Delivered by ACT Leader David Seymour on February 26, 2015.
Video is available here.
A former long-serving and very honourable member of this House has counselled me to stay for the full debate and listen to what other members have to say so that you can actually join into the debate and contribute to it, rather than showing up, reading a speech, and leaving. I am mindful that if I was to respond to everything that I have just heard properly, I would completely run out of time before I got to make any points of my own. But I have to say: what a bizarre contribution from Gareth Hughes.
He told us that this is not just a technical amendment, despite it being only 6 pages; it is actually a bending and breaking of the law. Well, let us just be clear about what this bill does. It says that Shell Todd Oil Services can continue doing what it was already able to do before new legislation and regulation was introduced. It will still have this new legislation and regulation and its full effects applied to it. However, it will be given more time so that it does not come to be in contravention of these news laws and regulations. So, if anything, what we are seeing is additional regulation of the offshore oil industry. I cannot believe that the Green Party would be against that.
He then complained that the Government frequently bends the rule of law, for example, to help people doing oil exploration who find themselves to be under threat from protest. What exactly does he want us to do? Does he really believe that anybody he happens to disagree with does not deserve the protection of the rule of law and actually should be forced to live in a world of anarchy?
And then for the ultimate oddity he said he is lodging a protest vote. He wants to see this go to the select committee, but he is not actually going to vote for it to do so. As Ōtara Millionaires Club used to sing: “How bizarre.”
Then we had Eugenie Sage from the Green Party say that we are not thinking about community. This really goes to the heart of what this debate is about. Actually approximately $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion each and every year, about 0.5 per cent of the country’s GDP — yes, that does have an effect on the community, and we are going to hear about this more and more.
Although this is a small technical bill, it brings into stark relief the way that the extractive industry and regulation are very tightly linked. If we look around the world, we can see just how much of a contribution economically the extractive industries make. This is particularly important at a time when regional New Zealand—places like the Northland area, for example—is facing declining and ageing populations and serious problems funding its local governments, and yet it has large potential to create jobs and become wealthier to extractive industries.
You can see this all over the world. In Alberta, for example, the province of Canada that has the most extractive industries, you have a median family income of $94,000. In Newfoundland and Labrador, from whence people commute by aeroplane to work in those industries, it is $70,000. It is very clear.
In Western Australia it is $68k. In Tasmania it is $48k. Again, the contrast that you get from having extractive industries and what that can do for regions—particularly regions that are facing economic challenge and that do not feel like a rock star economy—is very, very large.
Have a look, for example, a little bit closer to home. The average incomes in Taranaki are $74k for a household and in Northland they are $60,000. This is the economic difference that it makes.
[Hon Simon Bridges]: So why do the Greens oppose it?
[David Seymour]: Because they do not think that making money is actually beneficial for the community, Mr Bridges. That is the problem. And perhaps another prejudice that we should raise here is that there tends to be a belief in some quarters that the extractive industries are not sexy and cool and sophisticated, and did we not see that come out with the member Gareth Hughes waxing liberal about what we could be doing with the so-called smart economy while, as someone who has had one or two things to do with a few people who work in this industry, I can tell you that the extractive industries—oil and gas for instance—are enormously sophisticated, high-productivity industries working with large amounts of capital, and that might explain why the average wage for a New Zealander is $50,000 and the average wage for someone in the mineral industry is $105,000.
The Act Party wholeheartedly supports this bill. Thank you.
Delivered by ACT Leader David Seymour on February 21, 2015.
Video is available here.
It’s a pleasure and honour to speak with you as Act Leader in our Party’s 20th year of parliamentary representation.
I’d like to pay tribute to those ACT people who have gone before. An extraordinary group have kept the liberal flame alive.
· For 20 years the world’s most liberal elected party.
· The eighteen MPs elected by this party over six elections.
· Our past leaders, many of whom are here today. I’d like to point out that the last three became leader at ages, 71, 65, 49 and I’m 31. It’s an accelerating trend. The next leader may not have been born yet. I am in for the long haul.
· The many staffers who have worked in the party office and in parliament, especially the wonderful folks who keep me out of trouble today.
· ACT’s donors who recognise freedom ain’t free, and that political parties atip civil society’s spear to the heart of state power.
· Of course, the volunteers who make heroic contributions to our campaigns. I want to single out John Windsor for his extraordinary contributions.
To my fellow ACT members. The electoral Act defines a political party as having a certain number of members. You literally are the party. Membership lists are secret and your number adds moral weight to our cause. Thank you.
Finally, my fellow Epsom electors. We are the only electorate that consistently uses both votes to get the government we want. I don’t just mean those of us who sit on the right. Our left wing neighbours try it too, but thankfully they aren’t too numerous. Representing my community in parliament is a great honour and responsibility.
Kiwis have a lot to be proud of.
We are a free, harmonious, technologically sophisticated and prosperous country.
Even our government sector is better than most. If you doubt that, try renewing a Russian passport.
Our country is relatively free of corruption and we rate extremely well on many international indices – on lifestyle, quality of our institutions, social capital, the economy, on ease of doing business.
Even the most shop-worn of clichés is true – NZ is a great place to bring up kids.
But our job as a political party is to identify policy weaknesses.
To identify what could improve, and how to improve it.
But in doing that, let’s try not to be, as we sometimes have been, too cranky, too negative, too downbeat about New Zealand’s prospects.
Because the Act Party can justifiably take the credit for much that is good in New Zealand today.
Through the 1970s and into the early 1980s, New Zealand was heading towards a destination similar to that of modern Greece.
The reforms starting in 1984 saved us from that.
It wasn’t the Labour Party as it is today that drove those reforms.
And it certainly wasn’t the National Party –Muldoon had effectively staged a coup.
As we know, it was Act’s founders and first political leaders that led those reforms.
And it was Act’s political philosophy that motivated them.
That’s why New Zealand now rates so well on international rankings.
For example, the latest Fraser Institute Economic Freedom indices rank NZ third (as does the Heritage Foundation index), just behind Hong Kong and Singapore. On most of the variables that go to make up this ranking, we do pretty well, comfortably in the top ten in the world.
New Zealand has adopted more of ACT’s policies than any other nation bar two.
On the Legatum global prosperity index funded by a New Zealander, NZ again ranks 3rd, but this time after Norway and Switzerland. This index looks at much more than just GDP related incomes but considers education, health, social capital, and safety, amongst the usual other factors.
On a per capita income basis, however, we rank somewhere in the 21st to 31st range, depending on the currency adjustment.
After the upheavals of the reform period our long decline stopped. But we are only holding our position, not improving it much.
In these global surveys there are clues about what matters.
We rate poorly on size of government (too big of course).
The costs of regulation on business, our labour market regulation and restrictions on foreign direct investment all count against us.
Land use regulation has made the supply of housing inelastic, with property prices absorbing gains.
While our performance overall in education is good, we have a long tail of underperformance.
That’s both a source and a symptom of the problems we face.
There are areas of significant socio-economic disadvantage in NZ.
But these inequalities are largely self-inflicted.
· Building human capital is the key to escaping from poverty. We need a more responsive and flexible education system.
· The lack of affordable housing is a major contributor to poverty. We need reform of the RMA and council restrictions on land use.
· A lack of jobs of course drives poverty. We need RMA reform so that businesses can expand without having to jump through a hundred hoops.
We can do this. It doesn’t need a magic wand.
It just needs governments with the determination to do the right thing.
In spite of all that, NZ is doing pretty well.
Act principles, classical liberal principles, have underpinned our successful policy reform.
Our tribe is the standard-bearer for classical liberalism in NZ, representing a general orientation towards a defence of private property, freedom of contract and limited government.
This is by no means an extreme or pure libertarian position. Classical liberalism takes a larger and more realistic view of government.
In short, we all know that government must respond to problems of pollution, the creation of infrastructure, of monopoly power, and raise funds through taxation.
But we seek a more even application of government sanctions: we challenge government monopoly in education and health, and the exemption of unions from anti-trust legislation.
Those principles have a long history in New Zealand politics.
You could think of us as a tribe – a tribe of classical liberals.
Our tribe and our diaspora are scattered through other political parties and organisations.
We have a history.
We have ancestors.
We have war stories.
And no doubt we have our myths.
The reformist period of the 1980s was substantially due to some of the founders and previous leaders of the Act Party – to Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble.
Of course, there was unfinished business – Roger always has unfinished business.
Some of that was left to the classical liberal supporters who achieved positions of influence in the National Party.
These notably include Derek Quigley, fired most honourably from Muldoon’s cabinet, and who became in 1993 a founding member with Roger Douglas of the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers
And, of course, there was Ruth Richardson, who got on with some of the unfinished business, and since leaving Parliament has been a strong Act supporter.
Ruth is New Zealand’s most efficient politician. Her legislation sunk the profligate fifth Labour government 14 years after she left parliament. Greece could have done with a Ruth Richardson and a Greek version of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
That belief in small government, low taxes, self-reliance and personal responsibility can be traced back to the early British settlers in New Zealand.
Court judgements and Parliamentary debates from our early history reflect beliefs that people should stand on their own feet to the extent of their capacity, and not rely on the state.
In 1928, a group of mainly Auckland businessmen formed the 1928 committee, wanting an end to inefficient state trading organisations. They wanted a more business-like approach. They cast about for a Leader and found Sir Joseph Ward, half blind, diabetic and with a dicky heart.
He gave a speech where his notes reveal he was intending to announce that his United Party would raise loans of only 7 million sterling, rather than the customary 9-10. But he misread his notes, saying he would borrow 70 million. The crowd went wild. They loved it.
That sums up the challenge we face.
Later, a new ACT-like party was established, the Democrat Party. It contested the 1935 election. They polled well in several seats but won none, and instead split the centre-right vote to the advantage of the Labour Party.
The Constitutional Society of the 1950s and 60s, led by the remnants of the 1928 Committee, had been urging the National Party to change direction for many years. They even cast about for a more market-oriented leader than Keith Holyoake.
But the long slide had started.
NZ drifted from having the third highest living standard in the world to the 21st by the mid-1980s.
Increasingly for the business sector it was like trying drive a car with the handbrake on.
