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Q+A: Panel discussions

Published: 4:16PM Sunday December 04, 2011 Source: Q+A

  •  (Source: Q+A)
    David Shearer and David Cunliffe - Source: Q+A

Panel discussions hosted by Paul Holmes

(In response to Shearer/Cunliffe interview)

PAUL HOLMES

Time to welcome the panel now. And for our final programme this year, 2011, Jon Johannson from Victoria University, Helen Kelly, Head of the Combined Trade Unions, and John Tamihere is a former Labour cabinet minister and, of course, he's the head of the Waipareira Trust. So, after that 15 or so minutes, who is looking stronger, do you think, John Tamihere?

JOHN TAMIHERE - Former Labour Minister

Oh, I think what you have with Cunliffe is because he's been in the game a lot longer, is a more incisive speaker. So he's able to give you the sound bites quite readily, quite quickly. The difference is is that Shearer, because he had to be a persuader, rather than a power speaker, he uses a different form of language. So he's going to have to butter up on that.

PAUL I think this is very perceptive. I think Cunliffe demonstrated a sureness of foot.

HELEN KELLY - President CTU

Yeah, I think the party's going to be looking for two things - one is the leader of the opposition, and one is the next prime minister. So it's got both those things in its mind. And it's going to look in three areas. It's going to look at integrity, and I think they both showed that they've got integrity there, and their records show that. It's gonna look at values, and, you know, the people that are gonna be electing them are value-laden in terms of that caucus. They've all got very strong views in terms of what they stand for. And then they're gonna look for skills.

PAUL They're gonna look for someone who's gonna win, aren't they?

HELEN Well, all of those things matter to who's gonna win - integrity, values and skills.

PAUL So, it appeared over the week and over the weekend that David Shearer was gaining the momentum. Do you think he still has that after this interview this morning?

HELEN I think it's a very open competition, and I know that from talking to people, that actually there's a week to go. It's not going to be decided through the telly. We end up with Burlusconi when we decide it through the telly.

PAUL He did all right.

(ALL LAUGH)

HELEN

It's going to be decided through the conversations in the party.

PAUL But he also owned them.

HELEN Yeah, that's exactly right.

PAUL Who looked more like a prime minister? This is the thing.

HELEN I think they've both got the potential to be prime ministerial, and they've got three years to get there. And as I say, the most important job is the leader of the opposition.

JON JOHANSSON - Political Analyst

I think you don't want to lose sight of that this electorate here is the 34 caucus MPs of Labour. I commend the Labour Party for having this process because it means that those 34 members of this electorate are being exposed to a wider range of opinions than would normally be the case if they were just locked in amongst themselves, right? That said, I think the choice is really this - which candidate can best explain Labour's location in political time, and particularly with a view from breaking free from the Clark era?

PAUL Who did that?

JON I don't mean that in a disrespectful way. Well, Shearer, I think- You know, they're interesting, because Shearer's actually older than Cunliffe, but Cunliffe's been in there since '99, right? Since that Clark government came into power. So he's far more the institutional representative of the caucus, whereas what Shearer provides is a clean break. Put it this way - I bet I know which one the Prime Minister is more in fear of as an opponent, and it's the uncertainty of the wildcard Shearer, versus the known quantity of Cunliffe. Now, these guys both have skills, and it's really their self-insight as to how they can- the things they're weak at, finding complimentary people to help them bolster that. So with Shearer, I don't think we'll understand it until he's actually put in that role and see whether he blossoms.

PAUL There was discussion, too, during that debate about the architecture, if you like, of the Labour Party - the way candidates are selected, and so forth. And they both trod on eggshells talking about the union movement, didn't they? So perhaps does the union have too much power? I know you hate this question, but does the union movement have too much power in the formation of the Labour Party and where the Labour Party goes?

HELEN No, actually, I think that the union movement's, you know, 300 times bigger than any political party in this country.

PAUL One in 10-

HELEN 22%- Ah, one in 10 in the private sector. 22% of workers in this country - biggest democratic organisation in New Zealand, much bigger than any of them. So actually, what I think the party needs to do is look at how it discusses its list. Because what it does is it basically runs a first past the post list process in a day where it goes, you know, 'Who's next? Let's vote. Off we go.' What it needs to do is have a much more inclusive and deep discussion around the Labour list.

PAUL The Labour list this time was described on this programme a couple of weeks back as a 'disgrace'.

JOHN That's true. And the way the moderation committee - I was on it-

JON So it's your fault. (LAUGHS)

JOHN That's true. I was part of the Clark regime, and key to this leadership discussion is a clean break from that regime and a reconnection to Labour-leaning people. They stayed at home in droves because they had nothing to vote for. So the union movement by default is a fully paid systemic infrastructure, so by default it has a big play, because it's got fully paid organisers that are directed-

PAUL But are you saying this list we just had, what we have at the moment, was wrongly put together?

