17 Sep 2015

David Seymour on this week's coq-ups

9:54 am on 17 September 2015

In our Newsmaker series, we talk to the people who are dominating the headlines. This week: ACT Party leader David Seymour.

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David Seymour has been a vocal supporter of the Red Peak flag. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

From passing a law to allow pubs to open during the Rugby World Cup, to his paid parental leave efforts and his now famous "the French love the coq" gaffe, David Seymour has certainly made the headlines recently.

But the first-term MP, and government support partner, says it has not all been intentional - and not all the headlines have been welcome.

More in the Newsmaker series

He began by talking to Radio New Zealand political journalist Benedict Collins about his championing of the fifth unofficial alternative flag, Red Peak, this week.

David Seymour fronting up.

The ACT Party leader in his office at Parliament - wearing a silver fern. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

One of the issues you've been hot on has been Red Peak. What do you like about it?

Look, I drove past my old school on Father's Day and I thought, can I imagine one of the four incumbents up there? And it just didn't quite look right.

The story behind Red Peak is that half of it looks like a tukutuku panel, the black, red and white, half of it looks like a bit of the Union Jack.

It is a nice bringing together of New Zealand - the idea of the mountains having the light on one side, with the blue and the dark on the other because we're the first to see the light, these are all aspects that I find quite cool.

It's simple, it's original, it's distinctive and it has a real story.

So that says more to you than the silver fern designs or the koru?

Yeah, it does, and as I've said, I mean I love the silver fern, I'm wearing a silver fern as we do this interview - but that doesn't mean it has to be on the flag. I personally find that idea a wee bit cringey.

On the other hand you say, look at the Irish. I mean everyone knows the harp is Irish, Oh I'm not sure, maybe that was just Guinness, but in any case the harp is very clearly associated with Ireland and, yes, it is not on their flag.

And, of course, I've said the French do not have the coq on their flag and you know, that's a good thing. It's not that they don't love it; it's just that they don't put everything on their flag.

Do you think it might take a while to live that one down?

I think it could take quite a while, but isn't it weird? I'm here first and foremost for Partnership Schools and that is a policy that you can measure its importance by the vociferousness of the opposition to it.

However, if people are more interested in me making gaffes about coqs then I guess that's what gets reported.

David Seymour receives the USB stick petition.

David Seymour receives the USB stick petition backing Red Peak. Photo: RNZ

Indeed. Also this week it hasn't all been fun and games - there's been the comments that were reported about you talking about mental illness and hardening up - what happened there?

Well, I got asked a question by a student which basically related quite a long series of concerns and amongst those were depression and anxiety.

And if I had the opportunity to answer the question again, I would have separated that out and said mental illness is a thing, that is real, it affects people and people should get the help they require in those circumstances.

But, also if you're going to stand there at one of the most prestigious university halls in the country and all you can give me is a long laundry list of other concerns - then I think actually you do need to harden up.

Unfortunately, the two issues got mixed and I apologise to anyone who thinks I've offended people with mental illnesses - I think it should be taken seriously.

But I also think that people need to actually confront some of their other problems and make it work for themselves.

But you'd acknowledge there that your response didn't come out as you intended?

The way it's been reported, I think is unfair. But I can understand, given that it was a question that mixed together a lot of issues, my response got attributed to both of those issues.

And I think I probably didn't explain my position very well after the debate either, so I can understand why it happened.

Rugby World Cup - bars are going to be open thanks to a bill you managed to get through Parliament, which is no mean feat for a one-man party.

Right time; right place. It's something that is consistent with ACT's principles. We think that people should be free to do as they please, as long as they're not harming anyone else.

And I think what some of the opponents to the bill said was 'you should follow all these rules, and if you want an exemption then you are going to have to justify yourself to us'.

And I think that the freedom narrative is far more New Zealand than the nanny state narrative - for want of a better term.

What's it been like coming to Wellington, coming to Parliament?

It's been hectic - it's been 24/7 and you're always on the go in some way. A typical day in the House you'd get in to the office at 7am for a breakfast for Save the Kids... but I'll be here until 10 tonight because I have to be on site while the House is sitting.

I'm allowed out for an hour and a half for dinner at 6pm... so it is pretty hectic.

This weekend I've got three different party events and a couple of different events in the Epsom electorate. And, in the meantime, you've got to think about some of the bigger questions about where's ACT going - why are people going to vote for us, what can we do for the voter, or who can we represent and how?