David Seymour, what a character! I actually mean it, what a character! As I sat in Brenda the Massey at Wellington Students’ Association’s car outside the ol’ Bowen House in windy Wellington, I was absolutely frothing to meet a man I consider to be one of the most skux MPs of all time. David Seymour, the leader of the ACT party (and the only representative of the party in parliament). So, I entered through security, got my parliamentary sticker (the adhesive was quite weak but it would have to do) and I made my way up to the 11th floor. The view was mesmerising, it was a similar feeling of cracking open a cold one with the boys, but hey it wasn’t Saturday and I had important work to do. Then, there he was, Mr Seymour invited me into his office. What happened next, our very intriguing discussion, is detailed below. From all things politics to kai, current national issues and the upcoming general election we didn’t skip a beat. With David being one of the only millennial Members of Parliament, he and I could relate more on the important issues, such as whether it is OK to enjoy an avocado latte or how well the mighty red and black boys are playing this season. Below are a few of the quirky questions discussed when I, Jack Mayo, had the chance to sit down with the man, David Seymour, himself.
Why do you think ACT has lost a significant amount of support from voters over the last two decades? You guys had 7.1 per cent of the vote in the late 90s managed a meagre 0.69 per cent in the last election.
“Oh it’s just bad behaviour. You know people just did stupid things. If you’re the perk buster, you can’t take a perk. You shouldn’t defraud the taxpayer and use the money to send your kids to school… so a number of ACT MPs did a number of regrettable things, and you know my job is just to behave well and get up every day and be a servant of the people I represent and the people I hope to represent. I don’t think ACT’s message ever got less popular, people lost confidence. Even people who supported us lost confidence in our ability to deliver it.
Why should students vote for the ACT party in this election?
Because we are speaking for a generation that’s been marginalised. It’s about superannuation, it’s about housing, it’s about tax and it’s about social liberalism and it’s about actually having a voice that will fight for them. I’ll just give you a tiny little example, it’s not the biggest issue in the world, but I know students… are using Uber to sometimes just go down the road. That’s fine, but when Uber came to the select committee, most of the members of parliament were from a totally different generation and they didn’t understand how it worked.
So we actually need some people that represent our generation more and you know with the current government, it is almost impossible to make any progress. We need more leverage to do that.
Does ACT still want to re-introduce interest on student loans?
Well, we still want to because… it’s the right thing to do. But we’re not going to because I don’t think that we’d be able to get the numbers in any parliament anyway, so we’ve dropped that. I do still think it’s worth rehearsing the argument that, if I came to you and said I’ve got a policy that’s going to tax all New Zealanders and give a benefit to the most privileged group of New Zealanders, which are people with tertiary qualifications, you would say, well that’s not right, the point of tax is to raise money for people and give it to disadvantaged people, you know it’s the opposite of what a tax is trying to achieve. But I also understand there’s no other party that’s prepared to even consider it. So unless ACT gets 51 per cent of the vote it’s not gonna change, so we’re just not worrying about it.
What is your opinion on the recent budget? Is there anything the government may have missed?
It’s the best government’s budget that the Labour Party never wrote. And I think what they missed was, first of all, tax relief. The tax changes they made will barely catch up with the extra tax that’s been taken by people getting pushed into higher tax brackets over the past decade. Second of all, family incomes package, what about all the people who don’t have kids? You effectively paying a bigger burden for people who do wanna have kids and people who have more kids. So it’s a massive wealth transfer from basically single and childless people, to people who choose to have kids. I know having kids is great, but it’s not obvious why the government needs to take more money off one group and give it to the other and I think the big thing they missed is housing. This accommodation supplement is designed to pat paper over the cracks. Housing has got more expensive of course, if you’ve done any economics then you know that it’s just gonna push the cost of housing up and students who don’t get an accommodation supplement are gonna be competing with people who get a bigger accommodation supplement.