JOHN Oh, look, you look at the list-

PAUL You lost good people-

JOHN Commentators really have to be honest, cos they all dance around the tulips, you see. So if you think Rajen Prasad and Darien and a whole bunch of others get you giddy out on the street and bring your construction workers back in the party- And the construction industry in itself has changed.

PAUL But the point of selection - everybody knows the unions can monster-

HELEN No, there's two points there. One is people did not- The problem with Labour is that they didn't get enough votes, and that's why people missed off at the bottom. It's a completely separate thing from the list. People did not look at the list- And people like Darien are actually connecting with people across the spectrum. And so- You know, John's obviously got a different view of who's electable in this situation, but what the problem is is it's absolutely nothing to do with the union power in the party, actually, and it's a very balanced process. What it is is how they do it, how they have those discussions, who they involve. And the constitutional review that's going on will enable us to get an MMP process for selecting our lists.

PAUL The other big question, I suppose - is Shearer too much of a newbie? I think Cunliffe is of the view that those very people who are supporting him, like Phil Goff, Annette King, and the senior people in the caucus, will run him because he's so new if Shearer were to get the job. Is he too new?

JON Yeah, I actually think that it's about the team that he constructs around him. So long as there's solidity, and if you have a Parker in the mix there- It's the same way as Key and English, right? Key's the one out there front and centre in the public, but it's English that's actually driving the government machinery, and it's gonna be likewise with Shearer. Where his skills lie seem to be in articulating actually a vision, and actually challenging the status quo, and it's about time we saw a Labour politician seriously questioning on a first principle basis the status quo.

PAUL Right, just quickly - who beats Key in three years, of those two?

JOHN Oh, look, my own personal view is straight up Shearer. Reason being, clean skin and the ability to reconnect with a whole bunch of people that stayed at home.

PAUL Some of the three out of four who couldn't bring themselves to vote Labour.

JOHN Look, the west and the south - big polling booths - stayed at home.

PAUL Well, the Nats won Christchurch. Sepuloni is a casualty of it.

HELEN We need to get into the provinces. We need to restructure the way that we run our whole campaign-

PAUL Who beats Key in three years?

HELEN Well, I think they both potentially can beat Key if Labour gets its act together on those other issues. They're both goodies, and we are lucky to have a choice between two good people and to be having this debate. The fact that we're having this debate is because they are both potentially leaders of the party.

PAUL Yes, they are good men.

(In response to economist interviews)

PAUL Let's see what the panel make of that. How dire potentially is the situation, not only for Europe, which we know it is, but for us?

JOHN The problem is on both sides of the Atlantic. I mean, you're just concentrating on Europe. The Yanks haven't got it right by a long shot either. But just three quick points off the NZEIR boy that was there. So the first thing is neoliberal economics as we know it, and that we've traded on for a generation, whether it was called Rogernomics or Reaganomics or Thatcherism, has failed, and so when you- and the debate that the Labour Party's gonna have, ideologically speaking, is going to have to redefine the economic discussion as we need to redefine it in light of the failure on both sides of the Atlantic. And so I think that's going to be fascinating.

JON And that's what Shearer has been saying, isn't it, John, that it's the first principle look at the economic paradigm itself.

HELEN Yeah, but a government's just been elected who hasn't got the faintest commitment to relooking at it, and is just going to continue down the neoliberal failed line.

JON And so their problem is wealth creation. I mean, that is really this government's Achilles heel - wealth creation.

PAUL Well, it's the whole world's problem, isn't it, wealth creation?

JOHN Yeah, but here's the point that he made, which is wrong. He made a point that governments can really just set the framework. In a small democracy like ours where government expense is 44% of GDP, um, it actually is the significant and only driver of change. Private sector's too small.

JON Always has been.

JOHN Always has been. That means that the New Zealand government becomes absolutely crucial and essential in setting the whole economic discussion, and that's why you've gotta go back to first principles. Otherwise your agenda gets crowded by the big boys that suffer no consequences but lay off all debt on to the future tax potential generation of you and me. All of a sudden we're holding the can and the big boys still run around on the super yachts, Paul, as you know.

PAUL (CHUCKLES) With 85 million refits.

HELEN It's time to forget all these bank economists giving us their point of view about what needs to happen, because they are part of the- We need some social economists in this debate saying, 'Actually, even in this situation we've got choices about who we support, what we do with incomes.' You can have a look at some countries that they never mention like Brazil and Argentina and even China, where they're going through major redistributive responses to the stimulus.

PAUL They're also going through major wealth creation. Brazil is amazing.

HELEN They're doing well. And they're actually building social protection floors and sharing the wealth and not concentrating it in the way we are. Look, I've been on a picket line with 110 workers locked out at ANZCO, one of our biggest exporters making primary lamb, they've been locked out since the 19th of October, where that employer is trying to cut their pay by 20%, simply to make more profit. You know, this is the unsustainable economy that's being encouraged by this neoliberal policy. Those workers are consumers in the Rangitikei-

PAUL It's unsustainable not to make a profit. No one ever went broke making a profit.