Actually it was worse – you had assorted politicians, like timid learner drivers, pushing hard on the brake pedal at every turn or imagined threat.
More recently you have had to cope with an Occupational Health and Safety Officer and a council planner shouting directions from the back seat.
The turning point came when Bob Jones launched the NZ Party, with a strong free market, almost libertarian message, and helped tip National out of office in 1984.
We all know the rest of that story. Act’s founders and first Leaders launched the revolution now known as Rogernomics.
It only seemed radical because of where we were coming from. We were just catching up. By 1984 Thatcher had been in office for five years, Reagan for three.
So here we are.
Act NZ is a political party, not a think tank.
Now that we play a role in government, we have to deal with political realities.
I want to talk about those briefly.
National’s shifting and changeable commitments to free market are a source of immense frustration to us. As they are to many National supporters.
But sometimes we have to cut our natural political partners of the centre right a little slack.
National has to win over the median voter, to win the centre ground, and without that you remain in opposition.
It’s an unedifying business, winning the centre ground. A dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.
You sort of feel lost in a Groucho Marx gag – you don’t like my principles; I have others.
Given that political reality, our job in Act is to stop the centre ground of politics moving to the left.
The only way we can do that is to be sufficiently persuasive that we have enough support, enough MPs, to tilt the centre of gravity of politics towards a classical liberal position.
The National Party and John Key have been extremely successful by any reasonable political metric.
For our part, we need to be frank about our failure in recent elections.
We should be able to attract those National voters who want a more energetic, more principled government, who want smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation, more choice in education and healthcare services.
It is we that need to do better, and I am determined that we will. I believe our failure stems from the lack of a clearly defined and widely agreed definition of our party’s mission.
We are, among other things, the party of business. Here is how we add value: New Zealanders who want a larger role for business and community and a smaller role for government currently have the worst of all words.
We are a disorganised minority. We will never be the majority in New Zealand but when we are organised we are a highly effective tribe.
Our mission is to represent our fellow New Zealanders who want a larger role for business and community, and a smaller role for government. To be the voice for an organised minority, firmly pressing New Zealand toward a more liberal future.
So what are we up against?
Well, much of the electorate has an enthusiasm for big government?
Voters look to government for entitlements, and they look to the political left to supply them.
And National plays that game too.
But the left also face formidable obstacles in selling their vision.
First, they have to overcome the individualism of our culture, especially the post-Rogernomics generations.
Then there is the demonstrable bankruptcy of most of the left’s programmes - poor incentives, no allowance for individual responsibility, and a disastrous track record.
And they are pitched against middle-class energy, aspiration and the desire of most of us to stand on our own feet.
The entrepreneurial values in our culture are newly resurgent.
And one more thing. Real incomes are steadily rising. If historic trends continue, average weekly incomes, in 2014 dollars, will lift from $56,000 now to around $70,000 by 2030, and $94,000 by 2050.
More and more households will be perfectly capable of looking after their own affairs, so long as taxes don’t keep on rising ‑ and especially if they fall.
Income trends are a problem for the political left.
And that might explain something else.
The way the left have become not just the enthusiasts for the nanny state, but also the new puritans.
H L Mencken expressed it best; puritans seem to have the “the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy”.
In the past, the Puritans were conservatives, fighting against the booze, sex and drugs.
Today’s Puritans are still shrill, bossy, freedom-hating and totalitarian in attitude.
Now the focus is on haranguing us about what we eat, whether and where we might smoke, how our food is packaged, what we are allowed to see in newspapers, all for our own good, of course. It’s not just protecting children so much, as treating us all as children.
A population of infants.
Well, the fightback against all this got underway in 1984.
It was people like Douglas, Prebble, Richardson, along with many others, that enabled NZ to flourish.
They didn’t make it flourish; they enabled it.
Those who are making it flourish are the entrepreneurs, the thinkers and doers, whether in business, in the arts, our bravest educators, or most innovative healthcare workers.
They are business people, small and large businesses, from trades through to software and high-tech; those in agriculture, horticulture, fishing, the wine industry; not to mention our flourishing craft beers.
In short, people with an idea and willing to back it with their energies and capital.
Actually, our whole approach can be routed back to a simple question: Is it the efforts of individual New Zealanders that make a difference in their own lives and the lives of those they care about, or is it politicians and their grand government schemes?
It’s clear where the Labour, the Greens, New Zealand first, and sometimes even National stand. There’s not a problem in the world that can’t be solved by a government directive.
Child poverty? Another $60 per week on top of the current welfare state is their answer.
Energy innovation? Subsidising a particular energy type with government dollars.
RMA killing growth? Make more rules so that councils will do what they’re told.
Educational failure? Set a ratio of 26 students per teacher by state decree.
In the eyes of our opponents, there’s nothing that can’t be solved by just another government directive.
Our view is the opposite.
We believe in personal responsibility. We applaud the charitable sector where helping doesn’t mean voting every three years, but getting out and helping people every day.
Take the example of Terrance Wallace. An American who moved here and saw an opportunity to help. He approached the United Maori Mission and suggested their premises on Owens Road could become a hostel allowing underprivileged kids to access Auckland Grammar.
He travelled the regions north and south of Auckland and recruited kids with the offer of new hope. When the authorities said he was illegally hosting kids in the zone, he legally adopted fifty boys.
The first cohort of twelve graduated this year. Nine are going to University and three to apprenticeships or professional sports projects.
Now he has opened another hostel down the road. It is an inspiring story that government could never have invented.
We in Act have a particular interest in education and in Partnership Schools. Although they are new, they are already making an impact on the lives of many kids. But they have come under sustained attack from the political left, in an appallingly mean-spirited manner.
I find it astonishing that there is so little good will displayed to the educators who have embraced the challenge of addressing the demonstrable failure occurring in some parts of our education system.
They should be commended for their bravery, supported in their efforts, be accountable for their failures, and congratulated for their successes – not attacked for simply trying to help kids succeed.
These educators are also risk takers and entrepreneurs.
Their efforts most certainly make a difference to New Zealand.
And you, you brave supporters of a long tradition of classical liberalism, now manifest in the ACT NZ Party. – your efforts make a difference.
I’d like to finish with a challenge to our political class. A challenge to stop ducking an issue that has no immediate political payoff but is vital to our nation’s sustainability.
I have been sitting on the “new flag” committee, charged with organising the process leading to a referendum on a new flag.
I am not quite sure why. Maybe we need a new flag, maybe not.
But the interesting thing is the process.
Clearly we wouldn’t want to leave a decision about a new flag to a bunch of politicians, with their various agendas and likely dubious aesthetic preferences.
Thus we are charging a committee to come up with options, put those to the public in a referendum to find a preferred alternative, and then run that off against the “no change” option in a second referendum.
And it occurred to me that if we can do that about a matter that is largely symbolic, why not follow the same process for another intractable problem, one that politicians have been dodging for decades.
Namely the changes needed to ensure that NZ Superannuation is viable over the longer term.
That it doesn’t cause undue fiscal pressure, and pressure on tax rates, and is reasonably fair across the generations.
It is clear that political parties cannot resolve this, as balanced positions are too easily misrepresented and attacked.
It is too dangerous politically.
National is ducking the issue; Labour courageously tried but is now gun-shy.
This is a political Mexican stand-off, with the guns pointed at the younger generations, of which I am a member.
All New Zealanders know that this is an issue that must be addressed
How could we make progress then?
Well, let’s follow the “new flag” process.
Let’s appoint a group with the necessary expertise to come up with options. A good starting point would be members of the Retirement Policy and Research Centre (RPRC) at the University of Auckland Business School, perhaps in conjunction with the Retirement Commission.
We would charge them with consulting with the public and presenting a series of options for the future, of which “no change” is one.
As with the referendum on a new flag, we would put those options to the public in an initial referendum to establish a preferred alternative.
And then that would go to a binding referendum as an alternative to the no-change option.
Let’s be very clear, this is not an issue that will affect those over, say, 50-55 years of age, and the changes will be modest for those just a little younger.
Let’s also accept that this is not just an issue of raising the age of eligibility.
The issue is more complex.
For a start, many working people are not capable of working much past 65 – eg a gib-stopper, painter, builder, forestry workers, even a hair-dresser etc.
Others can comfortably work on past the age of 65 and earn a high income doing so – ie most professionals, even some politicians.
Putting up the age of eligibility is only one element of what might be a suite of options. These might include the age of eligibility; provisions for those who cannot work on past 65, or even to it; means testing issues (whether full or partial); the basis for indexation; the relationship to kiwisaver in the decades ahead; and eligibility criteria for migrants and kiwis returning home.
It would be up to the group charged with consulting the community to come up with serious options on these matters.
So, in light of the cricket world cup, here’s a proposal.
Lets knock this issue out of the park, taking it away from day-to-day politics.
Today I want to challenge the Leaders of all political parties to support this approach.
In particular, I want to challenge the leaders of both the National and Labour Parties to support me.
I challenge the PM to let the people decide.
John Key has committed to not changing superannuation. Fine. He would not be breaking any promises by letting this issue go to a referendum.
I challenge the new Labour Leader, Andrew Little, to show some leadership on this issue. Your party rather courageously campaigned on raising the age of eligibility at the last election, to your cost. Your Party clearly recognised that changes must be made.
I challenge the Hon Winston Peters Leader of NZ First to also support this issue going to the electorate to decide. He has supported referenda before. NZ First clearly have a significant constituency amongst the elderly, but this proposal will not affect those in or near retirement in the slightest.
I challenge the Co-Leaders of the Green Party to support this initiative. They speak often of the need for sustainability, often where the meaning of that word is obscure or entirely undefined. The sustainability of NZ Super is profoundly important, and making it so is entirely within our powers.
And I challenge the Co-Leaders of the Maori Party, and the Hon Peter Dunne Leader of United Future to also support me on this. The United Future proposal for a flexible start date for people taking up their superannuation (lower if taken earlier, higher if taken later) may well be a feature of the options presented.
In short, let’s resolve this Mexican Standoff.
Delivered by ACT President John Thompson on February 21, 2015.
It is my pleasure to be able to wrap up this year’s Annual Conference.
