ACTing Badly

A report on a meeting held by the free market ACT Party in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Submitted by LAMA on July 21, 2021

The free-market purists of the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (ACT) Party sat at 1% and 1 Member of Parliament (MP) prior to the most recent election. Following the disarray in the Centre-Right National Party and an increased profile for ACT leader David Seymour when his private member's bill on Euthanasia was selected for attention, they went on to gain 10% and 10 seats after the election. At present, their new intake of MPs is conducting a tour across the motu/nation. A member of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement (AWSM) attended the most recent component of the tour in Rotorua. This was partly to see what they had to say and partly because the funfair across the road from the venue had closed by 6:30 pm. Had they both been open, perhaps the bouncy castle and the candy floss would have won out as a destination. We will never know.

What we do know is about 200 white-haired pakeha/Europeans filled a room in a hotel. The meeting began on time. The initial speaker was Karen [no spelling mistake] Chhour. Her position as a newbie MP was evident in both the nervousness of her voice and lack of confidence in presentation. She gave a personal history that emphasised her triumph over adverse circumstances as a solo mum. It's the sort of classic success story beloved of right-wing disciples. One of its faults as a narrative is even if true (which it may be) it only has the effect of showing her to be the exception rather than the rule. Many solo parents try bloody hard yet are unable to overcome systemic difficulties and inadequate social support. Instead, we have somebody who has made it up the ladder and is now drawing it up after her. Her portrayal of those she once resembled is that they are inadequate humans, simply given the benefit and possessing zero life skills. Her current mission is to “…not treat tamariki[children] based on race”. Which race she is referring to is pretty clear. Sounds like Karen is well on her way to being a Karen. After her few minutes of nervous self-deceptive autobiography, she sat down and said little for the remainder of the event.

The majority of the remaining 2 hours of the meeting was taken over by Nicole McKee. She began by apologising for her predecessor's nervousness. Then in a clear, booming voice, she launched into her speech. This was not made from behind a lectern or read, but flowed freely and comfortably in front of the crowd from centre stage. One thing that probably aided her in doing so, was opening with her favourite topic of opposing the government’s gun laws. In her estimation “…the registration of firearms will make no difference and will be at the taxpayers expense”. Following this, she tackled one topic after the other with an assurance derived from knowing the repetition of a simple formula will show there’s a ‘philosophy’ behind the scattergun rant. Whether talking about farming, water use, electric vehicles, covid vaccines, gangs, or welfare, the solution appears to be “personal responsibility”, not spending public money to fix stuff, and not doing things “based on race”. It's a tired, simplistic, and well-worn litany of coded language that we have been hearing from the Right for decades. Is the rhetoric working though? Given the election results and attendance at the meeting, you’d have to say that in a sense, it clearly is. Being out of government and with their bigger National cousin still an internal mess, it shouldn’t be surprising there’s an audience for this stuff.

The meeting concluded with questions from the audience. All were sympathetically posed and on the very same topics listed above and within the wheelhouse of the presenters. It was a kind of echo chamber, with the audience getting the answers they wanted to hear on questions they sort of already knew the answers to. Political masturbation can be wonderfully satisfying.

As noted, ACT doesn’t currently have its hands on the levers of power. It isn’t even in its previous position of being able to affect change as the tail wagging the dog in a coalition with National. In case anyone has forgotten, this resulted in some horrendous legislation such as the 90 Days Law that allowed workers to be fired within that time period with no explanation, Charter Schools that had poor working conditions, the simplistic 3 strikes law and disastrous privatised prisons. Yet ironically it has more support now than it has for a very long time. With demonstrably poor calibre MPs and appeals to the fears of a particular section of the community, they remain a potentially dangerous force for the future.

Unlike mainstream political parties (such as the Labour Party, whose leadership personnel founded ACT) that merely move things a few millimeters this way or that, we in AWSM are committed to building a genuine, radically opposed alternative to such organisations. We are organising for a positive new approach to politics. One that is different to all the various parties who share the wish to maintain this current system. Its an approach whereby you can do politics yourself rather than have it done to you. Its an approach that is truly democratic and goes beyond replacing one bunch of rulers with another. We think there are real advantages to what we have to offer. Best of all…you can be a part of this effort whether you like candy floss or not.