Harmful Digital Communications - Final Reading

Delivered by David Seymour on June 30, 2015. Video can be viewed here.

It is an enormous privilege to live in a society that benefits from 800 years of common law that has given us, among other rights and freedoms, freedom of speech. It started, perhaps, most colloquially as the simple idea that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” In actual fact, what has evolved is the idea that sometimes words can hurt, and over that long period of time an intricate network of defences evolved so that people could, for instance, defend themselves against damage to their reputation that was done deliberately and was untrue and where the audience might be led to believe that it was true. That is our inheritance—800 years of trying to figure out how exactly to protect freedom of speech on the one hand and people’s right not to be unfairly maligned on the other.

Another great privilege that everybody in this room has—at least, everyone on the floor—is membership of this House of Representatives. To use the second privilege to destroy or at least erode the first one in the way this bill does is something that I cannot support, and therefore I must vote against this bill.This bill is a case study in bad law-making. All of the elements in making a bad law exist. Not since we microchipped dogs in the hope that it would prevent a particularly egregious dog event has there has been such a bad law before this House. First, you had the high-profile and really quite disgraceful event. Then you had the discovery that in actual fact the laws in place had not been properly used by the agency in place to prevent the harms that occurred there. Then you had the knee-jerk reaction from the politicians who said: “We must do something. This bill is indeed something, therefore we will pass this bill and it must be the right thing to do.”

What exactly does this bill do? Well, the first thing that it does is introduce a set of communications principles that might be appropriate if we were about to embark on a school camp but are not appropriate for the government of 4.5 million people, many of whom are adults—and the children among them are the responsibility of adults. It says that you cannot offend somebody. So, for instance, would Flight of the Conchords’ song Albi the Racist Dragon be offensive if it was communicated online? Well, we are told in defence of the “badly burnt Albanian boy” from last week that of course this law would never be used in such a silly and nonsensible way. That is the problem with the law—it gives no protection. We are supposed to rely on the beneficence of the enforcers. That is bad law-making. If you were to say: “Happy 31st Liz”, would that be giving away information that you should not reveal of a personal nature about another person? Would that be a bad example? How much of these bad examples will actually end up discouraging freedom of speech in what you might call a chilling effect.

As I said in my maiden statement to the House, it is ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas. It is not just what is seen, but all of the unseen expression that will now not occur because of the chilling effect of the communications principle if the enforcement of it—even if not quite criminal yet, you understand; you are going to be OK—by the approved agency is brought to bear. Perhaps that is why Voltaire said: “I defend to the death your right to say what you say”, even when those are things he might have disagreed with. It is a sad day in this House when you have to rely on lots of dead Frogs to stand up for your civil liberties—and you probably will not be able to say that very soon either.

It might be worthwhile to have this law if we truly believed that it was going to reduce harm and protect people. But in actual fact, as soon as you start to look at the contradictions, you can see it will make little if any difference to reducing harm for people online. And there is genuine harm to be mitigated. You will find that there were much, much simpler, more straight-forward ways of doing it with far fewer side effects. For example, we are concerned that children will bully each other. So the idea is to introduce criminal sanctions, but, of course, you understand, we are not really introducing criminal sanctions for children because they will go through the Youth Court. So somebody might ask why you would make a law that you did not intend to be properly enforced, or, for another contradiction, you might ask how quickly most viral phenomena on the web take place. Well, under this law you have at least 96 hours of back and forth before any kind of order can be enforced. So you might ask yourself how this seriously addresses the problem that most people face.

Well, I suspect, that there is very little coincidence in the fact that it is the youngest members of this House who are most opposed to it. It is fundamentally a generational conflict—a law imposed by people who are not digital natives and who do not understand how the internet works on users of the internet who do. The pace of development on the internet is so rapid that in actual fact the incentive for the hosts of content is to give good experiences. If it is true that harm is being done, then the one person who has both the incentive and the means to rapidly mitigate that harm is the host, whether that be Facebook, or Ask.fm, or Twitter or whoever else hosts the website. For the same reason that harmful digital communication becomes exponentially greater, those people have the tools to mitigate it.

