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Q+A: Transcript of Gareth Morgan and Russel Norman interview

Published: 1:31PM Sunday July 29, 2012 Source: Q+A

SHANE TAURIMA

Gareth, let's begin with you. Are they still 'loony lefties'?

GARETH MORGAN - Philanthropist

What I'm saying is conservation's a mainstream issue. So it's a huge opportunity for, I think, the Green Party, who are the champions of conservation and do have bottom lines on matters ecological. Other parties don't seem to have those. It's a huge opportunity, given it's a mainstream issue, for the Greens to move into the centre of the economic debate. Because we have big problems in economics as well here. Tax and welfare are a mess here in New Zealand, and I would like to see the Green Party in the middle there. So not really caring whether they form a coalition with National or Labour. So that's what I was trying to givvy them up to do.

SHANE But isn't it the perception, Russel Norman, that you're a bunch of tree huggers, green necks and anti-economic development ? Some of the words Gareth used at the conference.

RUSSEL NORMAN - Green Party Co-Leader

Well, I'm certainly happy to be a tree hugger. Trees are pretty important.

SHANE Anti-economic development?

RUSSEL If you look at the kind of economic challenges we have, we have some very conventional economic challenges. Look at the current account deficit, the overseas debt, basically the external balance issues that we have as an economy. And then we also have this second layer of challenges, which is around sustainability. And so what the green movement and people like Pure Advantage and others have been putting forward is, 'What does an economic programme for New Zealand look like that addresses some of those conventional issues, but also addresses the sustainability issues at the same time?'

SHANE But the problem, I dare say, is the government puts up a whole lot of initiatives, and the Green Party response to some of them is no. No to state asset sales, no to more coal mining, no to oil exploration. That's the perception.

RUSSEL So if you look at taking those one at a time. So, if you look at the asset sales-

SHANE Well, let's just look at the perception that you're anti-economic development. Do you accept that?

RUSSEL No, of course not. I mean, what I think is misunderstood here is that the business community itself is embracing sustainable development. So whether you look at the Pure Advantage group. It has some pretty heavy hitters in it - Rob Fyfe, Stephen Tindall, Jeremy Moon. There's some pretty heavy hitters in that group. Joan Withers. And so whether you look at that group, or Business New Zealand now has got its own sustainable business council, there is actually, I think now, a developing consensus that we need to embrace sustainability as a key part of economic development plan.

SHANE Gareth Morgan, do you think the Greens are anti-economic development?

GARETH I agree with Russel that sustainability is, as I said earlier, a mainstream issue, and you have these other groups who are really putting it up there, and I think that's the Green's massive opportunity. I don't see anything coming from the Greens on the economy that I haven't heard before, um, basically from Labour or the extreme left from Labour. We've got big issues in the economy. Our tax regime is shot. It's extremely progressive. It's actually taxing not the rich; it's taxing the highest PAYE earners. Our welfare system is in trouble. It's targeting to such a degree now that even the courts are saying it's a breach of human rights. And so this to me is a massive space for the Greens to forget the legacy on their economics - I'm not sure what it is yet, their economic policy - and move into that space and do some pretty cool stuff on the economy. And I think if they were to do that, New Zealanders would embrace it.

SHANE Does that mean that they have to shed everything else that they also stand for?

GARETH No.

SHANE They've been pretty strong on, for example, social justice. Do they need to drop that?

GARETH Absolutely not. Social justice is key to this. We've had an increase in the dispersion between rich and poor in New Zealand that's almost second to none. I think we're fifth in the world for that over the last 20 years. So social justice is a really important part of this reform, and that's what I'm trying to get Russel go with.

SHANE Let's put it this way. Do you think Russel would be a good finance minister?

GARETH Not yet. No, I don't. That's why I'm making a noise. But I think that they-

SHANE Why not?

GARETH Because I haven't seen an economic policy from them that is credible. Mainstream New Zealand, as I'm saying, has moved towards conservation issues. I'm trying to get the Greens to move towards mainstream New Zealand in terms of what's important in the tax and welfare space.

SHANE Well, let's bring Russel Norman in. You don't have a credible economic policy.

RUSSEL Well, I mean, if you look at something like capital gains tax, which Labour adopted following us. We led the debate around the need to use a capital gains tax, an instrument such as that, to drive productive capital out of the housing market and into the productive sector, which is where we need it. When you look at something like a water charge, that's using an economic instrument in order to increase efficiency in the sectors that use water, but also produce good environmental outcomes. The Greens have been the champions for using those kind of things.

