Political leaders need good mates. It can be a lonely and unforgiving job leading a party, particularly an opposition one.

David Seymour’s mate Sang Cho owns Eden Bistro, a bar and restaurant in Auckland’s Eden Terrace. A year ago, Seymour asked him if he could use the bistro as a venue for his annual State of the Nation speech. Cho may have regretted agreeing to the request. Later that night most of the bistro’s windows were shattered in some sort of drive by shooting.

Cho said someone in a neighbouring apartment heard “f**k ACT” shouted from a passing car as the glass smashed.

It cost Cho $20,000 to have the broken windows replaced on a holiday weekend. The next night the same windows were shot out, again.

The shot-out windows at Eden Bistro in 2020

Seymour would’ve happily understood if Cho had decided not to host his speech this year but Cho insisted.

“I’m not going to back down to something shitty like that,” Cho told Newsroom. “We became friends at University. We coached rugby at Auckland Grammar….he was a lousy rugby coach though.”

Is Cho an ACT supporter then? “No, No I’m a National supporter, I am a member of the National Party. But that’s okay, David and I have been mates for 20 years.”

Mateship aside, Seymour will need to convince the likes of Cho and others in the small business sector to change their votes from National to ACT if the party’s vote is to increase again at the next election.

Seymour needs more than his current 10 MPs to achieve his aim of becoming the main opposition party or, if National stages a revival, he will need to hold on to a similar number to be a significant voice in a right wing coalition government.

Surprisingly, then, no party apart from Labour, got a single mention in Seymour’s 30-minute, State of the Nation speech. While a hundred or so ACT supporters ate a cooked breakfast, Seymour maintained an unrelenting attack on the Government. New Zealand was now enduring an endless series of crises, he said. This Government had either plunged us into these crises or, if it didn’t create them, was failing to extract us from them.

The Climate Crisis

“The Climate Change Commission just released its first budget for New Zealand’s climate emissions….It demands industries be shut down, herds culled and technologies banned. The Zero Carbon Act says the Government must either adopt the plan by the end of the year or come up with its own one…. here’s the thing….it won’t stop one gram of carbon being emitted….every time banning one thing or subsidising another, reduces emissions , it simply frees up credits for someone else to emit.”

The Education Crisis

“Even as NCEA scores keep going up, our students’ performance on objective international tests have been plummeting all century….15-year-olds today have three terms’ less knowledge than 15 year olds in 2009.

“Child centred learning is the idea that teachers don’t know more than children, and each generation of children should reinvent the knowledge of humanity for themselves. The problem is that we now have teachers coming out of the same system….we are breeding knowledge out of our society.”

The Oranga Tamariki Crisis

“The holy grail for CYPS, then CYFS then Oranga Tamariki has been to put children at the centre of the process – the only thing that has changed is the letterhead.

Then this Government comes along and says the children are important but so is the Treaty of Waitangi. So now, picture it, you’re a kid who has been kicked from pillar to post but finally you’ve been found a ‘Home for Life’. Except it is not a home for life. You’re now subjected to a ‘reverse uplift’ because the Government thinks the treaty is more important than a child’s welfare.

“A child’s physical safety, health and education should always come before cultural appropriateness.”

The Gang Crisis

“All this summer, law abiding New Zealanders have been treated to the spectacle of growing lawlessness. Gangs shooting each other….When a publicly owned street is closed down for days, they (Government) do nothing. Perhaps part of the problem is that gangs are recruiting faster than police. In the last three years, police numbers have increased by 1300. Gang members that are registered on the National Gangs List have risen by 2200 in the same period.”

The Housing Crisis

“One of the things about being an MP is that you get to regularly fly up and down the country and you get to see how much land we have. We have a country that is practically uninhabited but somehow it has a shortage of land you are allowed to build on. Only governments can manufacture famine from plenty….they’re like a reverse Jesus.

“The extraordinary thing is that despite announcing a crisis in opposition the Government has done nothing to change the situation. There has been no change to planning and infrastructure that will actually make it easier to build a home in New Zealand. The housing crisis is at the centre of our difficulties (as a country).”

Solutions to the Crises.

There weren’t many new ones. Mainly, they were the same as the ones Seymour campaigned on at the last election or have been ACT policy for years.

On emissions, ACT would set a cap on the amount of CO2 New Zealanders can emit and let the price of credits be set by the market.

“If you want to go to a restaurant that cooks with gas, it might cost more, but at least you will be free to choose.”

ACT would sort the gangs out by changing the civil asset forfeiture law.

“If you are on the National Gang List, you’re dealing drugs, and you have an illegal firearm, it would be open season on everything you have.”

Seymour and friends. Photo: Mark Jennings

Broccoli for our teenage democracy

Seymour likes to frame his bigger political ideas and ambitions in a language that he thinks the average person can relate to, almost to the point of overdoing it. The simple phrase or analogy that he hopes will stick in people’s minds.

ACT’s overriding solution to the issues facing the country is to improve the laws governments want to pass. Seymour wants to resubmit the Regulatory Responsibility Bill which was first introduced in 2006. Think of it this way, said Seymour: “It (the bill) is to Parliament what broccoli is to a teenager. We know it is good for us but we haven’t had the courage to put it in place.”

The Bill requires governments to answer basic questions before making a law. Questions like: What is this law for and what problem is it supposed to solve? What are the costs and benefits of the law? Does the law restrict property rights?

Seymour says he will be putting the bill in the Member’s Bill ballot and if it is drawn will urge all MPs to “eat their broccoli.”

He thinks the bill would stop what he calls “vanity laws.”

“For this Government everything is about marketing. People who produce anything are subject to constant, damaging….vanity lawmaking.”

Two more things need to happen for governments to improve the standard of lawmaking, according to the ACT leader. The first is to make Select Committees truly independent “instead of the jack-ups we have now.” Secondly, he says, our current three-year-term needs to be replaced with a four-year-term.

“It is almost unique in the world. Nobody else tries two years on, one year off, with the year off being an election year. The coherence of our lawmaking suffers. It can’t be done in two years.”

Another serving of broccoli – but will voters swallow it?

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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