David Seymour is a man prepared to say no to power.
Well, that was the message at a public meeting at the Pakuranga Rugby Club on Wednesday night.
Billed as a chance to discuss what was keeping Kiwis up at night (the cost of living, crime, co-governance and the nightmare that is Australia reaching across the Tasman to steal our best and brightest) the meeting was also a chance for potential voters to put some faces to names that weren’t just the man himself.
Introducing the Act leader to the 100-odd crowd, the party’s candidate for Pakuranga (and former National MP) Dr Parmjeet Parmar chose a fitting anecdote.
It was 2014 when Parmar, new to Parliament, witnessed Seymour turn down a ministerial position offer from John Key. Curious, she asked him directly why he’d done it.
“He said, ‘I feel I still need more time to understand my electorate … so I can serve them to the best of my abilities’.”
That exchange was the first taste of the “sacrifice and dedication” that would come to characterise Seymour for her, and presumably make the Act Party a more attractive option than National, which Parmar left in May this year.
It was pertinent stuff in a week in which Seymour, in response to National Party leader Christopher Luxon ruling out a large number of Act policies, floated the possibility of a confidence-only deal if National wasn’t prepared to cooperate in post-election negotiations. The arrangement would see Act support National to form a government, but give it the power to block government spending decisions.
Recent polling, including the 1News-Verian Poll released just an hour before Seymour spoke, has indicated National and Act will be able to form a government after the election – just.
Asked if he had his eye on any specific portfolios, Seymour said the policy always came first.
“If you’ve got your mind set on being a minister, you’ll give up on other things that are more important.”
Taking the job without thinking through the policy was where it was easy to lose perspective, he said, pointing to Greens co-leader Marama Davidson’s prevention of sexual and family violence portfolio as an example.
“Be prepared to turn down the baubles of power if necessary.”
Asked if there was a danger in taking the vote off National, he said: “They’re barely using it; they may not even notice.”
And was there one main policy Act wouldn’t budge on in negotiations with National?
Seymour was reluctant to commit, instead recycling points from the party’s pink and blue brochures about consequences for criminals, slashing government spending and red tape, and co-governance (“It’s what’s on the inside that counts”).
Hot on the heels of the release of both Prefu and his party’s law and order policy, Seymour took the opportunity to talk about the two types of people “nicking our stuff” – criminals, and the “worst gang in New Zealand, the IRD, and its leader Grant Robertson”. Rapacious spending and offshore borrowing was seeing the country “running on borrowed time”.
New Zealand wouldn’t implode, he said. Rather it would be a “long, slow slip, and draining of joy”.
Alongside Parmar, Seymour made a point of introducing several Act candidates from surrounding electorates, including Panmure’s Antonia Modkova and Botany’s Bo Burns.
In a reference to the recent spate of candidates quietly dropping out of the race, Seymour “wished the media would focus as much on the candidates who are standing as much as those who aren’t”.
Amid several claims from people in the crowd that the media was bought and paid for by the Government, Seymour pushed back, saying while he hadn’t agreed with the Government’s Public Interest Journalism Fund, that was “over now”, and suggestions the media were a government mouthpiece were a stretch. He seemed resolute in his belief in freedom of the press, and it quietened the voices.
With discussion of media comes discussion of mistrust, and many wanted to talk about how Act would heal the social cohesion wounds inflicted by the Government’s Covid-19 policies.
Seymour didn’t seem thrilled to be re-litigating Jacinda Ardern’s pandemic decisions, but did offer a run-through of what Act had and hadn’t agreed with at the time. Whatever the case, Act had no interest in “policies of ostracism” or scapegoating large parts of the population – comments that got the loudest round of applause of the evening.
Across it all, the words climate change were predictably absent. But that’s not why people were there.