Act con­fined to tak­ing small steps


Since its in­cep­tion in 1993, the Act Party has al­ways been keen to stand up for eco­nomic lib­er­ties, to free cor­po­rate New Zealand from both­er­some gov­ern­ment red tape and reg­u­la­tion.

Yet strik­ingly, Act has been far less forth­com­ing about de­fend­ing civil lib­er­ties, and the right of or­di­nary cit­i­zens to func­tion free from the state’s sur­veil­lance and en­force­ment agen­cies.

Ask Act leader David Sey­mour, for ex­am­ple, about whether the rev­e­la­tions by Amer­i­can whistle­blower Ed­ward Snow­den have any sub­stance and he re­mains res­o­lutely on the fence. Sey­mour con­fesses he hasn’t paid much at­ten­tion to what Snow­den has been say­ing, but the is­sues strike him as be­ing ‘‘murky’’ – given the need he sees for se­cu­rity in a hos­tile world, one where peo­ple in­tent on harm do ex­ist.

Act hasn’t thrown in the sponge en­tirely on civil lib­er­ties, though.

‘‘Notwith­stand­ing the Snow­den/ GCSB stuff,’ Sey­mour says, ‘‘we have been ac­tive on the Im­mi­gra­tion Bill. That is al­most passed.’’

That bill, he says, gives im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers sweep­ing pow­ers of en­try, search and seizure of pri­vate prop­erty, with­out a war­rant:

‘‘I mean, we wouldn’t give [those pow­ers] to the po­lice.’’

He also cites Act’s re­sponse to a re­cent case of an In­dian stu­dent sub­jected to cy­ber-bul­ly­ing.

As with the Roast­busters case, Sey­mour says, he’d pre­fer to see the po­lice use the pow­ers they al­ready pos­sess un­der the Crimes Act to pros­e­cute, rather than cre­ate new pow­ers that would sti­fle free speech.

Ul­ti­mately, Act hasn’t done much to rein in the state’s ex­cesses. With the ‘‘limited power’’ Act has, Sey­mour says, he has man­aged to help im­ple­ment a three-year re­view of the use of those in­tru­sive Im­mi­gra­tion Bill pow­ers, in a fash­ion sim­i­lar to the trans­parency pro­vi­sions in the new and equally dra­co­nian an­titer­ror­ism laws.

Rather than de­nounce be­fore­hand the ex­pan­sion of the state’s power in se­cu­rity and en­force­ment mat­ters, Act has been more in­clined to tell the public af­ter­wards how those new pow­ers are be­ing used.

Given that the se­cu­rity ser­vices are due for re­view in June, would Sey­mour sup­port the cre­ation of a spe­cial par­lia­men­tary over­sight com­mit­tee?

Some­what hes­i­tantly, Sey­mour replies: ‘‘ That’s some­thing we would prob­a­bly sup­port…yeah.’’

Last week though, Sey­mour did man­age to ring­ingly de­nounce (in terms rem­i­nis­cent of his perk­bust­ing pre­de­ces­sor, Rod­ney Hide) the so-called Speak­ers Trip an­nual jun­ket for MPs and their spouses.

Speaker David Carter’s del­e­ga­tion – com­prised this year of Na­tional’s Ch­ester Bor­rows, Labour’s Adrian Ru­rawhe, Green Party MP Kennedy Gra­ham and New Zealand First’s Fletcher Tabuteau – will be mak­ing a 14- day trek through France, Ire­land, Poland and Ger­many at a cost of about $138,000 to the tax­payer.

A cen­tury ago, Sey­mour says, such trips might have had value at a time when few MPs had been over­seas.

But in to­day’s in­ter­net-linked world where air travel is cheap, MPs were ei­ther well-trav­elled al­ready, or could eas­ily af­ford to pay their own way.

Such jun­kets, he de­liver no benefits.

In jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, Carter has cited the value of ‘‘Speaker-led in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy’’.

Did Sey­mour have any idea what that meant?

‘‘No, be­cause th­ese trips are an anachro­nism.’’

Look, he concludes wryly, New Zealan­ders are well thought of over­seas for their sports achieve­ments and other at­tributes.

‘‘Why would you want to put that im­pres­sion at risk by send­ing over a politi­cian?’’


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