As a mother of five young children, she is well-equipped to deal with life in the ACT caucus. And it shows. From ACT's last list MP in 2002, Heather Roy has leapfrogged most of the caucus to take the second spot on ACT's 2005 list – though it's by no means a safe spot. Salient's Courtney Sanders talks to Roy about Rogernomics, social liberalism and feminism.
In a previous interview, Victoria University Political Scientist Jon Johansson suggested that this election is the end of Rogernomics. Do you agree?
If you look at the people in power, they weren’t part of the Rogernomic group in the [Fourth] Labour government, but have they changed anything that Roger Douglas put into place? Rogernomics is going to be with us forever, but it won’t be identified as Rogernomics.
When [ACT] thinks of economic liberalism, we just want to have a country that celebrates free enterprise. There are times when markets fail, but that’s the only time that it’s acceptable for the government to step in. Beyond that, businesses should be able to go about as unhindered as possible. We need to remember that small businesses employ 80% of people in NZ. That’s a staggering figure and it’s something that people just don’t realise. If it wasn’t for them, if there weren’t people out there prepared to take the risks, we’d be [left] high and dry.
Do you believe that the economic liberalisation (of the 80s/90s) will continue?
There’s always the possibility of moving right back to where we came from. You can never ignore that, and you have to be quite vigilant to stop that slow backward slide happening.
What we need to do is build on what Roger Douglas started and, in particular, we want a thriving economy. We can’t just think about tax and business, we need to address the social issues as well. That’s Roger Douglas’ great regret, that he got part way through the job and wasn’t able to follow through into all those social areas - health, education, welfare in particular - and get the gains from the stronger economy. You can be more generous to your vulnerable if you’ve got a strong thriving economy.
If ACT was in power, where would they take the NZ economy?
We would implement immediate tax cuts that would see us with significant economic growth, above what we have now. Treasury has costed our policy and said it would result in about 1% more economic growth than what we have now, and that will put us in a very good position with countries we like to consider ourselves on par with, the UK in particular.
At the moment we’re losing many of our best and brightest, our new graduates and even our unskilled people because of better economic conditions, lower taxes, better standard of living [overseas]. I like the idea of younger people travelling. You see all these wonderful things, you come back with a wealth of experience, but you come back and you also appreciate what we have here. Our fear at the moment is that people get overseas and there’s such a gap between what there is over there and what’s available here that it's not an attractive option to come back.
I’ve got five children who are all school age - what I want is for NZ to be up there as a viable option for them, in whatever career they choose.
Where do you see our generation in 20 years time?
I would hope that we get economic policies in place that will allow for sustained economic growth, so that we become a prosperous nation [and] individuals [will] have greater opportunities. Hopefully we’ll get our young people back from overseas.
I’m really staggered when I go to campuses these days. When I was a student, campuses were very left-wing places. I go to Vic now, and ACT on Campus are the guys who are out there doing things, and a bit from the Young Nats. And the Greens are there, so they’re catering for the other side of the political spectrum.
ACT and the Greens, we come from different places, but if there’s one thing we both believe in, it’s having a tolerant society. I think that’s a great sign.
You voted for most of Labour's social bills that have been through the House in the last couple of years. How do you think these are being received by the public?
Confidence votes are really interesting and you never get them right - you always alienate half of the community.
I don’t agree with where the Labour social agenda is taking NZ, but when it came to the conscience votes on those bills, I felt they benefited the people they were intended to help. For example, the Civil Union bill - if two people want to commit to each other, whatever their sexual orientation, they should be able to have some legally binding contract. Now where does Labour want to take that? I worry about that where it's leading, but in itself, I believe in [the Civil Union Bill].
We have the [withdrawal of United Future MP] Larry Baldock's bill [last month] about marriage being between a man and a women. I can’t for the life of me work out why he's taken out the bill. We were going to support it and he would have had the numbers to have it passed.
[The Government] put Civil Unions forward to try and replace marriage, but they weren’t honest enough to tell the public that. That worries me, but two gay people should be able to have a legally binding contract if they want, and that’s why I voted for it.
How did this sit with the other ACT MPs?
