Hon NATHAN GUY (Acting Minister of Justice)
: I move,
That the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the bill be referred to the Electoral Legislation Committee, which has been established to consider this bill and the Electoral Referendum Bill. Electoral finance law is fundamental to New Zealand’s democratic system. The regime must be impartial, fair, and transparent so that the people of New Zealand have confidence in our elections. I also add that as far as possible, electoral law should also be the product of cross-party consensus as this is the path most likely to lead to enduring solutions.
As part of this Government’s pre-election platform, the Electoral Finance Act 2007 was repealed within our first 100 days in office. An interim regime was put in place and we began a consultative process. It started with a scope paper published in April, and this was followed by an issues paper released in May and a proposal document released in September. We also held public forums in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. This bill is a result of that consultative process and it is the fourth bill in the Government’s electoral reform programme.
As the title suggests, the bill is divided into two primary areas: finance reform and advance voting. The primary purpose of this bill is to amend electoral finance law in areas where there is broad-based consensus for reform. This bill will provide certainty to electoral agencies, political parties, candidates, and the public.
It aims to improve the understanding and application of electoral law. To recognise the impact of new technology and media, the bill updates the definition of “election advertisement” to cover advertising by all forms of media.
The bill also sets up a regulatory regime for third-party promoters that emphasises transparency, rather than restrictions on the freedom of expression. It requires third-party promoters to register with the Electoral Commission if they spend, or intend to spend, over $12,000 on election advertising in the regulated campaign period. The bill does not include an expenditure limit for third-party promoters. The register of information on third-party promoters will ensure that the public know who is funding political campaigns. In addition to getting authorisation from candidates or political parties for positive advertising, all promoters will have to disclose their name and their residential or physical address on all types of election advertisements. Campaign spending limits for candidates and parties were last changed in 1995. Under this bill, they will be allowed to increase at the rate of inflation to ensure that they are not set at levels that have become unrealistic over time.
This bill clarifies how expenses can be apportioned where advertisements serve a dual purpose, such as advertisements for both a candidate and a political party. Although these expenses have historically been apportioned between the party and the candidate, the decision in the
Peters v Clarkson case suggests that those expenses should count in whole against both the party and the candidate. This bill reinstates the historical position that advertising expenses are to be apportioned between candidates and parties based on each one’s coverage in the particular ad.
Many aspects of the donations regime in the Electoral Finance Act have been retained. However, this bill improves the transparency of donations to political parties by adding two features. It introduces a new requirement for political parties and candidates to disclose in bands their total income from donations. It also includes an associated entity test to stop companies closely associated with each other from making separate donations to get around the disclosure requirements.
The bill also makes changes to the regulated campaign period. We propose that the regulated campaign period be no longer than 3 months, rather than up to 11 months as under the Electoral Finance Act. The Minister of Justice signalled this change to the Speaker to ensure that amendments to the Parliamentary Service Act with regard to election advertising would be consistent with the Electoral Act. Following the Speaker’s consultation with parliamentary parties, it was agreed that the regulated period should no longer apply retrospectively and is possible under the current law. This means that there needs to be a trigger for the regulated period where an election is called less than 3 months from polling date. Therefore, this bill provides that the regulated campaign period will now start 3 months before the last possible date of an election where an election has not been announced before that date, or 3 months prior to polling day where an election is announced more than 3 months prior to polling day, or from the date that the election is announced where it is announced less than 3 months from polling date.
The Government is also using this bill as an opportunity to implement one of the Justice and Electoral Committee’s recommendations from its inquiry into the 2008 general election with regard to advance voting. The committee asked the Government to consider removing the existing restrictions on advance voting and the requirement to complete a written declaration in advance. This bill amends the Electoral Act accordingly. I hope that this will remove a potential impediment to those who may consider casting their vote in advance.
I thank the electoral agencies for their valuable advice, parliamentary parties and the public for their input, and submissions that were made during the development of this bill. Given the importance the Government has placed on consultation and consensus in the development of this bill, it has proceeded with only those reforms that have broad-based support. However, the select committee process is an opportunity for the public to
persuade parties from across the House that there may be other areas where reform to our electoral finance laws is desirable, and I think we should approach those submissions with a very open mind. I commend this bill to the House.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East)
: Labour will support the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill going to the Electoral Legislation Committee. I begin by acknowledging the Government for following a comparatively good consultation process. First of all, we had an issues paper, which was open to public submissions. Then we had a proposal document, which was open to public submissions. Throughout the process, there was consultation with parliamentary parties. I have a slight problem with what happened after that, although I think it was not as deliberate as perhaps the Acting Minister of Justice, Nathan Guy, may have suggested in his contribution.
I might as well deal with this now, because I think it is an issue that we will have to address at the select committee. I refer to the definition of “regulated period”, because certainly no agreement was reached on the nature of how that would best be provided for in our law. We accept on our side of the House that National, when it was in Opposition, never agreed with taking the regulated period back to the beginning of the year. We accept that there was going to be change in that regard. We have stuck to a single-minded position on this, in that we are willing to make changes in that regard. The alternative that we put to all the consultative processes that we were engaged in was 1 May. The usefulness of 1 May was that it was sufficiently far through the year to enable people to be undertaking activities as they would do in the normal course of events, not knowing exactly the date of the election, but it was a date that would by all means assure that any spending after that date would be caught within a regulated period, regardless of when the election was called.
I think that when we do not have a fixed date for a general election, it is better to have a set date at which the regulated period will begin if there has been no earlier calling of an election. That has been the position the Labour Opposition has taken all the way through. We have pulled back from our original position that it had to be for the entire year, and we put up 1 May as an alternative. That date sits very well with almost all of the elections that we have had, certainly in the time that I have been in Parliament. Almost all would have been picked up, apart from the one, I think, that was called in July 2002, which was called on a date that did not give a 3-month period of regulated activities.
