep saying, that Labour throws Maori under the bus. So are you prepared to work with them in a government?
Flavell: The practical situation is that we’ve expressed a desire to work with other people across the political spectrum, when whatever they’re offering fits our kaupapa. And if it does, that’s fine. But unfortunately, at this point in time, the leader of the Labour—
Well, does it? I’m confused here. Does Labour’s fit your kaupapa?
Flavell: Now and again, but not too often, because clearly we vote differently from them. And the other part is that the leadership of the Labour Party—
So unlikely that you would be able to work with Labour, if the kaupapa doesn’t fit very often, as you just said.
Flavell: That’s true. That’s true. And that’s declared. But the thing is that the leadership of the Labour Party have declared that they actually don’t want to work with us, which is a bit of a problem. So we’ll find out on election night when they need the numbers.
Seymour: Lisa, can I just challenge an assumption in your opening to Mr Flavell a second ago? You said that the Maori Party’s the one that’s realistically likely to increase its seats. I wonder why you think that ACT is not going to gain several more seats at this election. In the current poll, we’re right on the cusp of getting—
Because you’re polling less than 1%, Mr Seymour.
Seymour: No, we were 1% last night on Colmar Brunton. 1.2 to get a second MP. We’re raising good money. Our campaign team meets every morning. Next month, early next month—
Well, how many do you think you’re going to get?
Seymour: Our goal is to get five, and I think—
I know what your goal is. How many do you think you’re going to get?
Seymour: I’ll tell you why. I think we’re going to repeat our 2008 performance. We were exactly the same place in the polls right now three months out, and on election night the Act Party elected five Members of Parliament and was decisive in changing the government.
Okay. Mr Dunne, we’re running out— I just want to go to Mr Dunne, because we’re running out of time. You’ve been quite scathing of Labour in recent times and written in your column about the fact that it’s the worst form of political bitterness that you’re seeing from them. So I know you’ve done it in the past, but could you work with Labour?
Dunne: For us, the determinant has always been policy mix, and the current Labour policy offering doesn’t offer much confidence.
So you’re like Te Ururoa — unlikely?
Dunne: Well, unlikely. I think a lot would have to change. It’s completely, I think, unforeseeable at this point, really. To be perfectly honest, the Labour Party today is a shadow of itself previously. I think that the prospects of it being in a position to form a government are remote.
What about New Zealand First? Because it seems that New Zealand First would like not to work with any of you. So is it going to be if there’s New Zealand First, there’s none of you in the government?
Dunne: Well, I think it’s a very stark choice. New Zealand First is the negative, disruptive force in New Zealand politics. The one certainty if you have New Zealand First involved is it falls over. So New Zealand voters have a choice — carry on with what we’ve got or risk disruption and chaos.
I want a yes or no from the others. So if New Zealand First is in, is it likely that you’re not in government with them? Yes or no?
Flavell: Well, as I said, we’d be willing to work with other parties who fit with our kaupapa. If not, too bad.
Seymour: Winston Peters is New Zealand’s longest-serving beneficiary.
David Seymour? He described you as a flea.
Seymour: Well, he’s New Zealand’s longest-serving beneficiary.
Yes or no — can you work with him? We’ve got to go.
Seymour: Our most expensive politician. Our most expensive citizen, in fact, ever, so no way.
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