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Seymour: Address to ACT Annual Conference 2017

Speech Notes David Seymour, ACT Leader

25 February 2017

Address to ACT Annual Conference 2017:

Check Against Delivery:

Introduction

Thank you to everyone here today – firstly, to the party members, who literally are the ACT Party. But also a warm welcome to those of you who may not be members, but are here out of support or simply curiosity.

I hope the ideas you’ve heard have been enlightening, or at the very least, provocative. Because that’s why we’re here. ACT has always been a party of ideas that welcomes debate over kneejerk politics.

This year’s conference theme is Ideas that Work. Dr Eric Crampton, Leonie Freeman, and Mike Williams have already brought us unique perspectives on inequality, crime, and housing. These are three of the most fundamental issues affecting New Zealanders and will all be defining themes of this year’s election.

That we choose to focus on these issues says something about ACT: we may be small, but we are not niche. The issues that concern us are the issues that concern all New Zealanders.

Our values are popular ones. We stand for individual initiative and personal responsibility. We stand against handouts, election bribes, nanny state regulations, and wasteful bureaucracy.

We support free markets and free speech, limited government, the rule of law and secure property rights. These are the values of a property-owning, business-building, liberal democracy.

ACT believes in the simple idea that if you’re not harming me and I’m not harming you, we should just be able to get on with it.

These are fundamental Kiwi values.

And that’s why ACT will elect five MPs at this year’s election.

Coalition Choices

Let’s talk about what could happen in September.

National will not win. Labour will not win. Victory will be achieved by a coalition of parties.

So what options will voters have?

They could opt for a change in government. This would mean a weak Labour Party, beholden to the Greens – two parties without ideas. We saw this at their recent joint State of the Nation address, which featured not a single new policy proposal.

Labour are flailing in the depths of an identity crisis, trying to reconcile their union roots with hysterical social justice politics.

The Greens, meanwhile, have slicker marketing, but behind the pounamu and Adrienne Winkelmann jackets lies an erratic socialism that would treat adults like children and scapegoat businesspeople for every social ill, and dairy farmers for every environmental one.

They are hypocrites.

We see it in their crocodile tears for Solid Energy employees when mines close; but the Greens’ policy is to stop all mining.

We see it in their response to the Cadbury factory closure – Metiria Turei called it a tragedy for working people, the same week Julie Anne Genter called on the Government to whack New Zealanders with a sugar tax.

But more importantly than any of that, a Labour-Green-led coalition will mean economic stagnation and more state intrusion into your personal lives. But that is ultimately what the left want: for you to be dependent on the state. It’s where they get their power.

A different option for voters is a National-New Zealand First coalition. And by that I mean a National-Winston coalition. What’s Winston’s track record in government? He’s been part of four Cabinets, and been thrown out of every one of them. He’s been thrown out of one party, two electorates and soon probably a third. Both times he’s held the balance of power there’s been a spending blow out and mortgage rates have hit 11 per cent.

With the current housing market that would be catastrophic.

He brands himself as an action man, but for all the chances he’s had – as Jim Bolger’s Minister of Maori Affairs, then Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley’s Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, and Helen Clark’s Foreign Minister, he’s delivered little more than subsidised ferries to Waiheke Island.

His catch cry is that he “keeps the bastards honest”. Well, charity begins at home. He should start, with the taxpayer’s $158,000 he ‘misspent’ in the 2008 election.

He presents himself as a political outsider, but he’s stood in every election since 1975. He’s past it, sustained only by an undying willingness to resort to the politics of fear and xenophobia.

Most New Zealanders would recoil at the thought of this man holding the country to ransom.

Even his supporters don’t actually want him in Government.

Another coalition option would be a repeat of the status quo, with National ACT, United Future, and the Māori Party. This setup has worked to maintain stable government, but it’s also prevented any real ambition or policy change.

So that’s why we need a National-ACT government – with more ACT.

Not just to keep the other guys out, but to fix the problems National has ignored, and be a genuinely ambitious government.

So how will more ACT in government make life better for you?

We will cut waste and tax, make housing affordable, increase choice in education, make superannuation sustainable, scrap red tape, and embrace new technology.

Cutting Waste

First, we will cut the $1.3 billion in corporate welfare handed out through grants and subsidies;

For example there’s the $2.8 million dollars for golf opens and stand-up paddle boarding competitions.

Then there is $530,000 of your money spent on finding out what the Southland accent sounds like.

And $3.5 million has gone to help corporates and local bodies’ green-wash their public image with electric vehicles.

