23 Aug 2023

ACT's David Seymour defends vetting after candidate controversies

4:37 pm on 23 August 2023
ACT party leader David Seymour

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

ACT is in damage control after candidates were revealed to have made inflammatory posts on social media.

One candidate who likened vaccine mandates to concentration camps has resigned, while another who linked the Covid-19 vaccines to drownings has renounced the comments and apologised.

A third candidate, Anto Coates, who referred to Covid-19 as "mass hysteria" and in a parody song said former prime minister Dame Jacinda Ardern had thought about thowing people in a gulag - and stepped down more than a month ago.

ACT leader David Seymour said Coates had resigned "for personal reasons".

1News reported on Wednesday the resignation of Rangitata candidate Elaine Naidu Franz and the apology of Darren Gilchrist over their posts.

Seymour said the concentration camps comparison was "absolutely unacceptable".

He said the matter had been brought to his attention by the media.

"I spoke with the two people who remain as candidates ... one has said 'actually I don't agree with the statements anymore', the other one has said 'actually I don't want to be a candidate anymore' and I agreed with that on the spot.

"We've actually done a very good job of vetting over 60 candidates. There are some that have slipped through the net and they're now gone."

He said the vetting process involved interviews with the party's board and regional members, reference checks, six sessions of preparatory schooling, and checks on the candidates' social media.

"The comment, that was nearly two years old, so if you think about how much you have to go through in order to look back two years through someone's comments - that's pretty extensive stuff.

"I don't think that we've had a specific timeframe for vetting, what we have done is ensure that we take a good look at each person and it seems the offensive comments this person made were some way back, much earlier in the piece."

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said the matter was a demonstration of the sorts of people who would make up a National-ACT-NZ First government.

"Look, I think the fact that ACT have been selecting these people really is as bit of a warning sign of what you could get under a National-ACT-New Zealand First government," he said.

"Some parties are courting the conspiracy theorists more than others and ACT certainly seem to be.

"There's no such thing as an absolutely foolproof candidate selection process, but where there are basic alarm bells and basic warning signs, parties should pick that up.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said she was not surprised by the revelations.

"Everything that we've seen come out of ACT, we're not surprised. That's only been revealed by others ... they're a party that hide a lot and don't disclose all that was going on within them."

Seymour said he did not think he had skirted too close to the conspiracy line, and denied the posts reflected the kind of people ACT was attracting.