ACT New Zealand

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ACT New Zealand
PresidentTim Jago
LeaderDavid Seymour
Deputy LeaderBrooke van Velden
Founders
Founded1994; 27 years ago (1994)
Headquarters27 Gillies Avenue, Newmarket, Auckland
Student wingYoung ACT[1]
IdeologyClassical liberalism[2][3][4]
Right-libertarianism[5][6]
Conservatism[7][8][9][10]
Factions
Right-wing populism[11]
Political positionRight-wing[2][3]
Colours
  •   Yellow
  •   Cyan
  •   Magenta
SloganAct for Freedom[12]
MPs in the
House of Representatives
10 / 120
Website
act.org.nz

ACT New Zealand, known simply as ACT (/ˈækt/), is a right-wing, classical-liberal political party in New Zealand. According to former party leader Rodney Hide, ACT's values are "individual freedom, personal responsibility, doing the best for our natural environment and for smaller, smarter government in its goals of a prosperous economy, a strong society, and a quality of life that is the envy of the world".[13] Young ACT is its affiliated, albeit unofficial, student wing.[14]

The name is an acronym of Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, which was founded in 1993 by Roger Douglas and Derek Quigley and became a political party for the 1996 election. An associate of Douglas, Richard Prebble served as party leader from 1996 to 2004. Under Prebble's leadership the party held nine seats in Parliament. Rodney Hide served as leader from 2004 to 2011. ACT was briefly led by former National Party leader Don Brash for the 2011 election, after which the party caucus was reduced to one seat.

ACT gave support to the Fifth National Government from 2008 to 2017. It is currently led by David Seymour, who became the party's leader in October 2014 and has been an elected MP of the party since September 2014. During the 2017 election, ACT retained its sole seat in Epsom and received 0.5% of the party vote.[15] Benefiting from the collapse of the National Party vote, ACT won 7.6% of the party vote and 10 seats in the 2020 election, its best result since its founding.

Principles[edit]

ACT described itself as 'The Liberal Party'

ACT states that it adheres to classical-liberal, small government and laissez-faire principles coupled with what the party considers as a high regard for individual freedom and personal responsibility.[16][2][4] ACT sets out its values:

  • That individuals are the rightful owners of their own lives and therefore have inherent freedoms and responsibilities.
  • That the proper purpose of government is to protect such freedoms and not to assume such responsibilities.[17]
  • All people should be equal before the law regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion or political belief.[18]
  • Freedom of expression is essential to a free society and must be promoted, protected and preserved without restriction other than for incitement, criminal nuisance or defamation.[18]
  • Citizenship and permanent residency should be subject to applicants affirming New Zealand’s values.[18]

Policies and ideology[edit]

Broadly, ACT is defined as a classical liberal and as a libertarian party, although its stances have changed under successive leadership and ACT's support base has drawn a big tent and a broad church of voters. ACT's platform featured conservative populist policies under former leaders Richard Prebble (1996–2004) and Rodney Hide (2004–2011).[19] Under the current leadership of David Seymour, ACT has shifted to a more classical liberal stance. The party has also been defined as subscribing to libertarian conservatism, conservative liberalism, right-wing populism, and social conservatism; the latter two of these tendancies have become marginalised at present in the party but still visible among ACT's supporters and grassroots activists.[11]

ACT wants to reduce or remove some Government programmes which it sees as unnecessary and wasteful and to increase self-reliance by encouraging individuals to take responsibility to pay for services traditionally paid for by the Government. Under leader Rodney Hide, ACT New Zealand had primarily focused on two main policy areas: taxation and crime (law and order issues). At the 2011 general election, ACT advocated lowering tax rates and also supported something approaching a flat tax, in which tax rates would not be graduated based on wealth or income, so every taxpayer would pay the same proportion of their income in tax. The flat tax rate that ACT proposed was approximately 15% with no tax on the first $25,000 for those who opt out of Government accident, sickness and healthcare cover.[20] As at 2021, the party proposes reducing GST and decreasing the marginal tax rate paid by those on the median wage; however it currently does not advocate a flat tax rate.[21]

