Dr Clark & Mr Woodhouse Interview Transcript


22 February 2012

C = Critic | D = David Clark | M = Michael Woodhouse

Callum: Can we start off with both of you having a bit of a chat about your time at Otago? What you studied, where you flatted, did you go to halls, etc.

David: I came here at the start of the nineties, 1991, and I think you were a year before that, were you Michael?

Michael: I was that year, yeah.

D - Yeah. I lived at Selwyn College for the first two years of my time at university. I had a great time, made some great friends and later worked there on staff, before returning many, many years later to be warden there. I flatted at various locations, including up in Opoho and up North East Valley and Crown Street, and generally had a good time. I spent a long time as a student and enjoyed every minute of it.

M - My first university experience wasnít actually as a student; I worked for the National Bank before I left school, and I flatted, actually, in a Ė well, it was a student flat, but itís where the National Bank is now Ė here on the corner of campus. The Star newspaper that year, which was about í86 or something, did an article on the dilapidated state of student housing, and on the front page they put a big photo of our flat on the headline article, and we werenít even students.

I was a late starter at university, I didnít get here until í91, and I was about 24 or 25 by then. I flatted off campus, I was in Caversham just above Carisbrook, so I didnít experience hostel life when I was in Dunedin, except I had been to Helensburgh House, which doesnít exist now, but it was up at Wakari Hospital. It was a fairly interesting hostel.

D - I remember eating there, did you Ė

M - Yeah I did eat, I ate there a few times.

D - I had some potatoes; they hadnít been mashed very well and hadnít been reheated very well either.

M - I donít think itís what youíd call one of the greatest hostels in the world, but ah, we had some brilliant parties in the basement down there, just reallyÖ quite loose parties. So yeah, I kind of got a little of the flavour of hostel life.

C - So was that some kind of a student hall that was shut down later, or something?

D - It transferred, I think, to Hayward.

M - Yeah, it did.

D - Just the basic management, because the hospital wanted it back.

M And so I think they traded off by giving them Hayward, which is where I was born, by the way. On the second floor of Hayward, I think. It was Queen Mary Hospital, of course.

D - They had hospitals back then?

M - They did, yes, thank you!

C - Well the next thing I was going to ask is would you each be able to provide, for the Critic readers, one incident of student wackiness that occurred during your student years?

M - Ah, we may be one of the reasons that skyrockets are no longer legal. It was at one of the parties on Clyde Street, just opposite where the Commerce building is now. It descended into a little bit of aÖ You get your vacuum cleaner pipe, and your skyrocket, and your insert the skyrocket so it becomes a horizontal bazooka. This went on for hours, actually, until the fire brigade was eventually called, and I think that was the last year skyrockets were ever legal in this country, soÖ

C - Coincidence?

M - Oh, pure coincidence, yeah.

D - I saw this on your list of questions, and the thought that immediately sprang to mind, and I donít know whether this is a good one to share or not, was I remember being countrified in my first year, which was back before things were quite as sensibly regulated as they are today, which involved a mate of mine and I had been throwing buckets of water at each other in a corridor or something, which was deemed to be inappropriate in a hostel setting and detrimental to the furnishings and fixtures. We were blindfolded and left in our long johns in the middle of a forest, with an axe in our hands, and had to find our way back to the college. We actually did quite well, a ute came past, and we actually beat the people who dropped us off there back to the college and were able to exact our revenge before they returned. The story after there gets more grim, but those were the kind ofÖ they were interesting times.

M - Itís a bit of a risk to hand the person youíre trying to punish an axe.

D - Yes!

M - Trusting of the punisher, I suppose.

C - A sense of fair play, maybe.

D - They thought we would struggle to hitchhike back into town in the possession of an axe and in our underwear.

C - Well, our readers love this stuff; do you have any other wacky stories?

M - How long have we got? We could go all day, all the memories are flooding back. I was an accountant. I studied accounting and I hated lectures, particularly in year one, so Iíd drop my own lectures and go to the law lectures. I never wanted to be a lawyer, but I loved the lectures. And that was Henaghan who was in his first year at Otago - maybe his second year. Itís interesting to see that heís still teaching the first years and now heís Dean of Faculty.