But you do not hear that from the Government or from the supporters of this bill. There is a moralising tone from them: if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear, and these vague principles will not be enforced for silly reasons, you understand, and as long as you are sensible and you are doing nothing wrong, it will not be used against you. That is something that I cannot explain any further. Anybody who does not see the problem with that construction is incapable of having it explained to them, but for those who do understand it, it is why it is critical that this type of legislation becomes rarer and eventually becomes obsolete in terms of being introduced to this House. Of course there are real concerns. Nobody denies that incitement to commit suicide, and revenge porn, are serious dangers, and they are dangers that have come to some extent from technological advances. It would have been very simple—and I have to thank the Labour Party for supporting my Supplementary Order Paper last week—to simply say in the Crimes Act that it is a crime to make an intimate digital recording and distribute it without that person’s consent, particularly if your aim is to do harm.

Harmful Digital Communications - Speeches in the House

Delivered by David Seymour in two parts on June 23, 2015. Video can be viewed here and here.

Part 1:

Any member of a House of Representatives has to balance the competing prerogatives of the people they specifically represent, their political party and its philosophy and their own conscience. This is the first time that I have voted against a bill introduced by the National Government. It is because the people I directly represent generally believe that it is better to have these people over here, and those people over there, and by and large I would agree with their analysis. I am, after all, from Epsom myself. However, as somebody who benefits from a free society and a long, evolved common-law tradition, I believe the right thing to do is to oppose the Harmful Digital Communications Bill and at the very least remove some of its most egregious features.

In time I predict that this legislation will come to be seen as a useful case study in bad lawmaking. It is the classic case. First, you have the dramatic events, to which people feel the need to respond. We have actually heard it tonight. Perhaps unwittingly they did not mean to come out, but it came out from some members. “We have to do something.” is the major premise; “This is something.” is the minor premise. The conclusion is that passing this law must be the right thing to do. You have the hand-wringing, and then you have the legislation, and, finally, you end up in a very different place from where you started. It might also be an insight into why our profession, if it can be called that, slipped in only just in front of journalists, when the public was asked very recently to rank the professions in a survey of public trust. That is because we tend to overpromise. The promise implicit in this bill is that we in this House can set up an approved agency that will actually solve one of the biggest problems that we have. The rhetoric is that if you do not support the bill, then you are in favour of the most awful things that occur. Well, I see that Mr Bishop and I both quoted Milton Friedman in our maiden speeches, saying that policy should be judged not by its intentions, but by its outcomes.

The outcomes of this legislation, were it to be passed in its present form, might be compared with the Star Chamber. History does not repeat, but sometimes it rhymes. This is not the first time in our constitutional history that our society has attempted to solve a problem by giving easy and convenient access to justice without the safeguards and restraints that have evolved elsewhere in common law over a long period of time. Of course, if you know your history, what happened was that the Star Chamber became a bully pulpit, which was used by the politicians of the day to cow their opponents in fear and submission. Although, fortunately, we are no longer in medieval England, the same principal deficiencies exist in this piece of legislation. I would direct members to the communication principles, which would be appropriate if we were about to embark on a school camp, but not for running a country. They tell us that it is wrong to disclose sensitive personal facts about another individual, for example. They say you should not be indecent or obscene, or that you should not harass another individual. In their totality it requires only one of them to be breached for you to be reported. They mean that practically any digital communication could be subject to the full force of this approved authority.

Of course the rhetoric from the proponents of the bill is always similar to the epithet “If you’ve got nothing to hide, then you’ve got nothing to fear.” They say: “Oh, don’t you worry. If you’re being good, then this will not apply to you.” Where you end up, just like with the Star Chamber, is with arbitrarily enforced bad law that can be used sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. It just depends who happens to be enforcing the law at any particular time. Of course you might say: “Well, this is all worthwhile if only we believed that it was truly going to reduce harm and suffering.” If you believed that it was going to be effective, then you might be willing to trade away some of the rights and freedoms that we have been lucky to inherit over a long period of time. But you only have to begin with a few of the simple practicalities.

We have heard from members already about the difficulty of 48 hours being far too long on the internet. It reminds me of a quote from Top Gun: “BS 10 minutes! This thing will be over in two minutes.”

