Q+A Panel Discussions

Published: Mon 29 Aug 2011 10:02 AM
Q+A Panel Discussions.
The panel discussions have been transcribed below. The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning's Q+A can be watched on at,
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE. Repeats at 9.10pm Sundays, 10.10am and 2.10pm Mondays on TVNZ 7
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PAUL So it is time to welcome the panel. This Sunday morning it's a pleasure to welcome Claire Robinson, a political analyst from Massey University and an expert in political communication. Also with... (LAUGHS) Also with us... (LAUGHS) Sorry.
CLAIRE ROBINSON - Political Analyst
(LAUGHS) What was funny about that?
PAUL I was wondering how good that geezer was at political communication.
CLAIRE Not very good.
PAUL Also with us John Tamihere, chief executive of the Waipareira Trust and a former Cabinet minister, and Phil O'Reilly, chief executive of Business New Zealand. Do you accept Prof Wilkinson's theories, whatever they may be?
Not as much as he would argue. There's some element of the importance of egalitarianism and social equality, probably, but I worry much more about whether poor people are getting wealthier, and that's really the question. So I worry less about equality than worrying about whether people have the capacity to get ahead, so largely I reject the kind of the thesis that he comes up with.
PAUL Claire Robinson?
CLAIRE Well, I think the problem for him is that he's rested a lot of his arguments on evidence, some of which has been discredited, a lot of which is debated. I think the fundamental premise that there is a growing inequality in the richer nations is something that does have to be looked at, and the fact is that people have been getting richer and the poor haven't been getting necessarily much better off over the last 50 years of rampant economic growth, so there is something there, but unfortunately he doesn't necessarily... he didn't convey very well, I think, this morning.
JOHN TAMIHERE - CEO Waipareira Trust
Yeah, look, I think it's a reasonable book and he's a very poor salesman. But more importantly, I think you've got to put it in context. You see, this is a welcome addition to a conversation we really need to have on reflecting on whether Thatcherism, Reaganism and Roger Douglas' prescriptions actually are working on a whole range of levels in our society. And so I think it's a welcome addition, but it's not gonna be sort of the silver bullet.
PAUL Yes, no disrespect to the professor and no disrespect to Guyon, but I couldn't understand a word the man said, to be perfectly frank. I'm finding this a very difficult panel discussion to be having with you. But there always... You see, I've always thought there's always going to be inequality. Some people are going always to be better at getting their share of the pie.
PHIL Just ask the Chinese that question.
PAUL Well, exactly. Oh, no, China - apparently terrible to live there now, according to Professor Wilkinson.
PHIL But the point is the miracle of China in pulling hundreds of millions of people out of poverty has been economic growth, and yes, there's some inequality about that. Do they need to sort that out? Probably, over a period of time. Was economic growth a good thing and the dynamism of the Chinese people? Yeah, you bet. So I think you've got to think about these things in a much more holistic sense than saying equal's good, because if we're not careful, we'll all be just equally poor, and that's probably not such a good look, frankly.
CLAIRE Yes, except for the fact that the rich people are getting richer, so on the back of economic growth, it's not benefitting everybody, and, you know, we can point to... I mean, we've been having economic growth since the industrial revolution, and still those gaps are getting bigger.
PAUL Well, still we have the poor. Can we learn?
PHIL The answer is surely not to have equality, but to have less poor people.
PAUL I mean, when we talk about some people being better at getting their share of the pie, can we teach people at how to get better at, you know?
JOHN Well, really the debate will come down in New Zealand to the tools that we're using, and are they worthy tools? See, I don't give too much of a toss about Great Britain and what have you. I accept them at one level, but basically the tools that we use down here are very blunt and crude. For instance, we use the criminal justice system to manage all our problems, and so you throw everything to the poor cops and the criminal justice system, which is a very cost-high way of handling and managing your 20% of people, who then gas up probably another 20% that could tip the wrong way as well. So they have an unintended huge impact, that bottom 20%. The top 20% need to start to pay greater attention to that, rather than getting into the blame game - beneficiaries and all that sort of nonsense, you see. So I think the book points us in a direction, but it's not gonna solve our problems.
