20 Dec 2022

David Seymour questions Christopher Luxon's loyalty to conservatism ahead of election year

10:08 am on 20 December 2022
ACT leader David Seymour (December 2022)

ACT leader David Seymour reflects on 2022 and the coming election year. Photo: RNZ / Anneke Smith

The ACT Party is promising it will put a stop to what its leader says is pattern of past National governments campaigning from the right and governing from the left.

In a sit-down interview with RNZ, ACT's leader David Seymour talks about the year in review and what people might expect from a National-ACT government if both parties come out on top in next year's election.

Support for the ACT Party has polled steadily this year, potentially putting it in the prime position of having the numbers the National Party may need to form the next government.

History has shown minor parties can wield a lot of power under New Zealand's MMP system, as seen in the 2017 coalition arrangement between Labour and New Zealand First.

A 'circuit-breaker' promise

Looking ahead to the 2023 Election, Seymour is clear he sees any potential governing partnership between ACT and National as a "much bigger opportunity" for his party to deliver for its own voter base.

He's concerned National will "babysit" the Labour Party's ideas, and insists ACT's role will be ensuring promises to repeal Three Waters and the Māori Health Authority come to bear.

"The lesson from history is crystal clear right from Sid Holland in 1949; he said Labour were applying socialism, destroying the country and then got in and didn't change a thing. That's happened another four times with Holyoake in 1960, Muldoon in 1975, Bolger in 1990 and Key in 2008."

Seymour has appeared more willing to criticise National's leader Christopher Luxon this year, and now says ACT is needed to hold them to the right of the political spectrum.

"There's so far nothing to indicate that Chris Luxon will be anything different from the last five incoming National prime ministers who've said a lot of very aggressive things about Labour's policies - but also kept Labour's politics. The reason you vote ACT is that you don't think that's going to be good enough this time," he says.

"I just make the point that he is, we hope, an incoming National Party prime minister and the last five of them have been utterly consistent in campaigning from the right and governing from the left. ACT is the circuit breaker to that pattern."

David Seymour

Seymour faces questions from the media. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

In October, Seymour said redefining the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and putting them to a public and binding referendum would be a bottom line in any governing negotiations.

Asked again, he softens his language to say a referendum on co-governance - shared decision making between the Crown and Māori - will be a "top priority".

"I just think if we can't get an interpretation of Te Tiriti that is consistent with liberal democracy, then New Zealand is going to have enormous difficulty solving its other problems."

A 'proud' year

ACT grew from a one-man band to a caucus of 10 in the 2022 Election, after a groundswell of support for the party which has in the past relied on National's endorsement for the Epsom seat.

Since then, polling has showed steady support for ACT: the last 1News Kantar political poll had the party up 2 points to 11 percent of the party vote, which would net them 15 seats.

Summing up 2022 Seymour is "proud", framing the polling numbers as a reflection on him and his wider team of MPs brought in after the 2020 election.

"It's enormous progress. To maintain that position is good for us but to maintain it on the strength of a wider team is a massive positive. I think it shows that ACT actually has a lot more to offer than perhaps a lot of people have been prepared to accept even 12 months ago."

ACT leader David Seymour (December 2022)

Seymour says his caucus has made enormous progress as a team. Photo: RNZ / Anneke Smith

He says his 2022 highlight is marking one year of the End of Life Choice Act, a member's bill he shepherded through Parliament rather than take up a ministerial position available in John Key's government.

"It's been a real high to see that the people who criticise the bill and forecast doom and gloom, you can't find them now that the evidence is in that it works and it's one of the most compassionate and humane things New Zealand lawmakers have done."

His passionate opposition to co-governance aside, Seymour says his lowlight was witnessing what he describes as attacks on the New Zealand democratic system itself in Parliament: for example, the controversial entrenchment provision against privatisation in Labour's Three Waters legislation.

"Regardless of what you think about three waters - obviously, we oppose it - this is actually a substantial issue for New Zealand's whole way of governing that has been really undermined and not treated with the respect it deserves."

Education a focus for 2023

Seymour is concerned skills aren't transferring from one generation to the next and says people could expect to see ACT go "much bigger" on education issues next year.

"I think there's a real risk that we'll for the first time have a generation less educated than their parents so I think you'll see a lot more on education; mainly around what sort of attendance and achievement the government demands in return for taxpayer money and how much flexibility educators get to deliver on it.

"Right now, we're not demanding the results and we're also not empowering and enabling the teaching profession to actually be a profession that's respected and has autonomy."

He says a highly skilled population would be able to solve problems previous generations have not been able to.

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