May 05, AU Edition

Helen Clark has been New Zealand’s PM since 1999, and her Labour Party has had about as firm a lock on power as is possible in a democratic country. But all that could be changing – and fast, especially with a election in the offing. In an interview with IAN WISHART that continues to make headlines on both sides of the Tasman, former NZ cabinet minister John Tamihere spills the beans on the inner workings of the Kiwi government, and what he thinks it is doing to the country. For New Zealand’s left, Tamihere is …


INVESTIGATE: John Tamihere, you’ve been cleared by the Serious Fraud Office of any wrongdoing, you’ve got a fight on your hands for your electorate seat this year, and I see Labour Party President Mike Williams suggesting a mid-to-late September election…
TAMIHERE: I reckon it is going to be earlier. Just in case a number of economic issues start to deteriorate.
INVESTIGATE: Labour has managed, in the past 20-odd years, to capture Liberal economic theory while retaining a socially liberal outlook. How did they do it?
TAMIHERE: We’re lucky in a number of regards. One is that there’s no huge economic debate anymore over socialism, or communism versus capitalism. That’s gone. Capitalism has won, and the argument now is about best practice, best structure, best systems, and it’s nowhere near as exciting for the masses.
There are two other things that must follow. Labour is now business-savvy. We never had that before because you had unionists who begat our party who believed all bosses were bad bosses. That chasm has now gone, because SME’s [small-to-medium enterprises] produced 86% of all new jobs in the past five years, nearly a quarter of a million, and that will increase. Because more people are becoming business-savvy. Not all businessmen are bad. The biggest sweatshops we’ve got are hospitals, run by the government and funded by the government. And so the caterers and the cleaners are actually government funded, and they’re jumping up and down at their own government.
Award rates are a joke because they bear no resemblance to the capacity of the business sector to achieve it, and that’s why those general wage rounds are anathema to reasonable economics. I mean, you get a number of people jumping up and down seeking a five percent general wage order – get a life!
INVESTIGATE: What sort of power do the unions still have with the Labour party?
TAMIHERE: You know, they come in all ‘ra ra ra’, and the next minute, you know, it’s welcome to the real world, when they’re exposed to a whole bunch of competing advice and information that they’ve never had before because it’s always been the union line before. Unions. I can’t stand them. I had a big pow-wow with some of them. You go into town, have a meeting with them. Won’t name any names but they were all sitting there, and I said to them, ‘All of you sitting over there were all on good jobs, and you all sold us out under Rogernomics in the eighties’. Now I actually think a lot of things happened under Rogernomics in retrospect which were extraordinarily good, but when you’re suffering you take a more vested interest. These guys were all running around in their bloody Falcons and they were on $55,000 those years, which was bloody good money. And what did they do? Nothing! Now some of them are politicians.

INVESTIGATE: Looking ahead three to six years, what do you think the unions are aiming for in the Labour Party.
TAMIHERE: Well, obviously greater influence. I think we f…ed up with our 2004 amendments to the Employment Relations Act. I think it’s very silly, a number of things that we did then, merely to give unions greater organizational capabilities. I don’t think it’ll translate to greater union membership, but having said that it’s another impost and imposition on business. It’s really ugly. Because as business downsizes and subcontracts, if it was me I wouldn’t have anyone in the union. The ‘union’ was our company, our whanau. Guys that actually make small businesses work, as you’ve correctly indicated, they’re not bad employers otherwise they screw their own business. The other thing is a lot of small businesses in NZ are familial, either direct family or references from mates.
INVESTIGATE: The union movement is angling for more of its old heyday, but in your opinion that’ll backfire if the activists achieve that?
TAMIHERE: Yes. Mark Gosche never delivered for them, so they’re bringing in Maryann Street, and she’s a very capable person. I’ll tell you this: Burton was actually meant to be the Speaker but as soon as Street came in and got a high place on the northern regional list, that was it.
You see, these people think in timeframes of ten to fifteen years, it’s only bastards like me that struggle through the current term. So when you’re positioning for high places, they’re thinking that far ahead…yeah, they purposely planned to lose. ‘That era’s gone, we’re new, and we’re coming. He’s gone, Helen’s it’.
INVESTIGATE: This goes back to the great conspiracy theory. Most people like you and I can’t get our heads around the idea that someone can sit in a darkened room and figure out where they want to be in fifteen years. Where do they get the time to do that?
TAMIHERE: They don’t have families. They’ve got nothing but the ability to plot. I’ve gotta take my kid to soccer on Saturday, they don’t. So they just go and have a parlez vous francais somewhere and a latte, whereas we don’t get to plot, we’re just trying to get our kids to synchronise their left and right feet. They don’t even think about that.
