The Blank Slate Boy

Are voters being encouraged to read into Colin Craig whatever image they would like to see?
by Gordon Campbell

Almost singlehandedly, Colin Craig has neutralised one of the Key government’s most potent tactical weapons in the next election. Without Craig, National might have been able to run a credible scare campaign next year around the prospect of the Greens – those scary socialist enviro-extremist boogey men – being part of any government led by Labour’s David Cunliffe. Yet anytime next year that John Key, Steven Joyce or the captains of industry do try to raise the Greens spectre, they’ll need to explain their own reliance on Craig, the far more visible loose wheel on their own wagon. The guy who doesn’t know whether he is or isn’t a Creationist, whether the moon landings are a hoax, or whether there is any substance to the theory that governments deliberately use the vapour trails of aircraft in order to spread disease. Is the earth round or flat? By the day, Craig sounds like a variant of the classic Peter Sellers skit, Fullers Earth.

In the extensive interview below – which was conducted in late November – Craig argues that his gaffes have been deliberate, and all part of a cunning strategy to gain media attention. John Key has since repeated that message.

(Crazy Colin may sound crazy, but he’s crazy like a fox!) In a similarly desperate attempt to re-define himself, Craig has been backpedalling for months from his previous associations with religious fundamentalism. Nowadays, he tries to portray the Conservative Party as a strictly secular political vehicle. Yet as recently as August, almost all of Craig’s slate of local body candidates had either direct or social media links to religious fundamentalism.

The reality is that for the best part of a decade, Craig has talked like a religious duck, walked the walk with similarly inclined odd ducks such as Larry Baldock to the point where (reasonably enough) people have assumed that he is, in fact, a fundamentalist duck – only to be told by Craig these days that he has, in fact, been a secular swan all along. It raises some truth-in-packaging credibility issues. These are only being accentuated when Craig claims – as he does in the interview below – that he’ doesn’t know’ whether the Creation narrative in the Bible is literally true, or only a metaphor. And doesn’t know whether that does, or doesn’t, make him an agnostic. Craig may preach the gospel of transparency, but he fudges compulsively.

As he says though, the National Party doesn’t have any friends. For now though, that makes the Conservative Party the Key government’s last, best hope for a viable coalition partner after the next election. At the very least, the infusion of social conservatism that Craig will undoubtedly bring to the governing mix should make National a far less attractive prospect in socially liberal metropolitan seats, and among women voters. Craig may also cannibalise National’s vote, no matter how hard the Conservatives try to target New Zealand First supporters. There is a deep irony in Craig romancing the NZF vote in that the economic policy of the Conservative Party – flat tax policy and all – looks a good deal like the old Act Party wishlist. Yes, much the same Roger Douglas/Ruth Richardson/Michael Fay era of policies that drove Winston Peters out of the National Party and induced him to create New Zealand First in the first place are now – 20 years later – being repackaged by this fresh-faced fellow Craig, in order to steal away Peters’ core support, during his twilight years. Should this be taken as the workings of Intelligent Design – or karma?

Colin Craig spoke to Werewolf editor Gordon Campbell for an hour in Auckland, on Tuesday, November 26.

Campbell: Your birthday is January 8th, a birthday you share with David Bowie and Elvis Presley. Which do you prefer?

Craig: I was going to say Elvis Presley, but I must say David Bowie was exceptional in that kid’s movie – can’t remember what its called – but it was about an underground fantasy world.

Labyrinth.

That’s it ! Labyrinth. But I think I’d still go with Elvis…

Right. You claim to lead a secular conservative party with Christian values – correct? – and not a religious party that’s seeking secular power to further its moral agenda. Is that the basic deal?

Exactly. Well, what we’d say is a secular party with conservative values, fullstop. The difficulty is that “conservative values” and “Christian values” are not identical. And that distinction makes room for a lot of people, with a wide variety of world views.

Point is: “ a secular conservative party with Christian values” – would probably be how the National Party would describe itself. So, why didn’t you join it?

Well….it wasn’t that I didn’t consider it. Because I did look at what other parties existed, Starting a party is not a small undertaking. I think for me there were a couple of things. First of all, the National Party had moved away from social conservatism, which is important to me. Secondly –

At what point did it do that?

Most markedly, it would be under John Key, who recognises himself to be a social liberal. Also, it had to do with the way they did economics. To me, a conservative party is about creating opportunities. But this idea of corporate welfare – of giving money to companies, or writing special legislation to benefit some company that wants to do some activity here – is anathema to me. I still don’t find that reconcilable with my view of what good governance is about.

Going back to that point about the social liberalism of John Key: what was the point of principle when it became apparent to you that there had been a parting of the ways between you and him?

When he refused to be guided by the referendum on the anti-smacking law. That was a very clear point for me. He had the mandate from the people. Overwhelmingly so, yet he refused to take action. You have to see that in one of two lights. Both were a factor. First of all, there was a certain inherent arrogance in it that I didn’t like. It said: I’m cleverer than the people of the country.

Or that there may be more important issues in play here, that single-issue zealots simply do not comprehend?

