Rodney Hide interviewed by Guyon Espiner
GUYON Thank you very much Rodney Hide for coming in and joining us this morning. Let's start with the issue of representation in Auckland and what has really been a lack of representation. There's been something like eight Maori elected to councils in Auckland in the last 100 years or so, why do you think that is?
RODNEY HIDE - Local Government Minister
Oh I think it's because who stands and then how people vote obviously, and I think we have got a big problem in local government and indeed we've fixed it central government largely by MMP and that's what I was pushing for to have councillors at large and indeed a form of say STV that would allow greater representation on the councils.
GUYON But don't you think that it's simply a matter of that many people vote for people who share their own culture and share their own ethnicity. Maori make up 11% of the Auckland population they're simply never going to stand a chance.
RODNEY Well that's not true, and it's demonstrably not true because there are Maori in other parts, there are Chinese people that have won, we actually want to see through that as New Zealanders and I think we do, I think it's rather a dark view of New Zealanders to suggest that we done. But see what the principle is here. When we have political power we want to have as situation where every person has a vote, that that vote is of equal value and every position of political power is open to a free and open contest. Now if you have Maori seats or seats reserved for one group, that means you're excluding others from standing for those seats.
GUYON That's interesting and it's interesting that you mention the Chinese community as well, but let's look at what the Royal Commission actually said as to why they believed we should have Maori seats, and interestingly it wasn't about equity and fairness, this is what they said, they said it was primarily to give effect to the Treaty of Waitangi obligations, I quote it to you. "The key reasons for establishing Maori seats relate to the special status of manawhenua of the Auckland region and the special status of all Maori as partners under the Treaty of Waitangi." Do you believe personally that Maori have that status?
RODNEY Well let me unpack it a little bit. I support the Treaty 100% but the Treaty isn't about partnership, and the Treaty isn't about saying that there should be Maori representation on Auckland Council, what the Treaty is about is saying that there should be one sovereign (Article 1). (Article 2) that we should respect people's property rights, a very ACT thing, and (Article 3) that every citizen should be equal. That's what I'm actually upholding here, that's what the ACT Party is upholding, actually upholding the Treaty.
GUYON What are then the alternatives to this, Pita Sharples has said that an advisory board is a toothless and worthless substitute for democratic representation, what is the alternative?
RODNEY Well the two problems we've got, and I've worked at length with Pita on this, obviously we disagreed, but the two issues that were of concern for him were - one was the issue of representation that Maori don't get represented in local government and number two the more vexed issue I think of how do you take account of manawhenua interests, because obviously councils are making decisions over natural resources, and we have a group that have lived in the area for a thousand years, have a cultural and a spiritual connection to particular resources, that we actually struggle to understand, and the majority culture or the Council can ride rough shod over them.
GUYON So how do you fix that?
RODNEY Well that's the hard part.
GUYON What do you think?
RODNEY Well first of all I think the key thing is to recognise that you can't fix these things in law, because it is about relationship and about respect, and I think actually John Key has been demonstrating that as Prime Minister in his relationship with the Maori Party and indeed with the ACT Party.
GUYON Yeah but I'm asking you how are we going to get - with respect Minister I'm asking you not about John Key's relationship in respect with the Maori Party, I'm asking you as Minister of Local Government how are you going to give any voice at all to the 140,000 Maori who live in Auckland City, who won't be represented in the Super City, how do you give them a voice?
RODNEY Well first of all you're telling a lie, because you're saying that there are 140,000 Maori that won't be represented, that's not true.
GUYON How do you give them a voice?
RODNEY Just listen. Those 140,000 Maori have exactly the same vote as 140,000 other New Zealanders, that's point one. There's nothing that's stopping Maori from voting, there's nothing that's stopping Maori from standing, so it's not about that they've been denied their voice, what your concern is and my concern is too, is how do we actually provide better representation.
GUYON And how do we do that, that's what I'm asking?
RODNEY What I would advocate is Councillors at large, there seems to be a large reaction against that, I'd actually advocate some form of STV, there's a reaction against that, and then when it comes to manawhenua, what we're working with and I'm working this with Pita Sharples, is actually how we provide for a mechanism for manawhenua interests to be taken into account at the Council, that is work in progress, not needed to make a decision until we get to the third bill.
GUYON Have you ditched the idea of an advisory board, given the Minister of Maori Affairs' description of that?
RODNEY Well we're canvassing a lot of options.
GUYON So that's still on the table?
RODNEY Well it's one of the options but like I said, the difficulty that we got into was on the 27th of April Cabinet asked myself as Minister of Local Government to work out how we could actually take into account manawhenua interests. I was working with Pita on that, Pita was saying well actually my number one concern is to get seats, and so we ended up doing a joint paper. We did some preliminary work because even if you had Maori seats, you'd still be looking to have a manawhenua input. We did some preliminary work on that, we put the options to Cabinet, Cabinet said well actually that's not urgent, the seats are urgent because we need to be drawing the boundaries, so continue your work on how you can have that manawhenua input.
