Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
I think this is a great opportunity for you to meet ACT’s Deputy Leader, Brooke van Velden, and see that ACT is no longer ‘just David’.
In psychology they talk a lot about restraint. You might think of the ACT as one of the parties that has the extraordinary results. Regression to the mean tells you that the next ACT result must be worse than the last.
Here’s another anchor. Emmanuel Macron is founded Work on April 6, 2016. He became President Macron on May 7, 2017. One year, one month, one day later. Macron is an outcast but he reminds us that politics is anarchist, and more so than usual today.
Last week the Labor Party in Western Australia won only 50 out of 60 seats. I heard the first phone call from Vladimir Putin, asking how they did it.
At ACT our goal is to double again in two and a half years. If you look from the outside, there’s no reason we can’t become Government in two and a half years.
One of our greatest assets is our goal. We are here to make sure New Zealand has the best public policies in the world. Each MP ACT has this in their respective offices.
It goes on to say that: “We represent New Zealanders who believe in personal freedom. We raise the bar for lawmaking by holding Governments accountable and proposing better solutions. We focus on the concerns and aspirations of voters, not other politicians. “
ACT believes New Zealand is very lacking in honest conversation. It’s not just here. According to people who measure these things, like the Freedom House, democracy is in decline around the world. Authoritarianism is back, and if you live your whole life thinking liberal democracy has won, it’s frankly scary.
Just this morning I heard Sir Peter Gluckman on the radio, say that local democratically elected councilors are simply not ready to make technical decisions. He’s talking about fluoridation, and he’s probably right on this issue. However, the casual and unchallenged dismissal of democracy is an extraordinary sign of the times.
There appear to be difficulties in processing critical information through the democratic process. New Zealand’s COVID response and political response to it are classic examples of miscategory.
New Zealand’s results were extraordinary, almost unmatched. However, the credit provided by voters to the Government for their response is out of proportion to the effectiveness of the response.
I am not going to practice all the reasons why the New Zealand Government has an easier job than others. Suffice it to say that, when I challenged the Minister for COVID-19 to name a country hit by the pandemic with the bigger initial advantage, he couldn’t.
I’ll also give you reasons why I don’t think the Government’s response has been very effective. One example is sufficient. The performance of contact tracing during the Valentine’s Day outbreak, which is end-to-end tracking from identifying, testing, to deactivating contact, hit about 50 percent in four days. That’s less than the 80 percent target and no better than last August’s outbreak.
The COVID-19 problem is an extreme case of the disconnect between political popularity and measured outcomes. We know from recent experience that the Government can oversee:
- Anemic productivity growth
- Dropping scores in international student assessments (although domestic graduation rates are increasing)
- Huge infrastructure deficit in terms of maintenance and capacity
- An uncontrolled housing market eats up the income of the poorest people, except for the homeless
- Health care system with flat productivity and access to medicine that was rare in the first world
- Fiscal commitments that are totally unsustainable and there is no desire to deal with them
All of this without a credible strategy to fix. In some cases, the Prime Minister can publicly downplay the problem, or in other cases make it worse.
And that’s just the Key Government.
Now things are getting worse faster.
The lost market
The real problem is an old one. There is a lost market for honest conversation in politics.
Imagine that you go to a restaurant, look at the menu, choose carefully, then come up with something completely different. That’s how we rolled, the waiter explained. You don’t get your choice. Everyone gets the most popular choices.
The next time you come back, you pick the first thing you see, sit back, and try to enjoy whatever you get.
You come back one last time and there are no menus. ‘Well, no one seemed to care about their choice, so we stopped offering options.’
In short, the economy of public choice. The customer is picky, the menu is the manifesto of policy, the waiter is the candidate, the food is the policy, and the results are not as good as they could be.
I know about the lost market. Only one outlet covered my book on public policy. As I dance, play basketball, and jump off planes, every media outlet covers it.
Egg shell culture
The lost market has been with us for a long time, but what I call eggshell culture seems to make things worse.
