John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Down - but not out

Act Party leader John Banks. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Act Party leader John Banks. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Down - but definitely not out.

Don't be fooled by the fact that Act was able to fit its conference dinner tonight into a Newmarket cafe.

The party may have been written off by all and sundry, and tonight's 3 News poll showing the party registering a minuscule 0.1 per cent will be the cue for further obituaries.

But one thing keeps it going: the staunch belief of the remaining adherents that New Zealand needs Act, even if New Zealand is not so sure it wants Act.

Without that conviction, Act would have folded long ago.

The refrain about the country needing Act echoed around the barn on Alan Gibbs' farm all day today, as some 200 party supporters descended on the multi-millionaire's Kaukapakapa property for the party's annual conference.

That was a better turnout than at last year's sad post-election affair. It has helped enormously that one of the party's former MPs and benefactors, John Boscawen, has taken over as president.

He is Act's version of the Energizer Bunny. He grabbed the conference by the throat with passionate denunciations of National's student loans policy and that party's failure to recognise the "blindingly obvious" - that simple demographics demand that the age of entitlement for New Zealand super be progressively raised.

His comments highlighted one of Act's problems though: the party being seen to be taking entitlements away from people.

Act's negative messaging is also apparent in one of its other main concerns. National needs coalition friends, the party says, and the voters of Epsom should once again succumb to the "compelling logic" that they back the Act candidate to avoid National having to rely on NZ First, the Maori Party, or both, to govern after 2014.

Scaring National voters does not seem to be much of an election strategy, But holding Epsom is the difference between Act remaining a viable political party and it becoming nothing more than a religious sect.

Act is promising to reverse the "anti-development" and "anti-subdivision" elements of the Resource Management Act as it becomes the latest party to tackle housing affordability.

Act leader John Banks told the conference attendees that he had told the National Party that there was currently a one-in-20 year opportunity to fix the legislation.

"lt is now a significant cause of housing unaffordability. It is used to constrain the supply of land thereby creating a massive trsnsfer of wealth from first home buyers to those who already own consentable land."

Mr Banks said Act intended going much further than National with its Freedom to Build policy, which would be based on the presumption that you could develop your property if you respected the rights of your neighbours.

According to Labour and the Greens, a Government-created problem required a "Soviet-style" solution.

"Young people would have to queue up for a house chosen by David Shearer and Russel Norman."

- Herald on Sunday

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