Gareth Morgan on why we should vote for The Opportunities Party when he wants to get his policies implemented but doesn't want to join the parliamentary 'zoo' 

Gareth Morgan on why we should vote for The Opportunities Party when he wants to get his policies implemented but doesn't want to join the parliamentary 'zoo' 

By Jenée Tibshraeny

Would you rather a “regressive” Winston Peters or “progressive” Gareth Morgan holding the balance of power after the September 23 election?

This is the question Morgan, The Opportunities Party’s (TOP) founder, is asking New Zealanders to consider.  

Calling for a crackdown on property speculators through the introduction of an equity tax, as well as a universal basic income and means tested superannuation, Morgan wants the next government to adopt at least a few of his “radical” policies.

Yet the fact TOP hasn’t registered in political polls such as Roy Morgan's, suggests he is miles off securing any position of influence in parliament, let alone bumping the NZ First leader off his kingmaker seat.

Furthermore, Morgan wants influence without actually being in the “zoo” that is parliament. “Day-to-day political management is not my thing,” he says.  

The 64-year-old economist and philanthropist has got the ball rolling - putting fresh policy ideas on the table - but isn’t prepared to “die in the ditch” for the cause.

So why does he deserve New Zealanders’ support?

Interest.co.nz put this question to him in a Double Shot Interview.

All about influence

“I’ll do it alright. If they give me the mandate, that’s the undertaking. I think people need to make their decision on the basis of the policies,” he responds.

Yet what does he consider “the mandate”?

While Morgan in March told Fairfax he personally wouldn’t consider entering parliament unless TOP got at least 10% of the vote, he now says: “It does depend how the cards fall with other parties. To be realistic, to have influence you essentially have to have that balance of power.”

Morgan says a 2% vote could for instance give TOP the balance of power. Support for NZ First in the latest Roy Morgan poll was up 3% to 10.5%.

Furthermore, he says it depends on how many of TOP’s policies, seven of which have already been released, will be adopted by the government.

If the odds aren’t looking good: “There’s no point in me sitting there for three years. I’ve got better things to do.”

Yet if three or four of TOP’s policies could be adopted, Morgan says: “I’d be in there, sleeves rolled up, doing it. But I wouldn’t be focused on day to day political issues. I’d be solely focussed on getting those policies through and legislated…

“If the legacy of this is that those policies do get traction, either with The Opportunities Party, or with other parties, then I’m pretty happy…

“I’m not going in there because I want a job… In fact, going in to that zoo doesn’t appeal to me at all to be honest.”

Morgan ‘horrified’ 15 former NZ First and Green Party MPs interested in running for TOP

“There are a lot of people around me who really do want to build the party. But I could do a hell of a lot more for the party outside of parliament,” Morgan says.

While TOP is due to release its “first batch” of candidates in a couple of weeks’ time, Morgan confirms economist and unsuccessful Mt Albert by-election candidate, Geoff Simmons, will be standing.

“He’s the sort of guy who would be very involved in the building scenario over two or three election terms. Whereas for me, at my age, I’d go in and do it… but I’m not going to sit there treading water, waiting for things to happen. I don’t have that many years left.”

Morgan is tight-lipped on who else will be standing, but was “horrified to receive 10 applicants from former NZ First MPs and five from former Green MPs, shortly after TOP was launched in November.

“They went straight down the laundry chute because they are the antithesis of what I actually want. [They’re] people who are just looking for jobs.”

‘I’m not going to be a one-man-band. I’m not a Winston Peters’

Without a confirmed list of candidates, interest.co.nz asked the self-proclaimed “reluctant” leader what needs to be done for TOP to be propelled before the election.

“All I can do personally is just do what I’m doing right now, which is going to talk in town halls.”

Morgan has worked his way up the country from Invercargill, and is this week speaking at a number of events around Auckland.

Yet with an average of about 200 people attending - many of whom Morgan believes come sceptical and leave convinced - he says this reach isn’t adequate.

“I do need amplification. And I do need the people who are backing us to give it the viral kick… I can feel it snowballing.”

