Patrick Gower: Good morning. Good to see you after a while.
Laila Harre: Nice to be here.
Are you still here as leader of the Internet Party?
Yes, I am here as leader of the Internet Party, and at the moment I’m guiding the party through a review of the future. I’ve also made a personal decision that once that review is completed, I will step down from the leadership of the Internet party. All options are then open for whether or not the party continues as an electoral force or moves into some other formation and plays its part in politics in a different way.
So that will be by Christmas? You will step down by Christmas?
Uh… yes. The timeline at the moment is that we will be putting together a couple of options that members will engage on, will vote on and will take from there. I just wanted to make it clear to the members, from whom I’ve had tons of support, and there’s been a lot of good feedback to me personally from members, that continuing as a political party does not— they can’t make the assumption that I will continue in the leadership.
I’ve made a firm decision about that.
It’s over; you’re out. What does this mean for your political career?
For me, it means that I’m no longer leading the Internet Party. Whether the Internet Party continues as an electoral party is up to the members. If it—
What about Laila Harre personally? Is this your political career over now?
Who knows? Look… (LAUGHS) rumours of my political career being over have circulated many times over the last, you know, 15 years.
Look, I would love to be in parliament. I would love to be articulating the kind of fundamental agenda and values that Internet-Mana promoted in the election campaign, and I’m not prepared to say never again to being personally at the front line. But I also saw emerging in our election campaign an incredible set of younger candidates.
And I feel a bit like a mother hen here. I want to enable them through my decision to step down to explore all their political options too rather than be trapped in this year’s political entity and this year’s political tactic, you might say — to explore their options more.
It may— it may be, by what you’ve said there, that the Internet party doesn’t continue as an electoral-type party.
That’s definitely one of the options that we’re actively canvassing with members.
It could become a lobby group or be wound up.
It could be wound up. It could— the capacity that we’ve built. Look, we’ve had massive engagement on our policy-development platforms, in our social media—
And the merger with Mana — that isn’t going to continue?
Well, I mean, that will be up to Mana and if the Internet Party continues as an electoral party, the Internet party. Um, the Mana Party are having their AGM in a couple of weeks’ time. The agreement with Mana was always predicated on the assumption that we be in parliament.
So, of course, all bets are off there, but there’s very strong goodwill. And again, for me personally, that was one of the strengths of what we did this year — was engaging our constituency with a kaupapa Maori party, which I think is critical to the future of New Zealand politics.
Let’s reflect on the campaign now, cos we know the story. Internet-Mana went from 2.3% on the 3News-Reid Research poll, higher than that on some other polls, then you started to crash. In the end, Hone Harawira didn’t make it; nobody did. What went wrong?
Um, well, what went wrong was that we completely mismanaged the last month of the campaign. We had amazing momentum before then. The road trip, I think, worked extremely well. What other party just went out there on the front line, engaged with such large audiences?
What was the mismanagement?
I think the kind of beginning of that, really, was Georgina Beyer’s attack on Kim Dotcom, which fed into what became a narrative of a rift and division, and it was one that we just couldn’t knock through the rest of the campaign. It became completely distracting from the release of policy, for instance. I mean, we launched a full employment policy that was second to none and did not get one minute of coverage on, you know, national news.
That’s because Kim Dotcom stood up and talked about hacking,…
…and Pam Corkery attacked the media on the same—
Well, no, it’s because the media chose to focus on sideshows rather than to allow us to present ourselves in the way that we were presenting ourselves. So, you know, the media made a decision to focus on Kim, and in a very negative way during that period.
The only way that we could have avoided that was to take him completely out of the picture. And of course then there would have been all the stories of ‘what’s happened to Kim Dotcom?’ And ‘has he been side-lined?’ And so on. So we’re kind of in the lose-lose position. Beyond us—
Do you have any regrets in all of this? Cos you must have.
I have absolutely no regrets about choosing to get involved in this project. Back in April— late April when I was first approached to consider the leadership, it was very very clear that Labour and the Greens were not going to make it over the line.
I was utterly committed to a change of government, and in order to change the government, we had to make sure every single progressive vote would count. For that to happen, Internet Party votes had to count. For the Internet Party votes to count, they had to do the deal with Mana. And for Mana to do that deal, they needed a leader that Mana had some confidence in.
So I said yes. I put myself into that position, and I think it was absolutely the right thing to do. What I regret is actually the failure of the Left overall to get its act together in a strategic and tactical way during the election.
What do you mean by the failure of the Left overall?
Well, let’s go back to early April when the Greens and Labour pulled the plug on each other. At that time I was on the Green Party campaign committee. I felt that was a terrible error by both parties. I thought it was a major error by the Greens to leak the collapse of that discussion.
You’re saying that you were working inside there at the time and the Greens leaked…
I was on the campaign committee as a volunteer. I wasn’t working for the party, but when the Greens decided to leak the collapse of their discussions with Labour, I felt really concerned about what that meant for the election campaign, because what it meant was what I went through before the… around the 1996 and previous elections, that this was going to become a competition for votes on the Left rather than a cooperation of Left parties to change the government.