I heard someone last week sum up something I think a lot of people feel. He said: “It should be a time of enlightenment, but you have to walk on eggshells with everything you say.”
Our researcher, whose job was to persuade focus group participants to express their true feelings, told us that it has never been easier. People feel for each other longer, seeking initial approval for their views.
Freedom of speech is a human right, but it is also an important tool for society to solve its problems. If the Government did introduce the so-called Hate Speech law, it would only make matters worse.
I don’t fully understand what drives eggshell culture. What I do know is that as long as we believe identity is more important than action, as long as we are formed in a hierarchy of victims, then we will find it much more difficult to solve problems collectively.
So what now?
If we want better public policy, then we face several challenges. There is a lost market for the honest conversation we need, and a growing number of people are too afraid to speak at all.
ACT’s proposition is that we can win politically with an honest conversation mantra. We have proven this by the fact that we are here in greater numbers.
We’re honest about the government’s hasty gun laws. It’s not about guns. It’s about the law.
We are honest about free speech. Sometimes people who say disgusting and offensive things deserve our protection because protecting their freedom of speech protects all of us.
We are honest about the suffering some New Zealanders face at the end of their lives, and are making a difference. Now New Zealanders who are suffering at the end of their lives have the option of continuing their relationship with their time.
We are an honest intermediary during the COVID crisis, saying that the role of the opposition is to provide constructive criticism where necessary and useful advice where possible.
The interesting thing is that it worked, and I think there will be more ACT votes coming.
Our campaign director, who is a foreigner, was taken aback by our exit poll. We clean five percent in every Territorial Local Authority except Wellington, where we get 4.8. We cleared five across nearly every demographic. Age, race, region – we did it.
Our support does not look like the profile of a small right-wing party, but the foundation of a large tent with opportunities for growth. I feel it anecdotally in the variety of people who come to me.
The most sensible way to change Government is for the ACT and National to take 18 seats and pull back the 61-33 deficit. We are ready to do the hard work on this.
People think that ACT can only get votes from people who previously voted for National. That is wrong. In the Epsom electoral district, a quarter of the people who cast the Party’s Voice for Workers cast Voters’ Voters to ACT.
I think ACT can do well, but how about being right as a whole can work well. I think it can be easy and unexpected.
I have known Jacinda Ardern for a decade. He is warm and sincere. He sincerely wants to help everyone he meets. The only problem was, he didn’t know how.
When times are good, it doesn’t matter. During his tenure, interest rates fell and unemployment was low. Even if those factors are bad, there is always reliable crisis management.
More importantly, there are no better communicators in world politics today. The problem is, when your mortgage is getting expensive or you don’t have a job, and the crisis ends everywhere except here, all that communication is just annoying.
After that, there was another bit of depth, and things could move very fast.
But for what?
From the point of view of someone desiring change, two things can go wrong. The first is that the current Government will be re-elected. The second, and this is much more common in our history, is that there has been a change in Government but it is only a change of personnel without a change of direction.
ACT is here to fix both of these problems. We are here to change Government and direction.
What will the government be like with more ACT in it? In short, honest conversation leads to well-defined problems and real reforms. What does it look like?
- A shift from redistribution to productivity as an underlying policy focus, for example
- Regulatory reform with a referendum on the Regulation Standard Bill
- Structural reforms in mental health education and funding
- Liberalization of Foreign Investment
- The first principle of resource management law reform
- Climate policy is based on markets and individual choices rather than central planning, because the latter is unsustainable
My job is to provide you with vivid representation options. If you want to pick someone with a proven track record of real changes made with almost no resources, this is us.
We understand the fundamental problem of obtaining complex policy change in a democratic market. We know that it’s more difficult now than usual thanks to the eggshell culture.
But we are also very ambitious. We feel very fortunate to have been born in this country at this time. We think New Zealand’s policy setting is worth investing in. We need to keep things good.
If you feel the same, then I hope you will choose ACT.
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