The Nation: Lisa Owen and four hopeful MPs

Lisa Owen: Come election day on September 23rd, many of our MPs will be returned to Parliament. But there will also be a whole lot of new MPs turning up in Wellington, all fresh-faced, full of optimism and energy, and this morning we have four in the studio who hope they’ll be there. The Greens’ Golriz Ghahraman; Kiri Allan from Labour; National’s Nicola Willis; and Shane Taurima, who’s just announced he’s standing for the Maori Party. So, Shane, I’ll come to you first.

Shane Taurima: Kia ora, Lisa.

When and if you get to Parliament, what’s going to be the number-one thing that you are aiming to achieve?

Taurima: Whanau is always the number-one priority for the Maori party. We’ve got a proven track record with whanau. What we’ve got currently is two Maori MPs in Parliament, and what we’re saying at this election is – more MPs means more support for whanau, more whanau getting ahead in their lives. That’s our number-one priority.

Kiri?

Kiri Allan: Well, good morning, Lisa. I’m from the beautiful region of the East Coast, and we have growing numbers of kids living in cars, families living in tents, 300,000 kids in New Zealand currently living in poverty, so our priority is, in the Labour Party, reducing those social inequalities and doing that with a fresh team, with a fresh approach.

Golriz?

Golriz Ghahraman: My priority and what I’m excited about is bringing human rights law expertise into Parliament. I want to safeguard our democracy and our rights, because I’ve seen the world without them, and I think they are under threat under this government.

Nicola?

Nicola Willis: I want to see more New Zealand children fulfilling their potential. We’ve seen under this government that 60,000 children have been lifted out of benefit-dependent households, and so when we have a strong economy that can provide mums and dads good jobs and good incomes, our children do really well.

Okay. Shane, what’s the deal? Did Labour not want you this time, or did you not want them?

Taurima: No, I left Labour when I realised that, actually, Labour throw Maori under the bus as soon as they think it’s going to cost them votes. They did it in 2004 with the seabed and foreshore, and I didn’t believe it until I experienced it personally.

Okay. Kiri, so you’re with the party that likes to throw Maori under the bus, apparently.

Allan: Yeah, Shane and I have a different experience there. I think that right now I’m part of a team that has 12 Maori that are likely to come in off that list. We’re an incredibly strong team. Everybody coming in this year I think brings something different to the table. We’ve got tax experts. We’ve got primary-school teachers.

But he’s right. Shane’s right to a certain extent, isn’t he? Because the critics are saying that your party are muzzling Maori MPs. Kelvin Davis on Maori prisons, charter schools, Maori electorate MPs.

Taurima: And it’s even worse than that, Lisa. Can I just say…? It’s worse than that because at the last election, Maori gave Labour six seats. What have they got in return? Well, actually they kicked all those MPs off the party.

Allan: Well, that’s completely wrong.

Taurima: There’s no Maori in the top 15 on the Labour Party list. That’s a fact.

Let’s give Kiri a chance to answer to that.

Allan: It is, because I’m in the party, and these guys are my mates, and we do a lot of planning together. So what our six Maori MPs…

Taurima: There are none in the top 15.

Allan: …who currently hold those seats did is they made quite a courageous move and they decided to bring themselves—

Taurima: They got kicked off. We both know that.

Allan: Well, that’s just wrong, and you know that too. But what they did do is that they decided to pull themselves off that list to create pathways for folks like me, mate. And I’m really appreciative to them for doing that.

Taurima: But it’d be good if we actually had any Maori in the top 15.

Let’s bring the others in on the conversation.

Allan: I just want to say that currently we do have several of our Maori MPs in ministerial position in the top 20.

Nicola, $90 million in the budget went on irrigation schemes. Is it right to prop up businesses in industries that can’t sustain themselves?

Willis: I think that the New Zealand farming sector can sustain itself and has a really proud track record of doing so. One of the important things about irrigation schemes is that, actually, they help us improve our environmental bottom lines too, because when you have better water storage and when you have better water use, you’re able to make better use of your resources, and that’s what New Zealand has going for us – we have amazing resources. We need to make the most of those.