The other point from my perspective was that he had a socially liberal outlook that said – ‘Gosh no! We can’t have people doing that [smacking] and we should be over-ruling them.’ Either way, it sat very uncomfortably with me. Now, I didn’t take part in the referendum itself. I wasn’t a campaigner. I did vote. But I was very disappointed with the government response to it. For me, that was where the real crisis occurred.

You were raised a Baptist. At what point – and why – did you stop going to church?

I was [a Baptist.] I look back at my upbringing fondly, though it wasn’t always the case that as kid I went ‘Woo-hoo Sunday school!’ I was very much an ‘Oh rrrreally?’ [kind of response] School for five days a week was enough for me. In terms of church attendance, it faded off through my university years.

So even as a teenager you were still very much in the church?

Yes. I was involved with the church youth group. My parents would take all of us kids and drop us off on a Saturday night – as it was then – for a church youth group activity. Which was normally sports or something like that. I had a brief stint – a very brief stint – in Boys Brigade, which was something akin to Scouts. That was through my teenage years. But then came university, and things got busy in life. For me [church attendance] was just one of those things that dropped off over time.

Really? You know, this path of yours – a raised Baptist who becomes a politician – reminds me somewhat of former US President Jimmy Carter. Famously, he once confessed to having committed ‘adultery in the heart.’ As in Matthew 5:28. Have you ever done likewise?

Oh my goodness. I think he was crazy to go there. What he was trying to do…oh anyway, American politics to me, are very different. What he was trying to do was establish some sort of credentials, some sort of spirituality.

But leaving that aside –

Leaving that aside, I guess I am an ordinary flesh and blood person. I think you’re stupid if you pretend to be some sort of truly virtuous person.

Right. So, does that mean you have looked with lust upon a person other than your wife?

Well, gosh, Yeah, I probably have. It would be silly to say that I haven’t.

Reason I’m asking has to do with whether you can make a credible claim to represent voters – many of whom probably feel they sin on a daily basis – if you yourself had never even felt tempted to stray?

And yeah I have, absolutely. I don’t think anyone sits around and takes delight in their natural failings – and I’m not one of those persons, either. I like to think I could be better than that. The simple fact is, I’m not. Ordinary people every day probably think back and say: I could have done that in a better way. For me, the use of the word “sin” is quite a religious word, and I wouldn’t ordinarily see things that way. I see some things as right and wrong, and some things as less optimal. But not everything for me is in that black and white context.

OK. Then in the same spirit of tolerance, do you think that social conditions also make some people liable to certain negative behaviours, more so than the people more fortunate?

Yeah. There’s that old debate. if someone is starving and they steal a loaf of bread to live – what was the better choice for them? To steal, or to die?

Yeah. But there’s not much sign of that compassion in the Conservative Party policy framework , is there?

Well… I think there is. I think in most things we approach, we consider what’s the best thing for people, and how we are going to get there. Having said that, we haven’t released a lot of our policy. And won’t do so necessarily until next year, heading into the next election.

The Electorate Deal

Looking at the electoral situation, my understanding is that you would prefer National to send a clear signal of preference, by not standing in the electorate in which you would be standing. Is that correct? Is that the ideal situation for you?

For me – if a party is going to have an arrangement whereby there’s an intent to put another party into Parliament – I think that’s a much more transparent way of doing it. We’re not seeking a deal with National ; ie. we think we’re going to get over the five per cent [MMP threshold]. That’s what we work towards, and that’s our goal. But I do think its a more valid approach. And of course, Labour did it with Jim Anderton. I think its more valid than an Epsom cup of tea, where you’re sort of giving hints, but not really coming out and being transparent.

But if you’re so confident of getting over the 5% threshold, why do you need an electorate deal of any sort?

We don’t, necessarily.

Not necessarily, but you’re using this as a bob each way bet.

No,. I would say our goal has always been to cross the 5% threshold.

Why not act on that faith?

Welll. we are. Every day, we campaign and work towards the 5% threshold. So that’s our goal. Now. And I’ ve always said – and its true – I would love to represent people. And f if got the opportunity to be an electorate MP,. I would do that. I feel I’d be a great representative. I love working with people. But that may not transpire, because the only way I can see it transpiring is if a National or Labour MP stands aside. Labour aren’t making any noises. National might.

But here’s the thing, Colin. If you truly are a new force in politics, surely you should win your right to represent people on your own merit, and do so against all comers. Agreed?

Agreed. And we’re very happy to take that as a proposition….

Excuse me, but you’re not { going up against all comers.] You keep talking about the 5% as being your aspirational goal, but you’re also clearly not averse to getting a limousine ride into Parliamentary representation, courtesy of John Key. Question being: is that a moral position?

Let me be as clear as I can. Aspirational goal: to clear the 5%. We’re not going to do any deal ahead of the vote to give anyone some sort of guaranteed coalition position, or anything else. However, there’s a lot of speculation – and I can understand why – that National might give us some sort of assistance, some sort of free pass. Now. I don’t control National, and if they do that ….

You won’t look a gift horse in the mouth?

