01 November 2011

I want to vote ACT

but I'm unconvinced.

Rodney Hide's record the past three years has been bitterly disappointing.  I am glad I didn't vote ACT in 2008, for I'd be, in part, to blame for the gargantuan planners' wet dream called Auckland Council.  

However, ACT has purged Rodney Hide and installed Don Brash, a man for whom I have immense respect, a man who almost single-handedly rescued National from near oblivion to near victory in 2005 - a mission that failed because of the National Party and some ill-advised campaigning.

The candidates are largely a fairly impressive lot.  Brash and Isaac top the bill rightfully, but there are two issues.

Firstly is John Banks.  How he got admitted to be a candidate is beyond me.  Peter Cresswell says much of what I think of him.  It's not that he's a bad man, he is certainly interesting, but he is not a lover of individual freedom.   Indeed, his profligacy as Mayor (remember how he once opposed the grand plans for Auckland's rail network then supported them?) is not what you'd want from someone seeking to keep the National Party's spending in check.  Actually, as a man who held Rob Muldoon as a figure of respect, you'd already be wondering why he could ever be trusted to help reduce the size of the state, and that's ignoring his vocal and solid opposition to the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in the 1980s.  

Now it wouldn't be so bad if he was an electorate candidate in Whangarei, and lower down the list, but he isn't.  He is ACT's lifeline.  ACT is betting on him winning Epsom to stay in power, so ACT will owe John Banks everything.  Now I'd like to think the people of North Shore might choose Don Brash instead, but Banks is still number three on the list.   In other words, he is hard to hide from.

Choosing Brash as leader appears to be in part a purge of gutlessness and the remnants of pro-state conservatism, but why include John Banks?  Nobody can pretend he has a profound belief in smaller government and individual liberty.  Similarly, what delusion can ACT have that Banks is some sort of high profile "celebrity" candidate, in the mould that Hone Harawira, Jim Anderton, Winston Peters and Richard Prebble have been for minor parties before?
Let's say I swallow Banks and look at policy.  How does that look?  Let me rank the policies out of 5.  1 being virtually worthless. There are 18 policy areas, possible score of 90.

Defence - Positively allowing nuclear powered ships, and strengthening the armed forces, including rebuilding relationships with the US and Australia.  4 out of 5.

Economy - Cut spending to 29% of GDP (the level Labour left the country at in 2005), cap spending increases to inflation and GDP, cut regulation and privatise.  Hardly bold.  Nothing on flat tax. 2 out of 5.

Education - Increase school autonomy, increase state funding of independent schools, increase school choice in assessment systems, more scholarships for underprivileged children.  Less ambitious than National's 1987 manifesto.  1 out of 5

ETS - Remove agriculture from ETS and suspend the rest till majority of trading partners have caught up.  A quite respectable approach.  4 out of 5

Environment - Push road pricing, market pricing of water, support mineral exploration and "acknowledge" the role of voluntary groups.   With RMA elsewhere, this largely looks positive.  4 out of 5

Health - Encourage competition, target subsidies on the poor, reduce taxes so people can buy health insurance, review occupational licensing and reduce bureaucracy.  Promising, but a bit vague.  3 out of 5.

Immigration - Lower administrative barriers to entry, favour productive workers, ensure it is no drain on the welfare state.  Reasonably positive, although somewhat vague.  3 out of 5

Law and order - Review procedures around self-defence, consider re-introducing Sentencing Council, sanctions for prisoners who reject opportunities for rehab/education, "broken windows" approach, victims to receive reparation payments.  Nothing on victimless crimes or National's authoritarian approach to drugs.  1 out of 5.

Local government - Pressure local government to focus on core role, reduce restrictive land use planning.  Less policy than before.  Such an opportunity to reform!  1 out of 5

One law for all - Allow more choice in education and health (yet not really mentioned much in either policy), accelerate Treaty compensation process, remove RMA requirement to consult by race, no Maori seats, no local authority Maori seats and no statutory boards.  It goes much of the way there, but could be clearer. 4 out of 5

Primary industries - Reduce spending, dump ETS, streamline RMA.  It could be worse, but could include property rights as well.  3 out of 5

Regulation and red tape - Continue Productivity Commission, pass Regulatory Reform Bill, reform RMA.  Could have been a long list, but it is aiming the right direction 3 out of 5

RMA - Separate planning and approval functions from councils, limit consents fees, widen powers to order costs against objectors, increase rights to compensation from planning decisions, removing "intrinsic values" from consideration.  Nothing on property rights, but otherwise it is a positive step forward. 2 out of 5.

Spending cap - Pass Spending Cap (People's veto) Bill, promote culture change and innovative policies.  Not a lot to say about this.  A step forward, but not nearly enough. 3 out of 5.

State owned assets - continue a rational evidence based debate about the government's role?  Well yes, but you can do better than that.  Much better.  You say so in economic policy, so I will say a 3 out of 5.

Tertiary education - Remove fee caps, introduce market interest rates for student loans, open trade courses to competition, lower taxes so students can pay back loans quicker.  A useful step forward, but not more so 3 out of 5.

Transport - Invest in projects with higher benefits than costs, embrace better pricing, streamline the RMA for building infrastructure, push government to invest in any modes.   RMA streamlining shouldn't interfere with property rights, and the government should be investing less. What about the private sector?  Disappointing 2 out of 5.

Welfare - Youth minimum wage, tougher approach to welfare, reform Working for Families, and more detail.  Definitely the best thought out policy of the lot.  A generous 4 out of 5

50 out of 90.   Is that enough?

I wish I could say yes, but there are three things missing.

Property rights

Where are they? Where is putting property rights at the centre of the RMA?  This should be central to any liberal party.  They are alluded to, indirectly, but why just that?


Nothing specific about taxation, about reducing it, about flattening it.  Yes, spending caps are all very well, but there isn't even a focus on deficit elimination and then lowering taxes.  That is disappointing.

Victimless crime

I don't expect legalisation of drugs, but I do expect something to be mentioned.  I do expect a review of criminal laws to consider how there might be a reduction in regulation overall and interference in people's private lives. 

It's a shame.  I wanted to vote for ACT,  I really did.  I like Don Brash a lot.  He could make a very positive difference to a government,  but what I've seen so far is very very disappointing.  Can it be saved?


Just my opinion said...

A tad unfair on Rodney I think mate. He did the best he could with the resources he had and the mess AK was in. He stood his ground re separatist Maori seats as well, with no support from John Key for doing the job he was given.

A smart thing some may say as he was unable to control the rabble who were plotting behind his back.

Brash as leader could have been a good idea but without the blood spilling of Hide. Should have kept Rodney in Epsom and extinguished any idea that Banks would join the party. I told ACT and ACT on Campus that if Banksie joined ACT it would be the worst mistake they could ever make.

Worst case scenario is ACT doesn't get in, second worse is it gets 3 MPs, and no young MP to push the party into the 2014 election. I am not at all hopeful that ACT will get in at all. Sad after all the work so many good people have done over so many years.

Libertyscott said...

Yes, it would have been better to keep Rodney in Epsom, better yet to put Don in there.

However, ACT has made its bed and must now lie in it.

Rather sad though, had the Banks mistake not been made I think it could have inspired more to vote for it.