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 United Future Leader Peter Dunne came out yesterday at his party's annual conference with a whole new set of policies which look designed to make it easier for the party to work with National after the election. Currently United Future support the Labour government and Mr Dunne is Revenue Minister, now like John Key Peter Dunne wants to abolish the Maori seats, have a referendum on MMP and make further tax cuts, he's also proposing a national health insurance plan. So is there more to Mr Dunne than political expediency? He's with Guyon Espiner now.
Well Peter Dunne I guess the policies you're most identified with are the Families Commission and the business tax cuts which you led the charge one. What's next now, what is the next big idea from you should you be in the position to deliver it?
PETER DUNNE – Leader, United Future
Well very clearly the personal tax changes that I outlined yesterday are part of that mix, they flow very neatly from the changes in this year's budget but also from the business tax changes and they are good and efficient and simple for a New Zealand family.
GUYON So that would be the top priority for you should you be in the position to get some leverage?
PETER I'm not gonna talk about what might happen post election, I'm gonna talk about what are key priorities for us as we go into this election in terms of policies, those tax changes, the constitutional initiatives I spoke of yesterday, and also the issue of the health insurance plan is really about saying that at the moment we're really struggling to resolve this problem of how you keep waiting lists down, how you get more efficiencies out of the health service, how you get people getting the health care they need and more of the same simply isn't going to work so we need to think outside the box.
GUYON Okay I want to touch on some health issues a little bit later but can I just cover off one of the current issues that you may have an influence over and that is the Emissions Trading Scheme designed to combat global warming. Will you vote in support for that scheme in its current form?
PETER Well when the bill was introduced what we said was that we wanted to see clear evidence of what the impact on households would be cost wise, that evidence has not yet been forthcoming.
GUYON So the answer is not isn't it in its current form? Let's clarify that, in its current form you won't support it?
PETER Just let me answer the question. We are in favour of an Emissions Trading Scheme, we think it's the logical way to move but we want to have these issues clarified, they haven't been clarified satisfactorily yet, I don’t think the government's prepared to do that and if that’s the case then no we won't be backing the scheme.
GUYON Okay let's look back now. Your most successful year for United Future was 2002 you had eight MPs, the electorate seemed to have turned its back on the National Party at that time, they seemed wary about giving Labour a majority. Do you accept that the situation is almost completely reversed now and so where does that leave you?
PETER No I don’t think it's reversed it's very similar, it's just got different players. As a centre party you are inevitably going to be in a position where when the gap between the major parties is greatest and people are looking for a home that you're likely to have your strongest impact. When the gap narrows as it did in 2005 you inevitably get squeezed. So I see this in many senses as not the reverse to 2002 but actually a very similar situation to 2002.
GUYON And you are positioning yourself to go into some sort of arrangement with National?
PETER Well what we're positioning ourselves as a party to do is to present an attractive policy mixed that will attract support from voters. After the election it's always been our policy, always been our policy to talk first with the party that has the largest number of seats.
GUYON But you think National's gonna win though don’t you? Yesterday you said that the electorate was due for great change and that you wanted to be part of it, that’s a clear signal.
PETER What I also said yesterday was that I think the election is National's for the losing absolutely.
GUYON Okay, let's look a bit about how you arrived at where you are today, after leaving Labour in 1994 your party has gone into a number of alliances with different groups, you had the Asia Pacific Party when you were looking at the migrant folk, you had Future New Zealand when you were looking perhaps at the religious vote, you had outdoor recreation when you were looking at the hunting shooting fishing vote if you like, you even had the Win Party that wanted to retain smoking in bars.
PETER Well we had a person from the Win Party we didn’t have the party as such.
GUYON You had an alliance with the group that wanted to retain the smoking in bars, now isn't this all just the ultimate in MMP expediency, you're trying to hitch your wagon to every vehicle.
PETER No what we've actually been trying to do over a period of years and if you were at the conference yesterday you’ve seen a really good reflection of this, is build a party that is reflective of contemporary New Zealand, both in terms of its ethnic mix, its cultural mix, its gender mix, its age mix if you like and its socio economic mix, and we've been trying to bring together a whole lot of disparate elements, the silent majority if you like that often feels overlooked.
GUYON And you’ve failed to do that haven't you, every one of those relationships I mentioned has fallen over.
