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Maiden Speech to Parliament - David Seymour

Maiden Speech to Parliament - David Seymour

Delivered by ACT Leader David Seymour to New Zealand Parliament, 21/10/2014:

Mr Speaker,

I rise on behalf of the ACT Party in reply to His Excellency’s speech.

“I never knew that I was smart until I came here.” For the avoidance of doubt I’m not referring to this house, Mr Speaker, but quoting from a student I met last week at the Vanguard Military School, a Partnership School, or Kura Hourua.

There could not have been a better entre to my first speech in this house than meeting that student.

Before I return to that quote, allow me to visit some of the journey to that meeting and to this house today.

I represent the communities of Epsom, Mt Eden, Parnell and Remuera.

A look at our electorate might explain why we collectively made this choice. Epsom is typecast as wealthy, and that may be true in many cases, but it is not universal.

The largest industry in our electorate is education. Our 30 schools including many of the largest in the country. We host one large tertiary campus and are adjacent to three more. Education is aspiration.

You can tell everything you need to know about a person’s politics by acquiring their sincere answer to a simple question: Is it possible for anybody to create new wealth?

Unfortunately, the sincere answer of many in this house would be no. They lay a litany of elaborate excuses and set about constructing an even more elaborate web of rules to reallocate finite wealth to the most deserving. In practice that means those whose special pleadings resonate loudest in the theatre of politics.

My answer to the question is yes. My fellow Epsom voters elected me, if not in full support of my philosophy, then certainly with knowledge of it. It’s because we are aware of the dangers that the zero-sum game brigade present.

Our communities are leafy and our schools prestigious. If people want more Epsom the answer should be to create more Epsom. More good schools, more good suburbs.

But the opposition would cram more people into smaller denser dwellings, changing the character of our communities and putting intolerable pressure on burgeoning school zones.

When it comes to wealth, for too many the answers are higher tax rates, and taxing the same dollars one more time with an envy-fuelled capital gains tax.

When many of us voluntarily invest our time and talents in helping others, those who think there’s only so much to go ‘round want to crowd out even these efforts for their tax-funded schemes.

Small wonder then, Mr Speaker, that we voted the way we did.

The people of Epsom did not vote for a mere abstraction, or even a political strategy. Not many, if any, of those who say I’m here due to the latter can say they came to this house by way of 13,000 doorsteps, 85,000 personally addressed letters, nearly 1,000 attendees of private house meetings, or 300 hours of waving signs at traffic.

Most of that was done by my extraordinary team who accompanied, delivered, hosted and waved. I acknowledge many of you who are on the floor, in the Gallery, and those who couldn’t be in Wellington today. In each and every case, thank you.

Those people supported me because their answer to the great dividing question of politics is yes.

Those of us who believe that wealth creation is a positive sum game are interested in a different question: Under what conditions can individuals best create wealth?

The answer lies in the use of knowledge in society. Since the total inventory of that knowledge is never given in its totality to a single mind or group of them, it must be grown and applied through a widespread process of conjecture and refutation.

This is the creative power of a free society. The power to try new things and find what works. This power is greatest when the role of government is not ‘whatever the government defines it to be,’ as one former Prime Minister put it, but clearly defined to maximise individual freedom.

That definition relies heavily on an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of government as an institution.

Governments have the extraordinary power to legally coerce. In some cases this power brings great goods.

Chief among them is an environment where we can safely go about our business in our various communities. That in turn requires rule by law rather than arbitrarily rule by men.

We meet at the pinnacle of several centuries of progress towards that goal.

We have moved towards the light of liberty by removing distinctions in law that once treated people differently depending on their religious conviction, gender and race. Most recently, this house decided to remove sexuality from the Marriage laws.

Many countries have never achieved that. But it is extraordinary that, as if engaged in some form of historic shuttle run, we who were first to touch the cone are now rushing back to create new distinctions in law.

I refer to those who claim that the only way to achieve material equality between the Maori side and the British side of my family is to create more legal inequality. No doubt they have noble intentions but public policy should be measured by results.

Beyond the rule of law, there are other public goods that a good government might employ its extraordinary powers to provide.

Believe it or not, the outcome of private action is sometimes inefficient, and government regulations can improve matters. We see this in our fisheries and our atmosphere, where well-crafted regulations protect us from the ruin toward which all men would otherwise rush.

Insurance against genuine misfortune, of birth or catastrophic events is another role that a good government might cautiously assume. Funding, but not providing, education regardless of parental wealth is an example of such insurance.

When used beyond these limited roles as protector, regulator, and insurer, government’s extraordinary powers corrode the creative powers of a free society.