I have to thank a lot of people who have made this possible and top of the list would have to be Alan for allowing us to hold the conference here. Thank you Alan for giving us the ability to use this marvellous Farm to hold this conference, also for your continued support of the ACT Party.
I also have to thank our Vice President and Party Manager for all the work that has gone into this, hopefully the outcome is something that has been worth all the stressful moments in the Lead up to the Conference.
I would like to thank the Past Board who have assisted me during my first year of being President, some of you have now left the Board after the AGM of yesterday, to those who are leaving thank you for your services, those of you that are here for another term, thank you for your continued support and to the newcomers to the Board, thank you for putting your hand up to serve the ACT Party. The new Board will meet quickly at the conclusion of the Conference. I would like to however make special mention of one of the departing Board Members and that is Barbara Astil. Barbara has served the ACT Party in every roll imaginable and has done so with Grace and dignity and I will greatly miss her experience and advice that she brings to the Board and Executive Table. I would like the conference to show their appreciation for the efforts that Barbara has made to the Party over a very long time.
To those who have volunteered during the day, thank you very much for your assistance in making this day the success that it has been.
To our Leader, David Seymour, our utmost gratitude for all the effort that you have put in, once again to rebuild the Party, this time from a solid foundation based on our core principles of Freedom, Choice and Personal Responsibility. You have responded to a daunting and challenging situation in a positive and proactive way and I would like to acknowledge what you have done to date and what I know you will do for the ACT Party in the future. It is going to be a big job in front of you but having seen you at work I am sure you are both up for the job and that you will be successful. Today’s speech is evidence of how far you have come in a short period and come the time of the next election, we will have a very experience well rounded and well-grounded Leader and I for one look forward to being able to support you for the next 2 years as the Party President.
At the last conference I spoke about the new beginning for ACT and the need to build to the 2017 election. I said that we needed to put the foundation stones in place to build a stronger and revitalised ACT so we could prosper by doubling our vote and doubling our representation in 2017. Sadly doubling our vote and doubling our representation in 2017 is not going to be an acceptable outcome. We will need to improve both our vote numbers and our Parliamentary Representation by a factor of 6.
We have started now, you can see this today but we have a lot more to do, we have to become relevant to the voting Public again. In the past six years or two elections we have given the New Zealand Voters every reason, every excuse not to vote for us and they have taken notice and consequently we have seen our voting % continue to decline. We can look for all the reasons why and the excuses we want to find but frankly speaking we have to look at ourselves.
We need to give the Public good reasons to vote for us, we need to look at a better targeted campaign strategy; this is based on who are our targets and where are these targets. We need to convince these people who are sympathetic to what we stand for that a vote for ACT is not going to be wasted and it is going to be more meaningful than a Party Vote for National or Labour and certainly more meaningful than a Party Vote for the Conservatives or New Zealand First. I know that we have absolutely nothing in common with the Conservatives or New Zealand First and I would not be standing here today if I thought that we did have anything in common with both those Cults. I shudder to think how Winston Peters, Tracey Martin or Colin Craig could be mentioned in the same sentence as David Seymour, they are just polar opposites. However Cultish they may be they do have % of voters that are disgruntled Labour or National Voters and they are a target. Both National and Labour have people voting for them under their historical tribal reliance but are generally tolerant of what they ae doing but not overly happy with what is happening.
I believe these people are also easy targets to capture and it does not take much to capture numbers here, all we need to be is to appear relevant and behave ourselves.
We need to be sensible, be true to ourselves, our core values and we then become relevant again. It is not rocket science, it is about turning things around and giving the voting public a reason to vote ACT and not a reason not to vote for ACT, something we have excelled at for the best part of a decade.
So things need to change and it is a change that needs to happen internally, a culture change if you like. We need to drop all of our single issue positions, and I include myself in this, and concentrate on what will convince voters to vote ACT, or in sailing terms ‘what will this make the Boat go faster”. Talking about sailing I don’t think Government Money will help the Boat go faster and if it is required to make the Boat sail at all, then I am afraid it should go into the Dry Dock. Welfare for Rich Sailors makes as much sense as Corporate Welfare for Casino Operators.
We need to do some research into who our targets are, this is to be more scientific than a hunch based on our own prejudices which has got us to the situation we are in now and lets not beat about the Bush on this, we are on Life Support at the moment. We need to regain our Good Health and turn that machine off.
We can do this, in fact our first steps are now upon us with Northland By-Election and I am glad that Robin Grieve is standing for ACT in this By-Election. Robin is a true hard working ACT man, someone that does not shirk the hard work and someone that has an eye for detail so I expect Robin to be campaigning hard on Northland Regional Issues and for Northland to see that we are relevant and back making sense. A good showing in Northland will be good Nationally for us, it will show we are back, we are bright and breezy, we are not the tired old Grumpies of the past, indeed we will be showing New Zealand we have undergone a successful Cultural change, it is evident today at this conference and we have to expose all of New Zealand to this change.
So this brings me to money, we need to raise money to support Robin in Northland, we need to show Northland that we are willing and able to do the job, and then a good result will mean we have a new momentum to move forward with. So please give generously if possible, both financially and also with time, we need volunteers to door knock and do the countless other jobs required in a By- Election.
After the Northland By-Election we need to turn our attention to the 2017 Election, this has to be our focus and we need to navigate our way through the next 30 months and that too takes money. As a bare essential we need to raise regular monthly funding to run the Party without any Bells and Whistles and certainly with no extra spare money. To achieve our goals for 2017, we need to raise additional annual funding for essential tasks that we should be doing such as selecting candidates to join the Candidates Register and then training these Candidates so we have exceptional Candidates that are experienced and ready to go.
So my last message is we are going to relevant again, we are going to give New Zealanders every reason to vote for ACT, we are going to stick to our Core Values but we need your continued support.
Thank you all for coming today, I look forward to catching up with you all through the year.
Video can be viewed here.
Debate on Prime Minister's Statement - 10th February, 2015
ACT Leader David Seymour
One of the benefits of being a younger member of the House is that sometimes you can learn a thing or two from some of the older members of the House, and from one, who may be the oldest of all, we got three very good questions.
What state is the country in? Well it is an interesting fact that if you look at the polling data across the world and you look at Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, and you ask the people in each country: “Is your country heading in the right direction or the wrong direction?”, New Zealand is the only one of the five where people persistently have said the country is heading in the right direction, for the last six years straight. When the member asks the question: “Are we heading in the right direction?”, the people have answered the question. Maybe he thinks they are stupid.
What he will find out—what he will find out if he stands in Northland—is that the people there have moved on too. That place has changed since the 1960s. If he stands there it will be a very sad political death. However, I have heard that he may be leaving me a couple of backbenchers in his will, so it may not be all bad.
Are we getting towards a fairer society? That is a question that I would like to address in this speech. The country is in a good state and we are heading in the right direction. I learnt this on the 175th anniversary of our nation’s founding, up at Waitangi just last week.
I probably speak for many New Zealanders when I say that I had stayed away all of my life because of the acrimonious pictures on the TV screen that put me off visiting Waitangi on the fifth and sixth of February. What a warm and pleasant experience. I had to say a prayer on a marae—almost two new experiences in one day.
What I found when I watched the TV at the end of that day was something astonishing and surprising. I thought Andrew Little had wanted to be the Prime Minister of New Zealand—I really did. All his behaviour up until that point had suggested that Andrew Little wanted to be the Prime Minister of New Zealand. We heard from the co-leader of the Green Party that he knew which side of apartheid he was on in 1981. But does Andrew Little know the answer to that question, or is he actually trying to bring it back right here in New Zealand?
Perhaps he agrees with Sir Tīpene O’Regan, the normally sensible and respectable man, who said that Pākehā New Zealanders do not know their history. Well, let me remind Andrew Little, and anyone else who has any doubt, what some of our history is. Perhaps we should start maybe about 400 years ago when Martin Luther challenged the Inquisition and nailed his theses to the door of Rome. Perhaps we should talk about William Wilberforce, who campaigned valiantly for years to end slavery in England, or Abe Lincoln, who did it across the Atlantic, in the US. Perhaps we should talk about Kate Sheppard, who said that women and men should both be able to vote equally here in New Zealand. Perhaps we could come forward a little way, to Fran Wilde and Louisa Wall, who said that people should be treated equally before the law, regardless of their sexuality.
Our heritage and our history is the creation of a free and equal society where everybody is equal under law, and that is one of the greatest achievements any country has ever made. If Andrew Little really wants to be Prime Minister of New Zealand, he had better back-pedal quickly on the idea that we should be backing down on the wonderful achievements that our country has managed in becoming one of the most diverse, free, and harmonious societies that this world has ever seen.
When we come to the question of housing affordability, it is worth thinking how far we have come on that topic. The Demographia index has been comparing median household incomes to median house prices every year for eight years. When they started doing it, Helen Clark used to say: “If only they would put some unaffordable European countries in, New Zealand’s housing affordability might look a little bit better.” Well, how far we have come that we now have a Government that accepts there is a housing affordability problem in New Zealand.
We have a Government that is actually addressing the root causes of housing unaffordability in New Zealand. What are those causes? If you study the phenomena, it is not the tax system. Sydney, Vancouver, and Los Angeles have much more unaffordable housing than us and they also have a capital gains tax.
It is not the banking system or the interest rates. Many, many markets across the United States and Canada all have the same banking system. They all have the same interest rates, but only some markets are deeply unaffordable.
We now have studies of the approach of hundreds of urban housing markets to urban planning. What do we discover? It is those that take on constrictive urban planning regimes, and say “thou shalt not build there”, that find themselves with a shortage of land on which you can build, and, as a result, a shortage of houses. It does not matter, as the Labour Party would have it, if the Government builds the houses because even builders working for the Government cannot build houses on no land.
The initiative that this Government will take up is cleaning up the Resource Management Act, taking out the vagaries, and making the Resource Management Act about science—science: physics, chemistry, and biology. The Resource Management Act should be about biodiversity. It should be about air, water, and soil. It should be about the physics of noise, of traffic, of shading. But it should not be about vague concepts that lead to ephemeral goals pursued by urban planners denying an entire generation of New Zealanders the opportunity to own a home.
