David Seymour: Government is the biggest threat to your property

Opinion 02/03/2020

The basis of nearly everything

There’s not much meaning in life if you can’t plan for a better tomorrow and carry out your plans. Your plans probably involve property, so it’s hard to carry out your plans without secure property rights. Property rights are therefore essential to the meaning of life.

All through history people have been poor. The main reason is that there was no point in saving for tomorrow. There’s no point planting a crop if someone might steal it. There’s no point saving if your money might get taken. There’s no point getting an education if you’re not going to own the earnings you get from your skills. There’s no point having a shop of a factory if people are going to loot it. If tomorrow is going to be the same as today no matter what you do, there’s no meaning in life.

Secure property rights mean we can accumulate unimaginable wealth. That’s why the first and most important job of any government is to protect your rights to private property.

Our government runs a system of policing, courts, prisons and property registers so we don’t have to worry about thieves and thugs taking our property. It works pretty well, but over the last two years, our Government has become the biggest threat to property rights.

Firearms

Next month, we’ll commemorate our nation’s tragedy in Christchurch. We should be proud of the way that New Zealanders of every creed and race came together. We were united by the fact that terrorism, violence and hatred are wrong.

So far, so good, except the way licensed firearm owners were treated is a disgrace. It’s fundamentally a violation of property rights.

Normally our rights are protected by the rule of law. In our parliamentary democracy we trust the law because it’s made by our representatives in consultation with us.

The nine day sham legislation that made a quarter of a million firearms illegal was a travesty. It collectively punished a group of New Zealanders who’d done nothing wrong for our country’s most heinous peacetime crime. It eroded trust in the law and the police. It set New Zealanders against each other.

An incredible thing for a Government to do, especially when it goes on endlessly about wellbeing. Not only was it morally wrong, but the practical outcome is tens of thousands of prohibited firearms that just went missing and record distrust in police among the law abiding firearm community.

Free speech

The most important thing anyone owns is their own mind and their own body. 

Heroes in our society fought for centuries for the basic rights we take for granted. For everyone to own their bodies, and to be able to think and speak freely.

When you take those rights away you are someone else’s property. Someone else decides what the correct religion or opinion or attitude is. Freedom means deciding for yourself.

Over the years we’ve built up a pretty good set of rules around what you can freely say. You can say anything you like, so long as you don’t threaten others with violence or call on others to commit crime.

This Government is a menace to our freedom of speech. It wants to introduce hate speech laws, but it can’t tell us what that means. Where is the line between free speech and hate speech? It ends up being the difference between speech that is politically popular and acceptable, and speech that the authorities don’t like.

The problem is that the enforcers are always political animals in their own right.

Laws where a crowd like that can punish you for having views they deem offensive are worth fighting this election for all by themselves.

Ihumātao

At Ihumātao, Jacinda Ardern buckled under the pressure created by a tiny ragtag group of protestors. She took the side of people illegally occupying private property, rather than the owner of the property.

Now the Government has been unable to come up with a solution. Understandably, Fletcher is frustrated that it can’t use its own property to develop 480 homes for Aucklanders. But you don’t have to feel sorry for Fletchers to be worried about this.

Think about the precedent the Prime Minister is setting. If you illegally occupy somebody else’s property, the Prime Minister may come and encourage you.

I know there are those who will say, ‘oh, but the land was stolen in the 1850s.’ Well, yes, it was. Actually many bad things happened in the 1850s, the simple question is this. Do two wrongs make a right? If you think the solution to illegal land confiscation in 1850 is illegal land confiscation in 2020, I don’t know how to talk to you.

Significant Natural Areas

On the West Coast, a massive government land grab is going on. The National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity will require councils to identify Significant Natural Areas on private property. It will prevent landowners from being able to develop them.

No compensation will be provided. It’s theft. 15 percent of West Coast land could be locked up by the council. Not only will it prevent economic development, but it’s dumb from a conservation point of view.

If you take away property rights there’s no incentive to be a conservationist. Who would be a conservationist on their own land if the reward for doing it well is getting your land confiscated? It’s probably the single dumbest policy this Government has, actively punishing people if they look after their wetlands. No wonder people want to drain the swamp!

Landlords

Landlords save and invest so renters don’t have to. They also maintain houses, and pay rates, they take all the risk of having no tenants and no income. They do all this for a flat fee.

You might think the Government would want to support landlords. Uphold their rights and help them help tenants, right?

Of course they’re not. This Government doesn’t understand win-win. So they put in place more regulations such as making it harder to evict bad tenants. This Government says someone can live in your property against your will unless you go through an enormous rigmarole to prove they are not good tenants.

Of course, the result is fewer people want to be landlords, fewer properties are for rent, the market gets tougher for tenants, and rents go up. Win-win becomes lose-lose because this Government just doesn’t get property rights.

Employers

Employers save and sacrifice so they have enough capital to start a business. Often the working capital is their home equity. They have to produce a product their customers want for a price they can afford.

They have to follow all the laws of the land and ups and downs of economic conditions beyond their control. If they do all this they can provide a job.

Jobs are useful for helping people live better lives, that especially includes vulnerable people. There is lots of evidence that having a job is the number one cure for poverty and despair because it’s not just a source of income but social contact, too.

You might think the Government would be keen to promote jobs. You might think they’d want to make it easier to create them. You certainly wouldn’t expect them to actively make it harder.

But that’s exactly what they’re going. They’re making laws so union organisers can come onto your property and organise your staff against you. They’re making laws that say you have to pay more for the same work regardless of productivity. They think current wages aren’t fair. So they want to make Fair Pay Agreements, where wages and conditions at your business are negotiated in Wellington. 

If you make it harder for people to be employers, fewer people want to be employers.

That’s why benefit numbers are have been rising in some of the best economic times.

Farmers

Here’s a question. If urban voters want cleaner water in the country, cleaner than in any urban river, who should pay?

The Government’s answer is the farmer should pay. ACT’s answer is that beneficiaries should pay. If the rest of New Zealand wants the benefits of cleaner water, they should pay the costs, and the costs should be no greater than urban New Zealand is prepared to pay.

You can make the same argument for the Zero Carbon Act, which ACT alone opposed.

Tax

Of course, the Government doesn’t often take all of your property, sometimes just part of it. Tax is a partial property confiscation. The more government takes, the lower the return citizens get from investing in the future.

Here, government taxes 32.9 percent of all wealth created. This is more than any other Asia-Pacific government. Some people like to say we have low taxes, because they compare us with European basket cases. We need to compete in our own neighbourhood, and we’re highly taxed.

We have to start reducing our tax burden if we’re going to be competitive.

Urban Development Authorities

The Government is also making laws that will allow Urban Development Authorities to legally take your land. Not content with regulating what you can do on your land, the Government wants to take it off you.

You are hearing right. The Urban Development Bill will give Kainga Ora the right to take land that it ‘needs’ to build houses.

This bill means the Government can buy a person’s property against their will for housing development. There are a million other things the Government could do to make development easier before it starts nicking people’s property, but this Government doesn’t believe in property rights.

The campaign for property rights

This year’s election can be sliced and diced many ways. But ACT says it is the property rights election. If you believe that you own your house, your farm, your firearm, your business, your own body and even your own thoughts and the right to express them, then you believe in property rights. The problem we all have is a Government that fundamentally doesn’t care about property rights. If you do care about property rights, I hope you’ll join ACT in defending them.

David Seymour is leader of the ACT Party.