The fact of the matter is the time frames and the evolution of viral trends on the internet, about which we heard from the first member speaking, are far quicker than intervention can take place. The pace of development of new websites and new fora is so rapid that it is unlikely that we will be able to enforce what Tracey Martin referred to as the invisible threats from the internet. Take, for example, the website Ask.fm, where many young people voluntarily put themselves out, almost to be harassed, some would say. I have asked some young people: “Why on earth do you do this?” And they say: “Well, actually, we want to go there. We want to address concerns. We want to argue.” And of course many of the most tormentuous questions they face come from invisible questioners—people who, as a practical matter, cannot be identified. So there you have a whole range of activity that this bill would have no effect on mitigating whatsoever, and yet, none the less, is a very real concern to young people. Interestingly enough—and this is another deficiency of this policy project we are going on—Ask.fm has since introduced quite stringent safety and monitoring regulations voluntarily, because, ultimately, it is not in its best interests to have people coming to its website and having bad experiences. So, again, we have underestimated the speed with which hosts will actually seek to improve the experiences that people have on their websites.

But then you come to the question of criminalisation. It is said that we have to be in favour of this bill because we have to do something for the children. Well, the fact of the matter is that criminal sanctions are effective only if you are seriously prepared to use them against the poster, as we have heard, or the perpetrator. Nobody in this House, I believe, is seriously willing to criminalise children, but that would be the proposition if criminalisation was supposed to be an effective sanction against bullying of children. So I oppose Supplementary Order Paper 91 in part for procedural reasons. It is in some ways an improvement; although, as Mr Parker pointed out, it is also a step backward for every step forward. I oppose this Supplementary Order Paper for procedural reasons because, as members will know, I have put up another, Supplementary Order Paper 93, which removes the criminalisation element. You can still have your approved agency and you can still have your resolution, but it removes the criminalisation and applies the criminal law to specific testable, discoverable offences. If you take an intimate visual recording with or without the consent of the person in the recording, and if you perpetrate this and then propagate it around the internet without their consent—perhaps without their knowledge—that is a crime. I do not think anybody in this House would say that that should not be a crime.

If we wish to address a certain mischief, let us address that mischief. And if we are prepared to do that, you never know, we might find ourselves making better law. Indeed, we might even improve the impression of our own profession that the public has, if, rather than overpromising in knee-jerk reactions to particularly high-profile scandals, we actually set about to make proportional responses to problems that really exist out there in our community and that the Government and its agencies have an opportunity to actually fix while respecting our common-law traditions.

Part 2:

It has taken quite a long time but after almost two decades, it is nice to see a thawing in my trial separation with my Labour Party ancestors. On this issue we find common cause because, as I said earlier, it is a case study in bad lawmaking. All of the elements are there: you have a high-profile case that leads to a reaction, where any lawmaking appears to be a solution; you have a solution that will erode our liberties, and yet not seriously mitigate the harm; and, at the end of the day, the politicians end up looking like they have done their job—they have done something—but the welfare of citizens has not been improved.

As a little bit of insight into why this may be: I am a recovering electrical engineer, and one of the things that our profession has done is produce Gordon Moore. Well, we did produce Gordon Moore, and he produced Moore’s law. Moore’s law will tell you that approximately every 2 years the total power available, in terms of computer processing speed, doubles. That has meant a couple of things: it has given us some of the impetus for this bill, and it has meant that hate speech can spread farther and faster than at any previous time in history. And that certainly scares people. But it also means that the remedies for hate speech and bullying are more sophisticated than they have ever been before, and we see those remedies coming from those very hosts of online intercourse—the Facebooks, the Ask.fms, or whatever they may be—just as quickly as the problems emerge. So this is, fundamentally, a technological change, but the technological change has provided not only the problem but also the remedy.

It has also opened up a larger and larger gap between an exponentially faster internet, with a larger and larger velocity of transaction, and a Government apparatus that, as Kris Faafoi pointed out, leaves you with 4 days before there can be any response. We had a speaker earlier—in fact, the first speaker in this debate—who alluded obliquely to a political party that is not in this House but that has been involved in some scandal recently, and it is interesting that she raised that question because, first of all, the individual involved is among the most litigious in New Zealand politics today. He is someone who would actually use and abuse this law—much as the Star Chamber was used and abused—to silence his opponents. But also that entire scandal, if there is any mercy in the world, will by tomorrow have been fit into a 96-hour period during which, for the whole time, the approved agency would not have been able to make a useful response. That is, funnily enough, the result of Moore’s law: there are physical underpinnings to these occurrences. I have gone on before about why criminalisation cannot be supported.

[Tracey Martin: It doesn’t apply. It doesn’t apply, Mr Seymour.]

