Over the weekend the party’s board announced its list of 55 candidates to contest the election. There is a strong mix of new talent and returning MPs. Aucklanders and farmers. Academics and manual workers. Kiwis by birth, and Kiwis by choice. North and South. There are Kiwis from all walks of life united under the banner of real change. There is also a significant number who have operated at a high level in complex organisations, they are ready to be Ministers from day one of a new Government. The party is in very good heart. You can read more about ACT’s candidates here.

Dear Andrea,

After last weekend’s totally baseless smear from Andrea Vance in the Sunday Star Times, David Seymour offered a respectful reply pointing out a few things that weren’t just a little bit wrong but the complete opposite of the truth. Do you think Stuff could find space to run the reply? Of course not.

Here it is. You are not racist for disagreeing with this Government’s version of the Treaty.

Andrea Vance’s column “Could the Treaty of Waitangi become the next casualty of populism” carried a tragic irony. The column itself is guilty of exactly the dog-whistling, stereotyping, and prejudice without facts it accused me of. In doing so, it is the kind of behaviour that really does erode trust in institutions and gets people talking past each other.

It started by saying “ACT is campaigning for a referendum on co-governance, the shared model of decision-making that sees Crown and iwi partners having equal seats around the table. The party has not defined the question it wishes the voting public to answer.”

ACT’s paper on this topic ‘Democracy or Co-Government’ says: “ACT believes that the principles of the Treaty are based on all three articles of the Treaty — that the New Zealand Government has the right to govern; that the authority and ownership of land and property of all New Zealanders is protected; and that all New Zealanders are equal under the law.”

It continues “ACT will pass a law stating that these are the principles of the Treaty and that Government, and the Courts must use this interpretation when considering Treaty principles. This law will go to the New Zealand public for their approval in a referendum.”In other words, the referendum question would be whether the public approves of the law passed by Parliament, that says the Treaty Principles are as above.

From failing to read ACT’s policy, the mistakes pile on like tries in a Black Ferns second half. Apparently ACT’s policy “shares a key component of right-wing populism: to denigrate others based on race, nationality, religion, sexual orientations or gender identity.”

Not a single word in the policy does that. Not. One. Word. The summary of ACT’s policy says “New Zealanders… want to see the Māori language and culture preserved, every child have genuinely equal opportunity, and any wrongs of the past put right… We are told that we must become a ‘Tiriti-centric Aotearoa,’ where there are two types of people in partnership [with] different political and legal rights…. A much better vision for New Zealand, in keeping with our liberal democratic traditions, commitment to universal human rights, and growing ethnic diversity, is that of a modern, multi-ethnic, liberal democracy.”

The column’s writer has previously described ACT as “the party of white grievance.” Their insinuations regarding our policy appear to be supported by that prejudice instead of facts.The column says that “Seymour also adopted another hallmark: a demand that majorities prevail over the constitutional constraints and parliamentary complexities that have evolved in modern democracies, and over minority rights. That undercuts one of the basics of liberal democracy: the protection of the rights of minorities, in favour of majoritarianism.”

As explained earlier, the referendum would be on a law passed by Parliament. That law would be a refinement of the Treaty of Waitangi Act (1975) that originally proposed the Treaty has Principles. The referendum would reinfore Parliament’s will against the Courts, and allowing people to debate their country’s constitutional future without fear of being shouted down. The key principle being advanced? That all people have nga tikanga katoa rite tahi — the Treaty’s call for ‘the same rights and duties.’

There are more unfounded claims made that are simply addressed by our policy paper. “If Seymour was serious about constitutional reform he would be proposing something more than a four-paragraph piece of legislation…” Indeed, ACT’s policy lays out how we’d deal with not only the treaty but the governance and delivery of social services.

The paper describes devolving service delivery for all people, so that the welfare state better meets diverse needs. It is about extending the spirit of a policy ACT has already implemented -charter schools- to more areas of policy.

Finally, the column concludes with “Seymour should answer for why – and how – he is pursuing this issue.” Sadly, I was not interviewed for the column, had I been I could easily have pointed out all of the above.

New Zealand has too much division. Too much talking past each other. Too much stereotyping and identity politics, not enough debate based on facts. On all of that we can agree. The country needs political parties who are prepared to publish their policies in detail and are prepared to candidly debate the issues. But the corollary to that is journalists must meet halfway, and pick up the phone from time to time.

Winston Peters also has some forthright comments about the same Stuffer –see here.