Sunday , May 26 2019
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Q+A: Corin Dann interviews NZ First leader Winston Peters

CORIN Winston Peters has been on a two-week regional tour, finishing with the New Zealand First AGM and convention in Manukau this weekend. Mr Peters joins us from there. Good morning to you, Mr Peters.

WINSTON Good morning.

CORIN I wonder, is your goal this campaign to change the government or reform or break the neo-liberal hold, you say, that this country is under?

WINSTON We’ve had a 33-year experiment, which after three years, you remember, was being sold as ‘You’ve had three years of pain, and now you’re going to have three years of gain.’ And we’ve waited 30 years for it. There is no gain for the mass majority of New Zealanders, and my party is very clear that we want economics that works for the mass majority of New Zealanders, not just the elite and foreign economies and foreign ownership.

CORIN You talked in an interview with Richard Harman this week about your fondness for Robert Muldoon. Is that what you’re proposing – a return to pre-1984, much bigger government, much more intervention in the economy?

WINSTON Richard got it 100% wrong. I said no such thing. I was just explaining the kind of propaganda and scam that accompanied the neo-liberal experiment of 14 July 1984, from which after 33 years, we have slid right down the OECD; massive ownership of New Zealand’s assets are offshore; 95% of our banking is foreign-owned; eight of our top forest companies foreign-owned. I was telling– I was saying and talking about the propaganda as to how they got to begin this experiment, because they said the country was broke.

CORIN All right, well, let’s look at some of the things–

WINSTON Where we are now – half-a-trillion-dollar debt economy now.

CORIN Sure. Let’s look at some of the things you have been proposing on your tour. A lot of, I guess, buybacks of assets. You’ve talked in Southland about a potential buyback of the Bluff Aluminium Smelter. What else? Why stop there? What would you look–?

WINSTON I didn’t say buyback. I didn’t say buyback. I didn’t say buyback. I said there, Rio Tinto is–

CORIN Well, you said you would look at financing, rebuying it.

WINSTON No. Now, look, you’ve got to actually listen to what I’m saying, rather than just coming to your conclusions. What I said there was Rio Tinto threatened to walk off if they didn’t get a massive subsidy from New Zealand taxpayer. And my response to that is, ‘But you’ve got to clean this place up before you go, so you’d be better to exit the darn place and give it over to New Zealand management and workers, and we’ll do the rest. We’re giving you a massive concession in power, and we’ve done if for decades. We’re giving you billions of dollars of help, so don’t threaten us.’ That’s what a leader would do that’s concerned about New Zealand’s economy.

CORIN Okay, fine, but are you proposing an economic policy where we buy back assets, where we intervene, where we run industries, where we provide subsidies, because your speeches this week to the region, in various regions, make it clear that you are.

WINSTON Look, with the greatest respect, we had to buy back after privatisation in this experiment Air New Zealand. We had to buy back New Zealand Railways when Faye Richwhite and Wisconsin Central Railroad got it in a bargain, took the shares to $9.34, then busted the whole outfit, and the taxpayer had to buy that back, and we’ve suffered from a lack of rail ever since. We’re not going to get caught here with the far- and neo-right liberals in this country trying to excuse their hopeless performance, whilst the tremendous capacity of New Zealanders to own through the Cullen Fund, through KiwiSaver, our resources is what we should be doing.

CORIN You said this week that you’d subsidise dairy farms, possibly for up to seven years.

WINSTON Well, if we want to clean up our environment – and bear in mind we have to for international and domestic reasons as well – if we want to get rid of all the pollution, then we cannot expect, surely, farmers, particularly in dairying – many on the bones of their you-know-what – to do the job. And we also know that urban pollution is far, far worse than agrarian or rural pollution in this country. Far, far worse. So as a country, unlike the rest, including the Greens, we’re going to clean up this country, like Norway has done, and like the UK set out to do; not paying $1.4 billion to foreign economies, no. Using that money, our businesses, our manufacturers, our farmers, our workers, our unemployed to clean our country up, and I’ll help farmers to do it, because it’s in our long-term interest.

CORIN Yeah, you’ve talked about a 10 to 15% cut in the currency, which you’d bring about by managing our exchange rate, which would then, of course, benefit farmers, and you say that farmers should then pay their workers more. How will you make them pay workers more?

WINSTON Well, it’s very clear. We are not going to allow, in the long-term, people to be brought in, because we failed to train and employ our own young people on farms. I’m off a farm in an era when Mum, Dad and the kids in corporate farming New Zealand could outperform an owner and four adults in the UK and Europe. We are still relying on our people, and I believe in them.

CORIN Sure. We know about your farming history, Mr Peters. Could you give us an answer about whether you will require farmers to pay their workers more? I mean, will you regulate? I’m trying to get a sense from you how far you will go in terms of your intervention in the economy if you had your way.

