ACT New Zealand is a political party in the New Zealand Parliament. It is located on the political right, and claims to support individual freedom, low taxation, and smaller government. It sometimes uses the term "libertarian" to describe itself, although this is disputed by the smaller Libertarianz party. In recent times, it has begun to use the term "liberal" quite frequently, referring to the classical liberalism of British (not American) tradition. Because the term "liberal" can have such a great variety of meanings, however, some New Zealanders would not consider ACT's use of it to be accurate.
ACT New Zealand currently focuses on two main policy areas - taxation and crime. On the subject of taxes, ACT says that tax rates should be lower, and also says that that there should not be different tax rates depending upon how wealthy a person is. On the subject of crime, ACT advocates harsher penalties. ACT is also known for its criticism of alleged government waste and inefficiency.
ACT grew out of the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, although the two are separate organizations. The association was founded in 1994 by Roger Douglas and Derek Quigley, both former cabinet ministers. The organization was intended to be a lobby group, promoting the economic policies that Douglas and Quigley stood for (sometimes known as "Rogernomics").
The following year, with the new MMP electoral system making it easier for smaller parties to gain seats, ACT New Zealand was established as a separate political party based on the association's views. Initially, the party was led by Douglas, but in March of 1996, he steped down and was replaced by Richard Prebble.
In the 1996 elections, ACT gained eight seats in Parliament. It remained outside the National- New Zealand First coalition government, although sometimes gave it support.
In the elections of 1999, ACT increased its strength in parliament by one seat, giving it a total of nine.
In the 2002 elections, ACT's strength in parliament remained unchanged, prompting speculation about Prebble's leadership. As yet, however, there have been no obvious challenges, and Prebble remains in control.
In 2003, the party was embarrassed by allegations against Donna Awatere Huata, one of its MPs. It was claimed that Awatere Huata had diverted funds from a children's educational program for her own personal use, and an official investigation was launched. This investigation eventually led Awatere Huata's arrest for fraud. As ACT had a reputation for vociferously attacking any perceived dishonesty by members of other parties, the charges against Awatere-Huata were damaging to it. Awatere Huata refused to resign from her parliamentary seat, but was expelled from the ACT caucus. In November, she was removed from the party itself, becoming an independent. ACT argued that she should be forced to resign from parliament, as her departure from the party left ACT with fewer seats than the public had chosen to give it at the last election. As yet, the matter remains unresolved, but if Awatere Huata is convicted on the charges brought against her, she will be automatically expelled from parliament.
Towards the end of 2003, there was discussion about a possible pact between ACT and the larger National Party. National, as the largest party on the political right, seems a natural coalition partner for ACT, but there has never been a formal agreement between the two. Some right-wing politicians believe that an agreement is essential to the establishment of a new right-wing government, and point to the pre-election agreement between Labour and the Alliance in 1999. As yet, however, there has been no deal.
Today, ACT is one of the more noticeable opposition parties, known for its frequent and vociferous criticism of the government. Critics of the party, however, sometimes claim that ACT is more interested in scoring political points and gaining media exposure than in participating in constructive dialogue. This view is, in fact, shared by some members of the party itself, who see ACT's alleged "grandstanding" as detracting from the group's core message. The party's leadership, of course, rejects the criticism.