Monday, September 08, 2014

I'm voting ACT

New Zealand citizens who live abroad are entitled to vote in the New Zealand general and local elections, provided they have visited the country once within three years.  Since I have been to New Zealand no less than five times since January 2013, it was hardly an issue for me, and I do have an interest in what happens in the land of my birth.   So I am going to vote.

It is just coincidence that Peter Cresswell has written a lot of what I was going to say about ACT, that it has finally become the party I long wished it would be.  

So I'm coming out now to say I am going to party vote ACT.  

Why?  Because it offers the best (indeed only) chance at influencing a future government towards focusing less on violating people's rights, and more on protecting them.  

Yes, there is room for improvement, indeed a lot.  After all, I haven't supported ACT since the 1996 election (and in 1999 I voted for Richard Prebble in Wellington Central if not the party).  Rodney Hide was utterly disappointing as Minister of Local Government, and John Banks is far away from m position on so many issues as to have almost rendered ACT extinct.

However, there are now some people leading ACT who are, by and large, facing the way towards more individual freedom, less government where it should be doing less (whilst undertaking its core role more effectively).  The original principles of the party are coming to the fore. 

The other choices are:
  • to vote for a cozy, comfortable, corporatist National Party, which has lazily slipped into how it traditionally was on policy, by scaring people about the "other lot";
  • to vote for the "other lot", a toxic swill of an increasingly deluded Labour Party led by a smug, self-satisfied bully, grouping with an increasingly confident socialist Green Party expertly shrouding their control-freak instincts with warm words about clean rivers and child poverty, and the corrupt coalition of communists, ultranationalists and Al Qaeda supporters called the Internet Mana Party;
  • to vote for one man bands (Dunne, Peters, Horan) largely focused on their own aggrandisement;
  • to vote for a well-meaning control freak who hasn't ruled out supporting the smug bully (Craig);
  • to vote to legalise cannabis, but otherwise support any of the others;
  • to vote for various other has-beens, or funny money lunatics.
My real choice was ACT, ALCP or National.  Of course I personally support ALCP's policy, but it is highly unlikely to progress, after many years of trying, and although you can argue such a vote is "clean" from a libertarian point of view (you are voting for less government, albeit in one sense), ALCP would grant confidence and supply to any government legalising cannabis.  Including one that would take away many other liberties.  

National ought to be the party of less government, and occasionally you hear the phrases about it wanting people to keep more of their own money.  It isn't the National of Rob Muldoon, but it also isn't the National of Ruth Richardson (and even that barely was).  National will offer three more years of tinkering, more spending and will do absolutely nothing to increase individual freedom or deal effectively to the RMA or the state education system's continued dominance of young minds.

A vote for National may be "safe", but it is a dead-end for freedom.  ACT's chances this time are dependent on David Seymour winning Epsom, but assuming he can (given that ACT managed it with John Banks before), a party vote for ACT can deliver a handful of MPs, and so give National a coalition or confidence/supply partner that will influence it in the right direction.  At a time when the Maori Party is shrinking, Peter Dunne at best will lead a one man band and Winston Peters looms as the back up choice, it makes sense to support ACT now.

Could the campaign have been improved?  Hell yes.  It could have embraced a more positive message for government that is about getting out of the way, that makes it easier for property owners, that lowers taxes by scrapping agencies that few people would ever support, that emphasises school choice with vouchers that will allow far more kids to go to independent schools, that takes on the welfare state and the corporate welfare state equally (a major criticism of the left).  

It could have been the party that attacks privilege granted by the state to anyone, whether it be race based boards, corporatist claims for subsidies, trade unions seeking higher pay for public servants with no performance, monopolies, and all of the rent-seekers wanting government to give them help at the expense of others.  

ACT can survive this election and get around 2% of the vote and build upon that for a result in 2017 that is closer to the 6-7% it got in previous elections.   It can stake a place being the only party that is consistently against more welfare for business and individuals, and less tax for both.

However, that's for the future, for now ACT's transformative changes deserve endorsement.  It really is a party that we can build more freedom on.

As far as electorate votes are concerned, I'll be writing my familiar voting guide for freedom shortly, but for now it's fair to say that two electorate votes matter more than any others right now:

- Epsom - David Seymour (for the reasons outlined above).

- Te Tai Tokerau - Kelvin Davis (Labour), to evict Hone Harawira and so keep Laila Harre and Annette Sykes out of Parliament.

So how does ACT measure up against what I said in 2008 it ought to do?

1. Colourblind state:  It is ACT policy, albeit not packaged or marketed very well, but a state that treats all citizens on their merits, and doesn't grant privilege is a sound aspiration.  That doesn't mean seeking to ignore cultural factors, or to seek that everyone be the same, but embrace the point that the state should treat everyone as individuals, not treating their views or eligibility for funding (or taxation or regulation) based on who one's ancestors were.  9 out of 10 (1 deducted for the marketing)

2. Low Flat tax: Policy is to lower the top rate of income tax to 20% (PDF). Not quite flat tax, but it goes a long way towards it.  I would like there to be an income tax free threshold as well, starting at $10,000, as people on the lowest incomes and children should not be taxed.  Yet this is the only party pushing towards progressively lower tax across the board.  7 out of 10

3. Eliminating unnecessary bureaucracies: ACT is keen to reduce the size and scope of the state, so its proposed review of the public sector would be a sound step towards abolishing parts of it. 8 out of 10

4. Protecting property rights: At last, ACT now believes in abolishing the RMA, with this policy:

If red tape and regulation is the most urgent reform area, then the RMA is the most urgent piece of legislation to reform.  It is beyond redemption by small changes, in fact much of its current deficiency is the result of two decades worth of attempts to improve upon a base of fundamental flaws.  Specifically, the RMA does not seek to remedy clear market failures, but rather introduce a central planning approach to the use of resources.

