Freedom to Speak
Freedom of expression is the basis of all freedoms. It has an inherent value. We each experience life in a unique way and should be free to share that experience with others. It also has a practical value. Feminists or anti-Springbok tour protestors alike would not have been as successful as they were without having the ability to make unpopular statements.
Hate speech laws punish people on the basis of opinion. Usually opinion is met by opinion, but under hate speech laws opinion is met by the power of the state. Distinguishing hate speech from genuine criticism on any objective basis is impossible. We now regularly see people try to use claims of ‘hate speech’ as a weapon against their political opponents. This is deeply divisive.
As the Government considers further restricting speech, we risk following other countries into censorship, where elites decide what we can and can’t say. ACT stands staunchly in favour of freedom of expression. We need to remove restrictions on freedom of expression and make it clear that it is a critical value for New Zealand.
- Repeal existing hate speech laws. ACT will remove restrictions on freedom of expression which currently make ‘insulting’, ‘abusive’ and ‘offensive’ speech unlawful
- Specify that the Harmful Digital Communications Act only applies if the complainant is under the age of 18
- Abolish the Human Rights Commission.
Freedom to Be
ACT is a party of tolerance and respect. New Zealanders should be free to live their lives without government interference as long as they aren’t hurting others.
ACT Leader David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill will give people with a terminal illness the choice of dying with dignity. Read more on End of Life Choice here.
ACT also supports:
- The right of women to make a personal choice on the issue of abortion. We believe New Zealand’s abortion laws are archaic and should be modernised.
- A referendum on the legalisation of cannabis. Prohibition of cannabis has failed, but we need to be sure any particular approach to legalisation will improve the status quo. Our priority should be harm reduction, especially keeping cannabis out of the hands of children.
Freedom to Learn
While we have some of the best schools in the world, our education system is a slowly moving disaster. Government spends almost $15 billion on education each year, but the results are highly unequal and slowly declining. This is a problem because it is the fastest growing demographic groups who are achieving the poorest results, and the 21 st century will require more and more skills from workers as technology develops.
Children have a wide range of needs, but our one-size-fits-all education system has failed to adapt and provide every student with a good education. Too many children are leaving school without the basic skills they need to navigate a rapidly-changing world.
New Zealand experiences significant educational inequality. We have some of the highest-performing schools and students in the world, but we also have a long tail of underachievement in disadvantaged communities. A 2014 report by the Tertiary Education Commission found 40 per cent of Year 12 students failed to meet international benchmarks for literacy and numeracy even though they had NCEA Level 2.
Skills increasingly matter, and they’ll be even more important in the future as more jobs are automated. We are sending students into a world where skills matter more at a time they’ve got less of them.
Schools must be given the flexibility to respond to a diversity of needs and all parents and children – not just the well-off – should have a real choice in education.
- Provide every child with a Student Education Account. A child will receive $250,000 of taxpayer-funded education over their life, but parents have little choice in how it’s spent. ACT will empower parents by placing this money in a Student Education Account. Parents will be able to use it at any registered educational institution that will accept their child’s enrolment, public or private. Read more on Act's education policy here.
- Increase choice in our education system by allowing any state school to apply to become a Partnership School. Government should fund a range of schools, letting parents and children choose what is right for them, not simply forcing them to go to their local state school. ACT believes we should celebrate diversity, not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
- Reduce the number of back office bureaucrats at the Ministry of Education by 50 per cent, saving $240 million a year. We will put this money back into frontline education.
Freedom to Earn
ACT’s goal is to make New Zealand the most attractive place in the world to work and do business. We want opportunity for all New Zealanders and having the best tax system is part of achieving that goal.
Compared with the rest of the developed world New Zealand suffers from low productivity growth. This is a major problem and has a range of impacts from skilled workers leaving the country to New Zealanders missing out on new life-saving pharmaceuticals.
Both major parties have supported progressive taxation for generations. For too long, the tax system has been used for political vote buying and social engineering. ACT says that is wrong.
There is no fairness in five percent of taxpayers paying a third of all income tax. Currently, someone earning $100,000 pays $23,920 in income tax, three times as much as someone earning $50,000. That’s deeply unfair.
The current system has also been ineffective at achieving its goal – greater equality. Ministry of Social Development data shows that the real driver of inequality over the past thirty years has been the cost of housing, but that cannot be fixed through tax policy.
Meanwhile, the tax system sends a bad message to all New Zealanders about effort and reward. If you upskill yourself, work, save, and invest to increase your income, the government will take more of it off you. On the other hand, if you drag your feet, you’ll pay much less tax and even be given money for free. ACT believes that the social engineering in the tax system is one of the reasons that productivity growth is so weak.
