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The Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews David Seymour

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews David Seymour

Simon Shepherd: David Seymour's euthanasia bill passed this week, and next week he will be putting the finishing touches on his next bill. Is he just a very hard-working politician or is this the longest one-person election campaign known to mankind? David Seymour joins me now. Congratulations on getting the euthanasia bill passed. Are you concerned that voters will be deciding on euthanasia at the same time as cannabis and a general election? How are you going to make sure it gets the attention it deserves?

David Seymour: Look, I think a lot of people have raised that, but they also underestimate the New Zealand public, particularly on the issue of assisted dying. People have come to their conclusions on this over 20 or 30 years, mainly from personal experience. And so I think that's actually pretty much locked in for most New Zealanders. They have thought about the issue because of harrowing events in their own lives.

Sure, but international experience — does it tell you that when it's got this far, it's going to become law?

Look, there's actually not a lot of precedence of an assisted dying law going to referendum. I think there was one in Colorado, which was successful. There may be other ballot initiatives, cos the Americans do that a lot, but as far as I'm aware, this is a first, certainly for our part of the world.

What is the strongest argument that you think that you're going to have to fight against?

Look, I think that there will be actually many different, I guess, misinformation campaigns. And the strongest argument is speculation about what might happen. I want to argue about what actually happens in overseas experience. If we can have the argument that way, I think that New Zealanders will vote for it.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has instructed his ministry to put just the facts out there. Are you supportive of that?

To an extent. Remember, the government or the Electoral Commission have to do a job telling people that there is a referendum. And they have to go to some extent telling people what the referendum is about. Now, of course, at some point you come up against a difficult line of then swaying people how they should vote for it. And I have difficulties with that, but I think in reality most of the debate will be done by civil society anyway.

OK, so you're already moving on to your next desired law change. What is that?

It's about trying to work out how we reconcile freedom of speech with health and safety. If you look at Massey University, they have just published a policy saying that if a speaker comes to our campus, and that speaker makes people feel uncomfortable, then we may not allow them to speak on our campus. Now, you just think about that for a moment. Universities are supposed to be places where you examine difficult ideas. You have now got a university that's publicly funded whose policy is that you can't say anything that might hurt feelings.

Yeah, but surely if there is some risk of, say, mental or physical harm, that these kinds of things have to be taken into account in terms of health and safety. It’s a valid point.

Well, they can be taken into account, but our long-term future as a country is not going to be helped by suppression discussion of difficult issues. I'll give you an example. Last night at Parliament, I hosted a Feminism 2020 event. It's a group of feminists who have a particular view about what feminism is. I hosted it at Parliament because Massey University would not host it. Now, it's a ridiculous situation. An MP shouldn't be giving sanctuary to feminists to have their views expressed at Parliament in 2019. But that's what happened. And we need to clarify the obligations — particularly of the public sector — of health and safety versus freedom of expression.

This replaces a previous bill that you had drafted called the Freedom to Speak Bill. That aimed to take hate speech restrictions off current law. So why did you scrap that, then?

I think that there's a more urgent need now because it's become clear that the most pressing threat to free expression in New Zealand is not our current laws. Our current laws are not bad. I think that they could be improved, and that was what my previous bill would have done. The most pressing threat is that some people are genuinely concerned about their health and safety obligations as a person conducting business undertakings. And they are not sure if they can let people speak on their premises. Others are abusing it. And that needs to be clarified in the law that freedom of expression is an important value, and only if there is a serious threat to physical safety that cannot otherwise be dealt with should it–

Who is abusing it? Who is abusing it, though?

Oh, I think Massey University are horrific. You know, Jan Thomas, their vice chancellor, blocked Don Brash from coming to talk — I think about monetary policy — because she didn't like him or his views on other topics. Claimed that it was due to health and safety concerns. It was later revealed that she had, at the very least, over-egged her claims of how much she'd consulted with the police. I think Parliament needs to step in and say freedom of expression is an important value, and you can't fudge it with such claims.

Can I ask you whether you have intentionally chosen a really hot-button topics this year, with the election in mind — freedom of speech, euthanasia, you opposed the gun-law reform. You didn't vote on the Zero Carbon Act. Is this intentional?

No. I chose the euthanasia — or assisted dying — legislation back in 2015, so I wasn't thinking about the 2020 election.

Yeah, but on the other examples?

I didn't expect the firearms situation to come up. Obviously nobody did. But I've always opposed rushed legislation. I think what was done by the government was abominable. And I also opposed the Zero Carbon Bill because I think restricting New Zealanders to New Zealand-only credits puts massive costs that we don't need, and actually makes it ineffective at fighting climate change. And I think the powers given to ministers under that bill take us back to the Economic Stabilisation Act that was abused by Muldoon. So all of these positions are positions that you would expect Act to take, whether there's an election or not.

Can I ask this — National told us that they are going to announce their intentions for coalition and voting, including the Epsom electorate early next year. You maintain there is no deal in Epsom, don't you?

Yeah, well, there's a deal between me and the voters, and the deal is—

Yeah, I'm talking about a deal between political parties—

Yeah, well, not for me there isn't. The deal is between me and the voters. If you vote for me, you get a good local MP, and more chance—

So you win on merit?

Well, you win on having the best strategy and the best argument for voters to elect you. That is how every election works, including in Epsom.

So, in terms of strategy in the 2017 campaign, Paul Goldsmith said he was focused on the party, rather than winning the seat, and he told voters that you're doing a good job. That kind of rhetoric, to me, implies that there is a deal. There is an implicit deal.

Well, it's a strategy for both parties. I think if I was Paul Goldsmith, I'd be sitting there saying, ‘Well, if David Seymour wins Epsom and ACT is bringing more MPs into Parliament, I might be the Minister for Finance. If I win Epsom,’ Paul Goldsmith will be thinking, ‘I could be a Member of Parliament that has to deal with a lot more constituency cases in opposition.’ So actually, it makes sense for him for me to win. It makes sense for me for me to win. And a lot of people in the Epsom electorate also think it makes good strategic sense for me to win the Epsom electorate. That's the Realpolitik of it.

OK. That's your take on it, but what if Paul Goldsmith, now that he is a senior member in National's hierarchy, decides that he wants an electorate and is going to run hard at it? What does that mean for you? Because although you have won the seat, and you've got, like, a 5000-vote majority, you don't have the party vote.

Yeah, what it would mean for me is that I'd probably spend more time on that campaign and less time on the party vote campaign. That's what it would mean. But I'd be making the proposition to the voters — good local MP, strategically more likely to get a centre-right government, and I think that's a very compelling proposition.

Can you tell us whether you will be taking that proposition publicly to Simon Bridges?

Well, no. I mean, Simon Bridges is the leader of another party. I'm focused on the voters.

All right. David Seymour, thank you very much for your time this morning.

Hey, no problem. Thank you.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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