D - I did my first degree in afternoon lectures, it was my particular flavour, and one of the main reasons I ended up majoring in German. I think in your first degree, your priorities are slightly different, and you become more focused as you go along. As I say, I just focused on the afternoon lectures to start off with.

M - It had been seven years since Iíd been at school, and my first ever lecture was Statistics. They give you these handouts, and it might as well have been German. I had no idea what I was looking at, and all these 7th formers who had just come from school were leaving to come back in a few weeks when it got a bit harder. Iím terrible; I didnít even know what an integer was, but a very sensible person said to me, ďah well, one lecture at a timeĒ. Managed to master it, and actually that the paper Iím most proud of. I think it was a B-, but Iíd felt so dumb, and finally got it. I guess thatís what universityís all about.

D - I remember doing Jim Flynnís first year politics Ė Does he still offer that?

M - I knocked on Jimís door during the campaign! Didnít secure a vote, though.

D - Iíd have taken my hat off if you could secure his vote. I remember doing it, and my younger brother tutored me, because he was reasonably bright and had done some politics and philosophy before. I beat him by a whole grade, I think it was, and I swear it was because the marker couldnít read his handwriting. It was very satisfying. Itís always good to beat oneís younger brother.

C - Beat him into Parliament as well!

M - Youíre not twins, are you?

D - No, heís three years younger.

M - So he stood in North Shore?

D - Yes.

C - All right, thatís good material. Iíve got a question for you, David: Have you got any stories from your time as Warden of Selwyn?

D - I have lots of stories, but itís probably too soon to tell them!

M -Good answer.

D - I think if I held on to some of the letters of apology, they might make interesting pieces in twenty yearsí time, but theyíll have to be judiciously chosen.

M - Youíve got a question about Knox there. I must say, some of the students I spoke to thought you were a bit of a wowser when you were at Selwyn. Now Iím seeing all of that in a slightly different light; now that Iím hearing about some of the risks of the more dysfunctional elements that can occur in hostel life. Did you get a sense that you needed to keep a fine line between giving the residents a decent experience without promoting alcohol abuse?

D - I think the science around alcohol is a whole lot more advanced than it used to be, and we kind of knew it probably wasnít that good for us; now thereís sound evidence of what it does to your brain and so on, and thatís developing all the time, so I think we have a responsibility to make sure we take that science seriously, and not in the kinds of ways we organise ourselves and promote our student communities. At the same time, students are of legal age and choose to drink. Itís just about making sure they have appropriate pastoral care and access to good support as and when they make mistakes.

C - Youíve touched on two of the questions I was going to go for. Youíre both aware of the changes to Knox College, what are your thoughts?

D - Thereís a lot of talk in the media about traditions, and I think it would be a shame if good traditions were lost, but every now and then itís a good time to do a stock-take of your traditions and heritage. There comes a time when traditions lose their meaning and become dead traditions. If you know why youíre doing them and theyíre about building good communities and bonding; if they have a purpose and articulate that, then you should keep them. Each community has a time to have a good, hard think about that, and thatís whatís going on at Knox right now.

M - I donít have much of an experience with hostel life, so itís really hard for me to speak with much authority, but what I do think is that a lot of what people call tradition, particularly around alcohol culture, isnít tradition. Itís just stuff thatís sprouted up in their memory, or slightly longer than their memory, and that doesnít necessarily make it a tradition. The Hyde Street keg party was never around before the nineties. Even the toga party, when I was here in the eighties, was very much contained within the Union building, and itís grown as a tradition. Even couch burning! I mean, that was around, but getting really trollied and setting fire to a couch to me isnít a tradition, itís just a dumb thing to do. Theyíve got to be careful at Knox that they donít throw the baby out with the bath water; there are things that have been around for hundreds of years: The nomenclature andÖ Who cares if youíre called a fresher? Youíre a fresher, people know what that means, and I donít think thereís any real value in chopping them out. But, you know, theyíve got a process to go through, and Iíll watch with interest.

D - I think new traditions can develop, and I guess I agree with Michael that burning couches when trollied is not that clever. At the same time, things like the Hyde Street partyÖ Another way of looking at that is saying that itís possible to re-frame that; that could be done differently. You have carnivals in different places. It depends where the emphasis lies, and whether youíre making a positive change and taking ownership of it, and whether itís intended to be a good thing.

