THE FULL MONTY - JOHN TAMIHERE INTERVIEW
John Tamihere, you’ve been cleared by the SFO of any wrongdoing, you’ve got a fight on your hands for your electorate seat this year, and I see Labour Party President Mike Williams suggesting a mid-to-late September election…
I reckon it is going to be earlier. Just in case a number of economic issues start to deteriorate, with the hedge contracts coming off and the dollar holding, and commodity prices having an adverse impact as a number of other producers start to get over either drought and/or Mad Cow disease and so on and so forth, and start to access markets where we’re there in a vacuum, as opposed to competition.
Also, we’ll set the agenda from May 19th because of the budget. This is what I'd do if I was up on the ninth floor. I'd wait until May the 19th, set the agenda, get everyone talking about the budget and then we go - we go straight after that. Use the budget as the discussion document for an election in early July. The budget is going to be business friendly, or it was when I was working on it. It has to be.
Labour has managed, in the past 20-odd years, to capture Liberal economic theory while retaining a socially liberal outlook. How did they do it?
We’re lucky in a number of regards. One is that there’s no huge economic debate anymore over socialism, or communism versus capitalism. That’s gone. Capitalism has won, and the argument now is about best practice, best structure, best systems, and it’s nowhere near as exciting for the masses.
There are two other things that must follow. Labour is now business-savvy. We never had that before because you had unionists who begat our party who believed all bosses were bad bosses. That chasm has now gone, because SME’s [small-to-medium enterprises] produced 86% of all new jobs in the past five years, nearly a quarter of a million, and that will increase. Because more people are becoming business-savvy. Not all businessmen are bad. The biggest sweatshops we’ve got are hospitals, run by the government and funded by the government. And so the caterers and the cleaners are actually government funded, and they’re jumping up and down at their own government. Because all the bad conditions are in the public sector.
Award rates are a joke because they bear no resemblance to the capacity of the business sector to achieve it, and that’s why those general wage rounds are anathema to reasonable economics. I mean, you get a number of people jumping up and down seeking a five percent general wage order – get a life!
What sort of power do the unions still have with the Labour party?
Well they just increased it after the list! (laughs). Having said that, you know, they come in all ‘ra ra ra’, and the next minute, you know, it’s welcome to the real world, when they’re exposed to a whole bunch of competing advice and information that they’ve never had before because it’s always been the union line before. Unions. I can’t stand them.
I had a big pow-wow with some of them. You go into town, have a meeting with them. Won’t name any names but they were all sitting there, and I said to them, ‘All of you sitting over there were all on good jobs, and you all sold us out under Rogernomics in the eighties’. Now I actually think a lot of things happened under Rogernomics in retrospect which were extraordinarily good, but when you’re suffering you take a more vested interest. These guys were all running around in their bloody Falcons and they were on $55,000 those years, which was bloody good money. And what did they do? Nothing! Now some of them are politicians.
One dude says to me, ‘Look, I’ve got fifty paid organizers in our union, in this region, that can lock up against you, if I wanted them to’.
I said, ‘Oh, right, where are you from?’
He says, ‘You know where I’m from, I live in Panmure’.
I said, ‘No, where were you from before you got to Panmure?’
He says, ‘Oh, I come from England’
‘Is that right,’ I said. ‘How long have you been in the union movement?’
‘Since the day I arrived here, 22 years ago’.
‘How long have you had a job in the union movement, how long has it been since you’ve been out amongst the real workers?’
‘I’ve been a paid union representative for 19 years.’
‘Well you wouldn’t know a f***ing thing about a proper job, mate, so stick your f***ing organizers up your date, I don’t need them.’
It’s always about threats and intimidation, and ‘we’ve got big balls, what have you got?’
INVESTIGATE: What do you take out of the Labour’s new List?
Two things. One, there was a precedent forming that the parliamentary wing would number off first, and that precedent was busted. Secondly, when you look at the List, the union movement have got four new members coming in, end of story. And so they’ve done extraordinarily well at reasserting themselves. They don’t deserve to have that level of influence. I’m going to lead a charge against that, very shortly, because the party has to be updated to reflect where our society and communities are, as opposed to where they were.