Asked what would happen to TOP after the election if it didn’t make it to parliament, Morgan says: “It depends on the other guys - whether they want to keep pushing it…

“And then I’m quite happy to support them… But I’m not going to be a one-man-band. I’m not a Winston Peters.”

He’s satisfied with all the intellectual work he’s done for the party, but concedes: “If New Zealand says, ‘well we don’t give a toss. It’s all about self-interest for us,’ then that’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

A sale not a good enough reason to evict a tenant

Turning to policy, Morgan’s confident TOP’s proposal to tax people on the equity of their assets, including their houses, will “take the sting out of housing speculation immediately, because people would be investing for yields, not for capital gains”.

He also accepts the fact a number of New Zealanders are going to be tenants for all their lives, so wants the Tenancy Protection Act to be reformed in line with the German model, to make it harder for landlords to evict their tenants.

“Selling the house because I want to flick it on, because that’s my game; you can’t do that.”

Asked how his approach compares with that of Labour and the Greens, which are also pledging to better protect renters, Morgan says: “Labour Greens tend to be into social housing, state housing. The German model’s 90% private.

“I’m not talking about building houses for Africa… It’s accepting that housing - a roof over your head - is actually a social good as much as a private good.”

Four million NZ’s ideal population

As for immigration, Morgan says annual population growth of 2% was “quite a good filler” in the wake of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, but our housing and infrastructure can’t deal with this sort of growth now.

“You’ve got to peel it all back to first principles with immigration; why are you letting anyone in at all? And the answer I would have thought (apart from the compassionate refugee thing) should be because by them coming here, they’re going to lift the living standard… of you and I. And if they’re not, why would we have them here?”

Ultimately, Morgan believes four million is New Zealand’s population sweet spot.

“New Zealand is unbelievably attractive. The demand is infinite. So we should be screwing the highest price out of it... that’s how you make your money. You don’t need more people to do it.”

He says the problem is that unlike in the US, New Zealand citizens like Peter Thiel aren’t taxable in New Zealand on their income derived from around the world.

“If we had that sort of policy, you would be able to get the best of both worlds… The people who really want to come here… would also contribute to your tax base.”

Private debt more concerning than government debt

While National, Labour and the Greens have all pledged to reduce net government spending as a percentage of GDP from 25% to 20%, Morgan says all his policies are “fiscally neutral” - ie they won’t cost the government any more or less.

“As long as the economy keeps growing and we’re not running massive deficits, that government debt ratio will fall. It’s the private one [debt] that’s matched by the value of the housing that really worries me.”

Tilting the field in favour of R&D investment

TOP is yet to release its economic policy, which Morgan confirms fits into its strategy to rejig the tax system less in favour of property.

“The guts to it really is that we have to get New Zealand firms investing more, and investing particularly in R&D [research and development]…

“We’ve got to start generating our own growth and not being beholden to foreign capital all the time, whether it’s debt or equity…

“We can tilt the field in terms of where the investment’s done, particularly with respect to R&D. New Zealand’s very low on R&D - 1.5% of GDP - and two thirds of that is government.

“Basically this whole neoliberal thing has hollowed out New Zealand business. We’re not investing in R&D, and unless you do that, you don’t have a competitive engine here… and you just have to sell extracted commodities.”

TOP will also release a drugs and a health policy, which will centre on prevention rather than the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. He says the onus will be on individuals to look after themselves.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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23 Comments

To me GM and WP are neck and neck. NZ First lacks the talent although (I presume) that is why we have a public (dis)service?
I would like to know if GM agrees with Ian Harrison's Superdiversity Myth (i.e the symplified model of a land based economy distant from everywhere)?
GM's policies are tough love (eg halving super?) but there are swings and round abounds. However we are now a "multicultural nation" and I no longer feel the "glue" (patriotism) I once felt and therefore less likely to want to sacrifice "for the good of the nation".

Ultimately, Morgan believes four million is New Zealand’s population sweet spot.

I guess that answers the question?

TOP is really only going to appeal to a very limited cadre of voters. I doubt he will have any traction outside of a few people on this website.

Reading the above, only puts me off more. He seems to have some ok goals, but the methodology of achieving them seems way off the mark.

