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Q+A: John Minto interview transcript

Published: 9:25AM Tuesday August 23, 2011 Source: Q+A

PAUL Veteran political activist John Minto has, for the first time, joined a political party.  He is co-vice-president, along with Annette Sykes, of the Mana Party.  Mana leader Hone Harawira describes Mr Minto as a great New Zealander.  Love him or hate him, John Minto's given most of his life to various left-wing groups and causes, most notably, of course, the anti-apartheid group Halt All Racist Tours, HART, that protested the 1981 Springbok Tour.  This year is the 30th anniversary of that tour, and John Minto's decided to stand in the November elections, saying Mana's policies will be good for him, his kids and his grandchildren.  He's with political editor Guyon Espiner.

GUYON Thanks, Paul, and thank you, John Minto, for joining us.  We appreciate your time.

JOHN MINTO - Mana Party Candidate
Thank you.

GUYON Why put down the loud hailer after all these years and join the establishment at Parliament?

JOHN  Well, I don't think it's about putting down the loud hailer.  It's probably about taking the loud hailer to Parliament, in a sense.  I think we've had a whole generation - the last generation - where there's been this massive redistribution of wealth from people in low incomes to people on high incomes.  And just a couple of weeks ago, we had the- we saw the 150 wealthiest New Zealanders had an increase in their wealth of $7 billion last year, and most of that increase in wealth, that's untaxed.  So there's big, big imbalances here that need addressing.

GUYON And I want to get to some of that economic ideology that you have in a few minutes, but you were the face, obviously, of the anti-apartheid movement in New Zealand.  You fought against separatism, in a way.  You know, you're now throwing your lot in with Hone Harawira, who argues for a separate Maori parliament, he says he doesn't want his kids to date white folk, who calls Pakeha 'white mother-effers who have raped the land for years'.  I mean, the scale is very very different, but aren't you swapping an opposition to one form of racism and perhaps supporting another?

JOHN  No, I think the whole question of apartheid in South Africa was using race to discriminate against, to oppress a whole group of people - the majority of people in that country.  I think that the Maori nationalist movement in all of its forms is saying that Maori are in a powerless position and this is using, if you like, positive discrimination to give Maori a fair go in the land of their birth.
 
GUYON Do you support a separate Maori parliament?

JOHN  I think a separate Maori parliament can be part of a constitutional structure for New Zealand, definitely.

GUYON And do you see this party, the Mana Party, as a Maori nationalist movement that you are sort of grafting on sort of Marxist or anti-capitalist ideology to?

JOHN  No, I don't think so.  I think the- What the Mana Party says is that if we get things right for Maori, we get things right for everyone, because Maori are disproportionally represented among working-class people.  They're the people who have suffered the brunt of the economic reforms of the last 25 years.  They're the group that's gone backwards, along with Pacific Island people and, in fact, along with working-class people as a whole, so there's common cause here in bringing- in saying that Maori are part of the working class; let's bring the whole working class forward.

GUYON OK, let's talk about some of those economic ideas that you did raise in my first question.  You want a maximum wage of 10 times the minimum wage - minimum wage about 25,000 - so you want a maximum wage so that anyone who earns a dollar over $250,000 pays 100% tax to the government.

JOHN  That's one of the ideas that's in our draft policy, yes.

GUYON So that's Mana Party policy?

JOHN  Well, it's a draft policy.  The policies are going through a review process at the moment, but definitely.  I mean, we see, as I said before, we've had this massive redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich in New Zealand in the last 25 years, and we have to do something about it.  So what we're saying is that we want to-
 
GUYON Sorry, how can we-?  You may argue there's a big, big gap between the rich and the poor.  Obviously, there is, but has there been a redistribution?  How could the rich have got that rich off the back of the poor, who don't have any money?

JOHN  I'm not sure where you've been if you don't think there's been some wealth redistribution.  There certainly has been.  You've got the people who work the hardest, work the longest hours on the lowest pay.  Those people are the ones who are struggling to put food on the table for their families.  They are the people whose work is building New Zealand.  And the problem is that we use the market to value the work they're doing, and at the same time, we have people with massive amounts of unearned wealth which is untaxed.  I mean, that 150 New Zealanders I talked about before, an increase in wealth in a single year of $7 billion, that's for just 150 people.  That's more than the entire Working for Families package.  So we've got this massive imbalance in New Zealand and we have to redress it.