In addition, having four different income tax rates, and a company tax rate that is different again leads to enormous complexity as people attempt to declare income in lower tax brackets by holding it over for another tax year when their tax rate is lower, or keeping money in trusts and companies. This activity does not make New Zealanders wealthier. In fact, fighting with the IRD over tax is a distraction from getting wealthier.
- Implement a flat rate of income tax, and a company tax rate, of 17.5 per cent paid for by reducing low-value government spending.
- Repeal Labour’s industry-wide centralised bargaining legislation – so-called ‘Fair Pay Agreements’ – and support the right of employers and employees to freely negotiate terms that are appropriate for them.
Freedom to Build
For decades, councils have tied new housing developments up in red tape and underinvested in infrastructure. ACT believes New Zealanders must be free to build, and councils should be encouraged to invest in infrastructure, if we are to solve the housing crisis and achieve housing affordability.
- Replace the Resource Management Act with a law that lets people build without restrictive zoning such as the Metropolitan Urban Limit.
- Let councils issue targeted rates to pay for infrastructure for new housing developments.
- Get councils out of the building consent and inspection business and introduce mandatory private insurance for new housing
- Give half of the GST on construction in a council’s territory to the council, creating an incentive to consent more homes and the funds to provide vital infrastructure.
Freedom to Do
Red tape is a complaint in every industry and a massive handbrake on the economy. It often takes longer to get permission to do things than to actually do them. It’s estimated that the annual compliance cost associated with red tape is $5 billion.
As problems arises, new regulation is almost invariably proposed as the solution. Parliament has passed 60,000 pages of red tape over the past two decades. Politicians are addicted to red tape. Lawmakers face few consequences for making poor-quality regulation, but New Zealanders bear the cost.
If New Zealand is to overcome the disadvantages of its small size and isolation – and attract people, ideas and investment – we need to do better. If we want an aspirational society we must get red tape under control.
- ACT’s Regulatory Constitution will require that all new laws comply with basic principles of good lawmaking. These principles include properly defining the problem the government is trying to solve, and analysing the costs and benefits, winners and losers of any regulation. Governments will need to publicly certify new laws comply with these principles. If they fail to do so, New Zealanders will have the right to apply to the courts to have the law struck down. Read more on Act's Regulatory Constitution here
Freedom to Move
Congestion is not only a major frustration, but also a handbrake on economic growth. Auckland is ranked among the most congested cities in the world, with drivers wasting 172 hours in traffic each year. Congestion costs our economy more than $1.25 billion a year, while also contributing to higher levels of pollution and road crashes.
ACT believes New Zealand must follow international best practice and implement road pricing. The demand for road space outstrips supply. Instead of rationing road space by queuing, road pricing would encourage commuters to find other travel times, routes and transport modes. At the busiest times, those who take public transport would save the most. Road pricing harnesses the power of markets and requires drivers to pay the full costs of their road use. It is a fair, efficient, and environment-friendly solution to congestion.
- Introduce road pricing on new and existing roads to reduce congestion. The revenue raised would be used to cancel petrol taxes.
- Encourage ride-sharing and car-sharing to further reduce congestion.
- Review current regulations to ensure the viability of autonomous vehicles.
Citizenship and Government
ACT believes in equality before the law regardless of race, sexuality or religion. Particular groups of New Zealanders should not have special rights under the law.
We also believe that our democratic institutions have become too large. We have too many members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers. This has not produced better outcomes in health, education, housing and welfare. New Zealanders would be better served by a smaller number of lawmakers focused on policy and legislative excellence.
- Remove the Māori seats. The seats are an anachronism and offensive to the principle of equal citizenship. Māori New Zealanders have shown they can be elected to Parliament in general electorates or on party lists without assistance.
- Reduce the number of MPs from 120 to 100 and restrict the number of Ministers to 20.
Climate Change, Conservation and Environment
ACT believes New Zealand must play its part on climate change. However, any response must be administratively simple, politically durable, and effective. New Zealand will not prosper if we are forced to make significantly deeper emissions cuts than our trading partners. If we set more aggressive targets than other countries, we will impoverish ourselves and push economic activity to other countries. Economists suggest New Zealand incomes could be up to 22 per cent lower in 2050 as a result of the Government’s Zero Carbon Act.
- Introduce a no nonsense climate change plan which ties our carbon price to the prices paid in our top five trading partners. This will show the world New Zealand is doing its bit. It is a simple and effective response to climate change.
Energy and Resources
The ban on offshore oil and gas exploration was introduced without consultation or an evaluation of its costs and benefits. This decision will cost New Zealand thousands of well-paid jobs and $30 billion in revenue. It won’t help the planet as oil and gas production will simply move overseas with lower environmental standards.
