Press Release – TVNZ
Dr Raymond Miller from Auckland University, good to have you along. This week Nicky Hager, author and investigative journalist, welcome along to you too. And Paul East, former National Cabinet minister and public law consultant.Q + A Panel Discussions: 23 September 2012
PANEL DISCUSSION 1
Hosted by GREG BOYED
In response to PAULA BENNETT INTERVIEW
GREG Time now to welcome along our panel. Dr Raymond Miller from Auckland University, good to have you along. This week Nicky Hager, author and investigative journalist, welcome along to you too. And Paul East, former National Cabinet minister and public law consultant. Good to have all three of you along. Nicky, can we start with you? Paula Bennett’s announcement stressed how important these all are and then we’re led to believe a lot of them are quite optional. What do you make of what she’s saying?
NICKY HAGER – Author
I was amazed by her, actually. I thought she was tremendously confused. She was saying she cares about the kids, yes. She doesn’t believe that the parents are bad parents. She doesn’t want to force people to do things that they don’t want to do, because parents should be able to make their own decisions, and yet she’ll take people’s benefits off they don’t make certain decisions. And what I took out of all that was that it’s almost like she’s in the wrong party, because the answer to all of these things is the issues of poverty and inequality in New Zealand, which her party has no policies for, which actually might make a difference, whereas she’s stuck with the policy of benefit reform. So she’s trying to find some kind of punitive way to address something which isn’t going to solve the problems she’s talking about, which she’s not comfortable with and which she struggles with, and the whole thing feels desperately incoherent to me.
GREG Paul East, a kick-start or a kick up the bum? Is she in the wrong party?
PAUL EAST – Frm National Minister
No, no, she isn’t, and I think we’re fortunate to have somebody with her experience and background who understands the welfare portfolio. Look, there’s a lot of hard-working taxpayers in New Zealand who pay a lot of tax. Many are working two jobs. They want to know that money’s wisely spent. And, sure, there are a lot of people who need support from the state, but getting support from the state by way of a benefit brings with it responsibilities. And one of the responsibilities is if you have children is that you look after them properly, and many parents— not many but a minority of parents aren’t looking after their children adequately. We see it in the court statistics; we see it in the health statistics. Now, I think it’s quite right that those people should be required to ensure their children are enrolled with a doctor. I can remember a debate 25 years ago where we wanted to ensure that beneficiaries at least had their children immunised or saw a doctor about immunisation. And that never passed, because it was seen as too intrusive. I think times have changed. Health statistics have gotten worse for some of those people, and it’s time something was done about it, so I certainly support the policy.
GREG You feel the National Party is changing? This is not something you think you would have gotten away with – what Paula Bennett’s talking about here – in your day?
PAUL Well, I remember when— I have to go back to the 1970s when the domestic purposes benefit became a statutory entitlement, and the numbers went from 3000 to 30,000 in a matter of a year or two. Now, it did seem to me, and I think many New Zealanders, that for some it became a lifestyle option rather than a real need, and it’s a minority I’m talking about. Now, since then, not much has been done on welfare. It’s growing inexorably, and I think it is time to take stock and to look at how we can get some responsibility sheeted home to some people who don’t take it that rely on the state.
GREG Raymond, as she said right at the beginning, this is a stick. I’m just sort of trying to struggle with where this stick is actually pointed and how straight this stick is.
DR RAYMOND MILLER – Political Scientist
You’re struggling as well as Paula Bennett.
GREG I am struggling.
RAYMOND There’s a lot of struggling going on, really, and I lost count of how many times she struggles and grapples with this. But, really, it revealed to me that there’s a huge chasm between dogma and practice here, and I think that’s part of what she’s struggling with. The National Party has its basic value – a commitment to equal citizenship and a commitment to individual freedom and choice. Now, both of these things are at the heart of their belief that we shouldn’t have big government telling people what to do; we should maximise people’s right to make decisions. And here we’ve got a section of society which is being singled out and told, ‘We know what’s best for you. We will tell you what to do.’ The other thing is I think it’s largely unworkable and she’s almost admitting it.
GREG Well, the case she cited about the woman in Wainuiomata, had to go to Petone, a bus and another bus and a walk, and it was an hour to get to work – there’ll be dozens of those real cases or cases that are quite close to it, won’t there?
RAYMOND Well, there will be, and, you know—
PAUL But there’ll also be cases where there’s a chap who’s got a job offer down the road and doesn’t take it and—
GREG How do you check up on that?
PAUL Well, you’ve got to do it. She’s quite right – there’s going to be a lot of work involved. It’s got to be done on a case-by-case basis. But there’s no doubt the woman in Wainuiomata, it’d be unfair to see her struggle to work in that way, but there are others where it wouldn’t be unfair and they should jolly well work.
