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On top of his game – an interview with Peter Dunne

Peter Dunne is one of New Zealand’s longest standing politicians. He is the leader of the United Future Party and is the current Associate Health Minister. Dunne is cheerful, friendly and of course a lover of bow ties, but don’t be fooled by his grandad-esque jokes. Dunne is a man on top of his game, something you would expect from of a politician who has been a Member of Parliament since 1984. Dunne is helping New Zealand be a world leader in terms of our health and social systems. Massive Magazine’s Natasha Tziakis sat down with the political stalwart ahead of this year’s elections.

With the changing face of politics worldwide, how does United Future aim to appeal to New Zealand youth?

Well, I think two things really. United Future is a liberal party and in a world where we are seeing some very sharp edge stuff, like islamophobia, pressure on people saying kick out all the immigrants, the Brexit stuff, the Trump phenomenon, United Future is within the realm of parties that say “let’s just wait a minute here, let’s not run to extreme”. We are putting up our hand for people who respect each other, believe in a positive future and have some sort of values like integrity and trust. Equality. And that’s the picture that we make. For the young people, it’s very important, it’s the shape of our future.

Relating back to integrity, why do you think Labour has suddenly changed their stance on our refugee quota?

Oh, very simple. Look at the polls. They can’t govern without New Zealand First. And it’s as simple as that. They are pandering to their [New Zealand First] vote and moving down from that, they are probably losing their ‘red meat-eating’ male voters who feel like there are too many migrants. And having New Zealand First anywhere near government would be a backward step for our country.

The Health Minister (Jonathan Coleman) recently avoided answers questions about the targets for decreasing suicides in New Zealand. Does United Future aim to address this issue?

I was the Health Minister up until the last election before Dr Coleman came on board. He said he was interested in mental health, so he took over that area of the portfolio. I’ve always believed that youth suicide is far too high. And even our general suicide rates are too high, we lose far more people to suicide each year than we do to deaths on the road. It’s not quite, but it’s almost twice the number. So, we have to put huge emphasis on two things, reducing the circumstances which leads youth to commit suicide, but also suicide amongst the elderly. Some of the factors are common, loneliness, sickness, frustration. Targets? Look, we’ve always wanted to bring the number down. But we don’t have a specific numerical target. But simply to not have a very clear focus on reducing the incidents of suicides and to the conditions that give rise to suicide is, I think, is a mistake. I think we need to make a much sharper effort right across the mental health space.

You are wanting to implement the Portuguese drug system. How would you gain the funding to source the healthcare and rehab clinics?

There are three ways which you would do that. First, we have new law coming into place next year in February, the Substance Abuse Compulsory Assessment Amendment Act which I put through. It is designed for the really problem people that will just refuse to accept help. We have the capacity under this law to force them into care. It’s taken a year so that the health boards can organise funding. The second step is the obvious one, if the police and the courts aren’t spending as much time chasing people that money can then be diverted into the treatment area.The third area is that we have a substantial, a very high number, of non-government and community programs that specialise in addictions care. And I don’t think we use them enough.

So, I would want us to take low-level drugs like Class C and, if you are caught with more than one week’s personal supply there would be a fine. The police still catch you. So, you would be flicked off to one of these agencies for assessment. The way the Portuguese do is that if you don’t accept or resist treatment, then the full force of the law will come down on you.

While I think this is a good idea, I do see it as a short term solution, as it almost relies on the ‘what we know now’ and I’ve also said in the longer term that I would want to see Class C drugs sifted from the Misuse of Drugs Act to the Psychoactive Substances Act. The reason for this is because the Psychoactive Substances Act says that a drug can be sold on a regulated market, provided that it be low risk through normal clinical assessments.

 

You have been one of the longest standing current politicians in New Zealand, what Prime Minister has been the most effective in your eyes?

Oh, that’s quite difficult, there’s different things about all of them. I really enjoyed. Jim Bolger’s’ down to earth and common sense approach. I enjoyed working with Helen Clark because she is very clear and well organised, sort of tight in her thinking. I enjoyed working with John Key, who was similar to Helen Clark in many respects but he was more ‘you do it, but if you screw up, I’ll have you’. Bill English is somewhere between the two, it’s still early days yet. So, they would be the four I would single out.

Roughly, how many bow ties do you have and what is your favourite one?

I do not know. Somewhere between the range of 50 to 60. Do I wear them all? No, but I do have half a dozen favourites. It’s quite funny, people have sent me wooden ones. A company called As Is The Manner, a Wellington firm, who designed me a special bow tie for me called ‘The Dunne’, which has sort of purple spots of it. The other thing, I get a lot of letters from guys going to their school ball seeking advice on what to wear. It’s funny, I always had a hankering to make the bow ties my thing, but people were like ‘oh no, you’ll stand out’. After a while, I remembered thinking ‘this is nuts, if this is going to be my brand and y distinctive, let’s go for it’. There are a couple of YouTube videos I’ve done on how to tie a bow tie.

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