Monday , December 18 2017
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Q+A: Gareth Morgan interviewed by Corin Dann

Philanthropist turned political party founder Gareth Morgan is pledging a million dollars of his own money to charities in exchange for the contact details of potential voters.

Speaking on TVNZ’s Q+A programme this morning, Mr Morgan told Corin Dann the donations would be made instead of spending on pre-election advertising for The Opportunities Party.

“I sort of put my mind to it and thought, well, maybe – can I get a win-win here? Can I get people to sort of follow the Opportunities Party – at least look at our stuff – but also not just waste the money on billboards?,” he said.

“I put a million dollars into a pot for advertising and every time somebody comes to the website and says, ‘No, we’d rather you spend it on a charity,’ then 3 dollars of that goes across to the charity.”

In exchange, people would be required to leave their contact details to the party.

Mr Morgan created The Opportunities Party earlier this year and the most recent One News Colmar Brunton poll, on Tuesday 6 June, showed the party polling at 1 percent.

Mr Morgan’s policies include introducing a tax on all capital and to legalise cannabis.

CORIN After registering in March, the Opportunities Party is now up to 1.4% in our latest 1 News Colmar Brunton poll and they’ve got that critical 5% threshold now in their sights. Leader Gareth Morgan joins me now. Good morning to you.

GARETH Good morning, Corin.

CORIN Let’s start first with this announcement this morning. You’re going to give away $1 million to charity, but you want people to choose the charity and therefore provide you with their email addresses. Is that correct?

GARETH Yeah. So, I mean, the reality is that the Nats are going to spend something north of 5 million on this campaign. Labour will spend over 3. The government’s just given each of those teams a million each – taxpayers’ your money.

CORIN Broadcasting funding.

GARETH Broadcasting. And so if we want to compete in that game, we have to spend that sort of money as well. I mean, that’s just the reality of politics. I don’t like it, the way we’re going, but that’s just the reality. So I went home and said to my wife, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to spend the million anyway on advertising.’ She wasn’t very happy with that. ‘Surely you can do something better with the money.’ So I sort of put my mind to it and thought, well, maybe – can I get a win-win here? Can I get people to sort of follow the Opportunities Party – at least look at our stuff – but also not just waste the money on billboards? So that’s the idea here. I put $1 million into a pot for advertising and every time somebody comes to the website and says, ‘No, we’d rather you spend it on a charity,’ then $3 of that goes across to the charity.

CORIN But let’s face it – you’re after their email addresses so you can directly target them.

GARETH Totally. I’ve got to compete. I’m not dodging that at all. I’m just saying it’s a smarter way to do it than just to waste taxpayers’ money – or my money, in this case – on advertising.

CORIN Is this whole routine of the reluctant politician for real?

GARETH I want policy change and I want progress, the same as you just saw in the UK with the under-30s. They want things to change. I want things to change.

CORIN You want policy change but you don’t want to do the hard yards in parliament. You don’t want to be branded like a normal politician.

GARETH No, not a normal politician. You’re dead right.

CORIN What’s wrong with that?

GARETH Nothing. I’m just saying look at the complacency we’ve had and the inertia we’ve got in our system. We’re not making the sort of progress we could make at very little cost – in fact at a lot of benefit, and that’s what I want to see. I don’t care which party does it. I just want to push them.

CORIN But you seem to be saying you want to come into parliament as some sort of – I saw somebody, quote, ‘philosopher king’ – reluctant politician, but not actually scrap it out and fight for your ideas like everyone else has.

GARETH Well, I’ve been fighting for my ideas for years. I’ve written a lot of books. I’ve been on a lot of commissions and all the rest of it.

CORIN But all your messaging to the public is, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be there.’

GARETH I don’t want a career, but I’ve got a team of people around me growing and growing as we talk here who are more than willing to take up the fight. I’m just the vehicle to establish this party and get it off the ground and get it going.

CORIN So do personalities and your personality – does that matter in politics?

GARETH Well, I don’t think it should. I think it should begin and end with policy. That’s all I’m interested in.