I’ve got a fifteen year old whose testosterone’s jumping and he’s scrapping around at school. Now they don’t have that, and because they don’t have that they’re just totally focused. You’ve also got a fully paid organization called the union movement, who can co-opt fully paid coordinators. These people just never sleep.
INVESTIGATE: How dangerous is it to be in the Labour Party?
TAMIHERE: If you’re a free and independent spirit, very dangerous. Like, if there was a popularity poll for me, I can assure you that there’s more ministerial klingons voting on the old PC against you, and yet I’m on the same team! They sit there, typing away, muttering, ‘come on SFO, let’s nail this bastard!’
In this outfit it’s all ‘rosy’ on the outside, not the inside. When I used to make a contribution in cabinet, on the cabinet papers, I’d go, ‘Hang on’, and she’d go, ‘you want to be difficult again, do you?’
I’d say ‘it’s not about being difficult, it’s just that a number of these amendments are pointless. You’re just scoring brownie points off the other side when you’ve already beaten them. I don’t think you need to do that. I think you can lighten up on some of these points and still achieve what this mob over here want, the Blues Brothers over here, Maharey and his mates.’ Thankfully, my advice was accepted on a number of occasions.
INVESTIGATE: What do you make of the ‘machine’ that
exists on the ninth floor at the moment?
TAMIHERE: Oh yeah, there’s definitely a ‘machine’ all right. It’s formidable. It’s got apparatus and activists in everything from the PPTA [Post Primary Teachers’ Association] all the way through. It’s actually even built a counterweight to the Roundtable – Businesses for Social Responsibility.
Its intelligence-gathering capabilities are second to none.
INVESTIGATE: How good is the media, or are they totally useless and sycophantic?
TAMIHERE: They’re utterly and totally useless. And sycophantic. You know and I know there’s no investigative journalism done in that bloody gallery. In an information age, we’ve got more ignorant people out there than there’s ever been.
INVESTIGATE: Labour’s enjoying the benefit of that, but surely there’s got to be a day of reckoning..
TAMIHERE: Not when the journalists know they’ve got to deal with this government for another three years, and the same goes for business. Right now there are people writing cheques out in the corporate sector who wouldn’t bloody cross the road to pee on us if we were on fire, for the same reason: at the end of the day it’s business. They’ve got to deal with this party.
And the other mob aren’t helping themselves much. Even if they wanted to, they’ve got no one who can articulate it.
INVESTIGATE: How much longer can the current machine dominate?
TAMIHERE: The current machine wants to become, in all ways, the natural party of government, and just have us vote different coalition partners on the fringes. Has kiwi culture changed that much? I don’t know.
INVESTIGATE: What is the most powerful network in the
Labour executive?
TAMIHERE: The Labour Party Wimmins Division. Whether it’s bagging cops that strangle protestors they should be beating the proverbial out of, or – it’s about an anti-men agenda, that’s what I reckon. It’s about men’s values, men’s communication standards, men’s conduct.
I spoke to the boards and principals association in Wellington, and I showed them a picture of two girls with their fists clenched, standing on top of two young male students. The object of the exercise was to prove that once again the female students had romped home academically against all the boys. If the positions in the photo were reversed, all hell would break loose.
Where else in the world do Amazons rule?
I don’t mind front-bums being promoted, but just because they are women shouldn’t be the issue. They’ve won that war. It’s just like the Maori – the Maori have won, why don’t they just get on with the bloody job. I think it becomes more grasping.
INVESTIGATE: Will Labour win this election?
TAMIHERE: It’ll win it. Who it does business with to maintain it…she’s too savvy, mate. It’s too clever. You’ve got Cullen – we wouldn’t survive without Cullen – he can cut a deal on a piece of legislation, he can change a single word in a piece of legislation without those other bastards [coalition partners] knowing about it, and it melts down everything they wanted but they still think they got their clause in. The pressure, they bring pressure to bear on individuals.
INVESTIGATE: How intense does the pressure get?
TAMIHERE: Close to fisticuffs!
TAMIHERE: I always kick the officials out when I know it’s going to get a bit tetchy, because you know they’ll blab all over the place. So I say ‘hang on mate, I want to talk political now, get them out’. And Cullen goes, ‘oh no, no, he’s ok’ or ‘she’s ok’. And I say ‘It might be for you, but not for me. I’m uncomfortable’.
