Judges get it right on third strike

“Victims of sexual and violent crime have won a victory following the 12 year sentence handed to a repeat sex offender under ACT’s three strikes law,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“After two other second-strike cases were exempted from the legislation under the ‘manifestly unjust’ provision, it’s pleasing to see a judge make full use of the law, targeting one of the most heinous crimes possible.”

The offender was convicted for two indecent assaults on elderly women, which both took place during parole for an earlier ‘first strike’ offence.

“This exemplifies the importance of the no-parole condition for second and third strikes. If he ever commits the crime again, he will be guaranteed a 20-year sentence without parole.

“Three strikes removes serial offenders from society and firm penalties discourage potential offenders. This sends a message.”


National looks after everyone but taxpayers

“National is parading its indexation of welfare payments while refusing to do the same with tax brackets,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Benefits were adjusted for inflation today. What about the workers? Tax brackets should be adjusted too.

“This fiscal year, a person on the average income will pay another $378 in tax as inflation pushes them into higher brackets, even if they have no increase in real spending power. They have already paid an extra $649 since 2010.

“The average household has already paid an extra $1036 since 2010, and will pay $431 more this year.

Taxpayers are today being asked to fund:

· Government grants for first home buyers of up to $20,000;
· A two-week extension to paid parental leave;
· NZ Superannuation increases, heralded as growing at twice the rate of inflation since 2008.

“If the government wants to fund this by increasing taxes, it should do so openly and honestly, not through stealth taxation."

Time to extinguish Auckland Council's fireplace ban for good

Auckland Council’s attempts to ban or restrict open domestic fireplaces keep resurfacing, usually to be beaten back by public objection. It’s like driving a stake through the heart of Dracula – the Council keeps coming back. Their Regulatory and By-laws Committee is set to reconsider the ban tomorrow.

We’ve heard claims that domestic heating emissions contribute the most to a supposed 730 premature deaths caused each year by Auckland’s air pollution, and $727m in healthcare costs.

When you hear such claims, you have to wonder about their basis. The expression, lies, damned lies, and statistics, comes to mind.

How reliable are these estimates? No death certificates cite air quality as cause of death. How do we distinguish these influences, if really measurable, from all other forms of air pollution? Can we be sure that fireplaces in a coastal region like Auckland are a significant influence? And if we have estimates, how accurate, or uncertain, might they be?

Until recently, regardless of ones scepticism about all this, you had no way to assess the claims of those wishing to regulate the remaining open fires in Auckland out of existence.

But a few months ago 2014 Air Domain Report on New Zealand’s air quality was released by the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician. And on 5 March, Parliament’s Commissioner for the Environment released a Commentary on this report.

The Commentary was extremely helpful.

The Commissioner observes that you need to decide what to worry about most, and what least. The air pollutant of most concern is particulate matter. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has four guidelines on airborne particles, for larger (PM10)) and finer (PM2.5) particulates, with guidelines for each for long-term and short-term exposure.

The most important of the WHO guidelines is for long-term finer particulate exposure, and the Commissioner notes the least important is short-term exposure to the larger particles.

But the guideline that for New Zealand’s standard for particulate matter is in fact the latter, the least important of them. We monitor the wrong thing.

The Commissioner recommends a shift to particulate regulation emphasising long-term PM2.5 exposures, observing this would sensibly widen council perspectives beyond home heating. Winter spikes are a short-term phenomenon.

Given the trends in New Zealand’s air pollution the Commissioner concludes that “it does not look like an important environmental issue”. Auckland is comfortably below WHO guidelines for both short and long-term exposure to large and small particulates. Particulate concentrations have been declining in Auckland through the past 50 years.

Good estimates of particulate sources come from a monitoring site in Takapuna, which is considered representative of Auckland air quality. Being coastal, 40% of PM10 and 33% of PM2.5 in Auckland comes from seaspray. European Air Quality Directives allow salt and soil particulates to be subtracted from monitoring results. Doing the same here would greatly reduce the concern about all this.