M - I agree with that, but I do also think that sometimes you need a circuit breaker, and the Undie-500 is one of those examples where you actually needed to cut it out for a couple of years, because it seemed that every year was trying to outdo the year before, making it bigger and more public and more drunk. So now the City Councilís just moved the liquor ban further north. Frankly, I support it, but I donít think itís going to change a lot. Youíre still allowed to sit in your back yard and have a few beers, crank up the BBQ. The Hyde Street keg party could still carry on. The question is, then Ė because they still need the Councilís permission to close the street Ė and if the Council really wanted to be bastards, thatís what theyíd do. The alcohol ban isnít going to affect whether or not the keg party goes ahead, it might affect how itís run. Action taken there might be a moderating force, and dampen down some of the more dysfunctional aspects of that day. But at the end of the day, itís just a big piss-up. Thereís very little else to be said about it.

D - The things that will make a real difference, and letís not kid ourselves that this is just Dunedin student problem, our wider society has an alcohol problem, and there are things that can be done to address that. The Royal Commission made a report, which said really clearly that the clearest way to address it was the price and advertising. Distribution was the next item on the list. Now, as far as I understand, thereís still legislation thatís trickling along through the House, does make amendments to distribution, which I commend, but doesnít address the price and advertising, or address the wider cultural issue we have as a society, and my challenge would be to Michael to really push that, because if we do want to make a positive difference across our society then we do need to make note of those leaders that will make a difference, otherwise those students will just end up being scapegoats for something thatís actually a wider cultural problem.

M - Price actually has two dimensions: One is the market setting a price, and there seems to be this myth that people involved in the distribution of alcohol want to sell their product as cheaply as possible. That is a diminishing market. By volume, we are drinking less, not more.

D - Those that are drinking, are drinking more.

M - Thatís a slightly different issue. But itís not as if the market is unfettered, and as long as you keep it cheap enough, volume will take care of your profits; these guys actually want to make money. And this whole myth about Countdown using alcohol as loss leader, itís nonsense. Loss-leading is when you sell your Portobello mushrooms for $3.99 a kilo, itís not when you sell alcohol at below cost, because people, particularly this week, will be coming in with trolleys, filling them with alcohol, buying nothing else and then leaving. Theyíre not going to allow that to occur unless thereís a profit in it.

D - Do you think a minimum price on alcohol would address some of the issues?

M - Well, I donít support a minimum price, but what I do support, and the Ministry of Justice are still having a look at this, but it doesnít appear as if the dominance of the supermarkets, a situation created under the previous Labour government, albeit that it was the Commerce commission that approved the purchase of Woolworth by Progressive. If we had three supermarket chains in this country, I think life would be a lot different. But these guys are so dominant theyíre forcing price constraint on providers. So the Ministry is looking at putting that as a point of sale, in the same way that GST is, so there is truly an effect on the price rather than dampening down the margin. That could have an effect.

D - So less price, but just doing it through tax.

M - Well, I donít think you put price controls on products any more than you Ė

D - No, no, I agree with you, I think thatís the right way to do it.

M - Minimum prices donít work. Weíve had them in the past. It was the Muldoon government, which is one of the strongest socialist governments weíve had in this country, actually, and it didnít work.

C - For the purposes of publication, can I just ask both of you to summarise what governmental changes about alcohol youíd like to see? So David, youíd like a minimum price, is it $2 per standard drink?

D - Well, Iíd like to see these issues taken seriously, I havenít looked at the numbers and what makes that difference, all I know is that those are the strong levers to pull. There is a price effect in there, whether itís through excise as Michael suggests or some other means, say, restrictions around advertising. My area of expertise is not in marketing of alcohol, but those who did the research say those are the two areas where major changes could be made if the law was clearer. I also want to say that changes regarding distribution, like the governmentís proposing, go some small way towards it, but itís a change that those bigger leaders have put off the table, because thatís whatíd make the real, serious changes. And as I say otherwise, students end up being scapegoats when itís a societal problem.