If we continue to be driven by historical liabilities and ideological overhangs, that’s an anchor and a weight that pulls you right down. If you really think about innovation and initiative, you can’t be bound by a range of standards and rules that are only applicable because certain people have dragged their way to the top of it. Just because they controlled yesterday doesn’t mean they should control tomorrow.
INVESTIGATE: Looking ahead three to six years, what do you think the unions are aiming for in the Labour Party.
Well, obviously greater influence. I think we f***ed up with our 2004 amendments to the Employment Relations Act. I think it’s very silly, a number of things that we did then, merely to give unions greater organizational capabilities. I don’t think it’ll translate to greater union membership, but having said that it’s another impost and imposition on business. It’s really ugly. Because as business downsizes and subcontracts, if it was me I wouldn’t have anyone in the union. The ‘union’ was our company, our whanau. Guys that actually make small businesses work, as you’ve correctly indicated, they’re not bad employers otherwise they screw their own business. The other thing is a lot of small businesses in NZ are familial, either direct family or references from mates.
INVESTIGATE: The union movement is angling for more of its old heyday, but in your opinion that’ll backfire if the activists achieve that?
Yes. Mark Gosche never delivered for them, so they’re bringing in Maryann Street, and she’s a very capable person. I’ll tell you this: Burton was actually meant to be the Speaker but as soon as Street came in and got a high place on the northern regional list, that was it.
You see, these people think in timeframes of ten to 15 years, it’s only bastards like me that struggle through the current term. So when you’re positioning for high places, they’re thinking that far ahead.
The Labour hierarchy purposely lost the election in 1993. They could have won in 1993. Mike Moore came within one seat. But the party pulled all their energy out of Auckland. He was up here at two o’clock in the morning, the leader of a major party, nailing in hoardings in Greenlane. Him and Clayton Cosgrove, hammering away, because no one else would help them.
Cosgrove…with Clark he’s getting nowhere, nowhere. What he used to do is get Clark’s home number, and Peter Davis’ work number and home number and he was in Mike’s support team, and he used to drive them nuts, he’d ring incessantly at all hours saying “leave Mike alone!”, and they knew it was him.
He ran that campaign, and it used to be nasty, naughty. Cos he should have been junior whip at the very least, but Minister Simpson [Helen Clark’s personal assistant Heather Simpson] can’t stand him. Just because he’s a “Moore-ite”, and she hates ‘Moore-ites’.
But yeah, they purposely planned to lose. ‘That era’s gone, we’re new, and we’re coming. He’s gone, Helen’s it’.
This goes back to the great conspiracy theory. Most people like you and I can’t get our heads around the idea that someone can sit in a darkened room and figure out where they want to be in fifteen years. Where do they get the time to do that?
They don’t have families. They’ve got nothing but the ability to plot. I’ve gotta take my kid to soccer on Saturday, they don’t. So they just go and have a parlez vous francais somewhere and a latte, whereas we don’t get to plot, we’re just trying to get our kids to synchronise their left and right feet. They don’t even think about that.
I’ve got a fifteen year old whose testosterone’s jumping and he’s scrapping around at school. Now they don’t have that, and because they don’t have that they’re just totally focused. You’ve also got a fully paid organization called the union movement, who can co-opt fully paid coordinators. These people just never sleep.
How dangerous is it to be in the Labour Party?
If you’re a free and independent spirit, very dangerous. Like, if there was a popularity poll for me, I can assure you that there’s more ministerial klingons voting on the old PC against you, and yet I’m on the same team! They sit there, typing away, muttering, ‘come on SFO, let’s nail this bastard!’
In this outfit it’s all ‘rosy’ on the outside, not the inside. When I used to make a contribution in cabinet, on the cabinet papers, I’d go, ‘Hang on’, and she’d go, ‘you want to be difficult again, do you?’
I’d say ‘it’s not about being difficult, it’s just that a number of these amendments are pointless. You’re just scoring brownie points off the other side when you’ve already beaten them. I don’t think you need to do that. I think you can lighten up on some of these points and still achieve what this mob over here want, the Blues Brothers over here, Maharey and his mates.’ Thankfully, my advice was accepted on a number of occasions.
