Interview: Laila Harre
Lisa Owen: You were considering standing for the Green Party weren’t you. So why didn’t you do that?
Laila Harre: I gave it some consideration but at no point did I feel like it was right thing to do or the best use of my talents and skills and experience at that time. In fact, I’d committed this year to working on the Council of Trade Unions ‘Get Out the Vote’ campaign and we’ve been setting that up since the beginning of the year, it’s going very well. And like the Greens, we are focused in the Internet Party on a change of government this year.
Well you raise that. So isn’t that the one thing that’s drawing you together with Dotcom is this desire to get rid of John Key and the National Party by any means necessary?
Well it’s not any means necessary. This is a principled approach to ensuring that those people who have already shown that they are very interested in the Internet Party and want to vote for the Internet Party don’t see their votes wasted. I think the crucial thing here is that we are focused on basically three ways of utilising the resources that we now have to change the government this year. Firstly we have to expand the vote, it’s not about taking votes off other progressive parties. We have an absolutely amazing engine room of people with the skills, the savvy and the connection to youth culture to help us to expand the vote and to turn around what’s an appalling voting record in New Zealand, of appealing to and enabling young voters to vote. Secondly we are going to appeal to National votes, those people who are really concerned about the short-term pragmatism of this government and understand as we do the opportunities that are being lost. And finally I just want to say-
On that point, at your unveiling as leader you raised the point that the National party had done this deal with SkyCity, they were selling off assets. Is it fair to say that you see that as unprincipled?
What I have said is that we have surrendered the MMP strategic advantage, the strategic MMP approach to National over the last two elections. And what that’s meant is that our power companies have been privatised, the SkyCity deal which will double the size of the Auckland casino [which] was completely outside mainstream procurement practise and disregarded the social harm that will result. Those sort of issues have been enabled by the National Party having a monopoly on MMP strategy. We are going to take back MMP and be strategic about it ourselves.
So in saying that, in order to take back MMP as you say; you’re happy to take three million dollars from a businessman who is a convicted criminal. I mean how can you preach to John Key about crony capitalism, you have just lost the moral high ground haven’t you?
Well just before I go there, I also want to say that this is about appealing to New Zealand First voters. Because while we’re on MMP strategy, there are New Zealand First voters who do actually want to put New Zealand first but are very concerned that their vote is going to end up being used to support a National Government. So yes, the bottom line here is wanting to change the government, wanting to change it because of the cost it’s doing to future generations.
But at what cost? You have accepted three million dollars from…back to my earlier question, you’ve accepted three million dollars from a multi-millionaire who’s a convicted criminal, you have lost the moral high ground haven’t you? You have forfeited that.
I think that we’re in an extraordinary and unique position with a fledgling political party that’s standing up to the establishment, to have resources like that backing us and behind us. Generally we’ve seen big money in politics used to protect the interests of the establishment, to shut down change and to shut other people out of the political process. I make no apologies for utilising these resources to engage with young people, to enable people who have been excluded from politics to say and to focus absolutely on the future economic development of this country.
What about the man providing the money having a say though? You’ve got here a man who gave a 50-thousand dollar donation to John Banks, when he got locked up in jail he then picks up the phone ringing for a favour: ‘I’d like a mattress John Banks’. So that’s cash for -
That’s hardly a favour, that’s an appalling indictment on our prison system; that people don’t have a decent bed to sleep on when they’re on remand.
That’s cash for access though? Cash for access; what happens when he rings you up when you’re in Parliament asking and wants a favour?
I don’t expect that to happen for a second. Kim Dotcom has been enormously generous in enabling an already existing constituency of people who want to see us take a giant leap forward in terms of our technological savvy and the use of that in the development of New Zealand. And there is a huge amount of alignment between him and an already existing leadership of people within the internet industry, those who understand the importance of this technological revolution for our future.
How much are you getting paid to lead the Internet Party?
I have just agreed to a contract which is in line with the already public intention of the party to pay candidates the same as a backbench MP. But I have to say that there simply wasn’t any discussion at all about personal remuneration for me at any stage during this decision and it just was not a factor in me making up my mind.
But given that there’s this three million dollars being thrown into the pot by Kim Dotcom, doesn’t it look to voters like that you have created this left-wing coalition just to get a hold of the money for a fighting fund to get into Parliament?
I think – I hope what it looks like to voters is that there are some very strong and principled people who now have the resources to make sure that we can reach out during the election campaign and make their votes count. The democratic rort over the last period of time has been the fact that the MMP threshold at five percent has made it very difficult for new movements and new parties to get a foothold in parliament. And we’ve seen that. So our Parliament is still made up of the original MMP parties. This is an opportunity to bring in quite a new style of politics and quite a new approach to economic development.
And in that new style of politics one of your most important policies is free tertiary education. Well your sponsor and party visionary has criticised this government for spending during recession times. Do you agree with that criticism because that’s how you keep policies like that afloat?
Well one of the deciding factors for me was the issue of tertiary education. As many observers I have been watching the development of the Internet Party. I was from absolutely from the side lines watching the negotiation of the agreement with the Mana movement.
But you have to spend to get that, and he has criticised It -
And right from the get go the Internet Party had made free tertiary education one of their core principles. And look, I was around in the late 1980s when Labour introduced the first student fees. At that time I made a pledge to continue the fight for free tertiary education and I’m very glad to be in a party that supports that.
I understand that but the question is Dotcom has criticised the Government for spending during recession times, that’s how you fund policies like free education. Do you agree or disagree with that?
Well the policy programme of the Internet Party is being developed and decided by the Internet Party.
So still to come? We’ll need to leave it there.