- Repeal the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration.
Government should support New Zealanders in genuine hardship who cannot otherwise support themselves. It should play a limited, but important, role in protecting the vulnerable.
While the intention of alleviating hardship is noble, hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders are now dependent on welfare. This prevents them from living independent, productive lives. It is unacceptable that over 300,000 – or 1 in 9 – working-age adults receive a main benefit.
The only long-term solution to reducing hardship is to promote policies which increase economic growth, creating new jobs and higher wages.
- Introduce a lifetime limit of five years on Sole Parent Support and a lifetime limit of three years on Jobseeker Support, with ‘cashless welfare’ being applied when those limits are reached. ACT would also extend cashless welfare to any parent who has additional children while receiving a benefit. This means a person’s benefit will be placed on a debit card which can only be used for specific purposes – for example, rent, power and groceries.
Law and Order
ACT believes protecting the safety and property of its citizens is the government’s first and most important job. The rights of victims should trump the rights of criminals. People should feel safe at home, at work and in public.
A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work when dealing with offenders. We need to get tougher on criminals who repeatedly offend and ensure they remain behind bars. But we also need to work with offenders who show a willingness to turn their lives around. That means giving prisoners incentives to complete educational programmes that will equip them to lead productive lives and stop them from returning to criminal activity.
ACT believes we also need to reduce the administrative barriers that prevent groups such as the Howard League from helping to educate and rehabilitate prisoners.
Finally, we need to be smarter with Police resources. Significant time and resources go into chasing minor traffic offences and petty drug use. Taxpayers fund Police to prevent serious crime, not to play nanny state.
- Add burglary to the three strikes regime, meaning someone convicted of a third burglary offence gets three years in prison.
- Reward prisoners who complete literacy programs and driver licensing tests with reduced sentences. Do the same for prisoners who volunteer to teach in these programs.
- Scrap red tape that stops ordinary New Zealanders from volunteering in prison education and rehabilitation programmes.
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Protecting the safety of its citizens is the government’s first and most important job. ACT believes that New Zealand, as a small country, should favour a rules-based international order. We have often been at the forefront of advocating this approach. However, we cannot rely on faith alone. We need strong alliances with like-minded countries backed by adequate investment in our defence capabilities to ensure New Zealand’s security.
New Zealand is a trading nation. Our wealth depends on importing goods and services we can’t produce cheaply and exporting those we can produce for high prices to large markets. ACT has always been the strongest supporter of free trade in Parliament. We have been a reliable supporter of free trade agreements, giving governments of all stripes the numbers to confidently negotiate them.
- Maintaining and strengthening our traditional alliances, such as Five Eyes and the Commonwealth
- Continuing to lead the world with our relationships in Asia.
- Emphasising our role as a leading country in the South Pacific. Aid should be focused and directed into the South Pacific.
- Continuing to support bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, as these are the basis of New Zealand’s prosperity.
- Pursuing a free trade and free movement area between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom (CANZUK).
New Zealand is a nation of immigrants. Openness to newcomers is part of our national DNA. Today, many of our businesses and public services either couldn’t function, or would be much poorer, without the infusion of new people and new ideas.
New Zealanders value equality, free speech and the rule of law. ACT believes our immigration policy should reflect these values. New migrants should be willing to adapt to and endorse New Zealand’s values.
- Continue to be a pro-immigration party, honouring our heritage as a nation of immigrants, while trimming back overly generous entitlements such as pensions after only ten years’ residency.
- Maintain New Zealand’s values of freedom, property rights and the rule of law as non-negotiable conditions that all immigrants must accept. We should require new citizens to explicitly sign up to these values, as required in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
- Pursue a free trade and free movement area between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom (CANZUK).
Superannuation is unsustainable. The longer the delay in taking measures to restore long-term affordability the worse the problem will become.
As our population ages, the number of superannuitants will rise from 717,000 to 1.43 million. The cost of Superannuation is projected to rise from $13 billion to $76 billion by 2050.
ACT has advocated for raising the retirement age since 2011. We are the only party with a policy to bring down the cost of superannuation for future generations of taxpayers.
- Raise the retirement age. Starting in 2023 we will raise the age of entitlement to superannuation from 65 to 67, at a rate of two months per year, finishing in 2035.
Draft Firearms Policy
The most recent sweeping changes to the Arms Act were unnecessarily rushed. Lawmakers did not seek any meaningful input from industry experts. The amendments criminalised law-abiding citizens and may create a raft of unintended consequences. ACT was the only party to vote against this legislation.
We are currently consulting on our more detailed firearms policy for the future. Read ACT's draft firearms policy here.