Critic tackles election year | Issue 11

Critic tackles election year | Issue 11

The messiah of the right

Otago welcomed an unlikely guest the week before last: Colin Craig, leader of the Conservative Party. His visit was a flurry of interviews, including a much-anticipated appearance on Vote Chat, and I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time with the thoroughly intriguing man. Social conservatism doesnít tend to be the name of the game for students in Otago, and Craig has often appeared in the media for ridiculous statements; for that, I wasnít entirely sure what to expect. As it turns out, heís actually extremely personable, was very interested in the general mechanics of Critic, and willing to answer whatever I threw at him Ė including a ďshoot, shag, marry.Ē We chatted for nearly half an hour, so this page features the best bits of the interview. The rest can be found at critic.co.nz/colin.

While weíre on record ... I want to be guaranteed that youíre not going to sue us for defamation.
No, thatís fine. Thatíll be a no.

This is a university, we have a lot of students, and Iíve scoured through your website, and I canít really find much on tertiary education. So I was wondering if you could just lay out for me where you sit on student loans and allowances in the tertiary sphere?
The reason we havenít put our policy out on it is weíre still fine-tuning a couple of the points. We will have a tertiary policy for the election. Weíve made some public comments already, so a couple of the key things weíve said: first of all, weíve said that a system that sees the student get indebted, the government get indebted, and the university get indebted, clearly isnít sustainable in the long term, and thatís the system that we currently have. And there are a couple of reasons for that. One of the reasons that I see as a problem is weíve taken a very broad approach to universities now, whereby we fund bottoms on seats, and we say this is all about getting the maximum number of people through.

Yeah. So what about in terms of loans and allowances? ĎCause thatís always a hotbed of discussion here.
Yeah, we donít think weíll be changing a lot in terms of the allowances side of things, but I think the problem weíve got is that the current system basically gets everyone indebted Ö So our goal, ultimately, is to find a way to make higher education fully funded, at least for some. And one of the routes this might work quite well is to, instead of making it a straight-after-school experience, bring education much closer to work, so that itís more of a continuing education, itís more of a process of Ö get[ting] a job and as part of that job, and as part of professional development, the education is a little more integrated to life experience.

Yeah. So youíd promote, perhaps, subsidies for students who have jobs while theyíre trying to learn and that sort of thing?
Yeah, thatís right, and working with employers and saying, look hey, if you upgrade your people, now theyíre in a field Ė I mean a classic discussion is around nursing, you put people through nursing degrees, and they realise they donít actually like nursing when they actually get out and do it. Far better would be to actually introduce people to the practice, get them practically underway, and then say, okay, now letís get your bachelorís degree around nursing.

The thing is, though, how are you supposed to get a job if youíre not qualified?
Well I think the thing is, you know, a university degree doesnít guarantee you a job. The current situation we have is there is not a big difference in New Zealand, and I think this is an important issue, between having a university education and not.

Today a youth-led organisation called Generation Zero have just released a policy report that says that theyíre calling for clean energy. In the past youíve been quoted on a few things regarding climate change, and I was just wondering if you stand by your argument that itís not human-caused?
Oh no, Iíve always said human activity does influence climate, but itís a minor influence. Not the major influence. The major influence, in my view, and far away the biggest influence on us, is our sun. I mean, itís the biggest influence on our climate, seasons, climate change and effect, because weíre a slightly different distance away from the sun. But I find the most productive thing is to say, letís tidy up and letís clean up our environment Ö And I would much prefer to spend time and energy on environmental issues where we deliver an absolute result that can make a difference in peopleís lives than to talk about an emissions trading scheme, which is very remote Ė [it] isnít changing anyoneís behaviour, actually. And I think until we get countries like America and China on board weíre dreaming if we think we can change the climate.