ACT is quite a broad church in the same way that all parties are. If you look particularly at the conscience votes - the Prostitution reform, Civil Union, Death with Dignity - [ACT MPs] were split on all of those. We all come from pretty much the same place economically, but on social issues we are a little more divergent.
People would look at my life and say ‘well you’re actually quite a conservative person’. I suppose I’ve chosen a conservative, more traditional lifestyle. I don’t believe for a moment that because somebody thinks a little differently to me they haven’t [got] every right to do that. As long as consenting adults are living their life lawfully and not harming anybody else, I think they should be free to do what’s right for them. I guess I am quite liberal socially.
[But] I don’t buy into the social agenda of the Labour party. I voted for [the social bills] as separate entities, each in their own right, and I do think we’ve had a huge amount of social engineering under this Labour Government which I don’t agree with.
Where do you think Labour is heading with that?
There’s a lot of feminist stuff coming through, women in the workplace, children in childcare, while mums are out working all that sort of stuff. I worry about that.
It’s hard to know where it might end. It’s interesting to look at the comments that some of our current leaders made, in particular, a submission made to a Select Committee in the ‘70s about 24[-hours a day] daycare. It was Soviet Russia and I don’t like that at all. I don’t want a bar of it.
The PM made that statement at the very beginning of this year about wanting to have all women in the workforce. We don’t need to have a certain percentage of the female population in the workforce. How dare she say that I should be working? It’s for me and my husband to determine between us how we run our lives.
As the ACT spokesperson for women's issues, do you believe we live in a post-feminist society?
We don’t have the same sort of feminism that was around in the '60s.I believe in equal rights for men and women, [not] special rights for women.
I don’t want to live in a society in which my sons are considered the enemy, [and] I think that’s what we have at the moment. There're minority groups all over the place, and every one seems to be being catered for. There’s one group [that's] always missing out, particularly in legislation, and that is white middle-class males. We’ve reached a point where they are the enemy, and you have to rebel against that. I guess the short answer is I believe in equal rights.
Do you believe that we have equal rights in society in general, and the workplace in particular?
I think that women have more choices than they’ve ever had before. Have we got further to go? Quite possibly. I know that women hold the top jobs, but many workplaces, particularly law firms and places like that, report that women still are struggling to come through; in many cases, women are making the choice to have a family.
Life’s a juggle, and you make the choices that suit your life. A women can choose not to have a family - there’s always a trade off. I certainly don’t feel disadvantaged for having made any of the decisions I’ve made about my life, and I find it hard to believe that we can still think of women as being oppressed, particularly when we look back to see where we’ve come from.
How do you reconcile ACT's economic policy with helping women into the workforce, with regards to the state provision of services like state-subsidised childcare?
Women, like men, make choices. Some women are constrained financially, that’s true, and that does limit their choices. But we can get around that by trying to be a more prosperous nation so that [we] open up choices for people.
When we’re a more prosperous nation, families actually sort out who the breadwinner is. In some cases, it’s the woman who make more money, and the man stays at home. That’s socially acceptable now - and that’s great. I just want the environment to exist so that women can make the decisions they want to make for themselves, within the constraints that are in their lives. I don’t think the state should be there providing childcare so women can get back into the workforce.
ACT does not do well with women voters. Why do you think this is?
It’s always been a hard one for us.I think it’s because [of] the perception that ACT's about taxes and the economy, and women aren’t so interested in those things. They keep in the back of their mind that those things are important at the big picture level, but [women], particularly women with children, are thinking at a much more fundamental level. You know, what am I going to have for dinner, what have I got to do to get the kids ready for school tomorrow, how do I balance that with work, etc. I think those things are much more important to women at a fundamental level.
Now, again, it’s a gross generalisation, but I think when we go and talk to people, it’s the men who are more interested in politics as a subject and the women who are looking after their families.
What we have to do is get better at marketing our message. We have to tailor our messages more to attract the attention of women, and it does help having three women in our caucus who have tackled the social issues together.
Do you think it’s a problem with the Right in general?
