David Seymour: An opposition of one?

Opinion 08/11/2019

By David Seymour, ACT Party Leader, MP For Epsom.

This week, Muldoonism reappeared in environmental drag. The Zero Carbon Bill – which gives the government massive power over the economy and inexplicably forces us to offset our emissions in New Zealand only – was supported by every party except ACT.

The New Zealand Initiative says the latter requirement could add $300 billion to our emissions bill, reduce incomes by 6 per cent, and lead to higher emissions. It will mean higher fuel and food costs.

The Initiative called it the most expensive piece of legislation in our history.

ACT said we should allow New Zealanders to achieve emissions reductions at the lowest possible cost by purchasing overseas units as well as domestic ones. After all, it shouldn’t matter if trees are planted in Northland or in the Amazon. The legislation also requires the Climate Change Minister to plan how and where emissions will be reduced, in every sector, and this plan can be changed any time.

Since the Clark Government, Labour and National have formed a consensus that government should take one in every three dollars earned in the economy, that elections are won by buying middle-class voters, and that benevolent Wellington bureaucrats can more effectively plan our lives than we can.

Jacinda Ardern’s administration is more ideological than its recent predecessors.

Of course, at times it has been more amateurish than dangerous. KiwiBuild and the proposed capital gains tax come to mind. National decries these as ‘broken promises’ and for believers in soft socialism they are. But for Kiwis who want to be left alone to pursue their own projects, these brief episodes are a breather from the inexorable drift towards central planning.

There is an alternative to hoping and praying that our governments will be timid or incompetent, however. That is to act on the principle that the government’s primary job is to protect our liberty. If politicians want to take a little bit more of our money or our freedom, they must make an overwhelming case for doing so.

ACT has been promoting this alternative, mostly alone.

In ‘Red October’ last year, it was left to ACT to vote against the entire Parliament on three issues. Market studies legislation gives massive powers to bureaucrats at the Commerce Commission to demand sensitive commercial information from entire industries even if no allegation of uncompetitive behaviour has been made. The Prime Minister’s child poverty legislation focuses on inequality (and therefore ‘fixing’ it with income redistribution) rather than child poverty and neglect. ‘Equal pay’ legislation gives courts the power to decide how much workers in entire industries get paid.

Aside from a few brave academics and activists, we’ve been the only voice against new restrictions on what New Zealanders are legally allowed to say. Freedom of expression is important because it respects the fact that every one of us has a unique view of the world and because it allows us to make progress on difficult social issues.

Only ACT said ‘no’ to the first tranche of firearms legislation because it treated firearms owners with contempt and because rushed law is bad law. We are now seeing the consequences – just 32,000 of perhaps 240,000 firearms have been handed in to Police.

Thousands of firearms going underground makes us less safe.

Later this year, only ACT will oppose the Associate Health Minister’s bizarre plan for a “vape-free” New Zealand. This innovative and life-saving technology could help 500,000 smokers kick the habit. Jenny Salesa’s proposal to ban flavours and advertising could have been written by the tobacco companies. Big Tobacco kneecaps a competitor and protects its market. Big Government protects $2 billion in tax revenue. National is urging Labour to go faster.

ACT could go along to get along. We could accept soft socialism and we might make more friends in the Wellington commentariat. But that isn’t what we stand for, nor is it what many Kiwis want.

New Zealanders travelled further than anyone else to make better lives for themselves. We didn’t move to the edge of the earth to put up with mediocre public policy, to have a third of our income taken from us only for it to be squandered, or to be pushed around by petty tyrants.

ACT doesn’t make a habit of voting against the entire Parliament for the sake of it, or even because we disagree with the goals of our opponents. After all, reducing poverty and having a clean environment are worthy goals.

We do so because we believe in a free society, at the heart of which are thinking and valuing individuals who wish to pursue their own projects, beyond the reach of politicians. And because societies that promote social and economic freedom have tended to produce people who are healthier and wealthier than any others in human history.

David Seymour is ACT Party Leader and MP For Epsom.