There’s independent thinkers in there. Clayton Cosgrove’s a good thinker, but very angry at the moment because he’s frustrated. Damien O’Connor’s a good thinker. Maharey, you can spend two hours with Maharey and walk away none the wiser but you’ve got three screeds of paper full of notes. So there’s operators like him who are very smarmy, very clever, but no substance. It’s all about status.
What do you make of the ‘machine’ that exists on the ninth floor at the moment?
Oh yeah, there’s definitely a ‘machine’ all right. It’s formidable. It’s got apparatus and activists in everything from the PPTA all the way through. It’s actually even built a counterweight to the Roundtable – Businesses for Social Responsibility.
Its intelligence-gathering capabilities are second to none.
INVESTIGATE: How good is the media, or are they totally useless and sycophantic?
They’re utterly and totally useless. And sycophantic. You know and I know there’s no investigative journalism done in that bloody gallery.
In an information age, we’ve got more ignorant people out there than there’s ever been.
Labour’s enjoying the benefit of that, but surely there’s got to be a day of reckoning..
Not when the journalists know they’ve got to deal with this government for another three years, and the same goes for business. Right now there are people writing cheques out in the corporate sector who wouldn’t bloody cross the road to pee on us if we were on fire, for the same reason: at the end of the day it’s business. They’ve got to deal with this party.
And the other mob aren’t helping themselves much. Even if they wanted to, they’ve got no one who can articulate it.
What about John Key?
Oh no, he’s going to be very good. I’ve got the greatest regard for John. One more term, he’s a formidable character. He’s the one who scares the s**t out of me the most out of the whole bunch. He’s talented, affable, good sense of humour. Bastard came from a state house!
I could go to bed comfortable at night, knowing that he was in charge – fair dinkum, not a problem. Couple of the others over there, forget it.
I think Bill English will make a comeback after the election, but give John Key one more term to get blooded in the House. He’s an extraordinary talent but I think he needs one more term. If I was to pick National’s dream team it would be Key and Rich – Rich for the South.
INVESTIGATE: So would it be fair to say you’re in Labour because there was no credible opposition place to be?
I’m in Labour because Tau Henare and ‘moderate’ NZ First abused the Maori vote. And the only way to get it into mainstream was to do this. It was like the Prodigal Son, you know, you’ve had some fun and debauchery over there, look what happened, now come home.
I’d be a very wealthy man by now if I’d stayed down the road at the Waipareira Trust, but for all the wrong reasons.
INVESTIGATE: The media got stuck into you and ignored some obvious facts, such as the Trust’s liability to pay the tax…
Well, they wanted me. The ninth floor wanted me. Heather Simpson – Helen’s assistant – wanted me in the tent as damaged goods. Too tough to lose completely. She’s dangerous, a very dangerous woman.
INVESTIGATE: How much longer can the current machine dominate?
The current machine wants to become, in all ways, the natural party of government, and just have us vote different coalition partners on the fringes. Has kiwi culture changed that much? I don’t know.
INVESTIGATE: So if Labour becomes the natural party of government, and the opposition remains weak, presumably that opens up the possibility of factionalisation within Labour as an alternative way of keeping things in check?
Not a problem. I tried to set one up, we called it the ‘Mods’, for moderates, from the class of 99. I’ll tell you who screwed it up, through his naked ambition: Cunliffe.
The boss sent emissaries out, let it be known it would be detrimental to the party and detrimental to our career prospects.
The problem the Tories have is there are no great litmus issues left, because the economic debate’s won, so that leaves social policy, education, housing. There’s no big circuit breaker.
Even on moral issues?
I tell you what, if I was on the other side mate I’d have cut the bloody Labour party to pieces over moral issues! There’s a huge pendulum swing against what my leadership stands for.
INVESTIGATE: What is the most powerful network in the Labour executive?
The Labour Party Wimmins Division. Whether it’s bagging cops that strangle protestors they should be beating the proverbial out of, or – it’s about an anti-men agenda, that’s what I reckon. It’s about men’s values, men’s communication standards, men’s conduct.
