Act has Jumped the Shark

In case there was previously any doubt, the ACT Party – New Zealand’s supposedly classical liberal party – is now thoroughly socially conservative. Three of the party’s five MPs have voted in favour of a bill which passed by the New Zealand Parliament yesterday to ban the wearing of ‘gang insignia’ in a specific region of the country.

Kudos to Act MPs Heather Roy and Roger Douglas for opposing the Bill. It would be a mighty shame if Sir Roger tarnished his great political legacy by supporting this sort of illiberal, populist crap. I wouldn’t expect anything different from David Garrett, who once said “we’ve got too hung up on people’s rights,” and John Boscowen has never struck me as principled liberal. I am saddened that ACT’s leader Rodney Hide would vote for the Bill, though. Until ACT got into government, Rodney has always seemed like a principled defender of freedom. Here’s what Rodney had to say about the Bill on its first reading in April 2008:

I said that the ACT party would vote for the bill to go to a select committee. We could never vote for its third reading, but I thought the debate would be useful. But now Labour, in a fit of “election-itis”, is voting for the bill. So I have been to see Mr Borrows, who has kindly said I can vote against it, which I feel so much better about. (…)

Let us cut to the principles, and I want the National Party to think about principles. National members stood up and huffed and puffed about free speech for MPs, and spoke about that being a fundamental right. Yet suddenly one cannot wear something on one’s T-shirt. (…)

Well, freedom is not what the majority says. Freedom is about the individual, and the measure of a free society is how we move to protect the minority from the majority. If the majority thinks that people wearing glasses should be locked up, that is not freedom or democracy; if the majority thinks that people of a certain colour should be treated differently because they are a minority, that is not freedom. Freedom is actually about protecting the rights of each and every one of us. The law should be about that.

The concern that we have about gangs is not about what they wear; it is about what they do. Our concern is when they intimidate us, threaten us, and beat us—and not just gangs or those wearing a patch do that. We have all manner of intimidation and threats to our property from all sorts of people. That is what we should be attending to in upholding our law.

His views have changed a fair bit since then:

ACT leader Rodney Hide told Parliament he was aware his vote was crucial. He remained a libertarian and believed in personal freedoms but that did not mean people could intimidate each other.

“The wearing of a patch on your jacket is intimidation of law-abiding citizens,” he decided.

“I am prepared to give the good people of Wanganui the opportunity to make a law  so that they can choose how they want to live, and the police can enforce it, and they can live free from the intimidation and fear that they have been suffering.

“They have my vote.”

I’d be fascinated to hear what could have prompted such a sharp turn in Rodney’s thinking. He has a blog. Let’s hope he uses it to explain himself.

Bernard Darnton, Liberty Scott, Lindsay Mitchell, and Blair Mulholland all have excellent comments.

One Response

  1. [...] not one for electoral politics, and would certainly never support the ACT party these days, but Roger Douglas is good people and the whole article is well worth reading. Surely he must [...]

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