PETER No they haven't fallen over, in fact what's happened is all of those people, all of those groups that you’ve mentioned or elements of them are still present in the party today, and this party is a much more broadly based party than being simply a collection of single interests, I think that’s the point that we've been working towards establishing, that we're not a disparate bunch of people who have got narrow agendas to push, we are reflective of a mainstream of New Zealand society and that’s really the point we're arriving at.
GUYON Okay let's look at the one of the policy initiatives which is really directly a result of MMP and that is the Families Commission. Seven million dollars a year for that agency? I mean what do they really achieve?
PETER Oh I think they’ve achieved a huge amount.
GUYON What have they achieved?
PETER Well the family violence programme that you see at the moment that it's not okay to attack children.
GUYON Is it working?
PETER Well it's a silly question with respect. This is a bit like the drinking driving issue, you don’t make the impact in the first year but over time you change the scene. I think New Zealanders are far more intolerant today of family violence than they were.
GUYON As a result of the Families Commission?
PETER Well I think that as a result of the fact that we are talking about the issue the Families Commission is leading that debate is out there now talking about the valuing of the role of parenting, things like paid parental leave.
GUYON But that’s another apple pie all that surely.
PETER No no this is the point Guyon, you see a lot of people say yeah yeah that’s all very well but – but for a lot of people affirming that reality and saying parenting is actually good, parenting is actually something we need to support more to make sure we don’t get the child abuse cases in the future is a message they want to hear that’s been overlooked for too long.
GUYON That’s the public advocacy role. I want to look at how you described it back in August 2003 when you said its role will be to ensure that the role of the family as the cornerstone of society is upheld, so when the government wants to pass a law the Families Commission will be able to check it to make sure that it is not bad for families. What laws have the Families Commission stopped that are gonna be bad for families?
PETER The Families Commission is constantly reporting to government on a whole range of issues, I've mentioned paid parental leave, I've mentioned, I haven't but I'll talk about Working for Families, the Families Commission is doing work for me at the moment on child support, there's a whole lot of issues where the very role that I set out in that statement is being achieved and I think we have the Commission that is establishing a wealth of information, it's a source of great international interest, it's certainly providing good material to government and to the public of New Zealand and I think over time you will see that role strengthen.
GUYON Let's look at one of your ministerial roles which is the Associate Health Minister. As part of your agreement with Labour you gained a medicine strategy. What is any of that work doing to give New Zealanders better and cheaper access to medicine?
PETER Well for a start we actually for the first time have a national medicine strategy, we didn’t have that before we had a very ad hoc approach. What we're seeing work done on at the moment is access to high cost medicines, we're seeing work being done on establishing better principles for ensuring the way in which Pharmac is funded, we're seeing work done on integrating the role of the District Health Boards with Pharmac in terms of both delivery and purchase of medicines.
GUYON But a lot of Kiwis watching will want to know whether there's gonna be better and cheaper access to medicine…
PETER Yes there will be and this again, this policy was announced last December, there were some initiatives in this year's budget, you're expecting Rome to be built in a day, what I'm saying is we're putting in place foundations that will move forward.
GUYON Just three years ago Mr Dunne in 2005 you got that strategy so when are we gonna get better …..
PETER End of 2007 strategy was announced, it's being implemented during the course of this year and over the next few years you will see the benefits start to flow through. Let me just remind you that Britain Australia Canada, countries we benchmark against have all adopted similar strategies and I went and visited all of them and spoke to the officials and the ministers there and they all said this has taken us 15 years to achieve. We've made a similar level of progress in about three years, I'm very happy with that.
GUYON Okay let's look at another aspect of that associate health role, it was controversial for some because some said that you have resisted tobacco control measures over the last few years, I mean do you think that we are too tough on tobacco in New Zealand?
PETER My view on that, and I must say that I have no responsibility in the associate health role for those issues, it's not part of my delegation, but my view is that whatever policy we undertake ought to be policy that works. What we've tended to do with alcohol and drugs and tobacco is a whole lot of symbolic stuff that doesn’t work and I simply see not point in that, I'm not advocating that people take up smoking, I'm not advocating a pro tobacco stance at all, I'm simply saying let's not waste our time on things that don’t work.
GUYON Well have we wasted our time on things that don’t work, if you look at the legislation which bans smoking in bars I mean would you like to see that overturned?