I spoke to the boards and principals association in Wellington, and I showed them a picture of two girls with their fists clenched, standing on top of two young male students. The object of the exercise was to prove that once again the female students had romped home academically against all the boys. If the positions in the photo were reversed, all hell would break loose.
Where else in the world do Amazons rule?
In our constitutional base you could kill the Prime Minister – sure, there’s a deputy prime minister – but in the interregnum the second in charge is the Speaker. The Governor-General. If those three die you go to the Chief Justice, another woman.
I don’t mind front-bums being promoted, but just because they are [women] shouldn’t be the issue. They’ve won that war. It’s just like the Maori – the Maori have won, why don’t they just get on with the bloody job. I think it becomes more grasping.
Speaking of constitutions, looking back instead of looking forward, is there room for a new written constitution, ideally not penned by the ninth floor, to set the country on a new track?
I think you’ve just hit the nail on the circuit-breaker of the next decade: that’s going to be the defining moment in politics this decade. This is who we are, this is what we are, this is what we stand for. We’ve arrived. Somebody just now needs to put that in a manifesto, put it on the public agenda. Whoever does that will ride that wave.
It’ll take a while to bring the public up to speed on the issue first.
That’s the problem with the press. There’s this bulls**t that there’s such a thing as the Crown that exists in the NZ constitution. It does not. It’s a myth. It’s run by prime ministerial dictate, fullstop.
Will Labour win this election?
It’ll win it. Who it does business with to maintain it…she’s too savvy, mate. It’s too clever. You’ve got Cullen – we wouldn’t survive without Cullen – he can cut a deal on a piece of legislation, he can change a single word in a piece of legislation without those other bastards [coalition partners] knowing about it, and it melts down everything they wanted but they still think they got their clause in. The pressure, they bring pressure to bear on individuals.
How intense does the pressure get?
Close to fisticuffs!
I always kick the officials out when I know it’s going to get a bit tetchy, because you know they’ll blab all over the place. So I say ‘hang on mate, I want to talk political now, get them out’. And Cullen goes, ‘oh no, no, he’s ok’ or ‘she’s ok’. And I say ‘It might be for you, but not for me. I’m uncomfortable’.
What you do is you always use the wimmins’ language: ‘I’m feeling unsafe!’
And the women, as soon as they hear that, they’re instantly with me. ‘I’m feeling unsafe in here’. [chuckles]
Where do you see yourself being, three years from now?
Well, as long as I’m doing the business and championing the right debate. The issue you’ve raised about where we’ve arrived, and whoever identifies that and encapsulates that, but more importantly is able to bring the masses with them, will set a new benchmark for New Zealand nationhood.
Because it is there. The sense of belonging is for everyone and the Maori don’t have a mortgage on that.
INVESTIGATE: You can get trapped, as you’ve made the point, looking back instead of forward, and letting bitterness over the past poison your future. They don’t grow as people or move on.
The Weisenthal Institute is the same. I’m sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed, not because I’m not revolted by it – I am – or I’m not violated by it – I am – but because I already know that. How many times do I have to be told and made to feel guilty?
Same with the Maori. I hear Maori talking about how they were burnt out of the Orakei marae in 1951 and so on. Big deal. What are we doing about it? Well, we’ve fixed it, actually. So what are you going to tell your children? It’s part of their history. It’s not baggage and it’s not an anchor. It’s part of their folklore.
What’s Helen like?
A very complex person, a very, very complex person. And she’s been made complex by the range of sector groups she’s been made to engage with and occasionally confront. But she’s no good with emotions. She goes to pieces. She’ll fold on the emotional side and walk away or not turn up. She knows it’s going to get emotional and it upsets her.
We’ve never had a great relationship. I said to her, ‘look, I don’t give a f**k about the unions. You’ve got enough of those. My job is to bloody talk to kiwi males who are feeling out in the cold over the whole thing and also to stand up against some of the PC bulls**t.