GUYON Okay, let's have a look at the way you've conducted yourself over this, this idea that you would resign if the Maori seats went ahead on that's Super City. The last time you and I spoke on this show, I asked you about your influence on government and here's what you said. You said "I'm having about 3.65% of influence, which is how much of the vote ACT got, and I'm exercising that, I don't go in there and say it's my way or the highway" - but that's exactly what you've done over this isn't it?
RODNEY Not at all, what happened was, the Cabinet decided on the 6th of April not to have Maori seats, obviously that was disappointing for the Maori Party, John Key subsequently raised the prospect of having Maori seats, he came across to see me on June 3rd, he said here's an option that we would have, you could introduce the bill, the Maori Party and the National Party could vote to put in Maori seats, the ACT Party could vote against, and that could be a fix. I said well they could do that because they'd have the numbers in parliament but that I couldn't be the Minister introducing that bill, and that I'd have to stand down. I pledged that we would continue to support him as Prime Minister and honour our agreement on confidence and supply.
GUYON Do you believe that this is the only time in this term you can use that card of saying that you would resign?
RODNEY Well to be honest I wasn't using a particular card.
GUYON Do you believe though that's the only chance you can get to actually fire that shot?
RODNEY Well we'll see because I mean it wasn't something that had occurred to me, I didn't expect the Prime Minister to come across and say well how would you react, and so I had to explain how I would react, and I don't think the Prime Minister took it as a threat, I didn't mean it as a threat, I just said this would be the implication, we carried on working on it, when I went along to the Cabinet the Cabinet could have decided to have Maori seats and I would have stepped down.
GUYON And they didn't, but you said this week that this was about one law for all. Now how far do you actually take that, I mean do you believe in a separate Maori flag for instance?
RODNEY Well there is a separate Maori flag.
GUYON That will be official, and will fly on local council buildings, you're the Minister. Do you believe in a separate Maori flag?
RODNEY Well how do you mean do I believe in a separate Maori flag, there's a separate Maori flag now.
GUYON What is it, I thought we were having a series of hui around the country to determine what it is?
RODNEY No, we're having a series of hui around the country to decide which flat the government will allow to fly on Auckland Harbour Bridge.
GUYON And on government buildings, the Prime Minister has said that.
RODNEY I'm perfectly relaxed about that.
GUYON But isn't that a breach of your one law for all, that we have one flag?
RODNEY No you can have ten flags and still have one law for all. One law for all is about actually being able to put your name forward, not be denied a position on a council because of your race.
GUYON But they're not being denied a position on their race are they, they're asking for them?
RODNEY No but if you had Maori seats you would.
GUYON But this principle of one law for all which is a phrase that most recently we associate with Don Brash who pushed that line very hard, I mean would you believe, do we need a separate Ministry of Maori Development under one law for all?
RODNEY Well I actually done believe in half the government departments we've got, that's why I'm in ACT, but again I'm only 3.65% of the vote Guyon, but I am the Minister of Local Government and that's why I said as Minister, which is a different kettle of fish, when you're Minister you have to take responsibility for your portfolio &
GUYON So these points of principle are only relating to your ministerial responsibilities?
RODNEY No not at all, they're discussions.
GUYON Well it seems you're willing to compromise on these other things but not on this?
RODNEY Well funnily enough I was willing to compromise on the Maori seats in the sense I still would have supported John Key and the Maori Party in government, the ACT Party made that pledge before the election, we'd honour it, but what I couldn't be is the Minister introducing that legislation. What's hard about that?
GUYON Let's turn to another issue which ACT could play a central role in and one that is quite a high profile issue coming to a head, and that is climate change. You said in a speech on March 14 to the ACT Conference that we have campaigned last year to dump the dopy Emissions Trading Scheme, what success are you having in that?
RODNEY Well what we've done is we've pulled back the thermal ban, which was particularly dopey, so that stopped following the election. The second thing that we did is we got the special select committee established to review the government's response, that's now about to report, the ACT Party has written a minority report where we set out what we believed the country should be doing.
GUYON Will you vote for an Emissions Trading Scheme?
RODNEY Well let me finish on that. So we've set out what we think we should do, I've had one meeting with Nick Smith and a subsequent meeting with the Prime Minister where they're debating what their options are, but we don't like the Emissions Trading Scheme, but we've got one in place now.
GUYON So will you vote for the amended one, are you going to support National in this?
RODNEY Oh I'd vote for anything that would improve it, but improving it to me would be suspending it.
GUYON So have what you seen so far improved it, have they done enough at that select committee which you set up to actually garner your support?
RODNEY The select committee didn't have legislation in front of it, it was a high level select committee, so now actually the work begins as we actually look at the options available to this country, what we've done is set out a very credible position which is this, that we actually do nothing until 2012 that's CP1, it looks like on the best estimates that would be neutral for New Zealand and then we introduce a very very low level tax and subsidy scheme, instead of an ETS because if you thought the Subprime and Madoff was a wrought, wait till you see the ETS system trading.
