OnPoint by Keith Ng

Time for the little guys

ACT Leader Rodney Hide and Greens Co-Leader Russel Norman joins David Farrar and I for a chat session on the recent sh*tstorm in and around Parliament. Who's to blame? Is it going to get worse? We get the views of the ex-Perkbuster and the new kid on the block.

[Thanks to David Slack for forking out the $9 USD so I could pull the transcript off Chatzy. Damn Paypal made me pay $4 *then* told me to wait 2-4 working days before they'd grace me with the pleasure of their debit on my credit card. Paypal ain't my pal.]

Keith Ng: Rodney, Russel, David - thanks for taking part. Things seem pretty quiet today, but on Monday, Susan Wood asked Helen if she was going to "take her hand off the button" and whether she was going to call a truce. Both times, Helen avoided the question. Rodney, we'll start with you first. What's your assessment of the mood on both sides?
Rodney Hide: They both feel they've gone too far.
Keith Ng: Is there a feeling that they're going to pull back?
Rodney Hide: I would think so. There's a recess now, and they will be getting the public feedback. It's not good for either.
Keith Ng: Is that the sense that you're getting as well, Russel?
Russel Norman: Yes, though the underlying issues - the Exclusive Bretherens and the Attorney General's report won't go away.
Keith Ng: Is that still what it's about? Or do the personal attacks have a momentum of their own?
Russel Norman: They do, but I don't think either side is enjoying it much.
David Farrar: What role do the media have in all this? They often criticise a party as being "weak" in the House if they are not barracking and then criticise the behaviour when MPs it seems try to prove they are not "weak".
Keith Ng: Feel free to jump in, Rodney...
Russel Norman: Rodney, where for art thou Rodney?
Rodney Hide: The media are a player here, but not for the reason that David says. They play because they often want to get in and play politics rather than report it. They don't think that barracking makes for a strong opposition.
Russel Norman: The media play a role in encouraging the bearpit. My critique of the media is that there is too much emphasis on the game rather than

the content.
Rodney Hide: The basic problem is that we have a government that has run out of puff and doesn't have the parliamentary support to do much. We have the major opposition party not wanting to debate policy. So what's left?
Keith Ng: Well, how did we get here? Who's fault is it?
Russel Norman: Well the Nats hooked up with the EBs so there's a big problem there. The EBs disrupted the political process in profound ways at the last election - the scale of the spending threatened to change the rules.
Rodney Hide: It has nothing to do with the EBs or the AG report. It has everything to do with the tactics that National and Labour have adopted. It was a big call for National to label Helen Clark and her ministers corrupt. Not in a throwaway line but consistently. Politicians don't like being called corrupt...
Russel Norman: But the Nats are using the "corruption" word in relation to the AG report and Labour's response has been the personal stuff. Or at least Mallard's if not Labour's as a whole.
Keith Ng: Rodney? Is that how you see it?
Rodney Hide: The AG's report doesn't show corruption. If it did National would be corrupt too. They were found to have misspent 10k. They would be corrupt too – just not as successful! I could see it was going to get ugly once the Nats went down the tactic of consistently labeling Labour corrupt. I also saw it as diminishing Don Brash's image of being above politics and talking about the real issues that confront the nation.
Keith Ng: So Rodney, you think National was wrong to accuse Labour of being corrupt?
Rodney Hide: Yes I do. I disagree with everything that Labour does – but they

are not corrupt. Devious and cunning, yes. Not corrupt.
David Farrar: Russel - would you advocate a spending limit for third parties and how would you do it in a way which doesn't infringe freedom of speech?
Russel Norman: I think we need to look at limits on the intervention of non-parties - transparency and a spending cap I think are essential.
Keith Ng: Was this kind of behaviour the sort of thing you were protesting when you made the arrangement to walk out?
Rodney Hide: I had already left when I got the call from the Greens. I said 'sure, I had walked out already'. My problem was I was sitting down the front and couldn't hear a word all Question Time. I believe in Parliament. It's an important and valuable check on government power. But it can't work if no one can be heard. It was truly disgusting. Independent of the insults, the noise was shocking.
Russel Norman: Rodney do you think the Nats started the escalation of shouting in the House?
Rodney Hide: The Nats started the noises...
Keith Ng: Is there something that ties this all together? The bad behaviour, the corruption calls, the personal attacks? Is there, fundamentally, too much bad blood?
Rodney Hide: It's not about bad blood – it's about weak argument and not succeeding with words. That's what ties it together for both Labour and National.
Keith Ng: Do you think Labour has behaved poorly? Do you buy Helen's line that it's Mallard going rogue?
Rodney Hide: Labour would have been smarter to stay out of [it]. But Clark, Cullen, Mallard and Benson-Pope, they love getting in [it] too.
Russel Norman: Yes, [I] agree they should've stayed out. [But] it really does seem to have started with the Nats - the EBs,