CLAIRE Yeah, and, you know, education is obviously really important, and we need to be putting much more resources into education, early childhood education, but still a lot of the solutions that he suggests are things like raising the minimum wage. Now, I mean, I'm not a right or left winger, but I think the problem is if you start raising the minimum wage, everybody else's wages go up at the same time, so you're just exacerbating the problem. The problem actually is that we don't have many new economic models out there that are really addressing this whole issue of inequality plus sustainability, because we are living in a world with finite resources.
PAUL Does he have any new models?
PHIL Well, he says the world should stop growing. I mean, he says in his book we should stop growing. I think that's madness. I mean, at the end of the day, you can ask China and India and the newly developing countries of the world to stop growing - well, that's just mad. They'd have riots in the streets. So, you know, I think part of the problem is he's using very utopian kind of thinking to actually try and tackle very real-world problems.
PAUL He had that typical left wing prejudice about how awful it is to live in the United States. Now, last time I heard, they're flocking across the borders from every border possible to get into the United States. I don't think it's the worst country to live in. What he's saying, however, I think, is that you can have the United States, which is super rich, and there's more inequality and it's perhaps less happy than living in Scandinavia.
CLAIRE Yes, and it's about...
PAUL Where it's kind of minus-40 for about eight months of the years.
CLAIRE But it's about levels of growth, so what we need to be thinking about in terms of a national conversation is what is right level of growth? It's not necessarily rampant growth, but it has to be some form of balance where people are feeling like they have a good standard of living. We don't actually have any sort of cross-national agreement about what a good standard of living is. We seem to think it's about having the beach house, the Beemer and the boat, but is that too much?
PAUL As somebody who's talking about the role of government, in fact... And I suppose we have this fundamental question of should government's job be about creating wealth or sharing wealth?
JOHN Here's the problem in New Zealand, right - we're only 4.4 million people. This government, and all governments, will play a huge role. 44% of GDP pumps out of the government. It's a huge stimulator, so as a consequence, it plays a huge role in our whole economy. So do answers lay there? Well, we've got nowhere else to go. Private sector won't drive this. The four top companies are virtually state-owned monopolies that were privatised. You take those four companies away and we've only got 30% of it left. So what do you say to that?
PHIL There's already quite a bit of redistribution going on. I mean, the top 10% of families pay fully 36% of the income tax of New Zealand. So there's already quite a bit of this redistribution going on. Far be it for me to agree with John Tamihere, but I'll argue that a lot of that spending's actually on the wrong stuff.
JOHN That's right.
PHIL We have way too much of a concentration on crime and punishment, as opposed to literacy and numeracy and looking after the children that we have in the first three years of life. So we need to be thinking much more differently about the way in which we gain economic growth and social cohesion, rather than using the tools that we have today quite so much.
PAUL I wonder if in New Zealand we exaggerate the extremes that have developed in New Zealand over the past two or three decades. Were we more equal once, or was there always a huge gap, really? Is the gap any bigger, really?
CLAIRE Well, a lot of the gap is because...
PAUL I mean, I'm sorry, I couldn't afford the bus fare into Hastings.
CLAIRE No, but a lot of the gap is because we measure things differently, so we're much more clever about how we measure difference. 50 years ago, we didn't do as much measuring of anything, so we can't really compare 50 years ago with today. But, you know, we all have... We look at the past...
PAUL But we always had the rich families. We just didn't have the NBR's Rich List. We always had the rich families with the import licences and...
JOHN No, no, no, but there was a larger bunch of people who were in the same sort of income brackets. What you're seeing now is a great chasm growing between them. There's no doubt about it.
PAUL The poor is getting poorer.
JOHN That's right.