M - Yeah, I think the young are feeling a bit put upon in that regard. I still havenít decided how those returns to age of purchase, but Iím probably leaning toward a split age. Itís one of those areas where you can legislate all you like, but you canít legislate attitudes, so if weíre to make a meaningful change away from a binge-drinking culture, particularly among our young, then the lawís not going to do that. Places like the University can actually have more influence in the short run than the law change will; its messages about safe drinking and support for the keg partyÖ if we canít agree that getting really pissed, and throwing up and falling down is not cool, then no amount of law change in Wellington is going to change that.

D - I think most people understand that, and we have to take evidence seriously. The Royal Commissionís report was pretty clear, and people still have freedom to choose, but we take the sensible sets of regulation Ė and the unfettered free market probably isnít selling its promise that-

M - Itís far from unfettered, thereís quite a lot of fetter in the system already, and itís worth pointing out that the last time this was done was done by a National government, and ten years of Labour government did nothing about the sale of liquor. Itís all very well to get all pious now Ė but it did do one thing, it precipitated the Law commissionís report after the Indian liquor store owner in South Auckland was shot by robbers. Then the National government asked the Law commission to speed up the process of feedback.

D - Youíve got to be a bit careful about blaming everything on us, itís some time ago now and itís certainly before half-time.

M - I used that as a shield, not a sword, because itís not me thatís standing here saying the governmentís not doing enough. I think the response is a balanced one, recognizing that we took eighty years to get to the situation weíre in; weíre not going to solve it with one law change. And 126 of 152 recommendations I think is a bloody good start.

D - I think ruling out two of the big levers is a very disappointing start.

M - Thatís a value judgement that I donít agree with, and I think there are plenty of big levers in there that have the potential to moderate behaviour.

D - What are the other big levers?

M - Well, I think the aspect of parental responsibility is a very important one, because we can talk about the age of purchase all we like, the fact is that people that are drinking underage, which is not illegal, three-quarters of these people obtain their alcohol from their parents. The simple fact is now that if my teenage daughter wants to bring her netball team around for a few drinks, I need the complied or express permission of the parents of those participants, and itís on my neck if the shit hits the fan. I think thatís going to have a significant moderating influence on the way in which young people drink. The power of the community to choose the nature, number and opening times of the liquor outlets is a significant lever, unless councils donít want to take it. In Dunedin we have the second most liberal hours of drinking in the country, and youíve really got to ask yourself whether the bars need to be open until five in the morning. The council has the power to change that. These are quite powerful levers to be pulled. The governmentís having its ass kicked by the anti-alcohol lobby for things that I think are still quite reformative.

C - With regard to the proposed liquor ban in North Dunedin streets, are you both in support of that?

D - Juryís out for me. I want to look at the evidence, but it really is those big levers that Iíve mentioned that affect wider behaviours, so doing a student liquor ban may have unintended consequences. It might push some of the behaviours out of the student zone and into the communities close by, so Iím cautious about it.

M - Iím relaxed about it. The cityís got to decide the kind of city it wants, and the alcohol ban has worked in the CBD, and I donít think itís going to be a significant constraining factor on student life, so Iím more than comfortable with it.

D - Itís interesting to hear what the OUSA say, because theyíve taken a very responsible line on alcohol issues, and where they end up sitting will largely determine how students respond. They are concerned about people who are genuinely disruptive.

M - They are vocally and rabidly opposed and have 3000 signatures on a petition to go to the city council asking them to overturn it. Thatís a knee-jerk reaction. Coming back to comment you made before, David, I actually agree with you that there is a risk we could push student events into the margins of the campus and into parts of the community that didnít really want it inflicted upon them. Itís no good reason not to have the liquor ban, but I agree that it is a risk.

C - Speaking of Law Commission reports Ė Iím trying to segue into a new topic, the Law Commission, a couple of years ago, released a recommendation that the government look at liberalising some drugs, and as you know, a lot of students are really pro-liberalisation of drugs; what are your thoughts?

M - I would oppose it. Iím aware of the health issues, Iíve spent fifteen years in the health sector, and I think that the difference between alcohol and drugs is that thereís nothing good about drugs, and the wowsing researchers say thereís some academic literature that says alcohol has no harm and may have health benefits, when used in moderation. Cigarettes and marijuana and other narcotics donít fall into that category. I donít believe in overly punishing those who are addicted; Iím all in favour of punishing the dealer, and have no problems with strengthening the laws to crack down on dealing.

