Monday, May 12, 2008

ACT's great chance

- Low flat tax;
- Choose private, integrated or state schools and funding follows every child;
- Have a health insurance account you choose to get the care you need;
- Choose the accident and sickness cover you want based on your risk;
- Pay for your own retirement nest egg that can be inherited without the state.

No it's not a libertarian agenda, but it should be ACT's. An agenda to reflect its name, the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers. An agenda that means school funding follows parents' decisions, that means what you pay for healthcare reflects your risk and waiting lists are traded for hospitals dealing with customers who expect service. Moving the no fault flat rate ACC model to one where people with low risk pay less premiums than those that are high risk, and finally making retirement a personal responsibility. Big tax cuts so people can pay for health and sickness insurance that reflects their risk, responsibility and what they want.

It would be a point of difference from National, but will it happen?

Following on from the Libertarianz annual conference in the weekend, some of the usual inter-necine mumblings between ACT and Libertarianz have reminded me of what we should all be arguing about - quite simply this election is the best opportunity in recent history to present freedom at the ballot box since the 1980s.

Why?

The 1990s National government once had a strong appetite for economic freedom, and was still privatising and deregulating even up to 1999 (ACC and Postal services being the last example), although it had virtually no appetite for personal freedom. ACT and Libertarianz both grew in 1996 and 1999 because of increased frustration at the limp wristed attitude to freedom of National After National lost in 1999, it struggled to regain power against Labour (which of course has no interest in shrinking the state). In 2002 National offered next to nothing and ACT had its best ever result.

However, the last election was difficult for both ACT and the Libertarianz. National in 2005 offered a semi-libertarian leader and a platform to cut taxes, privatise and abolish race based privilege by the state. Supporters of ACT and the Libertarianz voted National as they saw the chance, which appeared distant only a year before, that Labour could be defeated. Funnily enough having nearly won an election on principle, National has run a mile from it.

Labour is finished. National can almost sleepwalk to victory, and as it does so it has moved to the centre. National is Labour lite, and no one who wants a smaller state and more freedom can see a vote for National being good for anything other than replacing Helen Clark with John Key (maybe worthy but not much more than that).

So this is where ACT can come in.

Sir Roger Douglas in his widely reported ACT conference address advocated a positive agenda that is NOT all ACT Policy, including shifting healthcare to an insurance based model, education vouchers, make the first $20,000 tax free, drop the 39% tax rate, implicitly opening ACC fully up to private competition including personal accident and sickness insurance (replacing sickness benefit perhaps). Positive stuff. Frankly, with Sir Roger Douglas ACT has a chance to have a presence and to debate head on, ON PRINCIPLE, with Key and Clark. After all, Clark was in Cabinet with him.

ACT could advocate zero income tax like Sir Roger did in his book Unfinished Business, or flat tax like it did in the late 1990s. However, regardless of detail it can outline a vision of less government and substantial more choice for education, health (and ACC and sickness insurance which are ignored but directly related) and retirement. Kiwisaver for example could be shifted into private accounts that could replace National Superannuation in due course.

This agenda could inspire people to think "wow I could send my kids to private school without paying twice" or "i can live a healthy lifestyle and pay less for healthcare AND have my own insurance account to ensure I get cover when I need it". At one time Sir Roger Douglas believed 50% of voters would go for this, then he reduced his ambition to 30%. Surely 10% would be attracted by this prospect of serious reform of education, healthcare, ACC, the welfare state and cutting taxes. Especially with the credibility of Sir Roger Douglas on the ballot.

Whilst National limps to power, ACT could inspire those who want serious change to vote for it as a viable coalition partner, instead of the morally bankrupt Maori and NZ First Parties.

If not now, then when?

Oh and Libertarianz? Don't worry, there is still room there. I don't expect ACT to advocate privatising schools and hospitals, ending the welfare state, abolishing the RMA, reforming drug laws, abolishing laws on blasphemy and the rest. No. ACT is not the libertarian party. Libertarianz is a bigger package, a complete one to shrink the state on principle to its core functions. Personal liberty has never been much on the ACT agenda, although to be fair in the last three years ACT has been far better on this front than it ever was before.

ACT DOES have Sir Roger Douglas who has more political courage than virtually anyone in National, and it has Rodney Hide who, on a good day, can be quite inspiring. If you can't ride a wave of anti-Labour sentiment to grow, become a critical fixture for National and pull National towards some serious reform then you should give up. Don't be limp wristed, be bold, be like the Greens, be advocates for consumer choice, taxpayer rights and private enterprise. Attack the inability of state health and education monopolies to deal with people's needs, demand that government shrink and taxes shrink with it.

It is, after all, what you exist to advocate. After all, do you think a National Party Cabinet would be better or worse off with Sir Roger Douglas and Rodney Hide on it? How likely is it if nobody really knows what ACT is offering?

1 comment:

john-ston said...

"Funnily enough having nearly won an election on principle, National has run a mile from it."

The reason why National has run a mile from it is because of the word nearly. The Labour Party, aside from getting the votes of tertiary students, scared the heck into a lot of people that the 1990s were about to return. Let us be honest, for a significant number of people, the 1990s was not a nice experience; remember things such as the Hikoi of Hope and other debates around poverty.

Labour managed to get in by convincing people that they were not going back to the bad old days of the 1970s and early 1980s. National will only be able to get in by convincing people that they are not going back to the bad old days of the 1990s. It will take years to be able to dismantle what Labour has built over the last nine years; and of course, if you want your free paradise, it would take at least a hundred years to get there (any sooner, and you run the risk of a socialist revolution of the type seen in South America).

I do agree that principles are ideal, but of course, I would much rather have an unprincipled National Party in Government than a principled National Party in Opposition.