GUYON OK, and that's what I'm getting at - you want to address it.  I'm talking about the practicality of your position.  I mean, if you had a maximum wage of $250,000, I mean, that counts out all the chief executives of government departments, probably a lot of top surgeons and medical people, the tough kid who grew up in a poor part of town and scored a hefty rugby league contract would be in that category too.  Do you really think that our best and brightest wouldn't be leaving shore with those-

JOHN I don't think you should focus on that as the core of our economic policy.  The core of the policy is to say we want to reduce tax, we want to get rid of GST altogether, we want to make the first $15,000 a person earns tax-free - that's across the board - and then to make up for that, we have a financial transactions tax, we have a progressive taxation system, we have death duties, and we have a proper capital gains tax, which means that the unearned wealth which people are gaining at the moment is taxed.  What we're saying is what a person earns in a year is all of your income.  Put it all together and you pay tax on it as that is your income.

GUYON Hone Harawira says that we should nationalise monopolies and duopolies.  Do you agree with that?

JOHN  Well, I think those are- In some cases, yes.  I think essential infrastructure in New Zealand should be nationalised.  It should be brought back under community.

GUYON Because you could argue that the supermarkets are a duopoly in New Zealand.  I mean-

JOHN  Well, you could argue that.
 
GUYON Should the government own those?

JOHN  Well, at the moment, that's not Mana policy, but those are issues which are being developed.  I think the main thrust of what we're saying and what we're going into this election with this year is to say we want to see the people who work the hardest, work the longest hours, who are the half a million New Zealanders who are earning $15 an hour or less, that is the group of people who are having it the hardest.  And in a land of plenty, it's obscene that we have hundreds of thousands of children growing up in poverty.

GUYON You've said you want to abolish the dole and use the money to have state-formed companies to create jobs.

JOHN  Well, not quite.

GUYON Well, you have, actually.

JOHN  Well, I wouldn't have put it that way.

GUYON Well, you have actually absolutely argued that on an August 16 opinion piece.

JOHN  Well, what we're saying is that we- if you have a policy of full employment, that everybody has a proper job, then you don't need the dole, you can abolish the dole once you've done that.  So you set up- you don't abolish the dole immediately; you actually establish full employment, and then the dole becomes irrelevant.  You know, New Zealand-
 
GUYON How do you establish full employment?

JOHN  You use- You have government investment in infrastructure in New Zealand.  You use, like we used to have with the old Ministry of Works, you know, you have infrastructure organisations set up which employ people, not just for the-

GUYON You're creating jobs that don't need doing, though.

JOHN  Well, absolute- No, no, no, we've got jobs that do need doing.  At the moment, those jobs are contracted out to the private sector, and people are paid, you know, the minimum wage, paid as little as they can get away with.  What we're saying is that there is- there's a massive amount of money that is available for investment, but at the moment, it's going into a very small number of pockets, and that money should be there for the public use.  It's come from New Zealanders; it should come back to investment in New Zealand.

GUYON From what I've read of your political ideology, it looks like you're arguing Marxism or communism.  Would you accept that?

JOHN  No, we're not arguing-

GUYON I mean that is the ideology that you're putting forward.

JOHN  Well, I wouldn't put a label- I don't think labels are helpful.  What we're putting forward are policies, and you could put, you know- if you use those labels, it's fine, but the-
 
GUYON Do you describe yourself as someone who supports capitalism?

JOHN  No.  I think that capitalism- the free market has its place, but it doesn't have its place in essential infrastructure, and it doesn't have its place in providing the opportunities for massive amounts of unearned income to be taken untaxed by a group of people.  So we're putting forward policies; we're not putting forward ideologies.

GUYON Not long to go now, so I just want to talk about a practical issue.  Mana is polling less than 1% in opinion polls.  It might be a one-man band.  I mean, you're calling for a revolution, but you're armed with a popgun and you might not even get on to the battlefield.  I mean, are any of these going to actually really happen?

JOHN  Well, that's over to the voters out there, but I'm surprised Mana's even polling at 1% at the moment.  I think when the election campaign comes, I think Mana will resonate with a lot of people in New Zealand - the poor, the marginalised, the people who have been screwed over for this generation and well before - and I think Mana's got- Mana's going to do some good things.

GUYON All right, we'll wait and see.  John Minto, thanks very much for joining us.

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