20 Years of ACT and
This Wednesday will mark 20 years since the first MMP election. ACT is one of only four parties to win seats at every one of the seven MMP elections and this week Free Press looks back at the impact ACT has had, and forward to the 2017 election.
The Little Party that Can
ACT’s strength has decided who governs, decisively in some years, and the party has been at the forefront promoting welfare reform, full fair and final treaty settlements, tax reductions, Three Strikes, the Auckland Super City, the Productivity Commission, regulatory reform, and Partnership Schools. A big impact for ACT supporters to be proud of, and lots more to come in the next 20 years.
Few believed that a new party could break into Parliament and stay – no party had done so since Labour in 1916. Polling well behind, Richard Prebble declared that Wellington Central would be a two-horse race, which he won. ACT also polled 6.1 per cent to elect seven further MPs from the Party list.
Winston Puts New Zealand Last
When the Bolger-Peters government inevitably fell apart, ACT made it possible for Jenny Shipley to remain Prime Minister. Without ACT’s support there would have been a 1998 snap election. For the first but not the last time ACT’s presence in parliament anchored Government to the right.
ACT increased its vote to become the fourth largest party. Through the Clark years ACT would become the unofficial leaders of the opposition, promoting full fair and final treaty settlements (now a consensus in parliament), welfare reform (much of it implemented by the fifth National Government with ACT’s pressure and support) and lower taxes.
ACT again increased its vote, maintaining its status as the fourth largest party with nine MPs and playing an even larger role as the National Party slipped to only 27 seats. In its second term the Clark Government ran tight fiscal policy, thanks in large part to ACT’s unrelenting pressure on taxes and waste. For this opposition Rodney Hide earned the term ‘perkbuster’, later entered into the Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English. ACT also elected New Zealand’s first mainland Chinese MP in Kenneth Wang. Richard Prebble retired as leader with one of the most eloquent and gracious valedictory speeches ever given, still online here.
ACT faced its biggest test since 1996, polling well under five per cent and having not held an electorate seat in six years. Left wing pundits gleefully wrote political obituaries but Rodney Hide won Epsom on the simple logic that has seen ACT win Epsom ever since: voting ACT gives parliament at least one extra MP on the right, sometimes many. In the event, Epsom voters elected Rodney Hide as well as Heather Roy, and National candidate Richard Worth remained an MP too. During this period ACT developed the regulatory reform agenda, leading to the introduction of a Minister for Regulatory Reform.
With Rodney dancing to the height of his popularity, ACT retained Epsom and brought in four list MPs for a total of five. Without ACT’s performance, the Maori Party may have tacked left to deliver Helen Clark a fourth term. In power with substantial leverage, ACT delivered Three Strikes for violent crimes, the Productivity Commission, voluntary student unionism, and a unified Auckland Council. With ACT’s pressure and support, the Government delivered 90 day trials extended to all businesses, welfare reform first championed by ACT’s Muriel Newman, tax cuts, and the seeds of education reform.
ACT faced a tough year with all of its sitting MPs retiring and a new team in charge. After a gutsy campaign by the Party John Banks won Epsom to keep ACT in parliament, where John introduced one of ACT’s most important policy wins, Partnership Schools (just ask the teachers’ unions). Out of that policy nearly 1,000 students now attend eight Partnership Schools with two more to open in 2017 and further schools to open in 2018 and 2019. Early results are outstanding.
David Seymour became the third ACT MP to be elected in the seat of Epsom, keeping ACT in Parliament for six elections running. The continued expansion of Partnership Schools means ACT is making an enormous difference to children’s lives and laying the groundwork for a whole new system of education. Seymour was the first MP in living memory to turn down a Ministerial post so that he could continue pursuing an important liberal cause, to legalise Assisted Dying. He secured liberalised trading hours for Rugby World Cup games and was named MP of the year in 2015. The party has been revitalised with money members and momentum.
Regrets, We’ve Had a Few
Uncharitable readers might feel the need to point out that ACT has had its share of, ahem, controversy amongst these successes, but the party never dies, and will get stronger again. Why? Fundamentally, New Zealand is a free trading, business building, property owning liberal democracy. ACT’s message is at the core of what makes this country successful and its members are proud to support a party that vocally stands for these values.
ACT is a global anomaly and a political miracle. There are 79 democracies in the world but ACT is the only truly liberal party sustainably in parliament anywhere. We proudly carry the mantra that New Zealanders are the rightful owners of their own lives and therefore have inherent rights and responsibilities; and that the proper purpose of government is to protect such rights and not to assume such responsibilities.
A New Zealand without ACT
Without ACT we might never have had Jenny Shipley or John Key as Prime Minister, Helen Clark’s reign would have been greater, and Winston Peters or the Maori Party would have held the balance of power in 1998, 2008, 2011, and 2014. We would not have Partnership Schools, and treaty settlements, tax relief, welfare reform, Three Strikes, the Productivity Commission, among other reforms which would be either muffled or non-existent. Without ACT, New Zealand would be a much poorer place.
ACT’s two best results in recent times have been 2002 (nine seats) and 2008 (five seats). Both times ACT had two things: continuity of leadership and confidence of being back in parliament. In 2017 those conditions are in play with David Seymour working hard in Epsom and the Party’s brand steadily improving. Free Press predicts that ACT will elect five MPs in 2017 as in 2008, and again drive the Government’s agenda to the right. Education, tax, welfare, and regulatory reform will be back on the Government’s agenda front and centre.
If you see the role that ACT can play in parliament and want to see the party rise again, ACT is already planning for 2017. If you are not a member, please join. If you understand that freedom isn’t free, please donate, every dollar counts. If you’d like to stand for ACT, ourCandidates’ Register is open. We’ve come a long way and, with your help, we’ll see the first 20 years has been just the end of the beginning.