United Future leader Peter Dunne got a rare chance to explain his stances on Q+A.
Peter Dunne explains his position no asset sales, the Sky City deal, and minimum alcohol pricing.
TV One’s news report:
United Future leader Peter Dunne has ruled out supporting Labour’s bid to put a minimum price on alcohol, possibly sinking the plans designed to halt binge drinking.
Labour has been drumming up support for the plan in Parliament, hoping to add a clause to the Alcohol Law Reform Bill, which would give the Ministry of Justice the power to set a minimum price for a drink.
“It’s very easy, for particularly young women, to pre-load with cheap wine from the supermarkets and then go out on the town and get drunker and drunker,” Labour MP Charles Chavuel said last week.
“If instead of being able to buy a bottle of cheap wine for $6 from the supermarket, a minimum pricing regime puts that up to 12, 13 or 14 dollars then it’s much harder for people to lay their hands on cheap booze,” Chauvel said.
But, Dunne told TV ONE’s Q+A programme this morning he would not support Labour’s amendment as currently proposed, describing it as “elitist”.
“To say that we’ll have a minimum price of $12 for a bottle of wine because people who can’t afford to pay $12 shouldn’t pay a lesser price, but Chardonnay socialists who can pay $25, $30 for a bottle of wine will still be able to get their wine. I think that’s a really elitist and ridiculous argument.”
Dunne said if there was evidence that showed that the scheme was workable he would consider it.
“But I have to say, putting my hat on as Associate Health Minister for a moment, a lot of the material that I’ve seen from other jurisdictions raises more doubts than support for the issue of minimum alcohol pricing.”
He adds his decision was less to do with voting on it in the house, and more the correct policy outcome.
Good morning, Peter Dunne. Thank you for joining us. You’ve been under a bit of fire lately for supporting the state asset sales. Was it a hard decision to mae?
PETER DUNNE – United Future Leader
No, it wasn’t. In fact, United Future and its policy as long ago as 2005, had said while we opposed wholesale asset sales, we were not against floating shares in selected state assets. We had the same policy in 2008, had the same policy in 2011. I enunciated it on the leaders debate in this very studio in 2011. So it was not a difficult decision to make. What’s been surprising, though, is that no one seemed to notice that we were honouring a policy commitment we put in place three years ago.
SHANE You weren’t swayed by the polls, public opposition or indeed your electorate?
PETER No. In fact, in every electorate meeting during the campaign, this issue was raised. I set out the position exactly as I intended to follow, what our policy was. I was re-elected with an increased majority. We concluded in our confidence and supply agreement statutory limitations. The National Party previously wasn’t in favour of putting into law the 51-49 10 split. That was put in the confidence and supply agreement. Utterly transparent and public. I’m one of these old fashioned people that believes that if you say something, you stand by your word. If you make an agreement, you keep it, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.
SHANE So I wonder do you think your support was damaged in any way. Or by keeping your word, do you think it increased your support?
PETER Who knows? Time will tell. But for me, whether it be mixed-ownership models or any other issues where we have taken a clearly determined position, what is important is actually honouring your word. I think the people have had far too much of politicians who say one thing before an election and then weasel word after it. In fact, I must be the only politician being criticised for keeping his word.
SHANE A lot has been made about you having the deciding vote, and I wonder what you think about that. Is that a comfortable position to be in, given that you’re going to be in that position again. And I ask you because, as we say, it’s one man, one vote, but a lot of power.
PETER Well, first of all, that was what the electorate chose. I didn’t choose that particular outcome. You live with it. And the rule that I’ve adopted, as I’ve tried to hint at in what I’ve said already, is where the issue is one where we have had a clearly enunciated policy on it, that will be the position that I follow.
SHANE So you follow party policy?
PETER Absolutely. Because it’s been out there, and it’s been available, and people have judged me and my party on that previously. If it’s a new issue, then it depends entirely on the circumstances of that issue, what the facts are, what the benefits or disadvantages might be, and that will be case by case.
