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Employment Relations Amendment Bill 3rd Reading Speech

Video of this speech can be viewed here.

Delivered by ACT Leader David Seymour to New Zealand Parliament,

30/10/14:

Mr Speaker,

I rise on behalf of the ACT Party in support of this Bill.

I’d like to congratulate the Minister in charge, the Select Committee, the submitters, and the officials involved in getting the bill this far. I’d also like to acknowledge the work of my ACT predecessors in improving this Bill.

Most of all I’d like to thank my fellow Epsom electors. This Bill, more than any other, has acutely demonstrated the role that the Epsom electorate plays in ensuring stable centre-right government for New Zealand. This bill has been advanced, stalled, and now advanced again, in each instance due to the presence or absence of an ACT MP from Epsom.

I can hear the Labour MP’s frustration, Mr Speaker, not only can we move toward best practice public policy without them, but ACT has total certainty about the identity of its leader.

This is also a teachable moment for public policy.

Listening to the opposition, during the latter part of this debate, they seem to assume that human relations, such as employment relations, are static. They seem to assume that they can shift outcomes by legislating the conditions under which people work, and that people will never change their behaviour in response.

An easy way for the opposition to see the fallacy might be to imagine some of this Bill’s provisions in reverse.

We might imagine that employees should not be able to abandon a so called “vulnerable employer”.

Perhaps we’d propose that an employee would be compelled to keep working for such an employer regardless of what a poor employer they turned out to be, and regardless of what other opportunities presented themselves to the employee.

Fanciful? I ask members to think carefully, what is the logical difference between that scenario and the situation in which large employers continue to be placed under this act.

Or we might imagine an Act wherein employees were thought most likely to tire of bargaining, but require them to conclude an agreement unless the ERA saw fit to absolve them of this default obligation.

Or we might imagine a world where it was the norm for employers to partially withhold payment when dissatisfied with employment conditions, and to expect no partial reduction in work effort.

Mr Speaker, this bill, even after amendment, let alone the kind of Bill the opposition would have passed, is about giving rights to employees by imposing duties upon employers.

The thought experiment of reversing the roles of employer and employee shows how misguided it is to attempt to improve outcomes by interfering in the contractual arrangements that employees and employers would otherwise enter into.

The opposition, and any sensible person, would reject these hypothetical laws.

It’s plain to see, I’m sure they’d say, that employees either wouldn’t take such jobs or would expect to be paid more in return for accepting such duties.

They might even say that such rules would be silly. Far better to relieve employees of such draconian duties and allow them to negotiate their own conditions.

Why, then, do the opponents of flexible labour markets in general and this bill in particular not see the futility in trying to legislate a different outcome in the labour market and the damage it is likely to do?

Why, indeed, has the National party compromised on the vulnerable worker clause and the requirement to conclude bargaining when these should have been removed entirely?

The answer lies in another fallacy, over 150 years old and disproven every single year since, that labour will fall in value vis-à-vis capital. It’s the failed hypothesis, most recently resurrected by a French populist, that we are heading for hyper capitalism and the revolution. In reality it is labour, not capital, that have risen in value since Marx wrote.

These economic trends have real implications for politics and policy today. They explain why the Labour Party has lost its base, and why new members of the Green Party who understand economics could make such good leaders.

But the reality is that employers in the Epsom electorate and up and down this country are fixated on the challenge of attracting and retaining staff. Competition for workers amongst employers is as aggressive, if not more aggressive, than competition for jobs amongst workers.

Those employers must look askance at the opposition’s assumption that workers have no other options, are a dime-a-dozen, and are easy come easy go.

That simply is not the reality of the New Zealand workplace in 2014. It is a market place where competition works both ways.

I say all of this as someone who entered the workforce working 60 hours per week for $7.50 an hour.

I support this bill because it is a step in the right direction towards more flexible labour markets.

Like all attempts to improve public policy, this amendment is imperfect.

Economic reality and experience suggest it should have gone further. Governments cannot legislate market outcomes, but can influence them.

Let me leave the opposition with two initiatives that might better help New Zealanders achieve better pay and conditions.

Nominal pay rates are only worthwhile to the extent that they are useful for buying real goods. The price of houses have doubled relative to incomes over the last two decades, overwhelmingly due to local authorities prescribing an urban development pattern incompatible with the housing people actually want.