Auckland’s diesel vehicle emissions are a substantial source of particulates, with a consistently large influence year-round. Interestingly, the efficiency of petrol vehicles means they barely register.

The Commissioner also comments on October 2014’s proposed by-law to reduce PM10 levels from an average of two exceedances of the PM10 rule to one. The Commissioner concludes that complying with that rule would have no detectable effect on health outcomes. So why bother?

More generally, the Commissioner’s commentary showed considerable scepticism of health impact modelling, noting impacts cannot be observed directly and thus have to be estimated from epidemiological studies. The results’ degree of uncertainty should be reported, but hasn’t been. Comprehensive measurements are only available for PM10, but we know PM2.5 is more significant.

Furthermore, The Commissioner notes New Zealand’s mortality estimates are inconsistent with Australian studies for cities with similar PM10 measurements, which show much lower impacts.

In short, scepticism about health impacts is entirely warranted.

This brings us back to the Council obsession with eliminating the remaining domestic open fireplaces in Auckland.

Council could always consider strategies to reduce diesel emissions, but fireplaces? They just don’t matter anymore.

David Seymour
ACT Party Leader
MP for Epsom

Another burden off students’ backs

Four years after ACT’s private members bill to free students from compulsory unionism became law, students may be relieved of another burden, according to David Cunliffe.

In a statement today, Mr Cunliffe speculated that NZUSA may collapse, a possibility welcomed by ACT Leader David Seymour.

“The decline of student unionism proves what we’ve always suspected: students never wanted to join unions and now it seems the unions themselves don’t want to join NZUSA,” said Mr Seymour.

“Thanks to ACT’s Voluntary Student Membership (VSM) bill, tertiary students are no longer forced to fund breeding grounds for aspiring socialist politicians.

“Even students think university politics is tedious. Most want to get on with gaining their qualifications.

“The union has typically lobbied as though students never graduate. They consistently argue for subsidies and price controls that will lower the quality of education while whacking taxpaying graduates. This is likely because many student politicians themselves never graduate.

“If Labour really wants support on campus, they could campaign on making unions repay the countless millions of dollars in union fees compulsorily taken from students before ACT passed VSM.”


Mr Seymour's position was also reported in the National Business Review:

Both Mr Cunliffe and [NZUSA President] Mr McCourt agree the Voluntary Student Membership Bill passed in 2011 (put forward by ACT), has had a major negative impact on student unions across the country.

Mr Cunliffe says the act left student organisations with no minimum funding and although many are well set up, they are underfunded by their universities.

Mr McCourt says the act's aim was always to destroy the national student voice and shows that ACT doesn’t like the fact NZUSA speaks up for student issues.But ACT leader David Seymour says Mr McCourt is incredibly arrogant to assume the only people speaking for students were NZUSA, which made it compulsory for people to join.

“The fact that people were forced to join the student unions undermines their credibility.”

Mr Seymour even went as far as describing the collapse of NZUSA as “the impending liberation of another layer of burden off the backs of New Zealand’s hardworking and oppressed students by tedious and tiresome student politicians.”

Mr Seymour says the fact that student unions are struggling so much answers the question about their effectiveness.

“As it turns out, students do not regard student unions as good value and very few voluntarily choose to join if they have a choice about the cost.”

Free Press 30/03/2015

It is Tight
The weekend’s election shows how crucial ACT and Epsom are to stable centre right government.

Don’t Cry for Me Aotearoa
Regions like Northland need resource development (see the excellent report From Red Tape to Green Gold by the New Zealand Initiative). The largest handbrake on this is the Resource Management Act. With Peter Dunne intransigent on RMA reform and ACT short one vote, RMA reform will now be decided by the Maori Party (which has two votes). We are optimistic because Maori have much to gain from using their natural resources, but in reality we may have just lost a decade to properly reform the Act.

