John Minto is a veteran New Zealand activist who became known as a leader of a powerful anti-apartheid campaign in the 1970s. More recently, he was part of organising some of the largest pro-Palestine demonstrations ever in New Zealand.
A member of the Mana Movement, headed by militant Maori MP Hone Harawira, Minto is a candidate for the Internet Mana alliance for the September 20 polls. The alliance was formed between Mana, with a strong base in the Maori working class, and the newly formed Internet Party founded by millionaire businessperson Kim Dotcom, wanted by US authorities over alleged copyright violations.
Fourth on the list, Minto would likely enter parliament if Internet Mana polled about 3%, along with Harawira, Internet Party. This is a real possibility, although the most recent polls put Mana closer to 2%. He spoke to Green Left Weekly about Mana and campaigning to transform New Zealand.
What would you view the main issues in this election campaign are?
The main issues for Mana are the basic ones for families. It is income, housing, taxation and free education.
And then you have the wider issues, big ones like the TPPA [TransPacific Partnership Agreement pro-corporate free trade agreement involved 12 Pacific rim nations that is being negotiated in secret] and the Five Eyes alliance [involving intelligence agencies from the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which has been exposed as carrying out wholesale surveillance on their citizens].
How important do you think these foreign policy issues are — such as the TPPA, the Five Eyes alliance and also now, yet another Iraq war pushed by the West?
It is really important in its own right. It is interesting, I was talking to a parent at last night’s meet the candidates meeting, and she said her teenage son and friends were very interested in Internet Mana. They went to the Moment of Truth meeting [convened by the Internet Party founder Dotcom, at which Edward Snowden revealed New Zealand role in mass spying] and were fascinated and really intensely interested in the whole spying thing. They see it as directly affecting them, to have governments spying on what they do online. So it is an important point of engagement for young people.
You have also just recently been part of organising large Palestine demonstrations. How does Mana view these type of issues?
Well for Mana they are key issues. The core of Mana is activists. We are activists and we have campaign the past three years as Mana on all these issues. You can look at any of these issues, like the surveillance laws, like Palestine, like stopping the asset sales, a whole myriad of other things, there are Mana flags and supporters there, and Mana networks help get people out.
So these issues fits comfortably in Mana, and Mana fits comfortably in them.
Can you describe the alliance with the Internet Party and how it came about?
Well, it was a situation where all of us involved were well out of our comfort zones. When there was the option of Dotcom coming in, the thing that people like myself said was “OK, big donations from people, they always come with strings attached, so what are the strings attached in terms of policy?”
We had just adopted a whole lot of new policy in our AGM and I said, “If we shift a frickin’ comma in that policy, I’m not interested”. That was the general feeling around.
The discussion went on and it became clear that not only would the two parties keep their policies separate, but there would be no major conflict between the two groups' policies. It is actually more a matter of detail. We have developed more detail in our policies, although they have developed some more as time has gone on.
And the thing about Kim Dotcom, well it is a big query. He was the victim of illegal spying, so he has changed a bit. He is an uber-capitalist, and he is still that today, but his views on political issues have changed quite dramatically. He has come to see there is more to life than making lots of money and spending it in frivolous ways.
At meetings, he is one who speaks most vehemently about the need for the rich to pay more tax. He says he needs to pay far more tax and we should have wealth tax, inheritance tax, capital gains tax — all things that are core to Mana.
So, in one sense, he is right there with a plan to rebuild community structures and the welfare state. He himself grew up in a very poor family. So he has been there and obviously, he got out of that, but now he is looking back.
But we were all out of our comfort zones because we were worried about the public perception. But we have been able to hold on to our integrity in the process.
What do you think of the media response to Dotcom and the alliance?
The response from some of the media has been outright hostile all the way through. That is not a bad thing, you need to sharpen things up. They have accused us — of people like me — of being sell-outs.
I’m happy to take that on the chin. The fact is, everybody knows exactly who gives Mana donations. We don’t know what donations Labour, Nationals or Greens get. We know where the money comes from and we know it doesn’t come with strings attached, in terms of policy.
And we are not pulling our punches on anything. I think as that has become clearer, people have become more respectful of it.
Given that Mana’s main base is among lower-class Maori people, do you think this alliance is a chance to broaden that base?
Yes, that has been something we have been working on for three years. I joined Mana in 2011, just before the elections. It developed as a split from the Maori Party, so it was seen as a Maori party supported by a few pakeha [white New Zealanders] like me.
So out in the general [non-Maori] electorates, we got hammered. We got almost nothing in terms of votes. So we addressed that in the local elections last year when I stood for Auckland mayor. We had a whole slate of candidates — Maori and pakeha and Pacific peoples.
And we campaigned in the lower-class areas and were very successful. We had candidates polling 3000-4000 votes, against Labor that was polling 10,000-14,000. So we were taking big chunks of votes from Labor.
That was local, it doesn’t automatically translate into a general election. But I think we showed we were a party for everyone. The alliance with the internet party has reinforced this and that is a positive thing.
A lot of the issues you mentioned at the start — housing, education, incomes — you also hear Labour and Greens talk about. What separates Mana out?
Well you go to any meeting and Labour will always say “we want housing, it has to be quality and affordable, where every kid gets a decent start because that is the Kiwi dream, and that is what labour stands for, what Labour wants”.
It all sounds good, you know. But there is nothing in any of their policies to back it up. They are just tinkering with what the Nationals are doing. They are National-light. They are nothing to do with transforming this country. Tax the rich? Good god, they are shifting the top tax rate by a couple of cents in the dollar. I mean, piss off.
Labour is a party of neoliberialism. It is a party of the right. It has been for 30 years.
What will the gains be if there are more Mana MPs?
The gains are going to be, when we are electing MPs to parliament, one Mana MP will be worth a dozen Labour MPs when it comes to representing low-income people. We are all seasoned campaigners. We got our feet dirty. We come from the “loudhailer and placards” brigade, if you like. We have come from a lot of street action.
People respect us, even if they hate us, they respect us because we campaign hard. So you put people like us in parliament, we are going to campaign. We will work with MPs inside parliament, but more importantly, with community groups outside it.
The parliament will do nothing without a groundswell outside it. Our job is to build that groundswell and to fight hard to get communities demanding change.