The rule of thumb is if the Nats can get a photo-op out of it, they give it some taxpayer money.

ACT says businesses and individuals can spend their money better than the government.

If any Government Minister wants to be a judge on Dragon’s Den that’s fine, just don’t pretend with taxpayer money.

Tax Cuts

After cutting this waste, we would cut taxes.

It’s wrong that people earning $70k are put into the same tax bracket as millionaires.

Under ACT, nobody would pay the top tax rate on a five figure income. For income under $100k you won’t pay more than 25%.

And we would stop the government from stealthily taxing you more over time by adjusting tax brackets for inflation.

And why the focus on tax? National and Labour treat tax cuts like a ‘bribe’, or a gift.

ACT says it’s your money to begin with. The government has been taking more than it needs, so it’s time you got it back.

With ACT’s tax cuts business will invest in jobs, people will be rewarded for working hard and we’ll all be better off for it.

Housing

ACT will restore housing affordability - and our solutions are simple.

The housing crisis is not a market failure, it’s a government failure. People want to build and buy homes but they face a wall of rules that choke the creation of new housing supply.

Governments both local and central artificially restrict the supply of land, they monopolise the provision of infrastructure and the consenting process. New Zealand’s housing market has the sort of central planning Stalin would be proud of.

ACT has three simple ideas to free up the supply of housing.

First we will replace the Resource Management Act.

It’s ridiculous that the same law currently applies to both Fiordland and West Auckland.

Second we will incentivise councils to consent new houses and build infrastructure by letting them keep a portion of GST from new construction in their territory.

And third, we will reduce the costs of building and materials by getting councils out of the building consent business, replacing it with a regime of mandatory private insurance.

Superannuation

ACT will make superannuation sustainable.

We will force the government to address the rising cost of Super by raising the age of eligibility. This won’t punish today's retirees or near-retirees. The question is how Super should work in the decades ahead. We’re working and living longer.

In my lifetime we'll go from five taxpayers per superannuitant to two taxpayers per superannuitant.

ACT will ensure that, starting in 2020, Super eligibility would move gradually from age 65 to 67.

We owe it to future generations that we address this issue now, instead of kicking the can down the road and being forced to take more drastic action in the future.

Congestion

Next, ACT will reduce traffic congestion. It is scandalous that we ignore the benefits of modern technology in the transport area. ACT will replace petrol taxes with variable road pricing to end the ridiculous rush-hour squeezes we see in our cities.

We will make it easier to ride-share – the fastest way to reduce congestion is to increase the number of people sharing a car.

There’s a proven, ready-made solution right here on my phone – it’s called Uber, or Chariot, or Lyft, or any number of apps that connect drivers with passengers.

The key is to make it affordable.

Do you think that if Trade Me cost $1500 to join it would have taken off?

Yet that is the initial licensing cost imposed by the NZTA if you want to ride-share.

It’s almost like the government needs ACT to explain how these things work. In a recent select committee 10 of the 11 MPs didn’t even grasp the basic concept of Uber.

But transport is just the beginning. The National Party is happy to set up photo-ops with drones delivering pizzas, but not willing to actually allow this technology to be used. ACT will cut regulation across the board, including in areas such as peer-to-peer lending, accommodation sharing, and driverless vehicles, ensuring New Zealand is at the forefront of technological innovation.

Partnership schools

ACT will expand choice and opportunity for New Zealand students through Partnership Schools. The results of these schools are outstanding. The students are engaged, and succeeding. The policy proves how government doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas. Communities, charities and small businesses are the real drivers of change and improvement.

I was talking to a Partnership School student and she said to me – “I never knew I was smart until I came here.”

This kind of opportunity for students let down by the state system makes ACT unrelenting in our support for Partnership Schools.

These policies are not radical.

They are simple and straight-forward solutions to pressing problems.

They’re ideas that work, and can be implemented easily with a stronger ACT.

ACT’s Prospects

The good news is, ACT’s electoral prospects this year are stronger than they have been since 2008, when we elected five MPs with 3.65% of the vote.

At this point in that year, our polling was much the same as it is now.

We’ve got three key factors in common with 2008 and our best election in 2002.

First, we’re going into the election with established, familiar leadership.

Second, we will win Epsom. Amid the recent reporting of electorate deals in Ohariu and the Maori seats, no-one has questioned the result of Epsom. And because I will win Epsom, every Party Vote for ACT will count.

And most importantly, we’ve had over two years of real success. We passed a bill, in spite of opposition from the Greens, to keep pubs open for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. We’ve introduced a member’s bill to legalise assisted dying, an area no-one else is brave enough to touch. Partnerships Schools go from strength to strength with 10 schools and over 1100 kids now enrolled.

