Philosophical reflection on political past

ISOBEL EWING
Last updated 11:04 17/11/2012
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Don Brash

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Don Brash, the former Reserve Bank governor and leader of two political parties, describes himself as "relatively under-employed" these days.

Toiling away in his Pukekohe kiwifruit orchard is therapy to Don Brash. But shake the vines and you'll soon find he remains staunch on race matters, baffled over the source of the infamous Hollow Men leaks and is happy to discuss how he took John Key's thinly veiled hint and left politics.

His ACT party campaign last year meant relinquishing his directorships of ANZ Bank and Transpower, and his role as part-time lecturer at AUT university. He's recently been to China to lecture at the University of Business and Economics in Beijing, but Brash says he keeps his head well below the political parapet.

"I think I've done my dash in that respect."

He then ponders the 14 years spent as Reserve Bank governor, a time he remembers with fondness. It's hard not to think he would have been better off staying there.

But Brash says no. He badly wanted to improve New Zealand's economic growth rate and "I couldn't do that from the Reserve Bank".

The emerging gap between New Zealand's living standards and those of other developed countries was his main concern but he says his stint with National made him realise that making significant change in politics was tough.

He's proud of the gains made in his Orewa speech where he expressed opposition to perceived Maori racial separatism.

"People half expect me to feel embarrassed or guilty about it. On the contrary, I feel delighted that I made a strong statement about that."

He has always supported Treaty settlements because of the undeniable injustice done against Maori in the past - for which he says taxpayers should compensate - yet he maintains racial separatism is dangerous.

"Under the Resource Management Act we have an obligation in local governance to consult with both the community and with Maori. As I understand English, the word "and" there implies Maori are somehow not part of the community. That's offensive, I would have thought, to everyone, including Maori."

He approved of Helen Clark's refusal to sign the United Nations declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People, saying the Treaty provides a better basis for nationhood.

But the assertions by some Maori leaders that Maori have a proprietary interest in the water, wind and the radio spectrum, something that wasn't dreamt of in 1840, bodes dangerously for the future.

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He also objects to the mindset that had emerged on what constituted a Maori.

Recalling a discussion with a Maori interviewer this year, Brash made the point that you didn't need a Maori electorate to become a Maori in Parliament.

"Name me one [such Maori MP]," the interviewer demanded.

"What about Paula Bennett?"

"She's not a Maori," was the retort.

"Of course she's a flaming Maori," Brash said.

"Simply having Maori ancestors doesn't necessarily qualify you, apparently," Brash mused.

When the topic of Nicky Hager's book, The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception, arises, Brash says he remains puzzled as to who leaked the damaging emails that Hager used in the book.

Hager wrote of Brash's rise to power in the National Party as assisted by an "informal network of people from the Right of New Zealand politics", including a number of ACT members. It also documents that senior National Party figures, including Brash, knew of the Exclusive Brethren's pamphlet campaigns in May 2005, although Brash denied knowledge of this until August.

"I have all sorts of theories of my own, but none of them stack up. I've heard one person say 'It was Bill English who set you up; his office was opposite yours'. Codswallop. His office was opposite the leader's when John Key was leader, but when I was leader, he was way round the other side."

He says the police's theory that his emails were intercepted on their way to the shredder was plausible - but not watertight.

He recalls a brief email from journalist Lindsay Perigo regarding his vote against the civil union bill.

"I made a muck up of my vote. . . He sent me a two-line email abusing me. Now, I printed emails that were very long, but I wouldn't have printed a two-line email, yet it's in the book. How the hell did that get there?"

He's unsure of Hager's assertion that he had legitimate access to the information through six disaffected members of the National Party.

"There wouldn't have been more that six people in total who had access to my email. Were they all disloyal? It doesn't ring true."

John Key made no secret of wanting him gone.

"He offered me a very modest portfolio halfway down the second bench which made it very clear he didn't want me to stay on." So he left.

There was a suggestion that he would take a post as high commissioner somewhere, he says, but the role in question was largely sinecure.

"It's the role where you shake lots of hands and you kiss lots of babies. You don't do any grunty work at all. To me it sounded like something you do when you are pensioning someone off."

He wanted substantive work, which arose in the form of the 2025 Taskforce. But the Government ignored the recommendations made by the group of four (David Caygill, Judith Sloan, Dr Bryce Wilkinson and Brash), 150 pages worth. Brash says he was disappointed.

He thought that if the Government had some other cunning plan to raise our growth rate, that would be fine, but he can see no indication they have such a plan.

Still, he holds no grudges against Key.

"That's what happens in politics. Its a bit like the chief executive of a company; the new one wants to say how bad it was previously and how good it is now. That's a natural human reaction. I'm not terribly fussed about that."

When pushed further on the matter of Key and John Banks' alleged disparaging comments about him in their "teapot" discussion, Brash politely replies he wasn't sure.

"I take it as a part of politics," he says softly.

Its difficult to tell whether the philosophical outlook is one genuinely felt or something he's convinced himself of.

Either way, the Brash of 2012 considers himself "incredibly lucky" for his health, his family and a series of different careers.

- Taranaki Daily News

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