Speech – Television New Zealand
Points of interest: ACT party leader lays into National: “Too conservative”, “present policies… won’t lift our economic performance” or help us catch Australia, “basically we’re sticking with the policies of Michael Cullen and …Q+A’s Paul Holmes Interviews ACT Leader, Rodney Hide
Points of interest:
– ACT party leader lays into National: “Too conservative”, “present policies… won’t lift our economic performance” or help us catch Australia, “basically we’re sticking with the policies of Michael Cullen and Helen Clark”
– Phil Heatley “more honourable than most politicians”
– Hide never thought about resigning amidst his expenses scandal
– “I didn’t break any rules”, but admits being hooked into ‘a culture of entitlement’
– MP’s expenses rules are “treacherously poor”
– Neither Roy Nor Douglas raised concerns about his leadership last year; there was no attempt to roll him
– Hide refuses to guarantee he will be ACT leader going into next year’s election; says he has to “earn that right”
– Regulatory Reform Bill about transparency, not about binding future government
– Local government minister gives categorical assurance that dog control laws won’t be loosened
The interview has been transcribed below. Q+A is repeated on TVNZ 7 at 9.10pm on Sunday nights and 10.10am and 2.10pm on Mondays. The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning’s Q+A can also be seen on tvnz.co.nz at, http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news
RODNEY HIDE interviewed by PAUL HOLMES
PAUL Over the past two days the ACT Party’s been holding its annual conference in Wellington. It’s the first conference since Rodney Hide’s leadership was questioned late last year after the former perk buster was forced to apologise and repay the taxpayer for taking his partner with him on a trip to London and Hawaii, and it’s the first conference since he accused National of being a do nothing government. In his keynote speech yesterday Mr Hide stressed the need for the party to keep its promise of stable centre right government, and to not overreach. So good morning to Rodney Hide, thank you very much for coming up this morning and joining us. Did you have a couple of bottles of wine on the ministerial card at the conference?
RODNEY HIDE – Leader ACT Party
No, no I didn’t, I think that lesson’s been well learnt by politicians.
PAUL Do you have a card?
PAUL Do you agree with Mike Williams that it is hard to know sometimes when to use the ministerial card and when not?
RODNEY I agree yes about the ministers versus electorate, and so what would happen is for example if Gerry Brownlee had taken his ministerial staff for lunch it would have been fine, but when he went into his electorate office it wasn’t fine, and you find as a minister that you can be travelling around the country and speaking in one place as a minister, and the next place as a member of parliament or a leader of a party, and you’ve gotta at some point shift your expenses across.
PAUL So should Heatley have resigned?
RODNEY Look Phil Heatley clearly came to that decision himself, and so the answer to that is yes, and I think what we’re being surprised at politically is that we’ve been used to ministers hanging on for grim death, and indeed the political process defending fellow ministers, and what we have here – my experience of Phil Heatley isn’t what Mike says, I actually find Phil Heatley a very intelligent guy, but I’d say he’s a very honourable guy.
PAUL But he should have known shouldn’t he that you can’t use the ministerial card for a couple of bottles of plonk.
RODNEY Of course he should have know, I mean he knows that and that’s why he resigned, but what I’m saying to you is he actually was doing a very good job in his portfolio, I think it’s a loss, be he was pushing hard on aquaculture, we do need aquaculture to develop the New Zealand economy, he was doing a good job, I worked with him as Minister of Local Government, I got to like the guy, my observation would be he’s more honourable than most politicians and I think that’s why he resigned, and I think that’s why it hurt him so much inside.
PAUL Is her more honourable than you?
RODNEY Well that’s for others to judge.
PAUL I guess so. It shows us doesn’t it though, because he had been warned, you could call him a serial offender on the ministerial card, two bottles of wine became dinner with the wife. It shows us again doesn’t it how MPs can get hooked into this culture of entitlement?
PAUL Did you get hooked into that?
PAUL Should you have resigned given Heatley’s resignation?
RODNEY Well I didn’t think about it actually. What I did was, I made a mistake and I realised myself that I’d made a mistake, it took a while because when it broke I was sort of busy defending myself, and then I had to accept myself that I’d made a mistake, that’s the hardest thing actually to admit that yourself and then I worked to put it right.