D - Iíd like us to take a hard look at things. I think the laws would be different if we started from scratch. Itís true, that research has been done in the UK, that some drugs currently classified pretty highly do less harm than others that we have a very liberal attitude toward.

M - Youíre talking about alcohol.

D - Yeah. What would be good to do is scientific research; statistics show the amount of violence that results from alcohol, and that doesnít necessarily correlate with some other drugs. Yet some drugs are really nasty, too, so on that I would support legislation that is more based on harms than on current practices.

C - If there were a bill before Parliament to decriminalize marijuana, would you be in support of that bill?

D - As I understand, the law currently allows people to have small amounts for their own use, and theyíre not punished, is that right?

C - I think the police tend to not enforce it.

M - Thatís not written in the statute, so any amount of marijuana is illegal. It may be constabulary discretion.

D - Well, Iím in favour of that discretion. I think if people have a small amount for their own use and do not share it with others, then thatís less harmful than some other things that we otherwise currently have or do.

C - Would you support a bill that decriminalized it for personal use?

D - Most likely, yes. Iíd like to look at research about harms, and the trade off is saying other drugs are more harmful and we should be more careful about them. We should do things more equitably and more evidence-based.

C - I have a hypothetical question for you both. In a hypothetical society, which society would you prefer: One where everyone earns $50,000 per year; or one where half the people earn $70,000 and the other half earns $300,000?

D - It depends entirely, in my view, on the other conditions of the society. Whether the healthcare, education services and other public services are available-

C - It stays the same.

D - And there was social mobility between the two income brackets? So these are weighted averages rather than absolutes? Because otherwise weíre talking about absolutes, and youíve got two classes in the society.

M - All other things being equal, I think is the question.

D - All other things being equal, then of course youíd want the one where there are greater resources and were able to share them.

M Ė Hang on, he didnít talk about tax rates or redistribution. He just said income.

DC Ė It would be a mistake to think pure income was the measure of society. Entrenching class structures where you have two elements of wealth, either very wealthy or not very wealthy, are not healthy. So in general youíd say the wealthy society of course, providing that society took care to ensure that even those of modest means had access to good and free education, health services and ACC and all those things that mean everyone gets to live in dignity and reach their full potential.

MW Ė Which is an answer I would suggest reflects the confusion the left has around the issue of income inequality. Itís a really straightforward question, with a really straightforward answer. Either you agree with the proposition that as long as youíre better off, itís okay for other people to be even more better off in society, all other things being equal. I personally think the question is mootÖ

The question was about income inequality. All other things being equal, would a society where everybody is better off but there is greater income inequality be a better society than one where everyone is equally impoverished? Iím going to quote my new colleague Dr Jian Yang who grew up in china. And in his maiden speech said by 1968 when he was 6 years old, china under Mao Zedong had reached its utopia. Everyone was equally impoverished, and on his tenth birthday his present was two eggs for breakfast. So we can go to the statistics that David loves quoting and say that according to your argument, we would be better off living in Afghanistan or the Czech republic than we would be in NZ and I simply reject that proposition. Whatís important is the issue of social mobility. So fair pay for work. And some could argue that we donít have that in some scales which is why the previous Labour govt sought to compensate through working for families

D Ė Which national called communism by stealth...

M Ė Well it was in the form initially introduced into the houseÖ this was very open socialism and wealth redistribution. Itís very difficult to unring the bell. But while you redistribute wealth to the degree that we doÖ

D Ė There are countries like the Nordic countries that have relative income equality and they are very good and health societies, people live longer, they have high levels of satisfaction. And we have other countries that have high income disparities. In the Nordic countries thereís redistribution that allows higher social mobility, which actually encourages higher productivity because those from modest households are not excluded from gaining their potential through access to education and so on, which are barriers to people from poor backgrounds in this country. Some of them do well, but a lot of them donít.