So it’s actually going to squeeze students out of the rental market and for that reason I think its disastrous policy. Another thing that was missed is increasing the amount of rent. I honestly don’t know how students do it now. When I was a student up until 2006, you got $150 a week they actually started lending $150 back in 1999, before I even got to uni. And I think it’s gone up to $176 you can borrow. So now you’re at $176. Well. I can tell you, my flat in central Auckland was $130, in 2006… going forward student borrowing allowance should be tied to the rental market rather than to the consumer price index. There’s been no inflation, for electronics and clothes and stuff for about a decade. All that stuff is just the same price, if not cheaper. But students don’t buy a lot of that stuff. The average student probably spends 80 per cent of their money on rent, 5 per cent on food and 15 per cent on booze, you know, that’s the sort of basket you should tie. If you made it go up with rental price increases, you’d have a much higher borrowing limit. It’s just insane, my cousin flats in Wellington and they are literally growing vegetables in their back garden, it’s like WWII you know.
Why do you think marijuana should be legalised?
Oh I think that prohibition has been a big failure, for a number of reasons. You analyse a policy and you can just ask three questions. Question one is what is the intention of the policy? Question two is, how effective is it? And question three is what are the unintended consequences, or the side effects.
Obvious, the intention of the prohibition of cannabis is to stop people smoking cannabis. Has it been effective? Well no, half of New Zealanders have smoked it, 400,000 smoke it a year, I mean this is like the least observed law in the world. I mean, no one is taking it seriously. People kind of regard it as being a bit like jaywalking, sort of something you probably shouldn’t do, but everyone does it, so whatever. And it’s bad to have laws like that. So about the unintended consequences, first thing is when you have a law that most people ignore, but some people get enforced that’s where you get discrimination. You’re way more likely to get picked up for weed if you’re a Maori. And that’s wrong. That’s just a form of inequality. Second of all, there’s no legal market for it, so it ends up being provided by the criminal underworld – the gangs.
Yip, their specialty is not growing weed, it’s avoiding the law. So what does that mean? Well it means these people do not follow the Consumer Guarantees Act. They don’t label their product, they don’t pay tax, and they don’t give refunds. So these guys are giving you an inferior product, trying to up sell you on to harder drugs, or they give you a more concentrated product. One of the interesting consequences of making something illegal is it gets more concentrated so if you look at like moonshine in the US, that came out of prohibition, because if you’re trying to smuggle enough booze to get 100 people drunk, it’s gonna be much easier to do it with moonshine, rather than beer. The same thing has happened with cannabis, one of the effects of prohibition in the last 50 years is that it is way stronger than it used to be. Because if you’re gonna have to smuggle it, you better make sure to be smuggling strong stuff. And there are other consequences. We spend $4 million a year locking people up, trying to police them and have helicopters flying everywhere, trying to knock it down. So the point is the effect is almost zero and the consequences is, you have criminal gangs, selling a dangerous product, or a more dangerous product, trying to up sell you on to harder drugs and wasting an enormous amount of police time.
What ingredients make the perfect sandwich?
Well I’m very particular about this. I like to get a six inch (subway), chicken fillet sub on Italian herbs and cheese, with old English cheese, toasted with lettuce, onion, green peppers and olives, salt and pepper with south west and a medium coke.
Mean, have you ever tried putting double meat on that? It’s a whole new experience.
It probably is, I mean I think the single fillet chicken sub is like Lady Gaga, it was born that way and I don’t think you should double down on it
Some cafes have started serving coffee in an avocado shell, what are your thoughts on the trend?
Oh, well I can’t afford avocado shells because I’m trying to save for a house.
With the Crusaders on such a roll right now, unbeaten in 14 matches, do you reckon they can replicate their 2002 season and go all the way without losing?
No, I think they should all be drug tested… It pains me. I’m a hurricanes supporter because I was born in Palmerston North. It pains me to see them doing that well. They should be somehow brought to heel.
And going along with the rugby, in August 2015, you introduced a private member’s bill, to extend the trading hours of bars, so they would match the timing of rugby world cup games. Did you personally utilize these new laws, if so where was your favourite place to catch a game?
Um, probably the Windsor in Parnell. I went to the first test and it was a great night. Well a good morning actually. Yeah I found a good seat, and it was a good time. It is also one of the oldest pubs in New Zealand, it goes back to around 1898 or something.