PAUL Yeah but Mr Hide, Mr Heatley paid back twelve hundred you paid back over ten thousand, should you have resigned when you look at Heatley’s example?
RODNEY No, because I didn’t break any rule.
PAUL But you didn’t do the right thing initially do you?
RODNEY Well I didn’t do the right thing for me, but I didn’t actually break the rule, and understand this, everything that I did had been signed off by the Prime Minister.
PAUL Are you still a perk buster?
RODNEY Well I’ve got a bigger job, and in fact the perks have been well busted by me.
PAUL Isn’t it amazing, you were the perk buster and even you got sucked into that culture of entitlement, how the hell does that happen?
RODNEY Well the rules are poor, the rules are treacherously poor.
PAUL How complicated is it, two bottles of wine not being two bottles of wine?
RODNEY No, the rules are treacherously complicated save for Gerry Brownlee and for me, because my view of it is that we shouldn’t be paid the way we are, we shouldn’t have this part of our salary package that’s a trip entitlement, that was always my argument, and then you actually have your salary deducted for these trips, and then when you take them you have TVNZ chasing you, but I accepted because I’d criticised that process, I couldn’t accept that entitlement and I took it on the chin, but now my job is a much bigger one because essentially we have a government that’s borrowing 240 million dollars, government spending is out of control, I’m working hard to get both under control. Of course we have an economy that’s struggling where average family here of four is $64,000 a year behind Australia, so my job now is yes I’ve gotta keep an eye on the MPs. My job is to lift the performance of this country.
PAUL I understand that and we’ll talk about the economy very shortly. Let me just ask you how badly that matter hurt you and the party?
RODNEY Not too bad actually.
PAUL Was there discussion at a special caucus last November or any caucus last November, in which there was an attempt to roll you as leader?
RODNEY No, no.
PAUL Where there misgivings expressed about your performance?
RODNEY By me there was, so it was me that called the meeting and it was me that took the opportunity to review the year, because we’d been going very hard, imagine this you had the election campaign, we came in, I was working very hard on local government as leader and getting the relationship with National going.
PAUL Well everyone seemed to do very well, and for ACT you did very well in the John Key government, but was concern expressed by Roger Douglas or Heather Roy?
RODNEY No. When I say that no, I mean there was concern expressed about ACT’s positioning, about how we’d go forward, but there wasn’t a concern expressed about me staying on as Leader.
PAUL So after the conference yesterday can you guarantee that you’ll be fighting the next election as the Leader of ACT?
RODNEY Look no person can guarantee that, and you’d be foolish to do so, and you’d be arrogant to do so. A person is a leader, or indeed an MP, on the request of others, it’s a great privilege, and in the ACT Party we don’t take anything for granted. I work every day to justify my position as an MP, as MP for Epsom, I work every day to justify myself as a leader of the party and as a minister, and I don’t take it for granted, and I mean if caucus decides that there’s a better option then you accept that. So if I sat here and said I can guarantee you that I’ll be leader, it doesn’t matter what I do. No no, I’ve gotta actually earn that right to contest the next elections as the Leader of the ACT Party.
PAUL Let’s talk about some of the difficulties of being the minor party in a supply and confidence deal with the big monster party, if you like, and you’ve spoken about ACT being in the death zone, what did you mean by death zone?
RODNEY Well no political party has survived where ACT is positioned, and so you know unless you call sort of Jim Anderton or Peter Dunne hanging in there surviving, the parties typically get wiped out, and the reason is that they…
RODNEY Well the Alliance got wiped out through internal difficulties within the party, New Zealand First probably the same over the whole business, and United Future perhaps Peter Dunne’s numbers in that election were a freak.
RODNEY That’s true.
PAUL But it’s about – they seem to have imploded, the parties.