WINSTON Well, look, I am not going to be misdescribed by you on this matter. I’ve said to the farming community, ‘I’m going to give you the kind of tax break and the offshore tax break when it comes to exports that enables you to be a far more profitable industry. In return, I want you to employ New Zealanders, and I’ll help you train them.’ We are seeing Telford, our leading agricultural university in the South Island– or institution, secondary– post– past secondary institution being run to the ground under a National party. This is a disgrace. And we are going to correct that, but no one can tell me that the young people of New Zealand from a farming background aren’t up to it if they are given the right help and the right assistance.

CORIN On the matter of the currency, if you did try and manage the currency, would you also implement capital controls to stop any capital leaving New Zealand, which could be one consequence?

WINSTON I never mentioned that at all, never mentioned capital controls – not even in my thinking. But let me say this – if the IMF says that our currency is seriously overvalued, if this small country north of the penguins, of 4.7 million is the seventh- or eighth-most traded currency in the whole wide world, do you think they’re sitting in front of those screens in New York and Wall Street doing it for our benefit? We’re going to stop this mass misinformation, and more importantly, this abuse of our currency in other people’s interests, rather than ours.

CORIN Sure. Mr Peters, I’m sure many–

WINSTON We’ve got the courage to do so. You cannot tell me– Excuse me. Excuse me, you can’t show me one economy in the world that has a reserve bank operating with total disregard for the political and economic, manufacturing, employment and GDP concepts as ours is.

CORIN I’m not arguing you, Mr Peters. I’m not arguing the merits of your policy.

WINSTON This is ridiculous, and now more people realise it.

CORIN I’m sure there are many people who would agree with you and would like to see–

WINSTON Well, sounds like you were, but never mind.

CORIN …a lower currency. What I’m trying to find out is are you aware of the possible consequences of that, which according to some economists I have spoken to is that you might risk capital leaving the country, at which point you would need capital controls.

WINSTON Well, with great respect to those economists, you’ve had 33 years to see how your experiment doesn’t work. And I think that Lee Kuan Yew, that one man, and the minister of finance, for example, in Taiwan, knows more about economics than all of you put together. And Lee Kuan Yew in particular. This is someone I’ve talked to a number of times, who’s someone whose economic prescription on the question of currency I understand. And I prefer him and the marvels that he has performed in Singapore, with a country the size of Lake Taupo and no resources at all–

CORIN Yes, with a completely different economic backdrop to New Zealand, Mr Peters.

WINSTON …compared to these Harvard-schooled economists.

CORIN They’re not reliant on short-term capital like New Zealand. They don’t have $160 billion in private debt like New Zealand. It’s completely different.

WINSTON You’re talking balderdash. You know why you’re talking that rubbish? Lee Kuan Yew set out to force savings upon his people, and look at the benefits. I tried that 20 years ago.

CORIN They’re savings rich – that’s the point – whereas we are not

WINSTON I went to the New Zealand people and said, ‘I’ll give you…’ Can I finish off what I’m trying to say, cos this is not about you, Corin, or for that matter, about TVNZ – a taxpayer-owned operation – in this campaign. You want to know about my policy? Let me say this, I am for compulsory savings. I offered an 8% tax break – put it all into savings in your own name and change this country around. Now, people like you and others boohooed the idea and voted me down, but you didn’t vote away the problem, and I still seek to have my country independent of its appalling dependence on foreign money, which is the result of the doctrine that people like you ascribe to for the last 33 years.

CORIN You’ve announced a number of policies over the last wee while. One of them was your education policy – $4.6 billion. Although you argue, it’s only an extra half a billion on top of what’s already being spent. But if we also look at GST back to the regions – 1.5 billion, 3 billion for taking GST off fruit and vegetables. It’s a pretty expensive shopping list. Can you do it without going above those $1.8 billion caps that the government– this current government has put in place, and which Labour and the Greens are buying into?

WINSTON Well, they can buy into it, because that’s the phenomenon in this campaign. You got Labour and the Greens and the National party all going along with this neo-liberal experiment of 1984. I don’t – never did back then and still don’t – and I think there’s nothing so, you know, as antiseptic as the statement ‘I told you so’, but I kind of well did way back when I labelled it in the late 1980s as The Erebus Economy. And here we go again. You’re talking about me being profligate. Well, quite the converse. They are talking about surpluses. We’re talking about, for example, on GST on international tourism in New Zealand alone was last year $1.5 billion, and they virtually gave nothing back to the regions where that money was earned by the provincial economies. And the provincial economies in the regions of this country have had a total gutsful being forgotten.

CORIN I’m not trying to argue the merits of this policy or otherwise. I just want to know – would you stick to the current spending limits set by not just National but Labour and the Greens? Would you stick to those?


CORIN So how much–?

WINSTON I’m not subscribing to their brand of economics. Pardon?

