Monday, September 11, 2006

Dunne on Parliamentary funding

In his latest newsletter, United Future's Peter Dunne addresses the issue of Parliamentary funding. First, he notes that United Future has always done its utmost to remain within the rules, and that all material was run past Parliamentary Services prior to publication. Dunne clearly thinks they should be able to place some faith in the advice they got - and in rulings from the Speaker that their material was within the rules when it was challenged. And he "resent[s] bitterly" the imputation from other parties and the public that his party is in some way corrupt when they have always acted in good faith and in accordance with the rules as widely understood at the time. And he has this to say:

Requiring parties to pay back the expenditure ultimately deemed to be illegal, no matter that it was incurred in good faith, is undoubtedly the popular and obvious solution, but that is fraught with some difficulties. In most cases, parties, particularly the smaller ones, will struggle to find that amount of money, and will in turn be severely hampered in their ability to raise the funds necessary to fight the next election. Some parties may be able to call on sympathetic benefactors to bail them out, although that is probably a less likely outcome.

Either way, the real loser will be our parliamentary democracy. The Auditor-General's zeal may well have the unintended long-term consequence of neutering the newer parties and concentrating power back into the hands of the two established parties. That was hardly what people voted for when they voted for MMP.

It's difficult not to see National's constant chorus of "pay it back" as a calculated attempt to retroactively rewrite the rules for Parliamentary expenditure via the court of public opinion, in the hope of financially crippling their competitors and clearing the field for election victory. In other words, it's all about the money again.

The sooner we prevent such tactics by implementing public funding, the better.


Sorry, I/S, but I find it rather disingenuous and self-serving of the Revenue Minister to run the "it might have been wrong, but we did it in good faith" line.

Not for the first time, I'll observe that line cuts remarkably little ice with the IRD or WINZ - and Peter Dunne wouldn't have it any other way.

Yes, I/S, it is all about the money. It seems in the world of Mr Common Sense, if you've received money from the public purse you're not entitled to, "pay it back" is the mantra for rich and poor alike. Just not for him or his party.

If Mr. Dunne seriously gives a damn about minor parties, perhaps he can (to use Wiki-speak) put up a serious proposal to "disambiguate" the horrendously complicated rules around campaigning, period. I've long said that it's far too easy to technically - and unintentionally - breech these rules if you don't have the resources , campaign workers and institutional memory that are more readily available to well-established parties. But that doesn't solve Dunne's immediate cashflow problem, does it?

Posted by Anonymous : 9/12/2006 07:11:00 AM

Craig, the AGs goal, as I understand it, was to clear up what he sees are messy and badly understood rules round PS funding, particularly round election time. His intention, according to interviews, is not to get money "back" from parties at all.

National have effectively broadened the scope of his work by turning this into a witch hunt and effectively questioning the legitamacy of a general election as well.

As the scope has broadened in this manner, in the minds ofthe media and public, then to be fair to all parties the scope of the enquiry should also be broadened to look at spending from that fund in other periods.

The AG clearly does not want to be deflected by politicking from his original intention, a position I understand. In that case it is up to the other parties to do what National have done and effectively extend the period that is under review.

You even admit that there are "horrendously complicated rules around campaigning period". Less sloganning and more thought might help sort that out.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/12/2006 08:23:00 AM

"It's difficult not to see National's constant chorus of "pay it back" as a calculated attempt to retroactively rewrite the rules for Parliamentary expenditure via the court of public opinion."

National doesn't need to retroactively change the rules. They have it on pretty good advice that that is what the rules have always been (and Labour have been mounting an at-times-strong argument that they are unchanged).

Now at the last election National spent $2.1M and Labour $2.8M. Assuming Labour spent (legally or illegally) $800k of 'public' money then the difference in 'legitimate spending' between Labour and National isn't all that great (National $100k more). Of course National also want to spend an extra $112k on TV advertising, so if you add these figures in, then it's Labour who spends most (ignoring the $800k) by about $30k.

You have to ask, if no-one thought prior to the election that this spending was illegal, then why didn't National use it's own funds, and it's Parliamentary funds, to massively outspend Labour, and perhaps buy the election.

