Deliberations of an ACT member

  1. Summary
  2. Why this article
  3. About me
  4. Leadership qualities
  5. ACT's future
  6. Speeches
  7. Image the candidates in a TV debate
  8. Questions by Chris Trotter
  9. Gay marriage
  10. Website
  11. Some personal observations
  12. Why I vote for ACT
  13. Who I endorse


This is an article in which I document my reasons for selecting my candidate for the ACT leadership. As I didn't have the time to turn this into a short article, I'll summarise the points I make in the subsequent sections so you don't have to read the entire article.

ACT is looking for a new leader. At one of the primary meetings, Deborah Codding expressed this as: if we get it wrong —select the wrong leader— we could be very wrong. I agree, but there is a more immediate danger: if we don't select a leader with a clear mandate, the primary might never end. What happens if the top two differ only in a few dozen votes? We can imagine the headlines in the media. ACT voters must not only select the right leader, but also do so with an unequivocal mandate. This article is not only my personal choice, but is also meant to convince other voters.

Sometimes this primary is put as finding a leader. But we already found them. All the four candidates are leaders. That's why nobody laughed when they put their names forward. This candidate selection process really is about selecting a future. We must look for the candidate that can speak about that future with passion and vision, and who can communicate to the media why that future needs ACT to come to pass. And a future with ACT needs voters. We must be selecting a candidate who appeals to voters.

If ACT voters select Ken Shirley, the current deputy leader, we will not select a fresh face. If we select Stephen Franks, we're selecting a lawyer again. Both are men of integrity, both might not have immediate media appeal, but also both miss the prestige of having been governor of the Reserve Bank.

Muriel Newman is campaigning on a fairly narrow platform. Welfare reform might be important, but I doubt if it will convince people on welfare to vote for ACT, or that it will sway the people paying for that welfare to vote for Muriel Newman. But she represents 50% of the population, and, above all, the compassion ACT had since to beginning to complete the mission: making New Zealanders more independent of the government, help New Zealand families with real solutions, and let them retire with $500,000 in the bank. Muriel is my second choice.

Rodney Hide is using modern technology to get in touch with his voters. He understands that a party with the best leader doesn't count, but the party with the most votes. You need to communicate with voters. Both in direct communication with voters through his own web site and in communication through the media he is unparallelled in ACT. He is also the only one recognising that ACT must get into government. When Richard Prebble leaves, only Ken Shirley has ministerial experience. That will not be good enough if ACT wants to continue as the best party in parliament.

Voters want to see Don Brash in the next government. They will not waste their vote on ACT if they believe they won't get Brash or that National will not have enough votes to be the largest party. But voters are keenly aware that National has a lot of socialist baggage. ACT can represent National voters who are afraid of voting in just right of the centre socialists, but are even more afraid of another three years of Labour

Brash and National with him will not endorse ACT. Of course they want to attract as many voters as they can by themselves. But imagine that National becomes the biggest party. Not big enough to rule by its own, but it needs another party. And it needs a Minister of Finance. I believe Brash would prefer to give that post to someone outside his party, if he could trust that second party. Giving that post to someone in his own party has two disadvantages: that someone could become a threat to his own leadership if he is very successful; he could claim the same base for fame as his party leader. Secondly, the Minister of Finance would not be independent and would not be seen as independent. He not only has to follow party discipline, but his leader would be seen as more competent than he is. Brash would completely overshadow the Minister of Finance. And that is not a good thing for the markets inside and outside New Zealand.

Rodney HideI believe Brash would prefer to give that post to a party that is close to his own ideas and to someone he believes he can work well with. That someone cannot be some backbencher. For such a post you would be looking to someone really high on the party list. For a small party preferably the leader. In the person of Rodney Hide ACT has such a person. He has an MSc in economics, has lectured on the subject, and has been ACT finance spokesman for years.

Depending on ACT's size it can take at least one other post: perhaps Stephen Franks for Minister of Justice, or Muriel Newman for Minister of Welfare. ACT's future looks bright if we select the right leader.

To summarise, I believe Rodney Hide has the following additional qualities above the other contenders:

  1. He has shown how to directly communicate with voters in an innovative way, and on world class level.
  2. He has proven skills in communicating with and through the media to voters.
  3. If elected as party leader, he is ideal for the post of Minister of Finance in a Brash led government.
  4. If elected as party leader, his chances in winning the Epsom seat would increase.

My first choice therefore is Rodney Hide.