Far more could be achieved for working New Zealanders by improving the responsiveness of housing market supply than by futile attempts to shift bargaining strategies in the labour market.

Another contributor to the outcomes in the labour market is the skill level of employees. Employees with greater skills earn more, and this factor is growing in importance.

Indeed, increases in inequality of market income in the western world can be attributed to increasing returns to skills – you can earn more and more if you are more literate and more numerate.

The real work achieving the opposition’s purported objectives is being done on the supply sides of the housing and education sectors, and I’m proud to support and encourage this government in this work.

In conclusion I am proud to support this bill and hope that this government will one day pursue best practice policy by confronting the fallacies that underlie too much of our labour law legislation.

The duty to enter into and conclude bargaining should be gone.

The duty to retain staff under Section 6A almost unconditionally dependent on the type of employee, and now the type of business, should be gone.

Doing so would put us in touch with the labour market of the 21st century, whose businesses succeed or fail based on their ability to attract and retain workers.

ENDS

Submissions needed for reduction of red tape

Dear members and supporters,

One of ACT's goals is the reduction of "red tape" in local and central government. I recommend that all members complete the questionnaire in the following Government post on the internet.

https://www.govt.nz/browse/housing-and-property/renovating-and-building/rules-reduction-submissions

Kind regards,
John Thompson
President

Maiden Speech to Parliament - David Seymour

Video of this speech can be viewed here.

Delivered by ACT Leader David Seymour to New Zealand Parliament, 21/10/2014:

Mr Speaker,

I rise on behalf of the ACT Party in reply to His Excellency’s speech.

“I never knew that I was smart until I came here.”  For the avoidance of doubt I’m not referring to this house, Mr Speaker, but quoting from a student I met last week at the Vanguard Military School, a Partnership School, or Kura Hourua.

There could not have been a better entre to my first speech in this house than meeting that student.

Before I return to that quote, allow me to visit some of the journey to that meeting and to this house today.

I represent the communities of Epsom, Mt Eden, Parnell and Remuera.

A look at our electorate might explain why we collectively made this choice.  Epsom is typecast as wealthy, and that may be true in many cases, but it is not universal.

The largest industry in our electorate is education.  Our 30 schools including many of the largest in the country.  We host one large tertiary campus and are adjacent to three more.  Education is aspiration.

You can tell everything you need to know about a person’s politics by acquiring their sincere answer to a simple question: Is it possible for anybody to create new wealth?

Unfortunately, the sincere answer of many in this house would be no.  They lay a litany of elaborate excuses and set about constructing an even more elaborate web of rules to reallocate finite wealth to the most deserving.  In practice that means those whose special pleadings resonate loudest in the theatre of politics.

My answer to the question is yes.  My fellow Epsom voters elected me, if not in full support of my philosophy, then certainly with knowledge of it.  It’s because we are aware of the dangers that the zero-sum game brigade present.

Our communities are leafy and our schools prestigious.  If people want more Epsom the answer should be to create more Epsom.  More good schools, more good suburbs. 

But the opposition would cram more people into smaller denser dwellings, changing the character of our communities and putting intolerable pressure on burgeoning school zones. 

When it comes to wealth, for too many the answers are higher tax rates, and taxing the same dollars one more time with an envy-fuelled capital gains tax. 

When many of us voluntarily invest our time and talents in helping others, those who think there’s only so much to go ‘round want to crowd out even these efforts for their tax-funded schemes.

Small wonder then, Mr Speaker, that we voted the way we did.

The people of Epsom did not vote for a mere abstraction, or even a political strategy.  Not many, if any, of those who say I’m here due to the latter can say they came to this house by way of 13,000 doorsteps, 85,000 personally addressed letters, nearly 1,000 attendees of private house meetings, or 300 hours of waving signs at traffic. 

Most of that was done by my extraordinary team who accompanied, delivered, hosted and waved.  I acknowledge many of you who are on the floor, in the Gallery, and those who couldn’t be in Wellington today.  In each and every case, thank you.

Those people supported me because their answer to the great dividing question of politics is yes.

Those of us who believe that wealth creation is a positive sum game are interested in a different question:  Under what conditions can individuals best create wealth?