We have provided stable support for a centre-right Government.

But with more MPs after the election, we can do so much more.

Our Principles

One of these things will be the new policy I’m announcing today.

ACT has always said government should focus on the basics: allowing individuals to get on with their lives, so long as they’re not hurting anyone else.

The Moral Cost of Crime

The government’s most basic job is to protect its citizens and their property.

Everyone deserves to feel safe at home, in public, and at work. Violent crimes and property crimes like burglary traumatise victims and breach our basic rights.

This moral cost of crime should motivate any Law and Order policy. But beyond this moral cost is an enormous economic cost.

The Economic Cost of Crime

The total economic impact of crime is hard to measure, but a decade ago Treasury estimated it at $9 billion. They pointed out that the majority of crime’s costs are not borne by the government, but by individuals, families and businesses.

Think of the costs of security, medical treatment, counselling, destroyed property, and lost productivity due to injury or emotional trauma.

These destructive effects are not always visible to the politician or bureaucrat. The ultimate result is that we are drained of the energy and resources needed to pursue happiness for ourselves and our families.

The Ideas So Far

So, considering the full cost of crime, it’s good that Law and Order is a hot election topic.

You would hope that after decades of debate on crime, politicians would have developed some smart ideas.

But what have we heard from the different parties this year? Earlier this month, National promised us another 880 police. Labour then said they would give us a thousand police, and that they’d thought of it first. Winston Peters dived in and said New Zealand First would give us even more police than Labour, and he probably also said he’d be on the front line with them.

It’s become your standard game of political one-upmanship, a bidding war with taxpayer money.

Make no mistake – ACT supports adding more police. But we also need to address the causes of crime and focus on the repeat offenders who commit the majority of offences. ACT would end the revolving-door justice system which sees repeat offenders going in and out of prison.

Three Strikes for Violent Crime

One way to do this is through deterrence. Our Three Strikes policy for violent crime, has been one of ACT’s biggest policy wins. It ensures the worst violent reoffenders are kept behind bars where they can’t menace the rest of us.

The message is clear that violence will not tolerated.

Three Strikes for Burglary

Then there’s burglary: a pre-meditated crime that violates the sense of security we all deserve in our homes.

It’s a crime that involves planning, favoured by a class of professional burglars who can rack up hundreds of burglaries each.

ACT will target these recidivist burglars with a separate Three Strikes regime.

The first two strikes are warnings. The third strike earns you a minimum three year prison sentence with no parole. The worst reoffenders will find it very hard to burgle homes from prison.

With more ACT MPs after the election will put Three Strikes for Burglary into law.

So, everyone knows that ACT is tough on crime. But it’s not enough to just be tough on crime.

If locking more people up made us safer, the US would be the safest country on Earth. We need to be smart on crime, too.

People leaving prison need the means to lead normal productive lives.

The Cost of Corrections

Prison should be an opportunity for self-improvement. In fact, we should demand this, considering how much money we spend on them.

Holding just one prisoner costs around $105,000 a year, or $289 per day.

In total, the prison system costs nearly a billion a year, and the full Corrections budget is $1.3 billion. With the prison muster hitting 10,000 for the first time in November, the cost to taxpayers is running away.

So does all this spending turn prisoners away from criminal life?

No.

The Reoffending Blowout

In fact, our prison population blowout is actually a reoffending blowout. Corrections figures show a massive 69% of people on new sentences have been sentenced previously. 48% of released prisoners are back inside within four years. For prisoners aged under 20, that figure is 70%.

The good news is that the Government has recognised the problem. In 2011, Bill English labelled prisons “a moral and fiscal failure”, and the Government set a goal to cut reoffending by 25% over six years. Well, the six years is up, so what’s been the result? Reoffending has dropped by just 8%.

That’s not even a passing grade. As we see so often with National, there’s big talk backed by bigger spending, but the results just aren’t there.

We need to face up to the real challenge in our prisons. The shocking fact is this: a large chunk of the prison population simply lacks the basic skills needed to lead a productive, normal life outside.

And I’m not talking about qualifications in NCEA or the trades.

60 to 70% of prisoners are functionally illiterate, meaning they can’t manage typical employment and living tasks involving reading or writing. In other words, two thirds of prisoners can’t read an employment contract, a tenancy agreement, or even the road code.

They have been let down by the state school system.

Take a moment to imagine life for these people. How on earth can they ever lead a normal life if they can’t read the test required to legally drive to the job they couldn’t apply for because they couldn’t write their details on the application form they couldn’t read?

