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Q+A: Transcript of panel discussion of John Key's interview

Published: 5:17PM Sunday April 01, 2012 Source: Q+A

Hosted by Greg Boyed

Time to welcome along our panellists for this morning. Dr Raymond Miller from Auckland University, also Fran OSullivan and Mike Williams, former Labour Party president. Good morning to you all. First of all, John Key. Arms length. Not for me to speculate. This is a very hands-off approach on whats been happening with ACC, wouldnt you agree, Mike?

MIKE WILLIAMS, former Labour Party president
I would. I think thats one of the least confident interviews Ive seen John Key give, and hes trying to back off this, and he tried to grab the initiative at the end. But the thing that struck me is unlike John Key, he actually ducked three questions. The first was about Fran OSullivans column, the second was about Michelle Boag bringing the party into disrepute, and the third was about whether he thought the taxpayer should pay for the enquiry. Now, that is unusual for John Key. And then right at the end he tried to grab the initiative with a zero budget. You know, really, sort of, not a great performance.

GREG Fran, would it be fair to say, following Nick Smith and what were still seeing develop with Judith Collins, this is a fairly rattled Prime Minister?

FRAN OSULLIVAN, NZ Herald journalist
Yes, and I think hes got good reason to be rattled, because lets face it, hes been crapped on from high from his own team. One way or another, its all the people around him who have caused the kafuffle. I think one of the things that I was interested in in the interview was this question about having the enquiry, and he was emphatic about that, that it was a no. I actually think there are grounds for an enquiry, and I think its really when he said, This is a dispute between Bronwyn Pullar and ACC thats been going on for 10 years. Now the collateral damage from that has been huge. Weve had stuff leaked in the public domain. Weve had disputes between Judith Collins, Michelle Boag. Weve had leaks aplenty. But I think the central issue is why has this dispute gone on for 10 years? What is the issue? Has Bronwyn Pullar been dealt with fairly? Was undue political influence brought to bear? And also, you know, the phasing of the leaks. And one point I do want to make, I listened to Michelle Boag on television last night. She said this file that ultimately was leaked to Phil Kitchin in the Dominion Post, you know, by Pullar and Boag, basically had been sent to the Privacy Commissioner, the Ombudsman and the State Services Commission last October. Now, how can the Privacy Commissioner investigate something which theyve already done nothing about?

GREG But the point John Key made is that this has been going since 2002. If she had such powerful friends in high places, she wouldnt still be unhappy, would she, Raymond?

RAYMOND MILLER, Political Analyst
 No, she wouldnt, and I think thats a very strong point he makes. My opinion is that I can see the value in an enquiry. Part of the problem, I think, with an enquiry like this is that it is quite possible we will hear about a very aggrieved woman whos been fighting for 10 years, has been name-dropping for that period of time, that none of the people, or very few of the people that shes mentioned, are people who it is found have really genuinely helped her. And in the end I think that very strong point that, in fact, she has not benefited from any of the attempts shes made to try to buy influence. So I would personally support, if there was to be an enquiry, a more broad-based enquiry that looked at the whole issue of the relationship between party insiders and government ministers and MPs, because I think that- Its not just this government, but previous governments as well. Areas like, for instance, the power of governments to make appointments to quangos. The whole area of conflict of interest. John Keys electorate secretary, for instance, on NZ On Air, and allegations that he has been a conflict of interest there. I think the public have a right to know about these things. I think much more wide-ranging than simply an enquiry with respect to Ms Pullar.

GREG On the conflict of interest side of it, lets list a couple of things that have come to light over the past few weeks, few months. The MediaWorks loan with Steven Joyce, we heard about the SkyCity deal upping the number of pokies they can have if they go ahead with their convention centre, the Prime Ministers hour on Radio Live. You cant avoid cronyism in a country this small.

RAYMOND Well, thats true. I mean, there is an intimacy and an informality about the way we do politics in this country. A lot of the boundaries between the political elite and the financial business elite and now celebrity figures, a lot of those boundaries are sort of breaking down, and there is this concern that, in fact, you know, proper guidelines arent- And theres a sense in which theres a lack of moral authority coming through today, that the prime minister should have been saying, This is what Im going to do, rather than being reactive in the way that he is at the moment.

GREG With the benefit of a week to look at it and think about it, does the treatment of Nick Smith seem too harsh to where Judith Collins is seemingly treated, or not?

MIKE No. I think Nick Smiths resignation was pretty well cut and dried. I cant see any doubt about that. And its sad because he was, I think, one of their better ministers. But I think the point Raymond makes is that these things are judged only in a sort of blurry way by the general public, and they can be very corrosive to the popularity of the government. Now, I dont think theyre gonna take a hit in the polls just yet. But these things sort of bank up in peoples minds and its a week when John Key has not been in control. He has not been going ahead. And he opened up by saying that its a government with a big agenda. Well, that agendas been on hold all of this week, and by my counting and Frans, I think, there are actually five enquiries happening. Now, that is the last thing you want if youre in a government, because once youve got the police involved with the initial meeting where the allege blackmail occurred, you dont know whats going to happen. Theres discovery; things come out of the woodwork; youve got a privacy one; youve now got Judith Collins very foolishly, in my view, threatening defamation against Mallard.

GREG Is he going to tell Judith Collins, behind closed doors, Cool your heels?

MIKE He should.

FRAN But why? I mean, you know, I know politically this keeps it going, but if she- My understanding is she didnt want to be put in the position that Nick Smith was. She threw that- She warned Michelle Boag she would send the letter straight over to ACC if it was put in a formal way, and she did this. And I think shes being very clear about where the boundaries lie. But one point I want to do is I want to challenge the notion that the prime minister put there that, you know, theres been no undue influence because this things gone on for 10 years and hasnt been settled. Well, actually, it may have gone on for 10 years because of undue influence. This thing, you know, this benefit may have actually been brought to a point three, five, six years ago. I dont know. It seems a very long time for somebody to be on an ACC benefit whos already had a large pay-out from an insurance company as well. So I would say that there is a need to this whole issue of how long the tenure of this Bronwyn Pullars benefit has been and why weve had this massive leaks from inside, people looking into her files, all this sort of thing.

GREG Raymond, if I could- Just quickly before we go to the break, is this part of a much bigger picture that there is a leadership challenge going on within inside? Bronwyn Pullar appears to be the unlikely face of it, catalyst for it, but this is what this is all about?

RAYMOND I really dont think so. I think its premature to be talking that way. I think John Key is still very much the authority in that government. Power is seductive. I dont think hes gonna give-

MIKE Yeah, but I do think-

FRAN Its good Labour Party spin, come on. (LAUGHS)

MIKE These are the factions manoeuvring, and I have a theory that Michelle Boags actually a closet member of the Labour Party, because shes doing incredible damage. She buggered Bill English, and Nick Smith, and now shes gonna jinx Judith Collins.

FRAN Oh, no, Collins is tougher. (LAUGHS)

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