Jeanette Fitzsimons & Kim Hill - National Radio interview 4 November 99

Date: Mon, 08 Nov 1999 07:55:10 +1300
To: David MacClement <d1v9d@bigfoot.com>
From: Bera Macclement <.-.-.@auckland.ac.nz>
Subject: Kim Hill & Jeanette Fitzsimons - National Radio interview 4 November 99
Well, if Jeanette Fitzsimons fails to win the Coromandel seat, the party she leads, the Greens, will not be represented in parliament. It's as simple as that. It's a heavy burden, relieved somewhat by Labour leader Helen Clark's equivocal message to voters to maybe think about electing Fitzsimons as the local MP thus gaining at least three Labour friendly Green MPs in the next parliament, based on the Greens current party polling of 2.9%. Well who are the Greens? What do they stand for? And are they more like an interest group than a political party? Strangely enough a statement made by the aforementioned Helen Clark.
  Jeanette Fitzsimons joins me now. Good morning.

Good morning Kim.

Let's start with that: With friends like that who needs enemies? More like an interest group than a political party?

Well, there maybe some positive messages in that for voters Kim...

Huh ha! You mean voters who don't like political parties...

...political parties, but no, the Greens are very definitely in politics because we have all been working for the same goals in a range of other areas of society for many years and we've found that a lot of the blockages that stop us having a Green society are at the parliamentary level, and that's why we are there is to change those blockages.

But you're never going to have a green society, you will merely green it up around the edges.

Well, we're either going to have a green society or we aren't going to have one in the long term, and I think there a are a lot of postive signs of change in terms of new ways of thinking and new technologies and different ways of social organisation and what we need to do is enhance and foster and encourage those, and discourage the old ways which aren't working.

We'll talk a little about policy later. I wanted to ask you whether you would have liked a deal such as the one struck in Wellington Central for Coromandel.

Well, no. I have never asked for Margaret Hawkeswood to step down...

No but poor Margaret Hawkeswood, I mean I dare say she's getting a number of coded messages don't you?

I know there's been a lot of pressure on the Labour Party but I think this is different from Wellington Central. First of all the only deal done in Coromandel has been between Act and National where Act has decided not to stand a candidate explicitly in order to help Murray McLean. Secondly, the polls have shown that before Helen Clark said anything at all, we have had one poll showing us just ahead, and another one showing us just behind, with the difference being less than the margin of error in both cases. So we were already neck and neck before Helen simply interpreted the poll to her supporters. She didn't say to people "You should vote for Jeanette." She said "You may well realise, looking at the numbers that have just been released that Margaret isn't going to get in, and if you want to get rid of the National Party, the, um, person who can do that is Jeanette". That was simply facts.

Don't you feel uneasy at a certain level of dishonesty on the part of Helen Clark? She doesn't want to come out and say it, because that would offend people within the Labour Party, and indeed Margaret Hawkeswood, but the coded message is "If you want to not split the vote and not let the National Party candidate in, then vote for Jeanette Fitzsimons in the electoral seat"?

Well I think there's a subtle difference between party leaders telling their members how to vote, which I don't agree with, and party leaders interpreting for the voters what certain voting behaviours are going to mean in practice, because a lot of people are still confused about MMP, and I think Helen was simply pointing out what may be obvious to you and me but isn't always obvious to the voters, and we've been pointing that out for many months, and our internal polling has been showing a gradual slide away from Labour, as more and more people got it, that they can still vote for Labour with their party vote, and get a better local representative in Coromandel.

And a few more MPs to help Labour out in times of trouble.

That's right.

So it's a deal. Essentially already it's a deal.

Well it isn't a deal because in fact we have not offered the Labour Party anything in exchange, and the Labour Party has not actually given any...

But obviously, obviously you are going to be more inclined to support Labour in parliament should they need help to be a government.

But that was a decision more than a year ago before there was any question of what might happen in Coromandel. We announced to the voters a long long time ago sometime last year that we would not go into coalition with National/Act or support a National-led government. So our position has been clear all the way through.

Underlying this of course is your quite realistic fear that you won't get to the 5% threshold. You're going to have to win Coromandel. Yoiu accept that don't you?

