No games from us, ACT leader vows

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:14 08/08/2014
Paul Hufflett and Jamie Whyte
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

FLYING THE FLAG: Paul Hufflett, left, Nelson ACT candidate, introduces party leader Jamie Whyte, seated right, at a meeting at the Nelson Club.

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There should be no minimum wage and the 90-day work trial period should be extended to a year or even to infinity, said ACT leader Jamie Whyte in Nelson yesterday.

He told a lunchtime audience at a public meeting in the exclusive Nelson Club that minimum wages and increased worker protection led to more unemployment.

Like the Mana-Internet meeting the night before it was standing room only for Whyte - but only because the party put out 30 chairs for the 35 mainly male working-age business and professional people who turned up to hear him.

They shared finger food organised by ACT Nelson candidate and seafood company executive Paul Hufflett before Whyte's 15-minute speech and half an hour of questions.

Whyte took on the leadership on March 1 after ACT's woeful performance since 2011, when it polled 1.07 per cent of the party vote and got John Banks into Parliament as its single member following the much-derided "cup of tea" with Prime Minister John Key.

It was the party's worst-ever result and Whyte told his audience that ACT had to return to its roots as a party of ideas, "not political games, not all this manoeuvring and shuffling".

"We need to avoid any scandals, we need to talk about policy, policy, policy."

In line with the party's liberal free-market stance, he said it was improper for a politician to have a vision for New Zealand.

"What the Government should do is create a framework in which you have the greatest chance of bringing about your vision for your life."

Rebuked a fortnight ago by Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy for a speech in which he said Maori were legally privileged "just as the aristocracy were legally privileged in pre-revolutionary France", he said ACT's view was that all individuals should be the same before the law.

"If you want to know what someone's legal rights are, you shouldn't have to know who their parents were."

This was consistent with all ACT's policies, which were aimed at making the state neutral.

The party is advocating a mandatory three-year prison term for anyone getting three burglary convictions.

"Why would a nice liberal party like us have a policy like that?," Whyte said.

"The reason is very simple. If you can't go about your business unmolested, and if you can't feel secure in the possession of your property, you're not really free."

ACT would cut corporate tax to 12.5 per cent and the main beneficiaries would be workers - "pay goes up when the corporate rate goes down".

Whyte said France had a good minimum wage and youth unemployment of 26 per cent. Switzerland had no minimum wage and 3 per cent, "actually zero".

"Young people have no skills to offer, they haven't proved themselves, they need a chance to get a job in the first place, especially ones who don't have much education. As the minimum wage goes up you effectively price these people out of the job market."

Rather than getting rid of the 90-day trial period, it should be extended to a year, he said, because if politicians made it hard to fire people, employers were reluctant to hire, and unemployment would rise.

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What I really believe, if you want to know the truth, is that it should be extended to infinity. Employees do not need protection from their employers - if you've got a good staff member, you treasure them."

He said Labour leader David Cunliffe was smart enough to know that his party's policies would drive unemployment up, but he was trying to get votes and so didn't care.

But ACT never bought votes by dispensing favours.

"We have to appeal to people's higher or finer sentiments, or their abstract reasoning about how societies work. That's bloody hard to do and not nearly as effective as saying, ‘Vote for me and you'll get another fifty bucks a week'."

- The Nelson Mail

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