And that’s why I said to Chris Carter, ‘I’m standing against that bloody civil union bill mate because you’ve already had enough! I voted for one piece of social engineering and now you’re f**king coming back for another! Those two queers never got it right. I said you can have one, Civil Unions or Prostitution, make up your mind. And so I gave in on Prostitution. And then he comes up to me and harangues me, because he wants to be the first get married on April 1, the tosser, and he says to me ‘but you’re a minority John, you understand’, and I was thinking about it over the morning tea after cabinet, and I went up to him after and said ‘look, if you threaten me again - you’re looking at the face that’ll run hard against you on civil unions.’
I’ve got a right to think that sex with another male is unhealthy and violating. I’ve got a right to think that.
Why are these policies so popular on the ninth floor?
Because Helen has been brutalized by people who have called her lesbian, no children and all the rest of it. Her key advisor Heather Simpson is a butch, and a lot of her support systems are, Maryann Street and so on, and she’s very comfortable in that world and comfortable with it. I’m not.
And so that’s why it’s got strong legs. And when you go down through that building [the Beehive] it is infiltrated with it, in key policy and decision making processes and the upper echelons of the ministries, and it skews things, it is an unhealthy weighting, because even if you give a policy directive they’ll skew the policy underneath you.
You wake up and think, ‘am I wrong thinking this way?’
But that’s when they’ve got you. They’re trying to make men think and act like them, but I’m not one of them. In my view this is a circuit breaker because you can actually rally numbers. That group of women has only one worldview, and men have to organize themselves to deal with that, and start winning the debates. Men can actually reassert a position. It’s about social conduct and performance. It’s about good father role models. It is about societal mores that will achieve that, not the police.
You’ve often been tipped as potential leadership material for the party, but is there a Labour Party you could be leader of?
That’s a difficult question to answer in light of a number of internal environmental issues in the way. I could be a real pain in the ass to them on this one. Is that enough leverage to say ‘yes’? I don’t know.
Out of 51 in the caucus, 10 would back me to the hilt, another 15 say they would, but who knows? But that’s a solid block in any caucus.
What I’d do is promote Maharey immediately, make him wear all the bulls**t that’ll come out. He deserves it, him and his mob. Because we’ll be in power ten to fifteen years. I couldn’t possibly sit there and defend a number of things they’ve done, and we’re yet to see the full fruits of that.
And some of the chickens coming home to roost would be?
The number of do-gooders who are paid extremely well in government. We’ve got 180,000 fewer unemployed, but a bigger bureaucracy than when we did!
What the hell is going on here?
We’ve got a range of poor incentives. We say to people ‘you stay in a state house at 25% gross’, and we’re teaching them to be crooks. There might be four income earners in there – we’ll never know it.
And instead of trading up and moving on, we’re encouraging them to stay in there.
One third of kiwi families don’t have a male in them. That’s not good. But we got a document printed – cost me $50,000 to get a document telling me what you and I already know – that tells us all the young males need and are desperately craving for is a male role model who’ll acknowledge them, acknowledge where they’re at and be supportive of them, which is what a normal father does. And if the father’s not there we’ve got to find a male role model somewhere else. And we can’t get them in primary schools, because we’re all ‘molestors’, all ‘rapists’, or ‘potentially’ we’re going to do it. So we’ve got to shift that attitude and provide scholarships to encourage men back into the education system.
Men’s problems are traditionally dealt with by the criminal justice system. Women, on the other hand, get a bloody Cartwright Inquiry and get millions of dollars thrown at their breasts and cervixes. Men get nothing.
You need a debate that we can tackle unfair and stupid policy with.
INVESTIGATE: Let’s get some photographs –
TAMIHERE: Are we ready?
From the magazine's perspective, we'd like to confirm that Investigate made a direct request to John Tamihere for an interview prior to Easter as we wanted to profile the MP in the magazine. His response was an enthusiastic 'yes'.
The interview was conducted at an Auckland cafe, and no request was made by either party for it to be off-the-record.
As an ethical rule within the media, all interviews with journalists - taped or untaped - are to be regarded as "on the record" unless specifically and explicitly stated otherwise.
After the interview, Tamihere posed for cover shots for the magazine's cover.
More details can be read at Scoop