Colin Craig | Full Interview

Colin Craig | Full Interview

Just while weíre on record, the first thing I wanted to talk about is your defamation experience, and I just want to be guaranteed that youíre not going to sue us for defamation.
No, thatís fine. Thatíll be a no.

Not going to sue us?

Great, okay, Iíll say whatever I want then.
As long as itís true itís wonderful.

Well itís all on record, so, you know. Okay, so, you said on the way over here that youíre kind of down in Dunedin to gauge what sort of policies youíre looking for, what your demographic kind of wants to be up to speed on. Here is the 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. Um, 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, look, this is all about getting the maximum number of people through university. I think we have to challenge that thinking and ask whether or not we should be looking at universities as institutions that still hold a primary educational high standard; Iím not going to call it elite, because I donít think it is elite, but itís about universities being the very apex of education, or whether itís about educating the majority. Because whatís changed in New Zealand, and what changed the funding and the economics of it all, was that universities basically doubled in size. Took in a lot more students. Now the upside of that is more people get to go to university, the downside is that it becomes much harder to afford. So I think the current system we have isnít sustainable, I think that we have to look at the alternatives to that. The ideal is that people shouldnít be indebted through education; I donít think thatís a good long-term strategy for us. But the solutions around that arenít always easy ones. So one of them is we find more funding. If we find more funding where does it come from? Another one is we make it tougher and harder for people to get into university.

So you propose higher standards?
Yeah, a higher standard is likely to be one of the things we end up with. And thatís not to say other people couldnít work hard, ultimately pay their way through university, but if weíre going to fully fund people, which is the ideal for people at the top of the education capability-wise, weíre going to have to find a way to make it pay. I think one of the other things weíre very big on and weíre doing a lot of work on is how we bring technology into play. Because the systems that we have and the concept of university that we have where everybody hops into a car to a central locationÖ Itís not the most cost effective model. And if you look internationally, you can do an MBA, and you do it by remote learning, these things have high standards, high status, certainly in the business world MBAs are greatly regarded, and yet most of it is done by distance learning. So I think weíre still asking about the absolute best way forward, but we think that the current model has to be reassessed. I donít think funding bottoms on seats is ultimately the answer, but also create a competition between universities, you know, if we can attract more students here, and thatís not necessarily constructive.

So would you be talking about more funding would you be therefore pro-private universities, looking at those? Or are you looking strictly on a government basis?
No Iím looking strictly at what our government funds. Whatís taxpayer funded. I have no problem with private learning institutions, but I donít think thatís the answer for making it more affordable for people. Generally private institutions donít make it more affordable.

Yeah. So what about in terms of loans and allowances? Cause 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. So, you know, itís hard enough to leave university and get a job, then to afford a house, get on with live when youíre also carrying a debt. And short-term, yeah short-term I can see weíve got a funding problem, what are we going to do, letís just get people indebted, but itís not long-term, I believe, the right solution for us as a country. 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, to bring education much closer to work, so that itís more of a continuing education, itís more of a process of I get a job and as part of that job, and as part of professional development, the education is a little more integrated to life experience. Instead of being a standalone, remote, unattached kind of a thing, which it is now for a lot of people who leave university and canít get a job.

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, 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 of nursing, get them practically underway, and then say, okay now letís get your bachelorís degree around nursing.

So like an internship-degree hybrid?
Yeah, bringing the actual vocation closer to the degree itself. And this works very well overseas, I see no reason why it wouldnít work well in New Zealand. And that may not go for everything, but certainly I think it makes the education more relevant, but also gives a reason to give funding. Cause now the personís working for a firm, that firmís got an interest in educating people, and thatís a way of bringing more funding to a situation as well.

The thing is though, how are you supposed to get a job if youíre not qualified? Like itís well and good to say you can put a student in a job after theyíve finished high school, get into a job, then get the education that they need to keep continuing that job, how do you get that job in the first place?
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. Now, in fact, weíre the lowest differential in the OECD for wages paid between tertiary qualified and not. The difference is 18%. On average, tertiary qualified people earn 18% more than non-tertiary qualified people. Now that is by far the lowest in the OECD. Most countries hit around 30%, some do more than that. And I think what it shows is that weíve begun to put a lot of people through university, we havenít thought well about what actually that means in terms of jobs and vocations at the other end. And a lot of people go to university almost by default. What do I do next? Oh, go to university. And I know itís not true of everyone, some people are very clear on what theyíre doing, they know what theyíre studying, but I think for a lot of others itís the next step in school. And I think to make that more successful for people, we want to actually more of an idea, if we can, of what they will do well and what they might want a job in, and connecting people to that vocation earlier, rather than just saying Ďhere, do your degree, and then start looking for a jobí, which can be pretty hard.