NICKY But you’re like many people. You say of course the vast majority of the cases— the majority of cases aren’t like this and we don’t want to penalise them, but these rules do affect everybody. And they make everybody who happens to have found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being on a benefit of feeling like they’re doing something wrong and they’re having—
PAUL No, they’re not. All they have to do is say, ‘Look, here we are. It’s a very difficult situation. Can’t take the job.’ ‘Right, you can’t take the job.’ Isn’t that a responsibility if you’re getting money from the taxpayer to support you that you should have some responsibilities like that?
NICKY And you should have to have childcare at 3 years old when other people don’t have to? Why should a parent be told what to do like that?
GREG Paul East, what about— the whole thing we’re talking about here is kids that start off, you know, they’re two steps behind they’re disadvantaged. Surely, whacking half the beneficiary of Mum or Dad off if you deem they aren’t doing the best they can, either early-childhood education or GPs – aren’t you going to make them more disadvantaged?
PAUL But they’re not going to be whacked, because they’re going to make sure the child goes to the doctor and make sure the child—
GREG And if they don’t, they’re going to sanction.
PAUL Well, they’ve got to have some jolly— Why shouldn’t they do that? I think they should be required to do that.
RAYMOND My problem—
PAUL Otherwise, they’re disadvantaging the child. He’s got no say in it and is going to be left behind.
RAYMOND My problem with this, however, is that the Government clearly lacks the resources to be able to deal with this fairly across all of those who are beneficiaries, so some are going to be—
PAUL We don’t know that yet, Raymond.
RAYMOND Yeah, well, the Minister’s made it very clear that she can’t possibly check on everyone. She can’t— I mean, we’re talking about this one-strike policy with respect to those people who are looking for work, compulsory preschool education for 3- and 4-year-olds. Only a portion of those people will actually be singled out. The others will clearly get away with it, and it’s pretty indiscriminate in the sense that they can’t— they don’t have the resources to check on absolutely everyone. I mean, this sort of policy of workfare and in terms of preschool education has— it’s old. It goes back a long way, and, you know, workfare goes back in the United States to the ‘70s and ‘80s and so on. And it’s largely failed for a variety of reasons.
GREG Nicky, just finally, in the ideal world, if this does all work and they are all put in place correctly, is this going to be good for kids? The kids we’re talking about.
NICKY It doesn’t feel like it to me, because it’s the wrong policy for the purpose, that Paula Bennett is stuck in a party that doesn’t want to mention the word poverty, which isn’t addressing inequality, which is at the basis of all of this, and is telling people that by having some kind of punitive approach to people on a benefit that they will solve the problems. The problem is that even if they do everything, it won’t solve the problems.
GREG All right, we will leave that one there. We will come back in just a moment.
Q + A
PANEL DISCUSSION 2
Hosted by GREG BOYED
In response to LEON PANETTA INTERVIEW
GREG The panel – Dr Raymond Miller, Nicky Hager and Paul East. First of all, Raymond, from the Pacific Forum to now it feels the US is almost tripping over itself to be our pals. Are we being cautious enough, or is this government a bit dazzled and overwhelmed by this?
DR RAYMOND MILLER – Political Analyst
Right, this charm offensive many will find quite flattering because, after all, he only chose three countries – China, Japan and New Zealand. We’ve got to ask why New Zealand and why now. I mean, we’ve waited 28 years for this. The Bolger Government tried and failed, the Shipley Government tried and failed, the Clark Government tried and failed. And we can hardly say it’s Afghanistan, because we’ve been there 11 years, so what has changed? And I think it is that great powers like the United States act primarily out of self-interest and they can see that the balance of power has shifted towards Asia-Pacific. They see that within the Asia-Pacific region China has emerged as the major threat to American influence. They can see its military build-up, its reach both economically and in terms of trade into the South Pacific. They know we have good relations with South Pacific countries, and anyone who’s travelled to Tonga or the Cook Islands will know that China has been investing very heavily in those places. So my guess is that all of a sudden, New Zealand is seen to be a very friendly nation in the South Pacific and the Secretary of Defence is now trying to do everything possible to ensure that the cooperation continues.
PAUL EAST – Fmr National Minister
I don’t necessarily disagree with Raymond on that point, but what I do say is that isn’t sudden. This is a build-up of a closer relationship over the last 20 years, and I think there is—
GREG It got pretty frosty after the nuclear ships—
PAUL Oh, it did, but then, as Raymond as has said, the successive National and Labour governments have tried to break down the barriers. And this is significant, this development. It’s almost a breakthrough – the ship visits. So it is substantial, and I think to some extent it may well be driven by the fact that China is exerting more and more influence in the Pacific, but I don’t see it as a sudden reaction. I think it’s something that has been slowly building in the United States with diplomatic pressure for a number of years now, and finally we’ve had this what I term a breakthrough because we are now back on a much more even footing with a very important friend, the United States. And, look, we are kindred countries. We’ve been alongside them for many many years.