Why this article

The locationMembers have remarked that it isn't easy to select the new leader. Especially not it they have gone to a primary. They take their duty seriously. They know, as Deborah Coddington expressed it on the primary I went to, that if they get it wrong, they could get it very wrong. ACT is polling at 3% at the moment. New Zealand has a threshold of 5%, unless you have an electoral seat. ACT currently has no electoral seats.

Not only is the leadership position open, the members will also determine the deputy leader. The highest polling candidate will become the leader, the second polling candidate the deputy leader. The voting process itself is documented on ACT's website.

In this article I try to document the reasons why I will vote for Rodney Hide and Muriel Newman. I try to find the merit in each of the candidates positions. And I try to come to terms with my belief in the Bible and voting for who I will be voting for.

I based the article on information I got from the website of each candidates, personal encounters I've had, and the public meeting I attended on the 24th of May, 7:30 in Takapuna, Auckland.

About me

I am not a party insider, not a member of the media, not a thought leader in New Zealand. Just an ordinary member.

I became an ACT member when I first came to New Zealand, a few years ago. I saw a television debate among the leaders of New Zealand's main parties. There was one guy who was treated with contempt by all others. Every party was saying: I want your money, I know how to spent it better than you ever will. And this man, with white hair and statesman like appearance said: I don't want your money. It was Richard Prebble, leader of the ACT party.

I joined the ACT party and have never regretted it. It's parliamentarians are very approachable and likable.

My profession is software engineering. I fall in the top tax bracket. I'm one of the 9% of tax payers that pay 54% of the income taxes in New Zealand.

My kids grow up and their expenses grow with them. I had an unfortunate accident with my car, so we had to dip in our savings. But I was blessed by getting an email from a company asking if they knew someone who could do some work for them. I responded by saying I could do that. And I'm happy that I have that opportunity. But I'm in the top bracket. Extra work isn't almost worth it. For every dollar I earn, 39 cents go straight to Dr. Cullen. That's a story I hear from more people. They would want to work more, but it's just not worth it.

No, there is no doubt in my mind that, just looking at taxes, ACT is that party for me. It is also the right party for everyone else in New Zealand, but I will address that later.

I also am a Christian, probably a serious one by New Zealand standards. I attend church every Sunday. My children go to a private Christian School in Manukau, which receive almost no government support. I believe the earth was created 6000 years ago, and that the geological record backs this up very well. ACT isn't known to be a Christian party. How can one be a Christian and support ACT? Shouldn't I support a party like United Future? Or perhaps National that is sometimes known as conservative?

Leadership qualities

All contestants addressed the question why they were fit to lead. I didn't hear a lot of difference here. All had leadership qualities. Stephen Franks is perhaps best qualified, but by a slim margin, to lead a team. But politics is not just leading a team. It is about convincing voters and ultimately about getting those votes.

ACT's future

What will ACT's future be? It needs to take either an electoral seat or overcome the 5%. Only Rodney and Muriel addressed this question:

  1. Rodney will be contesting the Epsom electoral seat. He promised to take this seat. If ACT has an electoral seat, ACT will be in parliament.
  2. Muriel said that a woman would attract more female votes, and backed this up with statistics. If ACT has as many female as male voters, it would pass the 5% threshold easily. She would also use a grassroots campaign to strengthen the party

Stephen FranksKen Shirley and Stephen Franks didn't really address how or why, with them as leader, ACT would pass the 5%. They only spoke in general terms about the future: prosperous, freedom and choice. Stephen Franks saw this election as a job interview. I think he is mistaken in this. Being a party leader is a calling.

Rodney was very specific about the future: ACT must be in the next government and that government must be lead by Don Brash. I think he touches on a really essential point here. Other candidates tended to stress ACT's independence from National, but Rodney Hide clearly saw the political realities. When Richard Prebble leaves, only Ken Shirley will have ministerial experience. That is not enough if you want to continue to be the best party.

Rodney Hide didn't talk specifics. But I believe ACT has a great future in a Brash led government if ACT can supply the Minister of Finance. I believe Brash, and national and international markets, would prefer a non-National Minister of Finance. This subject is extensively covered in the summary.


Each of the candidates spoke for 7 minutes. Muriel Newman spoke first, and she did so with zeal and passion. She only occasionally looked at her notes. She stressed two things: you are choosing the deputy leader tonight as well. Only 4% of the women vote for ACT. If 50% did, ACT would easily pass the threshold. Women typically tend to vote other women.