Where is the scientific evidence that supports storing large bodies of water is better for the environment? They clean themselves, don’t they?

Willis: What the science will tell you is that in certain times of year, there’s less water than others, and when rivers run shallow, that’s not good. So having irrigation schemes that allow farms to have water at the right time of year is good for our economic productivity, it’s good for the communities where jobs are created, and it’s good for our exports; it means that more money is coming into our country. And we all benefit from that. Our communities benefit from that. There are more jobs.

Let’s bring Golriz in on this. Do you agree with that? So if there’s not water, let’s supply water for farming.

Ghahraman: I think what the propping up of these irrigation schemes really shows is a priority of this government, which isn’t to secure our waterways. We’ve seen that, because we’re not cleaning the rivers. We’re committing to that happening in 30 years on a lowered standard. We’re giving away our water for free to foreign companies. We’re not seeing that, and the other thing we’re not seeing is that the government isn’t prioritising people. So this money is going into these irrigation schemes which prop up organisations that are not able to—

Allan: Can I just come in there? The reality too, though, is that National has had nine years to really nail this in the head, and they’ve failed to do so.

Willis: In the past three years, this government has seen 200,000 more jobs created in this country, and that’s what really makes a difference in New Zealand.

Allan: But we’ve also seen the lowering of those water—

Willis: Better jobs, better incomes – that’s what New Zealanders want to see from their government, and this government has a proud track record of delivering it, and we will continue to do so.

Allan: I live in the regions, and you can talk to pretty much anyone in our region. Key issue for our families out there in our communities – rural communities – if our kids can’t swim in those waterways, if they are so polluted, and if we’re lowering the standards to enable E. coli to become our base bottom standard, that’s a real issue, and that’s an issue whether you’re on the left or the right of the political spectrum. And National has had nine years to really nail these freshwater standards and have failed to do so.

Willis: I reject that, because I think that, actually, we’ve got a government who said we need to improve the quality of our waterways; it’s been bold in saying that. And I agree with you, Kiri. There’s agreement across New Zealand that that’s a vision that we share. The question is – how do we practically implement it? And this government has said—

Ghahraman: Is lowering the standards and committing to doing that in 30 years–?

Willis: There’s been no lowering of the standards.

Ghahraman: Swimmable river standards have been lowered by this government.

Willis: This government has set higher aspirations for the quality of water in our waterways than any government previously has.

Allan: Except currently we now have E. coli in our estuaries. Like, I’ve got Waitao here. It’s right in my electorate in the East Coast. We’ve just had, all throughout our electorate, signs gone up – ‘Don’t take the seafood any more because it has E. coli through the roof.’ And, you know, all throughout our electorate right now, we grew up swimming in waterways. I grew up swimming in the Kaituna River. That there is so polluted now. Our riverways are polluted, and our families really care that National hasn’t nailed it.

Okay, let’s talk about water of a different kind – foreshore and seabed. Shane, you supported the Mana-Maori Party alliance for this election.

Taurima: Agreement.

Yeah. You need those Mana votes if you’re going to come close in Tamaki Makaurau. Why do you think those people are going to vote for you? Critics would say you’re a waka jumper who was prepared to support a party that was going to take their foreshore and seabed.

Taurima: Well, can I just say, when I did put my hand up for Labour, I was the only one in the party that actually said we needed to address the seabed and foreshore. Anyway, Labour’s—

Allan: But you’re not quite right, because I remember you coming through at that time. Everybody said that the foreshore and seabed is a huge issue and it is a mark on our name.

Taurima: If you let me finish. Anyway, that’s then. This is now, okay? What we know is that under Labour, they will always throw Maori under the bus, as I said earlier.

But why are those Mana supporters going to vote for you? Because you need them to win.

Taurima: Well, they’ve got an alternative, and Mana voters haven’t forgotten about what Labour did back in 2004. But also, moving forward, what Mana voters do realise is that under Maori Party influence, there’s Kaupapa Maori that the government has supported –in the last budget, $134 million to support Maori economic development, Maori tourism, Maori language and a whole range of different other initiatives. It’s those kaupapa that Mana Party supporters will support, but at the end of the day, that’s up to them.

