Reversing Roles Wallace Chapman Interviewed kiwiconnexion practical theology
David: Hello everyone. Welcome along to Live
On Air this evening. It’s my great pleasure to have sitting in front of us, Wallace Chapman
who is Radio New Zealand Sunday morning host, as well a long term presenter of Back Benches,
the television programme that talks to politicians in New Zealand. Well Wallace with all of that
TV and radio I’d like you to just describe for us what’s a working day like as a host
of these iconic programs? Wallace: A working day is pretty much – 80
per cent of my week is taken up with reading. So I do an extraordinary amount of reading.
So it will start – well, the week will start with a Monday morning phone call to my Back
Benches team. So, when it starts again – it starts again in May, so in those 20 weeks;
pick up the phone Monday morning 10:00 AM – we have about a half an hour long – a conference
call on who the MPs are going to be. We match the MPs to the topics. We discuss the sort
of topics of the week – four big topics. On the Tuesday morning I meet with my Radio NZ
presenters in Wellington and Auckland, and we discuss the topics for the Sunday.
So those two conference calls are the backbone I guess of my whole week. Then, from there
I get given, or I go out and find a whole lot of reading material and research material.
So for example, for Back Benches it might water quality or inequality or rise in GST
or introducing tobacco tax. So I then do a whole lot of background reading for that,
and then for the Sunday morning RNZ there’s five hours – big show – lots of interviews,
and they’re often long interviews. So that takes up a lot of research time – probably
hundreds of pages for that one show. It’s quite extraordinary. So I’m just reading.
So for example, today I got home 12:00 o’clock, had a nap for an hour and a half, got back
up and got a big book to read for two weeks time. So I just start reading all over again.
David: Well, let’s just take today as an example; early on in the RNZ program you were talking
to a former Prime Minister of the country, Sir Geoffrey Palmer who instituted some very
considerable changes to how we understand things like Treaty of Waitangi and so on.
I found that a fascinating interview, but the questions you are asking, I considered
you must have spent a very long time researching, because that was a whole series of things
that related to his political life – short political as Prime Minister.
Wallace: Oh, just a minor correction there, David; what’s happened there is that series
with – and our Prime Ministers, that was actually Guyon Espiner, which is quite unusual. What’s
happened is that because Sunday morning… David: Oh, was that Guyon, was it?
Wallace: Yes, but because Sunday morning has quite a big audience, and particularly that
first hour’s got quite a big political audience, they decided to put their podcast onto my
show. So that’s what happened there. So every particular week there’s going to be a different
Prime Minister, and I’ve got to say that Guyon – with that particular series – he did a lot
of work – extraordinary, and he actually took six weeks off radio, and interviewed those
Prime Ministers for the whole day actually. So it was cut down to one hour. I mean, that’s
an example of the sort of breadth really that RNZ presenters can go to, to get those sort
of interviews, but it was a great listen – yeah, absolutely.
David: Absolutely. The two of you must have an identical voice, but I suspect that it’s
my age. I’m not all that brilliant at hearing, but what a great thing the RNZ Sunday program
is, because you range over politics – oh, you name it – your subjects really span just
about every discipline imaginable. Wallace: Oh, I think that’s why I love it.
It’s a bit of a dream job for me David. For example, you asked me if there’s anything
that I can recall over the last three years, and it’s quite hard to pick out particular
things, but it is that diversity. Getting the chance to play those long-form interviews
like that, and we’ve had – I’ve sat down for an hour with some very interesting people.
For example – well one that I can recall was a doctor called Dr [Robin 5:40] Young, and
his big research, which I can relate to was it’s shown now that whereas unlike the past
in the �50s and �60s where doctors would show no empathy or no understanding of patients
needs, if a doctor or a clinician shows your empathy, your health outcomes are better.
If a doctor or clinician just puts their hand on your shoulder and says, you know what – how
are you? The patient is give this permission to actually sort of go – to open up. Dr Robin
Young – he’s an anaesthetist – so there’s a lot of research now about empathy in patient
care. Now, that’s the sort of topic I love talking about. It’s absolutely fascinating.
