Dunne transcript from The Nation

On the future of United Future, the Electoral Commission, Dunne’s recent headaches, and the GCSB Amendment legislation.


Interviewed by RACHEL SMALLEY
Rachel Peter Dunne returned to parliament this week after taking some time off, following his resignation as a Minister. He quit two weeks ago after the release of a report into the leaking of a GCSB report. The news only got worse this week when the Electoral Commission refused to reregister the United Future Party because it couldn’t produce signed membership forms. So what is the future for his party? The MP for Ohariu joins me now. Good morning Mr Dunne, thank you for joining me this morning. So is that what you are now essentially, an independent MP in your electorate?

Peter Dunne – United Future Leader
No, I’m still the United Future MP for Ohariu, I’m the Leader of the United Future Party and in fact the ironic consequence of recent events has been that our membership has rocketed. We now have, and the Electoral Commission funnily enough acknowledges this, a very substantial membership. The sticking point that we have with them is simply the form of verification of that membership.

Rachel Okay, so what is the future then as we see it today for your party?

Peter I think the future’s a very positive one. What’s come through loud and clear to me over the last couple of weeks is that the moderate liberal democratic role that we play in New Zealand politics is one that a lot of New Zealanders appreciate and want to see retained. So I’ve had huge encouragement from people from right around the country to carry on. We’ve had as I say a huge surge in our membership, and I think once we can settle all of this down and move forward, our future is a very positive one, and the contribution we can make to government in New Zealand in the future is also a positive one.

Rachel Okay so what do you need to do to settle it down, what does the Commission want you to do?

Peter Well this is a very pedantic point. We have provided the Commission with electronic verification for a substantial number of members, well over a thousand. The Commission is insisting on seeing signed documents in respect of each of those people, in other words a signed membership application form. That is time consuming, we are currently, although I think it’s a really sill process to be going through, currently collecting all of that data. I’m hopeful that within the next week we should be able to front up with their pedantic requirement being met.

Rachel You say it’s pedantic, but it’s also, it’s necessary isn’t it to see those signed membership forms, spreadsheets for example are too open to manipulation.

Peter What we have produced for the Commission, and the Commission acknowledges funnily enough as accurate and correct, is a form in respect of each individual member that shows name address, electorate, contact points etc, when they paid, how they paid and the receipting process for that payment, and the Electoral Commission says, yes but we still want a signature. We accept that this is accurate and verifiable, but we still need a signature. And I say come on this is the 21st century, most people are used to doing online transactions, that’s all we’ve simply done, and they are the ones sticking in the mud.

Rachel You didn’t say that though when you were the Minister of Revenue. I mean what the Electoral Commission requires is exactly what’s required by your former ministry, they need to see signatures. Though you can file electronically but you still must follow it up with a signed form.

Peter And in fact the tax legislation that I put through in the last year or so changed that to make it much easier for people to do their tax business online, just as it is for your banking and everything else.

Rachel You still have to sign, Inland Revenue still has to see that signature though, just like the Electoral Commission is requesting from you now.

Peter The point is though, let’s go back one. The Electoral Commission has made two decisions which are completely at odds with each other. On the one hand it says, and they said to us very clearly when we met them last week, we accept that United Future is not a new political party, you’ve been around since 1995, we accept that, you are clearly an established political party, but because your registration was cancelled at our request, not theirs, at our request – because your registration was cancelled we have to treat you as a new party for re-registration purposes. Those two positions are absurd, Had they said because you’re an existing party we will treat you as such for re-registration, all we would have been required to do is file a statutory declaration saying we have more than 500 members, and they refused to accept that.

Rachel And you didn’t meet that party membership. That’s why this needs to be policed surely.

Peter Well here’s the irony. When the position emerged late April and it became clear that we weren’t going to be able to verify that we had more than 500 financial members, even though we had more than that number on our database, we approached the Commission, not them approaching us. Had we signed the declaration falsely to say we had the number of members, the Commission never actually checks, and none of this situation would have arisen. So ironically again we’re being punished for our honesty.

Rachel Do you think there are other parties who don’t make that 500 membership?

Peter Oh I’m sure there are.

Rachel Mana? ACT?

Peter I’m not gonna name them, but I’m sure a number of parties would struggle, particularly in non-election years, to meet that deadline. And the Electoral Commission simply requires a statutory declaration to that effect, and it acknowledges it does not have the resources to actually check whether those declarations are correct. So we’re in the unusual position, in fact the unique position of saying we can’t file a declaration at this time, because we want some more time to verify. When we now come back with a verified membership they say sorry the process starts from scratch from you as though you were a new party straight off the street.

Rachel And that’s how it is, that is the law isn’t it?

Peter Well it’s not the law actually, the Electoral Commission has the power to make its own rules. The Electoral Commission also has the power to vary its rules. It has chosen not to do so.

Rachel Okay, fair point. Have you considered joining the National Party at any stage Mr Dunne?

Peter Never. Never.

Rachel You would consider it now?

Peter No, and the reason is because I have considerable philosophical and other differences with the National Party on a range of issues, and just as I left the Labour Party. When I left the Labour Party in 1994 someone said to me why don’t you join the National Party and I said well I’m not jumping out of one frying pan into another fire.

Rachel Okay, will you stand in your electorate in the next election then?

Peter Oh I’ve made no decision either way on that at the moment Rachel.

Rachel Why not? It pretty much around the corner.

Peter No, it’s 18 months away. I normally decide my future position around about the end of this year, beginning of early next year in an election year process. Nothing unusual in that. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

Rachel What factors will influence that decision Mr Dunne? What will you consider?