HELEN No, they're making a profit. This is about more and more profit shifting towards the fewer and fewer people, off these low paid $43,000 - $46,000 a year meat workers.

JON If low wages is the only way that our businesses can make profit, we are failing. We are absolutely failing.

JOHN Or if you think that the tourism industry, and everyone being a barista, on low incomes- It's the way it works. If you're going to go to a low-wage economy and suck up our young people in low-paid employment, that might be the way to go. I don't think so.

PAUL A big problem, yes. No matter where you turn, it's very difficult.

PAUL Welcome back. The formation of the current government, or the next government, I suppose we should really call it. The position of the Maori Party at the moment. Te Ururoa Flavell is said to be going to take over Pita Sharples' co-leader job.

JOHN Yeah, look, two things here. Dependent on the specials coming in, and if National does drop off one MP, the position of the Maori Party in terms of a tipping point for the numbers becomes quite significant in their leverage. Key will also need them anyway, because the other two are just branch officers of his own party. So he'll need them for ballast on that side of the equation leading into 2014. So that's the leverage that the Maori Party's got. It's quite significant. Its two leaders - co-leaders - are retiring, and the debate right now is Key can't give them three big jobs to satiate their desires for the BMWs, so it'll fall to two. If Sharples is leaving, Te Ururoa Flavell will be the only institutional person left driving that party. And so it makes sense for Sharples to step aside in favour of him. Whether Sharples saw that coming or not, I don't know.

PAUL Or whether he wants it. Do we know?

JOHN Oh, I think Pita likes the BMWs, actually. But, look, on the way out I think they'll manage the process.

PAUL Well, the impression he gave before the election was he certainly wouldn't contest the election, but we didn't think that a week after the election that he'd be stepping aside as co-leader.

JON But that's the dilemma that the Maori Party has found themselves in, right? I mean, they actually have to tend to the future of the party post Sharples and Turia, and that's urgent.

HELEN I think the risk is what they want out of this coalition deal, and my view of them from the outside is that they're basically just a party looking to prop up the welfare of their people through welfare, rather than actually tackling the big issues. They know that National Party policy will effect Maori and damage them economically and socially, and so what they're trying to do is build some sort of base at the bottom, which is insufficient and not what Maori expected when they set up their own party.

PAUL Do you agree with that?

JON Well, one thing I'll just add - off on a tangent, really, is that losing Sharples comes at a real cost. I mean, I think it's a no-brainer that Flavell has to come in. But he is the acceptable face to the national base of Maoridom. You get rid of Sharples and there is going to be trouble amongst that national base over the next three years.

PAUL The other thing is Mr Flavell gives very long answers in interviews. Um, ACT and John Banks and Peter Dunne - what are they likely to get?

JON (Throws his hands up)

JOHN Whatever John Key wants to give them. You see, they're there because of his patronage. End of story. We all know that.

HELEN There must be a debate going on in the National Party about what they're gonna do in the next three years. They've got two choices, haven't they? They can either absolutely decide this is it and go for broke, and there'll be a lot of pressure on that, and they they'll try and blame Banks and put him into something quite central, or if they decide they're going to try and go more middle of the road, keep broad-based support, then they'll be trying to do a deal with the Maori Party and sideline ACT.

PAUL Can I just move on? What about next year, Jon? Are we going to see the party become, as so many people want it to be, more radical economically, or will he maintain the centre, especially if Shearer were to be elected leader of the Labour Party and he's much more a centrist person than others might be?

JON You've gotta look at it in a couple of ways. One is- And I have a sort of biological metaphor, I guess - is eaten all the material around it. The National Party now stands alone. There's only one direction it can travel to maintain its middle-ground support, and that is to the left. But the pull is entirely from the right, and I think the net effect of all of that, what we're going to see over the next two years is a great deal of instability and that coalitions start to show obvious manifestations of stress.

JOHN Yeah, look, the economies are going to go through a very torrid time. As a consequence there's going to be a lot of pressure. There's pressure pulling you on austerity. There's a bunch of intergenerational funded programmes that are unsustainable, Working for Families if it continues on its track, and a whole range of other things. So some tough decisions are going to have to be made. If not, the legacy of Key is going to be a difficult one to work through the shambles.

PAUL Just to finish - I'm out of time - call it on the Labour leadership.

JOHN I can't call it, but if I was in there, I'd be voting Shearer.

PAUL And yourself?

JON I think Shearer gives more opportunity to move on.

PAUL Helen Kelly?

HELEN It's too close to call, and I think they've both got real strength, and I'm not going to call it here.

JOHN Piker.

(ALL LAUGH)

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