SHANE Let’s go to a few of the issues that are coming up-
PETER And the other point just before you do is I don’t know, my crystal ball doesn’t tell me where other parties are going to be on these issues. So I don’t factor into the decision, and I can’t, actually, whether my vote will be the determining one or not. What I have to do is decide what is the right course for me as the United Future member of Parliament to follow. Now, if that means that in some situations it’s the casting vote, so be it. If in other situations it means that my vote is just one of many on one side or the other of an argument, that’s life too. But I don’t seek to be the casting vote. I can’t, because that’s actually determined by what others do, not what I do.
SHANE Let’s take a look at some of the issues that are coming up, like the alcohol reforms. Do you support a minimum price for alcohol?
PETER I certainly don’t support the Labour Party’s amendment, which I think is remarkably elitist. To say that we’ll have a minimum price of $12 for a bottle of wine because people who can’t afford to pay $12 shouldn’t pay a lesser price, but Chardonnay socialists who can pay $25, $30 for a bottle of wine will still be able to get their wine. I think that’s a really elitist and ridiculous argument.
SHANE So you don’t support a regime?
PETER I don’t support a minimum pricing regime as currently proposed. Were there to be evidence that would suggest a workable scheme, I would look at it. But I have to say, putting my hat on as Associate Health Minister for a moment, a lot of the material that I’ve seen from other jurisdictions raises more doubts than support for the issue of minimum alcohol pricing.
SHANE The minister also doesn’t seem that supportive of such a regime because she says it’s just going to line the pockets of the liquor industry.
PETER I assume you mean Minister Collins?
SHANE Minister Collins, yes.
PETER Well, I think there are a lot of arguments to have, but, you see, we’re leaping ahead here to say that my vote will be the determining one on this issue. I don’t know that. I don’t know what NZ First is doing.
SHANE But you’ve made your mind up, though?
PETER I have, but it’s not to do with whether it’s the casting vote. It’s what I think is the correct policy outcome in this case would be.
SHANE What about the Sky City deal? And I know that you’re not going to confirm your position till you’ve seen more detail, but you are on the record saying you support Auckland having a world-class convention centre.
PETER That’s right. And I’m also on the record as saying as one of the principal architects of the 2003 Gambling Act, which has seen a significant reduction in the number of pokie machines across the country, I don’t want to see that downward trend interfered with either. So it will come down to what the specific deal is when one eventually emerges, what the impact on the number of pokie machines – not necessarily on one site, but globally – is going to be and what other benefits-
SHANE So when you talk about a reduction in pokie numbers, are we talking about across the country, or are we talking about across Auckland?
PETER No, I’m talking about across the country, but you obviously want to look at what the trend is going to be and is that going to be adversely affected by a decision that might be made in respect of that venue. But until such time as I see the detail, Shane, I can’t really start to talk about, ‘Well, if it’s this number or that number or if they’re here or there.’
SHANE But I’m interested to explore further your reduction policy, because are you talking about a reduction here in Auckland?
PETER No, no. I’ve just said as a result of the 2003 legislation, we’ve seen a significant number, about a third I think, from memory, of the number of pokie machines that were in place at that time, come off in the last decade. I want to see that trend maintained.
SHANE So would you be ok, though, if the pokie numbers were to increase here in Auckland?
PETER Well, it depends what the total picture looks like, both in terms of the particular site, the region and the country. Until a deal is put on the table, I can’t give you that answer.
SHANE Can I give you some figures? And these are from Internal Affairs. They say that the average amount of money that we’ve put into a pokie machine is $47,000. The average amount of money that we’ve put into a pokie machine at Sky City is $140,000. $47,000 versus $140,000. Doesn’t that prove that were you do put these pokie machines, it does matter?
PETER Yes, it may well prove that. But then you’ve got to say almost, ‘So what? If people are putting money in pokie machines and enjoying them, so what?’ Now, you will say to me, ‘Ah, yes. Problem gambling.’ I’m the minister responsible for problem gambling. We have about 6,500 cases a year, which is a very small number. I’m not minimising the impact on those people who are affected. But compared to the number of people who play a pokie machine, buy a Lotto ticket or whatever, it is a very small number. So my counter to you would be to say if you’re putting in significant sums of money through those machines, you then have to say are the negative consequences sufficiently great to limit the opportunity for the majority? I’m not saying I’m indifferent to their concerns – far from it. But it’s a balancing act as well. We have far more people, for instance, if you take the analogy, who would have alcohol-related problems because of the amount they drink in proportion to the total number of drinkers than problem gamblers.
