ACT is a new party, with a new strategy. Our principles however, remain the same.
How does that work?
Some excerpts from Rodney Hide’s speech to today’s ACT Wellington Regional Conference;
Since the 2005 election we have rebuilt and repositioned the ACT Party. We have not changed our philosophy or our principles. We remain totally committed to the free market and to free enterprise. If anything, we have strengthened our philosophy and our commitment to achieving a free and prosperous New Zealand. Our members have been clear about this. But we have changed our style and approach to politics. Our members wanted that change. And they were right.
It had to change. In 2005 we went from nine MPs to just two. We need to do better than that. The Classical Liberal ideas that ACT stands for in our Parliament represent the finest political ideals ever espoused – we can’t fail those ideals and leave New Zealand politics to pragmatists and socialists.
Since 2005 I’ve worked hard with the entire ACT team to be the best MP Epsom has ever had. The feedback is encouraging. I’m seen as a good MP by constituents across the political spectrum. That’s important to me. I represent the entire electorate – regardless of the Party my constituents support. I want each and every Epsom constituent to feel and know they are well represented in Parliament by me.
Heather and I have been getting around the country talking and meeting as many New Zealanders as we can. We have refreshed ourselves and the Party.
Last year we travelled to the UK, Dublin and Berlin to meet and study the social democrats, liberal democrats and the free democrats. We learnt a lot.
We’ve worked hard with academics, policy experts and our own members to develop our policy positions and to see how an MMP Party can work as a positive force in our Parliament for free enterprise and a prosperous economy. The Regulatory Responsibility Bill before the Commerce Committee is a tangible product of that effort.
Most noticeably, we’ve dropped being a party of Opposition. I was interviewed for the job of Epsom MP by 40,000 voters on the streets, in the living rooms and places of work of Epsom constituents. The voters wanted their MP to be a positive force in our Parliament and for the country – they didn’t want an Opposition gunslinger.
We have developed a different way of working in Parliament. Heather and I opposed Green MP Sue Bradford’s anti-smacking law. We spoke out strongly against the Bill in Parliament, in the media and in the street protests. But we never attacked the Greens or Sue Bradford. We had a different view of the Bill, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together on other issues. In fact, through the anti-smacking debate I was working with Jeannette Fitzsimons and the leaders of the other MMP Parties on the Code of Conduct.
More important to me than the actual Code was that we were putting it into action. We were publicly disagreeing on a matter of public policy but, at the same time, working together on the Code. We stuck to the policy and didn’t descend to personal attacks, something we saw a lot of in the controversy over that Bill. That’s how we expect adults to behave and that’s certainly what we should expect of our elected leaders.
We now have a good working relationship with the Maori Party, the Greens and United Party. We got on well with the New Zealand First MPs on the issues but their leader Winston Peters is hard to pin down on any position!
Heather and I are always clear that we’re the free-enterprise Party and the other Parties have no doubt about ACT’s position. There are many policies on which we disagree, but there are some on which we agree. We work together where we have agreement and try and persuade each other where we don’t. That’s as it should be.
Having built up a relationship with the MMP Parties, Heather and I met with the two old Parties to explain ACT’s position and what we were doing. We met with John Key and Bill English. We had a good hearing – I find John Key and Bill English both straight-forward and good to work with.
I then met with Helen Clark. I explained that ACT was the free enterprise Party and that we were an independent Party in our Parliament. I explained how we’d been working with the MMP Parties, and how we had met with National’s leadership. I explained that we did not want to be any Party’s tactical appendage.
I asked the Prime Minister to vote for my Regulatory Responsibility Bill at least to Select Committee so the public could have their say. I explained what the Bill was about and how red tape was of huge concern to the public of New Zealand. She said she would have a look at it on Monday.
She asked for me to have another look at the Therapeutic Goods Bill, in light of changes that the Government had made. I explained it would be hard for us to vote for the Bill, but that we were prepared to look at it. I said the important thing was for us to work in good faith and with integrity to build a working relationship irrespective of whether in the finish we could vote for the Bill. I want ACT to have a good working relationship with all political Parties despite our policy differences.
Our concern has always been that the Bill is unnecessarily bureaucratic and restricts competition and choice in the market place. We are also concerned about the costs that could be imposed on business and consumers. When it comes to natural health products, we consider the Bill a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
I’ve now written to the Minister with suggestions for changes to the Bill that would see competition and choice fostered, rather than closed down. I’ve also recommended that the Bill be returned to Select Committee for a proper hearing given the extent of the changes suggested.
That’s what it means for ACT to be an independent Party standing up for free enterprise in our Parliament. We work with all Parties, in the interests of fostering choice and competition, but we are tied to none. This is especially so with National now cuddling close to Labour on matters of policy to try and win more votes. As I’ve said many times: ACT can work with all the socialist parties, including the National Party. The important thing is that we stick to our principles.
It’s been a good year. We have an even better one ahead. The classical liberal ideas and ideals of freedom and prosperity continue to burn bright in our Parliament thanks to the ACT party.