RODNEY And I think there’s a lot of pressure on the small party in government, you know a larger party has more resources, has more people, it in a funny way has less pressure, the Maori Party and ACT Party have a lot of pressure on them, and I’m conscious of this, and here’s what we’ve done to counter that, because we’ve had the observation of other parties. The first thing is to be very clear with the electorate what they’re gonna deliver on before the election, and subsequent to the election, a very good confidence and supply agreement with the National Party that allows us to criticise the National Party, and hears our policy achievements, our promise to the voters that we’ll ensure a stable centre right government, and we will ensure some policy wins, and hears the thing Paul, we’re delivering on that.
PAUL I know and it’s not being reflected in the polls, that’s my question. So how does ACT, I mean Heather Roy is saying we can’t rely on Epsom forever, we’ve gotta get 5%, well you’re nowhere near 5% at the moment, you got what 3½% in the last election?
RODNEY Yes but again I can sit there and worry about the polls or I can get on and do the best job that I can for the country in my ministerial positions and as Leader of the ACT, and that’s my focus. My focus actually funnily enough isn’t ACT, my focus is New Zealand. You know what we need to be doing is lifting our economic performance, and we know what we need to do, we had the great report from the Don Brash task force, we need to get spending under control, we need to be cutting the red tape, we need to be increasing our performance as a government so that we have first rate policy, so we can have a first rate country, that’s the responsibility that we have as ministers.
PAUL Yes, but you have got a bloke called Sir Roger Douglas who said to the conference yesterday, that ACT is facing serious risk of being seen merely as a support partner content with crumbs from National’s table. You on the other hand were saying ACT has to be responsible and provide the stable government. Is that a division?
RODNEY No, it’s a tension, and it’s a natural tension that I feel every day, because I’m not the National Party, I find the National Party too conservative, too centrist, not confronting the problems that the country faces, basically we’re still sticking with the policies of Michael Cullen and Helen Clark, and that’s going to lead us to a second rate performance when we are actually aspiring to a first rate performance.
PAUL Is that what you believe Bill English and John Key are doing, sticking to the policies of Helen Clark and Michael Cullen?
PAUL Is this incremental cautious economic policy of Bill English’s going to work, going to lift our game?
RODNEY Well, they’re doing a better job than Helen Clark and Michael Cullen that’s true, but we want to be doing a much much better job than Helen Clark and Michael Cullen, and our job as ACT is to push that, we’ve got to respect though that we’re only five MPs.
PAUL Yeah but at the same time are some of your people getting ancy?
RODNEY Of course they are, and some people within National are getting ancy too, because we can actually see the country slipping off the pace, and when we voted at the last election we voted for something different, and we have to ensure that difference, a difference not just for us in the here and now, but a difference for our children. Don Brash told us at the conference yesterday, and it’s a shocking statistic, 260,000 New Zealanders left this country permanently over the last decade, and the question is over the next ten years are we going to lose another 260,000 of our best and our brightest or more, or are we going to reverse the flow, and the decisions that we’re making now as a country are deciding that. You know we passed the dopy Emissions Trading Scheme that is going to cost our economy over a billion dollars a year.
PAUL Go back to your people who are leaving the country, 260,000 over the past decade, are the present policies of John Key and Bill English going to bring them back?
PAUL Do you believe as John Key does that we can catch up with Australia by 2025? Alan Bollard of course as you know sat where you are and said we cannot. What do you believe?
RODNEY We can, but we can’t do it on our present policies, so they’re both right. We can catch Australia and you’ve actually gotta set the goal, but then you’ve got to actually say not only set the goal, you’ve actually gotta have a plan to achieve it, and that’s what we’re getting frustrated with, and the present policies that we’re on won’t lift our economic performance. There are people in New Zealand right now in businesses, in the households, who are actually being squeezed, they’re paying and paying and paying, there’s nothing left to be squeezed out of them. Our farmers who are still the backbone of New Zealand, are actually being squeezed till their pips pop, they’re being over regulated, so is every small business, so is every entrepreneur, and people are saying why would I stay in New Zealand and have a government that’s doing this to me, when I can go over to Australia say and earn so much more and actually be supported by government?
PAUL When you look at those numbers Bill English was talking about in his speech a couple of weeks back, how bad do you think the situation is?
RODNEY Very bad.
PAUL Very bad?
