Election 2023: Women's council Kate Sheppard led slams David Seymour's claim she would have voted ACT

ACT leader David Seymour's claim that women's rights advocate Kate Sheppard would have voted for his party has been slammed by the National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCWNZ), a group Sheppard once headed.

Speaking at a BusinessNZ conference on Tuesday morning, Seymour said he believed Sheppard, who founded the women's suffrage movement, may have given ACT her vote

"I have read some of Kate Sheppard's quotes and she believed in universal human rights, she opposed racial discrimination, I suspect that she would be voting for us today," Seymour said.

But Suzanne Manning, the president of the NCWNZ, has taken issue with the ACT leader's remarks.

"NCWNZ are proud that Kate Sheppard was our first president, and we carry on her values today," Manning said.

"This includes empowering women to make their own choices and not have men presume to speak for them. Neither David Seymour nor any male politician should feel entitled to that privilege.

"In his comments, David Seymour also appears to have missed a key concept: that Kate Sheppard worked for gender equality to be a reality and not an academic exercise. 

"The failings of our current system to address gender equality are reflected in the over-incarceration of wāhine Māori, the extreme pay inequity of Pacific women, and the entrenched barriers for disabled women to access healthcare."

One of ACT's policies is to disestablish a number of Government ministries, including the Ministry for Women and Ministry for Pacific Peoples.

ACT believes all "demographic ministries" should be removed so the focus is "on delivering results based on the needs of New Zealanders".

Newshub asked Seymour on Tuesday night whether Sheppard would really have voted for a party wanting to get rid of the Ministry for Women.

"Kate Sheppard believed in equal suffrage, that every vote should count the same," he said.

"We have now got a Government that says some people's votes should count a different amount in some councils, for example. If equal suffrage - one person, one vote - is her core value, I suspect she might be an ACT voter."

ACT previously opposed a Bill that would have allowed for an equal number of Māori ward and general ward seats in Rotorua (it was scrapped) and is currently campaigning on ending Māori wards.

Manning said ACT should give more consideration to policies that will achieve equitable outcomes for all New Zealand women "before they choose to coopt the legacy of an historical leader for gender equality".

ACT provided responses to a survey conducted by the NCWNZ on various parties' policies on gender equity and women's issues.

While ACT doesn't have a detailed policy on everything the group asked about it, it said it supported the Women's Health Strategy being implemented within Pae Ora legislation and committed to pay equity in the state health system for midwives.

The party didn't propose any specific policies to protect women from online stalking, harassment and other abuse, noting such actions "are already criminal offences". It was "interested" if current legislation covering stalking is "inadequate".

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark tweeted her shock at Seymour's suggestion Sheppard would vote for ACT: "What next!"

"This week the claim is about Kate Sheppard, leader of #NZ #women's suffrage movement. Election campaigns are often referred to as silly seasons; QED."

Seymour has claimed a number of other historic figures might have voted for ACT, like Nelson Mandela and Māori chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi.