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Q+A: Andrew Little & Don Nicolson interview transcript

Published: 9:40AM Tuesday July 19, 2011 Source: Q+A

PAUL Welcome back to Q + A. This week, ACT named Don Nicolson, the former-until recently, the president of Federated Farmers - as their candidate for the Clutha-Southland seat up against National's Bill English. Andrew Little is standing up in New Plymouth against Jonathan Young. These are two men used to being in charge, now joining the rank and file, perhaps, of caucuses, and they join us this morning on Q + A. Can I ask you both first of all, why would you stand? Why would you give up a very good career outside politics to go in and become a donkey?

ANDREW LITTLE  -  Labour New Plymouth Candidate
Because you can do so long in a leadership role in an organisation like a union, and you get to a point where you've done what you think you can do. I'm in my, sort of, mid career, if you like. It's time to do something different, something challenging. And the sort of skills that you learn in this sort of role, uh, in terms of representation, advocacy, understanding policy, engaging with people are the very sort of skills that actually fit in a political environment too. So it's a logical step, from my point of view.

DON NICOLSON - ACT Clutha-Southland Candidate
Andrew's right, but, uh, I don't intend to be a donkey. In fact, uh, hopefully on November 26, people are gonna say, 'ACT party vote - good job, Don.'

PAUL There's little danger of-or there is some danger, isn't there, Andrew Little, of your not winning. A recent poll, um, in New Plymouth had you... they were polling 41 for Mr Young, 25 for you. There's a danger you won't win in New Plymouth.

MR LITTLE Yeah, I think to put that poll into perspective, it also had the Labour Party vote at 16%. Now, it's never been that low in New Plymouth before. I'm there every week, I'm door-knocking, I'm getting around to people. I'm finding a very interesting response, actually, even from people who say that are avowed National Party supporters, but they are not satisfied with the local MP at the moment because he's simply not doing enough to advocate for New Plymouth and Taranaki's interests. So...

PAUL Some of the pundits, though, they say-or perhaps of that Labour support in New Plymouth - the strength of it was the support for Harry Duynhoven.

MR LITTLE Harry had a very strong following. But getting around people, I'm finding that people want something different. They want New Plymouth to be-and its interests to be talked about and advocated for.

PAUL Cos the thing I'm asking about this is if you weren't to win it, it might damage your leadership hopes. Caucuses tend to like fellows who can win seats.

MR LITTLE Well, I don't have leadership hopes. I want to be part of a caucus and part of a team that does good things for New Zealand, like introducing capital gains tax.

PAUL Well, which we'll talk about shortly. Are you going to beat, uh, can you beat Bill English?

MR NICOLSON Uh, I've got no intention of beating Bill English, but if I can get some of that Clutha-Southland electorate vote for ACT and actually spread the word about ACT for a party vote round the country, I'm a very happy man.

PAUL Have you got much machinery down there?

MR NICOLSON Uh, not at the moment, but it will build.

PAUL Where would you expect to be on the list?

MR NICOLSON Well, look, as high as I can be. Uh possibly that's in the lap of the gods. There's a board and a leader that are gonna make that decision. I don't know at this point.

PAUL Because we were talking from the green room, and we think it might be four or five,...

MR NICOLSON That's what a lot of people-

PAUL ...which might be if you're lucky.

MR NICOLSON Well, if people put me at four or three of five, I'll have to be happy.

PAUL All right. The capital gains tax. It's been criticised for too many exceptions, which, for people with long memories, takes us back to the taxation system of the old days. Andrew Little

MR LITTLE Well, I'm not sure that, um, I'm not sure that we've ever had a capital gains tax. I think what-

PAUL No, I mean the taxation system. For example, Guyon was talking about it - if you're 51 years old and you've had, for a certain period of time a small business and you sell it and there's a capital gain, you won't be taxed on that. It just seems-You know what I mean? It's so complicated.

MR LITTLE Well, I think it comes down to this, is that if we are-if we want a fair tax system - this is what the Tax Working Group said - we ought to tax all forms of income, not just what you get from your wages and salary and a few other bits and pieces. And it's also about making sure that we have a tax system that encourages investment in the productive sector, not on the unproductive sector.

PAUL I understand that. But isn't Gareth Morgan right when he said before, 'Don't tax earnings. Tax wealth.'

MR LITTLE Um, of course, that's a good thing and an interesting thing, but we've gotta start with what we've got. And let's understand what New Zealand's big problem is. We have-There's a lot of things that we rely on the government to do to support our collective interests - things like pensions, things like hospitals and schools and so on. We are rapidly heading down a track where in 20 years' time we cannot afford that.

PAUL  And if we wanna continue with all that, of course...

MR LITTLE We need more income.

PAUL Yes, we need more income, and we had a special last week on innovation on Q + A. And the feeling is we've gotta redirect this economy, Don.

MR NICOLSON Absolutely right.

PAUL So what's wrong? Are you opposed to a capital gains tax?

MR NICOLSON Um, not pers-Not if everything else was in sync, uh, meaning lower taxes, broader base. That would probably suit me. But we're a long way from that. What we've got is a climate of growing taxes - that's the CGT - a  climate of growing taxes over time. We're heading to a $100 billion total Crown expenses, up from under 40 billion when Helen Clark came to power - two and a half times. Do New Zealanders feel two and a half times as well treated by the state? I don't think so, and sadly, all we've built is an entitlement mentality. That's gotta stop.

PAUL But we've gotta encourage innovation, don't we? We've gotta encourage growth of the productive sector.

MR NICOLSON Yes, so you've gotta have aspiration, and you've gotta allow aspiration to flourish. This country is taking away the aspiration of many of our young.

PAUL Mr Nicolson, what is the state of ACT - the ACT Party at the moment?

MR NICOLSON Uh, well, I haven't looked at its books, but I've looked at the poll that comes out, and obviously that's about where it was, uh, five months before the election in 2008.

PAUL I wasn't really talking about books or polls. I'm talking about what people think about the Party. Can I suggest to you people may regard the Party, after the shenanigans of the past few months, as all over the show?

MR NICOLSON Well, uh, I have been part of that, but I accept that there's been some negative media. I'm hoping that that dies down and we just get back to what ACT stands for, which is around freedom and self-reliance and responsibility in society.

PAUL Exactly, but when it comes to polls, we see there's been no bounce from Dr Brash assuming the leadership.

MR NICOLSON Uh, well, look, polls are polls. I know that five months before the election in 2008, we were polling quite lowly, uh, poorly, and we rose right up before the election. And that was with all the minor parties. And, actually, the major parties contracted.

PAUL But I suppose when I talk about being all over the show, I'm talking about thing like this. Last Saturday, you had the ACT Party in the newspapers denouncing the Maorification of New Zealand. Then a couple of days later, I think it was the Tuesday, your leader says, 'We need more Maori and women in ACT.' How does that work?

MR NICOLSON Well, I'm not sure how that's gonna work, but if Maori and women and ACT wanna put their name in the Party list or stand for electorates, that's great. But what I said is that that legislation that Don is talking about should be colour-blind, and I really believe that myself. The legislation that we set in this country has to be colour-blind. So one law for all is where I stand as well.

PAUL And you may look down on that view, Mr Little, but of course you've got Damien O'Connor saying that Labour is now 'a gaggle of gays and self-serving unionists. Have you stacked the Party with the unions?

MR LITTLE No, not at all. No, we have a pretty open and transparent selection process.

PAUL Well, all right, let me put this to you. You're at number 15 - you're an ex-unionist. Uh, Deborah Mahuta-Coyle is at number 26, Michael Wood, Kate Sutton, Jerome Mika - these are all amongst the new people being proposed - all union backgrounds.

MR LITTLE Oh, not at all. They've got very diverse backgrounds, all of them. I mean, you look at Kate, who's got a background in communications and what have you, so, uh, I don't accept that at all. Labour is-

PAUL But come from union movement, though.


MR LITTLE Uh, well, no, not at all.

PAUL They've got strong histories with the union movement.

MR LITTLE Well, many of them do, and that's a good thing, because they understand about people, they understand about working life, they understand about the business who they interact with. That's what-

PAUL Do they understand middle New Zealand, though? Doesn't Labour need more straight-talking straight people or middle New Zealand people if they want to connect?

MR LITTLE Well, I-

PAUL I didn't mean straight. Middle New Zealand. Yes.

MR LITTLE They are all middle New Zealand. If you're working for the union that organises banking workers and insurance workers, you're dealing with a middle New Zealander. If you're working for a union like I do, who's looking after the workers in Fonterra, for example, they're technicians who do an incredible job, have an incredible level of responsibility. You're dealing with middle New Zealand. That's what modern unionists do.

MR NICOLSON Of course. I was a unionist when I led Federated Farmers.

MR LITTLE Here we are. Don's a unionist too. We're all unionists.

PAUL All right. Cancelled out. The emissions trading scheme. You dislike it intently, Mr Nicolson. Labour has announced it wants to set up an $800 million fund for research and development for high-tech businesses. Now, what that means, though, is that farmers are going to come into the scheme a couple of years earlier - 2013 instead of 2015. Farmers are sore about that. Why should they be?

MR NICOLSON Well, first of all-

PAUL We all know that's what we need - high-tech development.

MR NICOLSON Absolutely right, and we're doing science, we're doing R&D right now, spending a lot of money in that. The Global Research Alliance set up by the National Party is working 55 million over five years. There's a whole lot of things going on, but what we don't know around the emissions trading scheme, Paul, is what does success look like? We don't know what the achievement at the end of this is. I'm not a climate denier as people call me. I accept that climate variation occurs all the time. What I don't accept is that it's clear that man is having an affect that is deleterious to the point that we need to set up these schemes. Communities need to be resilient, we need to build resilience, and all that's fine.

PAUL You were asked the other day whether you thought the ETS was a con, and you said, 'I think it's exactly that,' and you say you're not a conspiracy theorist. I would say to you that's a conspiracy theory. And when asked where the ETS came from, you said, 'Probably from the Greens.' Do you think?

MR NICOLSON Well, look, there's been an agenda around the world for about 30 years growing to this point, and the Greens, to their credit, have played a really good promotional, um, plan. They've actually laid the platform a long time ago for this.

PAUL And very quickly - you've got 10 seconds. How do you know he's wrong?

MR LITTLE Well, listen, there's 4000 scientists engaged by the UN to tell us that there's something wrong. We have to do something about it, the ETS is it. It may not be perfect, but it is a response.

MR NICOLSON  What's it achieve?

PAUL Andrew Little, thank you. And Don Nicolson, thank you very much for your time. 

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