With a full scalp of hair, NZ First MP Craig McNair, aged 29, stands out from the rest of his colleagues. Salient writer Nicola Kean talks to him about family values, social engineering, and being a young man in a old folks' party.
Where do you see New Zealand in twenty years time?
It might sound a bit idealistic, but my vision for the future is to see a vibrant, healthy, successful group of people – [the ones] that are between the 18-30 mark now - that have been able to have an education provided to them, where they don't have to borrow to live as far as tertiary education is concerned; where they actually have a government that enters into a social contract with our young people. Basically, to provide our students and our young people an opportunity to be able to thrive and to have the best wages in the world here in New Zealand; to be able to have that quality of life as well as those top end wages. That's my vision for New Zealand.
<b>In your policies and press releases, you talk about “traditional family values” and Labour's "social engineering". What Labour is doing – does it fit into your vision of the future?</b>
Absolutely not. Right from areas such as the ones I've just mentioned. They'll come out with a policy at the last minute for an election bid to create interest free student loans, but with no real thinking, no real vision about it, no real plan. Just a last minute thing decided by two senior cabinet ministers one evening because they were desperate.
You've probably seen a few of my press releases. A lot of them have concentrated on keeping our young people off drugs, cannabis and even harder drugs like P. There are a lot of young people that are experimenting on things and experimenting in life. We [should] create a society where the Government holds up a standard and says these things aren't right, such as the cannabis issue. We need to keep the legal status of cannabis the way it is. I make no apologies if there are a lot of young people out there that think that I'm wrong on those issues, that's fine. I honestly don't think a positive, healthy society is going to be produced by advocating policies to decriminalise cannabis.
<b>When you talk of “traditional family values”, how would you define that?</b>
Traditional family values are values that New Zealanders have held on to for the last 100-150 years, basically since [New Zealand] became a nation. There has been radical change in the last few years in legislation concerning those issues.
If you're making major changes like that to legislation, the people of New Zealand should be able to have their say on it. These are major issues, not just Civil Unions, but Privy Council and all those other things that I know will affect young people in the long run. I just don't think that, for example, decriminalising prostitution has sent a message out there to our young people and communities that it's alright to treat women like that.
When it comes down to it, we're making some huge changes in our family structures and the way we define family. Don't you think with big changes like that New Zealanders should be able to have a say in a referendum? Then people are able to feel satisfied that they've been heard.
<b>If we had referenda on these issues, do you think that people would come out and vote?</b>
I think you'd be surprised at how many people would go to the polling booth or the computer - you can make it very easy these days. It keeps things on the table. While [young people are] sitting out in the Octagon in the University or where ever it is, saying 'oh, the referendum is in a few weeks, how are you going to vote?' 'I'm not voting' 'well you should vote' and duh duh duh dee duh. And then it gets the issues in people's minds, and it also keeps it away from the politicians.
<b>And this is a good thing?</b>
It's not always a good thing, but there are some major issues that do need to go to the people - the more mundane things the people expect us to do. That's why we're elected.
<b>What about human rights issues, like the Civil Union Bill or allowing people in same sex relationships to have their partners classified as the next of kin and so on? Should those be dealt with by referenda?</b>
In effect, what Labour's told us in the House is 'ok so since this is a human rights issue, we know best'. I just think it's quite arrogant for politicians to say we're more educated on these issues and you guys are the plebs and don't know what you're doing and so we have to make the decision for you. What a load of rubbish.
<b>Are you trying take New Zealand back to the way it was in the 1950s?</b>
I don't think so, I think there are family structures that have worked for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, that have been proven to work, that can actually create families. We realise that there are other family structures out there in this world - believe you me, my head is not in the sand. What we're saying is that there are certain family structures that should be promoted because they have been proven to benefit society.
<b>And by that you mean marriage?</b>
By that I mean Mum, Dad and the kids. Mum and the kids. Dad and the kids. Adoption. Grandparents. But keeping it away from the social engineering agenda of the Labour Government. We're not going to get into other people's private lives, we're not going to tell them what to do, how they should live their lives, whatever lifestyle they decide to choose. But we just say there are certain structures that should be promoted because they've been proven to work.