I definitely can't see any TOP MPs entering parliament after September.

Pork barrell and ethnic interests 'r us. We have hit the bonk so can't deliver real wage increases. Like the US, democracy will be strained.

but that is not his goal, he goal is to get some policys changed, especially around tax and housing and how we view housing.
if he makes enough noise and gets traction one of the major parties will take it on abet a watered down version

That's kind of my point, I don't think he has the traction.

True or not - his variety of past comments (Cats, Phoenix, etc...) have meant pretty much everyone out there now thinks he is a nutbar.

that has more to do with how the message is delivered especially by MSM.
he is correct on the cat issue and the damage they cause to NZ bird life but that was lost in transmission of the problem and solutions so rather than have a mature discussion it turned into cat lovers verse the cat killer
http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/files/file/CatFactsheet.pdf

It will be his downfall. He communicates terribly. MSM are not good at deciphering anything even remotely harder than 3 letter words forming 5 word sentences.

He reeks of a rich arrogant academic, and his communication skills only seem to enforce that.

He would have made for a great behind the scenes politician (i.e. party president etc... working on policies) but as a figurehead, he wont get very far.

Personally I think he will be lucky to reach the lowly heights that the conservative party inhabit.

When TOP sticks to economics I am very impressed and will probably vote for them. There other stuff - the constitutional stuff not so much. However, given the polling it looks like a waste of time at the moment. I wonder if would have been better to remain an advocacy body?

No matter how good or evidence-based the policies, you still have to get your campaign strategy right - and this is where I think TOP falls down.

All the negativity and focus on Winston Peters as an individual implies that Gareth's main idea is to succeed through displacement of Winston's popular appeal with his own installment as NZ's political 'philosopher king'. And if he/TOP are unsuccessful, then that will all come down to NZers voting in their own "self-interest" - morally repugnant lot that we are.

And he wants to be our 'philosopher king' without putting in the hard yards "at the zoo"... which I find a bit akin to a royalist conception of ruling/duty/self. And, moreover, he views anyone wanting to become an MP does so for the job (or in Marxian terms, Parliamentarians are just another facet of the proletariat) - and in this regard of himself he points out, he doesn't want or need a job (or in Marxian terms, he's a part of the bourgeoisie). In other words, he wants his economic and political freedom to live out his retirement on his own accumulated capital in the custom he is used to.

And as for being pro-deliberative democracy... not deliberative in the sense of an increased use of referenda in decision-making (as is the NZ First policy) - but what sounds like a lot of 'consultation'. He rather begrudging mentions there is a forthcoming Drug and Alcohol Reform policy - but explains TOP is only 'doing it' because its members lobbied for it. Isn't that the essence of deliberative democracy? Hence its emergence as a TOP policy should be celebrated; announced with a great deal of enthusiasm and promise. But no, that's not the way 'philosopher kings' think.

Its a shame Gareth didn't get behind an existing party, such as NZ First, and play the long game.

I agree. But he has at least one key policy that is incompatible with each existing party. Obviously superannuation with NZ First. I think I'll still vote for him, pointless as it may be, I think I'll sleep better when I'm old and (if) the country has gone to the dogs.

I did that last year, casting my party vote for Internet Party. I liked KDC; liked Hone and the deal they did with him; liked Laila as a political operator; liked that their policies were aimed at moving NZ into a forward-looking digital economy; and liked that they were trying to get out the youth vote.

I ended up with a worst-case scenario outcome with the Nats getting another term. You could say, Labour and Green voters failed me :-).

Would I do it again with a new, innovative party that I thought had a chance - yes probably.

Only thing is, I don't think TOP has a chance. They probably needed an electoral accommodation by way of an electorate seat. Odd as the IP/Mana deal seemed, it was the best chance option for IP. Not so sure it worked in Hone's favour however.

TOP might be thinking about pouring money into as well as putting up a strong candidate (with market recognition/credibility) in Ohariu. Greens poll high on party vote there and TOP is strong on environmental user-pays policy. It's a seat going begging - as I just cannot imagine that electorate staying with Dunne... yet again!