Essentially. If National give us a free pass, or help us in, they’ll do that because our position on coalition has always been very clear. We will try to work with the party with the highest vote first. I think they believe firstly, that they are going to be that party – and secondly they believe I will stick to my word. And they don’t have a lot of friends, if we’re to be perfectly blunt. They’ve run out of options…

Are you expecting that offer to be made in East Coast Bays?

I don’t have an expectation of that, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out…National have a proven record, and John Key – if I understand him correctly- is one of those guys who will work out a way, if there is a way. So he’ll look at this and go – gosh, if I can help them in, I’m gonna do that ! That’s my take of the man.

Leave aside what’s in your party interests, or in National’s interest. Lets look at the public interest. A coalition agreement can come as a surprise package to the public. For example, no-one saw charter schools coming down the pike until Act and National stitched that up post election, 2011. Do you promise the public that nothing will emerge next year from your post election talks with National that the public weren‘t told about beforehand, and had the chance to vote on?

I don’t think you can ever guarantee that. Because you can’t foresee every circumstance. What we will be will be true and consistent to the policy that we campaign on. So we won’t be a Peter Dunne, who flip flops on some things…But we cannot foresee every eventuality. I think it would be crazy to make an unconditional promise that we will have said to the public every single thing that we’re going to do. I don’t think that’s physically possible.

Really? Why is not possible for you – pre-election – to specify every plank of what you would be pursuing in your post-election coalition talks?

Oh, oh – we will do THAT – and it will be consistent with whatever we campaign on. It will be consistent with our ethos, and with our principles which are enshrined in our party constitution. We’ ll act consistent with that. But I think it would be wrong for us to indicate to the public that we will campaign on these ten things and we will get these ten things.

That’s not what I’m saying. The question is whether you might have something in your bottom drawer – comparable to charter schools – that the public suddenly find they’ve empowered you to pursue, but only when you spring it on them, post-election.

Oh, I see. No. We haven’t got anything like that.

Right. So you’ll have no problem indicating to the public beforehand every plank you will pursue in talks, post election?

Certainly.

Pre-election?

Yeah. We’ll be clear on the things we’re aiming for, and the things we’re going for.

And nothing will emerge from the coalition talks that will come as a complete blinder to the public?

Nothing from our side of the table. But you can‘t speak for other people in a coalition agreement. Who may have agendas, and suddenly bring them out.

One coalition deal-breaker that you have mentioned already is binding citizens initiated referenda and a delay of 100 days beforer initiating legislation.

No, I’ve never indicated that [100 day delay] and I don’t know who reported it. Its not true…It is a system they have in Switzerland.

But that Swiss option won’t be put on the table by you guys?

No.

Economic Policy

Also, reportedly, your party list next year might well have a higher representation by business people the last time around. Is there any point on which you seriously disagree with the Act Party on economic policy?

First of all. I think we will have as similar [business] representation as last time. Last time, we had about 50% successful business people. Its not a rule, but I think what we wanted was to have proven performers.

Fairly or otherwise, it has been taken as a sign that next time around, the faction represented by the likes of Larry Baldock will be further down the list.

Well…Larry Baldock was the only one from United Future group that was on our list last time anyway.

At number three.

The list still has to be decided yet. But it will be competitive…

Your role in an election context next year – as I understand it – is not to cannibalise National’s vote., but to take votes from New Zealand First. Is that right?

No, we take votes from across the board. And we’re not particular who we take from. We take more votes from National than from anyone else, on a pure percentage basis. But that’s not surprising, because National has got the highest percentage vote, anyway.

Yet even if only as a strategic aim, doesn’t it make sense for you to target New Zealand First?

Naturally, I think our policies and our message appeal to the older demographic. And we naturally collect those people as our supporters and voters.

OK. But after all that Winston Peters has done for them with the Gold Card and the like, why should older citizens now turn their backs on him, in his time of need – in favour of you?

Why? I can speak for those who have already moved across. Some of them have quite detailed conversations with me. I think there’s a feeling he’s had plenty of opportunities. And really – other than the Gold Card – he hasn’t delivered. I think also, whether he likes it or not, at some point people do believe that someone’s had their day, that they no longer have their sort of capacity and ability that they used to have. I think the shine – and this is what people relay to me – has gone off Winston, to some extent.

Couldn’t you say that about a marriage partner as well? In your twilight years though, you shouldn’t just abandon them to go chasing after a new face, should you?

I think you do, when you’re talking about who you selecting to manage and run a country. The same people can’t stay there, forever. There’s a natural progression that takes place…there will be a renewal, a refreshment if you will… Its the natural way that organisations develop.

You said though that in its policy mix the Conservative Party has a natural appeal to the older demographic. In doing so, is the Conservative Party a protest party? Are you tapping into a sense of exclusion?

In a sense, yes. We are a different option from what exists, for people who are not happy with what exists. I’ve had conversations with a number of our supporters who have actually been people who had given up voting. Because they did not feel any of those parties did represent them. So yeah, to some extent.

Because – and to spell out the natural crossover similarities with New Zealand First – you cross over with them on crime and immigration issues, and on defence spending. But here’s where I see an interesting divergence: the protest element in New Zealand First, the feeling of being left behind has something to do with social policy but it has a whole lot more to do with economic policy. They’ are people angry at the moneybags, the foreign bankers, the Rothschilds and the Trilateral Commission, whatever. But your appeal channels the NZF anger – and pits it against a different set of targets: the greenies always banging on about climate change, the Maori entitlement industry, the abortionists and the metrosexuals. Is there a sense in which you are a new wrapper – and an appealing wrapper to them – for that sense of alienation among the older age group in New Zealand?