GREG Nicky, I want to make a point. Some of the language he used in that interview with Corin – ‘moving forward step by step’, ‘allowing your ships into harbour’ – that, of course, was alluding to the Pearl Harbor mix-up a couple of months back – and ‘ending the silly limitations’ – by that he means parking their nuclear ships in our harbour, I assume. What do you make of the words he was using, the language he was using?
NICKY HAGER – Author
He certainly when pressed about ANZUS was talking about letting nuclear ships back in. What I felt watching him was when he was talking about friendship, it sounded to me like a US Secretary of Defence coming here in the Vietnam War or the Cold War. And it’s really a serious reminder for New Zealanders that our normal talk about the US, which sounds like it would be so nice to be friendlier and we’ve got to get over this impasse, is actually bringing us to the cold, hard reality of where that’s going, which is that when you are one of these special inner circle of friends, you end up doing their work. It takes us back into that Cold War era where New Zealanders should be thinking, ‘Just a moment, when he talks about possible war in Iran or North Korea or, most important of all, China, do we want to even vaguely be part of that?’ Because, actually, I don’t think that’s where the New Zealand public is at all these days.’
GREG What is in this for us, Raymond? ‘We want you to help us police the area. You will be in a better position.’ How?
RAYMOND Well, I think strategically we are important. And I think that the United States is aware that China is our second most important trading partner, Chinese investment in New Zealand is becoming important, China is Australia’s most important trading partner. These are things that the United States will be aware of, but the point is that we have to maintain our independence, both in terms of foreign and defence policy. We have to balance out our commitments to the United States with our commitments to China, because after all, we don’t want to in any way jeopardise those relations, so I think we have to be very careful. And, of course, I think most people will say our nuclear position is totally non-negotiable. We’ve worked long and hard on that particular issue. It helps define us as New Zealanders. It gives us a sense of nationhood. It’s really been very important for us, so there are certain things we can’t compromise.
GREG Paul East, the relationship with China, the relationship with FTAs and trades and all the rest of it, that’s a delicate, delicate balance.
PAUL It’s a balancing act indeed, and you’ve got to be very careful about this. But let’s face it – we’re in an uncertain world. Who knows what the world’s going to look like in 30 years. I want to be in the corner with the United States. That’s why I think this is an important breakthrough, and let’s not forget history. Remember 1939 to 1945, we were saved by the United States – Australia and New Zealand. Who knows? We might— We can’t envisage what the globe’s going to look like in 30 or 40 years—
GREG So in your opinion, leaping boots and all back into ANZUS is what we should be doing?
PAUL I’m not saying leaping boots and all, because we do have our non-nuclear policy, which I think has become a bit of a— has become part of the New Zealand fabric. And I think that’s going to create some difficulties. But we will continue to work closely with the United States, and we’ll grow even closer, I suspect, following these developments. I think it’s a good thing.
NICKY Paul, you’re not the Second World War generation. For people who were born then, our grandparents, it did make sense to be with the United States, but, actually, two generations since that, the United States relationship has been Vietnam, it was the Cold War, we’ve just seen two incredibly ill-conceived wars which have caused a lot of trouble in the world, in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is actually the alliance they’re talking about. They’re not talking about a rerun of the Second World War.
PAUL I’m very grateful for the United States’ role in the Cold War, because we don’t have it any longer. I think that’s part of the reason why the United States is such a great country, and we should be very careful—
GREG Let’s talk about what China is saying. China— A senior Chinese general has said, you know, ‘You’re encircling us. Stop it.’ They said, ‘No, you’re not.’ But if you look at a map, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Australia, India and possibly now us, they are. There’s no way around that. That’s what the US is about, isn’t it?
RAYMOND Yes, and it’s understandable, because they’re conscious of the issue of North Korea, they’re conscious of the fight between the Chinese and the Japanese – verbal fight at the moment – over those islands, and they’re conscious of growing American influence in places like Singapore and the Philippines. There is a sense in which China could feel a degree of encirclement and be concerned that, in fact, the US is suddenly putting a huge amount of its efforts into trying to at least, as they call it, rebalance what’s happening in the Asia-Pacific regions. So, yes, they wouldn’t need to be paranoid to believe that this is something they’ve got to be wary of.
