Interview with Russel Norman, co-leader of the Green Party on the economy and politics

By   /   March 4, 2013  /   24 Comments

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“Labour tried to exterminate us in 2002 and National tried to exterminate us in 2005 when Stephen 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.”

Interview with Russel Norman, co-leader of the Green Party on economics and politics

Russel-Norman_0TDB: 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.

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24 Comments

  1. Nitrium says:

    Russell Norman is an economic lemming. “If everybody else is doing it, then why don’t we?” is not an intellectual argument.
    If QE is the answer to recovery, I put to Russell to please explain this:
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2012-12-21/75-economic-numbers-2012-are-almost-too-crazy-believe
    Let me guess, he’ll cite Paul Krugman and say “well the problem is, that Bernanke should be doing much more QE. It simply isn’t enough”. The problem with QE is that it is NEVER enough. The reason is simple: it is a PROVEN failed economic policy. ALL economic chicanery is a zero sum game – every dollar the government spends OR creates must come at a cost to someone else. Logically it has to be so; we intuitively know that wealth can not be created by printing money (this is incidentally why counterfeiting money is illegal – ALL the money you would print MUST come with an EQUAL reduction of purchasing power from the whole).
    Russel SHOULD know better, which is what scares me.

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    • Bryan Dods says:

      Why all or nothing? Can’t there be a moderate way of some QE for NZ.
      We could handle slight increases in cost of imports if it meant we were receiving slightly better value for our exports.
      One of the biggest benefits would be a reduction in foreign exchange investors pushing our economy in the wrong direction for short term personal gain.

      Why does NZ always stand so staunchly on peculiar issues such as this? Probably because we are so conservative when it comes to new ideas.

      National for example keep treating neoliberalism as a new, modern way when large parts of the world’s economic community have seen and acknowledged its failure.
      Their dogmatic following of ideologies while ridiculing all others is looking increasingly pig-headed. If other ideas are around can’t they have just a little peek. Their doctrine seems more based on religious blind-belief.

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      • David Harrison says:

        “Their dogmatic following of ideologies while ridiculing all others is looking increasingly pig-headed. If other ideas are around can’t they have just a little peek. Their doctrine seems more based on religious blind-belief.”

        I really think their brains are wired wrong, because they can’t see the damage they are doing to the ‘ordinary’ Kiwi. And lets be honest here Key is more of an American than a Kiwi. He will be on the first plane out when he gets dumped, and back to his job of making even more money than he could ever spend, and he will probably do it by attacking the NZ dollar.

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      • Janakie says:

        We, in NZ are not open to new ideas, not because we are conservative but stubbornly ignorant and that’ why neoliberalism is promoted although it has been proven a failure in other parts of the world.
        We behave as if we are not a part of the rest of the world perhaps except in Olympics. But then it is the sportsmen who represent the general public who manage to do that – not the politicians.

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    • David Chittenden says:

      I don’t think anyone proposes QE as a long-term solution for anything. It seems to me that Russel is just stating the facts and a pragmatic short-term response. That has its own kind of intellect …

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  2. Robert Atack Robert Atack says:

    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.

    At as close to 400 ppm as we can be, all debate is futile.
    But lets pretend The Green party is interested in the environment and the future of human kind.
    Why would a member of an environmental party want to promote jobs and exportation of manufactured goods? Be it wing dings or milk powder, everything manufactured increases CO2 emissions.
    Even Green Party tee shirts.
    New Zealand is facing MASSIVE economic, climatic, energy,and food disruptions, I’m not going to say later this year or 2015, but well and truly in the life time of say Gareth Hughes children that is for sure, or the life time of most Kiwi Savers.
    Why not come clean at least on Kiwi Saver? There are many of the people you are asking to trust you, that are trusting you each payday, with a deposit of money in a ponzi savings scam, that will never payout, let alone exist inside of a few more years (thinking positively)
    Votes will not remove the poison you are encouraging to be pumped into ‘our’ children’s future, via full employment, and economic growth.
    Captain Paul Watson summed it up ….. green washing.
    Watch from 30 to 36 min http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hx-G1uhRqA
    I think the Green Party was set up to grab the organic tree huger vote, then give it to their masters, and as has played out over the past 13 years I’ve been proven right.
    But as the people can not cope with reality the Green Party will hang around for a while longer – cognitive dissonance rules, the people need Hopium no matter how hopeless it becomes.