How far we have come, that we are now reforming the root cause of housing unaffordability. I give the support of the ACT Party to National in reforming the Resource Management Act at its roots, at sections 5, 6, and 7, and focusing them on science rather than the kind of ephemera that we hear from the other side of the House. The first step towards building more houses is to free up land upon which to build them.
Another thing that happened over the last couple of months that I would like to add to the Prime Minister’s address is that a number of Partnership Schools have opened. I have got bad news for the Opposition. Boy, are they performing off the charts. The number of students enrolled is going through the roof. It is 440, up from 360 last year. The Post Primary Teachers’ Association is terrified of the ongoing success of these schools. [Heckling from Tracey Martin] The member there should go and visit, and see what they do for the kids who choose to attend those schools. But her ideology is more important than those kids getting skills, getting qualifications, getting jobs, and feeling good about themselves. That is why she is going to be staying over there.
You could visit any of the schools where the results are outstanding, in particular for the context of some of the challenges that they face. Next month we are going to see Sir Michael Jones and Willie Jackson opening Partnership Schools. This policy has momentum. It is diverse. It is unstoppable.
You wonder why the Labour Party is in so much trouble in this House. It is because the ACT Party is now doing its job for it. We are delivering what Peter Fraser promised as education Minister in 1949. I know it is hard, Tracey Martin, but you need to accept this. If the member really cares about delivering the promise that every child will develop to the full extent of their powers by our education system, then we must be able to let in new methods.
I actually agree with one of the things that Eleanor Catton said. She said that when you have success, too many people are there to beat up on you unless they can collectivise it for themselves. Imagine a world in which the approach of the teachers' union, in which the approach of the Opposition, and in which the approach of even Tracey Martin was such that we admired people who have taken risks, gone out on a limb, been creative, and enrolled their kids, in order to find ways to address one of New Zealand’s most urgent problems.
Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a country where Eleanor Catton’s concern of tall poppy syndrome was addressed and we could actually try new things to make kids’ lives better without such negative wailing from all over the Chamber. But, unfortunately, we fight on, and I am very proud to do so with my colleagues from the Māori Party, from United Future, and from the National Party.
We are going to deal to the Resource Management Act, because when you see that child poverty rises from 130,000 to 285,000 as soon as you include the figures for housing affordability—or the effect that has on family budgets—then you know the number one thing we can do for child poverty is expand the supply of housing for New Zealand families, and have we not come a long way in addressing that?
We know that we are coming into a world and a century when the premium on skills will be larger than it has been at any previous time, and it is going to be more important than ever that all New Zealanders have the skills. We are unleashing social entrepreneurship in order to achieve that goal. Thank you.
Video of this speech can be viewed here.
Delivered by ACT Leader David Seymour to New Zealand Parliament,
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.
Video of this speech can be viewed here.
Delivered by ACT Leader David Seymour to New Zealand Parliament, 21/10/2014:
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.
Dr Jamie Whyte, ACT Leader
11am Sunday 14 September
Tasca Café, Newmarket, Auckland
ACT will hold the balance of power after the election on Saturday.
In every poll taken last week, ACT has gone up. Not in every poll published last week mind you but in every poll that was taken last week.
In the latest Colmar Brunton poll – the most reliable of the pollsters – ACT is on 1.2%.
Our messages are getting through. We are winning support. 1.2% (28,000 votes) means I will be elected as a list MP, giving ACT two MPs and allowing John Key to be Prime Minister again without the “help” of Winston Peters.
In a week’s time ACT will be in a position to give the country three more years of stable Centre/right government.
The MMP system and its ramifications remain unclear to many voters. It is worth going through them yet again.
To elect Party List MPs, a party must receive 5% of the Party vote or hold an electorate. 5% is a high threshold. No Conservative-type party has managed it in 18 years of MMP. The Christian Democrats were well funded and they failed. The Conservatives, with their confused and uncosted policies, will also fall short in this election.
The parties that will break the threshold are National, Labour, the Greens and, probably, New Zealand First.
The only other parties that will be in parliament are parties that can win electorates: the Maori Party, United Future’s Peter Dunne, Internet-Mana and ACT.
Of these, only two parties have enough electoral appeal to elect Party List MPs: Internet-Mana and ACT.
Hone Harawira now regrets his deal with Dotcom and is struggling to hold his seat from Labour’s Kelvin Davis. And Internet-Mana is falling in the polls. If Hone loses they will sink without trace.
It is a huge electoral advantage to hold an electorate.
The people of Epsom are doing their bit. Left wing commentators and desperate talk-back callers claiming to be Epsom voters say the electorate does not like being in a position to choose the next government.
I have been campaigning in Epsom. I am yet to meet an Epsom voter who objects to the role.
This week National released their Epsom poll. It puts ACT’s David Seymour over 50%.
ACT’s winning Epsom is important not just because it means all ACT Party votes then count but because it increases centre-right representation in parliament – a fact that even political science professors fail to recognise.
MMP stands for Mixed Member Proportional. “Mixed Member” refers to the fact that there are electorate and list MPs. “Proportional” refers to the fact that the number of MPs a party has is roughly proportional to their Party vote.
Electorate seats that a party wins are deducted from the seats it wins on the list to make the total representation in parliament proportional. So if National had won Epsom last election, the party would have lost its last list MP and the total number of centre-right MPs would have been the same.
ACT winning Epsom meant an increase of one seat for the centre-right and turned out to be the vote John Key needed to be Prime Minister.
The other effect of the electorate seats being deducted is that, at the last election, National needed 63,000 party votes per list MP. At this election, about 28,000 party votes (or 1.2%) will bring me in as a list MP and 44,000 will bring in me and Kenneth Wang – at an average of 22,000 party votes per list MP.
We are currently polling 1.2% – enough for David Seymour plus me. But I think things are actually better than that.
ACT has always been under-recorded in the polls. The famous Republican pollster, Gen Ulm, tells us that telephone polls no longer work for a party like ACT. Our supporters have smart phones and polls based on landlines are over recording parties like New Zealand First.
ACT may already be on 3 or 4 MPs.
* * * * *
ACT has never failed to elect an MP in the history of MMP.
That is because of our real electoral advantage.
Many New Zealanders want to be free to make the decisions about their lives and they are willing to accept the consequences of those decisions.
Anyone who wants lower taxes and less nanny state has only two options on election day. They can either stay at home or they can vote for ACT.
We may be a minority, but those who favour personal freedom do so passionately.
I support free market capitalism because it has produced remarkable wealth for humans. Over the last 200 years, free markets have lifted humans out of the grinding poverty that was taken for granted for all previous human history.
Despite what the parties of the left say – and especially grumpy old Winston – there has never been a better time to be a New Zealander.
But even if socialism did work, even if David Parker and Russel Norman really could run a planned economy, I would still reject it in favour of freedom of choice and taking responsibility for my choices.
I know that at least 10% of New Zealand shares my values. They and I know that ACT is the only party of freedom.
I have demonstrated in this campaign and in the debates that I am a person who genuinely believes in personal responsibility. I can be trusted to go to parliament and be true to the values of freedom and responsibility.
We have selected a new team who can also be trusted to reflect our values. David Seymour is leading in Epsom not simply because he has door knocked on thousands of doors. He is leading because when the Epsom voters met him they like what they see. Kenneth Wang came to this country with nothing and has founded and run his own successful company.
ACT’s support will continue to climb this week.
Victoria University has run an interesting study about how voters decide who to vote for and when they decide. ACT voters are late deciders. ACT people are busy. Many of our voters will make up their minds over the coming week.
And they will do that in part by visiting our website. Victoria University says potential ACT voters are the most likely to check out all the party websites.
Here is what they will find. National has the slickest site but it focuses on John Key. It is the John Key party. If you have the most popular politician, why not?
It does not take long on the Labour website to realise this is a party that has lost its way. On the Greens’ site you rapidly discover that this is a party of watermelons: green on the outside and red in the middle.
But the websites get worse after that. New Zealand First is a leadership cult. The Taxpayers' Union says New Zealand First promises are more than Labour and the Greens combined, but none of it is properly explained or costed. There are no serious policy papers on the New Zealand First site.
The Conservative website is even more superficial. It is a hodgepodge of inconsistent policies stolen from different parties. No attempt is made to cost their promises. Even their core policy of binding referendums seems to be slipping into something not quite binding.
Potential ACT voters will not bother with the other sites so neither will I.
ACT does not have the flashiest website but we do have the most substantive – fully-costed policies with carefully researched background papers that cite our sources.
The Taxpayers’ Union’s independent economist says that ACT has costed its policies and that ACT alone is not trying to bribe voters with their own money.
Spend time on the ACT website and you will find ACT is the only party with a plan that distinguished economists agree will return New Zealand to full employment.
The other parties talk about poverty. On our website, we have a practical five point plan to reduce poverty: economic growth from tax reform, reduced housing costs from regulatory reform, improved incentives to work from welfare reform, better education through Partnership schools and less addiction by supporting National’s policy of making treatment a condition for welfare.
20% of New Zealand children leave school unable to read or do arithmetic well enough to be employable. Only ACT has a plan to give our youth an education suitable for the world of robots and global competition.
Spend time on ACT’s website and you discover that ACT has practical policies to combat crime. We have credibility here because our three strikes policy has already reduced violent crime. Three strikes for burglary will reduce our appalling burglary statistics.
Getting tough on home invasion will tackle what is one of the worst crimes. And we are is going allow shop keepers to defend themselves from violent criminals.
I challenge every voter to take the tour of the websites. ACT is the party of fresh ideas and practical solutions.
* * * * *
I also ask voters to look at the leadership I offer and compare it with what is on offer.
Before entering politics I wrote two books about the shoddy arguments that politicians commonly use. So I entered with low expectations about what I would encounter.
But I am afraid my expectations have turned out to be not quite low enough.
The most astonishing thing has been the willingness of my rivals to simply make things up.
Winston Peters, for example, claims that he can come up with $7 billion in annual revenue to fund his wild promises by cracking down on tax evasion.
Some journalists have asked how he knows there is this much tax evasion and how he can possibly stop it. He simply replies that he knows what he is talking about because he was involved in exposing a famous tax evasion scam many years ago.
It’s like arguing that you can bench-press 200 kilos because you once picked up a kitten.