No Class
National’s bridge bribe was a double clanger. Bad policy, bad politics. Successful election bribes, such as Helen Clark’s interest-free student loans, depend on the pork being covered in a crackling of pious virtue (e. g. “we’re doing it for our grandkids”). The bridge bribe was more of the canned spam variety.

Time for a Reformation?
National have two options when it comes to election bribes: get better or quit. We pray there are forces within National who have read the party’s (very good) founding constitution. They should apply internal pressure to end the neo-Muldoonism that made the bridge bribe reflexive.

Northlanders Saw it First
Northlanders watched government hand out billions to Christchurch and Auckland, and tens of millions thrown like confetti on subsidies for sailors to play with billionaires and assistance for casinos to expand. Ten bridges? They must have thought, really?

Record Breaker
Winston Peters is now set to be run out of three electorates in one career. David Seymour puts in hour after hour covering New Zealand’s (geographically) smallest electorate. It will be interesting to see just how dedicated the Force for the North will be in attending school fairs, electorate clinics, and all the other activities that a diligent electorate MP performs. Get your invites in early folks.

Plus ça Change
Mr Peters likes to blame the Reserve Bank Act for whatever seems to be the problem of the day. It’s a clever and opportunistic political pitch: hopelessly wrong, but monetary policy is complex enough that he gets away with it. Ridiculous assertions about monetary policy also used to work for Social Credit back in the ‘60s. Some things never change.

Opportunity for ACT
Centre right voters have an alternative party. ACT opposes all corporate welfare, middle class welfare, unsustainable superannuation, bracket creep, wanton government interventionism, and stifling land-use regulation. Like-minded voters are welcome home over the coming two years.

A Broken Selection Model
Free Press pointed out National’s candidate wasn’t exactly a young JFK. We are reminded of when Clem Simich was picked ahead of David Kirk. It is only through sheer determination that John Key avoided rejection by the Helensville electorate committee. How many of Hekia Parata, Steven Joyce, and Chris Finlayson would be in Parliament if they relied on a National electorate committee for selection?

That will be $300, Thanks
When candidates are nominated the Electoral Commission asks for $300 to prove they’re serious. If the candidate gets five per cent of the vote, this deposit is returned to the candidate. Willow-Jean Prime is likely the first Labour Candidate since 1916 to lose her deposit.

Greater Damage
Andrew Little’s job is to build Labour, or so we thought. They didn’t just fail in Northland, they surrendered at the starting line. Mr Little has relinquished his claim to be the prime opposition leader. By extension, he cannot claim he would be a powerful Prime Minister. Centre and Right voters have received a clear message: the alternative to a National-ACT government is a Winston-Labour-Green one, almost in that order.

Labour Hypocrisy in Epsom
Last year Labour’s Epsom candidate tiresomely told voters he had come to Epsom to save democracy from strategic voting. We won’t have to listen to that next election. Then there’s the Greens. MP David Clendon, who lives in Kerikeri, could have handily flown a Green flag in Northland. Alas, the Greens didn't stand a candidate.

Proud of our Good Keen Man
Robin Grieve is the embodiment of ACT’s work ethic. Our good keen man in Northland has been everywhere, through the press, at public meetings, in the streets and on the doorstep. His team erected billboards from Mangonui to Wellsford. Unlike Labour and the Greens we are used to strategic voting so his votes do not reflect his efforts, but he did ACT proud.

Chip In
Thanks to generous donors the campaign almost broke even. If you’d like to tribute the spirit Robin brought to the election you can do so here:

Future Transport
On Thursday David Seymour attended the launch of a local ride-sharing app, Chariot. Smartphone technology is bringing about a transport revolution where ride-sharing, hailing, and paying get easier and easier. This technology tends to pop up from nowhere and interfere with politicians’ grand ideas of how people should get around. ACT will keep government modest about its grand plans. Let’s not fear unexpected innovation.


Question for Oral Answer - Bracket Creep

Delivered by ACT Leader David Seymour. March 19, 2015
Video is available here.

DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Finance: In light of his statement in the House on 11 March that low inflation “makes it more challenging for the Government because higher inflation pushes up the tax base and enables us to collect more tax in a growing economy”, does he agree that this phenomenon of fiscal drag is just another description for an increase in effective tax rates?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: As the Minister said at the time, New Zealand is in the unusual situation of having solid economic growth but also historically low levels of inflation. This is, of course, good for households because it means their cost of living is increasing at a very low rate, but it is a challenge for Government revenue.

Hon David Parker: This is just a speech, which doesn’t address the question.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Just take your time, Mr Parker.

Hon David Parker: Unless the country goes bankrupt.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Shh, take a breath, David. Low inflation—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Listen. The constant barrage coming from my left is not acceptable—

Hon David Parker: Point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am on my feet. If the member wants to take the opportunity to ask a supplementary question, he will have his chance. But to engage with the Minister while he is attempting to answer the question is distracting, certainly to me and to the House, and in itself it is disorderly.

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would ask you to enforce the Standing Orders and to expect Ministers to address questions, rather than—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. He will be having a very early departure from the House if he carries on like that. The answer was being given. It was being interjected on from the member, so that was—[Interruption] Order! If there is one more outburst from the Hon David Parker, he will be leaving the Chamber this question time. If there is constant interjection coming from the left of the House and the Minister is responding to that, that is not helpful, but the initial cause of the problem is the interjections from the Hon David Parker. Steven Joyce, if he could complete his answer.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. As I was saying, low inflation reduces Government revenue in part because of less fiscal drag, as the member knows. In times of high inflation—for example, as recently as 2008—fiscal drag was very significantly important and was an effective tax increase. In times of very low inflation, as we are experiencing at the moment, there is, in fact, a lack of fiscal drag that is noted. Despite pressures on its revenues, this Government’s management of expenditure remains disciplined, and we are on track to surplus.

David Seymour: Is a time of low inflation when fiscal drag provides little additional revenue, as the Minister has noted, not the perfect time to introduce greater transparency into the nation’s tax system by indexing tax thresholds for income to inflation?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In regard to income tax and indexation reducing tax rates, we have been very clear that that was something we would consider from 1 April 2017 if economic and fiscal conditions allowed. Any tax reduction would be modest and focused on *low and middle income earners. We do have the concern that the member outlines, which is if wages are rising, people can be taxed more. So we are interested in doing that. Would we do it in terms of an indexation? That is something that we would address at the time, once we were confident we had the room to do so.

David Seymour: Given the Minister’s ambivalence about indexation, is he aware that since 2010 the lack of indexation of income tax thresholds to inflation has cost the average earning household $1,036?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have those exact figures to hand but, of course, there are a number of other considerations in terms of household incomes. For example, we have had very significant ACC reductions over the period. The income tax reductions in 2010 reduced income tax revenue by around $600 million over 3 years, and that broadly offset the estimated fiscal drag effects. On top of that, of course, households benefit because inflation is lower and that, of course, means that their costs of living increases are lower, which means that most households will be better off under the fiscal arrangements that this Government is progressing than we have seen from previous Governments.

David Seymour: I seek leave to table a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library for the ACT Party, detailing the cost to households from the lack of—

Mr SPEAKER: It has been described. I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that information. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

Debate on Budget Policy Statement

Delivered by ACT Leader David Seymour. 11 March, 2015
Video of the speech can be viewed here.

A few weeks ago I attended a citizenship ceremony in Auckland. I could talk about all of the facts and figures of the Budget Policy Statement and about the projections for our economy, and all of them are very good, but the most sincere endorsement of where this country is headed I saw in 431 souls from 57 different countries who were making the ultimate endorsement of New Zealand by taking on New Zealand citizenship and throwing their lot in with the good ship Aotearoa.

It is amazing that one of the things that we hear the most complaint about from some people around the House is actually one of the most positive things we have going for us—that is, people voting with their feet and increasingly coming to New Zealand. This is the result of the terrible Rogernomics experiment of the last 30 years: more and more people want to come and live more and more prosperous lives in the most beautiful country on earth.

