By ZOE MILLS

The Spinoff’s Youth Wings series featured a debate in September — our Mavericks sat down with each of the Youth Wings* to understand what their parties are about.
Will you see yourself reflected in the wings or do they look the part but speak like a retired veteran? ZOE MILLS sat down with Young ACT’s Felix Poole to find out.

Felix Poole

He enjoys video games.
He lives in a shoddy student flat.
He used to scrape grease out of the fryers at McDonald’s

He is also president of the youth wing of the ACT Party, number 50 on ACT’s party list, and a candidate for Auckland Central – going up against the big names of the Greens’ Chloë Swarbrick and Labour’s Helen White. 

To many, ACT is somewhat of a paradox – a minor party sitting on the left socially and the right economically, yet the group continues to slowly work their way up the polls, jumping to 7% support in the latest Colmar Brunton poll, with an average of 3.3 in 2020 polling

Although Leader David Seymour’s Dancing with the Stars days are permanently ingrained in kiwi’s minds – whether we like it or not — the party remains somewhat of an enigma.

I sat down with Felix to discuss ACT’s vision for New Zealand, as well as their policy and goals for the upcoming election.

As election cycles go on, it’s becoming more common to see increasingly younger people entering the political world. That being said, it can be a bit disconcerting sitting across from a person of the same generation speaking like an aged veteran politician.

Poole, a law and communications student at the University of Auckland, explained to me how he got into politics early on. 

“I enjoy politics, I enjoy debating. It started off with just talking around the family dinner table and it just grew into a bigger part of my life, and I’m really passionate about it.”

ACT, a relatively young party in NZ political history, can be a bit of a confusing party. What is ACT in a nutshell?

“ACT is all about freedom. We’re all about liberty, we’re all about giving people the opportunity and freedoms to do what they want to do in life – that includes social freedoms and economic freedoms”, Poole explains.

“We support gay marriage; our leader supports the abortion bill.  We believe in low taxes, and we believe that the government shouldn’t be intervening in people’s lives”.

In a lot of ways, ACT shares many traits of the libertarian ideology; social liberty and economic freedom. Poole, however, wouldn’t consider ACT a libertarian party.

“I’d say that libertarian as a term is really hard to define, but I sometimes call myself a libertarian. You could say that we’re libertarian aligned”.

The main misconception Poole believes “is that we (ACT) are socially conservative” — instead the party has changed under the leadership of David Seymour

So — what is ACT’s vision for New Zealand?

“ACT’s vision for New Zealand is to make New Zealand one of the most competitive and one of the strongest economies in the world”, seeing strong reform a way to achieve this

Reform how? Through the End of Life Choice Bill of Seymour’s own making, shrinking the government, cutting the fees-free scheme for first-year university and cutting taxes in half.

But I, as a student weeks away from graduating high school, wasn’t quite convinced. Like other students planning to enter university next year, I’m concerned about my looming student loans and debt.  So I asked him if it is fair to lump fresh graduates with that sum of debt?

“The debt is totally optional. We don’t have interest on our debt (like the USA), and ACT isn’t proposing to put interest on the debt that we get. I think we’ve got it very well here [in New Zealand]”, Poole expresses.

This stance is interwoven with the taxes axing, with the vision of cutting the median tax rate to 17.5% to grow the economy

Young ACT wants to legalise all drugs. “I support it, but it’s not something that ACT supports”. Poole says, yet grounded in the reality that it won’t be in the near future

And as for action on climate change? Rather than a government-led approach, Poole believes that private enterprise is the way to go. Instead, the “ACT party supports – exploring new ways of producing power, and embracing technology and private enterprise”. Relying solely on our consumer conscience, and the shift of supply and demand, to tilt the scales on sustainability. In the Youth Wings debate, there was audible laughter at the idea.

In the past, Poole has called youth wings ‘toxic places’, elaborating that it’s natural in a setting where“ it’s people arguing, and it gets very depersonalised. So why do people join youth wings in the first place?

“Do you want my politician’s answer or my real answer?”, he laughs. Poole speaking from experience believes “I think if you join a more fringe party, I think you’re more of a passionate person – you’re probably driven more by your beliefs rather than just being part of a political party”.

The ACT youth wing has come under fire recently due to the resignation of vice president Ali Gammater due to allegations of sexual harassment within the wing. In a tweet, Gammater describes being “sexually harassed, slut-shamed and ignored” for months – further going on to state “I am not the only victim of this behaviour in our ranks”.

As a result, it appears that Poole says he’s taken the allegations seriously. “We’ve had an investigation, and the investigation has said that Young ACT (the executive) acted appropriately and has also recommended some changes we can make in order to do better in the future.”
“Ultimately, Young ACT is a very new organisation and we’re also part of a very small party. We didn’t have the systems in place we should have, but in saying that, we did act well – as the investigation has said. We’re gonna be making some changes in the future.

Poole firmly denies the claim by Gammater that Young ACT is not a safe place for women. “The investigation has rejected that assertion”, he says. “Personally, I think ACT is a safe place for women”.

Following the allegations, the youth wing went radio silent, a decision Poole defends by stating “we’re not going to host an online space until we know that we have a safe place.” 

And although a candidate for Auckland Central, Poole is hesitant to compromise his privacy further because. “As an MP you lose even more. I don’t know if I want to lose that yet. I wanna be a teenager and have some fun before everything I do gets broadcasted”.

But who is Felix, really, without the politics?
“I don’t know.  I’m trying to think… politics is a huge part of my life”,

So how would your mum describe you?
“A very nice young boy”, he laughs.

As the hour wraps up and I’ve stirred my cold coffee one-too-many times, I ask Poole what advice he would offer first-time voters.

“Vote strategically, be smart, really try to think about what the core things you care about are – then go for the policies and look at different parties. Don’t settle for a big (party) if you think you could vote for a small (party).

… oh, and the media lies.” 

*Youth Wings are a bridge over the gulf that is youth and politics. They represent their party and have a presence on university campuses to engage with students. As an official club, they have alumni like Ardern who pay a membership fee of $5, but ultimately they are committed to represent the voice of our youth and young adults to MPs and to advocate for what we are passionate about.

Feisty, always up for a debate and smashing down the patriarchy, ZOE MILLS is a politics nerd with a huge passion for social justice. Keep up with her antics on Instagram: @zoeemills_

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