At the 2020 general election, the party broadly listed its policies as prioritising economic recovery (see: COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand § Long-term effects); keeping national debt low; defending freedom of expression; repealing restrictive firearms legislation; taking a "tougher" stance on criminals who repeatedly offend and those found guilty of violent crimes while supporting rehabilitation programs; limiting funding for universities that do not uphold freedom of speech; supporting immigration, while calling for compulsory measures for immigrants to assimilate and limiting citizenship or permanent residency to those who pledge to uphold the values of New Zealand; and signing up to a CANZUK agreement which would enable free movement of people and goods between the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia.[22]

Social issues[edit]

Members of ACT's caucus in parliament voted 5 to 4 in favour of the Civil Union Act 2004 which gave the option of legal recognition to (among others) same-sex couples. A majority also supported the legalisation of brothels by the Prostitution Reform Act 2003.[23] In 2005, both of ACT's MPs, Rodney Hide and Heather Roy, voted for Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill 2005 which would have banned possibility of introducing same-sex marriage in New Zealand in the future perspective.[24]

In a shift to a more liberal stance, in 2013, leader John Banks (the party's sole MP from 2011 to 2014) voted in favour of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill at its third reading, a law which legalised same-sex marriage in New Zealand.[25]

ACT leader David Seymour supported the legalisation of assisted dying. In 2018, he introduced a member's bill, the End of Life Choice Bill which aimed to legalise euthanasia in New Zealand.[26] The law passed in 2019, was approved by the public in a 2020 referendum,[27] and will take full effect in 2021. The euthanasia law has been cited as an example of Seymour's cultural liberal personal outlook.[28] In 2020, Seymour voted for Abortion Legislation Act 2020 which introduced abortion on request.[29] However, he criticised a particular aspect of this law which creating "free protest zones" which would ban protesting near abortion clinics, saying this limiting freedom of expression.[30] In 2021, ACT expressed support for liberalization of surrogacy law so as to facilitate availability of surrogate services to heterosexual and same-sex couples as well.[31] Currently New Zealand's law permits for getting altruistic surrogacy only.

The party has also been described as containing populist and right-wing populist elements, particularly on law and order,[11] but Seymour has stated that he does not view populism as the way to govern a country or stimulate growth, and has accused the centre-left New Zealand Labour Party of engaging in populism in its business, spending and tax policies.[32][33]

Climate change[edit]

ACT went into the 2008 general election with a policy that in part stated "New Zealand is not warming" and that their policy goal was to ensure "That no New Zealand government will ever impose needless and unjustified taxation or regulation on its citizens in a misguided attempt to reduce global warming or become a world leader in carbon neutrality".[34] In September 2008, ACT Party Leader Rodney Hide stated "that the entire climate change - global warming hypothesis is a hoax, that the data and the hypothesis do not hold together, that Al Gore is a phoney and a fraud on this issue, and that the emissions trading scheme is a worldwide scam and swindle."[35] The former party leader has been branded as an "outspoken Kiwi climate change sceptic".[36] In February 2016, ACT deleted this climate change policy from their website, and party leader David Seymour attacked the Green Party for doing "bugger all for the environment".[37]

ACT placed Chris Baillie fourth on its party list of candidates in the 2020 election; he has received criticism over his views on climate change,[38] and been labelled a climate change sceptic.[39] In a 2020 report by OraTaiao, the independent New Zealand climate and health council, ACT was listed as a party that would "either make climate change worse or do nothing".[40] It finished in 9th place in the council's pre-election scorecard, scoring 1.1 (one point one) out of 24.[41][42] However, in the runup to the 2020 election, Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor said that even ACT had moved its position from where it had been. While he was largely critical of the party, saying "ACT have been very outspoken about wanting to go hard to repeal a lot of climate change legislation, and I haven't seen much from New Zealand First, mainly just silence." He also stated, "I think the only upside from ACT really on climate change is they do seem to have moved from outright deniers - which is where the party was five years ago. [With] a strong ACT presence you could expect some of their radical and unhelpful policies to potentially be implemented, and that is frankly a scary proposition."[43]

In early December 2020, the New Zealand Parliament officially declared a climate emergency, of which ACT was critical, stating, "Today's climate emergency was a triumph for post-rational politics with feelings rather than facts driving the Government's response to climate change".[44] The party supports repealing the 2019 "Zero Carbon Act".[40]

History[edit]

Formation[edit]

Sir Roger Douglas was the party's first leader.