<b>Given your view on Labour's 'social engineering', would you be able to go into coalition with them?</b>
We've worked with Labour and we've worked with National. We've proven that we can work with either of them, so I think that's your answer there. If those kind of issues come up, well then, if the people are going to decide on issues I'm happy with that, because then it's not Labour pushing this agenda. We will stop the Labour Government from ramming through their own agenda, because the people should have a say and I don't apologise for that.
<b>New Zealand First wants to bring back interest on student loans while students are studying. You've been totally outplayed by Labour on that front haven't you?</b>
A lot of people are happy about it, but it is going to be a poisonous apple. And I hope we don't swallow it as a country. I know our plan is better, it's going to reduce student debt even further. We're going to provide universal student allowances, so obviously it would stop students from having to borrow to live. Labour's not stopping that continuing. The reason why we would charge interest while they were still studying - only at the equivalent to the consumer price index, somewhere around 2% - it encourages young people to keep their student loans at bay. Then once they get out of their tertiary education then it's CPI plus 2%. It's still not as much interest as they're paying now, but it's enough to say 'I've got to get rid of this.' Also, they're not going to have as much of a student loan because they're not going to have to borrow to live either.
[Labour's] plan has just come out of nowhere. They had six years to implement it, nothing talked about in the budget, they start going down in the polls and they think 'shoot, what are we going to have to do?'
<b>You also seem to be giving a lot of money to the elderly, dishing out money here and there – is it affordable?</b>
Do you hear us promising across the board tax cuts? No. We are promising a lot, but we also know that we can deliver. We've priced these things and we realise that we want all of these things and we're not going to be able to provide across the board tax cuts straight away. We're going to provide tax incentives for exporters - strategic, pinpointed tax incentives to grow our economy. The only way we're going to survive as a country is by getting our export growth up, so we'll do those things that aren't going to cost the country a lot of money, but will increase our earnings hugely.
<b>There's no youth wing of the New Zealand First Party. Does that reflect the party's emphasis on the elderly?</b>
New Zealand First doesn't believe in dividing New Zealand up into groups.
I think the most amazing thing about being a young person involved in New Zealand First is that you actually get to do the real things that the Young Nats, the Young Labourites and all of the other ones is their little groups would dream of doing.
We purposely don't have a Young New Zealand First. We could if we wanted, we actually have heaps of young people actually in the party. They're loving it. They're actually doing something rather than just being in a social group or [have us] sidelining them and saying 'we've got a little youth group here for you, you get to go ice-skating on a Saturday night.' I know it's not quite like that, but you know.
<b>How do you cope being a young MP in a party that is perceived to be chasing the elderly vote?</b>
Being young in New Zealand First is the greatest thing. You've got policies that you can actually say: it's not just about one section of society, the elderly sector, it's about young people as well. We've got a vision for the betterment of New Zealand and it's not just about plugging towards a certain age group.
We do have policies that are there to honour our elderly and the ones that have gone before us, to give people dignity in their retirement such as the 'Golden Age' card that we've just released a few months ago. But New Zealand First is not just a one policy party or a one focus party.
<b>Or a one politician party?</b>
Definitely not a one politician party! It's great to be in party with a strong leader, but we are a team and we make decisions collectively. People make fun of it, and say Winston's a one-man band, but there's nothing wrong with having a strong leader. He's also the most democratic person I've ever met. He's amazing. Even if he doesn't agree on a certain policy, or a bill that we're voting through, we put it to the vote.
<b>Where do you see New Zealand First going post-Winston Peters? Do you have any leadership aspirations yourself?</b>
Not personally. Not to be leader of a political party. But definitely I aspire to be the best MP I can be. I love politics. I love being here. I love being able to have my say. I don't even think about what would happen post-Winston. As soon as you start thinking that, what's the point of having the current leader? As far as I'm concerned Winston is here for the long, long term. It's not even a consideration for me, because I know Winston is going to be here for a long, long time.