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Act leader David Seymour. (Greg Bowker/Getty Images; additional design Tina Tiller)
Act leader David Seymour. (Greg Bowker/Getty Images; additional design Tina Tiller)

The BulletinDecember 9, 2021

The other leader of the opposition

Act leader David Seymour. (Greg Bowker/Getty Images; additional design Tina Tiller)
Act leader David Seymour. (Greg Bowker/Getty Images; additional design Tina Tiller)

David Seymour talks about Act’s rising poll numbers, being a ‘constructive opposition’ and his deep dislike for Morning Report, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.

Sitting in Act’s offices at parliament, David Seymour has a smile on his face. Why wouldn’t he? He’s at the head of a party with 10 seats and, despite a large intake of rookies last year, he’s avoided scandal. Instead, the party’s popularity has soared in a number of polls, taking support in equal measure from both Labour and National. Jacinda Ardern, in a breach of protocol, called him “the other leader of the opposition” in parliament last month.

“It’s been a long year. It’s hard work getting votes,” says Seymour, reflecting on the year. “The fact that people are coming to Act from across the spectrum tells me our approach to politics has much wider appeal than many imagine.”

There’s a lot to celebrate for Act. End-of-life care, one of the party’s priorities, is now the law. The party’s motion criticising China’s human rights abuses got through parliament, albeit watered down by Labour. Seymour has also found himself allied with the Greens occasionally, with both parties now calling on the government to rewrite its housing intensification bill. You can dislike Act’s politics, but they’ve clearly been an effective opposition party.

“I think we’ve played a positive role in putting forward new ideas,” says Seymour. “Look at our alternative budget, our papers on crime, housing and the economy. We’ve done three different papers on Covid since August and a lot of it has turned out to be what happens.”

A serious misstep worth mentioning was Seymour’s decision earlier this year to tweet out a priority code for Māori to access the Covid-19 vaccine. In an echo of that, he also accused Northland iwi earlier this week of being “thugs” for planning highway checkpoints this summer.

The party’s Covid-19 proposals, once ignored, are now mainstream. Act keeps a running tally of Covid-19 ideas they’ve proposed that get picked up by the government. Compared to conservative parties overseas that still deny Covid, Act’s role has been a positive one. As someone who covers Covid-19 on a daily basis, I’ve gone through their list of ideas and it’s hard to think of many that might not become policy one day, now that the government has dropped elimination and is set on reopening.

Yesterday, Sir Brian Roche told parliament’s health select committee that the government should consider creating an epidemic response unit that brings together the public sector and private enterprise. The idea was almost identical to a proposal put forward by Seymour.

Some parts of the government’s Covid approach still frustrate him. He’d like Ashley Bloomfield’s advice to cabinet to be released nearly immediately after the government acts on it, instead of weeks or months of delay. A perfect example of that was a story from the NZ Herald yesterday revealing that Bloomfield had recommended dropping the Auckland border weeks before the government’s plan. That segues into complaint number two: the government’s caution.

“It’s politics,” he says, not science. “If you change your position, you risk losing the support of people who agree with your position and if you change back you lose everybody. Their brand is being ultraconservative on Covid risk and everything else can be paid for with borrowed money.”

The ban on Morning Report. Seymour won’t appear on RNZ’s morning radio show. Neither side has really made a big deal about it, but he just stopped. The thing about David Seymour is that in conversation he’s quiet, he’s polite and he’s thoughtful. But when asked about Morning Report, a fuse is lit.

“After the umpteenth time that I went on their show out of a feeling of public duty and was belittled and abused with all their snarkiness, I just thought, I don’t need this,” he says. Seymour runs through his complaints. He says they are rude, selective and dishonest about what they want to talk about.

“I really want to differentiate that really toxic and comically lilliputian culture of Morning Report from the rest of RNZ. I think Jane [Patterson, RNZ’s political editor] runs one of the best teams in the gallery, we love going on with Lisa on Checkpoint and we’ll go on various other shows”.

His next reality franchise. Few New Zealanders are unaware of Seymour’s twerking on Dancing with the Stars. It certainly didn’t hurt his political career, and he might not be done with reality television just yet. “I’d be keen to get into some cooking. I did baking and that didn’t go so well. I’m really keen to get into Indian cooking, so watch this space.”

This is the second in a series of end-of-the-year interviews.

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