PHIL And you can't use the solutions of 50 years ago to solve the problems of today. We need to be thinking about new solutions.
PAUL Alright. Could the London riots happen here, do you think?
PHIL Pretty unlikely, actually.
JOHN Yeah.
PHIL Pretty unlikely.
PAUL Well, why don't they?
JOHN Oh, look, the only one we've ever had is the 1984 one. That was spontaneity. It wasn't well organised. It just happened - booze, a band. Dave Dobbyn then wasn't a Christian! (LAUGHS)
JOHN All that sort of stuff. So it happened just as a blowout then. I don't think at this particular point in time we've got the volume to actually get out on the street there to do that. I do think that Kiwis, generally speaking, wouldn't accept that.
PAUL But that was... I mean, they're calling them the shopping riots. People who didn't have went out and said, "I'm gonna have." Didn't they? But then it was summer holidays, they're not in school.
PHIL That's right. I just don't think you're going to see that kind of... I think there is a level of social cohesion in New Zealand, no matter what we say about income and equality and all the rest. There is a level of social cohesion and a level of, I think, personal responsibility, even amongst those that might be likely to riot. I just don't think you're gonna see it in New Zealand.
CLAIRE No, and, well, I think part of the London riots was actually about the fact that the value of things that they were stealing - the value of the television has gone down so much. So it's almost like, you know, sales here all the time - they're free, their worthless, they're valueless. So people think they can just walk in and take them.
PAUL Just quickly, just to finish, before we started our panel, you were saying, well, you know, alright, 20 years ago, was New Zealand more equal? Well, there were fewer women in the workforce.
CLAIRE Yeah, that's right.
PAUL And they didn't feel that equal.
CLAIRE Measures of equality. So, yes, you've got income-earning equality, but, yeah, women in the workforce. Japan, who he holds up as being one of the most equal societies, has an appalling record for women in the workforce.
PAUL Yeah, and they work 15 hours a day, those men.
CLAIRE Absolutely.
PAUL And they all have to wear the same suits.
CLAIRE Well, they have some days where...
PAUL And they live in little hotel rooms.
JOHN What, are you blaming the women for all this?
In response to MIKE JOY and BRUCE WILLS interview
PAUL Much to discuss there. The stats are a bit of a worry, aren't they? Cow numbers are becoming a bit of a worry, Phil.
PHIL The statistics will tell you that the average waterway in New Zealand is still pretty clean and the worst waterways are very polluted, so the question is not to have a big panic about this. I always get concerned when there's this hyperbolic huffing and puffing. We need to get on and change, but we need to do that in the context that economic growth and environmental protection are both very very important, and how do we best balance those things? To say one matters much more than the other is simply not right. We need to be doing this in a more balanced fashion, frankly.
PAUL But the increase in... The number of dairy cows has increased exponentially, up to the point where, as I say, I wasn't being entirely facetious saying this is the equivalent of 80 million human beings now living in New Zealand peeing. I mean, that brings it home to you. Rain doesn't wash that away.
JOHN Yeah, but, you see, each one of those is drinking 72 litres a day in terms of a requirement, right? And the water alone required - it's a lot more than just on the pollution side. There's a lot more consumables that go into those things. But what I wanted to say was that fits quite nicely in the previous debate that we had about The Spirit Level, because this debate that we're having right now is absolutely essential for where we reposition the New Zealand economy. And while you cannot walk away from our agriculture or horticultural underwrite, we have to have a conversation as to how we actually evolve ourselves into more sustainable energy.
CLAIRE Yeah, and sustainability, I think, will actually ultimately lead to much more equality, because once you recognise that actually there's a finite number of resources in the planet, in New Zealand, then we can't keep exploiting them. We've actually got to use them better so that people... we can survive, actually.
