2020 was an exciting year for New Zealand politically. Turning 18 in June, it was the first time I had the privilege of contributing to our democracy, casting a vote in the general election for the very first time. Contrary to other 18 year olds, I did not vote for Jacinda Ardern’s Labour party, nor the Greens, both parties that typically attract a younger voter base. The party that earnt my vote was David Seymours ACT party.
Now before you go spitting out your avocado toast, it is important to note I have nothing against Jacinda Ardern’s leadership prowess, nor against the passionate voter base of the Greens, led by young admirable leaders such as Chloe Swarbrick. Similar to other 18 year olds, my areas of political concern include poverty, the housing crisis and more freedom for each and every Kiwi. The question then became which party had the best policies for solving these issues facing New Zealand, creating a country where everyone has equal opportunity to succeed and prosper, regardless of their background. Unimpressed with Labour and Nationals status quo style politics, I decided to turn my attention to the smaller parties.
Observing the Greens, it was no wonder why so many young people viewed them as the party to create true change within New Zealand. Their MP’s talked with absolute passion about issues such as homelessness, the housing crisis, poverty and maximising the freedoms Kiwis could enjoy. It is this passion that evokes emotion in many young voters, especially since first time voters for the most part are oblivious to what makes good social and fiscal policy, usually voting on emotion instead. It is this emotion that the Greens use to sell voters the myth of a flawless utopian society, something they do extremely well. Unfortunately, their fiscal positions were very unsatisfactory. In the wake of an economic crisis, the Greens wanted to introduce new and raise taxes, implement more regulation and increase wasteful government spending. Some of their proposals such as the wealth tax have proven to be catastrophic in Europe, and yet somehow were still being sold by the Greens as a way to reduce income inequality. Their obsession on government spending, particularly $11.7M towards a new Private Greens School as the country was plummeting into debt with people losing their jobs, was just plain irresponsible. Although the idea on which the Greens ran their campaign was spot on, their policies would have done more harm than good to the country at this time.
After eliminating the Greens, my party of choice was a battle between The Opportunities Party (TOP), or ACT. Both parties had very clever and well researched ways of tackling the issues which plagued New Zealand. I was a big fan of TOP’s Universal Basic Income (UBI) proposal. A policy that would give out $250 per week ($13,000 per year) to every Kiwi aged 18 and older no questions asked, paid for by a 33% flat tax rate. Unfortunately, polling indicated that TOP was nowhere near close enough to make it into parliament, which meant my best option was David Seymours ACT party, which had gained a considerable amount of momentum throughout the year.
The 3 main reasons ACT appealed so much to me was their proposed economic recovery plan, their policy to help solve the housing crisis, and their stance on freedom of expression.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, New Zealand, like many other countries was plunged into an economic recession. The result was catastrophic, small businesses all across the country were forced to close, taking jobs with them. By May, over 200,000 Kwis had become unemployed. History shows that the quickest way for an economy to recover after a recession is to increase the spending power of the population, predominantly amongst poor, working ,and middle class households. Both TOP’s UBI proposal (in my opinion the best and smartest policy of any party) and ACT’s economic recovery plan strove to do just this. ACT went about the issue in a more classical neo-liberal way. It’s economic recovery plan aimed to cut the middle income tax from 30% down to 17.5%, and GST from 15% down to 10%. This would directly benefit poor, working and middle class households, introducing more spending power into the economy. To pay for these cuts, ACT planned to abolish costly and unnecessary government spending such as the Provincial Growth Fund and first year free tertiary education. They also planned to freeze the minimum wage for 3 years, which may sound ugly, but creates more jobs (in a time of mass unemployment) and allows small businesses to get back on their feet. The tax cuts combined with lower government spending would create a surplus in the economy, positioning the economy in a way where it could start to pay off the 140 billion dollars of debt it had incurred. Overall, ACT’s fiscal policy made the most sense out of all the significant party’s economic recovery plans (if they even had one in the first place). It focussed on what had worked in other countries and throughout history. It would have been a great stepping stone to raise the quality of life of each and every New Zealander and the quickest way for the economy to recover.
