Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Election funding: Put your money where your mouth is II

In Parliament tonight, during the debate over the (hopefully uncontentious) Electoral (Administration) Amendment Bill, Labour's electoral reform spokesperson David Parker took the opportunity to highlight the hole in our transparency regime, pointing out that National could have taken money from the insurance industry in exchange for its ACC policies:

"Before the election, Merrill Lynch said if ACC was privatised...there would be $2 billion of ACC levies up for grabs and $200 million of additional profit could be earned by Australian insurers," he said.

"We all know that the private insurers stand to gain from the privatisation of ACC. There's no doubt about that. But what we don't know is whether those same private insurers were contributing to the National Party.

"I can never prove that they were, but it is wrong for our democracy to be tainted by that accusation.

"It is also wrong if it didn't happen and yet our election process is tainted by the implication that it may have."

Mr Parker said the lack of transparency around donations was "a glaring problem" in the electoral system.

The problem here is the $10,000 donation threshold, which allows parties to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in "small" (to rich people) donations, without having to declare a thing. Parker thinks it should be reduced to $1,000. I've previously suggested that Labour should put its money where its mouth is, and voluntarily disclose their smaller donations to shame the other parties into action (in the same way that the Greens' voluntary disclosure of their expenses forced greater transparency on Parliament). But that's not the only thing they can do. They could, for example, put up a member's bill on the subject. To save them the effort, I've drafted it for them:
Electoral (Transparency) Amendment Bill

The Parliament of New Zealand enacts as follows:

1. Title
This Act is the Electoral (Transparency) Amendment Act 2009.

2. Commencement
This Act comes into force on 1 January 2010.

3. Purpose
The purpose of this Act is to amend the Electoral Act 1993 to reduce the threshold for the disclosure of party donations from $10,000 to $1,000.

4. Principal Act Amended
This Act amends the Electoral Act 1993.

5. Section 210 Amended
(1) Section 210(1)(a) of the Principal Act is amended by omitting “$10,000” and substituting “$1,000”.
(2) Section 210(1)(b) of the Principal Act is amended by omitting “$10,000” and substituting “$1,000”.

So, the question is: are Labour serious about this issue, or are they just talk? Sadly, their previous hypocrisy doesn't give me much hope.