Rodney Hide spoke afterwards. I missed a little bit of the passion that is always present in his speeches, perhaps he has held his speech too often and knows it too well? He spoke freely and without notes. He promised to win the Epsom seat. But this was the only time I found him performing less well. In the questions he was his usual confident self.

Stephen FranksKen Shirley spoke without notes as well, and as others have remarked, you don't expect the guy the speak with such passion. But I would be hard pressed to tell you any specifics.

Stephen Franks spoke last. Also without notes. Had to ask if the last bell was indeed the six minute bell. His points were that you didn't need to be charismatic, look at Don Brash, and he might not dominate media attention, but that would just give more room for others. He mentioned the Green party as an example. They had a person for every issue. I believe this was the wrong example. Nobody, not even Labour, wants to be in government with the Greens. But ACT must be in the next government.

Image the candidates in a TV debate

As in most countries, the leaders of the parties debate each other on TV. And let's face it, we ordinary voters like to call politicians dumb, but we wouldn't survive a minute there. Just imagine each of the four ACT candidates in a room with Helen Clark, Don Brash, Winston Peters and Peter Dunne with television camera's in their face and Holmes in their ears. Who would do best?

  1. Ken Shirley never had the chance to shine. As deputy leader he just served the leader. He spoke quite strongly. But is he the new face that ACT needs? It would be the old face.
  2. To me, Stephen Franks doesn't have a lot of media appeal. He wanted to use the individual strength of each members, but on such a TV debate, it's not logic, not deliberation, it's appeal and passion. He may have integrity, but Don Brash has that as well. He may have created a leading law firm, but Don Brash has led the reserve bank. No one will beat that.
  3. Muriel Newman is campaigning on a fairly narrow platform: welfare reform. I don't think that will sway voters. People on welfare won't be interested in it I'm afraid, and people who have to pay for the welfare perhaps don't say a reason to pay for it.
  4. Leaves us with Rodney Hide. Seems to be loved by the media and is quick enough to throw in a joke or make a snap remark. IT will be seen if he is quick and smart enough to make a remark that will penetrate and expose an opponent's argument. But media exposure is what ACT sorely needs.


Chris TrotterChris Trotter was prepared to give each of the four candidates a difficult question. This to give us an idea how they would fare on the Paul Holmes show. The candidates didn't know the question beforehand.

Ken Shirley got the first question. The most difficult one in my opinion. The question was if ACT's support for the US-led coalition to go to war in Iraq was justified, given the fact that no WMD's were found —a major justification for the war— and that Iraq was not at war with its neighbours nor with any of the nations forming the coalition, and given the abuse of prisoners in Abu Grhaib? His answer was less convincing that it could be. I think I could have given a better answer, but I suppose I've more time to listen to Rush Limbaugh and read blogs than Ken Shirley has.

Muriel Newman was asked about the welfare situation in Wisconsin. Chris Trotter said that although Wisconsin might appear to be a case for welfare reform, the economic deterioration had hid hard: people on the street and such. Muriel Newman knew and explained the Wisconsin situation well and questioned Chris data.

Stephen Franks was asked about certain Maori in Gisborne who denied that the government had anything to say about their fish farming. What would he do as Minister Of Justice? Stephen Franks expressed sympathy for their situation, but was also firm that in the end the government had to assert its role. He gave the best answer in my opinion.

Rodney Hide was asked about tax cuts. He gave a good answer with not much room for the questioner. He got the easiest question I believe.

Gay marriage

In Takapuna I asked if the candidates would support the Civil Union bill and gay marriage after that. This was the only question where there was a clear difference between the candidates. On all other questions, they shared a similar view. A bit boring unfortunately :-)

Muriel NewmanMuriel Newman was most clear: she will not support the Civil Union bill. This bill will weaken the case the government can make for a two parent, father and mother family. Study after study has proved that this is the most beneficial outcome for children. Too many of New Zealand's children are not doing well. They grow up in abusive situations and single parent families. Recognition of alternative relationships on the same level as marriage or redefinition of the word marriage will not improve this situation.

It is clear to me that the Civil Union bill is only introduced to make New Zealand ripe for gay marriages. Gay marriage might currently be a bridge to far, therefore let's just call it civil unions for now. Muriel Newman seemed to agree with that and fully answered both questions. She got an enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Ken Shirley and Stephen Franks had overlapping answers. They both restricted themselves to the first part of the question: “will you support the civil union bill”, and didn't comment on the second part: ”and gay marriage after that” Ken Shirley basically said that the governments should not look into people's bedrooms. Well, that's already the case as far as I know. He said he didn't know yet what was in the bill, but would probably support it if it was mainly a property thing: who is next of kin for example. I think Ken Shirley would probably support the bill.

