Economically Right, socially Left
In the fourth and final interview of The Press leaders' forums, UnitedFuture leader PETER DUNNE faced questions from senior journalists and readers.
On UnitedFuture's election platform:
UnitedFuture is standing in this election as a moderate, Centre party with a series of policies that are aimed at strengthening New Zealand families and communities, based around the core themes of fairness and choice.
On its main policies:
The key policies we are highlighting are income sharing for parents with dependent children, flexible superannuation and preserving access to the great outdoors. On flexible super: We don't think shifting the age from 65 to 67 is the answer, or even the issue.
The real issue is we have a large number of people who are literally physically exhausted by the time they reach 60 and a large number of people also who choose to stay on in the workforce well after 65.
We think the way forward should be to offer people the choice to take a lower rate of superannuation if they choose to retire at 60 or a higher rate if they choose to retire at 70. If you choose to wait until you are 65, you take the normal rate. The key about it is the individual makes the call when they want to retire.
On income sharing:
This is where parents with dependent children are able to take the combined income of the household and split it down the middle for tax purposes.
If you've got one partner earning $50,000 and the other partner working part-time and earning $25,000, you tax it at two incomes of $37,500. It's an optional scheme. If that tax works out as less than other arrangements, it's for you. It would benefit around 310,000 New Zealand families. Depending on income levels, the benefit could be as high as $9000 a year, but it's more likely to be around $5000-$6000 for most.
On the shape of the next Government: I think this election is obviously going to result in a John Key-led Government. The question then arises as to the tone of that Government.
If it's a Government reliant on the ACT party, it will be a more extreme and harsh tone than many New Zealanders would find acceptable. Depending on how the Maori Party-Mana Party tussle bears out, if the Government is reliant on the Maori Party it may well be the Maori Party may have to become a bit more extreme to see off the onset of Hone Harawira. I think for middle New Zealand, that would be pretty destabilising as well. A party like UnitedFuture appeals as the safeguarder of that (middle New Zealand family) heritage.
On the economy:
The challenge for New Zealand is not can we escape the global economic crisis because you can't, but how do you escape this with minimal impact?
Then you add on what's happened here in Christchurch, which is a massive shock. Leaving aside the human tragedy and the awful devastation in the city, the economic shock of a fifth of your economy effectively being taken out, let alone the cost of the rebuild, let alone the cost of lost production - you've got a real problem.
On the Government's economic response: Yes, unemployment has risen, yes our debt has risen but on the other hand, the country's basic social fabric has been retained, the country has functioned, we are starting to see the return of growth and the question has to be asked where the reconstruction of Christchurch contributes to that over the next few years.
I think we are doing slightly better than bobbing along. We are not creaming it or making big progress, but we are in a much better position than we might have expected to be in. Certainly if you look at Greece or Italy, Spain or Ireland, we are in a far superior position than them.
On Labour's plan for a capital gains tax:
I am not in favour of capital gains tax. The tax working group and the savings working group both recommended against it, and when you listen to the Labour rhetoric they talk about the revenue it will produce in about seven or eight years' time. That may well be so, but there is a big transition in terms of a lot of extra borrowing having to be made in that time.
You will also have some bigger issues about what happens to the property market. It's the great New Zealand dream to buy your own home.
I suspect what you will find is people will hold on to properties, particularly investment properties, so there may not be opportunities for young people to buy into the market.
On National's asset sale plans: As a principle UnitedFuture does not favour asset sales, but we acknowledge the present Government has nominated some specific assets it wants to partially privatise. If you look at the energy companies and Air New Zealand, they both require capital to expand. They can gain their capital from higher charges to users - higher airfares or power prices - we'd probably say that's unacceptable; government assistance through taxpayer funds - limited unless you are going to increase taxes; or you raise you own capital.
This is the conundrum the Government is seeking to address. We would be prepared to consider that [partial sale], but when the time of the economic cycle is right. This is not the right time.
