Note: All transcripts are copyright to Front Page Ltd but may be used PROVIDED attribution is made to TVONE and Agenda
Presented by RAWDON CHRISTIE
RAWDON The arrangement that is the government got one big shake last Friday when for a while it seemed possible Winston Peters might have to be fired with who knows what consequences. Simply Helen Clark needs his vote but she also needs the votes of three other parties and their leaders are with us now, in Christchurch Jim Anderton of the Progressives, in Wellington Peter Dunne from United Future and here in Auckland Jeanette Fitzsimons from the Greens and they join Guyon now.
Well Jeanette let's start with you. Yesterday Winston Peters' lawyers met with the Serious Fraud Office to discuss this whole case, if he is cleared by the Serious Fraud Office would you as the Leader of the Green Party be comfortable with him returning as Foreign Minister and representing New Zealand's interests abroad?
JEANETTE FITZSIMONS – Co-Leader, Green Party
I think it's a question of how long that takes, I think there are two inquiries here that have to be completed and there are still some outstanding issues when they are. One question is whether anything illegal has happened but there's also the question of if in fact there are papers that clear this up in five minutes why weren't they produced weeks ago. The Serious Fraud Office has the power to get answers but surely the public have the right to get answers and why have we had weeks of evasion and prevarication.
GUYON So you're not being nearly as generous as Helen Clark who says if he's cleared he'll be back, you don’t think it's quite that simple?
JEANETTE Well Helen Clark has also talked about the court of public opinion and I think that matters as well. I think there's been a certain contempt for the public here in terms of the public's right to know, in terms of the need for transparency of political financing arrangements and I think that is a serious matter over and above questions of illegality.
GUYON Peter Dunne in Wellington, you're a Minister also who's in this minor party situation a similar arrangement to Winston Peters. What do you think if he's cleared do you think he should be back as Foreign Minister?
PETER DUNNE – Leader, United Future
Well I think the principle of innocent till proven guilty applies, but I'm not expecting this matter to be resolved quickly. I think that the matter of the Privileges Committee work to be completed, I don’t think there's going to be a quick rush to judgement here and therefore I don’t think the issue of reinstatement is likely to arise in the foreseeable future.
GUYON Jim Anderton, isn't this Progressive Labour coalition in exactly the same position as the National Party at the end of the 1990s and the lesson being that if you deal with Winston Peters at some stage it's just going to all fall apart?
JIM ANDERTON – Leader, Progressives
You’ve gotta remember I've hear all this talk about early elections, the election's only 12 or 13 weeks away in any case.
GUYON We've had the Foreign Minister stood down, that’s pretty serious isn't it?
JIM Well it is serious and no question about that but just because that happens or any Minister's being investigated, I mean there's a rush to judgement here a bit which is quite worrying for me, I mean I've not been a great mate of Winston Peters, I've been an opponent of most of what he stands for all my life, having said that I think he's done a remarkably good job as Foreign Minister, but that’s not the point, the point is there's almost a tidal wave of aggression against Winston Peters which has rushed to judgement. I would say in the public mind the media have convinced people or tried to that he's guilty before we've actually hear the evidence. I mean John Key has pronounced him guilty, he said he's not gonna deal with him, why, because presumably he's made the judgement that he's acted illegally or improperly or whatever. As Jeanette Fitzsimons says there's a court of public opinion which is going to be expressed in 13 weeks' time.
GUYON Okay well let's pick up with Jeanette Fitzsimons again. How much damage do you think this has done the government, we've seen Hone Harawira in today's Sunday Star Times that they're gone, he's calling this a coalition corpse and anyone else associated with it closely is gone as well. I mean how damaging has this been for the Labour led government do you think?
JEANETTE Oh I think Hone's comments are a bit extreme actually, the government is damaged to the extent that it protects Peters but I think the government itself is protected by the fact that yesterday he stood down, I think the Prime Minister has to think what standard of proof and exoneration she needs in order to reinstate him, but I tend to agree with Peter Dunne that I don’t think that decision's going to come up while parliament is still sitting. We are so close to an election now there's no question that the government can remain stable and we can have orderly government through to the election, there's no reason for that to be threatened and then the election campaign will decide what the public thinks of it all.
GUYON Jim Anderton raised that point that John Key has ruled out New Zealand First, would the Green Party be comfortable be working with New Zealand First after an election in some sort of governing arrangement.