Redistribution and provision of opportunity so that people can develop their full talents is a really important part of the picture. There is a much wider picture than just the pure levels of incomeÖ

M Ė If I had a dollar for every time someone on the left mentioned a Nordic country Iíd be a very very wealthy person. Of course Iíd have to pay quite a bit of tax on that wealth, but thatís okay. And the biggest problem with that is if you take a country like Norway, which is one of the richest countries in the world, they have two very significant factors that we donít. One is they exploit their natural resources like we have never done, despite being one of the richest natural resource countries in the world. They drill for oil, they drill for rare earth metals, they extract (safely) all of the things that we have but that weíve become afraid to touch. And weíre afraid to touch them because Labour are afraid of the greens. So we will watch with interest that discourse unfold over time.

I think it has a lot to do with the rhetoric thatís coming out of Labour at the moment, because theyíre afraid of actually saying if we want to increase our wealth, if we want to have a better society, if we want to pay for the public servicesÖ

D Ė Tell us what national party policy is

M Ė It is to extract and exploit our natural resources safely and responsibly in order to provide for a better country. Itís pretty simple, thatís what Norwayís been doing since the war. The other thing those Nordic countries have which I think is very relevant is they have one of the purest populations in the world in respect of that they are not a cosmopolitan country. And I think that does make a big difference. We are a pacific nation, with nearly every single country in the world represented, al lot of them are struggling in this generation, the last two generations, to pick up the skills that are required for a modern economy, and thatís an issue we need to start talking about. Now we had that in the 1970s with Samoa mainly, and the 2nd generation Samoans are very very productive kiwis. But letís not pretend Norway and NZ are the same populations, itís ridiculous.

D Ė They do very well in Silicon Valley, itís a less homogeneous population but theyíve built a type of cosmopolitanism that people buy into, and I think thatís what we as a country ought to do better. I agree with Michael that thereís a high correlation between relatively homogenous populations and economic growth ratesÖ

that is one good reason why we should be as a country looking to have high levels of education and access to education for the whole population, that means better funding for tertiary education, and I would note that thatís something national has cut, funding for tertiary education, thatís something students should be taking note of. Access to loans has become more difficult, student allowances are worth less in real terms, national have introduced an administration fee on student loans, all of those things actually matter in terms of the type of society we shape and the social mobility we make sure people have access to. Social mobility is important to ensure every citizen has the opportunity to make their best contribution. What we have here is a prime minister whoís more and more out of touch with ordinary NZers, and our societyís getting to the point where itís just beginning to defend the privileges of the wealthy, and making those things like tertiary education only accessible to those from wealthy backgrounds, and thatís not the way it should be.

M Ė I will accept that some cuts were made to some tertiary education courses, because we donít really believe you should continue to fund dead people or people who donít even bother to turn up to their courses, or the number of ITOs which was really where the problem was. Those were the only cuts that were made to tertiary education.

D Ė Youíre being disingenuous; those are not the ones I was referring to. Steven Joyce has admitted there were cuts.

M Ė He put it in to the legitimate tertiary institutes, he set an expectation that people should come out the other end with something, and when they donít, they need to be cut.

D Ė Over the next five years, things are going to get tighter for the tertiary sector.

M Ė You know what, thatís okay, Iíll buy that, because we still have one of the highest proportions of funding for tertiary education in the OECD. Student allowances went down dramatically in real terms under the Labour govt. they gave student allowances to the really poor and the really rich because nobody did anything about farmers and the wealthyÖ and we havenít done anything yet, but at least we have announced that weíre going to close those loopholes so the people who get student allowances are the people who deserve it, not people who manage to structure their affairs in a way where they can get them and people earning $60,000 a year canít. So thereís a hell of a lot going on in tertiary education, and thatís really good news. Because there are more bums on seats in our tertiary institutions than ever before.

D Ė I believe that as a proportion of the population the numbers are dropping. The principle though is that we should be investing in our future, (M Ė I will never disagree with you on that), we should be funding our tertiary institutions properly, and that funding is dropping over time, itís set to drop further, and that shows the difference in priorities between what a Labour govt would do and what national will do.

They have said very clearly in our last policy, in real terms, funding would increase over time.

C Ė Whatís the progress of that student allowance change Michael?

D Ė One thing thatís proposed is that the student loan repayment holiday of 3 years be cut back to 1 year when people are travelling overseasÖ

M Ė isnít that fantastic? Weíre gonna ask people who donít live in this country to repay their loans, and they never were before. Weíve got tens of millions of dollars in the last 6 or 8 months since that policy came in from people who werenít expecting to have to repay their loans.

