Morgan launches crusade to topple baby boomers

TOP leader Gareth Morgan says his party will reach 30 per cent by 2020. Photo: Sam Sachdeva.

Gareth Morgan’s Opportunities Party is slowly creeping upwards in the polls, with the eccentric economist claiming the party can reach 30 per cent by 2020. Sam Sachdeva was at TOP’s campaign launch in Wellington.

Gareth Morgan is an unlikely bete noire of the baby boomers.

For a start, the 64-year-old is himself one; then there’s his wealth, built in part on the intergenerational inequities he rails against.

Yet at The Opportunities Party’s campaign launch in Wellington on Friday, TOP’s leader continues to expound on how New Zealand’s “fair deal” has gone awry.

“The opportunities that allowed us to [succeed] were also based on the notion that each generation would pass on to the next a better country than they were born into.”

Something has gone terribly wrong with that idea, he says.

“The current generation, the baby boomers, may be the first to leave behind a New Zealand of shrinking opportunities, less fairness and more inequality than they were born into.”

“We are building for 2020, we are going to be a 30 per cent party in 2020.”

Older New Zealanders are “flicking an intergenerational hospital pass” onto their children and grandchildren.

“We’re leaving them loaded with debt for their education while we ask them to pay for our retirement. We’re pricing them out of the housing market so we can make tax free capital gains.”

Morgan’s policy prescriptions to restore fairness, including a new tax on properties and a universal basic income of certain groups, seems to have struck a chord with a small but growing subset of the population.

TOP hit three per cent in a recent UMR poll - still some way short of the magic five per cent mark needed to enter Parliament, but close enough to raise the possibility it will sneak across the mark.

With about 4000 members and 25 candidates, Morgan has bigger ambitions: he suggests they’ll reach 10 per cent this election, and surge even more next time around.

“We are building for 2020, we are going to be a 30 per cent party in 2020.”

He sees the party’s biggest barrier as awareness, but says his talks and tours around the country are starting to make a difference.

“I always had the confidence that if your product’s good, the viral spread will go but it takes time and so we did the first tour, second tour of the country, what we found was 80, 90 per cent of the country were there by referral.”

TOP voters 'looking beyond self-interest'

That includes some equally unlikely supporters of the millennials.

“You’d be surprised where that comes from, it’s not just purely self-interest - i’ve talked in retirement villages and explained to them how their generation and my generation basically were born with our heads in the trough, still got our heads in the trough, and the big gap they’re leaving behind…

“I say to these people, we’ve done that, expecting them to collapse on their walkers or whatever, but I tell you what, the number of people who get really wound up by that and say the only thing that’s important to them at their age is their grandchildren, nothing else matters.”

Labour’s resurgence under new leader Jacinda Ardern could threaten TOP’s attempts to break the five per cent mark, but Morgan proclaims the party’s revival to be “fantastic for democracy”.

“I don’t care about who’s government, all I care about is the policy and getting progress for New Zealand.”

“I think it’s terrible any government of any hue being able to just walk in, because it tends to make it arrogant and make policy development very lazy, so I think that Jacinda's managed to do that for Labour is absolutely brilliant for all of us, because democracy's got to be about something and there’s real choice there.”

He expects Labour to become more competitive yet, with the caveat that may depend on what fresh policies Ardern is able to put together.

“Quite clearly Jacinda’s a great communicator, so that’s good: it’s an issue of whether that’s sufficient for Labour to be competitive - the Jacinda Trudeau effect, I call it - or whether she needs [content] on top of that.”

As for coalition negotiations with the two major parties, Morgan says TOP would treat it as a simple auction.

“I’ll just say, ‘Well we’ve got 15 policies, how many are we allowed do in the first three years’...whoever gives us the most, they get the nod.

“I don’t care about who’s government, all I care about is the policy and getting progress for New Zealand.”

Unlike Winston Peters, there are no bottom lines, and TOP will seek a confidence and supply arrangement rather than Cabinet roles; “I don’t want to be a minister,” Morgan says, almost contemptuously.

Eating their Greens

While he portrays the party as policy- rather than politically-oriented, it has struck a particular chord with traditional Green voters: a number of former Green candidates have defected to TOP, which has made a point of comparing itself with party on social media.

Morgan says his party’s focus on inequality and the environment is not “far-left”, although he acknowledges the Greens’ travails could benefit TOP.

“The Greens, unless they can hold it - they may well bounce back, give them a chance - but I think if they're going to lose,they’re going to lose clearly some to Labour, which they've already done quite significantly, and some into us.”

TOP deputy leader Geoff Simmons adopted another Green approach, making his own “admission” to the party faithful in an echo of Metiria Turei’s benefit fraud revelation while spruiking the party’s property tax policy.

"Today I have a confession for you folks, I am a tax dodger - I own my own home,” Simmons said.

"If I put my money into a bank account or into shares I would pay tax on that before I paid my rent, but by buying a house I don't have to pay any tax, and I don't have to pay rent."

It may have cut a bit close to the bone for those still backing the Greens, but flirting with controversy is part and parcel of the experience for a party led by the brash Morgan.

Whether that boldness will get them over five per cent remains to be seen.