PETER No I wouldn’t particularly.
GUYON Well were you wrong about that because you said that it was just political correctness gone mad.
PETER Well I think it was political correctness gone mad, I don’t think actually the fact that smoking's been banned in bars has made one jot of difference because all the smokers do now is congregate at the doorway to the bars or on the balconies and smoke there, but I wouldn’t want to go back to that situation, time has moved on. All I have said all the way through in this debate and I've been consistent since 1989 actually is whatever measures we undertake in these areas we need to be sure they're going to work and I don’t think actually over the years that we've been that successful. The level of smoking has sort of plateaued, it hasn’t declined greatly. The only effective measures and no government will ever be prepared to take them are pricing measures.
GUYON Do you receive any financial support from the tobacco industry?
PETER No, never.
GUYON Never have?
PETER Never have.
GUYON You never have. Just before we do go, obviously you had your party conference yesterday, a good chance to talk to the membership there. Are they expecting you to go with a National government?
PETER We didn’t actually discuss that issued specifically, but I think there would be a mix of views there, I think the majority would probably expect that if the National Party leads the next government then we'd want to have a relationship with it.
GUYON Can I also ask you just finally the $70,000 that United Future I think owed after the Auditor General's inquiry, have you paid that back?
PETER We're making substantial progress we're making regular payments.
GUYON How much have you paid back?
PETER I'm not prepared to disclose that.
GUYON Come on Mr Dunne this is all ultimately public money how much have you paid back?
PETER No it's not, it's not actually ultimately public money.
GUYON It's gotta go back into the public coffers.
PETER We have made a commitment to pay it back, we have paid …
GUYON How much have you paid back?
PETER We have paid well over half the amount back, we are continuing to make regular payments, we'll clear the debt as soon as possible.
GUYON Do you think that'll be before the election?
PETER We'll clear the debt as soon as possible and we're making regular payments to do so.
GUYON Alright thanks very much, back to you Rawdon.
RAWDON Thanks Guyon, time to now open this up for the panel. I just want to quickly kick this off and get to the subject of income splitting, it's a policy which you’ve been driving hard for. A lot of people are now saying this isn't necessarily an economic policy but more a social policy, you're trying to engineer the sort of society we should have whereby wife stays at home and therefore shares in husband's toils.
PETER This is an interesting criticism that I'm trying to recreate the 1950s. In fact if you look at the last census, the 2006 New Zealand census and you look at two parent families raising children, 58% of those families have either one income coming in or one income and a part time income. If you take that over the whole range of families that figures drops to about 48%, in other words it's still the largest single group, so if I'm trying to engineer anything it's simply the situation as it is today and give more recognition to those families.
RAWDON Deborah you'll probably want to pick up on this subject.
DEBORAH HILL-CONE – Columnist
Yeah I'm just interested, it seems to me to be a bit of a contradiction there Peter that you're introducing this – trying to push through this policy as part of a government that Helen Clark has said she wants to see all children put into dawn to dusk childcare, and some people would say that they're the most anti family government. So how do you square that?
PETER I don’t see this as being a question of trying to push a policy if you like, it's about giving people an option. It's a matter of choice as to whether you want to put your kids into childcare or stay home with them or whatever, what income splitting does is give parents another element of that choice, it might be that the financial advantage from income splitting is just the thing that tips them to say this is what I want to do.
DEBORAH But you sort of sound like your on the same sheet of paper as the Labour government because they – Helen Clark when she announced the 20 hours free childcare which a lot of people don’t get, she was trying to boost our productivity which is pretty pathetic by getting more women back into the workforce.
PETER Deborah if I was on the same page as Helen Clark I wouldn’t have left the Labour Party all those years ago, we are different parties, we are pushing this because it's a policy we believe in, it's a policy we got agreement from the government as part of our negotiations to progress the way we have done and it's a policy regardless of who forms the next government we will continue to push.
RAWDON Is it not a policy also which penalises women who want to go out and work, who choose to and who are happy therefore as a family to pay the sort of costs involved with …
PETER It doesn’t penalise anyone because it's not a mandatory scheme, people would have the choice whether they opt into it or not, so no one is penalised by it. Those people who advantage from it will gain from it but that’s their call.
RAWDON But a lot of people do pay a lot of money for their childcare so that both can go out to work, they would see this as being unfair to them.