Well it's certainly a security blanket if you like. I don't ...

What are you polling? 2.9 yeah?

We've been at 3.6, that was the best poll we've had, and that was before the Coromandel poll came out and voters realised that their party vote would definitely count. It was before our launch; it was before our TV ads, and I'm expecting things to improve in the next poll.

But nevertheless, there's a way to go before you can get that 5% threshold. You really need Coromandel.

Yes, we need Coromandel, and I believe we will win Coromandel. I think all the indicators are that that is what will happen.

There's a lot of talk about loyalty this morning, particularly in view of the New Zealand First list and Jenny Bloxham and Robyn McDonald are crying foul. Your loyalty has been questioned. You are in parliament because of the Alliance, and now you are leaving - or have left.

Well let's look at what the Alliance is. The Alliance was never a party - it may have become one now since we went, but the Alliance was a group of parties that under First Past The Post decided they could do better by standing together than separately. I have been a member of the Greens since its predecessor Values in the 70's, and I've never been a member of any other party. It was very clear to the voters when I stood and was elected under an Alliance banner that I was also there as the leader of the Green Party, which remained an autonomous party within the Alliance. Now when the party decided, a year after the last election, that our message wasn't getting through within the broader Alliance and that under MMP we would be better going it alone, we made that decision, we gave the rest of the Alliance parties two years notice that that's what we would do at this election, we then remained as Alliance MPs, voted in accordance with the policy that we stood on in 1996, continued to represent the Alliance policy on select committees, and until the election campaign proper began in September, and I don't think that you can level any charges of disloyalty against that behaviour.

Well, Jim Anderton can.

Well, yes.

Jim Anderton said the Greens have trouble with the concept of loyalty AND furthermore look pretty unstable.

Well, there's certainly nothing unstable about the Greens. We've been together for a long time and we're in it for the long term and I don't want to comment on Jim Anderton's attacks on the Greens cos I don't see any point in doing that.

Well it's kind of important, isn't it? It's not just old bad blood, it could be new and future bad blood. If you end up looking at holding hands with a Labour-Alliance coalition.

I know the people in the Alliance very well; I've worked with them for six years. We can work together on policy matters in a government if we're given that opportunity...

You can work with Jim Anderton who says that you're disloyal and unstable?

I've worked with Jim Anderton for six years.

Yes, exactly!

[Jeanette's brief reply not clear]

But the point is, that this is what he is saying now. He is saying that you have trouble with the concept of loyalty, and you look unstable. Now how do you work in a close relationship with someone in parliament given that?

I suppose in the same way that Jim and Helen expect to work together.

There's been a lot more water under the bridge before they could even consider looking at each other never mind working together. It's been a LONG time since those blows were struck.

It's actually not very long since the Alliance and Labour were attacking each other. But look, this is not about personalities. This is about how you line up in parliament on the issues that matter to New Zealanders, and the Green Party has worked with all kinds of people in the house that we may not like personally in order to get better policies through. I've negotiated with people in National, I have worked with people from all parties on the issues, and I'm quite convinced that the Greens can do that again.

There is also bad blood in Coromandel of course. Tony Bird the Alliance's candidate there has been stirring people up and declaring that you betrayed the Alliance by going it alone, you're in parliament because of the Alliance, and you shouldn't have walked away.

Yes, well all this about [being] in parliament because of the Alliance, if you look at the ten electorates where the Alliance got the highest party vote at the last election, seven of them had Green candidates working for that vote. The Greens more than pulled their weight in the Alliance at the last election. We don't owe our positions in parliament to anyone in particular.

But if you had stayed with the Alliance, you would be guaranteed parliamentary representation. You wouldn't have to struggle for Coromandel and worry about it, would you?

That's true, and I think that indicates the strength of our certainty that we had to strike a different course.

And it's fair to say that you've lost support in the Coromandel since splitting from the Alliance?

No it certainly isn't fair to say that. I mean, in the last election I got 27% of the vote; the Sunday Star-Times shows me with 34% of the vote. There's certainly no losing of support as a result of it. I think we've actually picked up support - well I mean the figures show we've actually picked up support.

So you're happy to indicate that you would sign up to a formal coalition with Labour if it came to that after the election?