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    • David Chittenden says:

      You’re right that NZ and the world are facing absolutely massive problems. But even most people who understand that don’t understand how fundamentally we need to change pretty much everything. A prosperous, fair, just and environmentally sustainable economy has never existed anywhere – there are no tested solutions to just pull out of the box. I believe Russel gets this. Now enter political reality in NZ in 2013: It would be political suicide for the Greens (or anyone) to campaign on implementing fundamentally radical policy changes in the next election cycle. The transition will need to be long and well managed. I believe the Greens are the only party with such a long term strategy but they have to deal with the reality of now as well.

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      • Robert Atack Robert Atack says:

        The Greens have had over 13 years to educate the ignorant masses, and over this time their political members have helped produce the most children of any political party in NZ, and they helped introduce an environmental crime – a GROWTH based saving scam.
        The Greens are very much part of the problem, and as my high negative vote shows the ignorant masses are happy with this situation, but that is not a surprise – garbage in garbage out.

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  3. Pete George says:

    TDB: … 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.

    That answer surprised me, it reeks of defeat. Maybe he saw the Supreme Court as effectively the last chance. Which is right, despite all the talking up of the referendum.

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  4. Another David says:

    Why does a sane, reasonable interview immediately initiate such negative and depressing comments?

    Great interview!

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  5. Dear God, it looks like Dr Norman doesn’t think his party have sovereign right to people’s votes, and has to win their support through some kind of “policy” mechanism. What a radical concept.

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    • David H says:

      My God, what a novel idea, maybe someone could try to sell it to Labour But then again they ain’t listening.

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  6. Jenny says:

    Bomber, to bad you didn’t ask Russel Norman. “When will the Greens ever make climate change an election issue?”

    Or for that matter “Will the Green Party ever make action against climate change one of their main principles?”

    After all, it is only, the biggest environmental issue of all time.

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    • David Chittenden says:

      Actually, it’s the biggest economic issue of all time as well. I believe the answer to your question is ‘whenever we the voting public demand it’.

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  7. mickysavage says:

    Very good interview.

    It is good to see an intellectual response to difficult questions.

    I thought initially Norman was responding in writing to written questions but it looks like they were off the cuff.

    I have not seen a similar intellect for a while on the front bench of any party …

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    • Jenny says:

      Labour seem to be bent on culling the front bench of any.

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  8. Bertie says:

    Good interview Brad. It would be great to see more of the future Government partners getting together like they have done with the successful manufacturing summit. It shows the New Zealand public that there is a real alternative to the current Government, a credible Government in waiting so to speak. Also what would be good is prior to the election an announcement of who has which cabinet portfolio, so voters can make a informed decision. Might have to be a tweaked once the final results come in, and should be skills based perhaps?        

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  9. Kelly says:

    The Green Party could do A LOT BETTER if they had a flax roots policy of real membership democracy. Instead they are run by an Executive. Imagine the impact of thousands more members doorknocking in the electorates where they do worst.

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    • Shane says:

      You obviously know nothing about the Green Party. It is the only totally democratic party in NZ and is controlled by the membership. You are confusing them with the Labour party. :-)

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      • Pete George says:

        Depends on what you see “totally democratic” as.

        I see that Greens tend to bloc vote, and if you ask an MP a question they respond with the Green position, not necessarily their own.

        Would the Greens support or oppose policies based on the majority view of Green MPs, the majority of Green party members, or the majority of voters?

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        • dangerousbeans says:

          That’s because a) there aren’t many green mps, and b) the party members have control over both list ranking, and Green Party policy. It would be very difficult to get a high ranking on the party list if you disagree with the membership on significant aspects of policy.

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  10. karol scribe karol scribe says:

    Very good interview. Russel Norman makes some very good points. However, it also shows him to be a bit of a third-wayer, into “green capitalism” and with a belief in the whole neoliberal focus on the “tradable” sector as the way forward.

    Norman makes a very good point about Key as PM acting like he is the CEO of NZ and on the failure of the ETS.

    i would like to have seen him elaborating on what he sees the challenges are for the Greens in South Auckland… and amongst low income people.

    I hope to see more interviews with MPs here on TDB.

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  11. Janakie says:

    In a nutshell, the true picture of the government machinery is given by RN in his own words – “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.” – I totally agree.

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  12. Pete says:

    Great interview. The sooner we get green socialism in New Zealand, the better.

    Love how Russel talks like centerist whilst keeping the real agenda under the covers, so as not to scare the horses.

    Nice one, Martyn.

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