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Q+A's Paul Holmes Interviews Former Prime Minister, Helen Clark

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Helen Clark
Helen Clark

Points of interest:

- Clark opposed to mining Doc land: "There are other ways to make money [and] some things are more important than money"

- "Who wants the Martha Mine in the middle of you know Tongariro National Park? Not me"

- New Zealand business challenged to lift its investment in R&D

- Clark denies it's bad manners to criticise the government after they backed her for UN post

- Haiti: Won't be possible to have every family in individual home shelters; community shelters will be required

- Haiti's past governance problems "a different system"; "there's a lot of faith in the Prime Minister of Haiti at the present"

- Clark expects UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to seek a second term; no plans to run herself

The interview has been transcribed below. Q+A is repeated on TVNZ 7 at 9.10pm on Sunday nights and 10.10am and 2.10pm on Mondays. The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning's Q+A can also be seen on at,


PAUL Former Prime Minister Helen Clark's been back for a private visit but there hasn't been a lot of R&R for the former Prime Minister, she's been invested with our highest honour, she's one of only 20 living New Zealanders to have the Order of New Zealand, Auckland University has given her an honorary doctorate, and she's been to Parliament to tell the MPs about the work of the United Nations Development Programme that she heads, and MP Chris Carter is putting on a hooley to celebrate her 60th birthday today, but before that she joins us here in the studio, very nice to see you, thank you for joining us. What's it like almost being 60?

HELEN CLARK - Former Prime Minister

Can't believe it, forever 40 in my own mind.

PAUL Does it worry you however, the reality of the 6 instead of the 4?

HELEN Oh I think I've got a lot of good years ahead, my father turns 88 next month and I come from a very long live family.

PAUL What does the ONZ mean to you, the Order of New Zealand?

HELEN I look at it and think there's been some incredible Kiwis appointed to that order, so I feel privileged to be counted among those who've received it.

PAUL You actually get one that's been worn or invested to another New Zealander don't you? I mean it's the same actual medal?

HELEN Yes and you then have a choice as to what you think would be most appropriate for you, and for me there was no choice, I chose Sonya Davies' Order of New Zealand insignia.

PAUL Right, so they read you a list of the deceased and you chose Sonya Davies. The Governor General at the investiture spoke about the loneliness of being the Prime Minister, did you feel that loneliness?

HELEN Funnily enough no, because I always had obviously a very close relationship with my husband, a very close relationship with colleagues and family and friends, so I don't know that I ever felt lonely. I think there were probably times when I was Leader of the Opposition when I felt a lot more lonely than I ever did as PM.

PAUL You mention your relationship with your husband. Did it frustrate, you knew what people were saying, did it frustrate you that people didn't understand the closeness of that relationship?

HELEN Oh I think that's politics isn't it, people sort of chip away wherever they think they can score a point, there was not point to be scored, but that's life.

PAUL Now since you've been back you've said it's hard to sit up there in New York City and watch Labour's legacy being picked apart. What legacy actually is being picked apart? You've got Fran over there saying they're not doing enough.

HELEN Yes and Matt saying they're probably doing too much in the other direction, and I've tried to lift myself by and large above the hurly burly of New Zealand politics and go to another stage, but you can't spend a lifetime in New Zealand politics without caring passionately about the way your country's run.

PAUL Yeah but you did say it and you've said you sit in New York City and watch Labour's legacy get picked apart. And I'm saying to you what action? Because they've kept Kiwi Saver, they've kept Working for Families, there's one or two adjustments, but there has been no right wing bonfire.

HELEN Well I don't really want to get dragged into the political debate about it, but I care passionately about our public health and education systems, and them not being chipped away at. I just see things which are set on a course which I would never have set them on, but that's for the next generation of Labour politicians to go into battle on.

PAUL Alright you have been outspoken this week on the proposed mining of the Conservation Estate, and you've expressed the view that you are deeply opposed to that. Given our powerless economic situation, if there is tremendous wealth, and it's reckoned to be tens of billions of dollars worth of wealth under the Conservation Estate in terms of minerals, shouldn't we look for it, we need money.

HELEN You see I look at the history Paul of the National Parks Act, I look at the first incredible gift to the nation of the National Park from the Tuwharetoa people in the Central North Island, the three volcanic cones, Ngauruhoe, Tongariro, Ruapehu, and from that grew a tradition where national parks were set aside as unique ecosystems for future generations. I personally think that some things are more important than money.

PAUL Tell that to a 19 year old at the moment Helen, looking for a job, one of the 72,700 young people between 15 and 24 looking for a job.

HELEN And I've got a lot of faith in young people not wanting to dig up places of unique and special beauty. I think there's other ways we can make our money, and listening to the panel a little bit before, we have to be more innovative, it is about education and science, it's about business actually getting involved in R&D, we've gotta lift our act, we're not going to do it just off the raw export of goods.

PAUL No, and we've been talking like this since the 80s and we're still no further ahead.

HELEN No I think we are further ahead, but I think there's areas like with your giant dairy industry where we need to keep continually moving upmarket, there's still an awful lot goes out in commodity off the farm.

