The Act Party is careful to not use the term bottom line, less than two weeks out from the election, but leader David Seymour has two issues that are front and centre.
Expect more cuts to government spending, he says, because there simply won’t be a choice.
“I think we’ve got to be honest, there’s another party in the negotiations, and it’s called circumstances. I suspect that we’re going to find the fiscal and economic situation is even worse than shown at the [pre-election update].
“A lot of these things that the National Party say they want to continue with, can you really afford them? Fees-free is a classic example of it, free school lunches, a classic example.
“Things that have been shown not to deliver benefits, but they’d like to keep spending on – I don’t think that’s credible.”
National has confirmed it plans to cut $8.5 billion from the public sector’s back-office budgets (about 6.5 percent) to fund its tax cut plans. That’s on top of the 2 percent cuts already announced by the Government.
National would also seek a further $400 million a year reduction in contractors and consultants procured by the public sector and expects to save $2.1 billion over four years through scrapping a range of government programmes, like public transport subsidies for young people, Resource Management Act reforms and fair pay agreements.
Act’s plan to cut costs goes far beyond National’s. It wants to reduce the public service to its 2017 headcount (excluding the Department of Corrections and Oranga Tamariki), abolish Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry for Women, Ministry for Pacific Peoples, and Ministry for Ethnic Communities, as well as the Human Rights Commission and Te Arawhiti, the Office of Crown-Māori Relations.
Environmental spending including the Climate Emergency Response Fund, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, the Climate Change Commission and the Clean Car Discount would go.
And initiatives including the Provincial Growth Fund, Callaghan Innovation, film subsidies, Workforce Development Councils and the Research and Development Tax Credit would also be gone.
Seymour said this spending was not delivering value for money.
“Only Act is prepared to do the hard work and tell the truth, and that’s why Act is the essential fiscal conscience in any new government to fix the economy and get Kiwi families’ living costs under control.”
He said giving people more of their own pay cheque back through tax cuts was a more productive use of the money.
“The ultimate question is, how do we use resources efficiently within society and it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day if they’re used by government or the private sector, so long as they’re used efficiently.
“It just so happens that the overwhelming evidence is that people spend their own money more carefully than governments spend other people’s money and there’s a bunch of reasons for that. There’s lots of empirical evidence over a long period of time for this.”
Act has been campaigning on the prospect of “real change” which can only be achieved if there is a hearty number of Act MPs to “dial up the brew” in a future National coalition.
So while economic policy appears to be one issue too important to hit the cutting room floor, so is a discussion about co-governance.
Seymour wants a “healthy, honest debate about what the Treaty really means in the context of a modern, liberal democratic society with people from many different backgrounds”.
Act’s policy is to set out the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, followed by a referendum on whether to adopt them.
“[It’s] the big underlying question of what the Treaty means. Not what it says, we know what it says, but what it means in a modern context is subject to interpretation.”
National Party leader Christopher Luxon recently told The Hui a referendum on the Treaty would be “divisive and unhelpful”.
Another sticking point is the scrapping of the firearms register, which would be Nicole McKee’s top priority for post-election negotiations; however Luxon maintains he supports the register.
Aside from “circumstances”, there might be another third party involved in post-election negotiations – NZ First.
Seymour said there was little alignment between the two party’s policy platforms, and even if there were it was irrelevant.
“I just think it’s almost a moot point because the difference between what they say and what they do is just like night and day.”
He said any other option bar a National-Act coalition would be “very, very challenging”.
“I mean, you’ve got someone who has been in government four times, has been variously sacked, resigned, investigated by the SFO, censured by Parliament, voted out by the electors and in all of that has never managed to string two terms of government together in a row. It always ends in tears.
“And I know people say, Oh well, you’ve got to try and work together, I just tell people the reality – this is a party that has never managed to work constructively and always falls out with everybody and New Zealand just can’t take the risk, given the size of the challenges we need to overcome.
“It’s not about the relationship, it’s about the best indicator of future performance is past performance and I’ve just laid that out for you.”
The pair will face each other again on Thursday night as part of TVNZ’s multi-party debate.
They last locked horns at the Newshub Nation Powerbrokers’ Debate, although both admitted they would work with each other if that was how the votes landed.
“Ultimately if Parliament is elected by the people, then you make it work but I just say it is not credible for the guy who has more chances than anyone to fix New Zealand’s problems that he should get another one,” Seymour said at the time.
His plan for the upcoming debate is to sell to those sitting on the NZ First-Act fence that Act’s policies were more credible and Peters’ party needs to be kept out of the equation.
He’ll be looking to lift Act’s portion of the party vote to polling numbers seen earlier in the campaign when the party was on track for 16 MPs.
The last two 1News Verian Polls have Act on 12 percent, something Seymour said the party was happy with.
“We’re on track to have at least a 50 percent increase in MPs on last election, and you know, just about whatever business you’re running, 50 percent’s pretty decent.
“My reckon is Newsroom probably wouldn’t sneeze at a 50 percent increase in viewership or subscriptions over three years … and neither would we.”