JEANETTE Well in the end that’s a decision for the part not for me, but my personal view is if you're sitting round a cabinet table with someone you have to be able to trust them, you have to be able to take their word, you have to know that it's not gonna take weeks and weeks before you get answers to questions and then only if somebody with legal authority can force that, so you know I would be uncomfortable but that isn't my decision it's a decision for our party.
GUYON Peter Dunne what do you think about this, I mean would United Future be happy in some sort of governing arrangement I mean you ruled out the Greens last time as being in any government together. Could United Future work with Winston Peters and New Zealand First?
PETER Two points on that Guyon, the first is we make a decision based on what policies are on offer rather than personalities.
GUYON But you didn’t do that last time with respect Mr Dunne did you, you’ve ruled out the Greens and you basically threw Winston Peters into the arms of ….
PETER With respect Mr Espiner that’s exactly what we did, you chose to report it some other way, but that’s exactly what we've done every time, but the second point that I was going to make was simply this. The decision as to who enters into negotiations is made by two groups of people, the voters of New Zealand initially and secondly the party leading off those negotiations. Mr Key's made it clear National won't have a bar of it, I suspect that the outcome of recent events means that Labour won't have a bar of it either, so therefore I don’t actually think the situation of working with New Zealand First in or out is going to arise.
GUYON Can I clarify your position though so it's about policy it's not about integrity, it's not about honest, it's only about policy, I just want to clarify that with you.
PETER Firstly it's about the voters' judgement, I think the combination of events that we've seen in recent weeks means that we will not see New Zealand First in the next parliament, therefore I don’t think the issue's going to arise. If it got to the point of negotiation and policies were on the table then we would look at those and then we would make a call based on wider considerations such as reliability and integrity. We're the one party actually that’s managed to see through all of the governing arrangements we've entered into, so we take a very strong stance about reliability, stability, and being able to actually deliver on the deal.
GUYON Okay Jim Anderson let's broaden this out a little bit and get back to the root of what caused all this, which is basically this perception that rich people, big corporates can buy influence over parties by handing out donations, sometimes secretly. I'm just wondering as a party leader what these people who donate money can expect in return, I mean in 2005 Sky City donated $12,000 to the Progressive Party, what would they have got in return for that?
JIM Well what they would have got is a party represented in parliament that has different viewpoints from the Labour Party or any other party and that they would be acting independently of those parties to make sure that those views were pursued whether it's Kiwi Bank or whether it's four weeks' paid leave, or whether it's paid parental leave, all of the things that we have pursued independently of other parties in parliament, but let me just say that the issue of donations is in a sense an issue of the way in which they're handled, and I think the truth is that this is not a legal matter so much with Peters in my view it's the fact that he has stood on a high moral ground and said that you know business donations were bad and all the rest of it and the impression was given that he hadn’t got any. I think that’s the problem, it may well be there's nothing illegal about this but it's a matter of the position that you’ve taken against them.
GUYON Jeanette Fitzsimons your party, the Green Party, voted for a law the Electoral Finance Act which was supposed to clear up this whole matter of donations, will it?
JEANETTE Not as much as we would have liked because we pushed very very hard for a much lower threshold for anonymous donations, in fact it remains at $10,000 so anything less than that the public doesn’t have a right to know, we think it should be more like $1,000. The important thing here is if the politicians are getting large amounts of money from vested interest groups the public needs to know they're getting them so that they can judge whether the way that they're voting them into parliament is truly even handed.
GUYON The politicians don’t always know do they, I mean can you tell me whether the Greens have ever received any money from Owen Glen?
JEANETTE Not to my knowledge but it would have to have been less than $10,000 now otherwise it would be declared.
GUYON It's possible that Owen Glen donated money to the Green Party and you don’t even know about it.
JEANETTE It's unlikely but it is possible, but then if I don’t know about it then of course I can't be influenced by it anyway.
GUYON This ignorance is bliss sort of argument that everyone seems to be running, is that the proper way to fund political parties?
JEANETTE No it's not, and that’s why we've argued that the threshold should not be $10,000 it should be $1,000, I don’t think anyone's going to compromise their politics for $1,000 and so we need to drive that threshold right down but unfortunately we couldn’t get Labour and the other parties to agree to that, including New Zealand First.
