23 Aug 2017

Bookmarks with Peter Dunne

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 2:24 pm on 23 August 2017

The United Future leader Peter Dunne announced this week that he will not contest the Ōhāriu seat that he's held for 33 years and end his parliamentary career.

He talks to Jesse Mulligan about what inspires him, what makes him laugh and the lessons he’s learnt so far.

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Photo: RNZ

Dunne first became interested in politics as a buck-toothed boy in Christchurch, he says.

"I was the kid who at 14 decided to get Hansard – the weekly record of parliamentary debate – sent to me by my local MP."

"I love great oratory, I love great speeches, and I love people who play around with words."

One of his favourite orators is his good friend Geoffrey Palmer.

"He used words that most of us had never heard of and he used them in such a precise and proper way."

He also appreciates Michael Cullen's quick wit.

"We've had a testy relationship over the years, but we get on alright now"

So what now for Peter Dunne?

There are many books to read. He’s a fan of historical and political biographies of American presidents and UK prime ministers.

“What really fascinates me is how people behave in certain situations, what drives them? It’s not just the facts, but what is actually in their minds as they’re doing all these extraordinary things?”

His taste in comedy runs to the zany end of the spectrum – Monty Python and Fawlty Towers are right up his alley.

"I like things that are a little bit reckless, a little bit unusual."

But the music he likes is banned at home, he says.

“I like the big band era of the 1940s and I love the long slow ballads of the ‘40s and ‘50s. I’m not really into what’s followed… I just think the class was there and I don’t think we’ve quite caught up with it.”

He first heard Edward Elgar's "stirring" patriotic anthem 'Land of Hope and Glory' as a teenager.

“I’m an Irish nationalist, but I love the whole suite of pomp and circumstance marches, and I think this one is the best of all. It inspires me, anyway, to do great things – and I think that’s what this music is about.”

The 1969 hit 'Nature' by The Fourmyula sums up "iconic New Zealand" for Dunne.

We have a great country that has come a huge way in the last 30 years but we still have a massive journey to come, he says.

First off, we need to be a lot less timid about our national identity.

“We’re not carbon copies of anyone else. We are New Zealanders, we are a mix of bi-cultural heritage, increasingly multicultural development… I think we’ve really got to take the bull by the horns, and the one thing we can do to demonstrate that is elect our own head of state, become a republic. It doesn’t mean leaving the Commonwealth, but the idea that we’re beholden to some queen 12,500 miles away just really makes me cringe. I think we're bigger and bolder than that and we should do it.”

Dunne’s favourite poets are James K Baxter, Gerard Manly Hopkins and William Butler Yeats.

The line ‘The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity’ from the Yeats poem 'The Second Coming' is one he’s kept in mind throughout his political career.

“I’m very wary of anyone with bright ideas, because bright ideas are seldom those.

“Yeats is talking about the frailty of humankind, the fact that we are, at the end of the day, all transitory, the fact that however bold and big our dreams they will all founder. So let’s just focus on doing things properly.”

He has mixed feelings about the fact that he left politics without making a valedictory speech.

“I’ve always prided myself on being in control and never losing control. In those circumstances when things were happening so suddenly, I’m not sure I could have gone through with it. Do I regret that? To some extent I do. But as John Kennedy once said, we can’t all choose the circumstances of our lives. That’s it.

“I’d like to be remembered as someone who was good at his job, as someone who earned respect, who knew what they were doing and who could communicate.”

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