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Q+A: Panel discusses Peter Neilson interview

Published: 4:06PM Sunday June 17, 2012 Source: Q+A

Raymond Miller, Matt McCarten and Matthew Hooton are back with me now. First of all, Winston Peter's plans, such are they are, do they help the super debate in any way, shape or form?

MATT McCARTEN - Unite Union
Well, they stake out a political position for him, which is a good one because people want the security. All the discussion about changing the ages and the previous guest we've just had now is what makes people unsettled. And so the whole thing with super was to make it guaranteed, and that's why he's doing it.

GREG  Politics aside, what do we make of his plan?

MATT  Winston's? Well, it's probably unsustainable.

GREG  No, the one we just heard.

MATT Oh, this guy here. Well, he's just pitching. I mean, this is just actually a grab to turn the super we've got now into a private-

GREG But it's a plan. It's a start of a plan.

MATT Since he was the Associate Minister of Finance in the Labour Government in Roger Douglas' time when they tried to push it with the surcharges and everything else which Labour was supporting, what we've actually got now is a privatised scheme which they're saying is 10%, which is actually a tax rise which will go into it, and they want to make it compulsory. He's not saying it now, because it's not the political thing. But that's where this right wing and this lot are going to. They're going to make superannuation - not make it tax funded; they're going to turn it into private hands and have a compulsory levy on every worker in this country.

GREG To be fair, though, Matthew Hooton, they said 1% a year for anyone who's under 40 up to 10%. Having said that, 10% on top of your tax, that's a lot of money.

MATTHEW HOOTON - Political Consultant
 Yeah. Also the plan is too far out. They're talking about making substantial changes after 2050, but the Treasury's forecasts say that there's major problems starting in the 2020s, and we reach Greek level debt in the 2030s, 2040s. So I don't think talking about 2050 is that useful.

GREG Raymond, are we tinkering where we shouldn't be tinkering, or should we just go compulsory saving? Let's forget all this faffing about and make a compulsory super thing and be done with it.

RAYMOND MILLER - Political Scientist
 Well, that's one solution. I just think there is so much more debate that needs to go on. I think the government needs to engage the public over the next few years so that we have some clear sense of direction. I think it has to be addressed, though, for the future. It can't be left aside at this stage.

MATT Super is already compulsory. It's called taxation. That's actually what pays. What they're doing is 10% more on top of your taxes now, plus the students, the young ones, are expected to pay 12% on education loans. So actually what we're doing is it's almost a generational theft. Let's put it all on the young ones and make compulsory, and private is going to run it. At the moment, we've got a tax payer superannuation. If it was actually just concentrated on that, it would be sustainable.

GREG Ok, let's move away from super. Back to Winston. Is he again going to be a power broker come 2014? Because he's playing a very close-carded chest game right now.

MATTHEW Yes, and I think he will get over the 5% threshold. But even more than that, I think it's likely the MMP threshold will be reduced to 4%, and I think that both he and the Conservative Party would get over 4%. So it does look as if there are the numbers for a John Key Government. Say National at 41% of the vote. Winston Peters on 5% of the votes. Conservative Party on 4% of the vote - that's a government. And I think it's most likely that that's the next government  at present, because I think there would be major problems with Winston being the third wheel on a Labour-Green Government. I mean, the first thing is he and John Key seem to agree on superannuation. John Key can make him deputy prime minister, give him a knighthood. But also I think that he has major difficulties. He's a supporter of mining, for example, and is he ever going to agree to be the third party in an anti-mining coalition? I don't think so.

GREG Sir Winston has a certain ring to it, wouldn't you agree?

MATTHEW Well, that's what he wants. He's into that sort of thing.

GREG Does he need to broaden the party's appeal? Because for most people, it's Winston Peters and some other people. And he admits that, to an extent, that's why they were in the wilderness leading up to the last election before the tea cups.

RAYMOND Look, it's never going to be anything other than a niche party, in my view. He appeals to a particular section of the community who feel that National and Labour don't fully represent them. The other thing is, of course, his party sits at around 1%, 2% between elections. Nothing is straightforward with Winston, so it's very hard to predict what he's going to do. But he does exploit an election campaign, as we know what happened a few months ago.

GREG Matt, more broadly speaking, this past week, 10 days, for the government, it's probably been the worst you could script.

MATT I would say so. I mean, I think it's the first time we've seen them sort of mismanage on such a large scale. I think it's all own-goal stuff almost exclusively. And so this is the first time. Maybe Key was out of the country for too long. But I think it's actually got people thinking now, and I think they're going to start watching. I think it's been going on for a little while, but I think this week it's dropped. The polls have a 4% drop.

RAYMOND You know, people are saying, 'Well, it's second term. This is what happens to governments in their second term. The wheels start falling off.' I think the problem is political leadership, quite frankly. During his first term, John Key had a remarkable instinct for reading and acting on the public mood. We're seeing a much more ideological government in the second term. They're other people who are almost too clever by half who don't have anything like the sort of appeal that John Key has as a kind of personable, open prime minister.

GREG By that are you talking about Hekia Parata, Judith Collins, people like that?

RAYMOND And Steven Joyce and, to some extent, Bill English.

MATTHEW I think the idea the Steven Joyce is ideological is ridiculous, and the idea the government is running an ideological programme is wrong as well. One of the things the Prime Minister has said is that the reason they're falling in the polls is because they're doing difficult, bold reforms at the moment, and they planned to do them in their first year of their second term before consolidating. But, for the life of me, I don't see the bold, ideological reforms.

GREG What about the way they're rushing things through? The Sky City deal is the one that sticks out.

MATTHEW That's been negotiated for more than a year now.

GREG But when you've got the Auditor General on your case or about to get on your case-

MATT Well, out of all the issues, it's smells. Gambling, you know? And there's this relationship, and people start to wonder, 'That's right. National always has its conferences and its celebrations up at Sky City.' So it starts to smell about the relationship.

GREG Well, they get their parking validated, I hear. Who's benefitted this week from all of this from the other side of the fence?

RAYMOND Well, I think the Greens. Because the problem for Labour is whenever you talk about asset sales, they can be reminded of what happened in the 1980s and so on. So Labour is always vulnerable. But the Greens have got this ability because they've never been in government, they're not accountable in the sense that other political parties are, they've got a strong leader in Russel Norman. We don't hear much of Metiria Turei these days. That, I think, gives the Greens a sharp edge that they're able to use and exploit successfully.

GREG All right, to all three of you, Dr Raymond Miller, Matthew Hooton and Matt McCarten, thank you very much.


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