Even worse: if he knows of this $7 billion of tax evasion, why has he not already informed the IRD? What’s he waiting for? The baubles of office?
Colin Craig, the man who would be Winston, seems to be learning from the master.
His tax policy has become a farcical farrago of invention.
Initially, Mr Craig claimed that he would create a $20,000 tax-free threshold and impose a flat rate above $20,000. This flat rate remained a mystery both to the voters and, apparently, to Mr Craig.
Mr Craig had announced no cuts in government spending. So the tax rate imposed above $20,000 would have to suffice to maintain the current total revenue from income tax.
We calculated that this meant the rate would need to be 34%. That’s higher than the current 33% top rate but would kick in at just $20,000. Imposing a 34% marginal tax rate on people earning just $20,000 is economically crazy.
No no no, said Christine Rankin at a candidates meeting in Epsom. The rate would be between 20% and 25% with the shortfall made up by a $4 billion new excise duty on alcohol.
Excise duty on alcohol – at for example $2 a bottle of wine – now raises about $670 million. The Conservatives plan to increase this to $4 billion or, in other words, by a factor of 7. The duty on a bottle of wine would rise from $2 to $14. A bottle of wine that now costs $18 would cost $30!
We pointed this out.
Then Mr Craig announced that he would only phase in his $20,000 tax-free threshold, starting with $5,000.
Well, even this will entail a revenue loss of $1.6 billion. What spending will be cut?
Answer: he will cut some unspecified wellington bureaucrats and reduce the number of MPs.
Suppose that the total cost of an MP is $1 million annually, including office staff and all the attendant costs. If parliament were reduced from 120 MPs to 100, that would save $20 million, which is 1% of the $1.6 billion required. The remaining 99% of savings required are, of course, left unspecified.
He is just making it all up as he goes along, coming up with a new mistake as soon as the previous one is exposed.
The unabashed left, on the other hand, have succumbed to self-aggrandising fantasy.
Their every policy involves a transfer of decision-making from private citizens to politicians and bureaucrats.
How will Labour increase economic growth? By shifting responsibility for making investment decisions from private investors risking their own money to David Parker risking taxpayers’ money.
What extraordinary economic insight Mr Parker must be possessed of! With no skin in the game and only a fraction of the information available to private investors, he can make better decisions than they can.
How will Labour, the Greens and Internet-Mana increase the incomes of those on low pay?
They will simply force employers to pay their staff more. Never mind all the complexities of the labour market, the ever-shifting demand for various kinds of labour and the supply of them. Never mind the great variation in living costs around the country. Never mind the effects of high minimum wages on employers’ plans to hire new staff or on the non-monetary conditions they offer their employees.
Meteria Turei, Hone Harawira and David Parker can do a better job of setting pay than can millions of voluntary contracts between employers and employees.
What god-like insight these people must believe themselves to possess.
* * * * *
When I make such points, my rivals and some commentators dismiss me as a philosopher.
They hope to make a political virtue of their inability or refusal to reason properly.
It isn’t a virtue.
This country faces problems that call for some straight thinking.
We need some MPs in parliament who are willing and able to think.
And many voters know it.
That’s why ACT is going to do well on Saturday.
That’s why we will be holding the balance of power in the next parliament.
ACT’s Campaign Opening
Ellerslie Event Centre
11am, Sunday 7 September
It is nearly 20 years since the ACT party was born.
Many people no longer remember why it was named ACT.
They may imagine that it was on account of our determination to actually do things in parliament rather than simply occupy the seats and collect the salaries.
That’s true but it isn’t the right answer.
I don’t need to tell you here that ACT was an acronym, short for the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers.
ACT was created because its founders, Roger Douglas of the Labour Party and Derek Quigley of the National Party, objected to what their parties had in common.
In 1996, both the National and Labour parties believed in taxing people heavily to fund government services that people had no choice but to consume.
Douglas and Quigley wanted New Zealand to be a society in which taxes were light and people had a say in what they consumed – even when that consumption was funded by taxpayers.
School vouchers are the perfect example of this goal. They allow all parents, no matter what their incomes, to exercise a choice that only the wealthy now enjoy – a choice between schools competing to provide their kids with an education that suits them.
In the 18 years since its beginning, ACT has had many successes. For example, John Banks got our Partnership Schools policy passed into law, with the help of his upcoming replacement in Epsom, David Seymour.
Partnership schools are state-funded but they only get that money if they can convince parents with a choice in the matter to enroll their children.
Despite such policy successes, ACT’s original raison d’etre remains. 18 years on, New Zealanders are still over-taxed and they are still over-regulated. National and Labour are no less disappointing today than they were 20 years ago.
Anyone who really believes in personal responsibility and individual liberty, anyone who believes that the answer to every problem is not “the government should do something”, still has only one party to vote for. ACT is still the only party that wants big individuals and small government.
* * * * *
Nor has ACT’s significance changed over the short term.
Three years ago, the people in this hall and the voters of Epsom, decided who would be Prime Minister. Because the ACT candidate for Epsom won a majority of 2,300, John Key became Prime Minister. And we were spared a Labour-led government.
History is repeating itself.
National is well ahead of any other party in the polls. But the parties of the left, including New Zealand First, could still get enough votes to form a government.
A Frankenstein Labour-Green-Internet-Mana-New Zealand First government may be unthinkable, but it is not impossible.
It is over to us again.
The people of Epsom are doing their bit. David Seymour is door-knocking his way to victory.
Now we need get a number of ACT Party list MPs elected. We need just 1.3% of the party vote – 28,000 votes – for me to join David in parliament. Another 16,000 votes will add Kenneth Wang.
If ACT succeeds, New Zealand will have three more years of stable center-right government. If we fail, New Zealand faces the prospect of a chaotic left-wing Frankenstein government.
* * * * *
It’s not pretty, but we should look at that monster.
Part of the monster – the crazy tangled mess of hair stitched onto the scalp – is the Internet-Mana party.
This is a party of hard-left socialists – Hone Harawera, Laila Harre, Annette Sykes and John Minto – funded by a convicted fraudster wanted for copyright violation in America.
Their lunatic policies include shutting down all the prisons (perhaps on the suggestion of their fugitive sponsor).
In a televised debate, Hone explained that prisons are unnecessary because if boys are sent on Kapa Haka courses, they commit no crimes.
If only they had Kapa Haka in Germany, Kim Dotcom would not be a wanted man!
As I said to Hone at the time, it’s a very nice idea. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Why don’t you send all the boys for Haka training and then, after the crime rate falls to zero, we will close the prisons. In the meantime, let’s keep them open – just in case you are wrong about the transformative power of Kapa Haka.
* * * * *
The Greens are the monster’s face, grinning inanely below its swivel-eyes.
In the nicest possible way, they intend to force everyone to live as the Greens prefer. They will tax the things they don’t like, such dairy farming, and subsidize the things they do like, such as solar panel manufacturers.
The Greens are not so much a political party as a religious movement, worshipping snails and ferns and all that makes up Gaia, except us humans of course.
For the Greens, humans fall into two categories: the helpless, who smart green politicians must save, and the wicked, who smart green politicians must stop.
In virtue, and intellect, Russel Norman and Meteria Turei are so vastly superior to everyone else that it is their moral duty to subjugate us.
* * * * *
The big flabby torso of the monster is the Labour Party.
It was briefly a thing of beauty and strength. We have the Labour government of Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble to thank for the fact that New Zealand is not now a basket-case like Argentina.
But the Labour Party has gone horribly to seed.
Nothing reveals this more clearly than its finance spokesman, David Parker – the man who now occupies the position once held by the great Roger Douglas.
Mr Parker fancies himself the smartest boy in the fourth-form. But he has not even the weakest grip on basic economics.
At the recent Queenstown Chamber of Commerce political debate Mr Parker explained his party’s desire to reduce immigration to New Zealand. He claimed that economic output requires increasingly little labour to produce. So immigrants cause unemployment.
This nonsense has been peddled by economic fools since the invention of the weaving loom. In fact, I imagine it got started when someone first thought of killing animals with a sharp stick instead of bare hands.
For the sake of Mr Parker’s education, here is what really happens when workers become more productive. People produce and consume more.
And not just more of the same, but entirely new things. Even Mr Parker has surely noticed that, over the past 30 years, as worker productivity and the population have both risen, unemployment has not increased.
Instead, we are consuming more than we ever have. And we are consuming better goods and services than ever before.
Everyone, please, get your cell phones out and wave them in the air so that Mr Parker might understand.
* * * * *
Finally, we come to Winton Peters and his New Zealand First, the stumpy little legs of the monster. Little legs that remain idle for 2 years and 10 months out of every three years and then spend two months running around furiously kicking everyone in sight – foreigners, journalists, bankers, you name it: everyone except pensioners.
After all, it’s common sense.
That’s Winston’s slogan: it’s common sense.
I am not sure what “it” refers to but that doesn’t really matter. Because, as my old PhD supervisor used to say, “sense isn’t common”.
And there is no better example of this fact than Winston himself.
Winston’s big economic policy for this election is removing GST from food. That would reduce government revenue by 3 billion dollars.
But Winston has no plan to cut government spending by 3 billion dollars. On the contrary, he plans to increase government spending massively.
Where will he get all the money?
Winston’s answer: by cracking down on tax evasion.
Honestly. He claims that he can raise 7 billion by cracking down on tax evasion.
That’s not sense, common or otherwise. That’s bollocks.
When a politician tells you that he is going to fund his spending promises by cracking down on tax evasion, you know he is either a fool or a charlatan. And Winston ain’t no fool.
* * * * *
I am not so sure about Winston’s main rival, however.
Colin Craig has a tax policy that no self-respecting charlatan could propose.
He says that the first $20,000 of income will be tax free. Above that, he will apply some unspecified flat rate.
Imagine you wanted a $500,000 mortgage and you went to your bank. The lending officer says: “you’re in luck, we have a special deal on mortgages this week. You can get the first $250,000 at a zero rate of interest. On the second $250,000, we will charge you some other rate of interest.”
“What rate is that?” you ask.
“Oh never mind that, for now”, the lending officer replies. “Just sign the contract and you will find out when the first payment comes due”.
Only a complete idiot would sign the contract. And even the greedy and devious bankers of Winston Peters’ fevered imagination would not dream of making such an offer.