the corruption calls. I think they [National] are leading the escalation. You do wonder though if we are seeing a new aggressive kind of Right in NZ led by Brash.
Keith Ng: Rodney, do you agree with Russel's assessment, that National has been the main reason the dirt has escalated?
Rodney Hide: That's BS. National started it. Labour escalated it. Clark's approach to opposition voices outside Parliament and within is reminiscent of Muldoon. She launches in.
Russel Norman: Her comments on the Hikoi (“wreckers and haters”) was pretty extraordinary.
Keith Ng: Any comments on who's more at fault?
Rodney Hide: I would share it equally between National and Labour. The Greens, Maori Party, ACT and United all want to debate the issues. Winston just wants to enjoy his bauble. And then these big two old parties wanting to slug it out on issues that don't matter.
Keith Ng: Looking at the broader picture, have we hit bottom yet? Do you expect it to get worse?
Russel Norman: Yes. And when Parliament becomes a circus it's hard to debate the issues.
Rodney Hide: It can always get worse. But it won't. Eveyone including the media will now pull back because of the public backlash.
Keith Ng: What if someone like Wishart continues to stir things up? Can you see it getting worse?
Rodney Hide: Well, he's perfectly entitled to.
Russel Norman: I think the Nats will try to represent a softer side when they get rid of Brash - so [they] won't join in with Wishart.
Keith Ng: Okay, so what's the way forward now? How do we make things better?
Rodney Hide: Who is the "we"?
Keith Ng: Smaller parties, voters, the media. Everyone!
Rodney Hide: Oh.
Keith Ng: Should we start off with what you're going to do?

Norman: We are going to keep focusing on the issues - as usual - and keep calling them for it.
Rodney Hide: I'm ignoring it and carrying on doing my job as best i can. I believe we can do so much better in this country but we need a better government and better policies to do so. That's what I'm working on.
Keith Ng: So, keep your head down and keep working? Are you trying to pressure Labour and National at all?
Rodney Hide: They will decide that for themselves. I don't see why they would ask my permission! I told some of the Nats I thought they were making a mistake and said so on my blog.
David Farrar: Would you support the media being allowed to break "off the record" confidentiality and start reporting identities of those who tell them rumours abouts MPs sexuality, affairs and families etc?
Russel Norman: The rumour mill is inevitable - let's just keep the smut in the pub not in the media.
Keith Ng: What about something like the Parliamentary walk-out? That seemed to have gotten their attention.
Rodney Hide: Walking out is silly, actually. It would be great for a government to have no parliamentary opposition.
Russel Norman: The walk-out was a useful tool. Seemed to have had some effect.
Rodney Hide: And of course the noise and the barracking is good for the government too, because it diminishes Parliament's effectiveness in holding the government to account. But there was no walk-out. The Greens failed to organise it.
Keith Ng: Ouch. Russel?
Russel Norman: There was enough of a threat to make a difference.
Rodney Hide: Nonsense.
Keith Ng: Rodney: You don't think the walkout got their attention at all?
Rodney Hide: Why would National or Labour feel threatened by

the Greens and United not being there??? The threatened walkout allowed the story of a rowdy Parliament to run a little more and therefore stir up the public some more, but that's all.
Keith Ng: Do you think that this backlash will lead to more support for the minor parties?
Russel Norman: The smaller parties will benefit to some extent. The smaller parties act as the conscience of parliament to some extent. We often don't have an axe to grind but actually benefit from the House working well.
Rodney Hide: Yes I would think so. National and Labour have made themselves appear to the casual observer to be as bad as each other.
Keith Ng: To the casual observer? You mean that serious observers will see something else?
Rodney Hide: The serious observers have their minds already made up. They know who they are voting for. They agree with National that Labour is corrupt and likewise agree with Labour that National is crooked. New Zealanders accept that half of all politicians are crooked – they just disagree about which half!
Russel Norman: On some substantial issues the Nats are still hopeless - climate change for example - Labour at least recognises it's happening even if its doing bugger all about it. Nats don't even get it.
Rodney Hide: What's global warming got to do with this?
Russel Norman: Serious observers care about serious issues - like climate change.
Keith Ng: Heh. With that, I think we'll call it a day. Thank you very much for your time!
Rodney Hide: Cheers.
Russel Norman: Sweet.