So you might jump from that to interviewing a well known musician like a really – actually
a really topical one is tonight on the news; Joan Biaz was inducted into the Rock & Roll
Hall of Fame. I talked to Joan Biaz about three months ago, and that was a real treat,
to be able to talk with someone like that. David: This morning it was – did I hear Pink
Floyd? Wallace: Yes. I tracked down, because there
was an early member of Pink Floyd – his name is Syd Barrett. Syd Barrett was one of the
founding members, and he left Pink Floyd very early on, but to this very day there is still
an extraordinary fascination with who Syd Barrett was. Syd Barrett had a lot of mental
health problems. He actually had schizophrenia. So there’s this whole mental health issues
around his music that people sort of find quite fascinating. So I talked with his nephew,
Ian Barrett on the show today, but one thing off the show this morning which was actually
very interesting in terms of a kind of spirituality sort of thing; I talked with a journalist
called Julie Hill and she went to a town in California called Sedona.
Sedona is the world’s largest [Mecca 8:08] of New Age spirituality. So you’ll get people
travelling there. It’s a town of 10,000 people, but it swells to four million – the tourists
every year. So people go there to try and find their spirit guides or their angels or
experience the vortex. So it was a very interesting discussion on what appeals to people when
it comes to New Age, and is that in any sense kind of taking the place of spirituality.
So it was actually quite fascinating. David: Well, that kind of leads to your own
background, Wallace because you come from a Methodist Minister’s background. Well, your
father was a Methodist Minister I should say. Do you find somehow that experience influences
you consciously or do you think possibly subconsciously in the way you do your interviews?
Wallace: That’s actually a really good question, David – a really great question. It’s something
I’ve actually been thinking about a lot recently in terms of how I form opinions – form values
– how I see the world. I never used to think much about it, but growing up from a very
young age, and this is kind of six, seven, eight, nine; we were always surrounded in
our household by very progressive thinking – extremely – not that I kind of recognised
it, but when I say progressive thinking I mean for example issues of social justice
– issues of justice – issues of respect and dignity to other people. That was very strong
with Mum and Dad. Dad used to have these magazines called Pacific Island Monthly. Other religious
magazines; there was a magazine called New Internationalists, which I used to pick up
and read randomly, but actually they were very, very progressive magazines. You know?
They touched on issues that you wouldn’t ever see in the Nelson Evening Mail.
So I was subconsciously being exposed to some real issues that I never heard in Nelson College.
It was through Dad. So for example; the issue of – one example in the early �80s was the
issue of gay rights. Now, Dad and Mum never every foisted their issues of gay rights on
me – never even discussed it, but there was a lot of reading material around, and I remember
once there was this gay priest who came over, I think from the States, and I asked Mum in
a whisper, Mum is Bob homosexual? Mum said, yes he is – and there’s nothing wrong with
that either, Wallace. So, those sort of early formative experiences dealing with real – pretty
progressive issues at the time – this was in an era at Nelson College – I was actually
teased a few time when Dad was on the radio talking about issues around guy issues in
the church. He was on National Radio interestingly. Yeah,
I was kind of teased at school about my father. So, looking back, all I can say; I’m pretty
damned proud of him now, and those issues now are front and centre in our society today
– highly relevant. So, to have early experience and adoption of those particular issues when
I was very young – I couldn’t get a better background as a person in the media. So, thanks
Mum and Dad. With regards to Methodism, I think of those issues as justice and social
justice, and looking out for others; I think that’s what’s percolating down to me.
David: Well, one of the interesting things was – I remember your father who was also
called Wallace Chapman, could be quite outspoken in the Annual Methodist Conference, and particularly…
Wallace: Oh really? Okay. David: Because your dad was Fijian, at the
time of the first coup in Fijian he argued strongly that the Methodist Church in New
Zealand should not interfere or make any statements about what was going on. Now, that was Colonel
Rabuka’s coup. Wallace: Rabuka; that’s right.
David: At the time I think the conference felt, we’re not in agreement with this Wallace
because it seemed to be against the kinds of things that we would normally stand up
for but the interesting things was that the issues have never gone away in Fiji, and they’re
still with us today. Wallace: No, they haven’t.
David: So, in a sense I think he was a somewhat prophetic but lonely voice on that particular
issue, but I mean he had a lot of backing in some of his other speeches.
Wallace: Yeah. It’s amazing. It’s extraordinary really. I mean that particular issues there
– Dad felt very strongly about it, and Fijian politics – if you think New Zealand politics
is complex, Fiji politics is very complex, because – well, I can recall, David the moment
– driving in our blue Triumph down the road – I think it was in Taumaranui, and he hears
on the radio that there’s been a coup in Fiji, and that Dr Bavadra has been ousted by the
military. He stopped the car and he cried. I couldn’t believe it. I looked at my brothers.
