Left Vs Right: The Left on The Smaller Government Bill

Meg is a History/English student and wannabe journalist who’s obviously failing at being apolitical

At the Act Party’s recent conference, David Seymour introduced his new Smaller Government Bill, a bill which, if passed into law, would reduce the number of MPs from 120 to 100, restrict the number of Ministers to 20, and abolish the Māori seats*. 

The question of how many representatives there should be in a representational democracy isn’t a new one. Typically, a balance is sought between too few MPs and too many MPs – too few is said to risk being undemocratic, and too many is said to produce more “red tape” and costing more to the taxpayer. 

In New Zealand the population per seat is about 40,000. In comparison with other representational democracies around the world, New Zealand’s population per seat is pretty much average. 

So why change the number of MPs? The Smaller Government Bill is in line with Act’s classical liberal, or libertarian, vision for a society free from taxes and with limited government interference, among other things. 

David Seymour’s rationale is that “big government” (is it really that big, though?) hasn’t solved New Zealand’s problems: “politicians have had their chance. If big-spending, hyper-regulating politicians were the solution to our problems, we wouldn’t have any problems.” 

Here Seymour is using something that isn’t true in order to argue that we need to reduce the number of MPs. New Zealand hasn’t been doing any “big-spending” or “hyper-regulating”. Government expenditure as a percentage of GDP has been declining since 1991, with a regime of “fiscally responsible” regulatory management – which has dominated New Zealand’s political economy since the early 90s – resulting in an underfunding of public services and some government functions being contracted out to private providers. This has resulted in a more expensive and ineffective operation (the mismanagement of the Pike River Mine is a good  example).

Seymour’s commitment to freedom from state intervention even took the bizarre form of some off-hand comments about public holidays. When asked if New Zealand should do away with public holidays, Seymour said: “I’m not into the government telling people when they should go on holiday – what is this a fascist state?” Oh, come on!

Act’s call for smaller government is effectively a call for less government intervention, because libertarians believe the market will fix our problems. Yet evidence has shown that increasing privatisation and deregulation has resulted in New Zealand’s homelessness number rising, the gap between the super rich and everyone else  widening, household debt increasing, and house prices and rents increasing while real wages have stagnated. No amount of reducing the number of MPs is going to fix these problems. The state needs to embrace its role in redistribution of wealth and funding our public services properly – only then will I be open to a conversation with my friend David Seymour about abolishing the state.

[* The latter part of the policy is, of course, ridiculous and is a sentiment echoed by the likes of Don Brash and his alt-right followers, but due to word limit I’ll leave that debate for another time.]