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Willie Jackson

Eye to Eye frontman.

So, who would have thought that Kiwis had an appetite for political biff and bravado with their Saturday breakfast? And who would have thought that TVNZ would give the former Alliance MP the chance to re-create himself as a feisty current-affairs host? Willie Jackson is used to tricky questions. How does he answer a few himself?

Critics say Eye to Eye is "top television, whatever your race" - but what's it about? I would describe it as a Maori perspective on current affairs, and I'm not sure that's happened before. It's not too heavy [and] it can be entertaining, too. We broach issues differently ... because we're coming from a more informed perspective and people learn something from our show. It's sort of punch them up, have a crack and no-holds barred at times ... now and then, we've had the odd sort of all-out brawl.

Violence on television? [Maori activist] Mike Smith up against Cliff Lee, a city councillor for Rotorua ... Mike just lost it altogether. Anyway, he didn't punch him over or anything, but it was pretty close.

Are you sure this is current affairs? [TVNZ's head of news and current affairs] Bill Ralston likes it - Bill really enjoys it.

Are you finished with politics? Absolutely, you tell TVNZ that. I'm certainly not standing in this year's election.

People think of Willie Jackson as a liberal lefty. But you're not liberal, are you? No, I don't even know if I'm a lefty any more. I was a union official for 16, 17 years, so obviously I was part of the left. Now I see myself as pro-Maori, but not in an in-your-face type of way ... and sometimes that doesn't go down well with the left-wing agenda. I can be quite conservative in some areas: I think they should put the drinking age back up; I don't think they should decriminalise marijuana.

Why are Maori men so socially conservative? When you see the damage that has been done to our people - I've seen that in terms of drug abuse, as every second Maori family has had some sort of problem - when you see the abuse with regards alcohol, you become conservative. It's easy to be liberal - they make policy out of their champagne glasses in Ponsonby, they're having a joint - but that isn't what decriminalisation is all about.

And what about male Maori attitudes to gays? I don't have problems with gay people like John Tamihere does, but it's a relevant question. You have to realise that people like John and I - I grew up in Porirua and Mangere, not exactly the hub of gay relations. We weren't celebrating homosexuality in the freezing works - you guys have got to get real here.

But unionism changed your attitude? I learnt a lot. I don't know if JT learnt too much ... but although I might be a bit uncomfortable with homosexuals, I will fight for their rights. And I did as a union official. And the onus was on us to educate [workers] and that is what I've tried to do. I have tried with JT, of course, but to no avail.

Is it a whanau thing? I can't say to you, I would like for my son to be homosexual, I can't say that. My first cousin, Moana Nepia, he broke my Uncle Bill's heart. He was trained to be a doctor, and he was an athlete. Then he chucked in being a doctor, and said, "No, I'm gay, Dad, I'm not going to be a doctor and I'm joining the New Zealand Ballet Company" ... but he's done tremendously well.

Election predictions? I think the Maori Party are going to get a minimum of four, maximum of six seats. Nanaia [Mahuta] could be the last one standing. I think Helen Clark will go [into coalition] with New Zealand First. She will want to go with First before the Greens, who are flaky. There's an outside possibility of a Maori Party deal ... but there's too much bad blood. I wouldn't write off Act - no matter what people say about Rodney Hide, he is an excellent performer.

Where's New Zealand's left-wing party? The Greens are your only real left-wing option. We might be three to six years away from another strong, militant left-wing party. Matt McCarten is one to watch. He's developing his union. I don't have much time for [the established unions]. I hope my mate Matt destroys them.

Eye to Eye with Willie Jackson, Saturday, TV1, 9.30am. Repeats Tuesday, 11.00pm