Q+A Panel: Mike Williams and Fran O’Sullivan

Published: Mon 9 Nov 2009 09:15 AM
Sunday 8th November 2009
Q+A’s Panel Discussion with Paul Holmes, Dr Therese Arseneau, Mike Williams and Fran O’Sullivan.
The full length video interviews and panel discussions from the last episode of Q+A can be seen on at,
Q+A is scheduled to return to TV ONE on Sundays in early 2010.
PAUL We saw John Key at the very top of the programme saying we voted for change. Did they do you think?
MIKE WILLIAMS – Former Labour Party President
No they didn’t and I think this is part of John Key's talent that he understood that the electorate wanted to change the faces but not necessarily change the policy settings, and I'm just thinking, as successful year, in many ways Labour lost the election but won the argument, if you look at some of the keystone policies that are still in place Working for Families, income related rents in state houses, 20 hours free early childhood education, Kiwisaver, they're all still there.
PAUL What about John Key himself as Prime Minister, as a person who's stepped up to become the Prime Minister, does the word unflappable come into the mind?
FRAN O'SULLIVAN – Business Columnist
Oh yes, absolutely, and we just saw it on the programme today when confronted with particularly bad behaviour by Hone Harawira and also Rodney Hide, he cut them some slack and more importantly he shifted it also as an issue to the minor parties to deal with, but I think he does need to be a bit careful, and Guyon actually touched on it in that last question or two, there will come a point where the public will say hey too many examples of this, you had Bill English the Finance Minister, whole raft of people, Peter Dunne and others basically with their noses in the trough at a time when everybody else is having to tighten their belts, and at some stage they will want some public chastisement or basically a blanket ruling saying no we can't do this, and I think in some ways if he's smart he'll take a story to the parliament and get cross party agreement that these perks have to go.
PAUL How has he done as Prime Minister do you think in this first year, how has he learnt the job Therese?
THERESE ARSENEAU – Political Analyst
Well I think he's natural, I think we all pretty much agree on that, I think he was underestimated by Labour and I think probably underestimated even by people within his own party. I think what he's done is bring a new style of leadership to the role, he's fundamentally a CEO of New Zealand, and he's not an ideologue, he's not a professional politician, now Labour campaigned, hammered him on that, because they thought it would hurt him, in fact most of the public are not strictly ideological and what we see now in the perks business is that people are actually fairly distrustful of politicians, so having a non professional politician actually helped him, so in the end the very campaign that Labour ran actually helped.
PAUL He does a very good line in pretending to be the non professional politician of course, I mean his analysis with Guyon before of the kind of A type personality that goes into parliament is very astute in terms of managing them.
THERESE And the other thing is that we have to remember in New Zealand there are certain traits that we like in our leaders, and it's different from what say the Americans like in their leaders, we like that ordinary Kiwi sort of story, we like feet on the ground, we don’t mind that he slurs his words, you know that’s not important to us, but what is important is action, and I think this is where ultimately John Key will be judged and where he'll be judged is providing on the three main areas that he promised, delivering on education standards, on safer communities, and a growth in the economy, and he has not delivered yet on any of those.
PAUL Well yes we've got a good clip on the economy I think of what he was saying about the economy.
John Key: 'He said yes it's a big challenge, and everyone would agree with that, we're not trying to lasso a horse that’s in a stationery position, we're trying to lasso a horse that’s running at sort of full gallop and is likely to so so.'
PAUL Yes we have to advance much more quickly than Australia to catch up to Australia is what he's saying there. Do you worry there's not a big plan?
FRAN Yes I do.
PAUL I know that you do, but could I debate that with you straight away because this is simply a first year of bedding in, dealing with this hideous recession, finding out things, floating kites, there's a hell of a lot of kites floating around at the moment about reform and perhaps next year we might see something.
FRAN Yes and we will expect to see something, because that horse is racing a heck of a lot faster than the old nag we've got over here. He's going to I think need to start to talk a bit more about that narrative about the step change, building out why we might need to do stuff, I mean today he floated on this programme perhaps a bit of a trade off around you know GST, personal taxes, trudging up – and whacking up a bit of land and property and all the rest, but it's more than that, that’s not going to do it in itself, because at the same time you know Crown revenues are shrinking, companies aren't paying a heck of a lot of stuff, and it's taking – we have not come out of this recession aggressively. I would really take issue with him there.