GUYON Peter Dunne you were a big part of those negotiations over the Electoral Finance Act and John Key's saying that if he takes power he will completely repeal that. What are a couple of the key elements that you would have liked to get in there to clean up this whole political donations regime that you would like to try and have some influence over?
PETER We were actually more sympathetic to the point that the Greens have just made about the threshold for anonymous donations. I think there is a peculiar feeling abroad at the moment, on the one hand there's the ignorance is bliss argument that you put forward and that’s the way we've all operated, we don’t know who donates to our parties therefore we can't be corrupted by it. The corollary of that is that unless you have some firmer control you almost invited the political leaders to go out and be the bad men collecting the money so that they do know who's influencing them and that’s equally undesirable. So I think there's gotta be a lot more work done about donations and thresholds. I think clearly a whole lot of other stuff in the Electoral Finance Act needs to go because it's just unworkable, but I think this issue of cleaning up the electoral process is an ongoing one and we're not there yet.
GUYON Peter Dunne can I ask you that question that I put to the Greens, I mean did Owen Glen donate money to the United Future?
PETER To the best of my knowledge no.
GUYON No one seems to know quite sure who he's giving his money to.
PETER That’s the point though Guyon, you see because of this ignorance is bliss argument I don’t know who donates to my party and that’s quite deliberate, but the implication of that then is well maybe there are people out there making donations that we don’t know about, is that wise or unwise, I think that’s what brings this whole issue about the donations process into even more scrutiny.
GUYON Alright, well none of that money has come my way, but back to you Rawdon.
RAWDON Thanks very much for that Guyon, alright let's open this up to the panel now, we're just gonna drive through here, Nevil I'll let you pick this up first.
NEVIL GIBSON – Editor, National Business Review
Well I'd like to go back to the basics of what Winston's guilty of which is hypocrisy which is one thing Mr Anderton raised. Jeanette do you actually think that the kind of populace policies he's following are the ones where it invites politicians to go out and seek favours?
JEANETTE Well I would agree that one charge that is now proven is hypocrisy in that he has painted himself as independent of big business and campaigning against them and now been shown to have large donations from big business, you're saying does his policy invite that I'm not exactly sure what you mean.
NEVIL Oh well obviously when you have policies that are aimed at being popular with voters and yet there might be a view that you're actually just staging that in order to invite the voters to come to you but you don’t actually believe in the voters, cos if you go back to the point that Mai Chen made at the beginning is that the SFO is really building up evidence for say a court case but it may find there's much more involved in that fishing one. We've seen interviews this week on television where a person has possibly perjured themselves with the Select Committee.
JEANETTE It's the fishing issue that I'm most concerned about that I would most like to see investigated. I did have concerns at the time of that Select Committee investigation so yes if that gets investigated I think that would be good, but hey all parties put forward policies they think will be popular with some part of the electorate to whom they're appealing for votes. Some people go with policies that they think are going to appeal to large groups of unthinking people, other people try to appeal to different sections of the community, nobody goes out there with policies that are deliberately meant to be unpopular.
BARRY SOPER – Newstalk ZB
I'd like to maybe weigh in on behalf of the media to Jim Anderton, who basically said that the media has tried and convicted Winston Peters which of course is a load of old rubbish because Winston Peters has taunted us for months now and never answering questions and how Jim can possibly see that the media in some way is to blame for this – the media is responsible for bringing this to the public's attention and he should be applauding the media if he believes in transparency.
JIM Yes well of course the media may well think they're the champions of truth justice and the American way, but some of us know that there's a love hate relationship between politicians and media. Winston Peters has been built up by the media over time and knocked down again and you know his way of dealing with the media has made him beloved to some of them on occasion and then there's a sort of hate campaign on others. The thing that worries me about the present situation Barry is that we're in danger of a tidal wave of media aggression on this matter subjecting us to the reverse of you're innocent until proven guilty, I think that’s a much more substantial principle than any discussion on whether the media's right or wrong.
BARRY Do you not believe that Winston Peters though was the author of his own misfortune in all of this?
JIM Well yes, oh look, in terms of – I've already said that, I've already said that Winston's high moral position on this has led him into a position where he's either got to explain himself very carefully or the public will judge him. Now we've got a public opportunity in 13 weeks time I don’t think the media should try and overwhelm that, the people of New Zealand will cast their judgement on this and that’s where I think the court of public opinion is, but I've seen editorials that have convicted Winston Peters almost of the most corrupt practice at the same time I might tell you that the ...