So I suppose itís just when youíre going to start working.
And tying that to practical experience. Overseas this works well, particularly in Europe, thereís a number of countries that do it particularly well where they tie that. And of course the funding then comes from the company organisations very often, cause theyíve got staff, and they realise that personís committed to us, letís up-skill them. And it gives you another way of getting money into the situation. Cause education costs, and part of the problem of what we have now is how do we fund it. So thatís a way I see of opening the doors to more people.

Okay, cool. So just to change track a bit, today a youth-led organisation called Generation Zero, which is an environmental organisation, I donít know if youíve heard of them, 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, that itís not human influenced.
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 slightly a different distance away from the sun. So I think human influence is there, but I donít rate it as the only factor, I think itís something that we could spend a lot of time talking about, but I find the most productive thing is to say letís tidy up and letís clean up our environment. Things like pollution, we can make a real difference with, at very little cost, and so therefore I would always start at that end of the scale and say Ďwhy donít we get toxins out of our environment, why donít we put research into what we can do with pest control, or weed control, in a much safer, more environmentally way than we currently do. To me those represent much better outcomes for the dollar that we spend.

Whatís your motivation for that then? Like are you thinking you like the clean environment, or is itÖ why do you want to do that?
Look I think as a country we are a very young country in terms of age and settlement. We do have the potential to have, I think, one of the cleanest, greenest, best environments in the world, and to maintain it at an almost pristine level. But that will take a certain amount of commitment and an emissions trading scheme is doing nothing to achieve that. Whereas if we instead set up and said, letís clean up all our rivers and make it our goal, I think weíd get a lot further and weíd achieve something thatís quite real in terms of outcomes. 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, 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.

Ah, thatís one of the things that the report actually touches on. You know, itís a moral responsibility, but then I suppose that goes hand-in-hand with if you believe that humans are causing it the most then it makes sense to believe that humans should clean it up the most. What about renewable energy? I mean you talked about the sun, you know, if itís causing climate change, then it can also cause the energyÖ
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 to do that. I think we need to be a little bit more innovative in how we do our energy. But as I say, I donít think the economics support windmills, but I think solar, I think water, these are elements that we have a lot of in New Zealand. Wind? Itís difficult because you have such a bit environmental effect by putting in a lot of wind turbines.

So if you could name a party in government that youíd closely align yourself with on the environmental standards, cause some of what youíre saying is, you knowÖ
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. And I think thatís one of the attractions of MMP for me, is that you donít have to agree with everyone on everything, but if you can find something you do agree on, you can make progress. And I like that idea.

So, I can get it in words, on recording, you would support cleaning up our climate, you would support renewable energy, so long as itís economically viable.
Thatís right. Letís go for the most economic sources.

Cool. So just to move onto a couple of other issues, I suppose youíve seen the news today, about you know, the Big Gay Rainbow in Pakuranga ceasing to exist, I was just wondering what you would think about going for the Pakuranga seat? Thereíve been talks with a bit of a deal with NationalÖ
Look, first of all, my understanding is Maurice Williamson is doing the typical resign as a minister, but stay on as an MP. And weíve seen this with Peter Dunne, when he refused to disclose his information, to a governmental enquiry after the leaked information at the top level. And look what happened to him? Heís back as a minister all over again. I think his track record is someone who resigns as a minister can get back in the good books fairly quickly. I donít know whether he will or not. Itís not terminal to resign as a minister, itís very temporary by the look of it, you can be forgiven quite quickly. Having said that, I did grow up in Pakuranga, I played for Pakuranga cricket club, my father taught at Pakuranga College, so there are a lot of ties to that community, we did very well in the vote there last time, and we have a good support base there, so never rule anything out.

Hmm interesting. Yeah I went to St Kentís, so I know the area.
Yeah, you know the area very well.

So just with the legal highs, all that drama going on in the government, itís brought up the conversation around legalising cannabis, and often itís considered less dangerous than legal highs, I mean you kind of look at the facts for yourself. So do you think cannabis should be legal?
No I donít, but I donít think we should make legal highs legal either. So I sit in that very, I guess, conservative anti-drug space.

I do think though that we have this strange situation of double standards. And by that I would say here we are, the government, and I know theyíve pulled back from it, but nonetheless, they sort of committed towards, letís legalise these substances, yet on the other hand theyíll go after somebody whoís smoking, and have all sorts of plans about what to do to them. I mean we charge an enormous amount of tax on cigarettes. But we donít treat alcohol consistently with that. We donít make someone buying a beer, or an RTD, we donít have the same approach, we say you know what, this is using up 70% of our accident and emergency resources, so youíre going to pay a bit more for it. I would like to see some sort of consistency here, where we go, hereís the standards that we have, hereís the way that we will approach it. My concern around legalising any sort of mind-altering substances is there are long-term effects. We can already see long-term effects from other substance abuse. Alcohol, for example, very long-term effects on families, children, on the young, you know, youíve got pregnant mums who drink too much, and actually these are very major effects on our society, they harm individuals, homes, and communities. So I sit in that fairly restrictive space that says I donít believe we should go down the track of saying that these things are mainstream, that they should have legal standing in our country.