Yet this is the tax policy that Colin Craig is offering the people of New Zealand.
It is all too easy to think that other people are just like you. I fear Colin Craig is putting too much faith in the gullibility of voters.
* * * * *
So much for the monstrous alternative to a National-ACT, centre-right government. I don’t want to spoil your lunch.
What about our friend the National Party?
Without doubt, they are far better than the alternative. John Key beats David Cunliffe, hands down.
And yet … and yet, National disappoints.
When in opposition to Helen Clark’s government, National said Working for Families was a terrible policy that made ordinary middle-income kiwis welfare beneficiaries.
They said interest free student loans were a crass election bribe. They lamented the massive expansion of the Wellington bureaucracy.
ACT cheered them on.
Now, after 6 years of a National government, we still have Working for Families. We still have interest free student loans. The number of bureaucrats is unchanged.
National is a party of competent managers. They don’t make a terrible mess of things – except for Muldoon.
But they show too little commitment to the principles they espouse. They show too little commitment to what has made New Zealand the great country it is.
Like all successful countries, New Zealand was built on the rule of law, private property rights and trade. And our continued success also depends on them.
Chip away at these institutions and we will lose the prosperity and freedom that we now enjoy.
Labour, New Zealand First, the Greens, Mana-Internet and the Conservatives are all openly hostile to the institution of private property.
All want to ban the sale of land to foreigners. I have heard the leaders of all these parties justify this policy by claiming that “we should not be selling our land to foreigners”.
When Lochinvar station was sold to Chinese buyers, we were not selling our land. The Stevenson family was selling their land.
Land in New Zealand is not collectively owned; it is privately owned. New Zealand is not yet a communist country.
Winston Peters lives in a street near mine. He cannot come knocking at my door demanding entry to “our house”. Nor should he presume to tell me who I can sell my house to. I own my house and Winston owns his.
That’s what John Key should have told David Cunliffe when the topic came up during their televised debate. Instead, Key quibbled that the National government already applies Labour’s proposed test for an acceptable land sale.
In other words, Key accepted Cunliffe’s assumption that the government should decide who a private property owner may sell to.
There is no virtue in meeting your opponents halfway when they have strayed miles off course.
The Overseas Investment Office should be abolished. It has no proper job to do. When foreigners invest in New Zealand, we benefit. There is no injury for the OIO to protect us from.
ACT would also abolish the Resource Management Act rather than streamlining its consenting processes, as National plans to do.
The problem is not with the administration of the RMA. The problem is with the very conception of it. The RMA is an assault on property rights that stifles investment and economic growth. The restrictions it puts on using land for residential development are the reason housing is so expensive.
We did not have an environmental crisis in 1990 when the RMA was made law. But we did have affordable housing. ACT would return to sensible planning laws based on private property rights.
* * * * *
Nor is National fighting hard enough to defend the rule of law. It is a fundamental democratic principle that everyone should be equal before the law.
To know someone’s legal rights, you should not need to know their race.
Under National’s watch, this principle is systematically violated in New Zealand.
We have race-based electorates. Race-based representation on city councils. Race-based rights to influence resource-consent decisions. And race-based admissions to university courses.
A student from a South Auckland state school can fail to get into law school or medical school because her place has been taken by a private school student with lower grades – simply because she is the wrong race.
How can anyone think that’s fair?
National is apparently unconcerned by such injustices.
ACT is not. We will work to eliminate all race-based law from New Zealand.
* * * * *
Nor has National faced up to the cost of providing state superannuation for everyone over 65. As the portion of the population over 65 continues to grow, this will place an unsustainable tax burden on those of working age.
Other countries are facing up to the challenge. Australia is lifting the age of entitlement to 70. New Zealand should face up to it too. ACT would push a National-led government to lift the age of eligibility to 67.
Sometimes it is better to admit you were wrong and break a silly promise.
* * * * *
H. L. Mencken, the mid-20th century American journalist, said that all elections soon become an “advance auction sale of stolen goods”.
This election is a shining confirmation of Mencken’s assessment.
The Taxpayers’ Union has employed a reputable economist to calculate the spending promises of each party. Their “bribe-o-meter” shows that every party but one will increase tax-funded spending massively over the next 3 years.
Winston’s promises are so wild that they are beyond the economist’s ability to calculate them.
Next are the Greens, with a promise to increase spending – and therefore taxes – by $5 billion.
Then Labour at $4.7 billion.
Then the National Party, with $600 million of extra promises spending and taxes.
Even Colin Craig, who claims to favour smaller government, plans to increase government spending $400 million, on top of confiscating privately owned land and preventing you from selling to the highest bidder if they are foreign.
* * * * *
Only ACT resists the temptation to buy votes with taxpayers’ money.
In our Alternative Budget, published in May, we announced a plan to reduce “middle-class welfare” – tax-funded goodies for people who are not hard up. Things like Working for Families payments to people on middle incomes and interest free student loans.
The people who receive these benefits are the very people who pay for them. By cutting middle-class welfare we can reduce the personal taxes paid by the middle class from 33% and 30% to 24%.
We can eliminate an absurd “money-go-round” that creates perverse incentives and slows economic growth.
By contrast, the other parties want to tax the middle-class harder. The Greens and Labour state this clearly. But the Conservatives would also whack the middle class.
Colin Craig plans to apply no tax to the first $20,000 of income while slightly increasing government spending. That will require his unannounced flat rate of tax to be 34% -- slightly higher than the current top rate of tax. Someone earning $40,000 now faces a marginal tax rate of 17.5%. Colin Craig plans to double it.
Under Colin Craig’s tax plan everyone earning over $36,000 would be worse off and households earning between $50,000 and $80,000 would be especially hard hit.
* * * * *
ACT is also the only party promising to eliminate corporate welfare, the corrupt practice of handing over taxpayers’ money to firms who can make friends with politicians and bureaucrats.
By eliminating this crony-capitalism, we could use the $1.4 billion saved to reduce the company tax rate from 28% to 20% next year.
And by rejecting National’s proposed $1.5 billion of election bribes announced in the last budget, we could reduce the company tax rate to 12.5% by 2020.
No other policy being proposed by any party in this election would do more to increase economic growth. Significantly cutting the company tax rate will increase investment and lift wages. Economists estimate that a company tax reduction of this size would increase our long-run economic growth by at least 1 percentage point: that is, by a third.
* * * * *
The parties of the left claim to seek an end to poverty.
But the only way out of poverty is gainful employment. To get the unemployed into work we need a vibrant economy: one that is growing fast and creating jobs.
ACT’s policies of low taxes and light regulation will create such an economy.
The Left’s policies of high taxes, crony capitalism and ever-expanding welfare are economically stultifying. They will only expand the number of people with no serious prospect of getting ahead.
They will only increase the number of children living on welfare.
* * * * *
People also need skills to take advantage of job opportunities.
Our schooling system serves most children well. But it is failing around 20 percent of our children.
Only ACT has an answer.
Thanks to ACT, New Zealand now has five charter – or Partnership – schools. The pupils at these charter schools, who were failing at state schools, are now excelling. The improvement in grades is astonishing. Our charter schools are doing even better than ACT had hoped.
We want many more charter schools in New Zealand. On our education policy for this election, the board of any state school could choose to opt out of Ministry of Education control and become a charter school.
When you vote ACT on 20 September you will be voting to extend charter schools to every community. You will be voting for the only practical, positive solution to poverty: education.
Labour and the Greens plan to close our charter schools and condemn pupils to failure. Those children are relying on you.
* * * * *
So there it is – ACT’s case for your vote.
ACT is the only party that does not buy votes with money taxed from the middle class.
We are the only party truly committed to what made New Zealand the great country it is – to the rule of law, property rights, trade and personal responsibility.
Only ACT MPs will push National to stick to these principles, to live up to these values.
If these are your principles, your values, you have no one else to vote for.
Vote your values.
Party vote ACT.
ACT has a plan that will reduce the cost of a new house by up to one hundred thousand dollars.
Both Labour and National have now announced housing affordability schemes that will cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions and both parties say the other parties’ scheme will increase the cost of new houses. They are both right.
ACT’s plan will not cost the taxpayer a cent. ACT’s plan will work. ACT’s plan is based on sound economics and is endorsed by some of the country’s leading economists as the only plan that will make housing affordable again.
ACT’s plan will not only make housing affordable for the average family, it will stop the diversion of capital into increasing the cost of homes. Lower mortgages will reduce interest rate pressure and the risks taken by banks to fund housing.
* * * * *
New Zealand has some of the most expensive housing in the world. Among the 34 OECD countries, only in Greece do householders have to spend more of their income on housing than we do in New Zealand. Despite the fact that our average incomes are well below those in the United States, our median house prices are substantially above those in the US.
This has devastating social consequences. It means that a great many people can’t afford to buy a home at all. It means that far too often both parents are obliged to seek paid employment outside the home. It means that the children of families forced to rent are too often obliged to move from school to school as their parents move from one rented house to another. It puts huge pressure on the budgets of all low and middle-income families.
It also has serious economic consequences. Because house prices have been rising strongly with scarcely a pause for more than two decades, it means that a large share of available saving is diverted into housing instead of into more directly productive activity. It means that saving itself is reduced as those fortunate enough to own a house see their wealth increasing effortlessly. Why save when wealth can be acquired by simply buying property and waiting? It means that banks are forced to borrow very large sums overseas, with our modest savings no match for our almost insatiable desire to borrow against the security of housing.
It means interest rates have to be higher than they need to be to deal with other inflationary pressures, and the exchange rate is higher than otherwise as a result – with consequential adverse effects on the ability of exporters and those competing with imports to grow and create jobs.
It even affects the risks to the banking sector, as the Reserve Bank made clear last year by imposing their restriction on the volume of loans which can exceed 80% of a recent valuation.
So the hugely high cost of housing in New Zealand is one of our most serious social and economic problems.
* * * * *
Housing affordability has become one of the main election issues.
National’s solution is to encourage people to raid their KiwiSaver schemes for a deposit on a home. If you do, National promises you another $20,000 of taxpayers’ money.
One of the problems with government retirement saving schemes is that politicians find it too tempting to use them to fund their elections.