You are too honest to be a career politician Gareth.. Liking your economic policys and the vision of a better NZ. As you say it will all be for nowt as the current voting system will bring back the same overpaid tools again. Very hard for new ideas and change in this environment, maybe we should be voting for policies as opposed to political parties.

Mr Morgan is a successful economist. Trouble is economists are one of the greatest examples of professionals who agree to disagree. Difficult to accept anyway that an economist's expertise and formulas are the ideal leadership for NZ. Our economy is small in global terms & where and when the really big guys go just makes flotsam & jetsam out of the best laid plans. Believe, apart from the Lange lot, most of our governments have been and still are reactive simply because of that reality. Was actually quite interested in this new party but the house tax thingy is just too much. Will scuttle any chance, a death knell as much as Thatcher's attempt at a poll tax.

Read long back : An Economist is one who sees something works in practice and goes on to prove that it works in theory also.

You mean something like I did my algebra in school. Get the answer from the back of the book and work backwards from there.

Remember Happy Feet, the penguin? Gareth knew back then that the chances of its survival were something a tad over 0%, but he did what he did, anyway. He could have done nothing or given it a go, and he chose to do the latter. He'd likewise have similar hopes of any representation by TOP in the coming parliament, but he's giving it a go as well. Why? Because it will get a message out. It will make people think. It will provoke a backlash against the TOP 'housing thing', but to do that it will have stimulated thought. That's what his aim is. Not 'getting in' but getting enough New Zealanders to think, and perhaps make a better choice with their vote in September ( whatever alternative choice that might be!)

Some of Gareth's ideas are good, especially in that theoretical world where the economists and intellectuals get to debate ideas. Politics however is a pragmatic endeavor and the difficult part is always getting stuff done whilst alienating as few people as possible. Gareth does not have a hope of getting traction because of the land/ equity tax he proposes. I welcome his input into the debate about immigration but couldn't vote for him because of this tax policy. There are plenty of other ways of reducing speculative house and land purchases. Think the land tax thing through for the majority of the remaining middle class; work you whole life, defer gratification to purchase your home, then as you enter the phase of life where your income is low but your equity high you face additional tax and a means tested pension. Who is going to vote for that? Winston may be a combative annoying maverick but NZ First will be a significant player post election. They will have to pay more than lip service to their reduce immigration position. Reducing immigration alone will reduce housing demand as much as Gareth's unpalatable (un electable) tax.

Ì would agree with most of what you have said above. Regarding NZ first though, while I like a lot of the policies, the problem is I don't believe ol' Winny would implement most of them even given the balance of power. They have been in government 2 terms out of the last 7 and delivered policies on... a Gold Card with free ferry trips. woot.

These policies are far more logical and fair than what we have now. Don't assume that people will always act in their own narrow self interest. There is a bigger picture here in what kind of society we want to live in.

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I would have liked to have heard Dr Morgan answer a few more questions clarifying the position of his TOP party on certain issues. For instance;

What are DGM’s thoughts on economic status quo critics like Steve Keen, or our own Jane Kelsey?

Some of TOPS policies appear to have a neoliberal theme, at least lowering taxes and having greater private sector engagement. In that respect TOP is similar to National. What are DGM's thoughts on neoliberalism?

What are DGM’s thoughts on the TPPA?

On Housing, DGM mentioned addressing supply side constraints, domestic speculation, and legally supporting lifelong tenants. What are DGM's thoughts on foreign speculation in our housing market. Does the TOP party plan to specifically address foreign speculation in our housing market?

What is the TOP parties preferred coalition partner. Is it Labour/Green or National?

TOP has a lot of scary stuff for your average Kiwi voter. It would appear that they want to create an upper house that is 50% race based. They want to tax people's homes. They want to take Super away from old folk and give it to young people in the form of a UBI. They want to bring in new rules and set them in stone in the form of a constitution. They want to give tenants life long rights. They want to hobble our primary industries. They want to cap immigration at 45,000 which is still pretty high. They want to replace local people with higher skilled foreigners. They want to stop people from driving cars. And this is just the stuff they have revealed. God knows what other horrors they have planned.