And thatís because of effects, because they go broader than just the individual?
They do. And itís not a case of individual freedom alone, individual freedom must surely be balanced against the cost to a community.

Cool. You said a couple of years ago that kids sent to school without lunch should go without in the past, and regarding the talk recently with different policies and how our child poverty problem is going, do you stand by that? Do you still sayÖ?
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 Ďyou know what, weíre going to provide lunch at schoolí, I believe many parents will make the choice not to supply lunch to their child. Because thatís the easy option now. Weíve given you a way out of your responsibilities and people will take those ways out. So I think what we have to be doing is we have to say we expect every child to have a lunch at school, and we expect every parent to provide it. And thereís no one in this country who is not receiving or able to receive support from this country to make it happen.

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 cause everyone will do it and thatís a bad thingí.
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.í Because the support in this country is generous.

You think itís comprehensive enough?
I think there are some faults and some problems with it, but in terms of internationally, we have very generous support in terms of welfare.

So you think if people are living below the poverty line, and 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, 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. But at the moment we do provide support and additional support and emergency relief support to anyone who canít feed their children. So I do think thereís a problem if someoneís in a situation where they canít fund it and canít afford it, then yeah, somethingís gone wrong in terms of how theyíre accessing whatís available to them in terms of support.

But youíd support having a system to check up on, and say, slap on the wrist, say Ďno no no, need to be feeding your childrení.
I actually think we should be doing that. It is a legal responsibility of parents to supply the needs of their children, and if they fail to do that then I actually think we should be holding them to account. We donít do that very well, we have a society that has child abuse at a phenomenal level, is increasing, and I actually think weíve been really slack about looking after the youngest and most vulnerable in our society. And I actually think going to parents and saying Ďyou know what? This is your child and you havenít fed them or you havenít clothed them, and we expect more of you to play your role, is actually the right thing to do.í Might sound a bit, you know, tough, because it wouldnít always be easy, but if we donít set that standard, we wonít get Ė now not every parent would rise to that, but many would, if they were challenged to. Iím someone who does believe in setting expectations and getting people to live up to that. Now, traditionally, most people wouldíve been chased up by their mum, or whatever, there was a social structure there that provided that support. I think we have to acknowledge itís not always there now. Our view of social welfareís very different to what we have now, we actually think that social welfare workers shouldnít sit behind desks, we think they should actually be out there, with people in their homes, one day every fortnight or something like that. And many people donít have skills. I mean I could give many examples of this, but there are people in our society who donít know how to clean a house. Who donít know how to cook a meal, really. Or maybe they donít have the motivation to because thereís no one helping them do it.

So youíd prefer programmes that support in-home help like that.
Yeah, we believe Plunket and Karitane nurses makes a lot of sense instead of being hospital-centric or expecting people to always come to you. Because thatís not going to happen. It might in some cases, but there are a lot of people who start falling through the cracks. And I donít think itís an accident that Maori health outcomes started declining the moment we pulled out the Karitane nurses. See I think Karitane nurses didnít just look after kids, I think they brought into the home a standard that says Ďhey you know what, we could place, you could do this, this is the way to run a household.í And that rubs off, that mentoring, that sort of assistance is really valuable.

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.
Oh, go for it.

Whatís your favourite conspiracy?

The moon landing?
No, no, see I donít- 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. If I was going to get deeply into thinking about a conspiracyÖ

[Colinís Press Advisor] Which youíre not.
Which Iím not. I mean everybody talks about it, I have no idea what the conspiracy is, but Iím sure it would be exciting.

Okay, JFK. Not the moon landing.

Nah. Thatís not fun.
I donít think so.

One last question. This one you have to answer.
Oh, okay, compulsory answer question. Go for it.

Shoot, shag, marry: Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins, Metiria Turei.
And thatís a question?!

That is a question.
OkayÖ Iím trying to look for some similarity between them but all Iím finding is a whole lot of differences. UmÖ 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.
What was the order you gave them to me in?

Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins, Metiria Turei. No particular order.
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 cause I think sheís tough enough to take it, um, shag, well, aw gee, nobody, cause Iím married and itís not an option for me. 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 then, cause youíre out of the whole marriage thing.
Yeah no I donít know if I want to go there. Um, Iíve shot Judith Collins cause 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.

Can I get it in your words?
Yeah, definitely time to consider other options. There you go, thatís my answer.

Fantastic, thank you for answering that.
This article first appeared in Issue 11, 2014.
Posted 10:37am Wednesday 14th May 2014 by Carys Goodwin.