PAUL But if we had a tens of billions opportunity and not all of the Conservation Estate is national parks, and if we are very careful not to desecrate it and lay waste to the Conservation Estate, shouldn't we have a look at it case by case?

HELEN Well who wants the Martha Mine in the middle of you know Tongariro National Park? Not me. It's got its place outside of park setting, but you really have fundamentally conflicting values here as to whether you have the huge machinery, the great hole, the noise the racket or the beauty of a park.

PAUL Alright, the other thing about saying that you sit in New York City watching Labour's legacy being picked apart, your appointment to the UN had the support of the Nats. Your comments could be seen to be bad manners.

HELEN Well you can't take politics out of someone who's been involved in them continually since 1968, as I say I'm trying to keep my comment at a level of principle.

PAUL Yes but if the boot were on the other foot I know what your reaction would be, because I've known you for a very long time, and you would consider it very bad manners.

HELEN I'd say nothing, and I wouldn't consider it bad manners, I'd say how could you expect people to have no views when they've spent their lifetime in politics.

PAUL Let's talk about our current situation - Haiti - you've got 230,000 people estimated dead, you've got 700,000 people without shelter, the rainy season is coming, nearly what three quarters of a million people without shelter, what's gotta be done and what can be done?

HELEN Well I don't think it's possible to have everyone in some kind of semi permanent individual home shelter by the time the rainy season comes. The insight from Bill Clinton who knows the scene very well, is we need to look at community semi permanent shelter, so that when the rains come and the hurricanes come there's places that people can actually be safe, but the scale of this devastation is so great that the thought that you could actually put even a prefabricated home for every single family, you can't do that, you're going to have to have more emergency measures.

PAUL There was a leaked report the other day from Sir John Holmes, you're familiar with him - United Nations Under Secretary for Emergency Relief. He says he's been disappointed by the failure to provide shelter and support, do you concur with that, are you disappointed?

HELEN Well I've seen the memo which was a private memo and he will of course share the frustration of everybody that would like to be doing more faster, but logistically it has been extremely difficult and I know that agencies like the World Food Programme, like the Red Cross, they're the best in the business, if they can't be getting the help to people overnight you know there's huge problems.

PAUL How much money does Haiti need to rebuild?

HELEN Well we're talking in the billions, I saw an estimate I think yesterday that somewhere between seven and ten billion dollars will be looked to from the international community.

PAUL The difficulty there is Haiti had what five billion worth of aid over twenty years and was still a basket case, and given the appalling governance we associate with Haiti all our lives, why is anyone gonna give billions to Haiti?

HELEN Well most of our lives it's true, it was horrendous. 'Papa Doc' Duvalier and the Tonton Macoutes it was a horror story, but you now have a different system - of course capacity is weak and ministries have collapsed, files have been destroyed, but there's a lot of faith in the Prime Minister of Haiti at the present time and I think it's important that we support him and his government to be able to lead in these very very difficult circumstances.

PAUL Do you rate him?

HELEN Oh definitely, everybody rates the Prime Minister of Haiti and believes he has ability, but he's going to need a lot of support to actually lead his government at this point.

PAUL In an interview your own role in this, you've said it I think in an interview in Australia that the United Nations Development Programme had the role of early recovery in a situation like Haiti. Is an inability to provide shelter for three quarters of a billion people partly your fault, or your agency's fault?

HELEN Well what happens with these disasters is first you have the humanitarian phase, that's not UNDP, we are a development agency, but we come in with recovery as early as we can, and that's been very much job schemes. You see the economy of the capital of Haiti is destroyed but there's work to be done, so we have raised money from countries around the world, including from the least developed countries who wanted to help, to actually put people in job creation schemes, to clear rubble and do other important work.

PAUL Have we given enough, the New Zealand taxpayer, the New Zealand government given enough?

HELEN There's been about two million come from New Zealand, but there is another ask out there now, Bill Clinton and the Secretary General launched a further appeal for another 800 million dollars just this last week, so for sure the system will be coming back to New Zealand.

PAUL What about yourself, you mentioned Secretary General, there is speculation in one of the newspapers this morning I see.

HELEN By a well known columnist.

PAUL A well known columnist, that you could well be in line for, eligible for, that one could really start to think seriously about your becoming Secretary General at the end of next year or beginning of 2012, would you be interested?

HELEN Well I wouldn't even go down that track, I've been appointed by the current Secretary General who I knew when he was Korean Foreign Minister, and I remember when he came to New Zealand seeking support for the position, I said the New Zealand government would be supporting him, I have tremendous respect for him and the incredibly difficult job that he does. Now I've gone up there to do a particular job at his request and that's as far as my ambition goes.

PAUL His first five year term ends at the end of next year, he's going to be 68 by the end of next year, would he want another term?

HELEN Oh I understand very much he is seeking a second term, and a second term is quite common with Secretaries General, there's no age limit for the top positions, including my own, other people are pensioned off at 60 or 62 at a lower level, but at this level there's no limit for age.

PAUL But you wouldn't refuse it if it ever came your way?

HELEN Well I'm not even anticipating that, I'm anticipating that the current Secretary General will seek to continue and it is quite normal for people to get a second term.

PAUL Welcome home, happy 60th birthday for next week and thank you very much.

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