SHANE But it sounds like Gareth wants you to be single-issue policy party.

RUSSEL I think that Gareth actually just said that he didn't want that. He actually said in his books- If you look at The Big Kahuna, it's very much about social equity.

SHANE But he says it's all about the Greens ditching the other stuff.

RUSSEL No, he didn't, actually. He just said that he thought social justice and social equity are important, and I agree with him on that. Even if you look at it from a purely economic point of view, if you've got a society which is highly divided like ours, you get much poorer economic and social outcomes than if you have a more equal society. So I think whatever way you look at it, you can't just say, 'Social equality is completely separate from everything else.' I think those issues matter as well.

SHANE Gareth also says you need to be able to work with both Labour and National in a coalition government. Now, I know you're going to say you have that MOU with National, but can you work with them in a coalition government?

RUSSEL What we said at the last election was that we thought it was unlikely, and I think that's fair when you look at the differences in policy. Since that election, we approached National, and we said, 'Let's expand the Memorandum of Understanding we had.' Remember, we did the Home Insulation Scheme, which has been a great scheme, and National's done a good job on it. We're very proud to work with them on that, and there's been some other smaller projects. National decided that they didn't want to expand our Memorandum of Understanding, which is their choice. But, from our point of view, the government since the election has taken a what I would call an anti-sustainability direction. So, if you like, I think there's a smart, green economic project, which is what the Greens are trying to develop, and I accept we've got more work to do on that. And then you've got the Government's economic programme, which is very much fossil fuels, very dirty, 19th Century. So I think we are developing. We're in a situation now where we've got these two models in front of us - a 21st Century, smart, green economic strategy and very much a 19th Century old-style one.

SHANE But the big point there, though, Gareth Morgan, is it's unlikely. You've just heard it. It's unlikely that they could work with National in a coalition government.

GARETH Well, I mean, I think Russel's right in saying that this government has moved further, if anything, towards the fossil fuels-based economy. We've already got the fifth highest carbon footprint per capita in the world, and it's moving that way.

SHANE So it's not the Greens now, it's National's fault?

GARETH I think that policy by National is wrong. It's against mainstream New Zealand. But let's go back now to an economic one, and Russel's talking about economic efficiency and the tax of capital, which I happen to agree with. We don't tax capital in this country anything like we should. Capital gains tax, which is both Greens and Labour policy, is not the answer. The answer is to tax capital year in, year out, whether the value of it has gone up or down. Because that will force the efficient use of capital. We have a Treasurer at the moment who thinks the ideal tax on capital is zero. That's how crazy things have become. And so that's what's driving this distortion between rich and poor in New Zealand. If you take residential property or farming, it's a license to print money owning that farmland. It's a license to print money now, and that's hurting New Zealand equity. So there's a lot of issues in here. But I think we agree. I'm just trying to push him to get coherence on the capital tax.

SHANE You talk about pushing him along. You look at Russel Norman now - wearing a suit and tie. They're changing their image, aren't they? You look at the last election, they took a lot of the mainstream vote, didn't they? So are they on the right track?

GARETH I think so, but I don't think quick enough. There's a huge hole in the middle of the spectrum at the moment. They've got the public in terms of items around conservation. They've got that. Ok, park that. Now get your economic policy coherent.

SHANE Because you also said that they need to drop their extremist supporters. Do you still stand by that?

GARETH Well, I mean, I talked to Russel about that this week. The Greens are a bit of a mixed church. They have their nutters out there, and all parties have got that. National's got ACT, for God's sake. [RUSSEL LAUGHS]

SHANE So, Russel, are you going to walk away from the nutters?

RUSSEL Well, I mean, you know, we have a broad church, but I think when you look at what the caucus puts forward and what we put forward, that's our agreed policy. When you think about how have environmental ideas been put on the agenda, 20 years ago people stood up for climate change, and people thought they were pretty extremist back then, but they made it part of the mainstream agenda, and obviously science backed what they were saying. So I think when you look at how change happens, it does require some people to speak out sometimes. But I think Gareth's bigger point about us putting forward a smart, green economic alternative to the current Government's agenda is the project that we're engaged in, and I think he's right to identify that project.

SHANE And finally, Gareth Morgan, would you consider standing for the Greens?

GARETH No. Um, I wouldn't stand for anybody. I mean, I'd only enter in politics once they got rid of the vote. [ALL LAUGH]

SHANE But you could work together?

GARETH Oh, absolutely. I'd work with anybody. I'm interested in policy, not politics so much.

SHANE And what a great place to leave it. Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us.

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