Labour front bench not firing: Tamihere
"Tamihere has twice the charisma the rest of Labour's front bench have."Featured comment
Former MP John Tamihere, who recently rejoined the Labour and is said to be angling for the nomination to take on Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett in Waitakere, says the party's front bench is failing to fire.
Pundits see Mr Tamihere's social conservatism playing well in the west Auckland seat, but holding less appeal to the party's elite.
For now, he will only hint at a run at Waitakere.
Watch the full interview with the weekend's TVNZ Q + A programme here.
Q + A TRANSCRIPT – October 7, 2012
Former Labour Cabinet Minister
Interviewed by PAUL HOLMES
PAUL You were saying just before we went on air – I think you feel it’s unfinished business.
JOHN TAMIHERE Well, you always do, but what I’d say is that it’s early in the electoral cycle to be absolutely definitive about a return.
PAUL Right, so you’re not going to tell me much at all this morning.
MR TAMIHERE What I want to say in terms of this conversation – I think Russel Norman’s raising it – is that the market that we have in this New Zealand is a myth; that there's crony capitalism. It’s all monopolies and cartels, and so the promise of Rogernomics has gone, and so therefore we have to change the major macroeconomic settings.
PAUL Let us talk about that, though, when we get into a bit more of the interview. I mean, why would you want, though, to go back? I mean, do you want to go back?
MR TAMIHERE Well, let me put it this way: I’m a practitioner on the street, and in terms of trying to change in terms of volumes into prisons and hospitals, right. To do that, there's a lot of things that can help you achieve that and there's a lot of things that can get in the way. Now, you’ve got to change some policies.
PAUL So are your saying--? I mean, I think you were saying to us the other day that you’d rather like to be in there doing things rather than being a paid political commentator on the outside discussing things.
MR TAMIHERE A paid political commentator is quite handsome. There's no doubt about that. You don’t suffer the same difficulties. But you do have to make a decision sooner or later as to whether you’re going to jump in the ring or not.
PAUL So you are seriously considering going back, yeah?
MR TAMIHERE Yeah.
PAUL We can say this morning that you are giving it serious consideration, the 2014 race?
MR TAMIHERE Well, I’ve been lobbied quite a bit.
PAUL By whom?
MR TAMIHERE Well, I don’t intend breaking confidences right now, because there's a nomination and a race to be won if you do go down that track. And so I’m looking seriously at it.
PAUL I think a lot of people might be looking at you, saying why would you want to go back in? Because last time, God, it ended in such grief for you.
MR TAMIHERE Yeah, well, that’s what my wife said. (laughs) But, you know—
PAUL Well, she probably went through it.
MR TAMIHERE Oh, the whole family did, and the only thing that would stop me making a return would be that conversation and getting across that line.
PAUL Why would it be different, though, this time?
MR TAMIHERE Well, I’m a lot more wiser. I’ve been around a lot more and a lot more experienced, in the event that I did throw my hat in the ring. But I also think that— I know, for instance, that with, say, the growing age that we’re going to have major issues in pensions if we don’t do something. Same with education.
PAUL Well, we’re talking Waitakere, surely? You probably would be looking at Waitakere, would you?
MR TAMIHERE Well, look, I’ve played league out there – New Lynn and Glenora. I mean, I’m from the region, know it back to front.
PAUL You wouldn’t be chasing a Maori seat?
MR TAMIHERE Well, I’m over it.
PAUL (laughs) Explain.
MR TAMIHERE Well... (laughs) I’ve been there and done that, and those sort of politics— The politics in the Maori seats are extraordinarily gruelling, and I think that it’s time for building bridges and to do the crossovers.
PAUL I suppose the other big question people will be asking you – and they are going to ask you next year at the selection process, if we get that far – is can you beat Paula Bennett?
MR TAMIHERE The Waitakere seat is not a marginal seat. It’s a safe seat for Labour. It should never have been lost in 2008 and should have been won back 2011. Now, something needs to happen within the party to up that conversation.
PAUL So you would be talking Labour?
MR TAMIHERE Labour is the only party that has provided worthwhile change to the country, from the ’35-’38 Labour government, even the ’57 government, which reset tax. And you look at Kirk – if we’d stayed the course on the superannuation programme, we’d be a generation ahead of Australia and so on.
PAUL Let me just ask you one more of these questions about the return. I mean, how do you cease to be yesterday’s man? I mean, is there a second chance?
MR TAMIHERE Well, you’ve had a few!
MR TAMIHERE So, you know, work it out. Yeah.
PAUL Fair enough. How are the left doing at the moment, do you think? Because you’re obviously expressing some concerns about the policies we’ve been following more or less since, what, 1994.