I find regulatory impact statements very useful and interesting documents. I will read from the regulatory impact statement of the bill: “The regulated campaign period, during which political parties and constituency candidates are subject to campaign expenditure limits, currently runs from the date three months before the election date, until election day. The purpose of this period is to define the official campaign period, during which the expenditure controls imposed under the Electoral Act 1993 are imposed. Because New Zealand does not have a fixed election date,”—and I agree with this point—“the three month regulated campaign period can operate ‘retrospectively’. That is, where the Prime Minister announces that an election will take place in less than three months time, the regulated period effectively starts before the announcement took place. This creates compliance problems for constituency candidates, political parties, and the general public—who effectively can be required to comply with rules that were not in force at the time their actions took place.”
The problem with this definition of the problem is that it sets up a solution that was not resolved for consideration in this bill by the process that I described before. That is the single issue I have with how this has been handled. It was referred to the Parliamentary Service Commission as part of resolving the issues about the conflict that
can arise between an electoral expense and a legitimate parliamentary expense, as applied by a member of Parliament. It was right and proper that that issue was referred to the Parliamentary Service Commission, where the parties are fully engaged in the process; it really was a very good process. The trouble was that this issue got tied up with the broader issue, and I think the Parliamentary Service Commission ended up unwittingly being part of the contribution to this bill when it thought it was no longer part of it. This bill leads the commission to the position where it has unwittingly ignored the consultative process that was going on.
I thought it might be a good idea to explain exactly what has happened. I am being very sincere in the concern that I am raising here, because I think the select committee can address this problem and resolve it. The statement that the Minister put out last week describing the bill that we are addressing tonight talked about several developments having occurred since the February announcement. The first statement that he made in that regard said: “The proposal to clarify the relationship between the Electoral Act 1993 and Parliamentary Service legislation will now be addressed in a stand-alone bill to amend the Parliamentary Service Act 2000.” I think everyone who was engaged in that process within the Parliamentary Service Commission thought that that is where things now lay. Little did they know that, in fact, their engagement in this process went on from there: “The proposal for a three-month regulated period for election advertising has also been amended. Following consultation by the Speaker with all parliamentary parties,”—and that is a reference to the Parliamentary Service Commission; I checked with the Minister’s office today because I was not quite sure what it meant—“it was agreed that the regulated period could also be triggered where an election is called lessthan three months from polling day, to avoid retrospective application to prior spending.” That may well be what people have taken from the discussion, but I can assure the House that that is not how people who participated in that decision understood it would be translated into the bill before us today.
I do not think there is any subterfuge or any attempt to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. I honestly think that it is a genuine misunderstanding, and certainly a misunderstanding of the policy position that our party has had throughout this process. I believe that during the select committee process we can resolve the problem. I want to work through the nature of the problem so that everyone fully understands it; I have no time to talk about parallel campaigners, but I am sure my colleagues will pick up that serious matter. It is worth having this on record, because it is something we will have to address. The bill talks about a default day, meaning “the day that is 3 months before the last possible polling day for the general election”, and therefore we read those words for the words “default day”. The bill states: “If before the close of the default day the Prime Minister gives public notice of the day that is to be polling day for the election, the regulated period—(a) commences on the later of the following days: (i) the day after the date on which the Prime Minister gives that public notice: (ii) the day that is 3 months before polling day; and (b) ends with the close of the day before polling day.”
The later date will always be 3 months before polling day, unless 3 months’ notice of the general election is not given. Given that the Government decides the date of the general election, it gives the Government an unfair advantage. It can spend for an entire month, if not longer—perhaps if it gave only 6 weeks’ notice of the general election—in the knowledge that none of that spending will be counted as part of the regulated period. That is the Opposition’s issue with that provision. I know that this issue will be drawn on in our party submissions to the select committee. We have made it absolutely clear that we should avoid retrospectivity, but we should also minimise the risk of unregulated election spending occurring less than 3 months before an election. That is the position we have always had, and that is the position we wish to retain.
AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn)
: I am very pleased to have a chance to take a call in the first reading of this very important legislation, the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill. I pick up on some of what the Acting Minister of Justice, Nathan Guy, discussed in his first reading speech, specifically around the fact that this, as electoral legislation, is the sort of legislation that needs, in my view and in the Minister’s view, to proceed on the basis of a broad consensus. I talked a little bit about this in the debate around the MMP referendum. When we as a Parliament look at matters to do with the way we elect this very House, we are dealing with matters that are of the most serious constitutional significance. Although these bills can be passed on the strength of numbers, I think it is incumbent on us to make sure we tread carefully down this road and try to build cross-party consensus, which is likely to make the laws we pass not only respected but also enduring.
If there is any lesson that we can all learn from the Electoral Finance Act that was passed before the previous election, it is that—that these are serious issues; they are not the sorts of issues on which we want to exploit a position of power, and we need to go back to some sort of broad consensus as far as we possibly can. Certainly, that has been the Government’s approach to introducing this bill today. The point to remember here is that very soon after coming into Government following the 2008 election, National repealed the Electoral Finance Act. From memory, I think that that repeal was broadly supported in this House. I remember the Labour Opposition agreeing that we needed to re-look at that Act, and I think that it was wise of those members to concede their mistake on that point. Since that time, we have reverted to electoral law as this country had known it for the many, many years in building up to the passing of that Act. The discussion document and the issues paper that went out for public consultation, which this bill is the result of, started from electoral law before the Electoral Finance Act, and we said: “Let us look to make changes to that only where there is a broad consensus of support for it.” When we are looking through the provisions of the bill in front of the House tonight, it is important to look at it in that context—that of starting from a stable position of electoral law that has served this country very well for a long period of time, and of saying that there are issues we need to look at but let us make changes only when we feel there is a broad consensus of support for them.
I will start off on the smallest of the issues dealt with by the bill, which is the one the Acting Minister finished on; that is, the advance voting provision. I was lucky enough to be involved in the Justice and Electoral Committee when it had its inquiry into the previous election and considered this issue. It is an interesting one, and perhaps one that the wider public has not taken on board as yet. The changes in this bill will enable a greater level of participation in our general elections, and I think that is something we all strive for. Our elections work best when there is a high level of engagement. If the matter is as simple as allowing voters to vote on a different day to election day, without having to go through a complex process of proving their entitlement and filling out declarations, then that is a simple enough thing that we in this House can and should do to encourage participation. That is a simple enough change to make and it is an important one to do, and I am certainly very pleased to support that.