We haven't said yet whether we'll go into a formal coalition. That will depend on the sort of policy agreements that we can work out after the election.

And you don't have any trouble with that? I mean...

What we have said is we'll use our vote in parliament to allow a Labour led government rather than a National led government. Just what relationship we have with Labour and the Alliance is going to depend on what we can agree on in terms of cabinet processes, because we will not go into a coalition that requires us to vote against our own key policies but if we can work out a cabinet relationship which I think is entirely reasonable under MMP and which I believe Labour and the Alliance are also talking about, where you have an agreed core of policies that you sign up to, including the budget process, and beyond that, you are free to advocate your own policies and you don't necessarily have to agree on anything: I think that's adult behaviour, and I think that's the sort of maturity that the voters expect under MMP.

And, what, you don't see that as the same kind of tactic that Winston Peters is employing, and getting people irritable about?

It's quite the opposite of what Winston did last time. Winston signed a coalition agreement that said that the parties had to vote together on everything, and I lost COUNT of the number of times that New Zealand First voted contrary to what was clearly in their manifesto in their policy for the last election. What Winston is saying now, is leaping to the other extreme, and saying that he won't give his confidence to either side of the house so that we will have constantly unstable government. We are not saying that; we are saying that our judgement is that a Labour led government would be better for New Zealanders than a National led government, and we will allow a Labour led government to form, and within that we will obviously try to get progress on the policies that are dear to us.

The trouble with MMP of course is that its often hard for the voters to differentiate, indeed the politicians I guess, to differentiate between flexibility and lack of principle. Now you may get into parliament with a pretty small bit of the vote: in fact, less than the threshold of 5%. You get in there. You have three MPs, and you are then going to stick rigorously to your party principles despite the fact that you have merely a smidgin of support? How will that work? How will you get... This is the question I suppose that is always haunting political parties under MMP: How will you get your convictions in proportion to your support?

Because your voting strength in parliament is exactly proportional to the voting strength of the New Zealand public ...

No, no, but you know we're talking about tails and dogs here. You could conceivably hold the balance of power. If you hold the balance of power, it doesn't matter how little support you got, as New Zealand First found out. You can wield enormous power. You can rigorously stick to your convictions even though you do not actually have a great deal of support at all.

And in the end, the voters will punish you for using that irresponsibly or for using it against the interests of New Zealanders. We don't expect to control what the next government does if we are a minority player. We expect to get a reasonable share of our ideas through parliament in proportion to our numbers. And I suppose to our ability to persuade on the strength of our ideas.

So depending on your numbers, what principles are you prepared to give away in the interests of, uh, compromise and co-operation?

Well you don't actually have to give away any principles because the whole point of MMP is that parliament decides. If Labour and the Alliance want to do something that the Greens fundamentally disagree with we will vote against it and they will be free to seek support from all the other members in the house to get that through. And the likelihood is that National will support them or New Zealand First will support them, or somebody else will. And if nobody else will support them, if only a minority of members of parliament want to vote for a certain piece of legislation that means that only a minority of the public wanted it if we've got a truly proportional parliament. And therefore it shouldn't get through.

So essentially you'd be happier not to be in a formal coalition?

We haven't said that at all. We've said that it depends on what can be arranged after the election and we've learned I think from the stands that were taken at the previous election that there isn't a lot of point in trying to dot every "i" and cross every "t" beforehand because it is going to depend on what the voters say and what numbers they give to different parties.

Here you have Jim Anderton not keen on a three way coalition having said, fairly...

Of course.

... damning things about you in the past, and even Helen Clark is not, it's fair to say, apparently crazy about you. She's said "If it's necessary to have the Greens in parliament to achieve a change in government, so be it", which sounds rather resigned and, as I said she's also said you're more like an interest group than a political party, which, of course, being the Greens you take as a compliment! But with that kind of support coming from your main pillar of any chance to wield power, how do you feel?

Every major political party would rather govern on its own. What MMP forces us to do is to co-operate. If National could govern without Act or New Zealand First, they would love to. If Labour could govern without the Alliance, they would love to. But MMP forces us to do what the public have voted for, and I think it's really crucial that in this next term of government we actually work MMP the way it's meant to work. So that the voters can see that it isn't a recipe for disaster. It is actually a recipe for getting what they have voted for.