MR TAMIHERE Yeah. No, no, there's no doubt that the Rogernomic economic settings— The jury is in and the evidence is palpable – it’s wrong. It’s got to be changed. So people who are earning $60,000 to $80,000 watching this programme today – they’re finding it tough. Can you imagine what it’s like on $50,000 or less? So we’re gouging out our middle class, and that’s why people are going to Australia.
PAUL So are you now talking--? Like, you want to see a major economic shift in direction. You want us to try different things. Some of those things might be things that were tried in the past under Muldoon and didn’t work, of course.
MR TAMIHERE No, no, I’m not suggesting capitalism is wrong. I’m suggesting to you that the crony capitalism we have applied is absolutely out of whack and it’s provided— There's no competition.
PAUL What do you mean by crony capitalism?
MR TAMIHERE Well, I’ll give you a couple of—
PAUL It’s a small country. Everyone’s going to know everyone else.
MR TAMIHERE I’ll give you an example. If you think that Fletcher’s haven’t set the supply side of construction, haven’t set the dollar values for subcontractors and for labourers in this country and continue to gouge it, and then we make out that they’re great businessmen when you’ve given a state-granted monopoly, you’ve got another thing coming.
PAUL You’re talking about Christchurch?
MR TAMIHERE I’m not just talking about Christchurch. I’m talking about the supply side in grocery. We’ve only got two in grocery. The telecommunications – we’ve only got two. The banks – we’ve got four, and they shovel billions of dollars across the ditch. Now, you’ve just got to stop it.
PAUL Let me ask you a couple of quickies. Does there need to be a reshuffle of the Labour Party front bench?
MR TAMIHERE The Labour Party front bench has not fired as well as it could.
PAUL Has Labour reconnected with the people as Shearer wanted to?
MR TAMIHERE Look, it’s in a major constitutional review and it’s in a major review of its whole processes.
PAUL Is that a “no” answer?
MR TAMIHERE Well, it’s in rebuild mode, as National was in 2002 after that outrageous defeat then. Labour’s got to come through that.
PAUL Well, we’re up to 2012. We need to get rebuilt pretty quickly, don’t we?
MR TAMIHERE I think it’s happening quite— Well, look, you mightn’t be aware of it, but out on the street, there's new conversations going. There's new energy being clicked into the party. Because after 19 years of Clark, power actually starts to implode towards the centre. So the party’s had to go out and regrow activism.
PAUL Well, another simple way of putting that might be to quote Deborah Coddington on ZB yesterday, who said, well, all the members of the Labour Party hate each other. So that’s the problem they’ve got, really, about rebuilding is that they’re at each other’s throats, they’re all still doing numbers on the leadership and so forth.
MR TAMIHERE Well, the problem you’ve got is the same as with National, if I could reflect on that, because I watched that very closely. After their loss in ’99 and 2002, you do have factions, but, you know, that’s a healthy contest, and you’ve got to see it healthy in the first instance, because out of those trials and tribulations comes a strengthened group.
PAUL Yeah, but we’re now 2012, as I say. I mean, do you think David Shearer’s got to really reshuffle that front bench? I mean, you can’t honestly look at that front bench and think they’re performing well as an Opposition.
MR TAMIHERE That’s true, but he’s also got to look to 2014 for the list.
PAUL It’s critical, because this week – you take this week. Bad week for the government. Should have been. More Dotcom coming left, right and centre at the Prime Minister.
MR TAMIHERE You’ve got me. There’s no doubt—
PAUL Wilkinson’s reversal on Mike Tyson.
MR TAMIHERE Front bench is not firing.
MR TAMIHERE Across the whole line, whether it’s health, welfare or education, and those are the biggies. But there's a lot of other things going on, and I agree with that, but what you have to say is Shearer’s a decent bloke, got a strong social conscience and doesn’t have any fingerprints on either the Lange era or the Clark era.
PAUL Well, you’ve got a lot of fingerprints, of course, over quite a few groups. For example, you’d have to get past the gays, you’d have to get past the unionists, and you’d have to get past the women to win Waitakere nomination, wouldn’t you? Can you do that?
MR TAMIHERE Well, you know, I don’t... The tussle and the contest, in the event that I did flag, I’d look forward to.
PAUL Who—? If you just took a, you know, just a little punt at the moment, just thinking around. We’re not on telly or anything like that, just pretend for a moment. If David—
MR TAMIHERE I’ll just pretend you’re Ian Wishart.
PAUL My tape recorder. The red light’s on. If David Shearer were not leader, who would be a good leader, do you think? Who do you think the party could go with at the moment, safely?
MR TAMIHERE Gosh, that’s a very good question. It’s one that I haven’t given much thought to, because I did back Shearer, right. I can’t come back to you with an informed decision.
PAUL That’s fair enough. We’ll leave that there. No, there's plenty of time for you to think about this. I’m sure there will be. John Tamihere, thank you for your time.