Stephen Franks had the same answer, but even less satisfying. He didn't know what was in the bill, so it was hard to comment. Both tried to say basically nothing as not to offend anyone. Sorry Ken and Frank, we all know what is in the bill. It is not called the “Determine who can visit you in hospital outside the normal visiting hours” bill. Or the “Determine who inherits your property”. It is called the union bill, in clear reference to the union between man and woman. This bill is about recognition of the gay life style as fully equal to the union between a man and a woman. That will extend into child care, adoption, employment law and the like. Any form of perceived discrimination will be rigorously prosecuted. Anytime a citizen or organisation think they can still distinguish between a married man and woman and a married gay couple, they will have to defend themselves in court.

I know from my experience in The Netherlands how these things will work. As a private school, try to reject someone who is in a gay marriage. As a private businesses, try not to hire someone because he is in a gay marriage. The politically correct will send the police to force the issue. This is because this bill is mainly about recognition. Issues like perceived wrongs could have been corrected without a union bill. No one is advocating that though.

Let me quote Helen Clark from an interview in Express, New Zealand's newspaper of gay expression:

Question: Is the government worried about the level of homophobia shown by groups of the religious right like the Maxim Institute in New Zealand ?
Helen Clark: We legislated against hate crimes. ...

The legislation is there. You can be sure it will be enforced.

It is clear what Helen Clark believes:

Question: Maxim Institute commented in their recent Care of the Children Bill, that same sex parenting: “satisfies the desires of the parents ahead of the needs of the children.” And that it is “wrong for the State to encourage it.” Do you agree with either of those statements?
Helen Clark: Rubbish! That is absolute rubbish! It won't have any impact on the bill.

ACT, in the person of Muriel Newman, has strongly made this case that two parent, father and mother families are the best environment to bring up children. Any step in the direction of making life styles more acceptable or accessible that do not benefit children should be strongly discouraged in these times. Especially when the government picks up the bill.

Rodney Hide said he would probably support the bill. In his web diary he said (slightly edited):

The vote is not whether the government should interfere in someone's personal life or not but whether or not to pass the Civil Union Bill. I am afraid I have seen some shocking injustice under our current law where people's clear wishes and contracts have been overridden. I think that the Civil Union Bill will makes thing better. But it's still a second-best solution.

In his answer Rodney also said that gay marriage would not be a threat to marriage. The threat to marriage are we, in our conduct, in our relation with our wifes and husbands. I agree with this. The mere fact of two gays living together does not affect my marriage. But that is also not what this bill is about.

In summary, my arguments against any support for this kind of bill are:

  1. It sends the wrong message. Especially when then government picks up the tab for failed child care, the only message must be the one that is proven and prove again to be the best: lasting marriage, man and woman, is the only form of relation the government will officially recognise and promote.
  2. Support for the Civil Union bill is inconsistent with ACT's message of welfare reform. That reform is based upon changing people's life styles.
  3. Since Labour has been in power, ACT has steadfastly opposed each of the anti-family Bills that it has introduced.
  4. This does not mean ACT should not address injustice and fight for those whose clear wishes and contracts the law does not recognise. That's wrong. But this Civil Union bill is not really about that.
  5. The government cannot define what marriage is. Like freedom it is one of those inalienable rights God has given to mankind. Government cannot define what it is nor who can enter into it.
  6. Rodney Hide must have noticed the markedly different levels of applause. Muriel Newman got a warm and loud applause. The applause after Ken Shirley's, Stephen Franks' and Rodney Hide's answers was remarkably more reserved.

2004-May-31 update: Chris Auld responds to this article in his own blog. A short reaction:

  1. Chris doesn't really react to the proposal, but gives his views on how government should work. That isn't exactly the debate.
  2. I essentially agree with Chris point of view. But again, this isn't an integrated package. It doesn't remove state paid child care for example.
  3. Labour wants to change the law. Do we really believe a Labour law will give more freedom to the people? It doesn't. It will have huge impact on who you can employ as a business or who you can appoint as teacher at your school.
  4. It affirms that the government has something to say about marriage and can define what it is. I thought real Libertarians denied the government could do this. So how can it be a step in the good direction?
  5. The quote that ACT “has steadfastly opposed each of the anti-family Bills that it has introduced” came from a column of Muriel Newman.


