Auckland, June 17, 2019
The Act Party has added the colour Pink to its logo and the words ‘For Freedom,’ but will that be enough to revitalise its tired image?
David Seymour and Act’s top brass have been racking their brains for a considerable period of time on how to rebrand the Party and make it more relevant to voters in next year’s election.
The Party’s AGM on Sunday (June 16) was the reveal-all moment for a new look, new policies, and new faces, although as with most things involving politics, much of it had already been strategically leaked beforehand. The name, for instance, was staying.
The relaunch was given the catchy title Re-Act and there was a bit more buzz than usual around the annual conference.
The crowd was bigger, there was less grey hair and, noticeably, more men among the 200 or so who came see what the party had come up with.
The usual venue, near the calming waters of Remuera’s Ōrākei Basin, was abandoned in favour of the exposed brick and steel beams of a commercial premises in the now-trendy part of Parnell. There was some edge in the air – it felt like something was going to happen.
There was No Mihi Or Kia Ora Koutou, it was straight down to business. Act’s outgoing President, Ruwan Premathilaka, introduced a video to get things under way.
Richard Prebble speaks
Whatever dynamic feeling that proceeded, the kick-off was suddenly stalled.
On the screen was an old and rather feeble looking Richard Prebble describing David Seymour as the best leader in Parliament.
The 71-year-old Prebble, who led the party 23 years ago, rambled on about Act having to defend freedom of speech.
He harked back to WWII and D-day on the Normandy beaches: “My father waded ashore for freedom – not for the PM to go on CNN.”
It was a reference to Jacinda Ardern’s decision to meet with world leaders in Paris to discuss reining in social media platforms, but not attend the recent 75th anniversary of the Allied landings in France.
The young journalist next to me, working for a major news organisation, quietly asked: “Is that Richard Prebble? I just need to check.”
If Prebble’s introduction was slightly odd, the Party’s Deputy Leader outdid him with a strange story about building her first home.
Beth Houlbrooke and her husband did it all themselves with $32,000 from a redundancy payment received when one of Muldoon’s think big petrochemical projects came to an end.
They were gifted land on his parents’ farm and dug the holes for the pole house themselves. Instead of using a spirit level they used “a hose filled with water.” When a major beam in the house sagged. they didn’t get builders in – they fixed it themselves.
The aim of this DIY story was to illustrate that young couples could never do this today because they would be tied up in red tape.
Act says red tape is costing the country $5 billion a year and claims Parliament has passed 60,000 pages of poor quality red tape in the past 20 years.
Its new policy is to introduce a “Regulatory Constitution” requiring government to show that the benefits of any proposed law change outweigh the costs, and identify who the winners and losers will be.
A new face, Belinda Hope, introduced Act’s new tax policy.
Under Act, everybody (including companies) would pay a flat tax of 17.5%.
Hope said lost revenue, particularly from company tax which is currently 28%, would be made up by scrapping the Provincial Growth Fund, increasing the age of eligibility of New Zealand Super to 67, and cutting back Working for Families benefits to just those on low incomes.
Hope received loud applause. No one seemed to notice that the flat tax is an increase on Act’s previous policy of 15%
Freedom of Speech
Leader, David Seymour’s speech concentrated on Act’s new flagship policy – Freedom of Speech.
After outlining changes he would make to the Human Rights Act to repeal parts aimed at preventing abusive or insulting speech, Seymour let rip at his latest enemy, the “intolerant new left.”
Seymour copped plenty from “the left” after he called Green MP Golriz Ghahraman a “menace to freedom” in a radio interview.
He told the audience that there were three criteria that identified his left-wing critics.
“Number one, they are nasty. One moment claiming we all need to be kinder and the next, gleefully tweeting that someone is a human stain.
“Number two, they’re hypocritical. The same people who rail against hate speech think it’s okay to publicly humiliate politicians by pouring milkshakes over them.
“Number three, and most importantly, they want to use state power to suppress their enemies.”
Earlier, on Newshub’s The Nation, Seymour had given a strong indication of what his campaign strategy would be in 2020.
“Freedom of speech is the foundation of all freedoms,” Seymour told interviewer Tova O’Brien.
“We don’t want to end up like the UK where people have Police coming to the door for sending a tweet.”
The freedom of speech message will resonate with a section of voters but the size of the task confronting Seymour remains enormous.
The latest TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll had Act on 1%, the same as The New Conservatives and The Opportunities Party (TOP) who aren’t in Parliament. Yes, that is above the 0.5 percent that Act polled at the last election but a long way off the 7.14% it got in the 2002 election which saw it bring nine MPs to Parliament.
There were new ideas revealed at the Conference, like giving parents $12,000 a year per child to spend on schooling, but there were very few new faces.
The party’s big failing has been its inability to attract some high-profile, heavy hitters, to stand alongside Seymour. Maybe it simply can’t. Once again, it looks very much like Seymour will be ‘man alone’ going into an election that will decide if Act still has a place in our political landscape.
Mark Jennings is Co-Editor of Newsroom based in Auckland. He writes about Media, Business, and Tertiary Education. Twitter: @jmjenningsnz. The above article and picture have been reproduced here under a Special Arrangement with Newsroom.