It’s no surprise that ex-prisoners soon return to unemployment, illegal driving, criminal activity, and eventually, incarceration. It’s a pattern that continues to fleece taxpayers and victimise the innocent.

So, yes, ACT is tough on crime, but we also say education in prisons is non-negotiable. And the focus should be on the absolute basic skills required to prevent a lifetime of crime and incarceration.

Rewarding Self-Improvement in Prisons

So how would ACT improve the life skills of prisoners? We would help prisoners help themselves.

ACT has always believed that incentives matter; that personal responsibility works. We know that people outside prison take better care of themselves, their businesses, and their families when they bear the consequences of their failures and enjoy the rewards of their hard work.

So it’s right to have strong consequences for violent crime and burglary. But equally, we should reward hard work in prisons, just as hard work is rewarded on the outside.

In other words, you need the carrot as well as the stick. If ACT’s Three Strikes policies are the stick, then here’s our carrot. It’s called Rewarding Self-Improvement in Prisons.

This proposal would provide incentives, in the form of reduced sentences, for prisoners to complete basic programmes in literacy, numeracy, and driver licensing.

Prisoners identified as having needs in these areas could score credits for progressing through and successfully completing qualifications known to provide the most significant improvements in employability on the outside. There wouldn’t be participation prizes – prisoners would be assessed against National Standards, the same as in schools. They could ultimately exchange their earned credits for a maximum of six weeks shaved off per year of their sentence.

The programme would not apply to murderers or the worst violent or sexual reoffenders. And it wouldn’t help white-collar criminals study towards diplomas.

Those prisoners who are already functionally literate, numerate, and licenced to drive, can still benefit from ACT’s policy. They would earn credits for training as a mentor, and then teaching other prisoners.

Similar incentive programmes are working overseas. In the US, States that have Earned Credit Programs in prisons report a lower recidivism rate than states that do not have one. New York saw a 20% lower recidivism rate among prisoners who earned early-release.

And they save money. A model student serving a two year sentence could, under ACT’s proposal, shave twelve weeks off their sentence and save the taxpayer $14,000. And if their learning prevents future imprisonment, the saving could enter the $100,000s, which could be reinvested in educational programmes.

And that’s just for one prisoner.

The New York Corrections Department saved $369 million in a decade thanks to their earned credit policy. A proportionate saving for New Zealand’s population would be $113 million1 for Corrections.

1 Adjusted for inflation, NZD and population.

The savings would be far higher if you include individuals, families, and businesses who would no longer have to face the costs of crime.

Empowering Prison Volunteerism

Here in New Zealand, the courses this policy would cover already exist. Some are run by Corrections, others by volunteer groups like the Howard League for Penal Reform. But the availability of these courses is inconsistent and disparate, making it hard to track their success.

Groups like the Howard League do great work in running prison programmes focused on functional literacy and other basic skills. I saw the results myself last year when I attended a Howard League graduation ceremony at Rimutaka Prison.

One prisoner in his 40s had eyes welling with pride at how he could finally read and respond to his daughter’s letters. Before then he had to find someone he could trust to read them to him and then respond on his behalf.

The opportunity for such transformation should be available to all prisoners.

There are retired teachers, ex-prisoners, and everyday Kiwis who would happily volunteer to tutor prisoners in areas like literacy and numeracy. But too often, they are locked out by red tape and stretched by administrative costs.

ACT would invite non-government organisations to play a larger role in our corrections system. We would support these groups by removing the regulations that stops volunteers and other prisoners from acting as tutors.

ACT would allow these groups to access Corrections funds without the requirement for their staff and volunteers to be registered teachers. This would ultimately save taxpayer money through reduced sentences and reduced re-incarceration.

Our approach is good for taxpayers, it’s good for those prisoners ready to turn their lives around.

More importantly it will mean that fewer New Zealanders become victims of crime.

Why ACT?

Policies like this typify ACT values. We know the state does not have a monopoly on knowledge, skills, and good ideas.

It’s this same respect for civil society and on-the-ground experience that drives ACT initiatives like Partnership Schools and Sanctuary Trust, policies that would empower community and business operators to run publicly-funded schools and sanctuaries respectively.

ACT would simply apply more of this thinking to Corrections.

So ACT is sticking to its roots.

We believe that actions have consequences, and hard work should be rewarded.

We are classically liberal, we are principled, and we have Ideas that Work.

We can’t wait to share them with New Zealand on the campaign trail.

Bring on September 23rd

ENDS


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