CORIN And what about the debt limit?

WINSTON What New Zealand First– What New Zealand First intends to do. Listen. You need to understand why we are different. We intend to take public spending towards productivity and exports and real growth, not consumption and negative growth once you take out mass population increases of 2% per year. They claim to have a 3% growth rate. Take out your 2% population growth, and you’ve got what? 1% and down at the bottom of the OECD. We’re going to stop this bulldust winning a campaign, and in the next nine weeks, we want New Zealanders to know what the actual truth is, rather than this propaganda and spin of which Goebbels would have been proud.

CORIN So you won’t stick to their spending limits. Would you run deficits in order to carry out your policies?

WINSTON Can you tell me why you’re asking me, a party that’s going to come in far higher in this election with support than you’ve ever conceived, that I should be constrained by some other party’s misguided spending limits? Whilst the National Party is promising you tax cuts. Excuse me, get a grip on this. This is a fight between three different movements – National, New Zealand First and Labour-Greens combination. This is a fight– It’s the battle for New Zealand, and we intend to win it.

CORIN Would you hike taxes? Because on your website, you do talk about making sure that New Zealand’s economic potential, greater proportion of the tax burden with taken away from those on lower incomes. There is some suggestion that is a tax hike. Is there any prospect of higher income New Zealanders maybe taking a bit more of the share?

WINSTON (CHUCKLES) Now, which part of those words sounds like a tax hike? All I’ve ever promised is to export us to new market discovery exporters and to everybody who can change the outcome of this country so that we are an export-wealthy nation like we once used to be; not like now, where imports cost more than our exports are making, and so we’re permanently going into debt. If you can tell me why that is not a sound policy to change the export performance by incentivisation, then you are out of touch with what other smart countries including China is doing, for example Taiwan has been doing, for example Singapore has been doing with enormous success, and indeed Norway has been doing.

CORIN Mr Peters, I heard on your campaign trail you talking about a new Gold Card of sorts for disabilities. What’s that about?

WINSTON Well, we’ve got about 100,000 people with various levels of disability, and some of them are serious, and yet what’s been magnificent about it is a number of them, and a huge number of them, who have tried to stay in our society, be contributors, to work hard and do the best they can. They take an enormous amount of pride in it, and it’s a really humbling experience to think that all this is going on with the help of their siblings and mothers and fathers and friends, and yet the state is not paying attention. And I thought, really, we can do a lot for them by identifying their specific needs like travel and being independent, and we could seriously help them to be greater contributors to our society and less dependent upon our society, and that’s what we intend to do. We’re going to have a Gold Card for them and ensure they get some of the benefits of not giving up on life, but doing the best they can. Look, when I was very young, I saw a man with no movement of his legs, and yet he was the biggest maker of gates in a place called Mangatawhiri, south of here. And all the farming community bought his gates. He never, ever was on ACC. He never, ever was on welfare. He was a man who was, by his courage and grit, independent. I admire that, and I admire all those people. If I can help them, I’ll do the best I can.

CORIN Mr Peters, just finally, during the Todd Barclay affair, you called for Bill English to resign. Do you stand by that?

WINSTON You know something – the trouble with New Zealand politics and the trouble with TVNZ is you think there’s one law for the National Party and a different law for everyone else. Mr English knew about a crime. He used and facilitated misuse of public funds to cover it up. Then he sought to ensure that the person that received the money remained silent in what I call an illegal contract, because you can’t enter a legal contract to hide a crime. And there he sits now as though the same law’s for him.

CORIN So how can you work with him potentially as a prime minister or deputy prime minister?

WINSTON No. The real question is – how can you support him and vote for him? That’s the real issue for everybody that’s watching this programme.

CORIN Who cares what I vote, Mr Peters. How can you work with him?

WINSTON That’s not the National Party I once knew. Beg your pardon?

CORIN It’s not about me. I’m asking you – how can you work with him if it’s somebody you think should resign?

WINSTON Well, I’ve made it very clear that there is not one law for the National Party and a different law for anyone else. Mr Barclay, for example, hasn’t turned up, and the $92,000 will be going into his account whether he turns up or not.

CORIN I’ll take that as a no.

WINSTON Which other party would have an MP like that?

CORIN Mr Peters, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it. Enjoy the rest of your conference. Thank you.

WINSTON But you won’t mind, Corin, before you go, Corin can I give you some advice for the next nine weeks? Just report what I say rather than what you think I said and you and I are going to get along just fine.

CORIN Tell me, Mr Peters, that reminds me of a question I was going to ask you. What is fake news? Because I see this is something you’re talking about.

WINSTON Well, fake news is what I see frequently on the 6 o’clock news at night, and I intend to make sure that it does not prevail in this campaign.

CORIN All right. We’ll leave it there. Thank you very much.


You can watch the interview here.

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