Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Parliamentary funding and petitions

The Herald reports that the Greens are spending $75,000 of their Parliamentary funding on signature gatherers for the referendum against privatisation. Shock! Horror! Rorting the system!

Well, no. As the article points out, it is "within the rules". Of course, so supposedly was Bill English rorting us for his Wellington housing costs, so that's not much of a defence. But what about the merits?

Party support funding is allocated to "fund the leader's office". That's a bit vague, but the Directions by the Speaker of the House of Representatives 2011 [PDF] gives more detail: it is to be used (among other things) to help parties with "discharging their responsibilities as legislators and elected representatives", "developing, researching, critiquing, and communicating policy" (which is really part of the first), and in communicating with constituents both about how to contact your MP and about what those MPs are doing and what their views are on public issues. What this means in practice is that it gets used for press releases, electorate newsletters and "issue advertising". The latter frequently involves a call for democratic engagement and participation, either by contacting a Minister, submitting on legislation, or (and this one is a biggie) signing a petition to Parliament.

Frankly, I don't see any real difference between promoting a CIR petition and a normal one. They're both going to the same place: the House of Representatives. The House differs in its handling of the petitions - those pre-notified under the CIR Act are handled by the Clerk under a statutory process, those which aren't are considered by a select committee - and a CIR is likely more effective than an ordinary petition. But that doesn't seem like much of a difference to hang a funding restriction on. Meanwhile, both petitions are doing exactly the same thing: letting the public have their say.

But I guess, to those objecting, that's the problem, isn't it?