PHIL And sustainability's becoming much more mainstream in business. It is now mainstream, frankly, and so that leads on to the point about the fact that this debate needs to be much more complex than what we're just hearing there. Apparently, clean and green is our only competitive advantage. Well, tell the thousands of companies that go to market with nothing to do with our clean and green brand. When I go to business in the world, I know that actually the number one thing is our lack of corruption. That really matters - the fact that we're an easy place to do business. So we need to be having a much more complex discussion around what our competitive advantages are than just saying it's the absolute clean and green thing. That's not to say it's not important, not to say we shouldn't protect it. Of course we should, but we should have a complex debate about that.
JOHN See, where our economy's going is we're going to have this discussion. We can't continue to mine Morocco for phosphate for our farms, pretend that it's all hunky-dory and we clear our conscience at the border.
PAUL Yeah, explain that.
JOHN Well, we've got the best...
PAUL Where do we get our phosphate from?
JOHN Well, all out of Morocco, right, and the ships come down here - very expensive. It's full for cadmium, which is very bad for our environment. Then the ship's back end with nothing in it. And just using this as one example, cos there's several, we have got some of the best phosphate there on the Chatham Rise. It doesn't have the cadmium. But we've got to have a discussion about we have to start to exploit our own minerals and resources in a managed way, rather than believe that we can mine everybody else's and believe that we're clean and green.
PHIL That's absolutely right.
CLAIRE Can I make a point about clean and green - the 100% Pure, the clean and green brand is actually a tourist brand for New Zealand. We don't have a national brand as such. The actual brand is really about the people, the attitude.
PHIL The brand is New Zealand.
CLAIRE Yeah, all of us.
PAUL Well, yes, but we do boast it. We do boast it. We say "clean and green", and it turns out...
CLAIRE And we're not.
PAUL ...we're having to spend $80 million to clean up Lake Taupo, Lake Ellesmere's costing a bit - the government have had to commit $12 million for Lake Ellesmere. The government have promised $280 million - quarter of a billion - for clean-ups in coming years. Now...
CLAIRE That's right. It's part of who we are, and part of who we think we are, but it's more of a myth than anything else. But I think the thing is we need to actually think a bit more braver about who we are as a nation, and why do people come to visit New Zealand?
PAUL Because it's clean and green, Claire.
CLAIRE Not necessarily. No, when they arrive, they actually found that we're a lot nicer.
PHIL Those old tourism ads used to make me laugh, because they had the snow-covered mountains and the babbling brooks, and there was no people there. Is nobody living here?
PAUL People like... I was speaking to an English friend who was here earlier this year last night on the telephone, and the photographs are beautiful, but what he loved really was the friendliness of the place.
CLAIRE Oh, it's the people. Exactly. It's us.
PAUL Look, one other aspect of this - issues of equity. The dairy cockies aren't on the ETS till 2015 or '13.
PHIL They are, actually, Paul, but... Their fuel is. Fonterra is.
JOHN Everyone's is. Cut it out, will you?
PHIL Let's have a sophisticated debate about that.
PAUL Look, $12 million or $11 million for Lake Ellesmere, $81 million to clean up Lake Taupo, and we pay for it.
JOHN Cut it out. Look...
PAUL And they don't mind the user pays for everybody else, the dairy...
JOHN Look, let's get it right. The dairy boys are internally subsidised significantly. Having said that, they're still an extraordinarily essential part of our economic fabric, and so we just need to have an honest discussion about that, Mr O'Reilly, as we head forward. That's all I'm saying. Thank you very much.
PHIL Sure we should, and while we're having that honest discussion, John, we should realise that the things that happened in Ellesmere and Taupo didn't just happen because some dairy farmer put a cow on last year. They happened over a long period of time, and so when those sorts of things occur, they're community failures and they need to be sorted out by the community.
PAUL Can I just say...? 10 seconds. Do we need tougher new rules for the dairy farmers or are they getting the messages?
CLAIRE Well, no, they are getting the message, but if you leave it to them to do voluntarily, they'll take a lot longer than if you have rules.
PAUL 15% non-compliance last year.

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