PAUL Interesting that they're letting other groups, officials, senior officials float the kites, fly the kites this year rather than leading themselves.
FRAN But that’s exactly what you would expect out of senior officials, I think under the last government they were too paralysed and they never sort of felt they were going to second guess the government. If you go to Australia the Treasury there does push forward programmes in the national interests, and were finally seeing a reversion to normal form.
PAUL Michael you were President of the party John Key's party defeated of course, how do you rate his performance over this year, what do you make of him?
MIKE Oh it's been good, it's been good, but in many ways as David Lange once said to me the first year's the easiest, and I actually put that to John Key and he said well we'll find that out, and I think there are some elephants in the ring that'll have to be dealt with next year. Interesting to hear all this debate about tax cuts, we're borrowing a billion dollars a month.
THERESE And can I just say that in the upcoming year the crucial question is not how they're going to grow the economy but what choices they're willing to make to do that, and look there are a number of potentially really politically thorny issues, like mining, are we going to do more irrigation, what tax changes, all difficult issues for them to face.
PAUL Very difficult, big issues next year. Let's look ahead to the year ahead. Fran you start us on this.
FRAN Well I think it's going to be a very challenging year, both for New Zealand but also for the government, and I think it's a year where most people would want the government to succeed, because if the government doesn’t succeed New Zealand won't. The step change in the economy is going to be a very interesting one, obviously some hard choices to be made and how they sell it, but one thing that does concern me is the return of youth unemployment. I mean I lived through it personally as a mother of a young son during the early 1990s and watched he despair among a range of his cohorts at people who couldn’t get jobs or their fulfilment in the jobs they got wasn’t so great, and already we're seeing 25% of those seeking work in the 15 to 19 can't get it.
PAUL What is the way we catch up with Australia Mike Williams?
MIKE Well my personal view is we should join the Federation and become the seventh state, we're actually in their constitution already, that would really short circuit things, but I don’t think that would be particularly popular. It's gonna be hard and the point made by John Key is quite valid, you’ve got immense mineral wealth over there, I don’t believe this country matches it, but in the long term this country's got two advantages Australia doesn’t have which will tell in a climate change world, one we have water, they are running out, two we grow food. These things are going to be in demand into the future.
PAUL And 60 million people who have managed to stay above the water are still going to need the food. Challenges for the year ahead.
THERESE Well I think the budget could be a very tough one, because there's been a lot of talk focusing on the positive things like the growth potential, but the reality is – what we're also hearing from the government is there needs to be cut backs, the money needs to be saved, so that'll be tough. But look we have great challenges in New Zealand, but I also think we have great opportunities and one of the great things about John Key is he is a man who sees the possibilities so I think he's the right person in the right job at the right time.
PAUL And the great big single possibility he has seen is the business of food.
THERESE But what choices are we willing to make in terms of how we harness that resource of water. We already see huge battles in Canterbury over water.
PAUL Well of course Lord Patten is suggesting that any major conflicts in the 21st century could well be about water itself. And so Key in summary how would you put it?
FRAN I think he's made a good start, I think what he has done is united the country and perhaps stopped a sense of hopelessness and despair permeating this country, which could have happened given what we face, so he's kept it calm, he's kept business confidence up, but to get that step change it will require him to lift his own performance and take us with him.
THERESE Can I also say that looking across the House to the opposition and what Labour needs to do in the next year. I think they need a reshuffle, I think they need to bring forward the stars in their benches, I think they have to present us the face of what their next ministry would look like, and their greatest problem at the moment is, if you look at the polling, they simply are not looking like a viable alternative government, and unless they look viable then the next election I think will be quite bleak for them.
PAUL Difficult for you to answer I know but is Goff cutting the mustard?
MIKE Yes he is, the phone's off the hook at the moment with the electorate and I think you’ve really got to ask a party to do one thing after a defeat and that is hold together, and that’s about all they have to do in the first year, no one will be listening to them. Therese is quite right, there's 14 new members of parliament, well over a third of the caucus, there's some really stupendous talent there and it's gotta come forward.
PAUL Very good and I think each of you very much for your contributions.

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