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?’’