In a closely related topic to the economy, ACT hands down had the best and most thorough policy to help fix the housing crisis, in my opinion the biggest crisis facing the country, especially for young people. Their policy titled ‘Build Like the Boomers’, aimed to simply build more houses. David Seymour says, “Since the mid-1970s, our population has grown by two million, but we’re building fewer houses now than we did then. It’s no wonder we have a housing crisis.” The root of the housing crisis simply comes down to Supply and Demand, one of the most basic economic concepts. New Zealand has a shortage of houses. Leftist usually dismiss this claim, arguing that the housing crisis is a lot more complicated than just building more houses. They suggest that we need to tax housing, be it through a capital gains or wealth tax, lower immigration (Labour made it a priority to curb immigration during their last term) and put a cap on the amount of investment properties one can own to fully deflate the prices of housing. While these suggestions do all hold some merit, and are important in the discourse for this particular matter, nothing will truly work unless we build a larger supply of housing, simple as that. ACT is the only party that understands this, so how do we build more houses? In the 2017 election cycle, one of Labour’s biggest policy proposals was the now infamous Kiwibuild, which sought to build 100,000 affordable houses through a government initiative. If the policy had achieved what it strove to do, it would have been a step in the right direction in terms of fixing the housing crisis. Unfortunately, Kiwibuild was an absolute disaster. By October 2020, only 602 houses had been built. What this highlighted was that there were too many regulations which prevented an adequate number of houses from being built. In other words, it was simply too hard to build a house in New Zealand. ACT identified this, suggesting to repeal and replace The Resource Management Act, and to focus on taking the bureaucracy out of housing and infrastructure. This would make housing development and construction a whole lot easier, leading to more homes being built in the short term and long term. The housing crisis is hot on the mind of every young New Zelander out there, and ACT was the only party that had real solutions to the problem (and made it one of their top Priorities).
Freedom of speech has been a hotly contested issue in recent times, Not only in New Zealand, but all over the western world. New Zealand’s bill of rights act 1990 says everyone has the right to freedom of expression, “including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form”. Freedom of expression is one of the essential liberties of a free and fair democratic society. Unfortunately, freedom of expression has consistently been under attack throughout the last couple of years. ‘Hate speech’ legislation has been slowly creeping its way into New Zealand’s political psyche for some time. Most recently, Jacinda Ardern and Labour revealed their most blatant attack on freedom of expression yet. Outlining their plan to ‘sharpen’ current hate speech laws, adding religion and the LGTBTQ+ community to the list of protected characteristics. While with good intentions (you can’t dispute that these groups are precious and deserve to be protected), the problem with hate speech laws is that ‘hate speech’ is deeply subjective. Who gets to determine what ‘hate speech’ is? David Seymour was swift to defend the right to freedom of expression, saying, “Freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental rights New Zealanders possess. A new hate speech law will do the exact opposite of protecting and strengthening the rights of New Zealanders – it will fundamentally undermine them.” He goes on to say, “Hate speech laws are divisive and dangerous, turning debate into a popularity contest where the majority can silence unpopular views using the power of the state.” In defending freedom of expression, I am not suggesting that hate speech (however an individual defines it) is particularly pleasant or welcome. What I am saying is that each individual should be safe to express whatever thoughts, opinions or beliefs they have, safely under the law. In a free and democratic society, the state should not be allowed to silence anybody. ACT would prevent this from happening by repealing all existing hate speech laws, specify that the Harmful Digital Communications act only applies if the complainant is under the age of 18, and abolish the human rights commission. Freedom of expression is a crucial component of a progessive and inclusive society, which is why ACT, the only party that was truly defending freedom of expression, got my vote.
Thus, contrary to many other 18 year olds, I proudly voted for David Seymour’s ACT party. After diligent research and careful consideration, I realised that ACT had the best solutions to the problems facing New Zealand. Many fellow Kiwis agreed, ACT’s share of the vote rose from 0.5% in 2017 to 8% in 2020, increasing the amount of ACT MP’s in parliament from 1 to 10. They have a lot of momentum going into 2021, especially with a divided and wavering National party and David Seymour’s amazing success in getting the End Of Life Choice Act across the line in the referendum. I have high hopes for ACT throughout the next 3 years, and hope they keep standing up for all New Zealanders, focussing on the important issues the country faces.
As an 18 year old, my views are highly liquid, and change constantly as I encounter new information. This post is not stating that I am an ACT supporter for life (I couldn’t bear the thought of becoming too ideological). I voted for them in the recent election because after careful analysis I came to the conclusion that at this point in time, they had the best policies to help solve the problems I deemed important within New Zealand. My views are bound to change over time. I am excited to see what party will have the best answers to New Zealand’s problems next election.