Okay, well, just on that note – because the Maori party has supported National and I’m just wondering – you’ve got huge numbers of Maori in prison. You’ve got poor rates of degree achievement, university education, in Maori. Things are not moving fast enough for you. High numbers of homelessness. Is that a sign that your party’s support for this government is working?

Taurima: Two things, Lisa, and let me have the time to explain this because it’s important. The Maori Party have two MPs in parliament. National has 59. National doesn’t need the Maori Party actually in government. There’s only been two pieces of legislation in the past three years that National’s actually required our support on. We’ve got two options. We can either sit outside the tent and throw stones like the Labour party does and achieve absolutely nothing for whanau, or we can be inside the tent working constructively for all New Zealanders and actually holding the government to account as well. I agree that there are a lot of Maori whanau not in a good place. But also, there are thousands of whanau in a much better place as a result of kaupapa that the Maori have been able to push through.

Allan: A million bucks into prisons this year, into building new prisons – most expensive housing scheme for Maori in the country, mate, and that’s effectively what you’re saying you support.

Taurima: You know, can I just say Maori are sick and tired of being called sad, bad and mad. The Maori party support aspirational kaupapa because we know that Maori whanau actually want a better start in life. They want to get ahead. And we are trying to do that by sitting in government.

Allan: Absolutely that’s what our families want. But the reality is–

Willis: This is a government that has backed Maori to succeed.

Taurima: Absolutely. All we get from Labour is that we’re sad, mad and bad, and we’re sick of it.

National has backed Maori to succeed, have they, Shane?

Taurima: Absolutely. And that’s why we’re sitting at the table, Lisa. As I said, two MPs; National don’t need us. They have the numbers to form the government. They have the numbers to get legislation through. Two pieces of legislation in the past three years where they’ve needed our support. They don’t need us.

But are those statistics– Is that Maori succeeding?

Taurima: No, it’s not. And as I say, there are thousands of whanau that are actually in a much better place now as a result of kaupapa Maori. However, there are still a number of whanau– And I agree. It’s totally unacceptable. They’re not in a good place. And that’s why we’re saying with more Maori MPs, more support for whanau.

Allan: Oh, we agree. More Maori MPs in parliament. Labour supports that.

Taurima: Maori party MPs.

Shane raises a legitimate point here. If you’re going to sit on the sidelines and criticise, then nothing’s going to get done. You’re deeply concerned about poverty in your electorate.

Allan: Absolutely.

Your party voted against a package with tax breaks and Working for Families, and they don’t want to up the top tax rate to pay for things. So how can that be right in your books?

Allan: Well, Lisa, for me, I think, well, when people like myself, who are in the top income brackets in this country– When we are the greatest beneficiaries, really, under the budget’s tax cuts, I get a thousand bucks.

Willis: Saying that you are the greatest beneficiary, say that to the thousands of families who are now looking at receiving an increase in their accommodation benefit, who are looking at getting an increase in their Working for Families tax credit and who are looking at getting a decrease in their tax.

Allan: 500,000 beneficiary families are not going to benefit from those cuts, but I am, and I’m in the top earning bracket. Your bosses are, and they’re in the top earning bracket. That, to me, is not fixing–

Okay. Kiri, sorry, I want to bring Golriz in on this. So, there’s a debate here that obviously some people who are earning higher money are going to get a thousand bucks back. Now, to pay for what the Greens are looking to do, do you think that a higher top tax rate is the way to go? 40 cents on the dollar. Should people who can pay more pay more?

Ghahraman: The Green Party… For us, it’s a matter of priorities. We don’t think this government– There is enough to pay for us all to be taken care of in New Zealand. This government hasn’t been prioritising things like–

So we don’t need a higher tax rate, Golriz?

Ghahraman: It’s about rebalancing the economy.

So no. The answer’s no, we don’t need a 40-cent tax rate.

