Sunday, May 07, 2006

Deborah Coddington: Hide's antics final nail in coffin for ailing Act

You have to wonder if Private Heather Roy wants to learn to fire a gun so she can shoot Rodney Hide. She's a good MP but no matter how earnestly she promotes policy, Act's media coverage is fully subscribed by Hide's scandal-busting and personal life. Or is Hide preparing to cut himself loose from Act and stand as an independent?

But meanwhile, who's filling the policy vacuum? In its early days, Act won 70 out of every 1000 votes; today it can barely get three out of every 1000. So where have those 67-per-1000 missing voters gone?

National's impressive recovery at the last election, in no small part from Don Brash's support of Act's policies, came at Act's expense.

But National's latest policy wobbles over tax cuts, the Maori seats, and a Treaty-based constitution indicate the conservatives are still in danger of outflanking Labour on the left.

I would suggest that now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of a new political party.

I don't mean a re-born Act (don't look at me, the lady's not for recycling), nor a liberal or libertarian party. Not right wing or left wing, nor the parliamentary arm of the Business Roundtable.

But a niche party like the Greens, not afraid to boldly put forward new and controversial ideas for debate. Sue Kedgley doesn't care if people abuse her because she wants to ban junk-food advertising. Sue Bradford's the only MP with the guts to champion a law change giving children the same legal protection as adults if they're beaten with bits of wood or hose-pipes. And in the pre-election debates, Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons showed more courage and integrity than all leaders put together when asked about drug-law reform - a subject which even causes libertarian Hide to duck for cover. Fitzsimons calmly said the Greens did not flinch on this matter, basically a health rather than crime policy, even if it lost them votes.

In Britain, many abandoned voters are flocking to support the British National Party (BNP), but they're basically pretty racist, objecting to the "blimmin' Africans taking over old Blighty".

Parties like this do okay in the UK but Kiwis are different. We might mutter about refugees jumping the queue for state houses, or taking over the taxis and dairies, but if they move in next door we're at the gate with a batch of scones and "join us for a beer and barbie?"

I surmise that at the last election those who abandoned Act gave National or Labour their party votes, but because these voters are neither conservative nor politically correct, they still don't have a political home to go to. They're liberal-minded in that, for example, they don't care if gays want to marry each other and adopt children, but they don't see why they should be prohibited from advertising for a pretty girl to work in reception.

Many consider themselves feminists, but they privately doubt that equal rights meant downgrading motherhood as not a valid career choice.

They support, in principle, Treaty settlements where the stealing of Maori land is clearly proven. But they see injustice in the Treaty gravy train making lawyers rich at the expense of impoverished Maori people.

They enjoy the arts, music, New Zealand films and literature and don't advocate abolishing state funding of such, but they'd like some tax breaks so they can choose their own pleasure.

They see a role for the state in providing healthcare, but are not ideologically opposed to private involvement for quick and efficient surgery and cancer treatment.

They want children to be well educated, and believe all parents, not just the wealthy, are capable of choosing the best school for their offspring.

They don't really care if it's NCEA or Cambridge exams, so long as all children learn to read, write, do mental arithmetic and leave school with an internationally recognised qualification.

And overwhelmingly, they realise the burgeoning welfare state is causing more problems than it cures, but they despair that no political party is coming up with an alternative.

Here's one idea to think about. It comes from American academic Charles Murray's new book, In Our Hands, and UK Chancellor Gordon Brown's already shown an interest. Abolish all welfare and instead pay $10,000 a year to every New Zealander aged 20 and over. Then, for example, a solo mother could grab $10,000 off the baby's father, and with their parents' and grandparents' entitlements there's a potential $80,000 a year. Or don't get pregnant if you can't afford to support a child.

It comes back to accepting responsibility for one's choices, which is quite another thing from deciding between the tango and the foxtrot.

Are there 1000 people prepared to sign up and register such a party or is New Zealand inexorably sliding back to a two-party system?

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