The problem is one of knowledge and politics. It is fatal conceit to believe that one mind or group of minds can know enough to plan the myriad activities of the very society that they themselves are a product of. There is ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas but politics has a tendency to narrow human endeavour into what is visible to only a few actors.

The alternative is spontaneous activity coordinated only by a few general rules.

Perhaps the most literal examples of new wealth from finite means are found in the field of engineering. I am one of two engineers in this house and I come from a family of engineers, several of whom are here today.

IWhile a generous person could barely call my own engineering achievements modest, what my profession has achieved is anything but.

Suffice it to say that when the member seated to my right gave his maiden speech, calling somebody when they were not at home must have been rarer than a bow tie.

The challenge is to create the conditions wherein this kind of wealth creation is most likely to flourish.

Thankfully, nearly 200 nations have unwittingly carried out a vast natural experiment on this question. We now have several decades of data showing which public policies work and which don’t.

It’s an adherence to low government expenditure funded by low-rate broad-based taxes, monetary policy targeted at price stability, a liberal approach to trade and investment abroad, flexible labour markets and secure, predictable property rights.

Countries that adopt these principles don’t just achieve greater wealth. They also make for better environmental custodians, and achieve better civil liberties.

Interestingly, when countries are ranked according to these five measures, New Zealand is consistently in the top five and often in the top three amongst 200 nations.

I returned to New Zealand because it is my home. And it is easily among the most prosperous, pristine, diverse and yet harmonious societies that the world has ever seen.

The desire to go back to the mono-cultural, isolationist, intolerant and interventionist New Zealand of the 1970’s is forgivable only in those who weren’t actually there. In any case, we ain’t going back.

When confronted with an opposition promising to unpick years of consensus on monetary policy, trade, tax, electricity markets, the role of government in the housing market, the people of New Zealand said a resounding NO.

New Zealand today is a country that has adopted, since the mid 1980’s more of ACT’s market liberal policies than all but a couple of other countries in the world. To paraphrase another former member, we won, you lost, but, hey, enjoy it.

Much of the credit must go to Sir Roger Douglas, who is here on the floor today. Roger’s reforms occurred at a unique time in our demographic history. Sir Robert Muldoon’s World War II generation gave way to the much larger generation they produced in what must have been a ravenous reunification after that war.

In their entry to public life the boomers created a society in their image, and symmetry demands that their exit will be similarly disruptive.

My generation, which I share with a growing number of recent entrants to this house, also faces a number of acute challenges in the wake of our parents’ reign.

In the news this week, and for the past decade, has been housing affordability, an entirely supply side, entirely regulatory problem.

For the first time in our equalitarian society, parental assistance has become a prominent factor in home ownership, and there is a hereditary element to property. I look forward to supporting this government’s efforts to increase the supply elasticity of housing.

Fiscal sustainability should interest our generation. Treasury predicts that, on historical trends, government debt will reach double GDP by the time we might think of retiring circa 2060.

We can only lament the advanced auctions in stolen goods that pass for elections every three years and wonder how the various spending promises would add to this burden. With the demographic headwinds we face, fiscal discipline must be a mantra of our generation.

The best thing about New Zealand is our pristine natural environment. Sadly our history as environmental custodians is far from perfect, but again we must think carefully about the role of government. It’s no coincidence that the countries that have been farthest down the pathway of government intervention also produced the worst environmental catastrophes. Modern environmentalists should practice the four P’s. Pricing, Property Rights, Prosperity and Private Initiative.

We pride ourselves on being an equalitarian society. However we must be honest with ourselves about the success of the 80 year old promise to look after our most vulnerable citizens from the cradle to the grave. Welfare and education reform are essential to maintaining an equalitarian New Zealand.

I began by quoting a student I met last week at a Partnership School. “I didn’t know I was smart until I came here, she said.”

Her story matters because in a global and technologically sophisticated economy, the value of skills is ever increasing. We cannot afford to have smart people wasting their potential.

The school she now attends does things differently from the ones she previously attended. The Principal leads the school differently from the one he used to teach at. It is not a pedagogy for every student, but such universality does not exist in a country of nearly one million students. What matters is that it works for her.

The school draws together all of the strands I have spoken of today. Like all human endeavour it is imperfect, but by conjecture and refutation it grows and applies the store of knowledge about educating children. Government plays a role, but a limited one. It brings the creative powers of a free society to bear upon one of our most urgent challenges as a nation.

I am honoured to represent my fellow Epsom electors and lead the ACT Party in this house. It is my hope that I will contribute here to improving public policy for all New Zealanders so that prosperous and free individuals may flourish in this green and pleasant land.

Thank you.

ends

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