Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Last week, the government introduced a bill into Parliament - the Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill - aimed at bringing clarity to parties' Parliamentary spending by extending the current definition of funding entitlements until 2009. This ought to have been uncontentious - the definition (with its ban on spending funds for "electioneering", meaning the explicit solicitation of votes, funds, or members) is what everybody other than the Auditor-General has always understood to be the case, and the extension is necessary given the failure of the Parliamentary Services Commission to reach agreement on a better one. But of course the opportunists in the National Party, who leapt eagerly on the Auditor-General's flawed interpretation last year, have decided to oppose it, beating the "state funding by stealth" drum and raising the spectre of another pledge card (something which was in fact legal under the guidelines as understood by everyone other than the Auditor-General, but which of course should have been declared as electoral spending under the Electoral Act).

This is simply the height of hypocrisy. Why? Firstly, because despite all their screaming about Labour's pledge card, in May this year they were perfectly happy to put out one of their own, implicitly (but not explicitly) seeking support for the National Party, and bearing the Parliamentary crest - precisely the behaviour they supposedly object to (yet another case of one law for all - for everyone but National). And secondly, they informed the government that they privately supported the legislation, but that they would publicly oppose it for political reasons - a fact admitted to by Gerry Brownlee in Question Time yesterday:

Gerry Brownlee: I have in my possession a document that sets out the fact that National was happy for a rollover, provided it would lead to a much shorter election period. I seek leave to table that document...

If there's a more glaring example of hypocrisy, I'd love to see it.

There are problems with the potential misuse of Parliamentary funding, but the problem lies in the Electoral Finance Bill, not the Parliamentary spending rules. Sections 58 and 81 (2) (g) of the bill specifically exclude from the definition of "electoral expense" material published by candidates in their capacity as Members of Parliament. So while these materials may fall within the definition of "election advertisement" in s5, they would not count towards candidates' or parties' spending limits. On the one hand, its easy to see why such a clause is necessary - MP's publish a great deal of material in the course of representing and communicating with their constituencies, and this ordinary business of representation and advocacy should not have to stop simply because it is election year. And OTOH, this exemption also allows incumbent parties to pull tricks like the pledge card, effectively violating their spending limit and setting up a very uneven playing field. But the proper solution is to refine the exemptions in the EFB, not to try and cripple Parliament from doing its work and leading our national conversation. Unfortunately, National is acting in bad faith on that issue as well, and I don't expect them to contribute usefully to a solution anytime soon.