Sunday, March 30, 2008

The kingmaker debate

I've spent the last two hours watching TVNZ7's Kingmaker debate over their web feed. But while it was refreshing to see a channel devote a whole two hours to debate among the minor parties, it also suffered from the flaws of the medium - namely, that in trying to squeeze everything in in two hours, it could only touch lightly on things, and never really got into policy, let alone detail. The moderator, Guyon Espiner, also had an irritating habit of trying to lead people around by the nose or provoke a reaction, rather than letting the conversation among the participants flow naturally. And despite having an entire panel of journalists in the audience, they were only allowed to ask about four questions during the entire thing, which seems to have been a wasted opportunity.

OTOH, watching the ad breaks, it seems that 7 will have a lot more political programmes where that policy detail and free-flowing conversation can be explored, which is a Good Thing. Now all I need is a decoder.

As for the debate itself, here's a few highlights and observations:

  • Rodney Hide's opening pitch was that we should "beat Australia". I can think of a sure-fire way of doing that: send Roger Douglas there. He'll ruin Australia's economy the same way he ruined ours, and we'll catch up to them in no time.
  • Jeanette Fitzsimons seems awfully confident that Nandor's Waste Management bill is going to pass by the end of the year. Which suggests they might have cooked up a deal to adopt it after all.
  • While everyone there bar Rodney was a republican, it is no-one's top political priority.
  • Peter Dunne is hot to abolish not just MMP, but also the Maori Seats. Fortunately, no-one else seems keen on that proposition. The big surprise was Rodney Hide, who while he opposes them, also accepts the reality that a vote where Pakeha vote to disenfranchise Maori is not a recipe for social harmony, and so agrees with the left that we have to wait for them to wither away in their own time (if at all).
  • The poll results on privilege and racism, which showed that 43% of those surveyed think the most privileged group is Maori, while rating Pakeha as the most underprivileged group, are both appalling and unsurprising. Jim Anderton is right in suggesting that Pakeha are generally ignorant of Treaty issues, and this leads to misunderstanding and resentment (and this is exploited, as Jeanette Fitzsimons pointed out, by both the media and politicians). What it suggests is that we need far better education both about the wrongs of the past, and how little has been done to right them - because once you explain these to people, they generally understand.
  • Espiner asked why the Treaty settlements process had "slowed down". Again, there's a lot of bullshit and ignorance on this - the government is settling more claims than National did in the 90's, but they're smaller. Surprisingly, it was Rodney Hide who pointed out that this was because the large 90's settlements (Tainui, Ngai Tahu, and fisheries) were the easy ones. Unfortunately, it takes just as long to investigate and negotiate a $30 million settlement as a $170 million one.
  • Jim Anderton happily admitted that the exclusion of agriculture from the ETS was a subsidy. So much for our farming standing on its own two feet and paying its own way.
  • Their poll showed that a shocking 37% of New Zealanders favoured the return of the death penalty (58% opposed it). None of the politicians there seemed keen on it.
  • Most parties recognise that MMP is about cooperation, and so are reluctant to state bottom lines (particularly when there is a complete policy vacuum from National). Of the ones who did, Rodney Hide says he will only support a government which scraps the top tax rate, while the Maori Party would not work with a government which planned to scrap the Maori seats (Jeanette Fitzsimons also said that the Greens would not support a government which planned to reintroduce the death penalty). Peter Dunne named constitutional reform as a policy priority, so we may see a minor party demand the destruction of our democratic system as the price of its support.
  • All but the Maori Party said that they would announce their coalition preferences before the election, so people would know what they were voting for (the Maori Party said they'd have to talk to their voters first, which is fair enough).

If you missed it, the debate will screen on TV One at midnight tonight.