I’d have to say yeah – and that is a reasonable description in that, that age group genuinely do feel disenfranchised. All of those things that you’ve listed potentially disenfranchise them. I think its just the general sense that this wonderful country that thrived within in its prime when they were in their prime, is somehow losing its shine. And they do not think that National and Labour have taken them where they want to go – whether it is the increasing debt, or the decreasing wage, there is a sense of no longer being part of such a healthy, wholesome decent society. And we do tap into that. Because we challenge some of those things that you mentioned. Is being part of some great big global business enterprise – and being highly connected into that – really good for our country? I think its valid to question that. I see that its almost a given assumption from the National Party that it is. I’d question that. We’ve got big foreign companies coming in and drilling our oil. These are questions that are very valid to ask. And we do entertain the idea that not all the decisions we’ve made are good decisions. And I think there’s an understanding among the seniors in New Zealand that says: That’s right !

But here’’s the thing Colin. What they may not appreciate is that wrapped in tight at the core of the package you’re offering them are the economic policies of the likes of Michael Fay and Rogernomics. So the point of alienation here they started from – if they buy into you. that may well be where they end up, right back where they started –

I don’t think so. There are distinct differences. And I often draw this comparison. If you look at the National Party – its about cutting deals and making unique decisions to benefit large business interests. We could look at the $30 million that was given to Rio Tinto as an example of that. GIven against Treasury advice. Given to a massive international corporate, who made over $2 billion in profits. Now we look at it and say – yes, we are pro-business, but we want to see new Zealand thrive. But not by some deal in the back room like the SkyCity deal. By good, open transparent economic policy that encourages business, and particularly small business…and I don’t think National has addressed that niche. But we do.

Ah-uh. But to repeat the second part of that at question asked earlier – where do you seriously disagree with the Act Party on economic policy?

Look, I don’t pretend to know all of Act’s economic policies. But certainly the way they’ve gone about implementing their policies.. I mean, I don’t think John Banks is a good example of what Act is trying to do. But if we go back to Rodney Hide. Rodney Hide I think, failed to deliver much in terms of true benefit to business.

Forget the personalities, look at the policies and at the similarities. Look at your flat tax policy for instance –

Its a two tier policy

Right. But go beyond Rodney Hide. I don’t see much in your economic policy that Roger Douglas would disagree with.

Well..uh, I guess because I don’t know what he promoted enough, I’m not going to say that we’re either the same, or different. What I do know is we look at those things that would genuinely help small New Zealand business.

How? Most of the Rogernomics- style policy settings and most of the central bank’s decisions to target inflation – and you’d have to include in that the consequences for small farmers – have been pretty catastrophic for them. What, in your economic policy framework (a) differs substantially from Rogernomics and (b) is amenable to growing small business?

Well, lets take one example. As I understand the ethos of Rogernomics, it was very much ah, almost ideological, to get government out of pretty much everything. Now, if you look at our small business development policy and where we are going with that, we believe that Taiwan is a great country to sort of use as a template. What Taiwan does is the government sees itself as having a role, a very significant role to play. They don’t just leave it to the market. They get alongside the entrepreneurs and their business people, and they say – hey, we’re providing you with a network of support. Mentors. We will also be prepared to lend you money to get your enterprise off the ground. And we’re going to make a long term commitment to work alongside you. Now, I don’t think Rogernomics would have ever conceived of this approach. No no, they would have said: what is the government doing getting involved? And I’d say: you can’t beat Taiwan’s growth record. The government [there] makes 6% off its loan book !

For me the government has a role to nurture and develop business, particularly in a country as young as ours that is competing with countries that are very well established and massively more capitalised than we are..and with vast quantities of savings in some cases that we just don’t have. Another example would be trade apprenticeships that we very largely got rid of. To me, that was such a huge mistake because that‘s the bridge that helps many young people to go from a classroom education to a practical, actual working career…I think we’ve got that very wrong, and if you look statistically at places like Germany and Switzerland they’ve got it right. Their young people are not disenfranchised. They;re not sitting there – a quarter of them – not getting education or work.

The point about Taiwan – and South Korea is another example – is that in the New Zealand vernacular this entailed (a) picking “winners” and (b) growing those businesses behind protectionist walls until they were of a scale where they could cope in the global market. Is that also what you’d be advocating?

No it doesn’t involve picking winners, I’m not a big fan of that, because who is smart enough to –

So who gets the government money and support?

Any business that can put forward a business plan that can show it has got competency and work, along the lines of what, I guess, the provisions they set out. Which are I suppose having a business plan and targets, and so on.

So winners will be self selected?

A winner is someone who succeeds. Its someone who makes a profit…

And some business will get money and support from the state, and some will not. How will you decide that?

