ACT hopefuls state their case

The ACT Party leadership battle went public this evening as hopeful contenders faced off in the heart of the Epsom electorate. 

In the Somervell Church in Remuera, Auckland, candidates John Boscawen, Jamie Whyte and David Seymour had a chance to address the party's key electorate.

The party's board will make the final decision about who will be its leader, but Boscawen called the meeting to open the process up to the wider ACT party. 

Around 100 people attended the meeting and current ACT leader John Banks shared a pew with former ACT and Labour MP Roger Douglas. 

ACT president and former MP, Boscawen focused on education as the "ticket out of poverty" and his belief in the ACT party sponsored partnership school programme. 

"We believe that education should be opened up to the private sector and that taxpayer funding should be contestable. By creating competition in this way, standards will rise," Boscawen said. 

"If we have an ACT-National coalition government following the next election, you can expect a substantial roll-out of this model," he said. 

He also said ACT would call for the gradual increase in the age of entitlement to 67. 

Whyte, philosophy lecturer and newspaper columnist, campaigned on natural ACT policy: shrinking the size of government and lowering taxes. 

He also believes he is the man to pull the party from political obscurity. 

As a newspaper columnist advocating free market policy, Whyte said he had the credentials to promote the party to the natural 5 -10 per cent of the population that share ACT's beliefs.

"I think it is because ACT is not selling its message. To me it should be pretty obvious. If I am made the leader of the party I will fix that," he said.

Quoting former Labour MP Michael Cullen's reference to ACT as the party for "rich pricks," Whyte said this was wrong. 

"This is a party that is saying that they want everyone to get the consumer sovereignty that rich pricks enjoy," he said. 

David Seymour, 30, who is running only for the Epsom candidacy, has campaigned for ACT, headed its student body and spent years working for conservative think tanks in Canada. 

He was also the most popular with the crowd. 

"If that was a hair growing contest I would be home and hosed," said Seymour, a tribute to his competitors' shiny bald heads, to laughter from the crowd. 

And his youth does not mean he is not inexperienced, said Seymour, who spoke of his work with John Banks in formulating the partnership school policy. 

"I am closer to the median age of Epsom, which is 35, than both of these guys, and I am moving closer to it as I speak," he said, again bringing laughter from the crowd. 

Seymour emphasised ACT's role in lowering taxes and creating a safer New Zealand. 

All three candidates agreed that Epsom was of huge importance to the make-up of the next government. 

"The Epsom people have played a huge role in the outcome of the last three elections," said Boscawen. 

Without an ACT MP in Epsom, a Labour-Green coalition was likely, said Whyte. 

"If ACT can't win in Epsom, policy is likely to move rapidly in the wrong direction," said Whyte. 

"What a good local MP does is stand up for the people of their electorate. I believe I could be that MP," said Seymour, who went to school at Auckland Grammar in Epsom. 

Banks, a member of the ACT board, wouldn't discuss which candidate he favoured. 

"They are three very good candidates. It's a good problem," he said.

The attendees were reluctant to discuss where their support lay. 

But one woman, who would not be named, believed Seymour, whose forefather was one of the signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi, filled a demographic ACT lacks.

"I think the young chap would be ideal because he is part Maori. ACT is very short on Maori and women," she said.    

The ACT board meets to decide on the leadership on Sunday.

Fairfax Media