I've said before that ACT under Don Brash could be very promising, but policies to date have been disappointing.
However, let's look at the bizarre spectacle the whole National-ACT scene is as of late.
ACT came from the Backbone Club, a branch of the Labour Party upset that Roger Douglas had been hounded to the boondocks, and had Douglas's book "Unfinished Business" as its bible. Douglas proposed abolishing income tax, replacing it with GST and a host of compulsory insurance policies for pensions, health care and education.
ACT didn't have a natural leader, until Richard Prebble lost his seat in 1993 to radical Alliance MP Sandra Lee. ACT by then had started attracting National Party interest after Jim Bolger unceremoniously knifed Ruth Richardson in the back (Bolger after all, having once been an acolyte of Muldoon). As we fast forward to 2002, John Key entered Parliament at a time when National, under Bill English, had its worse ever election result. Less than 21% of the vote, and only 27 seats. Don Brash also entered Parliament at that election, as a list candidate and became Opposition Finance Spokesman. Of course, just over a year after the appalling result in 2002, Brash went on to lead the National Party, remember that? Suddenly, National had policies to cut taxes, to remove race as a factor in government and to reduce welfare dependency. These policies helped rescue National by boosting the vote to 39%, yet most of that swing was from minor parties - by taking some policies from ACT and NZ First (and making the Nats electable so eviscerating United Future), Brash had moved National to have some policies of principle.
Yet a series of gaffes and the media obsession with Nicky Hager's belief that Brash should have told the Exclusive Brethren not to embark on a campaign that was anti-Green Party, saw him ultimately fall on his sword. National then backtracked on abolishing the Maori seats, and started moving to the centre, whilst ACT had been reduced to a rump under Rodney Hide.
The 2008 election saw the Nats finally get the swing needed to be the largest party, and with confidence and supply agreements with the Maori Party and ACT - created a moderate centre-right government, by and large not touching most policies Labour had implemented. ACT had done better than expected, but being in government would take its toll.
ACT started to implode for a number of reasons. Rodney Hide no longer seemed to be the man fighting for less government and lower taxes, but the face of mega-local government in Auckland. David Garrett proved to be a walking embarrassment and so Hide was rolled, for Brash.
So John Key and Don Brash, once Parliamentary colleagues, both leaders of the same party, now face an election fighting for the same votes. However, why is John Banks there? Who knows - especially with the possibility it will be only him or him and Don Brash forming the ACT caucus after the election...
Don Brash on the campaign launch said there were nine policy areas ACT is looking to work on, but does this look any better?
- Pass Spending Cap (People’s Veto) Bill and Regulatory Standards Bill - This would ensure government spending doesn't rise faster than GDP (and indeed would be slower) and help stymy growth in regulation. Far better than nothing.
- Reduce government spending relative to the size of the economy to enable radical tax reduction, and a lower exchange rate - The simple point that National is spending more than Labour as a proportion of GDP should cause many National voters to think twice about ticking National for the Party vote. Brash is suggesting company tax reduced to 12.5% and the top income tax rate to 25%. Both would make a worthwhile difference to the economy.
- Radically reduce bureaucracy - Brash suggests radical reform to the RMA and Local Government Act, whereas National tinkered with the RMA and the Local Government Act wasn't touched. He also mentioned amending the Bill of Rights Act to include private property rights "possibly". Not really enough of a commitment for the Nats to care.
- End ETS - New Zealand rightfully shouldn't cripple itself to save the world, when so many others refuse to do so.
- Give parents effective control over their children’s education - Bulk funding in effect, with more autonomy for state schools. Still ridiculously limp wristed compared to Ruth Richardson's 1987 National election policy for education, which was essentially replicating Sweden's successful experiment in vouchers. Let anyone set up a school and let parents take their taxes back and pay for that school.
- Promote a multi-party consensus on changes to New Zealand Superannuation - The worst thing about a consensus is that the strongest thing that can usually be agreed is fairly weak. This is virtually worthless, whereas while I did not agree with compulsory superannuation, it had the merit of granting property rights in a retirement income - something that doesn't exist now, and particularly disadvantages the heirs of those who die before retirement.
- Promote a safer, more secure, society - Supporting the right to self defence is important, and so should be seen as a positive move.
- Push for equal legal status for all New Zealanders, irrespective of race - Enough said, it should be obvious, except of course to the Greens and Maori Party, who think this is racist.
- Re-establish a constructive relationship with Fiji - Sorry? No. This obvious pander to the local Fijian vote is absurd.
Yet while that looks mixed, Brash comes out with gems like this rural policy announcement saying "ACT will overhaul the RMA and reinstate the right for property owners to
use their land as they see fit, subject to respecting the rights of
others. " Beautiful stuff for those of us who believe in property rights, but is it a case of the policy being right when Lindsay Perigo is drafting the press releases?
For me ACT should keep things simple.
It should be about property rights - which means not only the RMA, but about businesses doing as they see fit, about lower taxes and about the right to self defence.
It should be about moving public services into the hands of consumers and suppliers. So that people can take their taxpayer funding of education to new schools and educational institutions set up freely. The same with healthcare and pensions.
It should be about personal rights. That means property rights, but also recognising that people should feel free to live their lives as they see fit, and that less government promotes more personal responsibility. It also means treating laws on personal matters, like drug use, tobacco and alcohol, as being up to adults. ACT should, at least, support medicinal use of cannabis, and taking a radical look at drug laws and whether they are working.
Finally it should be one law for all. That does not mean denying people national identity, or acknowledging Maori as indigenous people, but it does mean the state is colourblind.
ACT is relying on John Banks, a man who I don't believe has any real belief in any of those concepts. It should rely on Don Brash.
Don Brash is standing in North Shore, against no other than Maggie Barry. It doesn't take two seconds to figure out which of those two is the one with intellect and the one to be more effective for North Shore.
ACT should be pushing Brash for North Shore. With Wayne Mapp's retirement, North Shore would be far better represented by a man who would be Party Leader and also be elected in his own right as an MP - by Don Brash.
Then ACT wouldn't be relying on John Banks.
Forget nine points, stick to four:
- It's your life
- It's your property
- One law for all
- Services for the public, not the public service.
and Brash for North Shore.
It's too late to remove Banks and it would look awful to do so at this stage, but the show should be the Don Brash show. Besides, does New Zealand need someone in Parliament whose main contribution in recent years has been to warm the hearts of pensioners who like gardening?