No no, they [ the Taiwanese] are actually very, very broad in their concept of who should get money. If you’re Taiwanese, and a business is based in Taiwan, if you’ve got an idea and you’ve got initiative…they’ll stand behind (and have done) someone who manufactures LEDs and also stand behind someone who has a better way of doing cakes, and wants to run a cake business. To me, its that breadth of approach, other than saying ‘We’re the guys who are going to tell you who is worthy of support.’

National Super

This next question is relevant to the discussion we were having before about New Zealand First. Do you think the entitlement age for access to National Superannuation should be raised?

I think..I think its a big mistake for John Key to have ruled out even talking about it. Because I think there’s been this proposal – and I think it is a very smart proposal – to have a cross party discussion on this and some sensible agreement reached –

What conclusion have you reached?

I think the conclusion I’ve got is that whatever we do, we have got to do it by consensus. So -

You’ll wait for feedback from the public?

We’ve got to. We’ve got to work with the public.

But you must have reached some conclusions as to whether the current age level of access is (a)_ desirable and (b) sustainable. Right?

Its not the major Budget item that’‘s going to get us into trouble. The one that’s growing the fastest ands the one that’s we have to have answers for is Health. And to make it the number one item would be a mistake.

I’m not saying it is. I’m asking –

Right. Um,, I think we’re partly on the right track with having Kiwisaver and with promoting the whole idea of

The Cullen Fund?

Yeah, and the Cullen Fund. And promoting saving. Although both of them have4 some faults. Abd the problem with both of them is that for many people, their best form of saving is to pay off their mortgage.

So from what you’re saying – and not saying – can I conclude that remarkably, you haven’t yet made up your mind and reached any conclusions about the retirement age?

I think it would be fair to say we think it has got to be looked at and discussed.

And is that because you think there’s evidence it might not be sustainable?

Ah well…partly that. But also because good governance is about discussing and reviewing things. That’s why I disagree with not talking about it…

Leave aside John Key. We’re trying to find out what Colin Craig thinks of this issue.

So I think we should have a discussion. because I think we should research and consider all the issues around it. I’m not saying I’ve formed an absolute opinion, one way or the other. I’m not saying the party has an absolute stand on it. We may have by the next election.

Right. So you can see why people will think you’re just fudging?

Well, I am. Because I don’t have an absolute opinion on it. So I’m, not going to say yes or no.

And doesn’t it seems odd that a party contending for public office in less than a year’s time should not have reached even a provisional position, of probability, on such a key issue?

No, I don’t think it is. Because I think one thing we’ve done wrong is we’ve said – government will dictate, or mandate this decision. I think there is validity in having a process where we don’t form a position until we’ve had public debate.

And many people will see this as a lack of courage on your part, when it comes to taking a public position that might be politically unpopular – right?

No, I think what John Key has done fits into that category. I think saying we need to have a discussion is a smart move,. and it says to everyone…We’ve got to talk about it, gather all the arguments – and I accept there are arguments on both sides – to put them them on the table..Rightly or wrongly, it feels much of the time that who-ever is there is a dictatorship and they’re now telling us what to do. And I don’t accept that is the best model for governance. There are times like the Christchurch earthquake where you give yourself those powers and do it – but the rest of the time, its about taking people with you.

Coalition

OK – if people are going to vote you into a position of being a helpmate to a National government that has done things that you criticise, they’ll need to know whether there are points at which Colin Craig will pack up his bags and walk. Looking back, is there anything that the National government has done during its term in office that you would NOT have tolerated, and would have walked out over?

I think the question is – what sort of support agreement will we have. Because what we do not intend to do is give anybody a blank cheque and say we’ll support you on this, or that, or the other thing. In my view, you’ve got to maintain your integrity. The GCSB bill would be a great example. Our view on that was that it should never have happened. We would say – no sorry, you haven’t got our vote. Now, we would still accept that National is the party with the highest vote.

But would I be right to conclude that there is nothing National has done – even on asset sales, which has been another bone of contention – where, if you had been in government, you would have walked away from the coalition?

We would not have taken away – or voted against – confidence in the governing party. We would have objected to it, we would have voted against it…and if the numbers worked out, it would stop National in its tracks [on some pieces of legislation] because it would not have the numbers to get something through.

And I’m trying to see what are the marker sin the sand where -

So the marker in the sand for us is – somebody has got to be government. We don’t believe in pulling governments down. Its not a case of saying – well, we’re now going to vote no confidence. I think there could be an exception to that, but it would have to be something very scandalous that suddenly came out…and I can’t envisage what it could be. We vote in a government for three years. We support who-ever has the highest vote, to be there. but we won’t support any part of their mandate that goes against policy that we campaigned on.

Working For Families & Tax

You’re on record as saying Working For Families is quote” frankly terrible” unquote. Is it the intention of Working For Families – which is to mitigate the effect of low wages on the working poor – that bothers you, or is it the way that it is currently targeted?

I think the problem is there are the wrong signals within Working For Families at some point, where you are better off to quit your job or to downgrade the work you do and go home – because financially you’re rewarded for doing that. I believe that is the absolute wrong signal. And I think it promotes the wrong behaviour. That is counter productive for us a nation, and for those individuals involved.