By increasing the amount of money chasing the same supply of housing, this policy will only increase the price of housing. And it will make yet more New Zealanders, who could be self-reliant, clients of the state. National deserves some credit for other housing initiatives but this is a bad policy.
The parties of the Left have put up even more foolish “solutions”.
The Labour Party wants to introduce a capital gains tax, exempting the family home, even though Australia has a capital gains tax, again exempting the family home, and house prices there are by some measures even more expensive, relative to income, than in New Zealand. That is not a solution at all.
Having the State building one hundred thousand new houses will just transfer house building from the private sector to the state. When Labour’s housing spokesman was asked where the one hundred house lots would come from, he answered from Crown and local government land. The only way to get sixty thousand house lots in Auckland would be to build on Council and Crown reserves in Auckland – something Aucklanders are going to be very angry about.
Winston Peters wants to ban the purchase of New Zealand houses by “foreigners”, which is code for Chinese. This appeal to xenophobia violates the right of property owners to sell to whomever offers the best price. And it ignores the fact that increased demand for houses has no enduring effect on house prices absent a constraint on the supply of housing (of which more in a moment).
The Conservative Party – which on this issue has more in common with the Left than with the Right – wants to confiscate privately-owned land if the land-owner is slow to subdivide and develop it. Mr Craig at times seems more communist than conservative.
One of ACT’s contributions to New Zealand was persuading the National-led Government formed after the 2008 election to set up the Productivity Commission. The very first report of that Commission was on housing affordability. After exhaustive study, the Commission attributed the high cost of housing in New Zealand to four factors.
First, it is caused by the relatively high cost of building materials in New Zealand.
Second, it is caused by the cost and delay in getting through the consenting processes required by local government rules and regulations. (And I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of consents taking many years and millions of dollars to achieve.)
Third, it is caused by relatively low productivity in the building industry, occasioned at least in part by the very small scale of most home builders.
But, overwhelmingly, the main factor contributing to the very high cost of “housing” in New Zealand is not the price of houses, but the extraordinarily high price of the land the houses sit on. Once upon a time, the price of the section cost perhaps 25% of the combined cost of land and house. In our major cities it is now common for the land to be valued at 50% or even more of the combined package. Often 60% in Auckland.
Last year, there was a story in the New Zealand media of a land-owner offering 29 hectares of land in Flat Bush – a suburb a long way from the centre of Auckland – for $112 million, though the land agent said the owner “might accept” $80 million. At $112 million, the price of the undeveloped land was nearly $4 million per hectare; at $80 million still nearly $3 million per hectare. But what attracted attention was not just the very high price of the land compared with, say, the very best dairy land at $50,000 per hectare, but the fact that the landowner had bought the land for just $890,000 less than 20 years previously. In other words, he had made a very large fortune by just sitting on land and waiting for the population pressure built up within what was once called the Metropolitan Urban Limit, and is now called the Rural Urban Boundary, to make him wealthy.
It is this artificial restriction on the supply of land which is the root cause of New Zealand’s very expensive housing. It not only directly affects the price of the land houses are built on but also undermines the productivity of the building industry by making it very difficult or impossible for builders to acquire blocks of land on which economies of scale might be realised.
The Productivity Commission found that the price of land two kilometres inside the Auckland Metropolitan Urban Limit was, in 2010, nearly nine times the price of land two kilometres outside that limit.
American experience also makes it abundantly clear that zoning rules are the primary problem. US cities with a relaxed approach to zoning, such as Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, have median house prices around three times median household income, despite strongly growing populations. Los Angeles and San Francisco, two cities with a very restrictive approach to zoning, have median house prices some seven times median household income, despite strong net outwards migration over the last decade.
New Zealand’s unaffordable housing is a direct and inevitable result of local government zoning rules.
Just lifting the urban limit on Auckland would see the price of a new house fall dramatically.
Lifting the Auckland urban limit is not going to see huge parts of our country covered with asphalt and houses.
New Zealand is larger than the United Kingdom but has about 7% of Britain’s population. While some 9% of the UK is urbanised, in New Zealand the figure is less than 1%. There’s not the slightest risk of running out of open spaces, farms and forests in our lifetime, or in the lifetimes of our great-great-great-grand-children.
The National-led Government has been moving in the right direction on affordable housing. Recent law changes have restricted what local governments can charge for giving consent to sub-divide, and set up 26 so-called Development Commissioners to whom developers can appeal if they believe what they are being charged is unreasonable.
In the past, developers sometimes got the impression that local councils thought of a number and doubled it in deciding what to charge for a development consent. Now, the charge must be directly related to the cost of any additional infrastructure required by a new development, with the appeal process intended to give the new rules real force.
In addition, the Government has put pressure on some major councils, including the Auckland Council, to establish Special Housing Areas, within which the consenting process can be significantly accelerated.
The Government has also waived the tariffs previously charged on some imported building materials to reduce the cost of building materials within New Zealand.
ACT supports these moves as far as they go.
We were among the first to highlight the serious effect which restrictive zoning rules were having on the price of housing. We agree with recent ministerial statements criticising the restrictiveness of the rules envisaged in Auckland’s proposed Unitary Plan. We find it deeply ironic that the Auckland Council wants to compel Aucklanders to live on smaller and smaller pieces of land when most of the Councillors themselves live on spacious grounds.
ACT wants affordable housing to again become a reality for all New Zealanders. That would do more to allay concern about the growing pressure on low-income families than any other single measure – more than additional subsidies for doctors’ visits, more than increasing paid parental leave, more than higher minimum wages.
We want to ensure that cities grow according to the wants of their citizens rather than to the dreams of planners. We would reverse the notion that people can use their property only in accordance with local government plans. Instead, we believe that central and local governments should respect the wishes of property owners.
ACT wants the law to permit any residential development, provided basic environmental conditions are met. And these basic conditions would relate solely to rational requirements, such as geo-technical reports in cases of possible ground instability.
My proposition to voters is that a party vote for ACT this election is a vote for stronger property rights. It’s a vote for a party in Parliament that will put property rights high on the agenda.
It’s a vote for a party that says “this land is your land.” It’s a vote for a party that will shift the pendulum from the property-right-denying paradigm we currently have to one where we begin with the presumption that people can do what they like on their own land, provided only that it does not harm the property of others.
I have already announced that we favour scrapping the Resource Management Act and allowing property issues to be constrained by clearly targeted environmental legislation where the common law is found to be lacking.
The RMA contains the word “restriction” 61 times and the words “property right” only once, and then only in reference to another piece of legislation. It is surely no accident that the major acceleration in the cost of housing in New Zealand began in the early nineties at almost exactly the time the RMA was passed into law, in 1991.
Ultimately we would like to amend the Bill of Rights Act. Extraordinarily, that Act currently lacks any reference to property rights. It guarantees New Zealanders freedom of thought, religion, peaceful assembly, and movement, as well as the right to justice and the right to vote – but not the right to own and use property.
ACT would push to amend the Bill of Rights Act to protect the right to own and use property as the owner sees fit provided that that use does not substantially reduce others’ enjoyment of their property.
Governments would still be able to interfere with property rights, but they would have to show a good public interest reason to do so, and the question of compensation would have to be acknowledged and addressed.
The immediate result would be that much of the current planning apparatus that tightly restricts land supply would become void. Rather than forcing intensification upon existing built up areas, we would see a growth and expansion of desirable housing across the country.
The cost of housing would fall. We know that before the RMA the cost of land was 25% of the total value of homes. Now it is 50%. ACT’s proposals will mean that over time the cost of land will return to 25% of the total cost. Housing will again be affordable for the average New Zealand family.
The shift to a property rights paradigm would be a very significant one for our current legislative framework. But it would arguably be one of the most important things that New Zealand could do to reverse its economic decline.
It would free our farmers from stifling regulatory burden, and the tendency for local governments to declare any areas of private property which take their fancy as Significant Natural Areas.
It would free our businesses from much of the regulatory burden they now face.
And crucially, it would open up the supply of housing, making it affordable for all New Zealanders once again.
It would be another illustration of how you would have a better life through less government.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you, and please remember: a party vote for ACT is a vote for property rights and affordable housing.
Speech to ACT Party Supporters, Tasca Café, Newmarket
10.30 am , 24 August 2014
End Secret Courts
The ACT Party is campaigning to end secret courts.
Secret courts, where the name of the judge, the lawyers, the expert witness and all of the evidence and the sentence of the court are unknown by the public are the stuff of Police States. Yet they are now common in New Zealand. Sometimes there are good reasons for name suppression but there is never a good reason for the Fourth Estate not being able to tell us how the state is exercising power.
We know there are abuses of power but because it is secret we do not know what the abuse was.
One of the reasons that ACT was founded was to campaign for the rule of law – the principle that we should be governed by known and certain laws administered in the open by non-political courts.
The rule of law is an issue at this election. Political parties are putting forward proposals to weaken the rule of law. Indeed, it has already been weakened over recent years.
Voters need to send a message to parliament that we value our freedoms.
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Being born in New Zealand in the 20th or 21st century is a great stroke of historical luck. We enjoy a degree of prosperity and personal freedom that people born in any previous period of history, and in many other parts of the world today, could hardly imagine.
Yet the prosperity and liberty we enjoy is not a matter of luck. They arise out of institutions absent from poor and violent societies. Among the most important of these institutions is the rule of law.
We cannot go about our business if we are subject to the arbitrary will of others – be they other private citizens or government officials. If a thug can beat you up and take your stuff, you are not free. Nor are you free if government officials can confiscate your property or imprison you at their discretion. Free people live under the rule of laws, not the rule of men.
The rule of law must be defended tenaciously. Any erosion of it is an erosion of the foundations of our free and prosperous society.
That is why ACT is tough on crime. The state’s first duty is to protect you from those who would use violence against you – by robbing you, raping you, assaulting you or murdering you.
Our 3-strikes for violent crime policy was made law 4 years ago. It is already helping to reduce violent crime, not by imprisoning people but by deterring violent crime. Of the 4,000 who have committed a first offence, only 41 have gone on to commit a second offence. None has committed a third strike offence.
Our new 3-Strikes for burglary policy will do much to protect the 115,000 families who are now burgled each year.