On what UnitedFuture would not sell:
We've spelled out three assets we would put a complete ring around and say should not be sold - Kiwibank, I think there's a symbolic point to owning your own bank, and in longer term whether that should become the Government's banker; Radio New Zealand, not because it's an economic powerhouse but because it's a symbol of who we are.
The other one I think is particularly important, and probably the most pressing, is water. The public own water, and some of the debate here around irrigation goes to the core of that. We need to put a real stake in the ground of making sure that [water] remains in the public domain.
On the Government response to Canterbury's earthquakes: I think on the whole it's done remarkably well given the enormity of what happened. I'm more than well aware of the mounting frustration about the time taken in a lot of cases to reach decisions about what can be rebuilt and what can't and individual settlements.
I don't think there's an easy answer to that because in part it's related to when the shaking stops and insurance, particularly the international reinsurance market.
On quake insurance problems:
I hear people say we should be investing heavily in a Government insurance company.
I don't think we are at that point yet.
I think the replenishment of EQC's [Earthquake Commission] funding is critical because we don't know when the next disaster will strike.
I think the Government talking to the international reinsurers is critical. I think working with Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] and the [Christchurch City] Council to free up land and space for redevelopment is critical, but also public safety is critical as well.
On the loss of Christchurch heritage:
I have always felt that one of the things that marked Christchurch out as really special was the significant heritage buildings.
I freely accept that not every one could be preserved, or should be.
But I would have thought the two cathedrals, the arts centre, the provincial council chamber, the old teachers' college - there are a number that come into the category of being emblematic of the city and I would have thought that they would be a priority.
On the tea tapes:
I'm a little bit surprised that they were well into the cup of tea before someone noticed what was on the table.
Normally the DPS [Diplomatic Protection Squad] and various other people would sweep in and make sure everything was clear.
Having done a few of these things, you don't talk about anything consequential. It's a symbolic thing.
I have some sympathy for the prime minister's view about the News of the World- type approach. I'm just a wee bit concerned we might be heading in that direction.
Anything we can do to send a signal that that type of behaviour is inappropriate and unethical is probably justified, but frankly I'm not sure what the big secrecy is about what they talked about.
On the role of a Centre party: We are the classic [Centre party] in the sense UnitedFuture's economic policies would be generally more supportive of the Right and our social policies generally more supportive of the Left.
One of the problems, Centre parties in particular, but all small parties in governing arrangements have, is that you're the problem, not the big party. You're the problem because you let them do it.
I've had people say to me over the years you should bring the Government down on this, if you did that I know what the public cry would rightfully be: "Who the hell gave you that mandate?" It's a dilemma.
I've always just tried to take the view you've got to be up front, you've got to be honest and you've got to go with the flow.
The trade-off is, I can look at a number of things we've achieved over the years that wouldn't have been achieved otherwise. That's the motivator; you're in this game to make a difference.
On the MMP referendum:
We don't have a party position. I will vote to retain MMP in the referendum because I think by and large it's worked pretty well over the last 15 years. The process of government has continued, albeit a little differently. The arguments about logjam and indecision haven't been sustained.
My one misgiving about MMP is the list system. I say to voters in my electorate, you've got a right to vote for me, you've also got a right to vote against me. If I'm on a party list and I'm high enough up that list, I can defy that second right.
On whether he has given any thought to what he would do if not re-elected: No. I fear my wife may have.
FACTFILE: UNITEDFUTURE LEADER PETER DUNNE, 57
* Born and grew up in Christchurch.
* Attended St Bede's College and Canterbury University.
* First won the Wellington seat of Ohariu in 1984 for Labour.
* Resigned from Labour in 1994.
* Joined United Party in 1995, became leader after 1996 election.
* Became leader of a merged UnitedFuture party before the 2002 election.
* Has been a minister in Labour and National governments, including Minister of Revenue in 2008-2011 National Government.
* A recent poll shows a close race in the Ohariu seat between Dunne with Labour candidate Charles Chauvel. Dunne had a 1006-vote majority in 2008.
* Polls show UnitedFuture's party vote at under 1 per cent.
* UnitedFuture in the 2008 election: 20,497 votes (0.87 per cent); 1 electorate seat, no list seats.