The biggest part of the bill relates to the running of campaigns, campaign financing, the question of who can advertise, the matter of how much can be spent, the time we measure from, and those sorts of issues. Again, when we start the debate on these things, from my perspective the issues we have to look at are the sorts of issues that were brought sharply into focus during the 2008 election campaign. I think the biggest difficulty we all struggled with through that campaign was the lack of certainty and the lack of credibility of the very rules. There was a constant process of going to the Electoral Commission and to lawyers to try to find out what could be done, who could
do what, what counted, and what did not. It got to the point when even if the Electoral Commission would tell us: “Look, candidate X has breached the rules.”, it would also say “We can’t really do anything about it, because the rules are so unclear that no one really knows what’s happening.” We have to take from that the importance of being very, very clear, of having very certain rules, and of having a good workability between the rules we operate under as MPs—when we spend money in our capacity as members of Parliament—and the money we spend and the regulations we are under when we are campaigning. The waste of resources during that 2008 election campaign was a source of ongoing frustration to me, because the time and effort that should have been spent being out talking to the public was spent in trying to get our heads around exactly what those rules all meant.
The previous speaker, Lianne Dalziel, spoke at some length about the regulated period, and I agree with her that that is an important issue. I go back to the opening comment I made, which was that the 3-month regulated period is the period we had in this country for a long time leading up to the Electoral Finance Act. That is what we have gone back to as a starting point for these changes. On the issue of retrospectivity, which Ms Dalziel spoke about, I agree that that is a serious concern. By way of personal example, I mention to this House that I was selected as a candidate in May of 2008, yet all my expenditure from 1 January 2008—a full 5 months before I was even chosen to be a candidate—was regulated. That is a nonsense. How on earth can candidates be responsible for expenditure that they might have spent in that period that may have served to encourage the public to vote for them? That was the sort of crazy system we had. We have reverted back to a 3-month period, or to a period that is defined by the calling of the election, to ensure that everybody knows once we are into the regulated period. I think that that is really key.
Tied in with that—and it is important to tie it in—is looking at the campaign expenditure limits for candidates. Under new section 205B, substituted in clause 8, we see that those expenditure limits, which have been set at $20,000 inclusive of GST since God played fullback for the Apostles, as they say, have now been changed to reflect a CPI adjustment. It goes back only as far as 2008, and the adjustment in the legislation, as printed, is not a big one. The important aspect of that is in new section 266A, inserted by clause 26, which this bill seeks to impose. It is the provision for annual Orders in Council to update those CPI linkages. So that is a beginning. It does not mean a big step forward in the campaign expenditure limits initially, but it finally puts in place some sort of mechanism to make sure that those limits keep pace with inflation over time. I think that that is important.
In this bill we see addressed some important apportionment issues, as the Minister discussed, to make sure that there is clarity about how and where campaign expenditure is apportioned. We have kept from the current electoral finance regime the disclosure of donations and the regime around that. Added to it is the new requirement for political parties to disclose not only donations over a certain limit but also income they have received in bands below that limit. There will be a more complete picture of the funding of our political parties, and I think that that increase in transparency and the clearing up of that can be only a good thing. I am sure that as this bill goes through the select committee, we will see some interesting discussion on some of the issues within it.
I will end where I began, which is simply to say that I think it is dangerous to charge ahead unless we can find a broad consensus for some of these issues. That is why reverting back to the stable electoral law that we have worked under for so long is a good starting point. I look forward to a good, enlightened, and educated debate on these matters in the select committee, because they are important. I am looking forward to the process and I commend the bill to the House.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour)
: I endorse Amy Adams’ comments about the desirability of forging a consensus on these issues in relation to the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill, but I add this note of caution: in order to reach a consensus, we have to have compromise on all sides. It is all very well for the Government to say that it wants to reach a consensus, but if it withholds its approval of reasonable suggestions on the part of other parties, including the Labour Party, then it will not reach a consensus. Consensus can only be reached if there is give and take by all parties in relation to these issues; otherwise, one party can withhold consensus. We all know that realistically the prior status quo under electoral law had some failings, but in some instances those failings could have been to the advantage of the National Party. If that party defines consensus as a requirement for its agreement on everything, then it can prefer the status quo, effectively, even if the status quo is inadequate. I just caution a little against the pretence that that sort of consensus is the ultimate answer. Actually, reasonable compromise leading to consensus is what this Parliament should be aiming for.
I mention what I think are the three most important principles in electoral law. They are the principle of equity, the principle of freedom of expression, and the principle of transparency. They are the three most important principles. There are other principles, like accountability, legitimacy, integrity, viability, clarity, and cost-effectiveness, which were referred to by the Royal Commission on the Electoral System in earlier years, but the three most crucial principles are equity, freedom of expression, and transparency. Equity, of course, is crucial, as the report of the royal commission said back then. It said that there was a particular importance in achieving fairness between political parties, because at elections voters were primarily choosing between alternative party Governments. There had to be fairness between parties, but that is not just fairness between sitting parties as represented in this Parliament. Election rules should not advantage one party over another; nor should they place inequitable barriers on the formation and entry of new parties into Parliament. That is one of the important principles.
The next principle is freedom of expression, and that principle requires that there should not be undue restrictions on the ability of citizens to freely express their views. Freedom of expression is very, very important. We made proposals around freedom of expression that left the media completely unconstrained—and the media should be completely unconstrained—but there have always been some constraints on political parties, and there should be. If we are to maintain a low-cost electoral system, such as we have in New Zealand, that implies there have to be some constraints on spending. Those constraints are a necessary restraint on freedom of expression. If we did not do that, we would have an electoral system like those in the United States, where people can essentially buy elections by outspending the other. We would get into a ratcheting-up of expenditure on both sides of the political debate. Increasingly, the only people who can meaningfully participate in election processes in countries with unconstrained expenditure are those with very deep pockets, and that is not democracy. A low-cost election system is appropriate and freedom of expression does not mean an unlimited right to spend in order to buy an election. That is why there are spending constraints on political parties. We have long had them in New Zealand and we should long continue to have them.