I have to say that I am listening to some interference from over there that reminds me of a blogpost that I saw recently on a popular blog, asking the question: “Is Tracey Martin the full quid?”. That is the kind of posting that might well be silenced by this bill. But I return to the subject.

I have put forward a Supplementary Order Paper on this bill, which would make a very simple change that would deal with one of the most egregious and demonstrable offences that has been made possible by modern technology and that is a new offence that I think we can all live with, because it will not spread beyond scope. It is easy to prove. It is easy to disprove. It is easy for the law to discover whether the offence has happened and whether it is deserving of punishment. And that offence is, simply, when a person has made an intimate digital recording, with or without the consent of the recordee, and has then propagated it across the internet—propagated it rapidly, as you would expect in an age of increasing computer power. That is an offence. I do not think there is anyone in this House who would disagree that that should be an offence. The Supplementary Order Paper that I have put forward asks that that be put in its proper place, in the Crimes Act; not by creating new offences.

That is why this legislation, and the episode that led to it, is a perfect example of bad lawmaking. You had a high-profile incident. The agencies that were supposed to deal with it were incompetent and did not deal with it. The laws that existed and that were supposed to be enforced were not enforced, and today we find ourselves, rather than addressing that problem, creating a new agency to be approved, and new laws, in order that the same problem can be targeted. If you were a Martian who had recently landed on Earth—not thinking of anybody in particular—then of course one would think that that is completely nuts. So I appeal to the Committee—its conscience and its sanity—and to those who want our profession to be well respected, to say that we should not, as Jacinda Ardern put quite eloquently, I thought, try to pass a law and be seen to do something and then to wring our hands and wash them clean. Actually, we should put the legislation and the public policy measures that are required in the place they really deserve to be. That place is the Crime Act. That is creating a real crime, responding to the real technological change that we face, and responding to something that is egregious, that is easy to demonstrate, and that has been made possible by technological change. We should put that in the Crimes Act. That is to say that if you make an intimate digital recording of a person and propagate it across the internet, or digitally, without their consent, you have committed a crime.

If that Supplementary Order Paper were to be supported tonight, that would be this House’s insurance against the possibility that this broader piece of bad lawmaking will not succeed—that sanity will prevail, that the integrity of the political profession will prevail, and that this House will vote down what will otherwise become, and I guarantee this, a textbook example of bad lawmaking, with all the elements of bad lawmaking that we have become so used to seeing coming out of this House. So I end my appeal. I think it has become clear to all those in this Committee capable of comprehending simple ideas that this Supplementary Order Paper is the right thing to do, that it would improve the quality of lawmaking, and that, ultimately, it would improve the welfare of all New Zealanders through better public policy. Thank you.  

Celebrating the legacy of Magna Carta

Delivered in the house on June 16, 2015. Video can be viewed here.

DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT): I seek leave to move a motion without notice to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

MR SPEAKER: Can I just clarify with the member that this is a debatable motion that the member is proposing?

DAVID SEYMOUR: Yes.

Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. Is there any objection to that course of action being followed? There is none.

DAVID SEYMOUR: I move, That this House note the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, a document that Lord Denning described as “ … the greatest constitutional document of all times—the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”, and that established the notion that the law is not simply the whim of the king or of Government, and that all are equal under the law and can be held to account, and thus, Magna Carta represents the foundation of the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today.

This month we celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. It is a document that reminds us of the long and rich tradition of individual freedoms and legal rights that we enjoy. That tradition stretches back to the 13th century in Britain, not just back to 1840. Indeed, the Magna Carta itself was indebted to the earlier coronation charter of Henry I in 1100, a charter that was then ignored for a century.

Magna Carta itself was ignored and belittled initially, but with much struggle eventually achieved traction, it acquired a heritage, and symbolic force.

Magna Carta, which in Latin means “great charter”, paved the road to modern democracy. It can be thought of as representing the seed from which have grown many of the principles on which our democracy is based.

Meeting in 1215, feudal barons gathered outside London to define the limit of the powers of King John, forcing him to affix his seal to the charter. This charter was narrow in scope. It concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people at that time. But over time that principle was extended. It planted the seed of an idea that extended and then generalised.

Ultimately, and with great struggle, because rulers do not easily give up their powers, it granted every citizen individual freedoms, laying the foundation for constitutional rights and for this House and our Parliament.