I looked at Mum. I’d never seen Dad like this. I’d never seen Dad like this, and I couldn’t
understand why he was so upset. I mean, it’s an island nation, but to him here was his
homeland, by essence a very stable homeland, and for the first time for many progressive
people Fiji had a real chance under Dr Bavadra. What he wanted to do was he wanted to make
it a more equal society. He wanted to bring the Fiji Indians who were
always second class citizens – always, in their homeland – and the poorest – Dr Bavadra
as a full Fijian, wanted to bring the Indian community into the fold, and grow a more equal
Fiji. I think that Dr Bavadra had a lot of values that Dad shared with around what justice
really was – social justice. So, to hear him being ousted in a military coup – that effected
Dad deeply. He wrote to the Queen, but as you say, that seed of stability never went
away. Then you had the thug George Speight, and it kept on going. [16:10] I think his
name is, who was very tied to the National Council of Chiefs – was very Nationalistic.
You know? Fiji to Fijians sort of movement. So, no it will be interesting to see what
Dad would have thought of the latest administration. So yeah, it’s an interesting memory.
David: Also, because that whole business of the indigenous culture versus the Indentured
Labour is not all that different in kind from what happened in New Zealand society with
the colonial period, but it was the reverse in a sense that the indigenous culture was
totally swamped, and I think Guyon Espiner’s point to – rather than Wallace Chapman’s point
to Sir Geoffrey Palmer was that what we did in those early days when Palmer as changing
the law in this country, was enable the fundamental righting of a wrong that incorporated all
people in, but it incorporated them in the treaty and it wasn’t a sham. I think that
was Geoffrey Palmer’s point; this Treaty is not a sham – this Treaty is a living document
– that we have to continue to use it. Wallace: Oh absolutely, and in terms of that
biculturalism aspect, I think that’s where – again, what I can recall very strongly is
that bicultural component Methodism was very strong with Dad, and also with my step-father,
Buddy [18:00] Maori, you know, and going back – and I know it was quite a controversial
– well, fairly controversial thing in the church – how to get the meeting of Pakeha-Maori
as type first – bicultural first, multi-cultural second, but it taught me a lot. It taught
me a lot about Maori-Pakeha relationships. I can tell you something, David; to this day
they’re still talking about it. It’s never gone away. The issue is as relevant as ever.
David: Yeah, and it’s relevant to the whole of society, and in that way I think Methodism
reflected perhaps more than some of the other denominations at the time, but then the Roman
Catholics and the Anglicans in many respects embraced it more than the Methodists. Well,
those were the three churches that were tied up with the original signing of the Treaty,
so they all have a very significant history that says we are onboard with what is being
done since 1840. Wallace, the world today, in my opinion seems to be more troubled than
about 20 years ago. When we were on the verge of the millennium in 1999, I wrote; peace
is breaking out everywhere – even in the Middle East – even in the State of Israel with its
Palestinian neighbours. That seemed true; there was a mood of optimism
for three or four years. How embarrassing it now seems to have written that. I wonder
whether the media look at those situations worldwide differently, or whether the situations
have worsened, and I can’t think of a person in New Zealand better able to answer that
question than yourself, because you’re at that kind of cutting edge. You’re constantly
interviewing politicians and people from numerous professions at the top of their profession.
So, what’s your opinion? Are the media approaching the same situations differently now?
Wallace: Well, all I can say to that – first I’ll preface this by saying that I myself
have got no great insight into the issue, albeit I’ve long had an interest in international
affairs, so again when I tailor the show with my producers I really go for people who have
got a lot to say in the world, international law, politics and that type of thing. Is the
world a better place 20 years ago? When it comes to this kind of administration of Donald
Trump, I suppose the key thing – and again, no great insights here, but the key thing
that I’m very concerned about is the sheer unpredictability of his administration. Whereas
previous administrations would lay out their agenda, and you can generally see their path
– for example George Bush; his neoconservative administration and the people he had around
him like Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, [21:38] – all hawks, but you knew in a sense which
way they were going to take the world. The problem with Donald Trump is you don’t
know which way they’re going to take the world. Now, I’m just echoing for example a current
– I think who did a major talk on this in New York recently – a guy called [22:00] who
was saying that in the 60 years he’s been following American politics the one thing
that he’s very concerned about with Donald Trump is his sheer unpredictability, and in
some respects, to quote [22:22] he’s taking us to the precipice – to the edge of the world
with his policies. So for example, the world’s most pressing issue – climate change doesn’t
matter now. You’ll talk to scientists as I have done on the radio show who say that they’re
so bog-smacked by the rate of climate change that they’re just watching the change before
their very eyes, and they’re stunned into silence. They’re just seeing the rate of the
change so fast, never before in history – they said, it’s deeply concerning for humankind.