Ghahraman: We’re not opposed to raising the taxes, but we don’t think that’s actually a priority right now. We think it’s a matter of re-balancing our finances. Communities, infrastructure and inequality haven’t actually been prioritised by this government. Housing hasn’t been prioritised. Motorways have been prioritised.

Has that position change regarding tax happened because Labour has said it doesn’t want any new taxes this term, because previously, the Greens have supported 40 cents in the dollar at 140 grand?

Ghahraman: We haven’t got a firm tax position in terms of that. For us, it’s about re-balancing the priorities.

But you did at the last election. So have you abandoned the 40 cents because of Labour not wanting new taxes?

Ghahraman: We haven’t abandoned the 40 cents. We haven’t shifted. We support Labour coming into government, and we support–

Well, then, you’ll have to support that tax policy.

Ghahraman: Well, that will be a matter for negotiations for after we–

All right. I want to go to some quick-fire questions. Nicola, 50/50 representation of women and men in cabinet – should you have it?

Willis: If women are the best people for the job, absolutely. What we need is a meritocracy where all of us have an opportunity to contribute, and I think we’ve seen that with this National government.

So no quota?

Willis: No quota.

All right. What do you think, Shane?

Taurima: I totally agree.

No quota?

Taurima: No quota.

50/50. What about you two?

Allan: I agree that, you know, it must be based on merit. But I think that women are outstanding across the house.

Golriz, you?

Ghahraman: No, I think we do need quotas. I think we need to support women into these positions. And the meritocracy that is the Green party has resulted in an amazing resurge in women – and especially young women, as everyone’s pointed out – coming into play. So it will be a meritocracy, but I do think women need support.

I want some quick answers to these questions. Shane, should we legalise abortion?

Taurima: See, I’m complying, Lisa.

Good. Legalise abortion? Yes or no.

Taurima: Yes.

Allan: Yes.

Ghahraman: Yes.

Willis: Right now, women can access abortions, and that’s good, and that should remain the case.

They need two consultants to say that their mental health would suffer. It’s not legalised. So legalised or not?

Willis: That’s not a priority for me.

Okay. Should prisoners get the vote?

Willis: I think that when it comes to those issues, I’d want to take more advice and talk to others about what impact that would have.

So you don’t have a personal opinion. Waiting to see what your party would say.

Willis: Should prisoners have the vote? Look, if it’s a prisoner who’s done something really terrible to a family, that’s raped a child, that’s done something awful, do I think they should have some reduction in their rights? Yeah, I do.

So some should, some shouldn’t. Golriz?

Ghahraman: Prisoners should absolutely have the vote. It’s a civil rights matter. And when you look at the demographics of who we’re actually locking up, taking away the vote would have an impact.

Kiri?

Allan: With over 50% of those prisons filled with Maori, absolutely.

Shane, what do you reckon?

Taurima: Yeah, I agree.

Okay. Do we need a new national anthem, Shane?

Taurima: I think that when Hinewehi Mohi went out a few years ago and sung the national anthem in Te Reo Maori, there was a big uproar about that. Now we sing it both in English and in Maori. And I like the way it is now.

Kiri?

Allan: I love the Te Reo Maori and the English version of our anthem.

Ghahraman: I do too.

Willis: I love our anthem, and it’s wonderful to see that children now sing it in Te Reo and know it well.

Golriz, euthanasia – for it or against it?

Ghahraman: I’m for the right to choose, but I think we probably need to have that conversation.

But personally you would want that right. Nicola?

Willis: I think that I’ve got a lot of sympathy for people who are in difficult end-of-life situations, but we’ve got to be really careful about the law in this area so that it doesn’t have negative consequences.

Kiri?

Allan: I support euthanasia at a personal level, but I agree with the previous speakers that there’s a lot of issues to work through in getting that legislation right.

Taurima: Yeah, I agree too. There must be some clear measures put in place. We would never, ever want to see it being abused. But I do support that fundamental right of a person to be able to make that decision.

All right. Great to talk to you all. Thanks for joining us.

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