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April 28, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

An Interview with Peter Dunne

“Tell me something about yourself that not many people know”
“I am a pretty average sort of a person, really. I am not sure quite what sort of great mysteries there are to my life. I was born and breed in Christchurch. I have lived in Wellington for over 30 years. But still have a hankering after my home city. I have to confess to being a Crusaders fan – I think a lot of people know that anyway. I’ve got a very strong interest in genealogy. I am currently compiling my family’s history, which I have managed to, through various devices, track back in one strain of the family to about 1720.

“Was there someone, or something that inspired you to get involved in politics?”
“I do not come from a especially political family background. I have a great grandfather who was a long serving mayor of Balclutha. Another great grandfather who was actively involved as a political candidate, for the Liberals I think, around the turn of the century. My grandfather was very interested in politics he would sit and talk to me mostly about politics. He grew up on the West Coast of the South Island, in the early 20th where people like Bob Semple, Paddy Webb, and other influential, early members of Labour boarded – so he knew all those people.

The other person, who was particularly influential, was Norman Kirk. I remember growing up in the sixties, when Vietnam, and all of those big changes were taking place. To have a political figure who was talking about New Zealand’s nationhood and independence really inspired me; getting away from Mother England. I remember he gave a speech once where he said it’s about time we had New Zealand’s policy announced in Wellington, not in Washington, with an American accent. So Kirk was a particularly influential figure. I have always been a great political admirer of John Kennedy. Not for so much his action, but for his ability to inspire and communicate”.

“What is your most memorable moment as a member of Parliament so far?”
“I never ever saw David Lange’s Oxford Union debate. But I remember being in LA when I was coming back to New Zealand as Lange was passing through, on his way to Oxford. There was a luncheon that was held in the old Ambassador Hotel, in the very room that Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Lange was the keynote speaker. There were American journalists, Politicians, Senators, and others there who were all extremely critical and skeptical of him. At the end of the dinner, the whole back wall was lined up with TV cameras. One guy questioned Lange and said: ‘Prime Minister, you are on your way to Oxford, to debate the morality of nuclear weapons. There is the Reverend Jerry Forbes. He will have a bible in one hand, a cross in the other, and be in favour of nuclear weapons. What could you possibly say in response to it?’ Lange got up and said ‘I will tell him that to err is human, and I am prepared to forgive him’, at which point, the entire audience, including all these people who had been grumbling throughout the dinner thinking ‘who is this guy?’, were on their feet with a standing ovation. I have never felt so proud in my life of my country.

“Is there a certain accomplishment in your Political career that gives you the most pride?”
“I have always been someone who has been, in the old fashion sense, a liberal. I believe very much in the rights of individuals, and the empowerment of those, and also that the state has responsibilities. No man is an island, but it’s a question of what the states responsibilities are, without becoming overly dominant. The way circumstances unfolded, I became increasingly disillusioned with the left vs. right mindset. If you were in Labour, National was inherently wrong. If you were in National, Labour was inherently wrong. Life isn’t actually like that. We should synthesise the things we have in common, without simply being so black and white. So, polarized. So I tried to give political effect to that over the last 14 years.”

“If you could change one thing about New Zealand, what would it be and why?”
“The biggest change I would make would be to make NZ a republic. I think that that is long overdue. It’s not just the symbolism of it, it’s really about identity – our future as a people. We are a remarkable country and I think we have got the capacity to be the world’s first multi-ethnic, multi-cultural place. The New Zealander of the future is a unique mix of Asia, and Pacific. We ought to shape our country in a way that reflects that. I lament the fact that our leadership at the moment in both the major parties, just really seems disinterested in going down that path.”

“In your opinion, what is the biggest issue currently facing tertiary students?”
“DEBT, DEBT, and DEBT. It’s a huge issue. I don’t think we have yet seen the full long term social implications of it. It’s very dangerous for me to talk, because I am a product of the days when we had free tertiary education. The consequence of what I say is always conditioned by that fact. Accept it wasn’t quite free – I remember deciding I wanted a certain lifestyle as a university student, and going and borrowing money from the bank to give me that – so I had a student loan to repay. So I can sort of have some empathy with students of today. I am also the parent of a recent graduate, so I know what the bill is. I think the idea that we can go back to free tertiary education is fanciful. The numbers involved are just far greater than ever before. So the question is, what’s the balance? The funding, historically, has been less than adequate, the fees are far greater than they were meant to be, and the student support hasn’t been there. Maybe we need to say, ‘look, here’s the deal. Tertiary education will be free, or it will be minimal, but the trade of is, students need to find their own support – through working or parents, or loans or whatever, maybe we need to be that bold? At some point, the government is going to face the question of what does it do with the debt monster. The unpalatable answer is going to face, is whether to write that debt off, as simply uncollectible. At that point, you set in train a whole lot of other adverse reactions.


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Comments (4)

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  1. Chris says:

    Er, the Rev Jerry Falwell I think you’ll find… not Forbes.

  2. Chris says:

    Did you transcribe this inteview correctly? Did he really say, ““I am VERY pleased to have re-established the concept of centre-left politics in New Zealand”…. given the rest of that paragraph: ie, “Life isn’t actually like that. We should synthesise the things we have in common, without simply being so black and white. So, polarized. So I tried to give political effect to that over the last 14 years.””….

  3. Jackson Wood says:

    Mr. Dunne’s comments in this story have been corrected.

  4. chris says:

    NOw, can you correct the other errors – “I was born and breed… etc. I stopped there..

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