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Published: 2:56PM Sunday September 25, 2011 Source: Q+A

  •  (Source: Q+A)
    Source: Q+A

In response to DON BRASH interview

PAUL HOLMES John Boscawen's departure - what do you make of that?

CLAIRE ROBINSON - Political Analyst

Oh, I think it's a disaster for ACT, but I think that ACT has been on sort of a slippery slide to oblivion in the last year, anyway.

PAUL Well, he says they've been at the centre of national politics for the past month.

CLAIRE Well, they haven't. You know, Don Brash earlier this year said he wanted to either form a new political party or take over ACT. He took over ACT, and in effect, he's formed a new political party, because there's nobody left from the old ACT. I think it's really a disaster for ACT voters, actually. Who can they trust? Who do they vote for? What are they voting for? It's really unclear.

JOHN PAGANI - Political Consultant

It's not really all that new, though, is it? I mean, it's a recycled leader of the National Party. It's a recycled National Party minister in John Banks. You know, it's not new. It's a B-team National Party.

CLAIRE Well, exactly, and it's not who you signed up for when you became a member of the ACT Party back in 1996.

PAUL You were an ACT MP, Stephen Franks. I really don't know what they are or who they are any more, you know.

STEPHEN FRANKS - Former ACT MP

I think they fill the same slot that parties like that fill all over the world, especially where you've got MMP, where the main party has to go for the swing voters in the middle. They often know nothing about politics, so they have to just be nice. And you need the parties like Green at one end and you need ACT at the other end to say the things that are unpopular, to say the issues that have to be debated that a main party is too afraid to touch.

JOHN You see, the problem with that, Stephen, is the ideological incoherence of the ACT Party today, because we have a libertarian extreme trying to co-exist with an authoritarian extreme in the same party, and they haven't decided which one they want to be.

STEPHEN You always talk about these doctrinal tensions as if they were real. I've been there. They're not. I kept getting journalists saying, you know, "How can you bear to spout that populist criminal justice stuff?" It's actually at the very heart of any party around the world that believes in personal responsibility. You...

CLAIRE In 1996 the party was formed on the basis of a big gap in National, and there was a perceived need for some more neo-liberal economic policy. That's where they were formed. That's why people were attracted to them in the first place. And then over the years, they've got all the crime and the justice and it's - you've identified - it's taken them away from their core business, from their core voter to the point that you can look at them now and say this is nothing to do with the party back in 1996.

JOHN They were formed to complete Roger Douglas' manifesto, and then they found no one wanted to vote for that, so they switched to the populist policies of bashing the crime drum.

CLAIRE And now they're going to...

JOHN That got them elected, but it didn't make any sense.

STEPHEN You two can enjoy making it up, but I was actually there. I was there in '96.

CLAIRE Well, we were watching it.

STEPHEN I was inside it, and I can tell you there was never tension about criminal justice policy, for example. It's just common sense.

JOHN Look at the criminal justice policy today. At the same time, we've now got John Banks of all people coming out with a pothead policy that he's going to liberalise drugs and everyone's going to have free access to the dope.

PAUL Now, what do you make of that?

CLAIRE Grasping. They're grasping for new voters, and I think that's just absolutely symbolic of where they're at now. But, you know, you said we weren't in the party, sure. But it's not about who's in the party. It's about the perception of people outside the party.

STEPHEN Oh, you can talk about your perceptions, but to then try and ascribe an inside knowledge of tension between libertarian and authoritarian... The two policies that he's come out with are perfectly consistent with the same things they've done this week. They've said, "We will not support abolition of the right to silence." That's because when I was there and throughout, they've always been protective of the rights of the innocent. But at the same time, they're saying if you're not innocent, we're not going to muck around treating you as if you deserve the same kind of respect.

PAUL Yep, if you've done it, you'll go down.

STEPHEN If you've done it, you'll go down. It's been totally consistent.

PAUL Now, do you know the sad think for ACT, I think, about business of John Boscawen suddenly departing? And you say, well, it's a disaster. I say "disaster" is a big word for something I really don't care about. I mean, that's the thing - people don't care. Any other party, if the number two had done this, what, a month, two months out from an election, it would be a disaster, but I'm just not sure that anyone cares. It's just more nuttiness.

CLAIRE No, and I think, you know, the party and Don Brash had a bigger sense of how popular the man was - Don Brash was. They're not going to be able to make 2%. I mean, to even think that they could get to 10% to 15% is just laughable.

JOHN Which means that Mr Boscawen might not have been making that big a decision, because they might have only been going to bring Don Brash in on the list, anyway,...