D Ė itís a waste of parliamentary time.

C Ė Run down scarfie flats Ė part of the fun of living in Dunedin, or would students be better off paying slightly more for a better flat?

D Ė I remember in my first scarfie flat in Crown Street in north east valley, it was one of those flats where if you couldnít see your breath in the morning when you woke up then you knew you were dead. There must have been some insulation because it was genuinely colder on the inside than the outside. There is some fun in that, thereís some anecdotes in that that are good and some memories that are positive, but ultimately thereís plenty of research that says there are preventable health conditions that result from living in damp cold flats. And there are things that could be done such as minimum standards that could be put in place, a star rating system that gets handed on with land titles that I would like to see. And maybe one day when Iím finished passing my current members bill Iíll draft another one, because it is an issue that desperately needs to be addressed, we have some really poor quality flats here. And the other thing that has happened here is that ECA had some good programs around this, I believe those programs have been cut, they should conversely be ramped up because the public health prevention stuff, prevention is better than cure, itís much less expensive than cure. Preventable health conditions cost the country, they have huge personal effects on people who suffer preventable disease as a consequence. Dunedin can and should do better.

C Ė If you did put in a minimum standards regime, you wouldn't be able to get the cheap $85 per week student flats any more, there would be a minimum price of $100Ö

D Ė Thereís no such thing as a free lunchÖ but arguably the country could save money in the health system by investing in student flats, so in this funny sense there is a free lunch. And if the govt was willing to invest in supporting a wider spread of housing initiatives, itís possible that you actually save health dollars overall. There needs to be more proactivity in this area, and I would encourage the govt to do that.

M Ė It is true to say that no govt of any hue has poured as much money into home insulation as this one has. The greens have taken the credit for thatÖ

There is an issue with the willingness of landlords to take up the warm up NZ program and there isnít a clear cost benefit that theyíre seeing, and I want to make sure that landlords that are being proactive and insulating their flats are rewarded, both with demand for their stock and perhaps a higher weekly rent. But the question for Dunedin north is to make sure there is sufficient housing stock to enable students to have a choice. Weíre constantly under pressure for student flats down this end of town, itís eased a little over the last few years, largely because students are feeling less compelled to live from Frederick street down to the gardens, and youíre seeing a lot of people moving up into the town belt and the city rise area, even out to south Dunedin. There will always be an element of people thinking itís cool to have ice on the inside of their windows, I guess Iím getting old because Iím not one of themÖ

D Ė The current govt has been very careful to repackage existing funding as new funding by cutting programs that it doesnít like and then rebranding them and reissuing them as new programs, so I urge some caution around those numbers. Iím concerned that the program has stopped because home insulation is important, and more could be done.

M Ė Housingís a big issue, nationally, not just for studentsÖ

D - I genuinely think thereís public health benefits to spending in that area.

M Ė Well they wonít save us any money. This is the myth of public healthÖ while it still might be the right thing to do, donít ever expect it to save money.

C Ė Favourite beers?

Both Ė Emersonís pilsner.

C Ė Rugby or cricket?

D Ė Cycling.
M Ė Rugby

C Ė What projects as MPs are you both working on at the moment?

D Ė My mondayising bill is taking a fair amount of timeÖ

M Ė Haha, you jammy [lucky] bastard! Itís very tinny this game, and Davidís been fortunate I suppose, but thatís just the luck of the draw.

D Ė I have had the luck of the draw. Itís a bill that I chose to pick up, grant Robertson drafted the original bill, when it needed a sponsor I thought right I believe this is a sensible thing to do, it corrects an anomaly that only happens 2 out of every 7 years when we get fewer than the allocated 11 public holidays. Itís a bill that makes sure people get the holiday they deserve.

M Ė Iíve got two bills in the ballot; the one in my name is to increase the amount of financial support for live organ donation. The previous govt put in place policies which provide for the equivalent of the sickness benefit for 12 weeks after surgery if someone donated a kidney to a loved one. And Iím proposing to increase the level of that support to the same as ACC, so 80% of your wage for 12 weeks after surgery.

