New Zealand may be over a year away from the next election, but as far as the ACT party is concerned, the campaign has already begun.
The party’s annual conference in Wellington had a series of glossy videos, mood music that was too dramatic for the speakers and the party leader’s father, David Seymour, in the audience.
Seymour took the stage to reveal his plans for the first 100 days of an ACT-involved government.
“We must not just campaign as if we are going to win, but prepare as if we are going to win,” he told party faithful.
While government and co-governance were predictably in his sights, Seymour also spent time digging into his potential coalition partner.
“They have been in power for 47 out of the last 72 years. If the National Party was the solution to any problem, we wouldn’t have that problem now,” he said.
In a 40-minute speech, Seymour laid out what he wants to bring to the negotiating table, a “laundry list” of reversals in the coalition’s first hundred days.
Three Waters, Māori Health Authority, 39c tax rate and fair compensation agreements are just a few policies on scrapping ACT, while 90-day trials, three strikes, oil exploration and gas and charter schools would be reinstated.
Most of the things on Seymour’s list are likely to get support from National, or are changes that National has already announced. He admits it will be harder to get them to repeal the Zero Carbon Act.
“We’re going to have to push really hard on that one because they’ve been so committed, but I think it’s worth it,” he said.
Seymour also pledges to launch a full investigation into New Zealand’s response to Covid-19. Terms of reference include the mental health effects of the response, fiscal and economic costs, and whether the restrictions were still justifiable under the Bill of Rights.
Seymour hopes this will prepare New Zealand for any future pandemics.
“We literally can’t afford to do what we’ve done for the past two and a half years,” he said.
But the investigation would not be cheap for the taxpayer.
“I suspect it would cost tens of millions, but it would save tens of billions. If you have something that has a 1000:1 profit ratio, you should do it,” he said. to the media afterwards.
Like its pledge to remove many things ACT says it would remove, National has also pledged to launch a royal commission into the Covid response if it comes to power.
“I think the challenge is whether National will follow? Because National has always campaigned vehemently against opposition Labor but it’s very difficult to pinpoint Labor policies that they reversed once in power. “said Seymour.
Of course, the ACT must first enter the government.
A Roy Morgan poll last week put a National-ACT coalition at 48.5%, five points ahead of Labor and the Greens.
But they would need the support of Te Pati Māori, and former ACT leader Don Brash said there was no way that would happen.
“I was asked ‘how will ACT deal with the fact that the Maori party refuses to join a coalition with ACT?’ I said ‘why would ACT join a coalition with the Maori party?’ They are totally diametrically opposed on this issue, I just don’t see a coalition involving the ACT party and the Maori party,” he said.
In 2020, ACT received 7.5% of the party’s vote and its 10 MPs are the most it has ever had at one time.
The lowest ranked of these, Damien Smith, just qualified last time out.
But he is convinced that next year will be more comfortable and with more deputies.
“Coming to number 10 I was still confident but probably nobody expected it. But now I think the polls are holding up, there will be more MPs, we’ll have a bigger pool of talent,” he said. said Smith.
While the ACT is encouraged by its poll, it has slipped since Christopher Luxon replaced Judith Collins as head of the National.
Seymour is unafraid of a resurgent National deciding he finally wants his seat at Epsom.
“My proposition in the Epsom electorate has always been that you get a good local MP, and get extra ACT MPs elected. Of course the way the poll has been for the past two years, this second proposal does not apply.
“If it applies again it would be a shame in a sense, but it would strengthen the proposal and Epsom,” he said.
The conference also celebrated 25 years of ACT in Parliament. A time to look back and forward.
Although the ACT has had its ups and downs and its fair share of colorful characters, it has never had a female leader.
Seymour thinks it will happen.
“Well, you never know, I always watch my back,” he joked.
His deputy Brooke van Velden, smiling just behind him, refused to thrust the knife.
“It doesn’t matter whether our leader is a man or a woman. It matters whether they believe in good public policy,” she said.
Public policy that ACT is already campaigning on, even with an election over a year away.