The answer lies in the use of knowledge in society.  Since the total inventory of that knowledge is never given in its totality to a single mind or group of them, it must be grown and applied through a widespread process of conjecture and refutation.

This is the creative power of a free society.  The power to try new things and find what works.  This power is greatest when the role of government is not ‘whatever the government defines it to be,’ as one former Prime Minister put it, but clearly defined to maximise individual freedom.

That definition relies heavily on an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of government as an institution.

Governments have the extraordinary power to legally coerce.  In some cases this power brings great goods.

Chief among them is an environment where we can safely go about our business in our various communities.  That in turn requires rule by law rather than arbitrarily rule by men.

We meet at the pinnacle of several centuries of progress towards that goal.

We have moved towards the light of liberty by removing distinctions in law that once treated people differently depending on their religious conviction, gender and race.  Most recently, this house decided to remove sexuality from the Marriage laws.

Many countries have never achieved that.  But it is extraordinary that, as if engaged in some form of historic shuttle run, we who were first to touch the cone are now rushing back to create new distinctions in law. 

I refer to those who claim that the only way to achieve material equality between the Maori side and the British side of my family is to create more legal inequality.  No doubt they have noble intentions but public policy should be measured by results.

Beyond the rule of law, there are other public goods that a good government might employ its extraordinary powers to provide.

Believe it or not, the outcome of private action is sometimes inefficient, and government regulations can improve matters.  We see this in our fisheries and our atmosphere, where well-crafted regulations protect us from the ruin toward which all men would otherwise rush.

Insurance against genuine misfortune, of birth or catastrophic events is another role that a good government might cautiously assume.  Funding, but not providing, education regardless of parental wealth is an example of such insurance.

When used beyond these limited roles as protector, regulator, and insurer, government’s extraordinary powers corrode the creative powers of a free society.

The problem is one of knowledge and politics.  It is fatal conceit to believe that one mind or group of minds can know enough to plan the myriad activities of the very society that they themselves are a product of.  There is ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas but politics has a tendency to narrow human endeavour into what is visible to only a few actors.

The alternative is spontaneous activity coordinated only by a few general rules.

Perhaps the most literal examples of new wealth from finite means are found in the field of engineering.  I am one of two engineers in this house and I come from a family of engineers, several of whom are here today.

IWhile a generous person could barely call my own engineering achievements modest, what my profession has achieved is anything but.

Suffice it to say that when the member seated to my right gave his maiden speech, calling somebody when they were not at home must have been rarer than a bow tie. 

The challenge is to create the conditions wherein this kind of wealth creation is most likely to flourish.

Thankfully, nearly 200 nations have unwittingly carried out a vast natural experiment on this question.  We now have several decades of data showing which public policies work and which don’t.

It’s an adherence to low government expenditure funded by low-rate broad-based taxes, monetary policy targeted at price stability, a liberal approach to trade and investment abroad, flexible labour markets and secure, predictable property rights.

Countries that adopt these principles don’t just achieve greater wealth.  They also make for better environmental custodians, and achieve better civil liberties.

Interestingly, when countries are ranked according to these five measures, New Zealand is consistently in the top five and often in the top three amongst 200 nations.

I returned to New Zealand because it is my home.  And it is easily among the most prosperous, pristine, diverse and yet harmonious societies that the world has ever seen. 

The desire to go back to the mono-cultural, isolationist, intolerant and interventionist New Zealand of the 1970’s is forgivable only in those who weren’t actually there.  In any case, we ain’t going back.

When confronted with an opposition promising to unpick years of consensus on monetary policy, trade, tax, electricity markets, the role of government in the housing market, the people of New Zealand said a resounding NO.

New Zealand today is a country that has adopted, since the mid 1980’s more of ACT’s market liberal policies than all but a couple of other countries in the world.  To paraphrase another former member, we won, you lost, but, hey, enjoy it.

Much of the credit must go to Sir Roger Douglas, who is here on the floor today.  Roger’s reforms occurred at a unique time in our demographic history.  Sir Robert Muldoon’s World War II generation gave way to the much larger generation they produced in what must have been a ravenous reunification after that war.

In their entry to public life the boomers created a society in their image, and symmetry demands that their exit will be similarly disruptive.