The third principle is that of transparency. Transparency only works if there is transparency around donations, and that is one of the areas where the Labour Party thought that we should go further than this bill does. We thought there should be even more transparency than is proposed in the bill. This is an area where we may be forced to compromise, but we think this bill should have gone further. We accept that we may
have to compromise on that, but we cannot see why there should not be further transparency in respect of donations. At the last election, from memory, the Labour Party disclosed the source of about 15 percent of our donations and the National Party disclosed the source of less than 10 percent of its donations. Both parties spent over $2 million, yet we disclosed only 10 percent of our donations. That is not good enough.
Amy Adams: You wrote the law.
Hon DAVID PARKER: This law does not improve it. The member says that Labour wrote the law. Well, that law did not go far enough in respect of transparency. There is nothing wrong with donating to political parties. It is a good thing to do. But public confidence in the democratic process requires that there be transparency as to donations, otherwise we can never escape the imputation that it is substantial donations that have caused the policy position, and that undermines public confidence in democracy. What we are trying to do here is to protect public confidence in democracy, because democracy is so important. The countries of the world that have the biggest problems do not have democracy, or they do not have transparent-enough democracy. Transparency is a really important principle. There ought to be more transparency in respect of donations.
This leads me to the issue of parallel campaigns. They are difficult. If we do not, in some way, have some regulation of parallel campaigns, we might as well have no regulation of political parties. We have theoretical limits of spending and some transparency of donations for political parties. If we did not have similar rules for people who are advocating for political causes outside of political parties, we might as well not have any rules for political parties, because it makes a nonsense of them. Through the process the Government ran, we proposed in our submission some transparency around third parties. We made it clear that the media should be absolutely unconstrained. Nothing in our submission affected the media. In respect of third parties, we said that they should not just have to register as being a third party, which is what this bill proposes, but also have transparency around their donations.
If people are out advocating for the Labour Party, the National Party, the Greens, or ACT—whoever they are advocating for—in effect, through their third-party campaign, it should be clear as to who their funders are so that we have transparency as to our election process. We did not have any limit on what third parties could spend. Again, that was a considerable compromise on the part of the Labour Party compared with our preferred position that there should be at least some limit.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: It wasn’t a tiny limit.
Hon DAVID PARKER: It was not a tiny limit, but maybe it was too low. We moved away from any threshold, but there should be disclosure. There should be transparency as to the source of the funding of campaigns if more than $100,000 is spent. That is what we said. That is a perfectly reasonable proposition on the part of the Labour Party, and for the National Government to say that it is doing this by consensus illustrates the fact that it can withhold a consensus and stick with the status quo where it thinks that is in its best interests.
I hope that the National Government is willing to look at this issue at the select committee—I really hope so. I do not think we are doing a favour to New Zealand or a favour to democracy—[Interruption] no, they have not. We are not maintaining public confidence in our election process if we do not deal with this important issue, which is the transparency of the campaigns run by third parties. The Royal Commission on the Electoral System concluded that limited spending by political parties, but not by parallel campaigns, was illogical. The royal commission found that; it is not the Labour Party being selfish in saying that. Labour is taking a principled approach, which was found by the royal commission. We hope that this is properly addressed through the select
committee and that the Government is willing to compromise on it, as we have compromised and as we are compromising in so many other areas. If it does not, then the talk about consensual electoral law will be shown to be hollow words.
John Hayes: Nothing consensual at all about the way you did it.
Hon DAVID PARKER: There is some fairness in that criticism. Labour has accepted that, but the same accusation will be made against the National Government if it does not follow a consensual route in respect of some of the issues that we are fairly raising and that were raised by the royal commission. National cannot have it both ways. It cannot say, on the one hand, that we did not follow a consensual process.
METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green)
: Aotearoa New Zealand prides itself on being a fair and equitable country. It is a country that we love and work very hard to protect. Our community often fails to engage with that protection, for a myriad of reasons. None the less, we continue, as a country, to strive for a better, fairer, and more prosperous nation, where everybody gets a fair go. We continue to strive for honest and open politics, and for good government that respects all people. The year 2007 saw a highly contentious, and quite radical in some respects, reform of New Zealand’s electoral finance laws, the Electoral Finance Act. It was not—and I have heard this being talked about tonight—a process that was particularly well handled politically or in the debate that surrounded the reform. The Green Party supported the legislation then because it made a significant step towards fixing some of the glaring holes that the 2005 election campaign showed up. Those glaring holes were extremely serious. In my view, they showed how easily the democratic process in Aotearoa could be manipulated and distorted. Those holes showed very clearly that politics in Aotearoa was, and to some extent still is, very vulnerable to the excessive influence of wealthy players in the political realm.
I do not need to tell the story. We have books, films, and a wide variety of writing that sets out that story. But I need to restate the problems, because the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill is designed to fix them, yet it fails. Amongst the problems was an initially secret $1 million intervention in the campaign by the Exclusive Brethren church. It campaigned for the National Party and against the Greens and Labour, without the spending falling within the National Party’s election cap. Some argue that the electoral process worked fine then because the scam was eventually exposed, but it was not the electoral process that exposed the scam; it was the very hard work of Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons. It was only because of their skills and determination to get to the truth of the matter that the Exclusive Brethren’s secret was exposed. Only Rod Donald’s determination exposed the link between the Exclusive Brethren campaign and the National Party. The public have good cause to thank Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald for their efforts in shedding light on the ease with which our elections can be bought and sold.
Other issues arose that showed glaring holes in our electoral law. In 2005 alone, the National Party received over $1.7 million in unidentified donations from secret trusts and Labour received over $300,000 in anonymous donations. National’s board was aware of the identities of the donors, even though their identities were hidden from the public by the use of secretive trusts. And, of course, we had the $120,000 illegal broadcasting overspend by the National Party. No prosecutions arose from any of those matters. Aotearoa does not have a sufficiently robust regime to protect the democratic process from the threat posed by secretive wealthy political players. The 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System stated that it is not fair if some in the community can use their relative wealth to exercise disproportionate influence in determining who is to govern and what policies are to be pursued.