It has been interesting to see the debate around this Budget Policy Statement unfold because the Opposition members are really in a bind. They want to criticise the Government for certain things but those things are also exactly the things that they would do so much more of.

Take, for example, the criticism we heard of child support legislation—or, at least, the implementation of it by the Inland Revenue Department. Of course, what they are not saying is that for every little bit of difficulty we have had introducing that law, it would have been infinitely more complex and difficult to have a tax-free threshold, to have a capital gains tax, to start having supermarkets dividing up their floor space to decide which parts were GST-claimable and which parts were not—all of which were promised by the Opposition during the election. Today they come and criticise the Inland Revenue Department for not implementing relatively simple child support legislation, but how much worse would it have been had they had their way at the election? Well, they did not.

Another example is watching the indignation of a certain member about Solid Energy. He can criticise and criticise Solid Energy and its performance as much as he likes, but he forgets that, as he does this, he indicts the very ownership model that his party defends and says it would like to expand—

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: No, just your incompetence—your Government’s incompetence.

DAVID SEYMOUR: The conceited answer from the member, who has identified himself now, is that there is nothing wrong with the policy or the model; it is just that it would work better if good people like him were running it. I believe that is a fatal conceit and the truth is that what is missing from this Budget Policy Statement—

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to table a time line, which is not publicly available, detailing in excess of—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Trevor Mallard): The member will resume his seat. It is not appropriate to interrupt a member’s speech in order to seek to table a document.

DAVID SEYMOUR: The truth is that this Government should actually be going further in the opposite direction to the one he would advocate. There is never a right time to sell a business with an uncertain future and the best time to sell is at any time—actually now. This is not a business that the Government should be in and there are a number of other State-owned enterprise businesses that the Government should be getting out of.

Opposition members all tell us about the revenue stream that the taxpayer gets from these assets but they never talk about the risk. Well, the Government should not be in the business of accepting the risks inherent in commercial enterprises.

Another thing that is missing, I am afraid to say, is actually tax reform. I had somebody come to see me in my electorate office just the other day and it brought home the practicalities of having a number of different punitive tax rates. Every year—we heard this morning—$750 million gets left on the table by people paying too much tax and I found out that about just $8 million of that is low-income people getting their cheques from the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust, withheld at the top rate when they should be paying a lower rate.

If this Government really believes in success, really believes in meritocracy, and really believes in a practical and easily applied tax system, then what it should be doing is moving top tax rates that have minimal fiscal impact but send a message to every New Zealander that “Your efforts do not really make a difference and if they do, we are going to take, not just more money in proportion to what you earn, but more of it off you.”

What I will finally close on is to say that what is really missing from this Budget Policy Statement is not a forecast for this year or next, but where we will be in decades to come if we do not adjust our long-term settings for policies such as superannuation affected by demographic change. I look forward to talking to more and more members around the House about what exactly we can do about that. Thank you.

Free Press 23/03/2015

Stealth Taxes in the Spotlight
It’s been five long years since National’s tax cuts, and it feels like the taxman’s grip is tightening. There’s a reason: bracket creep. Inflation means our earnings go up on paper, pushing us into higher tax brackets whether we have any real increase in spending power or not. ACT Leader David Seymour has revealed research showing an extra $1036 has been taken per average household through bracket creep since 2010. We think that if the government wants to tax us more, it should do so openly. Indexing tax brackets to inflation would end stealth tax increases.

Charter Schools a US Success
Critics of Partnership Schools say charters are failing in the US. They point to a 2009 Stanford University study with ambiguous results. Since then, Stanford has updated its findings. Successful education techniques have proliferated. Effective schools have grown while ineffective ones have closed. Charters now outperform public schools across the board. Recent news from Massachusetts shows students are learning four times faster in charters than in public school students for reading, and six times faster for maths. And the biggest beneficiaries have been children living in poverty. Free Press is quietly confident that Partnership Schools will help address New Zealand’s educational inequality.