My generation, which I share with a growing number of recent entrants to this house, also faces a number of acute challenges in the wake of our parents’ reign. 

In the news this week, and for the past decade, has been housing affordability, an entirely supply side, entirely regulatory problem.

For the first time in our equalitarian society, parental assistance has become a prominent factor in home ownership, and there is a hereditary element to property.  I look forward to supporting this government’s efforts to increase the supply elasticity of housing.

Fiscal sustainability should interest our generation.  Treasury predicts that, on historical trends, government debt will reach double GDP by the time we might think of retiring circa 2060.

We can only lament the advanced auctions in stolen goods that pass for elections every three years and wonder how the various spending promises would add to this burden.  With the demographic headwinds we face, fiscal discipline must be a mantra of our generation.

The best thing about New Zealand is our pristine natural environment.  Sadly our history as environmental custodians is far from perfect, but again we must think carefully about the role of government.  It’s no coincidence that the countries that have been farthest down the pathway of government intervention also produced the worst environmental catastrophes.  Modern environmentalists should practice the four P’s. Pricing, Property Rights, Prosperity and Private Initiative.

We pride ourselves on being an equalitarian society.  However we must be honest with ourselves about the success of the 80 year old promise to look after our most vulnerable citizens from the cradle to the grave.  Welfare and education reform are essential to maintaining an equalitarian New Zealand.

I began by quoting a student I met last week at a Partnership School.  “I didn’t know I was smart until I came here, she said.”

Her story matters because in a global and technologically sophisticated economy, the value of skills is ever increasing.  We cannot afford to have smart people wasting their potential.

The school she now attends does things differently from the ones she previously attended.  The Principal leads the school differently from the one he used to teach at.  It is not a pedagogy for every student, but such universality does not exist in a country of nearly one million students.  What matters is that it works for her.

The school draws together all of the strands I have spoken of today.  Like all human endeavour it is imperfect, but by conjecture and refutation it grows and applies the store of knowledge about educating children.  Government plays a role, but a limited one. It brings the creative powers of a free society to bear upon one of our most urgent challenges as a nation.

I am honoured to represent my fellow Epsom electors and lead the ACT Party in this house.  It is my hope that I will contribute here to improving public policy for all New Zealanders so that prosperous and free individuals may flourish in this green and pleasant land.

Thank you.

 

Open letter from ACT President John Thompson

To all members and supporters,

Today, Parliament opens and the new Government gets down to work. We will be providing confidence and supply to the new Government, in return for their support for our policies in education and regulatory reform. We will be working to persuade the Government to also support our other policies on the economy and on law and order.

While we are disappointed that we couldn't get Jamie Whyte into Parliament, we held Epsom, and have David Seymour as an ACT MP in Parliament, and as Undersecretary for Education and Undersecretary for Regulatory Reform. David will also be a member of the important Finance and Expenditure select committee and a member of the Appointments and Honours committee. We are confident that David will be promoted to Ministerial rank in the not too distant future.

Within the Party, the Board has appointed David as Leader, following Jamie Whyte's resignation from that position. Understandably, Jamie has to focus on his career and family now that he will not be in Parliament. However, he intends to remain involved with ACT and I am sure he will continue to make a valuable contribution to the future of the Party.

We will also be working hard to continue rebuilding the ACT brand and the Party, lead by David Seymour. We have recently held a major candidate forum and will shortly begin member forums on what we can learn from Campaign 2014, and our strategy going forward to 2017 and beyond. We will be continuing our support for members and candidates in your electorates as we work towards a more successful outcome in 2017.

Thanks for your support with Campaign 2014, whether as a candidate, a volunteer, or a donor. As result of your efforts ACT is in good heart and we are not going away. We want to earn your continued support and we encourage you to contribute to candidate and member forums in the coming months, and help us to regroup and rebuild for the future.

Regards,
John Thompson
ACT Party President

David Seymour's Maiden Speech

David Seymour will be making his maiden speech as an MP on Tuesday, 21 October at about 4.45pm during the Address in Reply debate in Parliament. David's maiden speech will be broadcast from Parliament on the following digital television channels:

Freeview 22
Sky 86
Vodafone 86

It can also be accessed as a webcast and a choice of audio via the Parliamentary website: http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/about-parliament/see-hear/ptv

Patient residents seek reassurance over Auckland outage

"Epsom electorate residents have responded patiently to being without power, but want to see how future outages will be avoided," said MP for Epsom David Seymour.

