Labour's Rachel Boyack calls for ACT's Todd Stephenson to be removed from arts portfolio after 'utterly bizarre' interview

  • 30/04/2024

A Labour MP is calling for ACT MP Todd Stephenson to be removed from his arts portfolio after a "bizarre interview" that revealed he knew "little about the arts". 

In an interview with Newsroom, Stephenson struggled to convey his interests in the arts, admitting he is still learning and hasn't gotten deeply into the sector. 

During the interview, the ACT MP took 20 minutes to think of a single New Zealand author and the only artistic experience he could think of was that he went to see the musical Hamilton in New York. 

Rachel Boyack, who is Labour's arts spokesperson, told Newshub on Tuesday after reading that interview, she "didn't know whether to laugh or cry". 

"I just thought it was utterly bizarre for someone to know so little about the arts and to have asked for the portfolio," she said. 

"I am really, really grateful to have the portfolio and it's one of my passion areas and I think for someone just to be so badly informed and to celebrate how badly informed they were was utterly bizarre." 

She said there are people in the ACT Party caucus such as Brooke van Velden who appear to have a much stronger interest and background in the arts. 

"I think he should be taken away from a portfolio that he obviously has no knowledge of but also seems to be disparaging of," Boyack said. 

She hit out at Stephenson for saying in the interview ACT wouldn't have the Government funding the arts in the way it is today.  

When asked about how he feels about Government funding of literature, Stephenson told Newsroom: 

"Where ACT approaches these things, we want to allow people to keep more of their money. So obviously we’re into reducing taxes and then allowing individuals to actually purchase and invest in things they see as value, including in the arts and buying literature and books." 

Boyack said the Government should fund the arts. 

"The arts make us a more creative, healthier society. The arts also make significant economic contributions to New Zealand," she said. 

In a statement to Newshub, Stephenson said he was sceptical about taxpayers funding the arts. 

"ACT understands the true cost of taxpayer money being spent on the arts. Every dollar allocated to the arts is a dollar that can't be spent on education, health, infrastructure, or returned to taxpayers to spend on the things they value.  

"Given the dire state of our books, it's not surprising a Labour MP doesn't understand this trade-off."