Free Press 30th November

Column – ACT New Zealand

Free Press

ACT’s regular bulletin

Politician of the Year
The mysterious but often accurate Wellington politics publication trans-Tasman has named David Seymour politician of the year. We are not getting too carried away as David also won most improved player in his first year of rugby and turned out to be a thoroughly average player. Nevertheless we’ll take the bouquet, and pass on the thanks to loyal Free Pressreaders.

Something to Celebrate…
Free Press readers may use or browse It’s an innovative tool allowing pundits to place tiny-to-moderate amounts of money on various news predictions. This inside knowledge then provides market-based, poll-beating likelihoods of political and economic outcomes, helping individuals and businesses (and perhaps one day governments) plan for the future.

…Killed with Red Tape
But now Associate Justice Minister Simon Bridges has decided the site represents a money-laundering risk, and so iPredict is shutting down in the face of overwhelming red tape. It’s a classic example of government reacting to technology and innovation with knee-jerk paranoia. Free Press isn’t alone in calling on the Minister to rethink his position. Watch this space.

The Most Important Skill in Politics
Parliament is often compared to kindy. That’s generally a disservice to kindy kids but both places are about learning to count. Candidate selections, laws, leadership contests, and elections are really just exercises in counting the numbers. Last week’s one-step-forward-one-step-back RMA reforms make for a stark example.

New Zealanders voted to try MMP in 1993 and to keep it in 2011. It’s here to stay. MMP means no party can count to 61 without a coalition, so smart pundits focus on coalitions rather than parties. Many journalists have no memory of pre-MMP politics but party-centric reporting continues.

Don’t Cry for Me Aotearoa
A majority in parliament requires 61 votes. Before the Northland by election Nat 60 + ACT 1 could pass laws. By electing Winston Peters, Northland voters ensured a majority in parliament requires Nat 59 + ACT 1 + Peter Dunne or Nat 59 + Maori 2=61. It’s easier to get two Maori Party MPs to agree with each other than get Peter Dunne to agree with ACT and National, so Northlanders made the Maori-National coalition all powerful.

The Message Hits Home
Nowhere in New Zealand stands to benefit more from RMA reform more than Northland. It is poor, poorly served by roads, and could do well from mining activity. All of these problems would be helped by substantial RMA reform. More affordable housing, fewer delays in road building, and more likelihood of capital-intensive mining activity. Sadly Northland voters have ensured there will be no meaningful RMA reform before 2017.

Not Really Governing
ACT campaigned on keeping John Key as Prime Minister. If a day of watching parliamentary speeches from Labour, the Greens, and New Zealand First doesn’t convince you how important this is, nothing will. However RMA reform was a test and it’s shown that on many issues John Key can now only exercising power to the extent that the Maori Party wants him to.

The Maori Party’s Quiet Success
By 2017 the Maori Party will have enjoyed nine years holding the balance of power. They have never held it exclusively because ACT, National, and Peter Dunne have always had an alternative majority. Nevertheless they have been the largest or equal largest coalition partner throughout that period and have advanced their agenda well. They show what a small party can achieve.

A Bouquet
We are belated admirers of Amy Adams’ 2012 RMA reform proposals. There was much wrong with them. In particular was the greater use of edicts from Wellington, a symptom of National’s centralising instinct. Nonetheless Adams at least proposed to reform the underlying principles of the ACT, and include a clause about property rights.

A Brickbat
Environment Minister Nick Smith has done his best to negotiate RMA reform under the political constraints he faces. However this means tinkering at best, for example allowing consents to be set by email. The most significant change is requiring councils to consult with Iwi earlier in the planning process. There has been no reduction in the complexity of planning and consenting.

What if National Weren’t Constrained?
After the last election John Key said RMA reform was not about the numbers. He could have passed comprehensive reform with ACT’s support only but said he would not. We will never know if Key would have done real RMA reform with ACT this term. What we do know is that such reform will now require a strengthened ACT after 2017.

Why real RMA Reform Matters
The current RMA requires councils to consider ‘the intrinsic values of ecosystems’ and ‘the efficiency of the end use of energy’ among 18 such ‘principles.’ It contains the phrase ‘inappropriate subdivision’ 156 times in its 900-odd pages. Small wonder that a council culture has developed where getting anything done is subject to delay, uncertainty and cost, and that there are far fewer houses consented today than the peak year, 1973.

What is Real RMA Reform?
Real RMA reform would comprehensively reform the principles of the Act. The Act should address specific environmental harms to the air, water, soil and biodiversity, and immediate conflicts between the rights of property owners. That’s it. Instead it is carte blanche for planners to impose social engineering on whole cities. The cost of foregone projects is inestimable.

Serial Saboteur
None of this will concern Winston Peters. While ACT views public policy as the ultimate output and whole point of politics, Peters views it as background noise. The Northland result satisfies his lifelong yearning to be taken seriously, as did being the Treasurer under Jim Bolger and Foreign Minister under Helen Clark. He ultimately brought down both those governments.

Third Strike
Adding up the deals made by successive governments to keep Peters’ support, he is easily the most expensive citizen ever born in New Zealand. Current polling suggests he will again hold the balance of power. What would happen? Unlike many Prime Ministers, John Key has very attractive options for the rest of his life. Bill English has had an exemplary career. They have no need to stick around and put up with Peters.

Motivated as all Hell
ACT must grow itself to a party of 4-5 MPs by winning 3-4 per cent of the vote. Doing so will end the Maori Party’s run of influence, keep Peters away from his baubles, and restart the stagnant National agenda for liberal economic reform. This week has made the reality clearer than ever.

Musical Taste
ACT is here to tackle the tough issues, but the media will just as readily report that David Seymour likes Lorde. If you’ve done absolutely everything else you need to do today, here is Q+A interviewing politicians about music. Awards go to Shane Reti for best guitar, James Shaw for most uptight, and Marama Fox for most opposite-of-uptight. Afterwards, three out of four Q+A panellists pick out David Seymour as having had a great year.

ACT Events
David Seymour’s Epsom Christmas Drinks this weekend were uproariously successful. ACT’s Wellington Christmas Drinks are this Wednesday (register here), there is also a quarterly Epsom report-back tonight in Newmarket, a Auckland South regional conference on December 5, an ACT Christmas Dinner in Auckland on December 7, and save the date for a Christchurch end of Year BBQ on December 12th.

Join and Donate
ACT is going well. Better than the pundits expected, that’s for sure. We can play a critical role deciding what sort of coalition New Zealand will have after 2017. Please consider joining us. Membership lists are secret but your number adds moral weight. Please consider donating to ACT. ACT receives no taxpayer funding (David Seymour’s office is only for parliamentary and electorate duties), so rebuilding ACT is down to generous supporters like you.


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