CORIN But that’s not realistic, is it?

GARETH Well, I think we’ve gone too much the other way where it’s all about personality and not about enough content. Meanwhile, people are missing out and I’m trying to address that so all boats rise here.

CORIN But is there anything wrong with somebody who’s had a busy life who says, ‘You know what? I’m going to vote on the basis of I like this person. I trust them,’?

GARETH I think that basically sums up their perception of what that person is going to contribute, and all I guess I’m saying is if it’s all personality and no content, no substance, Corin, then I think the country just drifts, and that’s what I think New Zealand is doing. I mean, we’ve got some real holes in our policy. You know about it with the housing affordability. I mean, the Nats with their immigration policy have allowed low-skilled people to come in and suppress wages, stop trickle-down happening in this country. Meanwhile, those people on the modest incomes – their rents are going up. They’re getting gutted. I just think there’s too many people here being left behind. You cannot build prosperity on anything apart from a foundation of fairness. That is what I’m here for.

CORIN OK. I won’t labour this point too much, but you’ve talked in the past about not going into parliament unless you had 10%. Do you stand by that?

GARETH I want a majority, right? I want a mandate, I mean. So to slip in like Act does, you know, under some gerrymandered scheme – I mean, that just disgusts me, that kind of stuff.

CORIN OK, but say you got 5% — your party gets 5% — would you actually stand and go into parliament?

GARETH Well, I think it depends on how the other cards fall. If 5% actually means you have influence then absolutely. I’d be in there getting as many of our dozen policies through.

CORIN So you would go into parliament at 5%?

GARETH If—No. It depends on how the cards fall. So, yes, I would go in. Would I stay there? It depends if I—I am not personally going to tread water for three years. I’ve got better things to do with my life, all right? And I’ve got a lot of people around me.

CORIN So a lot of this is going to depend on your other candidates.

GARETH On my candidates, that’s right. Geoff’s in there, obviously.

CORIN Obviously people will be starting to know Geoff, but who else have you got lined up?

GARETH Well, I mean, we’ve just—Jenny Condie’s come in, so she’s, you know, a tax PhD. That’s what she does. We’ve got Lesley Immink from the tourism side come in. We’ve got quite a few coming in the next couple of weeks. So it’s building, you know.

CORIN All right.

GARETH I’ve started from zero, remember, here, Corin.

CORIN Yes. Let’s say you do get 5% here hypothetically, and you go in. Who would you prop up? Do you have a choice?

GARETH No. Well, I think if you ask—If you take our policies and look at us on that sort of left-right blimmin’ thing – which really annoys me – but if you did, you would have to say on economic matters that I’m actually—we’re quite dry.

CORIN Closer to National?

GARETH Oh, hell, yeah. I mean, I’m very much in favour—

CORIN Closer to Act or in the middle?

GARETH Not Act. I mean, Act—Far right and far left, forget them. I’m not interested in them.

CORIN OK.

GARETH But in terms of free and competitive markets, I think they’re a very powerful weapon to get the allocation.

CORIN But you don’t support TPP?

GARETH No, I think TPP—The trouble with that is to the extent that it compromises your public policy, I think it should be shot. I don’t like that aspect of it. I’m all for free trade, but I’m not for—

CORIN Sure. But what you’re saying is you could support both sides?

GARETH Totally. I mean, I get on with both sides. I think in terms of the social-type stuff I’m probably closer to Labour, but on the economic stuff I’m closer to—

CORIN Would you be the tail wagging the dog? Would you–? What would–?

GARETH Well, that’s what MMP is.

CORIN Yeah, I know, but if you got your 5%, what would be the one policy which you would be demanding that you get your concession?

GARETH Tax reform.

CORIN So you’re going to essentially—As a 5% party, you might be saying to a large chunk of New Zealanders that they will have to pay a tax for owning their own home.

GARETH Well, I’m saying to them that they could get a 30% tax cut, actually, if you read the whole policy. So it’s all about changing the base of the tax to make it fair and using those proceeds to drop the rates. There’s not one dollar in our stuff of extra tax for—

CORIN But if you’re over 65 and you’re not working, not only do you get the tax on your house but you also get means-tested under your policy.

