Just when it looked like this election could not get any more bizarre it appears that Gareth Morgan’s TOP party is striking a chord with voters.
Last night in Christchurch he packed out a hotel conference room with over 300 people.
They sat and listened for an hour and a half to what at times was more like a University lecture sprinkled with blunt, earthy language as Morgan set out his plan to prevent New Zealand becoming a victim of Trumpism or even worse, falling into the brutal class driven conflict of some South American countries.
Among the audience were veterans of other small eclectic parties like Bob Jones’ 1984 New Zealand Party and even New Zealand First.
This was an unusual political meeting; no tub thumping calls to action, no declamatory attacks on other parties – though there was plenty of criticism of them – and only scattered bursts of applause.
Perhaps it was an audience of the curious rather than the committed.
At the heart of Morgan’s policies is a proposal to tax wealth.
He argues that our failure to do this has driven investment money into housing rather than business and is one of the reasons why productivity is so low which in turn is one of the reasons wages are low.
He cites his own experience as a reason to do it.
“I can make a lot more money by buying property than any other asset form,” he said.
“it just goes up and the reason it just goes up is because we are all doing the same thing.
“The only reason we are all doing the same thing is because we can get access to credit to do it and the other reason is that we are not taxed.
“My average atx rate for the past 15 years has been 10%.
“There is no chance that a wage earner can get a tax rate of 10%. It is impossible.
“So I look at that, and I immediately think there is something wrong here.
“And of course the answer is the loophole that is protecting income from property but also assets.”
So what Morgan is proposing is that there would be an annual tax of 1.5% on the capital value of all assets – including the net value of the family home.
He would offset this against income tax, and he told his audience that would mean a cut of one-third in all income tax rates.
“Other countries do this,” he said.
“New Zealand is like a freak show now.”
Morgan is not shy about promoting radical and potentially controversial policy — all of it based on market driven solutions.
He opposes current migration levels because he argues they are being used to suppress wages when in a properly functioning economy employers should have to bid against each other to attract employees.
He said he was concerned not only about the quantity of immigrants coming into New Zealand but also the quality, which he said had gone down through the floor.
“What we are bringing in is third world labour and that labour is suppressing the wage rises that would otherwise be happening among the more modestly paid n New Zealand.”
Morgan is also concerned at what he argues is the erosion of democracy in New Zealand which meant that only Cabinet mattered and it wasn’t accountable to Parliament any more.
He, therefore, proposes a written Constitution which would include the Treaty of Waitangi.
The party has developed a comprehensive Maori policy and is proud of the fact that a TOP delegation was received by King Tuheitia at Turangawaewae during the Korehana celebrations last weekend.
Morgan wants to cede ownership of water to Maori but then control its allocation with tradable water rights and impose a variable levy on it.
Like Labour, he would use the revenue to clean up waterways.
And in an interesting move, he proposes that the Constitution should require that the Treaty be honoured and that once Maori were satisfied it was being honoured, then the Maori seats could be abolished.
The party is said to be polling between three and four per cent in private party polling at present which means it has a chance of getting to the critical five per cent by election day.
There were therefore questions about how he would handle coalition negotiations.
“We are not going into coalition with anybody,” he said.
“So we will stay on the cross benches, and we will give supply and confidence to whichever block gives us the most of our policies.
“So it’s just like holding an auction.
“That’s why I was so happy when Jacinda took over Labour because suddenly we have a contest whereas before the Nats were sleep walking into victory again and if that was ever a prescription for an arrogant Government that’s what you were going to get.”
But his enthusiasm for Jacinda is not unconditional.
“I think she is going to win.
“But I’m still really worried about them because their policies are crap.
“But so are National’s, so it doesn’t matter.”
TOP staff admit they have lost support to Labour since Jacinda took over but at the same time, they have been taking support off the Greens as that party has had its melt down.
Morgan says the party’s growth has been viral — but it has been built on a big war chest and his own ability to attract publicity.
Can it be done? Can a new party with radical policies and based on a charismatic leader break through and gain a large slice of the votes in New Zealand.
The answer to that is yes, it happened in 1984 when the NZ Party won 12.29% of the vote but because of First Past, the Post got no seats.
Last night’s turnout is surely a sign that something similar though not on the scale as Bob Jones’ 1984 rallies could happen with TOP.