So how has it become a recipe for disaster?

Well I think it was a recipe for disaster when so many people last election thought they were voting against the National government when they voted for Winston, and Winston was so equivocal. It is true, that he never said in so many words "I will go with National" [sic] but certainly that was the impression he gave at all his meetings. All his words were designed to mislead in that way, and so people felt very disillusioned that he took what was an anti-National vote and delivered it to National. Then, I think the coalition agreement itself which forced both parties to vote the same way on everything led to embarrassment for New Zealand First when they had to vote against their manifesto. I don't think that's the way that coalitions should work. But I think we can have a coalition that gives strength to what the voters have voted for, proportionately.

Let's talk about some of the policies which probably wouldn't go down too well nationwide, indeed they haven't. Decriminalisation of marijuana. In fact that might even alienate some of the conservative Coromandel vote, mightn't it?

Well, I think we have to look at what we've actually said about that policy. We have not said that we are for legalising the growing and sale of marijuana at all. We have said that we need to regard it first as a health issue, rather than as a criminal issue. There is a great deal of need for education which isn't happening at the moment, and there is no point in making criminals of people who have not committed any offence against anybody else. So what we are saying is that the personal possession and use of cannabis should not be a criminal offence...

Can we just go back, because I said the decriminalisation of marijuana will not go down too well among the conservative elements of Coromandel. You went on to explain that you were in favour of decriminalisation of marijuana - I'll let you return to your question now...

...for personal use only, and of coming down very very heavily against supply to children, and against growing for supply, against the whole commercial trade in it. Now, people in Coromandel have been concerned about that policy because the National Party has been putting out constantly that we are in favour of legalising the whole kaboodle. When I get the chance at candidates meetings to stand up and explain just what our policy is, there is actually a lot of nodding, and a lot of support, because the prohibition that we've had for years is clearly not working. Cannabis is very widely used, it's very widely available in schools, and more prohibition isn't going to help. And so we've got to look at a harm minimisation model, we've got to look at why prohibition is not working, and we've got to look at a model that looks at health needs, that looks at better education of our young people, and that frees up $29 million worth of police resources which currently go into just catching and prosecuting people having a smoke in their own living room, and spend that instead on the violent crime that accompanies the gang growing of cannabis, and the black market, which is where the problems are.

And it's fair to say that a lot of your supporters in Coromandel would have a smoke in their own living room?

Oh, as in the rest of the country. I think we've had surveys which have shown that more than half of people in the sort of middle age group have done that at some stage.

You want an end to building more prisons. You want a commitment to restorative justice. Now this is, you know it's against the trend; it's a bold stand. It's against the trend, people want harsher penalties, harsher sentencing...

Yes, I have been sickened in parliament this year watching all political parties competing for how long you can lock up criminals, and yet all the figures show that 85% of people who go to prison reoffend when they come out. To be logical, either everybody you send to prison has got to stay there until they die, or sending them to prison is a bad idea because its going to make them worse. Now, there's a whole range of other programmes that can help. But the starting point is that the victim is completely ignored by our system of justice at the moment. They become simply another witness at the trial of the person that beat them up or burgled them, or whatever. The law takes no account of them. We've got to put the victim back at the centre; we've got to make restoration to the victim, the centre of the justice system, and offenders have got to be brought face to face with what they have done, and acknowledge that they've harmed not just some law of the state but another human being, and that they have to put energy into trying to make restoration to that person. Now the restorative justice systems that are working on a small scale, places like Timaru, some have been tried in Auckland have had a massive effect in reducing the reoffending rates, and it's reducing reoffending that we want to do. If we take out of prison those people who don't need to be there, and who would be far better going through rehabilitation and restorative justice processes, then we've got more than enough prison beds for the people who have to be there. There's always going to be a section of society who are too dangerous to let out, but it's very very small compared with the numbers we've got locked up at present.

You want to restore tariffs.