Here’s the counter argument, and you know it. Labour and the Greens put the failure of the Left at your feet.
Well, it’s very convenient.
They blame it on Internet-Mana. Andrew Little, all of the Labour leadership candidates all say being connected to Internet-Mana and to Kim Dotcom helped bring the Left down.
I think, actually, what brought, overall… I mean, this was always going to be a very— Can I just give you my view on this? This was always going to be a very finely balanced election outcome. There was no way, no way, never in any polls that Labour and the Greens were going to get sufficient support to form a majority government. That meant we had to rescue progressive votes to. To do that—
I understand all of this. But what also happened was National romped home. It wasn’t close. The Left got thrashed. You guys have been blamed for helping bring down the Left and at the same time there’s an argument that you pumped up the Right. People who were scared of Kim Dotcom. People were scared of Internet-Mana. People didn’t like to deal with Hone Harawira. Not only did you tear down the Left, there’s an argument that you helped John Key win by more.
Well, let’s look at some of the facts here. The Internet-Mana Party deal led to an increase in support for the combined two parties. The early part of our campaign, which Kim was very actively involved in in the road trip, saw a growth in support for Internet-Mana. It was at that point that the Right went fully on attack against Kim, and used Kim and the Internet Party-Mana agreement as the basis for an attack on the Left. At that point, Labour—
And it worked.
Yes, but why did it work? Because at that point Labour and the Greens had a choice. They could either join John Key’s narrative, or they could do the only thing that would have made it possible to get over the line, and that was to accept that putting together a majority in parliament, this time round, that did not have National as part of it was going to depend on working constructively with other parties. Labour ruled out just about every other party during the course of the election campaign, and I think that was a big mistake.
So in summary, those parties not supporting Internet-Mana, those parties trying to distance themselves from you, is to blame for your downfall. You’re blaming Labour—
No, I’m not blaming them for our downfall. What I’m saying is that I think they just played into the Right’s narrative about it. So they fed it. They made it more of a problem. And I think the key to politics is knowing and accepting the environment you’re operating in. They didn’t like us. They didn’t want us, but we were there and they needed to accept that reality.
Let’s talk about Kim Dotcom now. Are you still on his payroll?
No! Goodness, no.
Are you still in contact with him?
Yes. I’m periodically in contact with him.
Mainly by text message. Kim is focussing on his legal issues, obviously. That’s the critical point.
Did you ever seek assurances from him that he was not involved in the hacking, that he was not connected to Rawshark?
I didn’t need to because he was absolutely upfront and direct about that, and I completely accept those assurances, and I also believe that John Key knew, and John Key said now that he knows who the hacker is. I think he knew who the hacker was, and he that he knew it wasn’t Kim Dotcom, and he kept feeding you guys.
Look, we had this conversation during the campaign where he had convinced you that he believed Kim Dotcom was the hacker. I think we now know that he knew right from the start that Kim Dotcom was not the hacker. That was just a complete red herring.
As for the moment of truth when Kim Dotcom failed to deliver. You know, the proof was apparently that email from Kevin Tsujihara. Warner Brothers says that that was a forgery. I mean, do you believe it was real?
I believe that Kim, given the opportunity to share everything about that email, would be able to defend his belief that it’s real. Look, I can’t answer that. I wasn’t directly involved in obtaining it or being involved in the process of—
Either Kim Dotcom’s forged it or Warner Brothers has made it up.
I absolutely don’t believe Kim Dotcom has forged it. I absolutely believe that Kim believes it’s real based on the evidence he has about its origins.
The $3.5 million. What happened to that? Who’s got control of it?
Well, that money’s been spent. I mean, let’s remember that that money was spent from pre the launch of the Internet Party in March and committed. I think we could have done a whole lot—
Was this it for you? The dream of a well-funded campaign — the chance of a lifetime. Is that what was there for you, and now maybe you regret it?
What was there for me and for the kind of politics I represent, was the chance to change the government and to get a platform in parliament for some very new progressive ideas. Look, I’ve walked off platforms in this election campaign where I was the only candidate—
And speaking of walking, where do you go from here?
…the only candidate promoting free tertiary education. You know, you had Labour and Green candidates saying user-pay tertiary education was a necessary evil. I reject that. Where to from here? Well, for me, being outside parliament as a political party is not a game that I think is worth the candle.
What I want to do, though, is continue to promote and connect with the kind of more radical, I guess, policies that we began to introduce into the election. And when I say radical, I don’t mean marginal. I mean radical in the sense of fundamentals. So I’m going on a journey in February with my sister. It’s called ‘Rethink the System’. We’ve got a website.
We’re going on a sort of pilgrimage meets activism to connect with people over fundamental social change issues.
Sounds like fun. Really sorry. We’re out of time.