The Green Party will be opposing this legislation for this very important reason: there is no cap on the election spending by third parties in this bill. Under National’s legislation, the Exclusive Brethren, or anyone else for that matter, can run an election campaign opposing a political party and can use an unlimited amount of money. Let us look at the political environment here in election campaigns to understand why this is so important. Political parties have a spending cap of around $2 million in an election campaign. Political parties have a broadcasting allocation for use on TV and radio, and they cannot use any other money but that allocation for TV and radio advertising. These caps are designed to provide a kind of level playing field, so that wealthy political parties cannot completely swamp smaller or less wealthy political parties. To an extent, these rules even out access to airtime so that the public has more even access to the policies and programmes of the political parties campaigning in the election. That is a sound principle. Our elections should be a contest of ideas, not of wallets. The Green Party supports having a level playing field for political parties in an election campaign.
What happens if other non-political parties—third parties or parallel campaigners—can campaign without having an upper spending limit? First, it opens the door very widely to corruption in New Zealand politics. Political parties that have access to wealthy donors—corporate or individual—can funnel those donations to a third party, which can then spend as much money as it likes in negative campaigning. Thousands of dollars can be spent on pamphlets and letters delivered to every household in the country. Enormous commercial billboards can bought up in bulk to display adverts attacking a political party for months at a time. Whole armies of people can be employed to get out on to the street and campaign against a political party that happens to be out of favour with that wealthy group. Hundreds of thousands of dollars can be spent on a campaign to attack a party. That means that a political party can funnel its funds to a third party so that that political party can avoid its spending cap. If one has money, then one can corrupt the system.
What is the response of the political parties that are constrained? Well, it depends. If it is the case that the wealthy interests are campaigning against one’s political opponents, then one might think that that is fine. If not, political parties, especially the smaller ones, struggle to contest misleading or false information and struggle to get their message out to the public. Whatever side one is on—whether one benefits from that corruption—one simply cannot argue that that is fair. Some would argue that people do not pay any attention to advertising. I have heard this argument before and it is clearly untrue. Otherwise, we would not have an advertising industry in Aotearoa with an annual turnover of $2 billion. Advertising works; that is why it is done. In this bill there are no limits on how much advertising a third party can buy in order to influence the outcome of an election.
There are some good things in this bill; it is not all bad. We are pleased that the parallel campaigners will have to register with the Electoral Commission if they expect to spend more than $12,000. No New Zealander should ever be in the position of having to hunt down a third party identity because it, like the Exclusive Brethren, has actively hidden its identity from the public. As I explained, transparency is necessary but is not sufficient to combat the opportunity for corruption that an unlimited spending cap provides.
We are pleased about the retention of the donations regime that we argued for in 2007. It does not go as far as we would like it to, but it is a step in the right direction. Political parties should be transparent about their donations. It is worth noting that in a donations disclosure to the Electoral Commission this week of donations over $10,000, we saw that ACT got one, the Progressive party got one, the Māori Party got one, Labour got one, the Greens got nine, and National got none. Is that not interesting? I am
not convinced about that somehow. We would like to see the threshold of donations lowered so that there is considerably more transparency about who has donated to a political party.
We are very pleased to see that the offence and penalty regime has not changed. It is critical that we have a strong offence and penalty regime in our electoral law, because if the fines are too low, that simply rewards the wealthy players who would rather pay the fine because a breach of the rules enables them to achieve their preferred electoral outcome, which, no doubt, would be of considerable value to them. I will say this again because I believe it: Aotearoa prides itself on being a fair and equitable country. It is a country that we love and work hard to protect. Despite the occasional tripping up, we continue to strive for a better, fairer, and more prosperous nation, where everyone gets a fair go. We continue to strive for honest and open politics, and for good government that hears all people and protects our environment. For decisions as critical as whom we elect as our most senior public decision makers, the utmost fairness, the most stringent rules, and the clearest, most transparent processes are necessary. I look forward to working for that in the select committee. Thank you.
RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga)
: In May 2009 the Institute of Policy Studies in Wellington held a half-day workshop on electoral finance reform. One of the participants at that forum put forward the interesting challenge that there was very little evidence to demonstrate that big money had any impact on the overall outcome of an election. That participant suggested that it might be more appropriate for the emphasis to shift to politicians, who should be bound by a code of conduct. However, other participants were equally adamant that although there may be a lack of evidence to prove that money wins elections, certainly a lack of money loses them.
The Māori Party has never entered the competition over whether the most expensive campaign is likely to be the most successful. Our wealth has always been in the power of the people. Nevertheless, we have been well aware of the strong views held about the impact of finances on an election campaign. A fundamental premise of our approach to electoral finance reform has been our commitment to transparency and accountability. We have supported the call of the public for greater transparency. We hope this will encourage political parties to desist from the practice of using trusts or lawyers’ accounts to obscure the identity of donors. In a post-recession conversation, we believe that transparency is just as relevant to electoral finance as it is to any other aspect of our economy. At a time when banks have been able to accrue outrageous profits, when shady loan sharks and the debt police are holding families to ransom, and when the potential of far too many families is trapped in the stranglehold of poverty, it is only right that we have clear rules in place to determine whose interests are served by covering up the use of wealth in a political party context.
In this context, then, I have to say that the Māori Party has been impressed by the commitment of the Minister of Justice to encouraging wholesale support for the reforms to ensure greater certainty and transparency in the conduct of the electoral process. Anyone browsing the Ministry of Justice website can now come across all of the work that has occurred in developing options around electoral finance. They can come to the independent conclusion that a broad consensus has been achieved. The Minister has set a new benchmark in establishing transparency and accountability as hallmarks of the new electoral system—and it is a benchmark that we are pleased to support. We can now download within seconds the issues papers and proposals on electoral finance reform. We can browse the submissions. We can fast track to the slides of a presentation that Professor Andrew Geddis has delivered on the regulation of electoral finance.
Importantly, the reforms appear to be oriented in such a way as to actually encourage people to vote. One of the key turn-rounds in the policy has been with regard to advance
voting. We think advance voting should be supported as a means of supporting greater uptake of the democratic right of all New Zealanders to vote. In the past, anyone who elected to vote in advance was asked to make a written declaration explaining why such a step was necessary. Following the unanimous decision of the Justice and Electoral Committee in its inquiry into the 2008 general election, the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill removes the requirement for advance voters to make a written declaration before election day. From an administrative point of view, this is helpful in removing another layer of costs from the schedule. More important, it removes a barrier to participation.