But there is more to the rule of law than effective law enforcement.
It also requires protections for citizens who find themselves embroiled with the legal system or interacting with the state. Today I want to discuss two protections that are under threat in New Zealand.
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The first is the principle of open justice.
In a free society, the decisions of our courts must be open to scrutiny. Justice administered in secret will soon stop being justice at all. Secret courts are the stuff of communist dictatorships.
The general principle of open justice is rightly circumscribed in some special circumstances. For example, the sources of evidence used in the trial of terrorists are sometimes kept secret for fear of revealing the identity of secret agents or their evidence-gathering techniques.
But, even in these rare cases, elaborate measures are put in place to ensure that the process is open to scrutiny. And, even then, this small amount of secrecy is highly controversial.
The other common case in which the general principle of open justice is circumscribed is where there is reason to conceal the identity of the alleged culprit or of the victim. Sexual offences are sometimes thought to be such cases.
In such cases, however, nothing else about the process is concealed. Outsiders can easily discover the charges, the evidence presented, the verdict and the sentence. We can easily scrutinise the decisions of the courts. This transparency is crucially important if we are to remain confident that justice is being done.
When it comes to the youth and family courts, however, this safeguard is not being maintained.
As part of ACT’s law and order policy-making, I have had several meetings with experts on criminal sentencing in New Zealand. During a meeting convened to discuss the topic of youth crime, I asked what they could tell me about the sentencing of crimes committed by people under the age of 18 – “youths” for legal purposes. Was there any obvious problem that could be remedied by a change in the law?
They could not tell me.
This is because what goes on in the youth courts is kept secret – or, at least, very difficult to discover. It is right to conceal the names of the youths brought before the courts. But that is not all that is concealed.
Judgments of the youth court are not available to the public. We know nothing of the crime for which the court is convened, the charge the youth faces, the evidence that is submitted, the decision of the court and the sentence imposed, if any.
Nor are Judgments available to the media. The media do not report on youth court proceedings because they are not allowed to. Yet the media are the proxy of the public. If media scrutiny is prevented, public scrutiny is prevented.
Presently, all judgments of the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court are published within days of being made. With the passing of a Bill currently before Parliament, the District Courts will soon be subject to the same publishing rules. As they should be. Yet, the Youth Court, as well as the Family Court, are intended to remain closed courts, immune from scrutiny.
This secrecy is a bigger problem than any particular defect that the youth justice system may or may not have. It is a wholly unjustified violation of the principle of open justice. The public must have the ability to scrutinise the youth justice system. We need not know the identities of the youths involved. But we must know what they are accused of, what evidence was brought before the court and what verdict and sentence were handed out. We must be able to see how often the same youth is appearing before the court.
If we do not know such things, how can we know if the system is administering justice or if it is working to reduce crime? How can we know if it is helping those youths who have been drawn into crime or whether it is letting them down?
We know that there are abuses of power in the Youth Court that people feel powerless to do anything about. They cannot go to a journalist because the media cannot report. They cannot go to their MP because they cannot prove what they say because it is secret.
Over the last 5 years, more than 1,100 complaints have been lodged against judges or various courts. But not one has been lodged against the youth court. Either we can believe the Youth Court administers perfect justice – in which case you would expect the judges, lawyers and welfare officers to be in favour of the world knowing of this world first – or secrecy is being used to hide miscarriages of justice.
Even if the names of the youths are secret, why are the names of the Police officers, the expert witnesses and the details of the crime?
The same goes for the family courts, whose activities are also shrouded in undue secrecy. Despite the thousands of cases being heard and decided each year, no judgments of the family courts are published. Media cannot attend and report on the proceedings. Cases that may be of public interest or a cause of public concern cannot be reported on. There is no way of analysing and understanding what is going on in the family court.
There are disturbing stories that evidence in Family Court cases is unreliable. If you know that your friends, family and neighbours, people who really know you, will never hear of the evidence you give then what is to stop you from making any outrageous allegation to get custody?
In Britain, the secrecy of Family Court Cases has led to a number of scandals and terrible miscarriages of justice. This year the Chief Judge of Britain’s Family Court system has ruled that the press should have accesses to Family Court Cases, the names of officials should always be public and privacy be given only to the families and children.
Why should that not apply in New Zealand? You might say, there have been no gross injustices. How do you know? It is all secret.
Of course, the names of the families fighting out custody or property issues in the family court need not be known. But the other facts of the cases should be.
ACT wants the Youth Courts and the Family Courts opened to scrutiny. More specifically,
• All judgments of the youth and family courts should be routinely published
• Subject to reasonable reporting rules, the media should be able to attend and report on proceedings in the youth and family courts
• Access to formal court records in the youth and family courts should be subject to the same rules as the District Courts – a general right to access
• The names of judges, lawyers, government witnesses, expert witnesses and the like should always be public. We should always know the identity of those in power
• The names or identifying details of parties would remain suppressed.
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The second important principle of the rule of law, now under threat in New Zealand, is the presumption of innocence.
What does this presumption amount to in the law?
For a start, it means that the authorities may not interfere with you going about your business unless they have some reason to believe you have broken the law: they must have “probable cause”, as it is known.
This principle is violated by the powers the New Zealand police have to stop drivers and test their levels of alcohol consumption even when their driving shows no sign of intoxication. Perhaps this is a justifiable violation of the principle – perhaps the gains in road safety are worth the small cost to law-abiding drivers. This is not the topic that concerns me today.
What I want to discuss today is another legal implication of the presumption of innocence – namely, that the burden of proof rests with the Crown, not with the accused. If you are accused of a crime, you do not need to prove that you are innocent – your innocence is the starting assumption. Rather, the Crown must prove that you are guilty.
This principle is now adhered to in the criminal courts. But it will not be if the Labour Party is elected either at this election or some future election.
In rape cases, the labour party wants to shift the burden of proof from the Crown to the accused. Specifically, once it is established that sex occurred, the accused will be deemed guilty of rape unless he can prove that the sex was consensual.
In many cases, this will be an impossible task, even when the sex was in fact consensual. How could a man who had a consensual one-night-stand in private possibly prove that the sex was consensual? What might he produce as evidence?
Andrew little, the Labour Party’s justice spokesman, argues that the presumption of innocence must be abandoned in rape cases because many do not result in a conviction. He is right, of course, that eliminating the presumption of innocence would increase the conviction rate. But that can hardly justify the policy.
The point of the presumption of innocence is to stop citizens being subject to the arbitrary will of other citizens and the authorities. If Labour’s policy were adopted, almost all sexual activity would expose those involved to malicious prosecution by the other party. The proposal is utterly outrageous, and ACT will fight it to the end.
Through a number of high profile court cases we know that, even with the presumption of innocence, a number of people subsequently proved innocent have been convicted. William Blackstone famously said that being taught about our justice system it was always said “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”.
Make no mistake. Labour’s policy is that it is better ten innocent people be convicted than that one guilty person go free.
While Labour remains out of government, our criminal courts continue to adhere to the presumption of innocence. But in other interactions between the state and citizens it has already been abandoned.
In an effort to protect children, the Government has reversed the burden of proof in cases where Child, Youth and Family (CYF) applies to the court to remove a child from parents they believe to be a danger to that child. Instead of CYF having to prove the parents are a danger to their child, the parents now have to prove that they are not.
The aim of protecting children is admirable. But it should not and need not be achieved at the cost of age-old and well-founded principles of justice. CYF can know that parents are a danger to their child only if they have evidence of this fact. If they have such evidence, they can satisfy the burden of proof. If they do not have evidence and cannot make their case, they should not be able to remove children from their parents.
Shifting the burden of proof from state agencies to the people they accuse does not merely expose citizens to injustice. It reduces government agencies’ incentive to conduct their inquiries to a high standard. It is a licence for incompetence.
ACT is concerned that National seems to have little more respect for fundamental principles of justice than Labour does. ACT will hold any government it supports to a higher standard.
In a free society, you are permitted to do anything that is not expressly illegal. You do not need to seek permission from the authorities to do something that is lawful. This principle is a close relative of the presumption of innocence.
This principle is violated in the resource consenting process. Before you can modify your house or put your land to some new use, you must gain permission from your local council, even if what you seek to do is within the law. Correcting this may be too difficult within the current “planning” regime imposed on councils by the Resource Management Act – that is the topic of a forthcoming speech.
But it is outrageous that people who seek to act within the law should not only have to obtain permission to do so but must also pay to receive that permission. It is like telling someone that, before they walk to the shops, they must call the council for permission and pay for the phone call and for the time of the council employee.
The idea behind the planning and consenting process is that our property rights must be constrained for the good of society. If the beneficiary of the process is “society”, then society should pay for it.
When a resource consent application is successful – that is, when the applicant sought to act within the law – the council should bear all the costs of the process, including the costs of the applicant. In other words, the cost should be borne by rate-payers, who are the supposed beneficiaries of the process.
Then there is the nightmare of getting involved in a dispute with the IRD.
With the IRD you are guilty until you prove your innocence. The IRD can and does make assessments which you cannot challenge until you pay the tax assessed. If you do not have the money, you never get a day in court.
The IRD bankrupts more people each year than all other bankruptcies put together.
Why do we have these Police State laws for tax? The obvious answer is that it helps the state to confiscate 40 percent of all the goods and services produced each year. If taxes were lower, the government might be able to do without Police State tax laws.
In the meantime, one measure that might help is allowing taxpayers to challenge tax assessments before having to pay them. Another is that when the taxpayer wins a case against the IRD, the Crown should pay all of the costs of fighting the ruling.
Paying tax is painful enough. No one should have to also incur costs convincing the IRD that the amount they have paid is in fact correct. There is no reason why taxpayers should bear the costs of errors or incompetence in the IRD. The IRD should bear the full cost – not only as a matter of justice but as a disincentive to sloppiness.
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I think I have shown the rule of law is at risk in New Zealand.
This should be an issue in this year’s election.
The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance. In a democracy, we are free only so long as citizens are willing to vote for freedom.
The choice is clear this election. All of the parties to one extent or another are promising you less freedom.
One party, ACT, is promising not only to uphold the rule of law but to extend it.
Only ACT is promising New Zealanders more freedom.