The name comes from the initials of the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, founded in 1993 by Sir Roger Douglas and Derek Quigley. Douglas and Quigley intended the Association to serve as a pressure-group promoting Rogernomics—the name given to the radical free-market policies implemented by Douglas as Minister of Finance between 1984 and 1988.[45] The Association grew out of the 'Backbone club', a ginger group in the Labour Party that supported Douglas and his policies.[46] In 1996, New Zealand switched to using the MMP electoral system. The new electoral system gave smaller groups a much better chance of entering Parliament, and encouraged the Association to transform into a political party and contest elections.[47] The nascent party's manifesto was based upon a book written by Douglas entitled Unfinished Business. Douglas served as ACT's first leader, but soon stood aside for Richard Prebble (his old ally from their days in the Labour Party).[48]

1996–2004: Prebble's leadership[edit]

Richard Prebble led ACT from 1996 to 2004.

Under Douglas, ACT had languished at 1% in opinion polls, but with Prebble's populist rhetoric the party increased in support.[49] In the 1996 election, ACT fielded 56 list candidates.[50] Prebble won the Wellington Central electorate,[50] and with 6.10% of the total party vote, ACT also sent seven list MPs to the 45th New Zealand Parliament.[51]

In the 1999 election, ACT obtained 7.04% of the party vote, making it eligible for nine list MPs.[52]

In the 2002 election, ACT obtained 7.14% of the party vote, making it eligible for nine list MPs.[53]

On 2 December 2004, both Douglas and Quigley announced that they would step down as patrons of ACT. They stated as the reason that they wished to have more freedom to disagree with the party publicly.[54]

2005 election[edit]

Prebble's sudden departure from the leadership of ACT in 2004 signalled a decline in the party's electoral fortunes.[49] Rodney Hide led ACT into the 2005 election. It obtained 1.51% of the party vote, but due to winning one electorate did not need to obtain the necessary 5% threshold of the party vote and hence had 1 list MP and 1 electorate MP.[55]

2008–2011: First term in government[edit]

In the 2008 New Zealand general election, ACT fielded 61 list candidates, starting with Rodney Hide, Heather Roy, Sir Roger Douglas, John Boscawen, David Garrett and Hilary Calvert. The election marked an improvement in ACT's fortunes. Hide retained his Epsom seat and ACT's share of the party vote increased to 3.65% (up from the 1.5% gained in the 2005 election). The combination allowed the party five MPs in total.[56]

In addition, the National Party won the most seats overall, forming a minority government, the Fifth National Government of New Zealand, with the support of ACT as well as the Māori Party and United Future. John Key offered both Hide and Roy posts as Ministers outside Cabinet: Hide became Minister of Local Government, Minister for Regulatory Reform and Associate Minister of Commerce, while Roy became Minister of Consumer Affairs, Associate Minister of Defence and Associate Minister of Education.[57]

After 2008, some caucus MPs and organisational members became dissatisfied with ACT's coalition partner status and argued at ACT's national conference (27 February 2010) that there were insufficient fiscal responsibility policy gains for their party and that the National Party had slid from its earlier commitment to the politics of fiscal responsibility over the course of the previous decade. Throughout 2009, there had been at least one reported ACT caucus coup attempt against Hide's leadership, believed to have been led by Deputy Leader Heather Roy and Roger Douglas. However, it faltered when Prime Minister Key supported Hide's retention and threatened a snap election. In addition, the party's polling of a lowly one to two percent in most opinion polls meant only Heather Roy might accompany Hide after any forthcoming general election, if Hide retained ACT's Epsom pivotal electorate seat.[58]