PAUL Raymond, I think as well isn’t it the fact that China— as we’ve seen more and more Chinese influence in the smaller South Pacific countries and New Zealand is seen to be a very good citizen in that regard—
GREG Nicky, just finally, just really really quickly, if really the charm offensive is up, if they really turn the screws and say, ‘We want to be here. We want to come in boots and all,’ can we say no?
NICKY Of course New Zealand can say no. Listen to John Key. Every time he speaks in public on foreign policy, he says, ‘We have an independent foreign policy,’ and he only says that because that’s what the public wants. And so, yes, I think we can say no.
Q + A
PANEL DISCUSSION 3
Hosted by GREG BOYED
In response to SIR ROGER DOUGLAS INTERVIEW
GREG Now back to Raymond Miller, Nicky Hager and Paul East. First of all— If can start with you, Nicky, first of all, the results of that poll – is it surprising that more New Zealanders aren’t saying ‘go’?
NICKY HAGER – Author
No, I don’t think so. If you look at that poll, you’ve got 30%, which is sort of the rump National-ACT area, but, actually, National should be looking at the 57% who aren’t happy, because you can’t form another government, you can’t win the next election on 30%. And John Key, I think, is making the wrong call on this because there’s a lot of people who are unhappy and he isn’t having the spine to act on it, because he could throw Banks out of the Cabinet and still have Banks’ vote for confidence and supply. I just don’t think he’s got the courage to do it at the moment.
GREG Paul, is this an example of New Zealanders going, ‘Okay, we realise what’s happening here, but we don’t want to destabilise this government. And if we do—‘
PAUL EAST – Fmr National Minister
No, it’s not. Look, this is a story that’s of interest in Molesworth Street, and that’s about it. Most people are worried about a lot more significant things than this issue. I think the media will be very disappointed with that poll, because they have been doing a hatchet job on John Banks for the last two weeks, as Sir Roger Douglas said. So I think they’ll be the ones who are disappointed. I think John Banks—
GREG You think he’s been victimised – a hatchet job?
PAUL Well, I think the media have concentrated on it to far too great an extent in terms of its importance to New Zealand. I’m not saying necessarily that they shouldn’t have looked at it, but I’m just saying that we’re still banging on about it. Look, this happened before he was a minister and MP in this present government. Now, John Banks was a very good minister in the Bolger Administration, and I am sure he’s a good minister today. Let’s concentrate on the work he’s doing there, not something that happened a year or two before he even got back into Parliament.
GREG Kim Dotcom’s involvement in all this – what have you made of that, Raymond?
DR RAYMOND MILLER – Political Analyst
Well, I think there’s considerable public sympathy for the position that Kim Dotcom has and others have taken with respect to this. But can I just make a comment that I— Roger Douglas said he thought that the brand had been hurt. I think the brand has been destroyed, effectively. ACT has been nothing but trouble for John Key.
GREG From teacups onward.
RAYMOND From teacups onward. I mean, if it hadn’t been for the teacup incident, National might well have ended up with an actual majority in government, New Zealand First may not have got back in, and ever since they’ve been arguing this case of the—and trying to defend this case of John Banks and the donations. So it’s been a real problem for the Government.
PAUL Can I just add there I think the— I don’t disagree about Kim Dotcom being a figure that deserves some support, but it did seem there was a substantial overreaction in the way he’s been dealt with, but that will play out in the courts in time. But, look, we’re still two years away from the next election, and I think there’s a lot that can be done between now and the next election in terms of ACT and its support base.
GREG How, given where it’s at now?
PAUL Well, look, they’ve got a lot of keen young people there, they’ve got policies. No doubt National has tilted slightly to the centre in the last four years. It’s left a space on the right for people who are worried about some of the issues that they see as important to New Zealand. And I think ACT can capitalise on that, and I think it will be between now and the next election.
PAUL Don’t write them off.
GREG Nicky, hypothetically, whether a Labour MP, let’s say, who were in there now who’d done the same thing – tried a mayoral campaign, it all went whatever with the donations – what— that would be over and dealt with fairly quickly, would it not?
NICKY It depends whether or not the person fronted up and dealt with it and moved it on. John Banks isn’t fronting up, he’s not answering the questions, he’s not producing the information, and so he’s playing a big role in it rolling on, actually. In fact, even in the recent past we’ve seen Labour MPs being caught up in scandals for things that they did years ago or when they were in government. And, actually, if that’s the only time you can hold them accountable, that’s when you should do it.
RAYMOND And, you know, John Banks has failed to really front up on this. He seems to be running for cover all the time. You asked about Kim Dotcom. I mean, he’s a natural television performer. I mean, he is a very credible sort of person, there is a lot of public sympathy for him, but I think the public also realise that John Banks should be the person who’s fronting up on this issue, not John Key.
GREG All right, Nicky Hager, Raymond Miller and Paul East, thank you all so very very much.