When Richard Prebble stepped down, only Rodney Hide had a website. Muriel Newman followed a few days later. A few days into the campaign Stephen Franks came with a web site. Halfway the campaign Ken Shirley came with a web site.

Technically speaking Rodney Hide's and Muriel Newman's site are superior. Both don't use frames. Frames make linking to articles much harder.

Based on this, it appeared to me that Rodney Hide was ready. It was for him as surprising as for the others, but he was ready for it.

Who is making Rodney's photo's? A
photo model!Only Rodney Hide grasped the concept of a website. Or perhaps he didn't, and had people who explained it to him. The outcome is the same. Either he was smart, or he was smart to listen. A website is not a photo book. It's not a collection of speeches. The Internet is a communication tool, not another publication mechanism.

On Rodney's website he interacts. Only on Rodney's website people can comment and put their view or ask questions. Rodney has a personal diary, and sometimes comments live from parliament. As far as I know he is the first parliamentarian in the world to do so.

And only Rodney Hide has a photo model taking his photo's!

Some personal observations

Rodney Hide, blogging liveIn my opinion Rodney is the most outgoing personality. He can tell great stories, is responsive and available. Some people I know have said to me that “he will wreck the party”. Oh really? We have someone in the party who can wreck it but has not yet done so? Not very talented it seems, especially since he has had since 1996 to do it. I believe the opposite. I believe voters respond well to Rodney, and that's the ultimate test for the leader of a political party.

I've spoken only briefly to Muriel Newman. I've once send her an email, but never got a reply. But I wasn't a party member at that time. But this could be a women thing. Deborah Coddington also never replied to an email I sent. And my wife once sent an email to Don Brash and Helen Clark. Don Brash responded quickly. Helen Clark's office only gave a response in the form: Helen Clark will get back to you. She never did.

Ken Shirley is a nice guy. I've spoken to him at an ACT conference. I've never personally spoken with Stephen Franks.

Why I vote for ACT?

Why do I vote ACT? As a Christian, wouldn't United Future or National be more natural parties for a person with my beliefs?

There is no immediate link between Christianity and politics. Does the Bible tell us how to vote for or against Kyoto? Should we allow US nuclear ships? Build a nuclear reactor? Give money to schools or to kids?

Just look how United Future is propping up a godless government that redefines even the meaning of father and mother to mean anything. This already makes it clear that Christianity isn't much of an inspiration. And from history we learn that a government that favours one church above the other can be very repressive. Roman Catholicism used to burn heretics on the stake. And the head guy of that religion believes that when he speaks “Ex Cathedra” it is equal to the Word of God: infallible. I beg to differ and I'm glad New Zealand doesn't have a Catholic government.

Perhaps National then? I could vote for National if it was a true conservative party in the tradition of Edmund Burke and Roger Scruton. A good overview of what conservatives believe is “Bring Back Stigma”. The best conservative blogger is Peter Cuthbertson.

But National isn't really conservative. History is my guide again. Anyone listening to debates in parliament knows that Labour many times can defend itself by saying that the policy they know oppose was brought in by National. National and Labour don't truly differ. And above all, it does not have real policies to deal with real problems in New Zealand like the huge underclass and poverty we face. They have policies that don't alienate too many voters. That, for me, is not good enough.

I see more in party that emphasises personal responsibility. A core conservative belief.


I don't want ACT to move into a single square of the Nolan chart. There are not a lot of voters there, and you share it with people who defend underage sex, paedophilia and flag burning, all in the name of liberty. There are enough misconceptions to fight on the economic front. ACT leadership hopefuls must elaborate their position more clearly on this point.

ACT must remain what it is, even try to broaden it appeal. There are many voters on the right of the Nolan Chart if you don't steer to much up or down.

Muriel Newman is for me the conservative side of ACT. And really important to broaden ACT's appeal and deliver on why ACT was created: to implement real solutions for the huge social underclass New Zealand has. I will vote for her to be deputy leader.

ACT needs voters. ACT has a guy who has shown he can talk to voters in innovative ways. Other candidates are now also talking about using the Internet, but so far haven't shown they understand it. ACT has a guy who in his columns has shown he can write convincingly and passionately. ACT needs to be in government. ACT can deliver the next Minister of Finance.

My first vote is therefore for Rodney Hide.