Yeah. If you look at what's happened to our economy with the complete free trade agenda, we've removed tariffs, and our trading partners haven't. We've got a massive trade deficit, a massive balance of payments deficit we've had for years, and that means that we go into debt. I can't see any point at all in exposing our clothing and textile and footwear and biscuit and cat food industries to the cold winds of competition from countries which have low wage rates and which subsidise their own industries.

So you would restore all tariffs?

What do you mean by all tariffs?

The tariffs that we had, say 20 years...

It's not a matter of just undoing what's been done. It's a case of looking at...

You would impose new tariffs.

We would impose tariffs where New Zealand production is being undercut by unfair competition from overseas, either because they exploit their people, or because they exploit their environment, or because they're subsidised by overseas governments.

That's a lot of tariffs.

Sorry?

That's a lot of tariffs.

No, I don't think it's a huge amount.

How many? How much?

Look, we haven't been into that. We haven't done a full budget..

Okay, I was kind of working toward that point really, and I come back to Helen Clark's point of how you're more like an interest group than a political party. You haven't got an economic policy; you haven't a clue about what tariffs you put where.

No that's not true. There's no point in the Green Party coming up with a fully costed budget. We are not going to be in a position to implement a budget. What we are giving voters is an indication of how we will use our influence in the budget process, in what directions and towards what ends. We have an economic policy, and it deals with things that no other party deals with, like why is it that we have set a set of goals for economic policy in this country that don't actually deliver wellbeing to people at all? All other parties are saying "We've got to have economic growth". We've had 30% economic growth in the last 10 years and it hasn't delivered jobs, it hasn't delivered wellbeing, it's made the gap between rich and poor wider. We've got to set a different set of goals and say, we have to think about what it is that grows in the economy and not accept that growth in car accidents and hospitalisations and crime and pollution are benefits - and the present system counts them as benefits because they put up GDP - we've got to distinguish between the growth that makes people better off, and the growth that makes people worse off. That's a fundamental policy principle that no other party has ever talked about in the history of New Zealand politics.

Party lists are in the news this morning. I'm just about to talk to Colin James about New Zealand First's party list. How did you choose yours?

I think we are the only party that forms our list through a postal ballot of all members. It's a process that takes a lot of work, but we mailed our list to all members of the party and asked them to rank it. We then fed that data into a computer in order to get the final list. I had no more say over that list than any other member of the party, and I'm proud of that because it means that our list is supported by the party and we don't have the sort of ructions that go on in other parties with people getting their noses out of joint because they know they've been ranked by all of the party members.

That's very democratic, but do you think that it's fair to say that it's all very well to have the support of your existing party members when what you actually need to do at this point in your career is to get other people to vote for you, and you've got Sue Bradford, and you've got the leader of the Wild Greens who ripped out a crop of genetically modified potatoes this year, a couple of people in the first five of the party list who aren't necessarily going to be that appealing to the people you want to vote for you.

I walked around an Auckland supermarket in Remuera recently with Sue Bradford looking at imported food and the number of people from Remuera who came up and stopped and wanted to congratulate Sue on the work that she was doing and tell her how they supported her absolutely amazed me. We've had Sue down in the Coromandel meeting people. She goes down extremely well. Sue has two university degrees; she could have gone into a high paying job and just feathered her own nest. Instead she spent her life working for the unemployed. And I think parliament needs people who are putting the needs of society first. They need people with passion. They need people who stand for something, and I would be very very proud to stand alongside Sue in parliament. She's a bit of a rough diamond at times but gosh she gets things done and she stands for the people who most need help.

Just, finally Jeanette Fitzsimons can I ask you, you are in an environment which is littered with the bitter bodies of women. I mean, how many do you need? Pam Corkery and Deborah Morris, Robyn McDonald and Jenny Bloxham. You're a woman, you're an idealist. What on earth are you doing in that company?

Well I don't always enjoy the lifestyle in parliament, but I didn't go there because I thought it was going to be fun. I think it's going to be a heap more fun this time round with a lot more Greens in there for company, and we keep our sense of humour, and there's a purpose to what we do. Um, you know, I've been there for three years now, and I can take another three.

Nice to talk to you. Jeanette Fitzsimons, who's the co-leader of the Green Party, and the first of a series of interviews we'll be doing with the leaders of the mainish parties. I use the word "ish" because, you know, it's hard to tell these days...


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