What you do is you always use the wimmins’ language: ‘I’m feeling unsafe!’ And the women, as soon as they hear that, they’re instantly with me. ‘I’m feeling unsafe in here’. [chuckles]
INVESTIGATE: Where do you see yourself being, three years from now?
TAMIHERE: Well, as long as I’m doing the business and championing the right debate. The issue you’ve raised about where we’ve arrived, and whoever identifies that and encapsulates that, but more importantly is able to bring the masses with them, will set a new benchmark for New Zealand nationhood.
Because it is there. The sense of belonging is for everyone and the Maori don’t have a mortgage on that.
INVESTIGATE: You can get trapped, as you’ve made the point, looking back instead of forward, and letting bitterness over the past poison your future. They don’t grow as people or move on.
TAMIHERE: The Weisenthal Institute is the same. I’m sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed, not because I’m not revolted by it – I am – or I’m not violated by it – I am – but because I already know that. How many times do I have to be told and made to feel guilty?
Same with the Maori, I hear them talking about how they were burnt out of the Orakei marae in 1951 and so on. Big deal. What are we doing about it? Well, we’ve fixed it, actually. So what are you going to tell your children? It’s part of their history. It’s not baggage and it’s not an anchor. It’s part of their folklore.
INVESTIGATE: What’s Helen like?
TAMIHERE: A very complex person, a very, very complex person. And she’s been made complex by the range of sector groups she’s been made to engage with and occasionally confront. But she’s no good with emotions. She goes to pieces. She’ll fold on the emotional side and walk away or not turn up. She knows it’s going to get emotional and it upsets her.
We’ve never had a great relationship. I said to her, ‘look, I don’t give a f..k about the unions. You’ve got enough of those. My job is to bloody talk to kiwi males who are feeling out in the cold over the whole thing and also to stand up against some of the PC bulls..t.
And that’s why I said to Chris Carter, ‘I’m standing against that bloody civil union bill mate, because you’ve already had enough! I voted for one piece of social engineering and now you’re f..king coming back for another! Those two queers never got it right. I said you can have one, Civil Unions or Prostitution, make up your mind. And so I gave in on Prostitution. And then he comes up to me
and harangues me, because he wants to be the first get married on April 1, the tosser, and he says to me ‘but you’re a minority John, you understand’.
I’ve got a right to think that sex with another male is unhealthy and violating. I’ve got a right to think that.
INVESTIGATE: Why are these policies so popular on the ninth floor?
TAMIHERE: Because Helen has been brutalized by people who have called her lesbian, no children and all the rest of it. Her key advisor Heather Simpson is a butch, and a lot of her support systems are, Maryann Street and so on, and she’s very comfortable in that world and comfortable with it. I’m not.
And so that’s why it’s got strong legs. And when you go down through that building [the Beehive] it is infiltrated with it, in key policy and decision making processes and the upper echelons of the ministries, and it skews things, it is an unhealthy weighting, because even if you give a policy directive they’ll skew the policy underneath you. You wake up and think, ‘am I wrong thinking this way?’
But that’s when they’ve got you. They’re trying to make men think and act like them, but I’m not one of them. In my view this is a circuit breaker because you can actually rally numbers. That group of women has only one worldview, and men have to organize themselves to deal with that, and start winning the debates. Men can actually reassert a position. It’s about social conduct and performance. It’s about good father role models. It is about societal mores that will achieve that, not the police.
INVESTIGATE: And some of the chickens coming home to roost would be?
TAMIHERE: The number of do-gooders who are paid extremely well in government. We’ve got 180,000 fewer unemployed, but a bigger bureaucracy than when we did! What the hell is going on here?
We’ve got a range of poor incentives. We say to people ‘you stay in a state house at 25% gross’, and we’re teaching them to be crooks. There might be four income earners in there – we’ll never know it.
And instead of trading up and moving on, we’re encouraging them to stay in there. One third of kiwi families don’t have a male in them. That’s not good. But we got a document printed that tells us all the young males need and are desperately craving for is a male role model who’ll acknowledge them, acknowledge where they’re at and be supportive of them, which is what a normal father does. And if the father’s not there we’ve got to find a male role model somewhere else. And we can’t get them in primary schools, because we’re all ‘molestors’, all ‘rapists’, or ‘potentially’ we’re going to do it. So we’ve got to shift that attitude and provide scholarships to encourage men back into the education system.
Men’s problems are traditionally dealt with by the criminal justice system. Women, on the other hand, get a bloody Cartwright Inquiry and get millions of dollars thrown at their breasts and cervixes. Men get nothing. You need a debate that we can tackle unfair and stupid policy with.