ACT has done best when it looks like National can't win. That being 1996, 1999 and 2002. In 2005 ACT's vote collapsed because most ACT voters saw more hope in National under Don Brash AND because the election was such a close call. Now it has a chance to differentiate itself and sell the message that National WILL be the next government - but it needs a coalition partner to ensure it shrinks the state. The problem is that most of ACT's supporters are so keen to ensure Labour is defeated that they will want to vote National. Unless a National victory is pretty seen to be a sure thing, ACT does not face much chance of improving its vote.
Some of us hoped ACT under Rodney Hide would be more freedom oriented than before, that it could combine it laudable enthusiasm for economic liberalism with social liberalism. Sadly it has shown only limited signs of this, although the vote against banning BZP is a positive one.
So what SHOULD ACT do? Well it is very clear that with the removal of Don Brash National has moved to the left, closer to Labour than it has been for a long time. ACT should have the field wide open, with a wide range of policy choices it can put forward.
So here is a go, and no it's not radical, it's all rather minimal actually:
1. One law for all: Abolition of the Maori seats and abolition of all race based funding and legislation. Simple, it was National policy and it should be ACT's. The state should be colourblind.
2. Low flat tax: The surpluses, although wasted by Labour, could easily sustain a combination of introducing a tax free threshold and dropping the 39% and 33% income tax rates, with company tax to match.
3. Eliminating unnecessary bureaucracies: ACT should easily argue to abolish plenty of departments and agencies, from the Families Commission, to the Commissioner for Children, Ministry of Culture and Heritage, Pacific Island Affairs, Youth Affairs and so on.
4. Protecting property rights: Ideally scrapping the RMA, but at least introducing the primacy of private property rights into it over everything else. More importantly, restoring Telecom's property rights over its own infrastructure.
5. Privatisation: Proudly stating the state should not own businesses, whether it be rail, electricity, television, coal mining or the like. Allowing the private sector to finance, build and own new roads when they see it as being economic.
6. Choice in health and education: ACC is the easy one, opening all accounts up to competition. Education could start with vouchers and setting all schools free to govern themselves and set their own curricula. Health could see a shift towards an insurance model with a dedicated portion of income tax for health - which you could opt out of in favour of private insurance. The status quo is failing and only radical change will improve that. These measures are tried and proven elsewhere in the world.
7. Repealing victimless crimes: Blasphemy, the ban on BZP, bans on cigar advertising, the list is long - but it is about working towards getting nanny state out of our lives. I don't expect ACT to advocate legalising drugs entirely, but I could expect it to advocate decriminalising private usage by adults on their own property. I expect shop trading laws to be liberalised. I also expect repeal of human rights legislation, except for state agencies.
8. Reforming welfare: Time limits for all benefits, shifting the DPB to an alimony/contract model, reviewing sickness beneficaries to consider what they COULD do, allowing state housing tenants to have first option on their homes before they are sold, making at least the first $5000 tax free, no benefits for convicted violent criminals. Eliminating "Working for Families" in favour of tax cuts. What matters is weaning people off of state welfare.
9. Fight real crime: Demand accountability from the Police, preventive detention for the dangerous, and deny custody of children from convicted child abusers, rapists and serious violent offenders.
10. Ringfence local government: Repeal the "power of general competence" and constrain all councils to specific so called "public goods". Cap rates and require councils to phase out activities such as business subsidies, housing, arts and other non core activities.
It's a start, and not libertarian, but it would be a point of difference from National and a move in a right direction.