"C’est la vie was the most common response from shoppers and shopkeepers in Remuera village this morning, so long as the promised restoration targets are met.

"More acutely affected were the elderly and those with small children, however people appear to have been getting by with help from family and friends.

"People are eager to know what will be done to avoid future outages.

"An enquiry might raise many questions. 

"Was this the fault of Transpower, Vector, or both? Was this a freak event or the result of a systemic problem? And what can be done to improve that systemic problem? 

"Residents would like reassurance and given that they operate natural monopoly infrastructure the utilities should be prepared to give it."

Leadership Acceptance

“I am honoured to lead the ACT Party, I look forward to the challenge and relish the opportunity.

It has been a privilege to work with Jamie Whyte. I want to acknowledge his tireless efforts through the past nine months and during the campaign.  Through his efforts the Party was rejuvenated and our membership increased.  It is a substantial achievement and on behalf of all the members and supporters of the ACT Party, we thank you Jamie.

Once again the ACT Party, with the support of Epsom voters, is contributing the vital extra seat that will assist a National-led government to implement the policy changes which will boost growth and prosperity in New Zealand.

The principles that drive ACT are timeless – freedom, opportunity, choice, competition, personal responsibility and compassion.  ACT believes in small but efficient government, and a low tax burden to encourage and reward hard work and creativity. Only with low taxes will individuals and families be able to get ahead from their own efforts.

The successful New Zealand we know today is significantly due to the policy reforms of the founders of the ACT Party. Those reforms are why we are consistently rated as amongst the freest economies in global surveys. It is this environment that has freed the energy we now see in New Zealand innovation and entrepreneurship. We see it in business, in sport, in the arts, and in science and technology. Cutting red tape and reducing the tax burden further will unleash that energy.

The celebration of entrepreneurship is core to ACT values – it is what drives our economy and incomes forward, creating new industries, new jobs, and higher incomes.

I am excited by the opportunity I have as Leader of the ACT Party, as the MP for Epsom, as well as my Parliamentary Under-Secretary roles in Education and Regulatory Reform.

I look forward to ACT contributing to a stable and successful National-led government, and to expanding our presence in Parliament in 2017.

ENDS

David Seymour 

President Release re Jamie Whyte Resignation

"Today the ACT Party Board announces with regret that it has accepted Jamie Whyte's resignation as Leader," said ACT President John Thompson.

"Jamie has proven himself a principled and clear-headed advocate of ACT's values of smaller government and greater personal responsibility.  Under his leadership, the Party has been rejuvenated and membership has swelled.

"We are proud to have had Jamie serve as Leader, and hope the New Zealand public has not seen or heard the last of him.
 

“The ACT Party Board has appointed David Seymour, the ACT MP for Epsom, to succeed Jamie Whyte as the Leader of ACT.”

ENDS

Jamie Whyte Resignation Statement

“Today I announce that I have tendered, and the Board has accepted, my resignation as Leader of ACT New Zealand.

“Clearly I make this announcement with regret, however the election result is clear, and I must now turn to my career and my family.

“I stood to lead ACT because I believe in the party’s ideas.  I will continue to advance these ideas both inside and outside the Party.  I do not rule out returning to a substantial role with ACT in the future.”

 

ENDS

ACT pleased to enter Confidence and Supply Agreement with National

ACT is pleased to enter its third consecutive Confidence and Supply Agreement with the National Party.  We will continue the tradition of working to improve public policy for all New Zealanders while maintaining stable centre-right government.

Key features of the agreement:

Commitment to continue developing the Partnership School model (and David Seymour to be Under-Secretary to the Minister of Education)

Commitment to continue improving New Zealand’s regulatory environment (and David Seymour to be Under-Secretary to the Minister of Regulatory Reform)

Commitment to continue reforming the Resource Management Act

There are other issues ACT has campaigned on that are not reflected in this agreement, such as three strikes for burglary and tax reductions.  ACT must seek a larger political mandate for these and other objectives over the coming three years.  

This agreement lays the foundation for real improvements to public policy, and we look forward greatly to demonstrating our value to all New Zealanders in the coming three years.

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