Fractious Act

Heather Roy
Heather Roy
In one strike, Act New Zealand's power brokers have managed to offend their relatively few women supporters, force their only woman MP to walk the plank, expose the extreme factions within their tiny caucus and provide yet more evidence that their leader, Rodney Hide, clings to office by the thinnest of threads.

All five Act MPs are in Parliament only because Mr Hide holds the Epsom electorate, and does that only because it suits the National Party.

Mr Hide is the Minister of Local Government and Regulatory Reform and the Associate Minister of Education. Act's former deputy leader, Heather Roy, who held the portfolios of consumer affairs, associat education and associate defence, has been replaced by John Boscawen, who becomes the new Minister of Consumer Affairs and Associate Minister of Commerce in the coalition. The remaining MPs are Sir Roger Douglas and David Garrett.

Act supports National on confidence and supply votes and will continue to do so, and even if Mrs Roy remains in the House while refusing Act's whip (as have previous disaffected List MPs), the Government's majority will not be troubled.

It seems that Mr Hide, an architect of the "three strikes" criminal offending policy and notable campaigner against parliamentary perks until caught out enjoying their fruits, has had a deteriorating relationship with Mrs Roy to the point where, according to a report yesterday, she complained to Parliament's Ministerial Services agency of a breach of security because Mr Hide had taken a paper from her office.

If the report is true - Mr Hide refuses to elaborate on why the Act caucus voted her out - then clearly the relationship has reached the point of no return.

This appeared to be confirmed by leaked documents which came to light yesterday in which Mrs Roy paints Mr Hide as an abusive and intimidating bully who had been trying to discredit and humiliate her into quitting for some months.

Last night in a transparent attempt to paper over a schism serious enough to threaten the very future of the party, Mrs Roy made light of her written remarks, said they were now in the past and she would be staying on in Parliament.

Behind this elaborate charade, perhaps, are the efforts that have been made for some time now to unseat Mr Hide.

Mrs Roy was said to be leading this attempted coup, with the backing of Sir Roger, and a speech she made to the party's conference last year was interpreted as general encouragement for that campaign.

It is likely that Messrs Hide, Boscawen and Garrett voted Mrs Roy out, while her sole supporter would have been the party's founder and former fourth Labour government minister of finance, Sir Roger.

If the voting suppositions are accurate, then the result is a split between the so-called pragmatists prepared to compromise Act's core principles to gain power within the coalition, and the ideologues, such as Sir Roger and Mrs Roy.

In some respects, the dumping of Mrs Roy will be welcomed by the coalition's senior partner.

National's unexpected achievement of attracting coalition support from both the Maori Party and Act rather than from Act alone will, with hindsight, now be viewed as extremely wise.

It is material that the Prime Minister has creatively interpreted as an "implied concept" that the ministerial warrants held by Act, including Mrs Roy's, actually belong to that party's leader for disposition - but Mr Key still refuses to have Sir Roger in the coalition's executive and Mr Hide is obliging him.

Some in the party are suggesting Mrs Roy's main concern has been Act's reliance on Mr Hide retaining his Epsom seat, and the need to broaden Act's appeal to achieve 5% or more party vote support.

Mr Boscawen, a first-term MP who has no public profile other than as a fervent opponent of emissions trading, will have to work very hard to obtain wider recognition.

Mr Hide's own reputation is damaged, on his own admission, and has been further harmed by the disposal of his former deputy.

His colleague Mr Garrett is regarded as an extremist on some key policy matters, and Sir Roger is negatively compromised by voters who remember his years as minister of finance in a Labour government.

With the party polling at 2% or thereabouts, down from the 3.6% at the 2008 election, and the prospect of a Green Party-type joint leadership between Mr Hide and Mrs Roy now out of the question, it appears only the support of the National Party in Government is keeping Act's representation alive. Mr Hide no doubt recognises that, but does the wider party membership?


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