"Honest conversations" .. Act New Zealand leader David Seymour speaks to a crowd of about 90 people in Oamaru on Saturday. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

“It’s a little bit like that great Michael Jackson song – all I want to say is that they don’t really care about us.”

At a public meeting in Oamaru on Saturday, Act New Zealand leader David Seymour said as rural New Zealand was facing an avalanche of new regulations, and feeling forgotten by the Government, more people were looking to Act for a “better way forward”.

Mr Seymour, who has overtaken National’s Judith Collins in the preferred prime minister stakes, has been attracting large crowds to public meetings, as part of Act’s 45-stop “Honest Conversations” tour.

About 90 people were at the Brydone Hotel on Saturday morning to hear him, deputy leader Brooke van Velden and list MP Toni Severin speak.

While Mr Seymour was humbled by the increasing support, there was still a long way to go – and the party had to deliver, he said.

“It’s running a marathon through to September 2023.

“If you spend too much energy celebrating a fast 100m, then you’re probably not going to finish.”

Traditionally, Act had not been well supported in the Waitaki electorate. In 2017, just 109 people voted for the party.

Remarkably, at the 2020 general election, support for Act increased by 4620% as it gained 5145 party votes.

So, what’s changed?

“First of all, a lot of things went wrong 10 years ago. It was always going to take some time to come back,” Mr Seymour told the Oamaru Mail.

Act had always defended people’s basic freedoms, and “in the happy-go-lucky days of John Key, people weren’t worried about that”.

But an “avalanche of regulations” being introduced by the Government had driven much resentment, especially in rural New Zealand, he said.

“It’s the biodiversity, it’s the SNAs [significant natural areas], it’s the freshwater, it’s the Three Waters, it’s the local government reform, it’s the RMA reform, it’s the Zero Carbon Act.

“A freedom party is coming back into vogue, because there’s real threats to your freedom – and your property rights.”

Last month, Act launched a petition to stop the Government’s SNAs “land grab” and announced a policy to remove the requirement for councils to identify SNAs. Act would create a $10 million fund for local biodiversity initiatives, such as the work undertaken by the Queen Elizabeth II Trust, he said.

“The underlying assumption is farmers are basically bad people so we’ve got to freeze their land so they can’t do any more bad stuff just not true and it’s disrespectful,” he said.

“People who farm the land just don’t get enough credit for the environmental work that they do.”

Mr Seymour said he had visited Oamaru about four times as Act leader. He had connections to the North Otago town – Dr Paul Baker was his social studies teacher at Auckland Grammar, before he moved to Oamaru to become rector of Waitaki Boys’ High School.

Asked about his position on carbon farming at the Oamaru meeting on Saturday, Mr Seymour said “ultimately, I’ll always stand up for your right to sell and use your property”.

“The difficulty is, I’ll stand up for your neighbour’s right too, and if they want to sell to someone who’s going to farm carbon credits, then good on them.”

However, he did not believe the planting of pine trees should be subsidised by the Government, and had concerns about the environmental impacts.

“If you think something might be bad, then arguably it should be regulated .. but certainly it shouldn’t be taking money off one taxpayer and subsidising someone to do something that’s potentially quite damaging,” he said.

“I worry that the real environmental problem is not climate change but the damage that will be done by these pine trees – the soil acidification and the fact you won’t be able to plant anything else. That’s really damaging and I don’t know if we’ve properly regulated that, to be honest.”