RODNEY Mm, because unless we do something to reverse our performance and to give some aspiration and hope to New Zealanders the trend will continue, and I mean you think of 260,000 people, think of the economic potential and the social potential and the energy that that means that we’ve lost.
PAUL Can I just move on to a couple of things. You have succeeded it is true in pushing on to the national agenda a number of major policies, you got Super City through of course, regulatory reform, three strikes, yes you got 3½% of the vote, this is very much isn’t it the tail wagging the dog, isn’t this what people dislike so much about MMP? These are major planks.
RODNEY They’re major planks and they’re major planks that ACT campaigned on, and people voted for, people voted for…
RODNEY Three and a half percent voted for ACT.
RODNEY Well 3½% voted for it, but don’t forget this Paul, 92% voted for tougher sentencing for repeat violent offending, I actually haven’t found anyone outside the Labour Party that don’t believe that three strikes is a good policy and that we should be being tougher on repeat violent offending. I can’t find anyone who doesn’t believe that red tape isn’t strangling New Zealand and we should be doing something about it. I don’t find anyone again outside the Labour Party or the civil servants, who think we’re not spending too much money and wasting it, when actually hard working people and farmers and small businesses are being squeezed to pay these outrageous taxes and they want to see a government, that gets on top of that spending pool, and I tell you the people that gave their vote to ACT are getting good value for their vote, and what I’d like to see is more people give their party vote to ACT in the next election, and then we can lift the performance of this country.
PAUL Yes alright. Talk to me about regulatory reform, now what you’re planning, what you’re trying to do there, you’re going to set up a powerful committee, one bill to rule them all is what they’re calling it, you’re going to set up a powerful committee to assess all legislation against a set of principles, these are the rule of law liberties, taking of property taxes and charges, role of courts and lawmaking. Doesn’t that bind future governments to ACT’s fundamental philosophy.
PAUL Sounds like Roger Douglas to me.
RODNEY No it’s not, what we have is those principles are being distilled out of the legislative advisory guidelines that operate for Cabinet now. We’ve got those guidelines operating in Cabinet now. What this does is put them into statute, it doesn’t actually set up a committee at all, what it does is require ministers and a government to be transparent about what their legislation is doing, so the people of New Zealand can actually see what the effect of this bill is. It doesn’t stop parliament, it doesn’t stop a minister from passing whatever law that they want, but what we’re demanding in law making is proper transparency so we can have accountability. We’re also demanding this, we’re also saying that existing legislation should be regularly reviewed, and this bill sets up a framework for doing it, and bear this in mind, this bill is not about stopping politicians from doing things, or parliament being in charge of its own destiny, or tying it up, all it’s asking for is transparency about the effects of the legislation, and goodness knows Paul we need it, because we’re drowning the country in mad red tape and regulation.
PAUL As you’ve been telling us for years. Look the dog laws – ACC handled 40 dog incidents or maulings in January alone, you’re talking about changing the dog laws, you believe they too are an onerous muddle, what changes?
RODNEY We don’t know yet, I tell you what we’re doing?
PAUL Give Carolina Anderson, right now on this programme, an assurance you are not gonna loosen the dog laws.
RODNEY I can give the people of New Zealand including Caroline Anderson an absolute assurance that we have dog laws there to protect people for the public safety against vicious dogs, that’s the purpose of the laws, but what I’m saying is this, I want to do a review of that legislation to see that it’s working, because what we’ve had is successive governments come along in response to particular…
PAUL And we’ve had continued successive dog attacks.
RODNEY Yes, and so the way to do that is to do a proper review, involve the public, and say you know what can we do to make this law better.
PAUL Yeah but the perception I think is you might be talking loosely.
RODNEY Ah no, no. We don’t have cat control laws, we don’t have budgie control laws, we have dog control laws because dogs can attack people, but here’s my worry, and it’s always been a worry that I have with legislation, is that we pass laws constantly that affect everyone, when the actual problem is the few.
PAUL The problem is the dog I spose.
RODNEY No, the problem is the owners.
PAUL I’m sorry, I’ve gotta wrap it there, thank you Mr Hide very much for coming on the programme.