GUYON But are you still considering, is it still possible that you and your ACT Party will vote for an amended Emissions Trading Scheme?
RODNEY Well it depends what the amendment is, because you could imagine a situation, we've got an Emissions Trading Scheme in now, that's what Labour introduced, the energy sector is due to come in on January 1, we'd look to anything that would delay that and suspend it for some time.
GUYON It's interesting though because you don't believe that manmade climate change is happening at all do you?
RODNEY Well I'd describe myself as very sceptical.
GUYON Well you actually went a lot further than this in September 2, 2008, you described global warming as a hoax, and I'll quote you "Al Gore is a phoney and a fraud on this issue, and the Emissions Trading Scheme is a world wide scam and a swindle". Now my question is, why would you vote for an Emissions Trading Scheme when you don't believe in global warming, and you think the whole Trading Scheme is a sham?
RODNEY Well I wouldn't.
GUYON So you're not going to?
RODNEY Well no, but I don't think you understand the question that's in front of us. We have an Emissions Trading Scheme, it's due to come in in January 1, for energy. The government is &
GUYON I know all that, but you would be still voting for an Emissions Trading Scheme wouldn't you?
RODNEY Well I don't know what option the government is considering to be quite honest. We're in talks.
GUYON You're still in talks about whether to actually go ahead with it?
RODNEY Well what they're proposing, because what we've done is we've set out what we think should happen which is you do nothing till 2012 and then you introduce a low level tax. In fact the Maori Party and originally the Labour Party and the Green Party were at the same position.
GUYON I'll turn to another issue which is exercising the minds of New Zealand parents and politicians and that is the smacking referendum. What do you think of Prime Minister John Key's response to that referendum.
RODNEY Well I think the Prime Minister's had a good feel, an instinct for where New Zealanders are at, and this would have been a very easy issue for him, he could have said look the referendum's overwhelming, we're going to introduce a government bill and fix it. I was shocked that he said that he'd be sort of talking to the Police so they won't apply the law, then we had the amazing result of John Boscawen's book coming out which actually deliver on the referendum, I caught John Key just walking out at question time on the Tuesday and I said Prime Minister ACT would do anything to help, cos I knew he was concerned about taking up the time of parliament, and if it meant that we could consider it in a day then sobeit, and have a conscience vote in parliament, and I would have thought option. Now it's not gonna go away.
GUYON So your reaction to his response you're disappointed by the Prime Minister's response on this are you?
RODNEY Yes I am because I always thought the law was dopey, I think it's terrible that my mother who smacked me as a kid, and I must admit I smacked my son half a dozen times when he was a toddler, that somehow we're akin to abusers and bad parents, I don't accept that for a minute.
GUYON But that's not true though is it Mr Hide, I mean the legislation as it currently stands allows a parent to smack a child to discipline them in most circumstances that people explain, the kid running towards the light socket, the kid disrupting someone in a supermarket, they're actually allowed to do that to prevent harm, it's not for correction, that's what the legislation says, that's what your arguing for, and that's a delay isn't it. At the time that's actually saying look when you get home XXX isn't it?
RODNEY I believe I should be able to give my young son a light smack for the purposes of correction, and the law says I can't, that I'm a criminal if I do and then we have the Prime Minister saying that if I do do that don't worry he's told the Police not to chase me or CYF's to cause me any trouble, but I actually believe that if I'd like to smack my son with a light smack like my mother for the purposes of correction, that's why my mother gave me a smack.
GUYON Just finally ACT's core and fundamental principles of lower government and extreme care with taxpayer's month, do you think that your finance spokesman Sir Roger Douglas has undermined that message by his defiant taking of taxpayer funded holidays overseas. Do you think that that has undermined ACT's message at all?
RODNEY Oh it hasn't helped, but it's one of the difficulties and that's why I'm so opposed to the perks.
GUYON Have you said to him, Sir Roger take it easy on this, have you said look you need to rein in your travel, have you asked him to do that?
RODNEY Oh actually Roger's been very careful to be fair to him.
GUYON I know but have you asked him that?
RODNEY I've said to him to be very careful, I've said to all our MPs to be careful, but that's the trouble with the perks, I mean what we should do with MPs is we should pay them a salary, and we should cover their expenses and that's should be it. It's when you actually have these systems of perks, and then you sort of lower their salaries presumably because that's always been the argument, you get a lower salary, I don't know whether that's true or not, and then we'll give you these perks. It creates a sort of insane system where you'd be a fool not to take it, and yet when you take it you feel guilty and then when you get attacked in the media. They should do away with the perks. We should just pay MPs, cover their expenses, and that's it, like everyone else.
GUYON Alright, thanks very much for coming in and
joining us, Rodney Hide.