The other one is just a minor technical amendment to the land transport act which means that if you give an evidential breath test on the side of the road then you elect to have blood drawn and for any reason the medical professional canít draw blood, at the moment the door is closed to going back to reliance on the breath test, so basically they get off the hook. So basically Iím reopening that door.

Iím also working on some stuff around fines for theft of wildlifeÖ Iím also looking at 4 or 5 other billsÖ

D Ė Most of my work is actually around revenue, developing a fairer tax system. Labour proposed a capital gains tax last time round as a way of broadening the tax base. So you can potentially have lower tax rates but have a fairer system so that moneyís directed towards the productive economy. And my job is to have a good hard look at those policies and also other potential revenue sources. At the moment some people are able to hide their wealth in capital and avoid paying tax. And with the increase in GST itís becoming increasingly difficult for people on low incomes to make ends meet. And so there is a pressing need to have a good look at our tax policy.

Iím also associate tertiary spokesperson, and that means Iím getting around the university and others around the country to understand what things they would like to ensure weíre investing money in the right places and to make sure students and staff get the best possible outcomes for our country as a whole.

M Ė The thing that dominates my world at the moment is the fact that Iím senior govt whip, so I have 58 colleagues that I need to make sure are in the right place at the right time for the right reason and voting in the right wayÖ

D Ė with their conscience! Shouldnít be hard to convince them to do that surely?

M Ė Absolutely. Thatís called collective caucus responsibility which youíll come to know very well. While the govt in this term of parliament has fewer moving parts, that presents a challenge when the practical elements of making sure weíve got numbers on select committees.

C Ė With regards to tertiary education spending, are you both aware of the uniís new SLA with OUSA? What are your thoughts?

M Ė OUSA needs to be very careful what it wishes for, not to sell down its sovereignty for a buck. I also think it was a kneejerk reaction born out of a belief that students were too stupid to decide what was valuable to them. And Iím not even sure if itís legal, because Iím pretty sure we passed some legislation last year which limited the amount of influence the council could have over the add-ons they could charge students.

D Ė Labour obviously opposed VSM last year. We think that there could have been tweaks made to the legislation that would have given students the autonomy to make their own decisions, we think that students are old enough and mature enough to set their own governance arrangements and have their own organizations on campus. The govt obviously disagreed, but that said, I think that OUSA is a well-organised association and they will actually make the best out of this, they are set to be a model for the country in many ways as to how the current situation can be made to work best for students and I have every faith that they will make a good fist of this.

M Ė At the end of the day, both David and I want the same for Dunedin, weíre going to disagree sometimes quite strongly about the path to that destination, but it behooves us actually to work quite closely together on some of those local issues, and we will over time Iím sure. So we can go hammer and tongs if we want, but actually I donít think weíre that far apart on a lot of things.

D Ė I agree with Michael, thereíll be some fundamental differences that we have about things, but a lot of them are around the way to get to solutions. And Iíd like to think that what Iím doing is evidence based and what heís trying to do is ideology, but he might beg to differ on that.

M Ė I agree exactly in quite the opposite way, but the fact of the matter is politics is part ideology part evidence part public perception and public clamouring. And somewhere in amongst all of that you turn your hand at an outcome, things that you believe is the best thing to do. And generally you please nobody, but thatís the game.

D Ė Iím getting into politics because I have a set of values and a certain range of principles that I believe represent a constituency and that I believe I can represent well. Those values around equality of opportunity and valuing the least amongst us, making sure the most vulnerable are looked after, and about access to education, health, legal representation regardless of your material wealth are values that I think need to be represented strongly, so I make no apologies for coming from that particular point of principle. And in my experience those from across the political spectrum are there because they think theyíve got a contribution to make, and theyíre there for the right reasons.

M Ė And just to reinforce that, there isnít a thing that David just said that I would disagree with. Weíre gonna go hammer and tongs on the details but the destinationís a shared place. In NZ thatís as good as it can be, citizens who are able to fulfill their potential, be socially mobile, and not have unnecessary interference from the state. And even David would agree with that, itís just a question of where on the spectrum that degree of intervention should go.

This article first appeared in Issue 1, 2012.
Posted 3:10pm Monday 27th February 2012 by Callum Fredric.