A Funny Thing about the Critics
For Partnership School critics, failure is doing no better on average than public schools. This means no better on measurable features of schools. They put no weight at all on other factors, like parental choice of education style, school culture, the standards set, and so forth.  That speaks volumes.

Fireplaces and Emissions
A few months ago, a report on New Zealand’s air quality was released by the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician. And on 5 March, Parliament’s Commissioner for the Environment released an informative commentary on this report. The paper is technical but, in summary, we seem to be applying the wrong air quality standard. Because Auckland is coastal, a major proportion of measured particulates come from sea spray, which is not a concern at all. The Auckland Council has a misplaced obsession with eliminating the remaining domestic open fireplaces in Auckland ‑ they would be better to focus on diesel vehicle emissions.

Auckland Convention Centre
It’s no secret that ACT doesn’t like the convention centre deal. The government shouldn’t be involved in what amounts to crony capitalism. But that doesn’t mean that just because New Zealand First rocks up with a private member’s bill to cancel the deal, breaking existing contracts with all manner of unforeseeable consequences, that we would support them. The public rightly dislikes the sense of a tail wagging the dog. We respect the proportionality of Parliament. The convention centre deal was made in the previous term of government, and would have to change dramatically before a Party with just one MP could justify torpedoing it at this stage.

We are under no illusion that ACT might pick up another seat this weekend!  Our focus is building our profile for 2017. It looks like a close race in Northland, even though the self-styled force for the north looks to be degrading even faster than Cyclone Pam as it reached New Zealand.  Loyal ACT supporters have indicated that, in order to preserve ACT’s leverage in Parliament and in the hope of getting some job-creating RMA reform, they will probably give their vote to the National candidate this time round. We have no problem with that – we will be after their vote in 2017.

Time to end stealth tax increases

ACT Leader David Seymour has today called for an end to the stealth increase of tax rates through bracket creep.

“Each year, inflation pushes a larger proportion of New Zealanders’ incomes into higher tax brackets, regardless of whether they’ve had an increase in real earnings,” said Mr Seymour.

“Tax brackets should be adjusted for inflation.

“Even with low inflation this stealth tax of ‘bracket creep’ means that the average household is $1036 worse off since the tax changes of October 2010. An individual taxpayer on the average income is $648 worse off.

Mr Seymour’s focus on bracket creep comes after the Minister of Finance stated low inflation ‘makes it more challenging for the Government because higher inflation pushes up the tax base and enables us to collect more tax in a growing economy’.

“If the government wants to increase taxes, it should do so openly. This is a basic principle of transparency, and honesty in taxation.

“I propose tying tax brackets to the Consumer Price Index, meaning tax brackets would rise with inflation, stopping stealth tax increases and ensuring government revenue collection is open and transparent.

“The best time to act is now – current low inflation means a switch to inflation adjusted tax brackets would have relatively little effect on government forecasts.”

Time to cap rate rises in Northland and beyond

Massive rate increases will not happen anywhere under ACT, said Northland candidate Robin Grieve today.

Grieve was responding to the announcement by the Whangarei District Council that ratepayers could face increases of over 9% for one year and further ongoing increases of 2% above inflation, as reported in the Northern Advocate

"These increases are outrageous. The power to levy rates is an extraordinary power we give to councils and it must not be abused," said Mr Grieve.

"The best way to protect ratepayers from rate abuse by councils is to fetter council powers. ACT campaigned at the last election on limiting the ability of councils to increase rates by more than the rate of inflation. As an MP, I would will introduce a private members bill to do that.

"This will place the same expansionary limits on council that all individuals and businesses live with.

"The Whangarei District Council has suggested the rate increase as one option, with reduced services another. The best option, which is to improve efficiency, was not considered by the Council.

"Efficient local governance will only be achieved by limiting the powers of councils to continually levy us with higher and higher rates."