SHANE But you want fewer pokie machines, and, yet, as we’ve seen, the amount of money that’s being put into them is going up. That’s got to say something.
PETER I think it shows that at one level, people quite like the opportunity to have a flutter, and I think we’ve got to be very careful when we make policy that we don’t impinge upon people’s rights to enjoy themselves to an unnecessary extent. If those machines are attracting that level of patronage, it’s because people obviously like to be able to do that. Then you’ve got on the other side of the coin, of course, a large number of community activities that currently benefit from the proceeds from the various trusts etc. So you’ve got to balance the community benefit at that level out against the cost to the individual out against the benefit to individual operators.
SHANE It sounds a bit like you support the deal.
PETER Well, I haven’t seen a deal, so I can’t give you that answer, Shane, until I see a deal. All I’m saying is these are the parameters within which the decision would have to be considered. Then the next issue that arises is will it require legislation in Parliament. That’s not clear yet either. So when you start to talk about where my vote might count, you actually need to talk about what the issue is, rather than just a generality.
SHANE Finally, because we have to start wrapping up, I know it’s two years away, but I wonder if you’ve decided whether you’re going to stand again at the next election.
PETER I’ve always made the position of determining what I do at an election about a year out or so from the next election. So I’ve made no call either way, and I guess I’ll probably think about it sometime next year. But at this stage I’m more than happy doing what I’m doing. I’ve got a lot of challenges on my plate, a big workload, and that’s what my focus is.
SHANE Is there anything stopping you at the moment from standing again?
PETER Oh, there’s nothing stopping me. There’s nothing actually on the other side saying to me, ‘You must do it.’ It’s an open book. But I’ve always said that to be the case. That’s been the case since 1987 when I first had to make this call. But, as I say, my priority at the moment is my workload, my portfolios and the job that I’m doing.
SHANE So you could go either way?
PETER Oh, who knows? Who knows? Time’s got a long way to unfold yet, and I think it’s utterly premature to even start speculating about, A) when the next election might be and, B) what individuals will do in respect to it.
SHANE I’m also wondering if you’re likely to stick with John Key and National if you decide to stick around.
PETER Well, let’s see again what cards are dealt after the election. I mean, one of the things that I’ve learned, and I’ve been through a few of these confidence and supply negotiations now, is that you wait to see what judgement the electorate offers, what the likely makeup of governments might be. Then you look at them and say, ‘Ok, if it looks like this grouping, what policy compatibilities can we have or do we have? Is it feasible?’
SHANE But you could stick with John Key?
PETER Absolutely. It’s been a good working relationship for the last four years. I think that if you look at the things we’ve had in our 2008 and 2011 agreements, we’ve been able to achieve, in respect of ’08, everything. In respect of the current agreement, we’re well on track. And that’s really what it’s about. It’s about achieving outcomes that are important to your particular party in terms of what you want to advance.
SHANE What about David Shearer and Labour? Could you work with them?
PETER Well, I have worked with Labour in the past.
SHANE What about David Shearer?
PETER David Shearer is someone I am getting to know. I think we have common ground on some issues. Certainly he supports our flexi superannuation policy, for instance. So there are issues we could work on together. Whether, of course, that will come to pass depends on the judgement of the electorate in both our cases and also on what other options are around at the time.
SHANE Let me put it this way. Could a Labour-Greens-NZ First-United Future Government be good for New Zealand?
PETER It sounds a bit like a smorgasbord, doesn’t it?
SHANE (CHUCKLES) Would it be good for New Zealand, though?
PETER Well, any government is good for New Zealand if it works effectively. I think that the makeup of that particular government in that composition might just have too many differences. Mr Peters has been fired to date from every government he’s been in, for example. Would you want that to be part of the mix? Because it’s a recipe for failure. The Greens have never been in a government. Untried territory there. So who knows? But the cards lie in the hands of the electors.
SHANE A great place to leave it. Peter Dunne, thank you very much for joining us.
PETER Thank you, Shane.