In our exclusive interview, the ACT leader talks free speech, judging people on race, and why he’s “more of a Mahatma Gandhi guy!”

A friend who works out of the same Newmarket building as David Seymour told me that he often sees him arriving by 7am and not leaving till nearly 10pm, so it should have come as no surprise when our interview request was given a 5.30pm on Friday (11 August) time slot. Who needs after-work drinks when you run the third-biggest party in New Zealand politics?

David feels more reserved and thoughtful than the last time he spoke with YOUR ex, suggesting that the man Jacinda Ardern once described as ‘an arrogant prick’ has matured into his role.


He also seems to genuinely believe that the ACT Party is offering a product that the rainbow community should want to buy.

“People often mix up social conservatism with economic conservatism. The ACT Party is a party that wants the government out of the bedroom and out of the boardroom. Some people assume that because we like low tax and less government regulation, that we must be morally conservative, but nothing could be further from the truth. We’re the party that legalised euthanasia. I voted for the most liberal version of abortion, and I would have voted for marriage equality.” David entered parliament in 2014, two years after marriage equality passed in NZ.

While he doesn’t want to name names, he tells us that two of ACT’s top 20 list members have told him that they’re gay. Confirming that one is so high up the list that they will, “certainly have a seat.”

All the minor party leaders we speak to this election feel driven, but as ACT is the only minor party that current polls suggest will be in government, David seems to be chomping at the bit to get things done.

“It’s time for New Zealand to get to the Modern Age,” he enthuses as we raise the topic of surrogacy. “The reality is right now, that the wealthy go to the States or some other country where these things are legal. While people who are not wealthy are stuck in New Zealand, hoping for a miracle. If you’re someone that cares about equality, you might as well let it happen here.”

“There is a real alignment of values,” he insists, reflecting on rainbow voters. “Our commitment to universalism, to fundamental human dignity, that is a better bet in the long term than perhaps some of the politics that may be popular one decade to the next.”

Which brings us to his steadfast protection of free speech, something that ACT’s critics believe gives a potential green light to hate speech.

“Free speech is the foundation of a free society. Most of the movements that we’re all proud of began as unpopular minority views. Kate Shepard, Fran Wilde, Louisa Wall used free speech to say unpopular things until they became popular. So when people say that they’re worried about free speech, I’m worried about them!” he retorts.

This belief has seen Seymour defend groups like ‘Speak Up For Women’ when they have been banned from meeting on council-owned properties due to their trans-exclusionary views.

“There are people who are trans, and we should do everything we can to make sure that we are accommodating and kind towards them just as we should for anybody else. But tolerance is a two-way street. There are other people in the community who have totally legitimate questions, and if the reaction is, you’re not allowed to ask that question because that amounts to denying my existence? Well, I’m sorry, but we’re just not going to get on with that level of intolerance.”

His views incorporate Posie Parker, whom he acknowledges, ‘seems to deliberately court controversy,’ but ultimately believes that she should be allowed to do that.

“My view is that everyone just needs to dial it down a notch!”

It’s unapologetic stances like that which have seen Seymour branded by some as ‘a racist’, particularly around his criticism of the current government’s attempts to improve Maori disparity in the likes of health care and the justice system.

“Our core belief is that people’s underlying humanity is what really matters,” David says, outlining ACT’s opposition.

“We shouldn’t be trying to put in place judgments about people based on their superficial characteristics. There are people who will say, ‘You have to discriminate to somehow counteract prior discrimination.’ I don’t actually believe that that’s logical or effective in the long term,” he states before comparing himself to anti-colonial nationalist Gandhi, quoting, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“Yes, there are more Maori who present with health problems, but if you dig deeper, it’s partly to do with employment, income, quality of housing, nutrition, and experiences in the justice system or welfare systems, and there are people who are not Maori who have all of those problems too. Our view is that in order to help people, you need to understand the underlying causes. Then you can start fixing the actual problems for all the people affected rather than categorising people racially.”

Some political analysts predict that David will soon hold the position of Deputy Prime Minister, but he tells us that his goals are focused on policy change and not cabinet positions.

“That means, being in government, a tight agreement with the Nats to get policy change done. That’s really critical, particularly around the size and scope of government spending and regulation, the nature of education and health provision, the balance between the rights of citizens and the consequences for criminals in the justice space, and also making sense of the Treaty and race relations for a modern society with people from many backgrounds.”

Find out more about David and his team at

Article | Oliver Hall.

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