Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Election funding: bad faith, and a challenge to National

In a speech today to the National Press Club, John Key launched a stinging attack on the Election Finance Bill, complaining that the length of the regulated period was too long, the definition of an electoral advertising was too broad, and that the bill imposed too many barriers to participation by "third parties". Hs conclusion was that the bill should be "ripped up".

I think this displays the overwhelming bad faith of the National Party on this issue. While publicly proclaiming in the wake of the revelations of The Hollow men that they wanted to see the system reformed, and complaining in wounded tones about the failure of the government to consult them, in practice, their position has been nothing but mindless opposition. "The bill is flawed, therefore it must be shredded" is not the response of a responsible party truly interested in reform. It is however the response of a self-interested party eager to rort and exploit the system to buy their way to power, just as they tried to do in 2005.

While the National Party may deny it, the 2005 election revealed several flaws in our current electoral finance laws, including the ability of wealthy parties to circumvent spending limits by starting the campaign early or using front groups to advance their agenda. These problems need to be fixed before the next election. A responsible party would therefore be working to fix the problems with the bill, rather than trying to shred it. Given the realities of MMP, there is significant opportunity in both the Select Committee and Committee of the Whole House stages to amend and improve the bill. National should take that opportunity. If it thinks the regulated period is too long, the definition of election advertising too broad, the barriers to participation too high, or that the bill shamefully neglects to address anonymous funding while setting third-party spending limits at a derisory level, it can put up amendments. It will have to convince other parties to back them, of course, but on some of these issues there should be a majority there to amend the bill for the better. This doesn't entail any commitment to support the bill at second or third reading, but it does entail a commitment to take the issue seriously and work with others to produce the best law possible.

So, that's my challenge to the National Party: to accept that the problems are real, and work to fix them. It will be interesting to see if they accept it, and behave like a responsible party which understands MMP, or continue to squeal childish denial.