Thursday, November 22, 2007

Election Funding: the second reading

The second reading of the Electoral Finance Bill is about to begin. You can watch here, or listen in here.

I might do some liveblogging on this. We'll see. (Update: what the hell...)

Annette King: Believes the public interest in the bill shows the strength of our democracy, and that the amendments have met the concerns of most submitters. The bill will safeguard democracy by limiting the undue influence of money on the electoral process - something she believes is popular with the public.

Bill English: Says the bill is an example of misplaced priorities, and that the government should be concentrating on economic growth and the number of New Zealanders leaving for Australia. Calls the bill a shambles which guarantees litigation; Election 2008 will as much about the rules for the election as the will of the people. Accuses the government of abusing the legal process to skew the electoral system in its favour, and making a law to stifle its critics.

Lynne Pillay: The bill will assure the electoral process is transparent and fair, and not open to the undue influence of wealth. Disappointed in National's deliberate scaremongering, and accuses the opposition of being concerned solely with their own funding. The games they played in select committee shows the lie behind their claims that they want to work constructively to improve the bill. Pointed out that public lobbying has led to policies such as four weeks annual leave, and that the bill preserves the right of groups to advocate on issues and changes in policy. says that the increased spending cap for third-parties was based on the figures named by NGOs who expressed concern.

Tony Ryall: The government is going to amend the bill to fix more problems! And this is a Bad Thing! [WTF?] The bill will cement the interests of "big union money" in or electoral system. Is outraged that unions won't tell National how much they spent last election [how much did the Fair Tax lobby spend, Mr Ryall? How much did Peter Talley want to spend?] Sticks to the talking point that the government is changing the rules to suit itself to win the election, and openly threatens that National will do the same. Promises that National will repeal the legislation [though how they'll do that when most possible coalition partners support it is an interesting question] Says the bill will be a fiasco on the level of the Florida recount in the 2000 US Presidential election, with endless litigation [Only if National and its rich backers decide to launch it, Mr Ryall...]

Doug Woolerton: NZ First in favour of the bill. Most submissions expressed concern about anonymous donations and their influence on the political system. The bill ensures transparency and ensures donors are identified. Reads out a list of National's 2005 election donors, most of whom were trusts [to much hooting and gibbering from the Opposition benches], and accuses National of being primarily concerned with secrecy. Also points out that while National complains about the use of public money, they are currently its biggest beneficiary, to the tune of $7 million, and spent massive amounts during the 2005 campaign which was fortunately (for them) outside the interval of the Auditor-General's inquiry. If national was serious about its rhetoric, it should hand back this money, and bankroll its campaign itself.

Metiria Turei: Bill is necessary to protect the equality of the ballot from the inequality of the wallet. We have good rules already which help to establish a level playing field, but 2005 revealed real problems which must be dealt with. One of these problems was the Brethren campaign, which worked hand in glove with National to circumvent their spending limit and hide the identities of those responsible. This was a huge loophole in the law, which must be closed, otherwise spending caps will become meaningless and our elections will be bought by wealthy secret interests working in collusion with parties. A second problem was the lack of transparency around certain party's donations. The Greens support full disclosure of every donation over $1,000 [but will they put up an SOP?] Says national's opposition is driven by their desire to continue to exploit these loopholes, receive secret money and collude with third parties to circumvent their spending limits. If the Greens thought for one moment that the bill undermined human rights, they would oppose it, just as they have opposed the Terrorism Suppression Act.

Peter Dunne: Quite an impassioned speech! Quoted the Royal Commission on the Electoral System on the need to restrict third parties. "That quote is at the heart of this legislation". Believes the House supports this, but that grubby politics has intruded into the issue. The people of New Zealand have a right to know who is donating to political parties. New Zealand campaigns have been free of dirty money and secret campaigning until the last election, and this raised real concerns among the public. Debunks National's scaremongering. The bill does not limit people's right to express their political opinion, or lobby for change. Instead, it prevents people and groups from seeking to participate in the election campaign to circumvent spending limits. Points out that opponents of the bill are arguing for open slather for secret campaigning, a problem recognised and limited around the world. Supports a one-year regulated period to prevent the current practice of scheduling huge amounts of spending to overflow into the regulated period - something he calls a cynical manipulation. Thinks the bill will provide certainty in this area. Criticises the process and both major parties, one for wanting to stich up the numbers first [necessary under MMP], the other for deciding it would oppose no matter what. The law needs to be passed, otherwise we will see the same problems as we saw in 2005, and that is not acceptable. United Future will support the second reading, examine the amendments in committee, and then decide whether to support the third reading.

Heather Roy: Says the current law has significant flaws which restrict the operation of fair and open democracy. But in her opinion, the flaws are that it restricts spending by parties and prevents them from buying TV advertising, not that it fails to ensure a level playing field. Focuses on the candidate spending limit, which is arguably too low. Bill advantages incumbents, and will make electorate campaigns almost impossible to win for independent candidates or parties not already in Parliament or on a party list. [Coverage interrupted by need for caffeine] Believes transparency requirements compromise the secrecy of the ballot, and that people should be allowed to give money anonymously.

Chris Finlayson (with Chris Auchinvole barking in the background): Claims to have tried to be constructive [yeah, right]. Claims the bill is simply utu for National's "highly effective" campaign in 2005. Complained at length about the select committee process, and called it an "embarassment to Parliament". Is disappointed in the Greens, and questions their commitment to human rights. The bill has numerous flaws, and he will be paying close attention at the committee stage. Threatens "a bucketload of litigation" in 2008.

Charles Chauvel: quoted Don Brash: "the business community can not provide enough votes to win, but they can provide money". This attitude underpins National's opposition to the bill. Bill will ensure one person, one vote - not one dollar, one vote. Praises public participation in the select committee, and says that the committee has responded to submissions with amendments. Brethren campaign revealed a loophole which must be plugged. Thanked Graeme Edgeler (who is apparently in the gallery) for his very detailed submission and proposed amendments. Also mentioned my Scoop piece (here). The reason the bill is being passed is because National tried to rort the system in the last election, and the government is going to make sure it cannot happen again.

Hone Harawira: The Maori Party supports elections conducted in an environment of transparency. Welcome the tightening of rules around political donations. But while they support the principles behind the bill, they cannot support the bill itself due to the concerns of the Electoral Commission. Concerned with the definition of election advertising, and with the extension of the regulated period. Wants wider discussion on electoral reform, and things the issue should be given back to the public for proper debate. They will not be party to a bill with such flaws.

Anne Tolley (with Chris Auchinvole again): Says democracy is under attack from Labour, the Greens, NZ First and United Future, who outvoted them at committee [does she know what the word means?]. Talks about previous cross-party agrement on electoral law, and claims this has been undermined by the government [and National's position of mindless opposition had nothing to do with it, of course]. Complained more about the select committee process, and claimed to have been shut out by the committee majority at every turn. Praised the Electoral Commission submission, and claims the bill is aimed at shutting down the government's opponents.

The bill passed its second reading 65 - 54, with National, ACT, the Maori Party, Gordon Copeland and Taito Philip Field voting against.