David Farrar is a pollster and political blogger who yesterday launched the New Zealand Taxpayers Union to protest against unnecessary government spending. He recently lost 35kg.
1. I don't recognise that photo on your Facebook page anymore: where have you gone?
Thirty-five kgs has disappeared into the treadmill at [Wellington] CityFitness! McDonald's probably has a few extra unsold quarter pounders also. At my heaviest I was 110kg which is good if you are a six foot two All Black but not if you're vertically challenged.
2. How has it affected your life?
I'm loving not just being lighter, but more importantly being fitter. I've now run two half-marathons, am doing NZ's nine Great Walks over the next three summers and also doing the Otago Rail Trail. I actually get restless now if I don't manage to get out there and do some exercise every day - which is a huge change from when I hated exercise. I waited until I got close to my goal weight before I went out and got a new wardrobe. I took three close female friends with me. How much did I spend? $7500. I've got a nice pair of quite trendy, mustard coloured trousers that I particularly like. It's all pretty skinny, tight-fitting stuff.
3. And now you've set up the NZ Taxpayers Union. What's a right-wing political blogger doing with a union?
It's a lobby group representing the views of the taxpayer and targeting government waste. I've never been anti union - I've signed people up to unions in the past and I think they are important when there is a big power imbalance and workers are vulnerable. I think Unite has been pretty effective in some of the stuff they've done. This is something I've been working on for several years and I'll give you an example of the kind of thing we're targeting - the $30 million subsidy to Rio Tinto. I can't imagine we'd be saying that was great. Or the $3 million the Government spent on a road safety campaign telling us to be nice to our fellow drivers. No, it's not the new Act Party. And it's not anti left or right. I suspect we will somewhat annoy whoever is in government at the time.
4. Do you pay a living wage to your staff at (research company) Curia?
We've got 100 to 120 staff but most of them are part-time students. There was a recent survey that went around about what market research companies pay and I was chuffed to see my staff got paid the highest in the industry. So yes, some of them get a living wage but not all. It's a ridiculous concept calculated by some Anglican reverend about what you need to live on if you are supporting two children. I don't think many 16- or 17-year-olds need to be paid to have two children.
5. Were you always a Tory?
I'm not a Tory. That's a British term. It actually annoys me when people use it in New Zealand as we are nothing like the class-ridden politics of the UK.
I've always been very pro economic liberalism, and that hasn't changed over the years. In 1984 I was a supporter of Bob Jones and his New Zealand Party. In 1987 I voted Labour. But since then I've been pretty consistently National - a realisation that while I might not always agree with everything they do, they are the party best able to achieve the sort of New Zealand that I want.
6. Have your views softened as you've aged?
On social or moral issues, my views have changed massively. I was very conservative when I was 17 and 18. For example, I didn't support homosexual law reform in 1985, yet in 2004 I actively campaigned for civil unions and last year did everything I could to allow same sex marriage. I'm also quite liberal on issues like cannabis decriminalisation despite having never smoked it or intending to, and in the past I was against it. I think I get a little more liberal every year.
7. Did your family discuss politics around the dinner table?
My family were not political, but were politically aware. I remember following my first election in 1975 with my parents and grandmother. I had a book of all the electorates and filled in the results as they came in.
8. I hear you were a long-time scout and scout-leader. Is that something you tell people?
Scouts are great. I loved it as a kid so I became a scout leader and got involved at a national level. It was a major part of my life. I only gave up when I started working in parliament, at 30, because I didn't have the time anymore. I was a leader when I was about 20 and I remember hanging with my friends one night when this group of boys came up and said "Hi Baloo" because the leaders are all named from Kipling's Jungle Book. It was hilarious. My friends called me Baloo for years after but I made all the boys go back to calling me Mr Farrar.
9. People often think you and Cameron Slater (Whale Oil blogger) work in tandem for the National party - he's the rabid version and you follow up with the rational stuff. Is that true?
People always think if it's centre right then it's all grubby conspiracies and synchronised campaigns. It's not. Absolutely we talk about stuff but when people ask me if I can influence Cam on something I say my success rate with that is about 3 per cent which is probably exaggerated by 2 per cent. If Kiwiblog and Whale Oil were British newspapers, I'm the Daily Telegraph and he's the Daily Mail. How would I describe him? Unafraid of consequences.
10. Would you ever stand for Parliament?
No. I like being able to say what I think on Kiwiblog. Most of it is in line with National Party thinking but even Keith Holyoake once said he only agreed with 80 per cent of what his own government did.
11. Which view do you hold that would surprise people most?
Perhaps that I think the world would be a better place with no nation states, and a one world government.
12. Do you still drink?
That's been the biggest change over the past two years. I'll occasionally have a big night but unless there's a real need to drink, I won't. I totally think they should stick calorie labels on wine bottles. There's 125 calories in a glass.