We saw the appeal of advance voting really take hold of the American voting public during the 2008 campaign. Some experts predicted that one-third of the voting public had banked their vote early, up from 20 percent in 2004. Advance voting was, in fact, a popular strategy employed by Barack Obama, who held enormous “Early Vote for Change” rallies, flooded the networks with “Vote Early” email messages, and placed advance voting ads in more than a dozen popular video games. Whether the same phenomenon would occur here, of course, is anyone’s guess. But we certainly support the right for a person who is qualified to vote in a particular electorate to be a special voter if he or she applies in person to vote within that electorate before polling day. Importantly, we endorse the right of such persons to not complete a written declaration establishing eligibility.
The other big wave of reforms introduced in this bill is around electoral finance. We are delighted that a party donation made by a body corporate must now be accompanied by a written statement that is signed and dated by an officer of the body corporate, setting out the names of all of the associated entities of the body corporate as at the date of the statement. If there is a failure to comply with this provision, the secretary of the political party must within 20 working days give back to the donor the entire amount of the donation or its entire value. In another new development, third-party promoters who spend or intend to spend more than $12,000 on election advertising during the regulated campaign period must register with the Electoral Commission. The register will be publicly available to ensure openness and transparency concerning the identities of third-party promoters.
We believe that both of those aspects—the signed statement of the body corporate and the public register of third-party promoters—are very useful means of ensuring everything spent on behalf of, or towards, political parties is above board and open. It is common knowledge that corporate donors expect a political return on their political investment, so we are pleased that any political negotiations that may result from corporate donations will be well and truly evident through the donations regime.
We support the proposed increase in the amount of money that parties and candidates can spend on election campaigning. We agree that it should be adjusted at the rate of inflation for each general election. However, in the interests of greater transparency for the general public, it would be useful to know why twice as much funding needs to be available for a by-election campaign as for a general election campaign. We also support the moves to introduce more certainty to what counts as electoral advertising by modernising the definition.
We would like to see the issue of unethical advertising addressed in further development of the bill. I do not need to remind everyone in this House of the appalling way in which some parties and advertisers have used Māori as negative fodder during election campaigning. We must never again return to the era where politicians gamble on national identity and threaten the unity that has been so desperately sought by pitching campaigns to create unnatural divisions between iwi and Kiwi.
We are disappointed that the bill does not provide for reform of the broadcasting regime that has existed since 1990. Although we can understand that there were widely held views on this issue, we cannot forget the issues that have arisen in the past over varying interpretation of rules over the broadcasting spend. We throw into that same thought the general concerns about illegal use of parliamentary funding. We understand that the relationship between the Electoral Act 1993 and Parliamentary Service legislation will now be addressed in separate legislation, and we support that. However, we hope to see some time frames around this issue, as we would not want to see this vital area of reform slip away under the radar.
All things considered, we support this bill at its first reading, and certainly look forward to the ongoing debate.
CHRIS TREMAIN (National—Napier)
: Elections are one of the most important—if not the most important—part of any democracy. They are supposed to be a testing of ideas and personalities, a debate about the future, and a testing of the mettle of our potential leaders, both locally and nationally. I hark back to my first election in 2005 for the seat of Napier.
Hon Darren Hughes: Hark back?
CHRIS TREMAIN: It is certainly going back a few years. It was a testing of personalities, if I recall the candidates I was up against.
John Hayes: Well, your opposition had no personality.
CHRIS TREMAIN: Ha, ha! I was up against Russell Fairbrother, a debater of some merit.
Hon Darren Hughes: Much like the member.
CHRIS TREMAIN: Oh, I could not put myself there. There were certainly different personalities in that test. Anyway, it was a testing of personalities; that is the point I want to make. It was a testing of ideals and, fortunately at that particular time, I was lucky enough to win the seat.
In any democracy an election needs to be a fair fight. The reality is somewhat different, as many new candidates entering a political race quickly find out. There is no doubt that sitting MPs have the competitive advantage: 3 years of incumbency, 3 years of school visits, 3 years of constituency clinics, 3 years of galas, school prize-givings, and assemblies, 3 years of being in the newspaper, and 3 years to build an awareness and a positive brand with their constituency. There is no doubt that the political tide comes and goes. However, good constituency MPs have the advantage of incumbency, which opposing candidates must battle against from day one. It is tough, but that is the reality.
No law will change that, and this particular bill will not change it, either. But the competitive advantage of incumbency has been somewhat reduced with MMP. In many instances, list MPs are able to establish a pseudo-constituency office, and make out that they are the local MP. That effectively means that the taxpayer is funding a 3-year campaign against the incumbent MP. I am not sure that the wider electorate is particularly happy about that, but, hey, that is the way it is. Once again, it will not change under this legislation. Those anomalies aside, elections need to be regulated to be as fair as possible. It will be the job of the Electoral Legislation Committee, of which I am a member, to ensure that the final legislation is an equitable playing field.
Throughout time immemorial human beings have sought ways to obtain competitive advantage within the rules that are in place. It is just part of the human spirit to try to push the boundaries—that Kiwi spirit. If we think about the America’s Cup campaign and the rules that were in place there, we see that the amount of money that was spent—and the number of lawyers who were employed to bend the rules—was incredible. Many lawyers and accountants spend their entire professional lives trying to find ways
around existing laws in order to gain advantage for their clients. And election law, dare I say it, is no different.
I am sure that immediately this law is passed, political boffins will be looking for ways to improve their lot, to improve their competitive advantage, and to get around the rules. It is therefore very important that the members of the committee obligate themselves to challenge this legislation to ensure that it is as robust as possible. Most of us on the committee have served a couple of elections—and Mr Hughes is one of those people. I think that that experience will be important as we steer the bill through the Committee stage.
