ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden on why she stopped supporting the Greens

Brooke van Velden was once a Green supporter but switched to ACT after discovering there was a "huge misconception" about the political party of which she is now deputy leader. 

Van Velden, who is one of 40 new MPs entering Parliament after the election, told Newshub she has always cared about the environment and poverty and assumed she should support the Greens, but switched her allegiance while studying. 

"When I was at university and studying economics and international trade I came to this realisation that if you truly do care about the environment it's only the free market and international trade that gives people the skills, the time and the wealth to even start caring about the environment."

The 27-year-old list MP is no stranger to Wellington's halls of power, having worked as a staffer for most of the last term of Parliament, and helped rally support behind the scenes for the End of Life Choice Act which went to a referendum. 

"If you don't have simple things like washing machines or women's rights, which come through democracy and international trade, then you don't have those abilities to even care about more than your basic necessities," van Velden said. 

"That was a new thought to me. So, having made that switch, I started going online and looking at alternative parties and I found ACT and it was a huge surprise to me because I had always just assumed that I would be a Green supporter."

Van Velden said looking through the values of ACT and its policies, she realised that she was "completely aligned" with the party but had just never considered it before. 

"But even going online and finding out that I was aligned with the ACT Party wasn't enough for me to support it. So, the second time it came for me to vote I knew that I was aligned with the ACT Party values but I still voted for the Green Party because I was unsure."

Van Velden said it wasn't until she had a chance meeting with ACT leader David Seymour at a bar in Mt Eden that she started getting behind the party. 

"I'm a classical singer so I was singing at a concert in Mt Eden and my friend said 'hey why don't we celebrate afterwards and go to a local pub'," van Velden recalled. 

"We walked into an ACT Party function by mistake and I got talking to David Seymour about electricity markets - which was pretty geeky - and then I got talking to a bunch of other members as well and the thing that impressed me the most was how open they were about wanting to just discuss ideas.

ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden.
ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"There wasn't any feeling that ideas were right or wrong. It was just 'let's have open conversation about how we solve the problems that we face in New Zealand' and that was surprisingly refreshing because at that time at university, I was coming up against a range of people who all thought that if you had a slightly contrary opinion then you were wrong or you were evil or a bad person."

Van Velden said she found ACT supporters to be "genuine" and "not afraid of just putting an idea out there and seeing where it goes". 

"I started going along to more and more events and I was just so impressed by everyone, that I signed up as a member - and when the time came for the 2017 election, I thought 'how do I get this message about ACT and its values out there?' Because before that I didn't know about the party much and I obviously had misconceptions about what it stood for.

"I wanted to right the record."

ACT scooped up 10 seats after the election on Saturday night - nine more than it had during the last term of Parliament. Seymour, as the single ACT MP, was able to whip up enough support to pick up as many seats as the Greens. 

"The problem with the Greens today is the same problem that I had with it back then. It's just become more obvious because they've been in Government," van Velden said. 

"That is this idea that anyone who has a different way of looking at environmental issues is wrong and you see that with the Zero Carbon Act. ACT didn't oppose the Zero Carbon Act because we don't want to help the environment. It's because we don't believe in giving ministerial power to shut down entire industries to a Government minister.

"The real issue with the Zero Carbon Act - and the same with the oil and gas ban - is that you're moving environmental pollution offshore."

ACT's new caucus.
ACT's new caucus. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

OraTaiao - the independent NZ climate and health council - gave ACT a low score on its climate action and health policies ahead of the election. The party has also been criticised for wanting to cut back on services to reduce debt. 

Lowering the minimum wage and adding interest back onto student loans are no longer ACT policies after they were let go in September. But ACT is pushing for a three-year moratorium to anymore minimum wage increases. 

ACT also wants to reduce total debt by $76 billion over 10 years by making cuts to benefits, Working for Families, KiwiSaver subsidies, and the first-year fees-free study programme, among others. 

Van Velden says her party is misunderstood. 

"The rhetoric is so easy for the Greens to say 'let's put on a new tax or lets create a new law and we're going to help the environment'. But in fact, none of their policies actually do that. It's all simple sound bites but it doesn't actually solve the problem."

Van Velden says there is a "huge misconception" about ACT and that the party has some "real environmentalists" such as new MP Simon Court. 

"The case in point is Simon Court, our number five MP, who's an environmental engineer and he also left the Greens because they were all talk and no real action that will solve the problems."

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the "problem with ACT seems to be the same problem they've always had" with climate change. 

"Several of ACT's past and present candidates have been clear that they don't accept the mainstream scientific consensus about climate change, and they have rejected meaningful policy solutions to it," he told Newshub.

"New Zealanders have just delivered a huge parliamentary majority for parties that support climate action. Our planet is running out of time and I'm looking forward to getting on with effective climate change policies."