BARRY He's damned by his own silence to the media, I mean he keeps taunting us and telling us that he's going to provide answers and he never does.
JIM Well that’s Winston Peters' style Barry and I've been in politics probably longer than most and that’s been his style the whole time I've been here, now I've heard you know media praising Winston for this kind of enigmatic approach and now it's condemning him, but the truth is, is he guilty or not and I don’t think that’s a trial by media that we should have, I think we should actually suspend our judgement until we know more of the facts. We've only got two issues here one is the Privileges Committee which as Mai Chen has already said is not a judicial authority it's a political court actually and then in the end parliament will make those decisions, now we've got the Serious Fraud Office, I'd have liked actually some Police action, Serious Fraud action against the Brethren who took full page advertisements the last election against me with fictitious names, fictitious addresses, I reported that to the Police and no action was taken whatever. So you know I think there's a bit of witch hunt stuff going on here. Even now we're looking at the Serious Fraud Squad which is going to end its days shortly and here's a nice lifeline for them, so no one in this situation has got their hands completely clean in my view and we'd better be careful we all don’t get on high moral horses and cast judgement at Peters….
BARRY Speaking of clean hands Jim of course your own hands aren’t that clean when you think of Phillida Bunkle that you stood her down whilst an inquiry was taking place regarding ….
JIM What unclean about that?
BARRY Well no I'm talking about if you take moral stands you seem to have done the same with Phillida Bunkle.
JIM I don’t think it's wrong that Winston Peters has stood aside, or has been stood aside, I think that should happen when there's an investigation going on, just as I required Phillida Bunkle to do that too, I agree with that.
NEVIL Mr Anderton the SFO inquiry is a little bit different from an Auditor General one which where you might say that they're guilty or no guilty according to some evidence that’s put forward, but the SFO one is really an inquiry into whether you're going to build up a case against him that could be prosecuted in the courts surely.
JIM Yes it is and that’s as it may be but all I'm saying is that we're looking at the ninth hour here for the future of the SFO itself.
NEVIL Well that’s not quite true is it because the SFO continues in its current role with the current people even as a unit just in a different organisation, the Police.
JIM That’s right but it will be part of the Police, all I'm saying is that there are question marks everywhere here and what I'm very concerned about is that we maintain the fundamental principle that people are innocent until proven guilty no matter what our personal views might be and I've seen a heck of a lot of personal views being promulgated as though they were fact in recent times and people casting judgement before the evidence is in and I don’t think that’s a very good practice in politics or in law.
RAWDON Peter you’ve said that policy is what is gonna be driving your thoughts in this matter, now this has become a matter of morals of trust of honesty of integrity, you said a policy is your driving mantra. So what do you think of John Key's stance in this?
PETER I think that John Key has been wanting to make that call for some time and I think this has provided the opportunity for him to do so, that’s his call fair enough, but the point I want to come back to is that go back to what Barry was saying – the really key issue in all of this for me over the period of months that it's been unfolding, has been the lack of clear answers, there are a series of major allegations out there, they have never been answered directly at any point and I think that is what is creating the public lack of confidence, it's creating this public suspicion of huge illegality and malfeasance and I think that the simplest way for New Zealand First and Mr Peters to deal with that would have been right from the beginning to have given straight answers to the straight questions. The fact that he hasn’t done that, leaving aside the Privileges Committee and the SFO leads to conviction in the court of public opinion, and that has gotta be then a factor you take into account as to whether you can do business with that person subsequently.
RAWDON And that effectively justifies John Key's position in this?
PETER I can fully understand where John Key's come to, I think it's a measure of frustration but also a measure of saying we've gotta put a marker in the sand here and I think that’s entirely appropriate.
JIM I don’t think it's a very brave call from John Key at all, he knows or he thinks he knows that Winston may not be there at the next election so he's making this very brave call – I'll give you this prediction that if Winston is there and he has the numbers to make John Key the Prime Minister you'll find John Key finds very quick reasons why Winston's a man of high integrity very fast.
RAWDON Okay thank you very much for that Jim Anderson, Peter Dunne, and here in the studio Jeanette Fitzsimons, thank you all for joining us this morning, it's been most interesting.