ACT's new man Jamie Whyte speaks up

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 14:37 01/03/2014
Jamie Whyte
MICHAEL FIELD/Fairfax NZ
NEW LEADER: Jamie Whyte.

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Repeat burglars would face a three strikes sentencing regime under a new ACT policy - but leader Jamie Whyte is vague on the details.

He announced the party will campaign on the policy, which would see recidivist offenders get the maximum sentence on a third conviction of burglary, with no parole.

The moved was touched on in a keynote speech to the party's annual conference at Mangere's Villa Maria vineyard. But he was unable to give reporters specifics, outline how many people it would affect, or the likely cost to taxpayers.

Whyte also said he wanted to scrap the Resource Management Act - but there was scant detail on what would replace it, other than a "serious review."

And fresh from apologising for this week's incest gaffe, he walked straight into another controversial debate: polygamy.

Whyte said his mother was burgled, and the perpetrators defecated throughout her home. But he says he doesn't want to "throw away the key."

"I've got no interest in locking them up, I want them not to commit crime," he said.

Pressed for further details, he came up short, and then tried to play down the announcement: "I don't think that is the exciting policy that we are going to come to the election with. I see it as just a tidying up exercise with the work we have already done."

Asked if it was an attempt to look tough on crime, after suggesting last week that incest between consenting adults should not be illegal, he said: "I'm not yet that clever a politician."

Whyte spent the first four minutes of his speech explaining away the incest gaffe. "I was done over by the media," he told the audience.

"I made a blunder and I thought I had to say I blundered," he told reporters afterwards. "I forgot briefly that I am the leader of a political party and not a philosophy lecturer...I was stupid for even getting involved."

He then attempted to avoid a fresh storm when asked if he takes a similar stance on polygamy, which he once hinted at in a column.

"Look, I don't want to start talking about this. The party has got absolutely no views on this - no I haven't changed my personal view. But my personal views are irrelevant at this point."

He said he would be happy to be guided by the party on conscience votes.

'PUT THE PHONE BACK ON THE HOOK' 

ACT supporters have put the "phone back on the hook," campaign director Richard Prebble says.

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The party's "Thriller at the Villa" conference kicked off this morning at Mangere's Villa Maria vineyard. Around 100 people are attending with 200 registered.

Prebble, a one-time Labour minister and ACT MP, admits that prior to the election of new leader Jamie Whtye last month "ACT's position was dire."

Membership was down to just over 600 - close to to 500 threshold required to register a party. Their "fighting fund" was $80,000. And before Whyte's election, he hadn't even registered to attend.

"The job of opening mail at the ACT party headquarters was a disheartening one, opening one letter of resignation after another," Prebble said.

Since Whyte took over, the mood has changed to "Christmas-like," he claimed.

Whyte, a management consultant, blundered this week when he said incestuous relationships between consenting adults should not be illegal.

Prebble believes the party - sitting a just above zero in recent polls - can win the Epsom electorate and return eight list MPs to Parliament at this year's election. This would take 150,000 voters, he says.

A new lemon-yellow logo was unveiled and he said the party would "rebrand," "refresh" and  "start again."

His campaign will be conducted the "old fashioned way, doorstep by doorstep" and an inexpensive networking strategy.

And he says the party needs more women candidates: "We can't be a party of angry white man, even though I have a lot of sympathy for that misunderstood group."

The party has contracted pollsters used by the US Republican Party will begin an online survey next week. They also have an 18-person call centre but Prebble admits the website is "poor." 

"I am determined that ACT is going to win the election on the blogosphere."

Prebble also believes leader Jamie Whyte's yet-to-be-published book Good Thoughts, will convince people to vote for ACT.

Neither Whyte, who was doing a TV interview, or Seymour was present to hear the 40-minute speech but both will speak later this afternoon.

Former leader John Banks popped in briefly and refused to rule out talking another tilt at the Auckland mayoralty.

He was farewelled at a private general meeting yesterday and will stand trial later this year on charges relating to anonymous campaign donations to the 2010 mayoral campaign. 

Former leader Don Brash, and defeated leadership candidate John Boscawen, were in the audience.

- Fairfax Media

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