That’s right, [the women vote] predominantly goes with Labour. It’s about getting out there and marketing our policies. The other thing is that women have a real social conscience, and Labour has been the party that’s supposed to care for people. I think many of the laws [that] this Labour Government have put in place over the last 6 years aren’t about caring at all. In many cases, it seems they’re the opposite. But that perception still exists and that’s a battle we have to take to people.
What's the difference between ACT and National?
We set ourselves up as a party of influence, [and] we’ve always prided ourselves on being the party with fresh new ideas.
If you look back to our first election, we had a very specific treaty policy. Every party now has got the same policy - there should be time limits [for] Waitangi Tribunal [claims]. If you haven’t filed a grievance after all this time, then you probably haven’t got a genuine one. We were called racist for putting that policy forward in ‘96 and now every party agrees with most of those principles.
We’ve got plenty more new ideas to come that only ACT will have the courage to promote. That’s why New Zealand needs ACT - so that we can keep promoting those things, keep moving forward and progressing as a nation. The National party has always been known as the party of the status-quo. We want them to be the main party in government, but ACT needs to be there to implement what Don Brash wants to do. He has got much more support, philosophically, from experienced and battle-hardened ACT MPs than he has from his own caucus. Don Brash needs ACT because we’ve got the courage to give the National party the spine it needs to go ahead and do those things it says it’s going to do not just get into government.
You don't believe that National will make good on their promises?
They will on some of them, but I think they’ll find that some of them aren’t doable or some of them aren’t affordable. Tax cuts would be one of the things that we push very hard for, but, for example, we’re not in favour of the tax deductability for a lot of the things National are announcing now. They will actually result in less savings for individuals and won’t be for the benefit of new Zealanders at all.
We also think we can go about some things better. Student loans are a very good example. This bidding war that’s erupted with student loans - I think very few people are saying 'yay'. Most people are saying 'oh well, that’s of little benefit anyway'. Students, when they’re earning, are actually much better off with tax cuts that allow them to pay back their student loans more quickly than they are with tax deductability and certainly with interest-free loans. All that’s going to do is encourage people to borrow as much as they can, and then there’s no incentive to pay that back quickly, so people are going to have loans for much longer. It makes no economic sense at all, and what the National party is proposing is not economically liberal its economically conservative.
Do you think that this is the major difference between ACT and National?
I think we actually differ in many areas. People often say to me, if things turned to custard with ACT, would you go and join the National Party? And I would say 'no, I wouldn’t, I’m not a National Party person.'
I think it would be harder to be socially liberal in the National Party, although not impossible. The luxury of being with ACT is that when it comes to election time you’re looking to convince a smaller proportion of the voters. The National Party has to pull from a much bigger pool of voters, so they have to make compromises, and those are compromises that I’m not prepared to make.
This country can afford tax cuts and [people] would be better off choosing how to spend that money themselves. The National Party is more 'that government has a bigger role to play and that perhaps government can make some of those decisions for people'. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.
[Next week: Is there a doctor in the House? I'll be talking to Dr Michael Cullen next week about ... well, money. Lots of it. We'll be discussing the surplus, student loans, the Cullen Fund, and the spike that runs through them all - intergenerational cross-subsidy. Uh - we'll be talking about money. It should be good, so be sure to tune/log in next week, and tell your friends/acquaintances/spam-list.]
[More shameless self-promotion: Salient's interview with Mallard earlier in the year got a good run in Parliament last week, making three appearances at the last Question Time this sitting, as well as finding its way into John Armstrong and Jane Clifton's columns (though it was misquoted in the latter, and nobody mentioned that it came from Salient). You can find the original story here. While you're at it, check out Geoff Brischke's hilarious "Warship Commander" series, parts 1, 2 and 3. There's been an even funnier one where he goes to a recruitment agency to try to buy "permanent workers" for his plantation, but that's still not up on the website yet.]
[Nippert-grade self-promotion: I've got a few entries in a photo competition aimed at encouraging young people to become more engaged with political issues. Go check it out - and of course, if you want to vote for me so I can win that camera, that would be great, too. If you're interested in that sort of thing, you can also check out my photo archive, featuring Hikoi, hair gel, and a bloody skinhead.]