Tuesday, June 30, 2015

But not like this

The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back on the New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill, and recommended it be passed with minor amendments. While the public commentary is focusing on the referendum structure - which is quite sensible as a way to focus choice - something important has been missed. Every other democratic exercise conducted in this country, whether it be a general election, local body election, or referendum, is subject to spending limits and expense disclosure to prevent the rich from buying power. There is no such clause in the current bill. Looking at the Ministry of Justice advice on the issue, they hedged their bets and presented Ministers with a range of options rather than the usual single preferred option. That said, they did have something to say about the government's chosen option of only requiring a promoter statement:

This option is not recommended. On its own, a promoter statement requirement offers few benefits to justify the costs and burden of applying promoter statements to referendum advertising. Unless combined with a registration requirement, information about promoters’ key office holders may not be accessible.

They recommended at minimum that promoters spending above a certain threshold be registered, and recommended spending limits and expense declaration if a tighter approach was desired. The government ignored them, instead choosing a regulatory regime seemingly designed to allow wealthy interests to spend unlimited money in secret in an effort to buy the outcome. Which casts doubt on the entire referendum process and the legitimacy of the result.

I want the flag changed, but that is increasingly being followed by "but not like this". I'm not sure at what stage my disgust at this entire process is going to win over my dislike of a colonial relic, but its getting close.