CLAIRE Yeah.

JOHN ...if John Banks can win Epsom, and you'd have to say now that his chances of winning Epsom...

CLAIRE Have decreased.

JOHN ...are going to slip, because ACT look like a shambles.

PAUL Well, if they had have been a bit more patient, I think Rodney Hide could have won Epsom, but there you go.

JOHN I think he's completely discredited, Rodney Hide. You know, you cannot campaign as a perk-buster - which is another example of populism trumping whatever agenda was meant to be there - and then come out and be the biggest perk-taker of all.

STEPHEN Oh, look, that's absolute nonsense. He was never the biggest perk-taker. He was stupid to have done what he did, but what he did was exactly within the rules. We've had plenty of the politicians out there going well outside the rules.

JOHN They were always saying it was inside the rules.

STEPHEN No, they didn't. They just did it.

PAUL One thing he wants to do in the speech is he wants to address what judges do and judges' attitudes to victim impact statements. And of course the infamous one is Gill Elliot's and what the judge did to Gill Elliot's victim impact statement. I don't have a problem with that. Do you? I mean, I think you've got to be able to say what you want to the wicked criminal.

STEPHEN The proposals that Simon Power announced are pathetic. I mean, they're still tinkering. The simple thing is that the court should be, say, like the French courts where the victim is recognised as a party and can submit on sentence in the same way that the offender's family can submit and can say, "We think you're scum." Anything that stays within the bounds of propriety should be permitted, but instead they've been tinkering.

JOHN It's restorative justice. They've actually been doing it in the Youth Court for a long time, where you get to sit down and tell the kid who's, you know, smashed into your house or something, what you think of them and what they've done. And it's not completely no-holds-barred, but it's not formalised, and people sit there and confront it. And I've done it, actually. It's a pain in the neck doing it.

PAUL I've got to wind you up, but, yes, I've watched that on telly.

JOHN But I'm so fascinating!

PAUL I've seen that programme on telly, the Youth Court one.

*

In response to PETER HUGHES interview

PAUL So what do you make of that? I mean, what can the chief executive of Social Development really do for numbers? He's made some progress, but he's had swings and roundabouts, hasn't he?

JOHN His starting point was you can make quite a difference within a couple of important areas, and the first one that they affect is the ability to give some skills to people who are in the system that helps them transition out. They can't affect the macro environment, and we saw in the last 10 years as unemployment came down, welfare numbers came down. But it wasn't purely because the jobs were there. It was also because a big programme went in that MSD did, Steve Maharey set up, of transitioning people out. So you helped... For example, Paula Bennett got a grant to go to university. That got her the skills that got her on a new track in life. Those sorts of solutions are great. Incidentally, she took that grant away.

PAUL Yes, I mean, he makes a good point, doesn't he, when he says the people who front at Work and Income are not the people who go and get their own jobs? They're people who do need to be helped and handled and led and guided, yeah?

CLAIRE I think the interesting thing about MSD is that... And Peter had done a fabulous job over the 10 years of creating systems, processes, turning what was a government department that many thought was a hospital pass back in the '90s into something that is actually one of the top-performing departments in the state sector. But I think that the gap is that by focusing on welfare, benefits, jobs, that there is a whole lot of things that have been missed out in terms of the development of social policy. So 10 years on from when Peter started, we've still got the same issues when it comes to infant mortality, child health, adult health, violence, poverty, inequality, and so the focus on the process and the systems has meant that we've taken our eye off the really big social policy issues that we need to be addressing.

PAUL Well, it's hard to know how you ever get inside a house and control that kind of stuff, isn't it?

CLAIRE Well, it's a fault of both governments, and I think it's not the fault of a government department, but we're just not really addressing these things as a nation.

PAUL Might just be the fault of people, you know, as I suppose the ACT Party would say. Stephen Franks, how can the population of Hamilton, effectively, be on a sickness benefit? In this country, how can so many people be sick?

STEPHEN Well, Peter would be able to say that probably we've relied on doctors as gatekeepers for a very long time, and they may be getting tired and a bit cynical, and it's easier to allow someone, where a doctor a generation or two generations ago would have been tougher. Doctors have not got the authority in the community they once had, and they'll be challenged. But I was interested... Peter's been in it so long, he wouldn't be aware of just how jargonistic "policy setting" sounds and "positive". They're all words that need to be translated to the folklore that is there amongst people who have got a choice today: "Do I really try and get a job today or shall I stay on the benefit? Or will I go and get one of these make-believe educations?"