GARETH Yeah, well, remember the tax on the house there is rolled up into an estate duty, so there’s no cash flow effect. You shouldn’t dodge it just because of your age.

CORIN Sure, sure. I don’t want to argue the merits of your policy, but what I’m saying is do you think you can justify demanding a policy that, I guess, radical with 5% of the vote?

GARETH Well, it’s a negotiating situation, isn’t it? So I’d put that on the table and whoever the government of the day is will negotiate with us in terms of the transition to that. I mean, that’s where we end up at the end, but the last thing I want to do is crash house prices, Corin. You know, you just can’t do that, so you have to phase this sort of thing in. But we need to make the tax system fair and efficient.

CORIN You’ve said yourself even a government announcing that they might do your equity tax or your land tax would probably bring house prices down – just the announcement that it’s going to happen.

GARETH Yeah, so that just tells you that it’s not going to take that much of a tweak for this to actually occur – for us to get this house price inflation out of the system, to get capital in this country properly allocated so we can get higher growth incomes and particularly get trickle-down to the people on the lower incomes.

CORIN What’s happening with this cannabis policy? Where did this come from? Why did you suddenly adopt this cannabis policy?

GARETH Well, cannabis policy is interesting, because when it first came—One of the—Geoff, I think it was, put it to me and I said, ‘You’ve got to joking,’ you know, not, sort of, knowing anything about it. He said, ‘No, no. Go through the science of it and let’s do the evidence.’ So we got the whole evidence base together. You know, it’s other people’s work. It’s not our work. And I could see immediately that the issue with cannabis was the prohibition of that particular drug and the harm that was caused by prohibition. I saw it face-to-face when I was in Waitangirua at a meeting there where that community was being blackmailed by the criminal underworld, having its cannabis supply withdrawn and told it could only opt for P. Now, remember, these are not your normal potheads at the university, right? These are people who are taking drugs to escape just for one day the misery of their lives. I mean, this is actually quite serious. So that’s what got me. I said, ‘Shit, we’ve actually got to deal with this – with the harm caused by the criminalization of this drug.’ And that’s where the policy came from.

CORIN So this wasn’t some attempt by you to find an issue that was going to suddenly resonate with young people, trying to get you a profile? Because it certainly—It looks a bit like that.

GARETH I mean, I’ve done a lot of polling, and one of the market research guys said, ‘Well, it’s really cool because your policies actually appeal to young people, so that’s good news, Gareth. Now here’s the bad news – they don’t vote.’ And I went, ‘You’ve got to be joking. How the hell do we get them in the polls?’ So we did another piece of research. The number one issue amongst young people – and this blows me out of the water – in this country is cannabis law reform.

CORIN So do you support direct democracy?

GARETH I very much support deliberative democracy where you have a discussion with the constituency over any issue that involves values, and then you use your evidence – so you think, in other words – to come to the right policy to implement, to fulfil.

CORIN Do you actually like the system of democracy? Sometimes it looks a bit like you feel frustrated that people don’t get stuff and that you know best.

GARETH No. I think what we have is best practice when it comes to policy, and that’s pretty well-known in the policy community. Then you look at what the politicians actually do and the difference is ridiculous and you go, ‘Well, is that actually just pragmatism or are these guys cynical and actually playing to their—cherry-picking?’ I mean, we’ve just seen that with the National—

CORIN It’s the art of what’s possible, isn’t it?

GARETH No.

CORIN Under an MMP system.

GARETH No. I think you can play to a particular constituency by manipulating policy. We just saw that with the land and water reform, where the land and water reform group came up with a set of policies and the Nats cherry-picked it, right, to suit their own community—their own constituency, so you end up with a policy that’s incoherent. I don’t like incoherent policies. I don’t like taxi drivers with big, loud voices in parliament and no content, all right? I’m trying to deal to it.

CORIN Gareth Morgan, thank you very much for your time. I look forward to talking to you again on this campaign.

GARETH Thanks, Corin.

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