The problem in that case surely, being the low wages. I’m puzzled. How can the state topping up low wages be a dis-incentive to work?

Let me give an example. Its one that someone told me recently . They went on a three month holiday. Gave up work, just stopped work and went on a three month holiday. Did it affect the end result, the money they got in the bank? Not at all. For most people if they go on a holiday, they’re going to give up some working time, they’re going to be limited to perhaps four weeks – but in this individual’s case -

And how widespread do you think this problem you’ve just outlined is?

Well to me, its a problem. Because that person is essentially to me, not working. And getting no change in their monetary circumstances.

And you maintain this a widespread problem, sufficient to undermine the value of the entire programme?

Am I saying its a single case? No, not at all. As I understand it, there are three points in the system, three distinct points where that applies.

So if in government would your response be to fine tune Working for Families, or to scrap it?

We haven’t released our policy on this, so I’m not going to give an absolute.

So what’s the aspirational position?

The aspirational choice needs to be choosing to work -

But without the crutch of Working For Families?

Oh no no, some people are still going to need support.

So after all, this is all only about fine tuning?

Its got to be. There’s no way we can say – we don’t have any welfare and there’s no way we can say families don’t need support.

But Colin, we’re not talking about the welfare safety net in general. We’re talking about whether Working For Families should continue, and in what form –

And what I’m saying is – we do need to look at how that is delivered. It may be a fine tuning, it may mean we find another mechanism to do it. I think that’s probably not the case. Its probably more a fine tuning. I think we have to correct these issues. We have to have a situation where work does pay – and is the better choice to make.

Working For Families exists because the market wasn’t delivering a proper wage, such that the working poor – who are incentivised to work and had managed to find work – still weren’t being paid enough to live on. If you so oppose Working For Families and its alleged disincentive effects, how do you propose to lift their wages without it?

Well, there are two things there. Obviously our tax policy which says no tax on the first $25,000 of earnings. Sure OK, someone at the top end will get some assistance [from that policy] but it would be negligible in terms of a percentage. For those at the bottom end of the scale that’s very significant. Now, I disagreed with John Key’s tax changes, because I think they went to the wrong place. I believed that the people who really needed the assistance in New Zealand were those who were struggling. But it didn’t go to that end, it went to the other end. It was at a time when as a country, we really couldn’t afford them. We borrowed.

But you’re saying that we CAN afford to treat the first $25,000 of income, tax free?

We can.

And what would be the cost of that?

Well, I’ve got Treasury calculations on exempting the first $30,000 and we know that’s not affordable because that’s $6-7 billion. So we have to scale that back.

And a $25,000 exemption level would cost…?

It could be $4-5 billion.

So, even before we get to the cost of the flat tax policy [on income above $25,000] – we may need something on the scale of the entire asset sales programme to pay for this exemption?

No. One of our policies is very clearly that you’ve got to re-direct the tax to where it needs to go. As an example, we accept that taxing cigarettes is legitimate, because cigarettes create costs. So I question why we don’t tax alcohol on a similar basis. All the research, a massive government on it, tells us we spend $5 billion a year fixing up alcohol. See. we’ve got balance things out. Is taxing someone on the minimum wage – does it make any sense at all – given that they then, can’t live? For me, its about re-balancing taxation so that it makes sense. For me, subsidising binge drinkers doesn’t make sense.

Abortion and gay rights

Explain to me why the legalisation of gay marriage is, according to you, a failure of democracy?

It didn’t reflect what the people of New Zealand wanted. That’s my view.

And the asset sales..presumably for you, that’s a similar thing?

That is a similar thing. With asset sales, I’d say it is even more clear. Last election, less than 50 % of the vote went to parties promoting asset sales. The fact that it is going ahead – and the fact that everyone has been saying that the last election was a referendum on the asset sales programme…. Well, to me, that is a failure of democracy.

OK, Currently, there are many New Zealand women do not have the access to abortion that the 1977 abortion legislation purports to deliver. In your view, is that also a failure of democracy?

When I talk about a failure of democracy I’m talking about what popular…what the vote would actually be. I don’t know in that respect. what the populist position –

I know. But if the law promises a mechanism that MPs voted for as a solution for a contentious issue, and if that mechanism is not accessible to some, I’m asking you whether you think that’s a failure of democracy.

I don’t know. I don’t know if we’ve had an election or a referendum on that.

OK. I’ spell it out. Here’s a law on a contentious issue, which was resolved in 1977 through a series of trade-offs. But gee, it hasn’t been delivering on some of them – such as on the access to abortion in some regions, that it promised.

Look, I just don’t know the numbers, so I couldn’t say.

In your view, are there any circumstances in which teenagers should have access to abortion?

Legally, there’s provision for that now. The issue I have with it is that I think minors should have – allowing that there will of course exceptions to this, because people will always be able to come up with one case that should be – but in general,. I think there should be parental consent before any medical procedure for minors. Three isn;t at the moment, so

And in this context, a minor would be 16 – or 18?

At least, sixteen.

But not 18?

Ahhhh, that’s less clear. I think up to sixteen, lets take as a given.

Lets be clear. In government, you won’t be pushing for 18 as the cut-off point?