What about renewable energy? I mean, you talked about the sun, you know, if itís causing climate change, then it can also cause the energy Ö
I mean, look, the sunís a wonderful source of energy and I think looking at renewable sources of energy makes a lot of sense, and for us as a nation, most of our energy is hydro, which is a renewable source, and itís seasonal, and thatís one of the problems. Iím not a huge fan of wind generation because itís not economic, but I think some of the things we can do, basic things we can do, that make a lot of sense, are what if we took all of the water heaters in all of our houses in this country and changed them to heat transfer systems, which saves about three quarters of the energy in terms of heating homes. Now thatís a huge difference. And itís economically viable.

So if you could name a party in government that youíd closely align yourself with on the environmental standards?
There are some areas here where we could definitely work with the Greens, for example, we couldnít work with them on other areas, but when it comes to cleaning up New Zealandís rivers? Absolutely in the same space.

You said a couple of years ago that kids sent to school without lunch should go without, and regarding the talk recently with different policies and how our child poverty problem is going, do you stand by that?
I donít remember saying that, I know that weíve said itís the responsibility of parents, and we should be making the parents step up, and I certainly stand by that. And I think there are some good examples of it where if you ask and expect parents to do more, they will, but if you give them a free pass, if you say ĎĒyou know what, weíre going to provide lunch at school,Ē I believe many parents will make the choice not to supply lunch to their child.

People still live below the poverty line, though, and thereís no way to guarantee that any parent will be a good parent. You can introduce all these consequences, but there will always be people who slip through the cracks, so Iím just wondering how you can say ďno, we wonít support children getting lunch in schools Ďcause everyone will do it and thatís a bad thing.Ē
We want every child to have a lunch in school, but that process surely has to go back to the parent, and say to the parent ďyour child didnít have a lunch today, we had to feed your child, and so you now have less money in your dole or in your benefit, or if youíre not able to supply, then clearly you havenít taken advantage of the support we can give,Ē because the support in this country is generous.

So you think if people donít have the resources to feed their children then itís their fault for not taking the benefits?
Well if theyíre not taking advantage of the benefits that are there, then they may well struggle to get by. I accept that, I donít think the minimum wage in NZ is enough to get by on, and we know that because most people on the minimum wage have to get subsidised by the government, particularly if they have children, and so I think there are some issues around general affordability, and I donít think that the right answer is to actually build some enormous welfare state.

Weíre sort of starting to run out of time here, so Iím just going to move onto a few, you know, Critic-student-media questions. Whatís your favourite conspiracy? The moon landing?
No, no, see I donít Ö this is the thing, I donít answer conspiracy questions because I donít know them very well. But I think, and I wouldnít have a clue about it, but I think the whole JFK thing has a lot of mystery attached to it. I mean, everybody talks about it, I have no idea what the conspiracy is, but Iím sure it would be exciting.

One last question. This one you have to answer. Shoot, shag, marry: Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins, Metiria Turei.
And thatís a question?! Okay Ö Iím trying to look for some similarity between them but all Iím finding is a whole lot of differences. Um Ö okay, donít know Jacinda Ardern, but she and I have a few disagreements. Definitely not marry. Judith Collins? Errr, donít know. Metiria Turei? Time for celibacy. Have you got that down there as an option? Monkhood or whatever they call it.

You can only shoot one! Youíve got to marry one and shag the other.
Look, thatís such a tough question. I should consult my wife on this one. However, I will go with the following order: Iíll shoot Judith Collins Ďcause I think sheís tough enough to take it; um, shag, well, aw gee, nobody, Ďcause Iím married and itís not an option for me; and, um, marry, again, itíd be problematic, but letís say my wife died, and I had to re-marry. Whoíve I got left? Jacinda Ardern and Metiria Turei.

But if your wife died, youíd have to shag one too, Ďcause youíre out of the whole marriage thing.
Yeah, no, I donít know if I want to go there. Um, Iíve shot Judith Collins Ďcause I think she can take it. Metiriaís the one with the nice jackets, eh? Yeah. Fashion, yeah, good. Marry. By default, thatís not looking good, is it? But Iíll leave it at that.
This article first appeared in Issue 11, 2014.
Posted 3:11pm Sunday 11th May 2014 by Carys Goodwin.