Thursday, 6 March 2014

#UoADebate Round-up

The University of Auckland Debating Society tonight hosted an election year debate featuring (from stage left to stage right) Colin Craig (Conservative), John Minto (Mana), Gareth Hughes (Green), Jamie-Lee Ross (National), Te Ururoa Flavell (Maori), Shane Jones (Labour), and Jamie Whyte (Act), and moderated by TV3's Patrick Gower. A packed auditorium of over 800 people heard about capital gains taxes, minimum wages, alcohol regulation, a bit of marijuana decriminalisation, approaches to tertiary education, and restructuring of university councils.
The debate was excellent at showing off the minor parties - giving all the candidates equal speaking time helped a lot. Jamie-Lee Ross was left mostly having to defend himself and the government, even though he tried to convince us all that "things are better under a National government." Shane Jones did what he does best, and told us plenty of endearing and charismatic stories but didn't actually answer many questions (and was caught out twice by Gower). Jamie Whyte did a great job at introducing himself to the crowd as an ideological liberal with a strong principled stance, and probably converted a couple of students in the process. Te Ururoa Flavell connected well with large swathes of the audience and wasn't afraid to take the hard line on social harms with a mostly student audience. Gareth Hughes as always played well as a young MP and students felt he genuinely understood our position, while not being afraid to take swipes at both the National and Labour parties. However, at the end of the night, I felt that two people had put in the best performance - Colin Craig and John Minto.

This surprising match made in Isengard was not without its hurdles. Colin Craig was late to the debate (due to severe traffic on the Harbour Bridge), badly gaffed up his opening statement by comparing politics to rugby and mangling the analogy, and faced low, low expectations from the crowd. Craig and Minto sat next to each other, even though they are on completely opposite ends of the political spectrum. Straight away Minto had the attention of the crowd with statements on inequality, standing for the 99%, for the unemployed, and wanting to feed the kids (starting with decile 1-3 schools). Mana wants to make sure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes. Under Mana, the living wage would be the minimum wage (i.e. $18.40/hr). A little dubious when he made the bold statement of "We will abolish GST", but overall rather inspiring. Craig agreed that we need to close tax loopholes, and Gower made a suggestion of a Mana-Conservative coalition.
But as Minto trailled off later in the evening, Colin Craig started hitting the right notes when it came to tertiary education. While some of the views were (as expected) controversial, it clearly struck a chord with much of the crowd. "I don't believe university is the right place for everyone to go... I've been a lecturer at university, and I've said "I think some of these kids should fail" and been overruled by the department because they're more interested in having bums in seats... Mass university education is not the right way to go." He also said that it is up to the universities to structure their own councils, and it should not be up to the government. At the end of the day, Craig and Minto, two people who many would have ridiculed and dismissed on the way in, walked out as players not to be underestimated. They showed that they were willing to celebrate their similarities in order to achieve progress, while also very clear that they had strong stances on issues. To only further highlight the differences, in the aftermath of the debate, Colin Craig was up the front with a long queue of people wanting photos as a car waited for him, while John Minto was spotted taking the bus home.

Some excellent quips and barbs were thrown around the auditorium, with Gower proving to be an excellent moderator and keeping the mood light and happy. Some of the better quotes of the evening:
- Gower on Ross: "Never trust a politician with two first names, because they don't know how to make a decision. Here's Jamie."
- Gower on Jones: "This guy needs no introduction, the scourge of the supermarkets! - I couldn't believe it because this guy's the porn king!"
- Gower on Flavell: "I call this man T-Flav." Flavell on Gower: "Good to see you've gotten rid of that stutter."
- Craig: "Politics is like rugby, the winner is the one with the most votes."
- Hughes on Craig: "I'm not going to talk about Colin today because I'm afraid he's going to sue me."
- Jones on Craig: "We understand why we had to wait for Colin, it's a long way to come from the moon."
- Whyte (clearly still quite alone in the party): "I shouldn't say we, because I haven't discussed this with anyone else in the party."
- Jones on Gower: "Every time I see a man whose face was made for radio, I think..." *swamped out by laughter*
- Minto on Whyte and Ross: "The two Jamies from the right [are] talking absolute bloody garbage"
- Craig: "I don't pay anyone the minimum wage because I think it's a little embarrassing."
- Flavell: "I don't know if we can always trust government statisticians."
- Craig: "I do pay tax on every dollar, and probably at a higher rate than yourself John [Minto]."
- Minto: "You can buy 3L of RTD in South Auckland for $20." *surprised interest from the audience* "Come up and I'll tell you where later."- Ross to Flavell: "Just remember you're part of the government."

More hilarity ensued with the questions:
"How much do you drink a week?"
- Jones: "Started in the Anglican church drinking the communion wine... so at least 2 bottles of red wine a week."
- Ross: "I'm boring when it comes to alcohol, I don't drink much myself but my wife makes up for it."
- Minto: "I am a very light social drinker now."
- Whyte: "I drink more now than I did when I was a student. I discovered it later in life and found out what I was missing out on."
- Craig: "I prefer red wine as well." Gower: "How many a week?" Craig: "It depends on the number of barbeques."

"Have you ever smoked a joint?"
- Craig: "Passive smoking might have come into it. It was everywhere in the quad."
- Minto: "Yes I have smoked a joint."
- Hughes: "I used to work for Greenpeace and sailed on the Rainbow Warrior. What do you guys think?"
- Ross: "No I haven't [ever smoked a joint]."
- Flavell: "I was in a rugby tour with Auckland University...There was so much smoking in the van I didn't have to do much more."
- Jones: "I can't remember... I'm from up in Kaitaia, so...I am not a smoker. But when you're a part of that youthful Kaitaia movement, you pick it up in the ether."
- Whyte: "I haven't smoked a joint."

But the most important message of the night was the second thing Patrick Gower said tonight:
"We should all vote, it doesn't matter which of these bloody buggers it is."

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