PETER Well those people may well be getting a childcare subsidy they may well be getting Working for Families as well. This is simply something if you like that is added on to the top for those parents or those families that qualify, and in fact most of those would be middle upper middle income families who currently tend to miss out on most of the things that are going.
RAWDON Alright let's direct Corin to talk about economic policy here.
CORIN DANN – TVNZ, Breakfast Business
Well I just wonder how much that policy's gonna cost and if you’ve talked to National about it, how receptive they are.
PETER The total cost is somewhere in the order of four to five hundred million, depends again – uptake depends on what age limit you set for the children, it's factored into the costs that I announced yesterday. Have we talked to other parties, the short answer is we released the discussion document, other parties have tended to be rather coy on the subject, National I notice….
CORIN They're not gonna have a lot of money to play with are they?
PETER Well I think see income splitting is something that comes on to the table in post election negotiations. What we will have for them by that stage though is arising from the current consultation there will be a more formal proposal from a policy sense developed and it will be then be in a position to be considered much more tightly if you like than has been the case to date.
CORIN I think the business community will be reasonably pleased to see the top rate you’ve proposed the 30/30 idea, they might have some concerns though about four and a half billion dollars a year in terms of inflationary impact.
PETER Well I don’t think they should be bear in mind that the budget this year sets aside 3.9 billion a year for tax cuts, what we would be doing is saying take the October cuts, leave those in place, the changes that the 10, 20, 30 rate that I want to make we'd bring in from 1 April 2010, that cost is virtually equivalent to the budget costs, the two are virtually the same.
CORIN What about the Working for Families?
PETER That’s separate that remains, no touch to that. The additional bits in our package are the cost of income splitting plus about 200 million dollars for aligning the trust rate and the company and personal rates and about a million dollars for getting rid of gift duty.
DEBORAH Peter this government seems to be doctrinaire when it comes to health, you know they just don’t like private sector involvement, would you be looking at a tax break for private health insurance?
PETER Our policy has always been for over 65s a tax break for private medical insurance for the simple reason that seems to be the age limit beyond which most people tend to make most call on the system and pricing policies at the moment tend to mean most give up their premium, but I was gonna say I actually think there's a bigger issue here than just health insurance costs. We've always favoured integration of public and private particularly for elective surgery, but again I think it's drop in the bucket stuff, 300,000 surgical procedures elective surgical procedures each year, mostly done in the private sector, the budget this year increased funding to allow another 5000, sounds good, 1.6% is the increase, not enough. That’s why I've floated the idea of some more comprehensive national health insurance scheme initially targeted at older people for elective surgery, but over time capable of being expanded right trying the system.
DEBORAH So it's still gonna be a public sector initiative?
PETER Well it could well be, but obviously you need to use private facilities as well so what I'm talking about is much greater integration.
RAWDON Okay Corin.
CORIN I just want to ask you Mr Dunne about property tax, is the OECD again just a … all last week raised the issue of the distortions in our tax system favouring property over productive enterprises. Why haven't you done more on this? I mean it's clear that the property boom has benefited some it's hurt many others, it's clearly not good for the productive nature of this country.
PETER Well we've never been in favour of capital gains taxes, we've been very suspicious of the discriminatory effect of some of the property taxes that have been proposed and frankly I'm not persuaded that it's an area we need to do more on. So that’s the answer to you question as to why we haven't done more.
CORIN You don’t see any damage that the boom in property and clearly the big crash that we're seeing now has caused to our economy? The share market has got no – you know very shallow share market.
PETER People have choices about where they invest, the New Zealand tradition over years has been to invest in property, over years property has gained more than it has lost, we're seeing a tightening of the market now, I don’t see the need to therefore now rush in and start to penalise…
CORIN But what about the social problems it has caused from a whole generation of New Zealanders who can't get into houses when they're being crippled by huge mortgages?
PETER I don’t think that those problems are going to be addressed by punitively taxing those that are already in the market, I think you address those problems by making access to home financing easier, I think you look at a whole range of a shared equity, sweat equity type of schemes, you look at the sort of work we've done with Kiwi Saver the mortgage diversion, the capitalisation, I mean they're the sorts of initiatives you need to find in that area.
RAWDON Alright Minister thanks very much for coming in, we do appreciate that, it's Peter Dunne, Leader of the United Future Party.