ACT will rescind the RMA. It will be replaced by the restoration of a greater role for common law actions and remedies.

ACT will set up an expert taskforce to determine what planning laws New Zealand does need relating to public goods, such as flood control, border protection and problems of non-point source pollution. Any new law will start with the premise that protects private property rights and makes property owners liable for any nuisance they cause.  

This single policy more than any could transform the New Zealand economy, and reduce housing costs, but watch it be painted as the pathway towards pollution and skyscrapers in Motueka etc.  10 out of 10.

5. Privatisation: ACT is committed to privatising SOEs and wants to remove barriers to private investment in roads.  I'd like some creatively applied to the former to get more shares into New Zealanders' hands directly, but the state should get out of being in business more confidently than National has done.  8 out of 10.

6. Choice in health and education: In education, vouchers have been proposed, which are a stepping stone to being neutral between education providers.  This is a step forward, although there could be more done to promote diversity in education.  In health, ACT is much more reserved, but does embrace more private provision and mentions competition for ACC.  A lot more could be done here, but the call for more transparency and being neutral about private vs public providers is positive. 4 out of 10

7. Repealing victimless crimes: Beyond a comment about legalising consensual adult incest that isn't party policy, there isn't much on this at all. The "Red Tape and Regulation" policy does offer some hope with the statement "Expand liberty by increasing the role for the common law in regulating 
interactions between individuals".  It's a start, but this is a clear area where there is sensitivity, but it could offer an opportunity for a bottom up review of all criminal laws.  1 out of 10

8. Reforming welfare:  ACT wants to impose time limits on welfare recipients, and a number of other measures to contain the welfare state.  It also includes supporting initiatives like Whanau Ora (who knew from the bile from the left?).  It includes "Explore a health and welfare ‘opt-out’ for people who take out health and loss of earnings insurance" which would be a huge leap forward for personal responsibility. 6 out of 10

9. Fight real crime:  ACT proposes a "3 strikes" approach to burglary, a crime often ignored and to take a zero-tolerance approach to minor property offences, whilst protecting the right to self defence. There is scope for more to be done with violent offenders, but it is notable that drug offences are ignored in this, which is, sadly, a step forward.  7 out of 10

10. Ringfence local government:   This is a welcome step forward with the policy  "Remove the power of general competence and limit increases in local authority spending to inflation plus population growth unless the local authority can obtain the prior approval of a majority of voters in that jurisdiction. Remove the requirement for the Auckland Council to have a Maori Statutory Board. Ensure that roads and piped water are supplied on a fully commercial basis." This with the abolition of the RMA will significantly cull the powers and responsibility of local government.  8 out of 10

In summary, ACT is in all cases, at least facing the right direction on all these issues, and in some has made an enormous leap forward.  On the RMA alone, ACT deserves support.  Yes, I'd beef it up a bit in some areas, like education and look to some openings on individual freedom that besides being right, may also attract a wider political constituency, but for now ACT is a party that is worth supporting.

and on top of that, its roads policy isn't half bad 


Anonymous said...

This may not be entirely "on Topic" but is related. I have searched for any commentary on the legality of the Internet Mana cohabitation agreement.We know from experience how the coattailing works but this is in another realm altogether - coattailing on coattailing. We have seen conglomerates of smaller parties (Alliance) presented as one party, but this is again different. As a former investment banker I can only applaud the cunning of the arrangement, even down to the sunset provision.
My question to you or to your readers is - why doesn't the Conservative Party form a similar arrangement with, say, Act? Seymour as Hone, Craig and his 4-6 % adding up to a sizeable group of seats. This would also attract voters who might otherwise have not voted Conservative for fear of them not reaching 5%.
There has to be some leverage out of Act electorate seat and strapping the Conservatives to it would supercharge it beyond anything Act itself might achieve on its own.

Sam P said...

Agree Scott. As always, great analysis & perspective. Looking forward to your voting guide

Rob Good said...

Good post.

Barry said...

I would like to vote for Act - but I heard Whyte say that he thinks treaty settlements should continue. That put me off.

Libertyscott said...

Anonymous: Many ACT members regard the Conservative Party to be beyond the pale, and I think to be fair to its members and supporters, it is best if both parties concentrate on who they are seeking to attract. I would have difficulties supporting a party that carried the socially authoritarian policies of the Conservatives. ACT did that before.

Barry: Well there is a case for that in situations of proven theft by the state, but given the commitment to one law for all, it would be fair to say ACT wont support settlements that involve unfair rent seeking from taxpayers.

Barry said...

Since I read the book Twisting the Treaty - and some others - I think that the state didn't steal anything from Maoris. There were warned-about confiscations for law breaking. When Maoris ignored the warnings and continued the law breaking the confiscations took place. They weren't stealing.