Let me give members an example of a situation that currently pushes the boundaries. I will be asking the committee to have a close look at the current position of MPs who own their own office through a trust. They are obliged to provide a market valuation for the rent—no problems there. All do that, and most pay the amount of that valuation. However, some do not charge the full cost of the rent to the Parliamentary Service. The MPs will say that they are saving the taxpayer money, but will then go on to spend their entire taxpayer budget; the taxpayer saves not one cent. Effectively, the MPs have gifted themselves a pecuniary interest from their trusts or companies, which allows them a much better office location, while they are still able to spend their full out-of-office budgets on advertising and other things to help lift their profiles. There is not much problem with this outside the election period, although I still believe that this gift should be declared in an MP’s document of pecuniary interest.
The real issue that we need to turn our thoughts to, comes during the election period. Here is the question: if an MP has a high-profile corner office—effectively a billboard—for which the Parliamentary Service is not paying the full cost, should the benefit of that additional spend be included as part of an MP’s electioneering cost for the regulated period? My argument would be that not to include that cost would create an unfair advantage. I refer members to the definition of “advertising expenses”, which is amended in Part 1 of the bill, when section 3(1)(a)(ii) is substituted in clause 4: “the reasonable market value of any material used or applied towards the advertisement that is provided free of charge or below reasonable market value;”. This definition brings the issue into question. It is something we will have to consider, and we will have to make sure that the cost is being declared either within the election expenditure or within the document of pecuniary interests.
In the extreme situation, MPs could provide their high-profile offices at no cost to the Parliamentary Service, then spend their entire parliamentary budget on self-promotion in the lead-up to the regulated period. If the office is not paid for by the Parliamentary Service, then what is that office? I suggest that it is a campaign office. I am sure that there are other examples of situations like this, and I am sure that committee members will be able to turn their minds to these examples and to provide what I believe should be a fair, transparent, and equitable playing field, going into the next election.
I look forward to sitting on the select committee and dealing with the issues that arise throughout the period of submissions. I encourage New Zealanders to submit to that committee to make their opinions heard, so that we can listen to them and make sure that we deliver the very best legislation possible. It must be legislation that is agreed to as much as possible across the House, so that we have a robust piece of legislation going forward. Thank you very much.
Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour)
: I rise to speak to the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill. It is not often that a senior whip goes slightly off message, but I have to take up the opportunity of joining my opposite number, Chris Tremain, who may well have done the same thing. All I could think of, as he complained about a high-profile street-corner office, was that Stuart Nash must
really be getting under his skin in Napier if he wants to change the entire system of the way electoral offices are run from Parliament on the basis that his own individual candidate opponent has a high-profile office. We could almost hear Government members who have such high-profile corner offices—and who were listening to this debate from their offices—lunging at their radios and saying that someone should shut Mr Tremain up before he rewrites all the rules based on a constituency race in Napier.
Chester Borrows: Are you reading minds now?
Hon DARREN HUGHES: Well, no; that was the last legislation we debated, the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill, I say to Mr Borrows. This particular bill does not. As that previous speaker freely admitted, this legislation does not affect any of those issues whatsoever, and the question of ownership of out-of-Parliament offices is best dealt with through other vehicles, and not through this bill.
Labour is supporting this bill’s referral to the Electoral Legislation Committee, as the Hon Lianne Dalziel, our spokesperson for electoral law, made very clear when she spoke. The bill has a number of elements that we support, but there are certainly some aspects that we want to continue working with the Government on.
I pick up David Parker’s point—I strongly agreed with him—that, where parties can come to a compromise position on these sorts of rules, we are better off for it. Labour has tried to signal, throughout this debate, areas where we have moved away from our prior position in terms of the legislation that came immediately before this bill—the Electoral Finance Act. We have moved from that position. We have even moved from some of the positions we held in our submissions in order to meet some of the proposals from the Government. But we really looked, throughout the whole process, for the Government to move from some of its positions as well. The pixie dust of MMP, where we all get up during debates on these kinds of legislation, and give compulsory praise to Simon Power—which I will do shortly because it is in my notes; I want to be back on message, as I mentioned before—cannot simply be because we all agree with National’s position. That is not compromise. The look of shock and horror on National members’ faces makes me realise that that is what they think it is. So I may have struck on a little point there. But I think the main point, of course, is that we want there to be a consensus.
Mr Tremain made a very good point. He talked about the winds of political fortune changing. Indeed, they have. In the period that we have had MMP, Labour has polled as high as 41 percent and been the major party in this Parliament, and we are now down at 34 percent and in the Opposition.
John Hayes: And still dropping.
Hon DARREN HUGHES: Well, Mr Hayes thinks that, with his prescient political predictions. I welcome them, because I know the predictions he made about himself, and what has happened, so I hope he keeps on making predictions about the Opposition. He and I have a little bet on some of those matters, and I look forward to collecting one Sunday in November 2011—or even August, as some people say. National, on the flip side of that, has been at a high of 45 percent at the last poll. It leads the Government now, but of course in 2002 it only got 20 percent of the vote. I know that was long before Mr Quinn was involved with the National Party.
Paul Quinn: I wasn’t born!
Hon DARREN HUGHES: In 2002? The member most certainly looks as though he was born by 2002. He looks as though he had enjoyed a very good 50th birthday celebration by the time 2002 rolled around. Political parties on both sides have been up and down. They have enjoyed electoral success and electoral defeat over that period. In 2002, when Mr English was its leader, National relied very heavily on its Parliamentary Service funding for its campaign. That is a matter of public record. I am sure that
National now enjoys much greater financial donations as its political fortunes have improved.
Chester Borrows: We couldn’t say.
Hon DARREN HUGHES: I say to Mr Borrows that it could not have got any worse. I think the National Party’s largest corporate donation in 2002 came from the Clutha RSA. I am sure that things have improved slightly since then, and perhaps some of the city branches are now involved. The main point of this observation is simply that the laws have to work for parties, whatever political situation they find themselves in. I believe that that is where the compromise must be reached. One of the reasons the Electoral Finance Act was not successful is that it had strong, strong opposition from National. I think that National made a deliberate political decision to make that law unworkable by not cooperating with it, and through ensuring—
Hon Anne Tolley: So it’s our fault?