The American Constitution and Bill of Rights were both based upon principles laid out in the charter. It was used by Thomas Jefferson when he established the Declaration of Independence. The violations of English common law in the American colonies by King George were what provided Jefferson with ample argument, writing his Declaration of Independence from that monarchy. The fifth amendment of the US Constitution, saying that all citizens cannot be deprived of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, echoes the centuries-old Magna Carta resolutions. The charter was the first document declaring that the king or queen had to abide by the laws of the land.

In the modern context it requires that our rulers—temporary as they may be—must operate within those laws of the land. Thus, Magna Carta has come to symbolise the principle that everybody is subject to the law and that nobody, not even a king or queen, is above it. It is a symbol of liberty.

At the time of the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta it is therefore fitting that this Parliament marks this anniversary, remembers our political past, and works to build on those liberties so painfully acquired over the eight centuries since the signing of Magna Carta. Thank you.

 

Debate on Budget Policy Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deployment of troops to Iraq

Delivered by ACT Leader David Seymour on February 24, 2015.
Video is available here.

On Sunday night I was at a barbeque in my electorate and an 8-year-old girl asked me what the Government is doing in or about the situation in Iraq. Her mother later came up to me and she said she could not believe that such a young person would be so concerned, or even so knowledgable, about such an issue. I reflected to her that actually I was 8 in 1991, and some of the first images I recall from that time were Patriot missiles knocking down, Scud missiles, Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf, Desert Storm, tanks rolling across the desert, and so on.

I raise this, for the benefit of other members, because these issues are visceral; they run deep. We are intuitively aware of them, even at a very young age. They raise dilemmas that are timeless, as we have heard from a variety of different members. I want to run through a kind of paraphrase of exactly what I told the 8-year-old girl.

The most important question is: how do we respond to bullies? There are two broad answers, both of which have been given in different ways by previous speakers. One is that you give some humanitarian aid, try to do some reconstruction, and hope that the bullies will be nice to you. The other is that you actually take aggressive action against the bullies.

As I said to her at the time, unfortunately this is a case where we are facing a genuine evil that is fluid and dynamic. It is futile to hope that they will be nice to us because it is our very liberal values that offend them. What we must do is stand up to them.

But it leads to another dilemma, which is: what can an external force intervening into what is an impossibly complex situation in the Middle East—as it has been, as we have been told, for several millennia—achieve by way of bringing about peace? I have to say that I have considerable scepticism about what intervention in such a theatre can achieve. I only wish that some of my colleagues around the House could apply the same scepticism when it comes to intervening in a domestic economy, but I digress.

Nevertheless, we have another dilemma and another consideration to consider. That is: how does a small nation, militarily, demographically, economically insignificant in the context of global affairs, ensure the best possible safety and freedom for its own citizens? Again we have a dilemma. We can either hope for a rules-based world and for the rule of law to be extended from the few fragile Western democracies—I think it was nine from the member across the House - that have been able to sustain this for a period of time, and perhaps one day that will come.

But the alternative is that we can think back to what the Athenians told the Milesians in the Peloponnesian War several millennia ago: it is a sad truth, which is echoed down the ages, that right and wrong, so far as the world goes, is a matter in question only between equals. It is with no great pleasure that I remind the House that the course of most global affairs is that the strong have done what they have been able, and the weak have suffered as they have had to.

So in this world it is indeed important that a small nation considers collective security and our relationship with our allies. Even if I may be sceptical about how much good can be done intervening in such a theatre, we have to take seriously the fact that so many countries, including all of our closest allies, are committed to intervening and standing up to the bullies in this theatre.

With all of that in mind, I believe that the Prime Minister’s position as stated this afternoon is the correct one. Our armed forces are first class. Their role as trainers will have the minimum perverse impact on the situation into which they go. If there is an armed force that has the sense of diplomatic intervention to actually make a peaceful difference in such a theatre, then I firmly believe it is ours. Those troops go with the blessing of this Parliament for their safety and against all of the challenges that they will face. Thank you. 

Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Amendment Bill

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.

Speech - Our classical liberal tribe

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.

It’s madness.

 

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.

President's speech to the 2015 ACT Conference

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.

Debate on Prime Minister's Statement - 10th February, 2015

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.

 

Employment Relations Amendment Bill 3rd Reading Speech

Video of this speech can be viewed here.

Delivered by ACT Leader David Seymour to New Zealand Parliament,

30/10/14:

Mr Speaker,

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

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

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

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

This is also a teachable moment for public policy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS

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