PAUL For example, the DPB. Do girls get pregnant to get on the DPB? In fact, most girls, you know, who are on the DPB will have another baby on the DPB within 10 years. It's a lifestyle. I mean, there's too much lifestyle-beneficiaryism.

STEPHEN Well, parents who are helpless will say - I know one very well who said that's why she did it.

JOHN Look, it's very easy to abuse people who are on the DPB. Life on the DPB is not that great, you know. You don't have barrels of money.

PAUL No, the dole is $201, as he said. Yes, it's not...

JOHN You know, and that's one of the issues here. It's true that a job is the best way out of work, and we can put some pressure on. But on the one hand...

STEPHEN Out of poverty.

JOHN ...we strip down our economy into these lean, mean fighting machines so that the railways, for example, doesn't have a job for everyone who turned up. A lot of those jobs were for people who couldn't function all that well - they might have had depression or something - and those people have been cast out of these enterprises to make them efficient and competitive, but where have they landed up? Well, some of them have ended up, you know, as long-term beneficiaries.

STEPHEN This is the jargon that we've had for a very long time. What we don't have is a left-wing party that's developing alternative ideas. We don't have anyone like Britain's Frank Field from the Labour Party. We don't have Blair. We don't have even the Australian Labor Party's rigour. Instead, we've been recycling on welfare policy for 40 years.

PAUL Point taken. Got to drop it there.

*

In response to IMRAN KHAN interview

PAUL Much said there by the incredibly charismatic Imran Khan. Claire Robinson, John Pagani and Stephen Franks, let's start straight away with what he told John Key about Mr Key's knowledge of Afghanistan.

IMRAN KHAN The New Zealand prime minister does not understand Afghanistan. If only he had read the history of Afghanistan.

PAUL There you go. Stephen Franks.

STEPHEN He may be right, but the reasons we're there aren't probably going to make too much difference to... Imran Khan is appealing to his domestic audience. Imran has got to make speeches like that, because he's a politician in Pakistan now, and he would be very aware that the interventions in Pakistan and elsewhere...

PAUL No, but he's right, isn't he? Everyone knows this from high school history that the moment you start intervening in Afghanistan, the Afghanis form a resistance movement, no matter who you are and what you're trying to do.

JOHN So if we did what he said and we read the history of Afghanistan, as he suggests we do, then we would go back 10 years to when a nihilistic gang - criminal gang - ran that country as a concentration camp.

PAUL Taliban?

JOHN They shielded... The Taliban. They shielded individuals who took the lives of 3000 people in the United States and weren't going to surrender them. They enslaved the female population. They conducted a campaign of genocide and extermination against their minorities. He says that there was no case for going in there. He says he opposed that war from the very beginning. That's where he wants to reset the clock to. What we wait for with Imran Khan is some indication that any criticism is even merited of the nihilistic criminal gangs that have captured these countries.

PAUL Is he a Taliban sympathiser, do you think?

JOHN He's an apologist at the very least. You heard any amount of criticism of the Americans, of the New Zealanders, of anyone who stands for any form of liberal value. The people who are building the schools, he's happy to criticise. The people who are throwing acid in the faces of the little girls who are going to those schools, he will not criticise. There is nothing progressive or just or decent or liberal about the sorts of values that he's apologising there for when he claims to be a liberal.

PAUL Claire Robinson.

CLAIRE Well, Imran Khan... This is a very interesting moment in time, because obviously he's released this book. He has ambitions to be the next prime minister. I mean, he's not even in Parliament at the moment, and his party has only ever won one seat. However, he is currently polling as the most popular leader in Pakistan. The current president is only polling at 11%, and Imran is between 60% and 80%. So he's saying the right things. He's standing for... Really, his platform is two things: one is that he's a clean politician, and that seems to be something they really support with corruption in Pakistan.

PAUL Young people.

CLAIRE Yep, young people. And he's also... It's a very anti-American vote. They're really really cross at the amount of money that has been coming in. America's double-crossing them. I think they feel, in terms of Osama bin Laden and being able to just walk into their country and take him... So, you know, it's about internal politics, it's about his own leadership ambitions and he's saying the right things for his internal audience.

PAUL It was very moving, though, the way he said as a Pakistani, "Gee, I don't know whether our government was harbouring him, and Pakistanis would like to know."

JOHN How plausible is that? He was a short stroll down the road from the Pakistan military academy.

PAUL But they had a high wall.

JOHN These are people who have been making war on India in exactly the same way as now they're making war on the West - not because we're bombing them, but because they hate the values of infidels.

PAUL And as Christopher Hitchens said, Pakistan's never achieved anything, except getting the bomb.

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