When the Act Party meets in Wellington this weekend to reflect on its years in Parliament, members are likely to focus more on the party's successes than its myriad scandals.
Surviving every election is a measure of success for any small party, but it has also had some diabolical moments since former Labour Finance Minister Sir Roger Douglas and former National minister Derek Quigley formed the libertarian party in 1993.
The party conference will be held tomorrow, followed by a dinner to celebrate 25 years in Parliament, which was delayed because of Covid last year.
Former Act leader Richard Prebble will MC the dinner and all former leaders except Rodney Hide are expected to attend, as well as many former and current MPs. Hide is no longer active in Act, but he returned to Parliament this year to take part in the occupying anti-mandate protests.
In the nine elections the party has contested, David Seymour led it to its best result, 7.6 per cent in 2020 and 10 MPs.
ACT'S ROLLERCOASTER RECORD
1996: 6.1 per cent, eight MPs.
1999: 7.04 per cent, nine MPs.
2002: 7.14 per cent, nine MPs.
2005: 1.51 per cent, two MPs.
2008: 3.65 per cent, five MPs.
2011: 1.07 per cent, one MP.
2014: 0.69 per cent, one MP.
2017: 0.5 per cent, one MP.
2020: 7.6 per cent, 10 MPs.
THE BEST OF TIMES
• Richard Prebble's win in Wellington Central, 1996: Not quite beginner's luck given Prebble was previously a Labour MP for 18 years until he lost Auckland Central in 1993 to the Alliance's Sandra Lee. But winning an electorate seat and getting over the 5 per cent threshold at the first MMP election was a stunning outcome for the newly formed Act Party. He lost Wellington Central the following election but Act party increased its vote to 7.04 per cent, and again in 2002, to 7.14 per cent.
• Rodney Hide's win in Epsom, 2005: Hide led the party to a pitiful 1.5 per cent national mainly because Don Brash was a magnet for the centre right opposition vote that election as Helen Clark went for a third term. But against the odds and predictions, Hide kept Act on life support by winning Epsom without having an electorate deal with National. He brought in Heather Roy who later tried to roll him.
• Charter Schools, 2011: Act had barely campaigned on the state-funded schooling model which gave schools more freedom from the state system, but it was announced in the confidence and supply agreement between National's John Key and Act's John Banks. The schools soon became a signature policy for the party – and still are - despite being abolished by Labour in 2018.
• Assisted Dying 2019: Euthanasia is now legal in New Zealand after Act leader David Seymour took a bill through Parliament. Two previous bills had been voted down and another withdrawn before his was pulled from the members' bills ballot in June 2017 when Seymour was the sole Act MP, and it passed in November 2019. Strictly speaking, it was an MP's bill and a conscience vote but it sat comfortably with Act's ethos of individual liberty. Seymour formed constructive cross-party alliances to advance it, and it was sealed with 65.91 per cent support in a public referendum.
• Party vote, 2020: The party went from winning one seat in 2011, 2014, and 2017 to winning 10 seats in 2020. Almost like the old days. Over two terms, Seymour had made a positive profile for himself in Parliament - and on Dancing with the Stars - and Act also benefited from National's coups and scandals.
THE WORST OF TIMES
• Donna Awatere Huata expelled in 2003 after SFO investigation: Huata was first elected in 1996 on the list but was expelled, from the party and eventually Parliament which she challenged in court. She was jailed in 2005 for stealing from a trust she had set up, the Pipi Foundation, to help underprivileged children.
• John Boscawen and the lamington 2009: Newly elected list MP John Boscawen stood in the 2009 Mt Albert byelection after Helen Clark resigned. During a candidates' meeting, a member of the audience placed a lamington on his head while he was talking and he carried on without stopping. A wealthy benefactor of the party, he had run a serious public campaign against Labour's Electoral Finance Bill before entering Parliament, but he became an object of ridicule. He later became party president and deputy leader.
• Rodney Hide's overseas jaunt 2009: In his first year as a minister in John Key's Government, Hide billed the taxpayer $25,000 for his girlfriend to accompany him on a Super City-related work trip to Canada, the United States and London (where he met mayor Boris Johnson). Key had told ministers they should pay for spouses themselves, but Hide used his perk for discount travel as an MP, not a minister, to pay for it. The trip did not break the formal rules but it destroyed his reputation overnight as Parliament's chief perk-buster.
• David Garrett and the baby, 2010: Garrett was a list MP, former lawyer and leading protagonist of the Three Strikes law when it was revealed he had an old conviction for assault in Tonga. It emerged a short time later he had once used the identity of a dead baby to obtain a false passport. In mitigation, he had been discharged without conviction on that count and had declared it to Act before being approved as a candidate but the scandal forced his resignation.
• Don Brash and John Banks' leadership 2011: The plan was for former National leader Don Brash and former Auckland Mayor (and ex-National MP) John Banks to rescue Act from the brand damage inflicted by the scandals of the 2008 – 2011 term. Brash was leader and Banks stood in Epsom - no former Act MPs stood at the 2011 election. It didn't work and Act polled its worst result to that point, 1.07 per cent, giving it just one MP, Banks in Epsom. Brash resigns, Banks is made leader but is charged with filing a false electoral return (convicted but later overturned on appeal). Jamie Whyte replaces Banks as leader in 2014 and David Seymour is chosen to contest Epsom in 2014.