Simon Bridges labels David Seymour's free speech proposals 'alluring'

Simon Bridges has labelled David Seymour's proposed Freedom to Speak Bill "alluring", but wouldn't confirm whether National would strike another deal with ACT in Epsom at the next election. 

Bridges, the National Party leader, said ACT leader David Seymour's comments about freedom of speech over the weekend were "very alluring", adding: "I agree with him - I believe in what he's saying."

He told Magic Talk: "He's very focused on certain aspects of freedom; the freedom of speech and the like, and if this Government moves against that, we'll be right there with him on that."

Seymour has proposed preventing the Government from punishing people for making comments that are considered offensive or insulting. He said free debate was important so "bad ideas" could be thrown out.

He's called to abolish the Human Rights Commission, amend the Summary Offences Act so it's no longer a crime to behave offensively in public, and change the Harmful Digital Communications Act so it only applies to under-18s.

It comes after Seymour was urged last month to apologise for remarks he made about Green MP Golriz Ghahraman after labelling her a "menace to freedom" in New Zealand over her support for tougher laws around hate speech.

Seymour's free speech proposals have received backlash from civil liberties groups, but Bridges said advocating for free speech and other freedoms is where the ACT Party is at its strongest. 

ACT leader David Seymour wants to prevent the Government from punishing people for making comments considered offensive.
ACT leader David Seymour wants to prevent the Government from punishing people for making comments considered offensive. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

"I think where ACT is strongest is when this Government attacks a different kind of freedom and that's our economic freedom - when they try and raid our wallets in more taxes and more costs, more debt, which we know means a weaker economy."

But Bridges has refused to confirm whether his party would strike a deal with ACT at the 2020 election, telling Magic Talk ACT is "obviously a different party and [we] don't want to get too cosy with them". 

That's despite National and ACT being traditional allies. 

The 2017 election marked the fourth consecutive election in which National stepped aside in the Auckland Epsom electorate to allow Seymour to gain a seat in Parliament without meeting the five percent party threshold.  

It's understood the first deal between National and ACT for Epsom was struck in 2008 between former Prime Minister and National leader John Key and former ACT leader John Banks, over a symbolic cup of coffee. 

The stunt was then repeated in 2011, but turned controversial when it was revealed Key and Banks' conversation had been secretly recorded, which garnered it the label "teapot tapes". 

Simon Bridges labels David Seymour's free speech proposals 'alluring'
Photo credit: Newshub

Bridges told Magic Talk: "The reality is, we've done [a deal] every single time, and I think [Seymour] has a meaningful space in the political environment, but I'll make decisions in election year, because I think that's the right way to go."

In terms of what National and ACT could agree on policy-wise, Bridges said Seymour's proposed "flat tax" is not something he would support. 

"I don't think flat tax, because I think broadly speaking, a progressive tax system where people who earn $250,000 and pay more than those who are on $40,000-70,000, I think that's right."

ACT's proposed 'Freedom to Earn' tax plan would mean only one income tax and business tax rate of 17.5 percent. The current income tax brackets include a highest rate of 33 percent for those who earn over $70,000. 

Bridges told Magic Talk he will be "looking at more meaningful tax relief across the board", referring to his proposed law that would link income tax to inflation. 

"There will be no new taxes in the first term of a National government," Bridges promised, pointing to the latest increase to the petrol excise tax by 3.5 cents per litre.

"Kiwis are being hit with rent increases, petrol increases, and so on, and we can give back people's money because it is people's money, not ours."

Transport Minister Phil Twyford has defended the latest excise tax increase, telling Newshub: "Every dollar raised through the petrol excise is spent on much-needed roads, rail and public transport."