Peter Oh, I want to see what the political landscape looks like. I want to see what the messages of support or otherwise from my electorate look like. I also want to see what the state of the party looks like. I’ve got a lot of work to do in the next six months to get to that point, and I’m really looking forward to the challenge of rebuilding United Future and actually seeing us play a competent role in government again.

Rachel How do you think John Key handled the situation that you’ve been through?

Peter Oh I’ve got no criticism of the Prime Minister, in fact I think he’s been very supportive and I made it clear to him, and I made it clear publically at the time that I made my resignation, that I had no wish to embarrass the Prime Minister in any way, I think he’s done a good job for New Zealand, and I expect to see him continue.

Rachel Do you believe you could have carried on as a Minister?

Peter Oh look it’s possible, but I made the call in the end, that the range of circumstances where I felt that I had let myself down, didn’t justify that happening.

Rachel So should you have carried on or not? You don’t think you should have?

Peter Well it was my decision in the end, it wasn’t the Prime Minister’s. I offered him my resignation saying I don’t think my position is tenable in these circumstances, and he reluctantly accepted it. Could I have toughed it out? I don’t know, I didn’t really think that was appropriate.

Rachel How much has some of the you know fairly extreme commentary around your circumstances affected you?

Peter Look the last – I don’t want to go into the details, but obviously the last two weeks have been pretty tough on me, very tough on my wife, very tough on my family, and also my wider circle of friends and associates. I think that this has been a most extreme form of muck raking, and I think it’s been hard on all concerned, and I just hope we can move forward from here, and put those things behind us.

Rachel Are you regretful of your situation, or do you feel something of a victim in this?

Peter Oh in terms of the particular situation I’m a bit of a victim, I’m a bit also a victim of my activities and actions, and do I feel regretful – in some senses yes. But look I’ve fronted up, I took the call that it was not appropriate for me to carry on, and I’m now looking forward to the new horizons that lie ahead.

Rachel Who’s been the most supportive to you throughout this?

Peter Oh my wife. Jennifer has been superbly supportive. I mean she’s had a very difficult time, and I’ve just really appreciated her support, her encouragement, and just her loyalty over this period of time, and if anything it’s brought us much closer together, and I really value that.

Rachel So how do you see the next months or so panning out for you Mr Dunne?

Peter Well, immediate job tomorrow is to go and hang some pictures in my new office, and then get back to work. I’ve got a big adjustment to make from not being a Minister. I’ve been in that role now for a long period of time, and this will be a real opportunity for me to focus on some things that are important. Important policy issues for United Future in terms of protecting the freedoms and rights and access for New Zealanders to opportunity and to enjoy all their country has to offer, working in my electorate, and just recapturing a bit of my own life too.

Rachel Do you have unfinished business do you think? For example as Revenue Minister?

Peter Oh there were things that I wanted to see through, and I’m confident that the new Minister will see them through. The major re-organisation of the department’s technology. I think there’s an ongoing case for progressive tax reform in New Zealand, but I made it very clear to him if he wants my advice he’s welcome to ask for it, but I’m not going to be sitting on his shoulder telling him here’s what I’d do if I were you. It’s his show now, not mine, I’ve moved on.

Rachel Do you have any indication or have you had any indication that you could return to a Minister’s position in time?

Peter Oh that issues hasn’t arisen, and frankly it’s not something that’s on my radar screen at the moment. As I say I’ve got a full set of priorities ahead of me. I’m looking forward to a different pace of life also, but also just getting on with things that I can focus on, that are important to me, to my party and to my electorate.

Rachel We’ll shortly be talking about Jamie Lee Ross’s Employment Amendment Bill, that’s something that you have suggested you won’t support. Are there other bills from the right that you would perhaps not look to support as well?

Peter Well it depends what’s coming forward, I don’t know the full agenda. This is a private member’s bill, he did discuss it with me several weeks ago, long before the current controversy blew up, and I indicated to him then that I thought it was a step too far, and I indicated also to the Prime Minister at that time that I wouldn’t be supporting it should it proceed. There will be others that will come along, but we’ll take each one on a case by case basis. I will be looking closely given recent circumstances at the GCSB legislation for instance, in terms of whether it actually achieves what it sets out to do, or whether it goes too far. And there’ll be other measures that will come up that I’ll apply the same rule to. But it will be business as usual, that’ll be done on a no surprises basis, and we’ll be honouring our confidence and supply agreement.

Rachel Is it your gut feeling that the GCSB has too much power Mr Dunne?

Peter I think there’s a conflict that needs to be resolved between the role of our domestic surveillance agency, the SIS, and our external agency the GCSB, and where they coincide. And I must say I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the notion that because the GCSB might have better technology for example it can do work on behalf of the domestic agency. I accept there are cases where that may be appropriate, but I think there needs to be a much clearer delineation and a much clearer statement about where one’s role ends and the other begins. Otherwise I think the situation could remain as blurred as it was in the dot.com case.

Rachel Do you think it spied on you?

Peter I don’t know. I don’t know, and I suspect for a lot of New Zealanders the question that they will ask themselves in this whole debate is just how certain they can be of their freedom, how certain they can be that they aren’t inadvertently caught up in something much wider. And I think that while these things always operate in the shadows to some extent, the challenge is to give the greatest level of confidence you can to people that their circumstances are being protected and their rights and freedoms are not being abused.

Rachel So essentially what you’re saying is that the government can’t rely 100% on your support with this legislation.

Peter Well the bill is about to go to the Intelligence and Security Committee for the hearing of public submissions. I imagine it will be amended by the committee once that process is completed. I will then have a look at the bill in that form to determine whether it’s something I can support.

Rachel Alright, Peter Dunne, Leader for United Future. Thank you for your time this morning.

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