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August 11, 2008 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Politics: Gareth Hughes Interview

Political Editor Jackson Wood talks to Gareth Hughes, the Green Party candidate for Ohariu. Currently ranked 11th on the party list, he is a student, an activist and a father.

How would you reconcile the activist within you to the sedentary nature of being an MP?
A lot of Green MPs have had to face that challenge, especially Nandor and Sue Bradford. It will be a challenge but will be something Iwant to turn my hand to. I have done direct action in the past because it is effective, but it is not only that in isolation. When you are doing direct action there is also the communication work you do around it, all the planning all the campaigning. Doing an action by itself is next to useless unless you have a really strong context campaign. So I want to go to parliament to try my hand at a new form of campaigning: making change through the parliamentary process. But I wouldn’t be repudiating direct action because I think it is a really strong tool that activists and campaigners have.

Your policy areas?
I’m really interested in climate change and it is what I do for a job, but there is no way I’ll get that off Jeanette. But it is one of the privileges of my job that I will get to work with the best expert about it in the country. I’m also interested in tertiary education, youth affairs, and I have a strong environmental background. I’m working on the assumption that I might get in, it is not a certainty but…

$10 Billion student debt?
$28000 of that is mine, and I know it is like a millstone. It comes out of my salary every week, it’s like some sort of education tax which I pay and don’t think about. I think the interest free loans are a start but we should be trying to reduce the total amount over time. The Greens’ policy is for every year that you stay and work in the country a year’s worth of study is wiped off your debt. This would be a real incentive for students to stay and work in New Zealand and to get their debt wiped, because at the moment it is an absolute sort of… bitch.

Out of the National Party conference we now know that they will further reduce taxes and increase borrowing. What is your reaction?
I think their priorities are screwed up. Instead of tax cuts we need to be talking about carbon cuts. It is an election lolly scramble, and they’re not talking about the real issues, its tokenistic and superficial, who can give you the most in your pay packet next week, without looking at the long term situation of the country.

And their commitment to reinvest in infrastructure, especially roads?
There is a bit of a shitfight between Labour and National about whether they’ll be borrowing to fund tax cuts. Nats are saying they’re just borrowing for infrastructure and Labour are saying but you’re giving them out of the consolidated fund, so really you’re borrowing for tax cuts. But there will be heaps of other effects. What is this going to do to inflation rates? Overseas currency rates? Lots of questions like that which remain unanswered. What we need to start thinking about is about the current economic deterioration. Treasury is saying it is a recession; it is not just about tax rates, or infrastructure. We’re hitting the resource limits of the international economy, which is why the price of petrol has sky rocketed and we’re seeing it in lots of different resources: food, metals. That is what the Pepsi and Coke parties are not addressing. They’re not being serious or truthful.

National have called for a referendum about MMP. What are your views on MMP, past present and future?
It is really powerful, especially for our generation because we actually have a choice. I guess one of the reasons why I am a Green is that it was inspiring to see people like Nandor and Sue Bradford getting into Parliament, they weren’t just old white guys. I think it is great that our legislative process has slowed down. Palmer called us the ‘fastest legislature in the west,’ where if you have the numbers you can get anything through. So I think it is important that there are a lot more parties that have to negotiate. So I am open to the idea of a referendum because they’re great, actually going to the people and seeing what they think. I don’t think there will be a desire to change and I don’t think people would like the idea of Nationals preferred option which is a vastly scaled down MMP system with only a few list seats.

Out of the ashes of the Brethren attacks in 2005 rose the Electoral Finance Act which the Greens supported. What do you think needs to happen?
It has been hard to work as an activist and a campaigner politically and lots of people are having lots of difficulties understanding it. It would be good to clear it up. The sad thing is that there was a consensus before the Brethren thing came along that this type of thing wouldn’t happen. What National did was rewrite the traditional rule book and wrecked it for everyone. Now we have to have explicit rules. The Greens supported it because the principle of one person, one vote is paramount, not one dollar one vote which is what happened in the last election. They spent more on that one pamphlet than the Greens’ whole election campaign.

The Greens have been polling an average of 7-8% giving them around 7-9 seats. Where will the Greens go if they are in a kingmaker role?
We will be releasing our preferences closer to the election and being an independent party we are going to base it on policy. So we can’t really tell at the moment because National has released so little policy. I guess what we’ve shown over the past few terms in Parliament is that we can work with all parties really co-operatively and have facilitated a lot of cross-party consensus. It is amazing that we’ve had so much legislation passed outside of government. So I think even if we weren’t in government or offering confidence and supply we could still work on an issue by issue basis with any party.


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