Lets say sixteen at the moment. We haven’t issued an absolute on the age. We’ve said “minors”. We all know that a minor is up to sixteen,. and there some differences from then on…Our issue is parental consent. Our other changes with respect to abortion is a full, informed consent.

But presumably for a minor you would waive the need for parental consent in the event of a pregnancy involving incest?

That would be one example. I think you have toi allow for exceptions. The court has to be able to handle the exceptional case.

The current [1977] abortion law has been described as being conservative in principle, but liberal in practice. Do you believe there is any room for making it more conservative in practice, short of changing the law? By say, making it more like the letter of the law that was passed? Has the Conservative Party shown any interest in going down that route?

We haven‘t, particularly. For us, the starting point is slightly different. We do believe that there needs to be free and informed consent. As they do in many eastern European countries, where you get independent advice, and are informed of all the potential ramifications. I think its a woman’s right to have that advice, and it cannot be delivered by anyone involved with, or could benefit from [ the decision].

And should it be a woman’s right to access that advice, or should that advice be mandatory?

As a I understand it, in [western?] European countries and lets take the Netherlands as a an example because that’s seen as a very liberal country, it is mandatory.

Right. So you think women have a “right” to “choose” what would be a mandatory form of counselling?

Well, we already have that. We already have criteria you have to meet. Its just that you can do that with people who already have a potential financial interest in the situation. I think that needs to be changed. I think that would reduce the rate of abortion, and I see that as a positive thing. I think its also something that could get support.

And Mr Key has always said that it would require a conscience vote on Parliament.

I think it would. I think its an issue I would expect to go to a conscience vote…and its another one of those things where we could benefit from having a mature discussion.

You have said that if you wanted to, you could choose to be gay. Correct?

Yeah-uh.

So does that mean you regard sexual orientation to be a learned and conscious choice?

In part, in part. There are other factors. There are always genetic factors involved to a greater or lesser extent. For some people, that may be a lot, for some its not a lot. With the Genome Project, their statement around it was: look, genetics give people pre-dispositions but they don’t make decisions for them. Their example was that you get given a deck of cards, but you decide how to play them.

So when you said you could choose to be gay – were you saying that consider yourself not to be a natural heterosexual?

I think many people are in a position of making choices about how to express their sexuality. I think there’s choice involved. Absolutely. For me, I think I’m not compelled either way. So I think its choice. It amazes me the things that people do choose to do, and can choose to do for the sake of living out their lives….But I accept its their job to make their choices, not mine.

I’m puzzled how you put these points of view together. Because I’m assuming that you oppose gay marriage not simply because you’ve done the numbers on it. Right?

No, I’ve always said that I oppose gay marriage personally – if we were talking about the re-=definition of marriage I would oppose re-defining it, and would have voted against it. And my major motivation would be the issue around adoption. The issue for me,. having thought about it …I am a conservative. I see the ideal with adoption as being raised by a loving, committed Mum and Dad. And I think personally there is a point of difference between men and women and I think it is complementary for a child to be raised by a man and a woman. For me, there’s something valuable in that, but that’s just that’s my perspective.

So you wouldn’t seek to outlaw gay adoption for people who think differently – or would you?

No, that’s just my opinion. I think when it comes to changing the adoption law, I do think its somewhat untested to change that Mum and Dad model, and say that‘s its OK to go with two dads or two mums.

But if the crucial factor for the child is loving and committed parental care – you’re not saying that a gay couple would be incapable of providing that loving context, are you?

I’m saying that is not the only factor that matters for a child. I’m saying that I believe the modelling of male and female behaviours matters. That doesn’t come only from your parents, but largely it does. I always think about these kind of decisions – what would I think about this decision 15, 20 years from now if I’m talking to an adopted child? And I would want to say that I was the guy who argued for you to have a mum and a dad. Well, they might say _ I turned out alright. And that would be fine. But I would be very comfortable with being the guy who argued for a mum and a dad.

Creationism and Intelligent Design

I’m puzzled that you have said [previously that you don’t know if you’re a Creationist or not. I’m assuming that you mean that you don’t know what KIND of Creationist you are, when it comes down to the age of the Earth and so forth....

Yeah, people are very keen to have me make what I would call theological pronouncements. As if somehow, I’m supposed to know the answers to these sorts of questions. I mean, I do try to be a spiritual person. And I try to live as best I can Christian values and the Christian faith. For me , I have the view that there is Intelligent Design in the world. Everything is not purely an accident.

Or simply a process of evolution?

Well you see, how that Intelligent Design is worked out - there are so many theories around that - its not like I pick a favourite and say, that‘s my favourite one. I accept that there some aspects of evolution that have been proven, and natural selection would be one of them. Survival of the fittest....the problem is in the use of the words. Like, do you believe in Evolution and are you a Creationist? In peoples’ minds they mean different things. So I’m hesitant to say I am, because someone might go ‘Oh flip, so you believe the world got here in X number of days.’

Right. But presumably, we can assume you believe that life, the Earth and the Universe are the creation of a supernatural Being.

Yep. Fair enough to say that, in that there is an Intent and Design within the world we live in.

OK - so do you also regard the Genesis creation narrative as being literally true?

