Third Parties Determine Who Is Government
to the NZ Business and Parliament Trust, Parliamentary Study Programme,
in the Legislative Council Chambers, Parliament Buildings,
on Wednesday 15th May 2002, at 3pm.
Third parties in the New Zealand Parliament have a crucial role, because it's third parties that decide who is the government.
It was the third parties that determined the outcome of the 1996 and 1999 elections. It will be the third parties that determine the 2002 election.
The media wonder why Helen Clark defends Jim Anderton's absurd claim to be leader of the Parliamentary Alliance. Jim Anderton helped defeat Labour in 1990, 1993 and again in 1996. Clark wants Jim inside the tent. She knows that the TV polls inflate Labour's vote. When you remove the "don't know" vote, Labour does not reach 50 percent.
Neither Labour nor National can govern alone. So in an MMP Parliament, the third party vote is the one that counts.
It's the Greens and ACT who will decide the next election. Labour knows that it's the ACT vote that decides the government's fate. Hence the huge number of attacks my party endures.
I had a Canadian MP visiting Parliament, like you are. After listening in the House, he called to see me in my office.
"How many MPs has ACT got?" he asked.
I replied, "Nine."
"Are you sure?" he said.
"Of course, but why do you ask?"
"Well, was today in Parliament typical?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "It's a usual day."
The Canadian MP then explained he had noted how often MPs attacked or referred to ACT and said we were the most attacked and commented on party.
The primary reason for that is that if ACT receives 15 percent of the vote, it's all over for Labour, even if National remains stuck on 32 percent. In Germany, the Free Democrats, an ACT-like party, are responsible for the centre right's success in that country.
I know that most voters think, being raised in a First Past the Post environment, that only National can defeat Labour, and vice versa. Not so. It is the third parties that decide elections. In an MMP Parliament, the third parties are still coming to terms with how much power they can wield. It's agreed that Winston Peters claimed too much power in 1996.
The split in the Alliance shows that many in that party feel that Anderton settled for the office, not the influence. I myself feel that the lack of a core brand was a fatal weakness for the Alliance.
I call both New Zealand First and Jim Anderton's Alliance a cult. The policy is whatever the leader says. Such parties are inherently unstable and experience shows they cannot survive the strain of office.
The Greens and ACT are brand parties. In the case of the Greens, the environment, and in ACT's case, personal responsibility. Any MP can tell you how the Greens and ACT will vote on any measure. Winston could not tell you what he has had for breakfast.
Which brings me to ACT's other role in parliament. We are the party that advocates the non-government solution. All the other parties believe they have been elected to have government solve problems. ACT says if government action is the answer, then the question was principally wrong.
Let me give you an example. In Parliament yesterday, all the other parties said that a group of youths, who do not actually harm any one, are a sign that society is collapsing.
ACT pointed out - boy racers are a sign that it is now virtually impossible to race your car on private property. If the Resource Management Act does not stop you, OSH will.
It's ACT's role to challenge the old two-party club. This we do every day.
April was, in many ways, ACT's most successful month. ACT has brought three private members bill to challenge Labour and National's Waitangi Claim process. ACT says that while there are legitimate claims, the Waitangi Treaty process is a gravy train; we have created a grievance industry.
ACT's bill proposed a timetable and a cut off date. Fair, full and final settlement. The whole of Parliament voted against ACT's bill. National three times. Last month Bill English adopted ACT's policy. We are delighted.
In government, National never cut company tax rates. Labour has not changed company tax rates, so it's the two old parties that have given New Zealand the highest tax rates in the Asia Pacific region. But last month National adopted the long-term aim of lower company tax rates.
ACT's influence on Labour is also profound. Helen Clark in her first two years gave only one economic speech, the infamous "Closing the Gaps" speech, when she advocated income redistribution as her government's aim - the goal of all social engineers.
This year Labour announced its goal to restore New Zealand to the top half of the OECD. ACT has been advocating this as a goal for some time.
I know that most commentators have dismissed Dr Cullen's goal as political window dressing. Not so. This year's budget will be compared to the goal.
Having set 4 percent sustainable growth as a goal, the fact that per capita growth has fallen raises questions over the direction of government policy. Can New Zealand return to a first world economy with high taxes and high compliance costs? ACT does not think so.
So I believe third parties have lifted the level of debate and being upfront, feisty and having fresh ideas, have forced the large parties to confront issues.
Let me give just one more example. The two old parties follow a tweedle dum-tweedle dee law and order policy. National talks tougher, but the policy is the same - treat the offender as a victim.
ACT has challenged Parliament. If the policy works, how come you are more likely to be a victim of violent crime in New Zealand than in America? I can prove that shocking statistic from crime victim surveys.
If letting offenders out of jail early is so good, why do 50 percent of early-release prisoners re-offend in 12 months?
How is it that American states that have Truth-in-Sentencing laws have seen violent crime fall?
How is it that New York's crime has fallen by 30 percent by adopting the zero tolerance to crime approach, while ours has increased by 30 percent?
Despite 92 percent of the electorate voting for tougher sentences for violent crime, Parliament has just reduced the time most violent offenders will be in jail - it's clause 240 of the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill.
If third parties are so influential, how did that pass? Answer - the Greens strongly support the soft-on-crime policy.
It's my prediction that law and order will be the surprise election issue. Voters will turn this year's list vote into a referendum on the law and order issue. I think it's why the Greens may be blown out of Parliament, taking the Left into opposition and why ACT will get 15 percent.