Now you’ve got an administration in the US who is getting rid of every regulation. The
Environmental Protection Authority; they’ve got a pro-oil man in there ready to dismantle
and dump on all the regulations. It’s deeply concerning. So there are some really worrying
issues. This latest issue for example on this Tomahawk missile attack on Syria; David, where
is that going to take us if Russia want to respond? So it’s the share spontaneity and
unpredictability of the administration that is the number one concern for me. Now, with
regards to the media and how they report it, that’s the second prong of this point; how
does the media relay that, portray that and deliver that to the people in a factual engaging
basis, relying solely on factual information? That is the challenge that modern commercial
media organisations have. David: One of things Wallace that really concern
me is that Trump seems to not pay much attention to the idea that leaders need to tell the
truth. Now, we know that leaders are experts at manipulating the truth, but at the same
time they do understand that in today’s day and age, it’s much easier to check the facts
than it might have been 100 years ago. So, their ability to manipulate public opinion
– well it would have initially been through newspapers and magazines or journals, and
then increasingly through radio, and then obviously latterly and post-World War II through
television – their ability to be able to withhold information has been getting less and less
and less. So, what we see with Donald Trump is, today Julian Assange and WikiLeaks is
absolutely flavour of the day, but when some more WikiLeaks come out that are a bit damaging
to the Trump administration, he’s a terrible person.
Now, we’ve seen exactly this happen with Putin, and Trump’s inability to understand that other
world leaders need the kind of stability that you’re talking about. He doesn’t have that
particular grasp. I’ve discussed this a couple of times with some of my counterparts in Australia
in Live On Air, and they regard Trump as actually the pinnacle of what we call postmodernism.
So, what you say today is all that counts; it doesn’t matter that you have a history
of 100 or 1000 years or whatever. You simply sweep that aside and it’s what you can do
with public opinion today. I think that the launching of those missiles, though – perhaps
from my perspective, justifiable as a measured response, actually was so totally opposite
to what this guy campaigned on, that everyone is left in a kind of vortex if you like. I
don’t know whether it’s a vortex of spirituality or the vortex of horror.
Okay, Wallace we’ve got a kind of closing question that’s come in from one of our viewers.
He would like to know; do you have any perspective on what’s happening in the New Zealand political
scene today? I think he might really mean – he hopes that Labour and Greens will win
and form a government; do you have any inside information on that?
Wallace: Well, I’m not going to tell you who I vote for. What I am going to do; I’m going
to give you an overarching perspective on New Zealand politics, because as we were talking
about, David we cover off international issues pretty closely, and what I see in the last
year or two has personally really deeply concerned me. One of them is the rise of racism; to
hear one of my guests saying that an African-American kid goes to school in the US now 10 years
old and gets taunt because of his race. That’s happening today in 2017. I find that really
shocking. The fact that we, in Australia have a One Nation, a big resurgence of Pauline
Hanson – the fact that in parts of Europe there’s a big ride to the right; these are
very worrying and quite scary and chilling developments. In New Zealand we haven’t had
that. You know? We have not had that. We’ve got a measure of moderateness that somehow
keeps that off-balance, and I think that we should be proud of ourselves for keeping that
at bay. We might complain about the National Party – we might complain about [acts 28:51]
– we might complain about [28:53] or whatever, but the fact of the matter is we are in a
functioning MMP environment. It’s working. Yes, voter turn-out could be better. Yes,
younger voter turn-out could be better, but things are okay. Things are okay.
In terms of the actual particular issues that I think are very important, one thing that
I, along with our guests here have really noticed, just on a personal level in Auckland,
but also just reading the News, is inequality. Inequality is entrenched I would say in New
Zealand society today in a way that I’ve never seen it before, and it’s deeply concerning,
and we’ve got to do something about it. Whatever administration that comes in, in the new election,
be it Labour-Greens, National-New Zealand First; they’ve got to tackle the disparity
and gap between people. That’s the number one issue for kiwis right now. So that’s my
take on New Zealand politics. David: What a great take that is, too. Thank
you very much indeed, Wallace. We’ll say good evening to everyone.
Reversing role Wallace Chapman Interviewed kiwiconnextion practical theology 1