On that I would say. I don’t know. If you were to ask me - is it my personal belief that the world is a certain number of thousand years old, I’m not convinced of that. For me, I look at the Genesis story or any of those sort of historic stories that go back over centuries and -

So, to you, is Genesis a metaphorical truth or a literal truth?

To that I’d actually say I’m undecided. I don’t know.

OK, put it this way. Is it literally true - the Bible?

Oh, but you were talking about the Genesis story.

In the Bible.

Oh well yeah, well..it is in the Bible. For me, I look at that, and I don’t know. I wasn’t there, I don’t know. For me, the language, I’ve heard so many different views on this...For me, I don’t hold a set position on this.

Can I put you down then as agnostic? You say you don’t know.

No. I don’t know. .

And if you say you don’t know, that’s what an agnostic is.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I accept that Creation or Intelligent Design is witnessed, that’s my world view. But how it happened, I don’t actually know.

And I’ve been trying to establish whether you think the Genesis creation narrative is literally true, or a metaphor for a creation process. And you’re saying you don’t know. That is being ‘agnostic.’

Maybe it does. You might be right.

Welfare Policy and Tax Avoidance

We hear a lot about welfare fraud and the need to cut down on scroungers. Do you think the current government’s work requirements for beneficiaries go far enough?

I can’t say its something that’s occupied my mind a lot. ( Long pause) Mmmm. I’m not sure. I’d need to know more about what the current government is doing to be able to answer that, I think.

People who pay less tax than they should - in your mind are they better or worse than those who claim support from the state to which they’re not entitled?

I think they’re both doing the same thing. I struggle to see a difference.

So you’d feel really concerned about tax avoidance - those tricks that fall within the letter if not the spirit of the law - which often falls outside what is considered acceptable by the general public?

Yes.

So is there anything in your policy agenda to address that grey area?

Part of our tax policy - and what I’d say was one of the essential planks - is that we will close a lot of loopholes. It certainly is true that if you happen to have an awful lot of money and be earning some substantial money you can easily find ways to avoid paying your share - even though the small business person, or the person going out to work every day, can’t do that. So for me, that’s an inequity, and its a problem.

And the solution is...?

Closing those loopholes.

By taking action on trusts?

Ahh trusts I do think having differential tax rates [encourages that] and its why it would be nice to see a conformity of tax rates at the top end. I do think differential tax rates do provide an obvious ability for people

So you say [tax avoidance] is an argument for flat tax. So your solution for tax avoidance at the top end, is to give everyone at the top end a flat [and lower] tax rate?

Certainly in the second tier [ all income above $25, 000] We’ve already said we don’t believe in a simple flat tax. There has to be a starter point and incentive at the bottom end. You can’t just say everyone’s on the same tax. At the moment it would have to be 28%, although we’d love to be able to get it down to 25%.

Trolling

There’s a sense in which some of your public statements – closing down the Waitangi Tribunal, your scathing description of a powhiri, the leaflets you distributed in Helensville about the PM being too gay for the electorate…More and more these statements are being seen as a way of pushing peoples buttons to get Colin Craig into the headlines. It is feeding a sense that what you’re really engaged in is a form of political trolling. Is that a fair call?

I don’t know about the term ‘ political trolling.’ But there is an element whereby to cut through into peoples’ minds – and I’m concerned about the voters, for us its about connecting – and you do have to find those points of interest, those opportunities, those discussions that people are motivated about. So naturally, we do…try and focus, certainly at this point in the election cycle, on those points of interest. The things people are thinking about. We try to make what we put our there interesting. Sometimes I might quote someone who says Key is too gay for Helensville. Yes ! When I do that I know its going to be something where people will say – ‘Oh gosh, he said that ! Now I’m going to read the rest of what he sent me.’

I see it as a form of marketing, to be honest. I’m not sure about this idea of trolling, that’ s a new one on me. But we are getting into issues as they come up, and if I think there’s an interesting way to present it – or an interesting debate to be had – I will do that. I’m interested in making politics exciting and relevant for people -

Even at the risk of looking like a complete loose cannon, or a political lightweight ?

Inevitably, there’s always a risk in how you present your argument. Even if you’re presenting it as the most boring argument in the world. For me, I’m always looking at what we send out – and asking – is this interesting? Would I read it?

Which feeds, finally, into the Crazy Colin thing. Do you find it surprising that a self-declared son of the manse [ ie David Cunliffe] is coming at you from that angle? More to the point, is there a divergence between what you’re trying to depict to me as being mere attention-getting devices, and the policies you would be promoting if you were in a position of power?

Oh, I think there is. Its one thing to be having as discussion and a debate, and to be gaining interest. But your policy, and what you actually end up doing, is very different. Because that’s about being a safe pair of hands. And nobody who knows me for a moment thinks this whole “Crazy Colin” rhetoric is true. They find it hilarious, because they know me. And its not at all reflective of who I am, or about the way in which we would approach politics. But yes, lets look at David Cunliffe. As you say, a son of the manse, and someone who is happy to say that religion is a big part of his life. And yet you’d find many of his supporters would see me as being someone far more religious than David Cunliffe. And I find that very interesting.

ENDS

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