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  • Writer's pictureGrant McLachlan - Column

Beware of List MPs hiding behind leaders

The Act Party list was announced on Sunday 28 June 2020. The most notable change to the list was the demotion of Deputy Leader Beth Houlbrooke from #2 to #13 on the list. The New Zealand Herald made no mention of the reason for the demotion. Houlbrooke, who had "already packed her bags for Wellington", was only told of her demotion moments before the list announcement. She claimed that she was a "victim of her own success." David Seymour said, “She has done such a good job for the Rodney Local Board and I think really she’s going to focus on that.” Rubbish.

Below is a column I submitted to the New Zealand Herald on 16 June 2020 that was not published. No reason was given.

Act Leader David Seymour and Deputy Leader Beth Houlbrooke, 17 June 2019.

Voters should be careful of who they vote for this election. Voting for one party’s policies or leader could result in list MPs being elected who have a track record of campaigning for certain things but doing the opposite in power.

The curiosity of list MPs is that, to be elected, they ride the coat tails of their party’s campaign success. They are often the nodding heads and smiling faces behind their leader at press events.

The first time many hear about list MPs, however, is when they are in trouble. Hypocrisy is usually their downfall, soon replaced by another forgettable list MP.

The Act party has campaigned on being the toughest on crime. Act MP Donna Awatere Huata, however, was imprisoned for fraudulently using taxpayer money and then obstructing justice. Justice spokesman David Garrett resigned when it surfaced that he was convicted for assuming a dead person’s identity to obtain a passport.

United Future, Alliance, Act, and NZ First parties have suffered from indiscretions and internal ructions. These minor parties often choose who forms a government - and often contributes to a government’s demise.

Minor parties habitually get a bump in the polls when a major party is in disarray. When Bill English led National’s worst campaign in 2002, United Future gained 7 list MPs and NZ First gained 8.

This election, the minor party most likely to gain is David Seymour’s ‘rejuvenated’ Act Party. Little, however, is known about the list MPs who may join him.

The Act Party Deputy Leader is Beth Houlbrooke. She is also the Deputy Chair of Auckland Council’s Rodney Local Board. She was ranked number 2 on the Act party list at the last general election.

While the Act party founding principles are ‘Freedom, Choice and Personal Responsibility’, Beth does the opposite. While Act campaigns for lower taxes and less red tape, Beth increased them.

Beth and fellow Act disciples formed a ticket called ‘Rodney First’, which has held a majority of the Rodney Local Board since 2016. During that time, they have introduced several targeted rates and bylaws that have made the area one of the most taxed and regulated in the country.

Rodney has over 78 percent of Auckland’s unsealed roads. Beth asked residents whether they wanted a targeted rate to improve roading. 36 percent of responses supported the rate, 21 percent partially supported it, and 43 percent opposed it. Beth interpreted this as a majority, introduced the rate, and wasted the money on superfluous bus services and a carpark instead.

[The proposed temporary Warkworth Park 'n Ride carpark, which is next to the larger and better equipped A&P Showgrounds carpark (rarely used during weekdays), has blown out to cost $5.6m. Experts estimate that $5.6m could seal as much as 56km of unsealed rural roads, instead of the proposed 131 carparks.]

Former Act candidate and current Rodney Local Board Chair Phelan Pirrie pushed for a Business Improvement District (BID) for Northwest Auckland between Riverhead and Kaukapakapa. Without the majority of support from local businesses, all are now charged a targeted rate to fund the local business association. Phelen Pirrie is the manager and receives $87,000 in addition to his $85,000 local board chair salary.

Warkworth’s business association has only 23 sponsors. Since 2017, Beth has supported a BID in Warkworth. With only 37 percent support (which the business association called ‘a clear majority’), all 588 local businesses will be charged $500 per year. It is compulsory membership by stealth.

[Beth has since been appointed to the Warkworth BID team.]

Since Act was founded in the 1990s, it has stood for freedom of association. It rallied against compulsory membership of unions and student associations. Beth’s son, Louis, was president of Act’s youth wing.

Following the Christchurch mosque massacres, David Seymour launched a Freedom to Speak campaign against Jacinda Ardern’s proposals to censor hate speech. Beth and Phelan, however, administer most of the Rodney community Facebook groups, censoring and blocking criticism and debate. Despite calls to relinquish the roles, Phelan told his colleagues that controlling the pages was ‘core’ to his strategy.

[Note: the Mahurangi Matters articles have since been removed from their website. We've used archived versions.]

Many freedoms enjoyed by the rest of Auckland are restricted in Rodney by draconian bylaws supported by Beth. The majority of submissions asked for more practical rules for motorhome parking and dog access to beaches. Without consultation, last minute unnecessarily tougher regulations were inexplicably pushed through in 2016 and again in 2019.

[Temporary bans have since been imposed without consultation.]

To improve the appeal of Act’s neoliberal agenda, its backers set up artificial grassroots organisations (‘astroturfs’) to do the hard yards. The Sensible Sentencing Trust (modelled on America’s ALEC) pushes policies that result in mass incarceration, disenfranchisement, and private prisons. The New Zealand Initiative (formerly the Business Round Table) pushes neoliberal deregulation and privatisation. The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union (including the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance) pushes for lower taxes and less regulation by ridiculing public sector waste.

David Seymour’s former press secretary, Louis Houlbrooke, is the campaign manager for the Taxpayer Union. For some reason, dodgy spending in Rodney hasn’t attracted his attention. Instead, each week, Louis’ newsletters are followed by Act’s.

This election, while David Seymour smiles and waves, others will be in the trenches digging dirt and doing the hard yards. Voters should be concerned by who else appears unscathed and untested.

[Since this article was submitted, several journalists have eluded to having 'dirt' on 'top ten' Act list candidates. Stephen Berry resigned due to being 'exhausted', boosting Beth Houlbrooke to #12 on the list. There is a high likelihood that Houlbrooke could become a Member of Parliament by the end of the next Parliamentary term if more than one Act MP resigns in disgrace.]


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