On 28 April 2011, Hide announced that he was resigning the ACT leadership in favour of former National Party leader and Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash who joined the party that morning. Brash's leadership was unanimously approved by the party board and parliamentary caucus on 30 April.[59] Brash promised to focus the party on controlling government debt, equality between Māori and non-Māori, and rethinking the Emissions Trading Scheme, with a target of getting 15 percent of the party vote in the next election.[60]

In November 2011, a recording of a conversation held between John Key and the former National Party member and former Mayor of Auckland City John Banks, who had been selected as the new ACT candidate in Epsom, was leaked to Herald on Sunday.[61][62] 3 News also obtained copies of the recording suggesting the two politicians were discussing issues related to ACT New Zealand's leadership.[61] Media dubbed the affair teapot tape.[61]

2011 election: Decline[edit]

In the 2011 New Zealand general election, ACT fielded 55 list candidates, starting with new leader Don Brash, Catherine Isaac, Don Nicolson, John Banks, David Seymour and Chris Simmons.[63] The election was a disappointment for ACT, with the party's worst election result since it began in 1996. John Banks retained the Epsom seat for ACT, however the 34.2% majority held by Rodney Hide was severely cut back to 6.3% as large numbers of Labour and Green voters in Epsom tactically split their vote and gave their electorate vote to the National candidate Paul Goldsmith. Nationwide, ACT received only 1.07% of the party vote, placing eighth out of 13 on party vote percentage.[64] As a result, ACT were only entitled to one seat in the new Parliament, filled by John Banks. Subsequently, Don Brash announced that he had stepped down as leader during his speech on election night.[65][66] Following the 2011 general election John Banks stated that he believed that the ACT brand "...just about had its use-by date..." and needed to be renamed and relaunched.[67]

Their previous partners, the National Party, again won the most seats overall, and formed a minority government. The Fifth National Government of New Zealand had ACT support as well as that of United Future and the Māori Party, providing the coalition with confidence and supply.

2014 election[edit]

David Seymour and Jamie Whyte at the ACT selection announcement for Leader and Epsom in February 2014

At the ACT Board meeting of 2 February 2014, Jamie Whyte became the party's leader-elect, and David Seymour was made the ACT candidate for Epsom. Kenneth Wang was appointed deputy leader on 15 April 2014. In the September 2014 general election, Seymour won his seat, and ACT moved from seventh to sixth place, despite a decline in their share of the popular vote. Seymour took over as party leader on 3 October 2014.[68][69]

2017 election[edit]

Previous logo used in the 2017 election

Wang resigned as deputy leader on 9 July 2017, the same day ACT released its party list; Beth Houlbrooke was announced as his replacement.[70]

The party list had 39 candidates, none of whom were elected.[71] Party leader David Seymour was re-elected in the Epsom electorate, giving the party its only seat.[15]

2020 election: Revival[edit]

In the run-up to the 2020 general election, ACT rose in opinion polls, from under 1% to close to 8%. This rise was attributed to Seymour's personal popularity.[72] Following the election, held on 17 October (postponed from September), ACT increased their share of the popular vote to 7.6%, winning 10 seats including Seymour's Epsom seat and nine from the party list.[73][74] This is the party's best-ever result.[75] Some political analysists attributed ACT's strong result as partly benefiting from the collapse in support for the National Party and New Zealand First.[11]

2021–present[edit]

In late April 2021, the ACT party sponsored motion asking the New Zealand Parliament to debate and vote on the issue of human rights abuses against the Uyghur ethnic minority community in China's Xinjiang province.[76] In early May, the incumbent Labour Party revised the motion to raise concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang but omitting the term genocide, which was subsequently adopted by the New Zealand Parliament on 5 May.[77][78] In response, the Chinese Embassy claimed that the motion made "groundless accusations" of human rights abuses against China and constituted an interference in China's internal affairs.[79][80]

