Interview with Russel Norman, co-leader of the Green Party on economics and politics
TDB: Thank you for taking the time to talk, Russel. The first thing I want to ask is how frustrating is it to be the co-leader of a political party that is constantly criticized for challenging the orthodoxy, only to be vindicated in that challenge later down the track?
RN:I take the long view and I’m very focused on policy change so in the long run what matters is that good policy happens. That’s the main thing.
TDB: Does it gall you that John Key dismisses your quantative easing debate by waving a Zimbabwean dollar in Parliament? Is that the level of intellectual rigor we should accept?
RN: Yes I do find that irritating, the level of debate around monetary policy in NZ really is the pits. It’s really sad that we can’t have a rational debate about monetary policy.
TDB: Bernard Hickey wrote a column listing the many arguments for quantitative easing, if every other major bank is printing money, where does our inaction leave us economically?
RN: Well The fact is that we are now trading with partners who are all putting downward pressure on their currencies by creating more of their own money meaning our dollar will go high and that means our tradable figures suffer, people lose their jobs, manufacturers go out of business and the current account deficit balloons.
TDB: You have heavily criticized the Government’s role in willfully mutilating Solid Energy, will the Government’s win in the Supreme Court mean the asset sale program is unstoppable?
RN: I can’t guarantee that we are going to win the fight to stop the asset sales, but if we don’t fight I can guarantee that we will lose.
TDB: The Government have banked these sales into the budget before they’ve even happened so what is the knock on effect for our public services in 2013 and 2014 if the value depreciates further than it has?
RN: It will probably more impact on the capital account, I don’t think it will have a huge impact on the money available for public services. The revenue is banked into the capital account and they are supposed to be spent on other capital measures. Now whether they do that or not who knows but that is what they say they will do.
TDB: What do the Sky City deal and Hobbit revelations tell us about the way John Key uses the position of Prime Minister? Is it dignified for the Prime Minister to be effectively pimping for a casino?
RN: It certainly isn’t dignified. I think that he has a fundamental problem which is that he thinks the Government is a company and he is the CEO of that company. And so he behaves like that and obviously that is where he has come from in his career. But in a Democracy process matters and going through proper process is important and he doesn’t seem to realize that because he thinks the Government is his company and that’s just totally out of step with how Democracy works.
TDB: Our currency is being promoted on CNBC as the new gold and Nouriel Roubini is predicting the mother of all credit bubbles which he claims will be catastrophic. How do we prepare for the new economic normal when the new economic normal is as erratic as our weather?
RN:We stay ruthlessly focused on the real economy and the tradable sector because regardless of what happens in the financial sector, whatever financial bubble is about to explode, the real economy and the tradable sector is the way we are going to make our living in the world, so we do whatever we need to do to protect the real economy and tradable sector and if that means doing unorthodox things in monetary policy then so be it because whatever happens internationally we aren’t going to be able to control so we need to protect our tradable sector.
TDB: Speaking of climate, the science is effectively in and it turns out that man made pollution is causing the planet to heat dangerously beyond it’s ability to cope – are we still in climate denial in NZ?
RN: I suspect most people accept anthropogenic climate change but the Government behaves as if it’s not real so its policy is purely window dressing. The ETS is completely ineffectual and their other policy is ineffectual so to some extent the Government’s policies looks like climate denial. It’s kind of like they are saying ‘We acknowledge it might be this real thing but it’s not a serious problem so we won’t have serious measures to face it’.
TDB: I asked the Greens to rank themselves from 1 to 10 on a scale of Marx being 10 and Milton Friedman and Rodger Douglas’s love child being 1. The Greens rated themselves on the economy as a 7. Does this answer suggest that the Greens don’t think we need a far more active Keynesian state during this recession?
RN: I think its fair to say that we found that question a little bit too narrow, trying to reduce political opinions to a left right scale like that means we probably don’t agree with the methodology. But obviously as a commentator you are free to rank us as you see fit, but we struggled with the methodology.
TDB: Would it be a fair characterization of your economic policy that you are free market, as long as the market factors in the cost of pollution into a product?
RN: Well, we want a traditionally mixed market approach, so there is a role for markets and a role for Government and regulation and like you say to the extent that markets have a critical role to play and should be making sure those kind of environmental externalities are internalized in prices but that doesn’t mean to say Government don’t have a place as well.
TDB: How regulated and managed is Green Capitalism?
RN: (long pause) Well I think there is definitely a key role for regulation but there is also a key role for markets as well. We believe deeply in peoples goodness and creativity and I think that creating a space where entrepreneurs can come up with great ideas to deal with some of the environmental challenges we face is important and good markets can provide that space. But good markets need good regulation so it goes hand in hand.
TDB: Has neoliberalism had its day as the Global hegemonic structure?
RN: Yeah, it’s dead.
TDB: There is an irony is there not that Aucklanders would benefit most from your robust policies on public transport and affordable housing and yet Auckland hasn’t responded. Out of Auckland’s 18 electorates you only scored a percentage higher than the national result in 4 of those electorates. Do the Greens have a problem in Auckland?
RN: I mean there are some particular electorates where our polling is low and I’m thinking of the South Auckland electorates, there are some where we poll very well, like Central Auckland and there are some where we are not far off the average. But yes we do have some challenges in those South Auckland electorates.
TDB: Which Political Party has over the last decade done the most to restrain green political aspirations – the Labour Party or NZ First?
RN: (long laugh) I don’t know, I mean in some respects, neither of them, it’s kind of National, but then again we’ve crossed swords with a lot of political parties over the years. Labour tried to exterminate us in 2002 and National tried to exterminate us in 2005 when Steven Joyce ran that parallel campaign with the Exclusive Brethren and we’ve survived both of it, so we kind of feel like that we’ve confronted the Devil on all sides and we’ve lived through it to tell the tale and are strong and independent as a result.
TDB: Did it surprise you that Trevor effectively sucker punched you on twitter?
RN: Which particular occasion? That’s politics, we are competing with Labour for votes. I don’t begrudge them their right to compete with us. We are in competition, as well as co-operating we are also competing and I’ve never denied them that right and I keep that right for myself as well.
TDB: What do the Greens need to hit 15%
RN: I think a lot of what we have been doing. I think we have done a lot of things right over the last few years and that’s why our polling has been pretty good. So to move from 11% to 15% at the next election we need to connect even further with a bunch of people who I think are sympathetic to us but we still haven’t got them over the line to vote for us. So that requires getting out credible policy and credible people and getting the politics right in leading up to the next election.
TDB: Russel Norman thank you for your time.
RN: My pleasure.