Could it be, that when Don Brash became leader, he looked at the rules, which were changed in 2003(?) to clarify that it was the parties themselves reponsible for the spend, and decided 'there's no way I can fund a pledge card' without breaking the rules.

For years there were rules against drink-driving, but they really weren't enforced, but 'but officer I'm a safe drunk driver, I've been driving home from the pub for years' has never been a defence.

I'm prepared to wait for the AG's report, but if it says what we think it will say, then the Party thinking of re-writing the rules isn't National.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 9/12/2006 09:11:00 AM


Well, it's good to see you acknowledge that Kevin Brady is politically independent and a civil servant of high integrity. Perhaps Mr. Dunne can do the same.

And as for 'sloganeering', I think it's entirely fair comment to point out that Mr. Dunne is running an entirely political and (IMO) rather hypocritical line that he'd have no sympathy for if it came from a beneficiary advocacy group or a 'Rich Lister' who'd been stung for back taxes on a dodgy shelter, no matter how long it had been in place.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/12/2006 09:15:00 AM

Craig, I think I answered your comment about Brady independence in a similar way elsewhere. I have absolutely no problems with him or the fact that he may come to some conclusions which don't happen to match my world view on things.

What I am trying to say is that in the minds of the press and the public the scope of his work has been extended. It is not unexpected then that the politicians most effected by this post election analysis should want to broaden the debate.

Graeme - my understanding is that National anticipated "truckloads" of money to spend during the election and that they pre-spent thier PS funds on somevery early electioneering as a result. That money has, of course, not been included in the electoral returns. Since the election National have continued to use the fund for what can only be decribed as electioneering. At the same time they like to accuse others of stealing elections.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/12/2006 09:30:00 AM


Indeed you did, over on Tony Milne's blog and I accepted your word there. I also accept your arguments here are made in good faith, even if I don't agree with your conclusions.

Peter Dunne, however, I'm not so sure about. Even so, if I'm wrong on a point of fact please correct me. While I don't have a high opinion of Peter Dunne, he's entitled to have his views represented here accurately and fairly. I'd just note that I'd e-mailed his office several weeks ago making similar points, and asking for a response. If I every get one, I'll post it here in the interests of fairness.

I'm sorry, but you really do have to ask who's trying to re-write the rules in mid-stream, really?

Posted by Anonymous : 9/12/2006 09:56:00 AM

"I'm sorry, but you really do have to ask who's trying to re-write the rules in mid-stream, really?"

Everyone, I suspect. That's my point really.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/12/2006 10:22:00 AM

I haven't been convince that the rules changed in any relevant way in 03. The difference seems to be in the AGs interpretation. Which, while matching what a sensible person might think...

a) is sufficiently different from the accepted practise of the past (and perhaps that expounded in the instructions ministers get) that I can accept the somebody wouldn't accept the Ag's interpretation/would want to legislatively unmake it. The interpretation would be an effective change in the regime. And given that they did look at those rules recently, presumably an unintended consequence of a law - hence, changing retrospectively.

b) related to the above, the interpretation the AG has been assumed to be using would in fact change the face of election politics. My impression is that PS budget has been a de facto public campaign fund for at least the last little while. Parties who the rich people want elected will have more of an advantage than in previous years. Whether you favour a change depends where you sit, of course.

And specifically, 'paying it back' would screw all but about one party for the near future.

Given the '02 thing, I put it to you that National - although not entirely - avoided the PS spending they had used in the past because they were rolling in cash. And had more being spent for them on the side.

According to the weekend paper, Rodney Hide has suddenly become in favour of paying it back, now that he has convinced the AG to reduce his bill.

Maybe I've been spun, but at the least, I'd say the self-interest is on both sides and National exaggerates the horror.

Loosely, it's not like Labour et al have no case.

Posted by Lyndon : 9/12/2006 01:07:00 PM

Lyndon: Loosely, it's not like Labour et al have no case.

I'm with Dean Knight in thinking they have a strong case for retrospective validation, and probably a Parliamentary majority for it as well. The problem will be convincing the public.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/12/2006 01:45:00 PM