On 19 May 2021, the ACT Party opposed Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman's motion calling for Members of Parliament to recognise the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and statehood while reaffirming its support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Deputy Leader Van Velden justified ACT's opposition to the Green motion on the basis of Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March's tweet that said "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!."[81][82]

Electoral results[edit]

Election Candidates nominated Seats won Votes Vote share % Position[A] Government/Opposition
Electorate List
1996[51] 65 56
8 / 120
126,442 6.10% 5th Crossbenches
1999[52] 61 65
9 / 120
145,493 7.04% 4th Opposition
2002[53] 56 60
9 / 120
145,078 7.14% 4th
2005[55] 56 59
2 / 121
34,469 1.50% 7th
2008[83] 58 61
5 / 122
85,496 3.65% 4th Supported Fifth National Government
2011[84] 50 55
1 / 121
23,889 1.07% 7th
2014[85] 39 41
1 / 121
16,689 0.69% 6th
2017[86] 36 39
1 / 120
13,075 0.50% 5th Opposition
2020[87] 57 57[88]
10 / 120
219,030 7.58% 4th
^A Ranked by number of seats, then by number of votes as a tie-breaker.

Leadership[edit]

The ACT party board appoints a leader and deputy leader recommended by the party caucus; when the party leader is not a member of parliament, a parliamentary leader is chosen by the caucus. The organisation outside parliament is led by a party president and party vice-president.[89]

Leaders[edit]

Deputy leaders[edit]

Parliamentary leaders[edit]

Presidents[edit]

Vice presidents[edit]

  • David Schnauer (1999–2000)
  • Rodney Hide (2000–2001)
  • Vince Ashworth (2001–2004)
  • John Ormond (2004–2006)
  • Trevor Loudon (2006–2008)
  • Michael Crozier (2008–2009)
  • Dave Moore (2009–2010)
  • Bruce Haycock (2010–2014)
  • Beth Houlbrooke (2014–2016)
  • Heather Anderson (2016–2017)
  • Michaela Draper (2017–2018)
  • Beth Houlbrooke (2018–2020)
  • Isaac Henderson (2020–present)

Elected representatives[edit]

Current Members of Parliament[edit]

Former Members of Parliament[edit]

Notable candidates[edit]

Berry speaking at the free speech protest, Auckland 2018
  • Stephen Berry (born 1983), politician, political commentator, internet personality, and comedian. Berry was an ACT candidate in 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2020.[92][93][94]
  • Allan Birchfield (born 1949/1950), coal and gold miner, chairman of the West Coast Regional Council. Birchfield was an ACT candidate in 2011.
  • Barry Brill (born 1940), lawyer, politician, parliamentary under-secretary. Brill was an ACT candidate in 2011.
  • Bob Clarkson (born 1939), National Member of Parliament. Clarkson was an ACT candidate in 2011.
  • Andrew Falloon (born 1983), National Member of Parliament. Falloon was an ACT list candidate in 2005 and 2008.
  • Jo Giles (born 1950), television presenter and representative sportswoman. Giles was an ACT candidate in 2005.
  • Catherine Isaac, president of ACT New Zealand, managing director of Awaroa Partners, former director of JM Communications. Isaac was an ACT list candidate in 2011.
  • John Lithgow (1933–2004), National Member of Parliament. Lithgow was an ACT candidate in Whanganui in 1996.
  • Garry Mallett (born 1960/1961), politician, fourth President of ACT New Zealand, former owner-operator of a Hamilton branch of Les Mills International. Mallett was an ACT candidate in Hamilton West in 1996, Hamilton East in 2005, Hamilton East in 2008.
  • Dick Quax (1948–2018), Dutch-born New Zealand runner, one-time world record holder in the 5000 metres, and local-body politician. Quax was an ACT candidate in 1999 and 2002.
  • Graham Scott (born 1942), official of the New Zealand government. Scott was an ACT candidate in 2005.
  • Bhupinder Singh (born 1986), Indian-born cricketer. Singh was an ACT candidate in 2017.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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