Hon DARREN HUGHES: No, no, I am not ascribing blame; I am simply saying that any law can be picked apart. I am sure the Attorney-General would agree with that. Any law can be made as difficult as possible to implement. For a law to work effectively, we need to have people accepting it. That is the point I am making.
I recognise that National did not accept the previous legislation. Of course, that was because some events had happened before that legislation was passed that, I think, a lot of National members would privately say they were not comfortable with. In the House, they cannot say that. There were things that took place involving a third party. The activities of the Exclusive Brethren church have been mentioned before. They probably went beyond the pale of what most people who participate in politics would like to see. I think the fact that we do not know, and that we saw them—[Interruption] Mr Borrows interjects. Given how active the church was in the Whanganui electorate, I would not be interjecting on that particular point, if I was him. There are a lot of provincial and rural members who were great friends of that particular organisation, and who have been much quieter since it came into play. Certainly, we would not want to see a repeat of the 2005 events. The 2008 events, with the major Opposition party not wanting to go along with the law because they disagreed with it so vehemently—and that is no attack; I just refer to the way National felt about it—means that for 2011 we have to have a law that Labour, National, and all the parties feel is fair for them. I think we are getting there, but I want to emphasise Mr Parker’s point that there must be some agreement.
I will touch on three other issues. I will finish talking about the third-party issue by saying that we agree with registration, because we think that it is logical. There is transparency in people having to put their hands up and say that they are not a political party, but they want to influence people and how they cast their party vote puts some sunlight on them. People will be mindful of the activities they are undertaking. That makes a lot of sense.
We do not have agreement on the fact that the amount they can spend is uncapped. I think that that creates a bit of an illogical difference, where, in a campaign, political parties’ behaviour that clearly seeks party votes in a certain direction is regulated and capped, but behaviour by organisations that set themselves up to overtly influence people’s party votes is uncapped. The Royal Commission on the Electoral System said in 1986 that there would be problems with a two-pronged system like that. I think there are, and I think that the committee should look at that. It should not be too hard to reach a compromise on, because under the old Electoral Finance Act the cap was $120,000, which is quite a lot of money. We have said that, as part of a compromise, we will look for a higher figure, if that is what will get consensus. When we think about it, that is a lot of money for an organisation that is not part of a political party to spend, in order to
get involved in an election campaign to support a particular party. When we think through the logistics of it, we will be able to come to some level of agreement.
Paul Quinn: It’s less than your salary.
Hon DARREN HUGHES: Well, I am sure that Mr Quinn has not put his entire salary into his election campaign. That would be a particularly bad investment in his case. It is almost like the finance companies writ large. Even funding his own deposit seems to be a bit of a waste of time for Mr Quinn. However, this country is a democracy, and people are free to do what they want with their money. I am sure that Mr Quinn will once again subject himself to democracy.
The regulated period, which Lianne Dalziel spent a lot of time discussing, is something we have to get right. What we asked to discuss at the Parliamentary Service Commission was that, if an election was called within 3 months, members who had legitimately spent money from Vote Parliamentary Service on their parliamentary business work would not be caught in the defined period for the election and have that spending counted against their $20,000 cap. An example of that is if Mr Anderton had as his slogan for his parliamentary business work “Working for Wigram”, and that was approved by the Parliamentary Service—as is allowed for his advertisements in the newspaper—and we go into an election period and he happens to use that same phrase on his election billboards, it would be possible to say that the Parliamentary Service - funded phrase was being used for an election purpose, and all that money would be counted. At the Parliamentary Service Commission, we wanted there to be a bright-line test, so if things were approved for parliamentary business, they would not be caught within a 3-month period. I think that we need to get that absolutely clear at the select committee, because in reading the Minister’s release, it now looks as though the Parliamentary Service Commission determines what the regulated period should be. I do not think that is what the Parliamentary Service Commission thought they would do, at all. I look forward to participating in the select committee.
HEKIA PARATA (National)
: Tēnā koe e Te Mana Whakawā, huri noa i tō tātou Whare i tēnei pō, tēnā koutou katoa.
I am very pleased to stand and take a short call in the first reading of the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill. As many speakers before me have said this evening, this bill is part of a process of ensuring integrity and durability in a very important part of our constitutional infrastructure in New Zealand. Together with the Electoral (Administration) Amendment Bill, which we are also in the process of debating, it establishes the credibility and certainty of the institutions and processes that together instil confidence in New Zealanders in the constitution of our country. The process that has been followed to get us to this point was led by our very able Minister of Justice, and it has been an inclusive one.
It is important that electoral law reform enjoys the support, confidence, and understanding of the many and different participants in the process. Up to this point we have ensured that parliamentary parties as well as the public have felt fully engaged, or that they have had the opportunity to engage, in this process, so that we have arrived at a bill that reflects a broad consensus. All of us in this House, no matter which part of the political spectrum we are from, are committed to ensuring that we have, and can secure, enduring law reform.
This bill has six main provisions, on which many speakers before me have commented. They are about identifying exactly who the players in this process are likely to be and the regulations that they need to abide by. Therefore the provisions cover the promoters of election advertisements, the electoral advertising itself, the regulation of the campaign period, the campaign expenditure limits, donations, and, of course, the opportunity to provide and amend regulations in respect of advance voting. I
am—and other members have indicated that they are, too—really pleased that we are getting clarity on a range of these issues. Having participated at the 2008 election, I found that much of my time was spent in trying to establish clarity and certainty about what I and my campaign team were allowed to do and not allowed to do. As my colleague Amy Adams has indicated, often the answers were not very clear at all, and we were left in a kind of limbo, which made us susceptible to doing the wrong thing even while trying very mightily to do the right thing. The provisions in this bill will give us all greater certainty, not only for those of us who will be very active participants in the process but also for the most important players in this process: the voters of New Zealand.
This bill marks an important step in New Zealand’s constitutional evolution. The necessity for such an evolution to occur can be seen not only here in New Zealand but also in the United Kingdom, where elections are currently taking place. Those of us who have had the opportunity to look at the analysis of how the voting trends would go under the current first-past-the-post system that Britain continues to use can see that it is really important for voters to understand the system that they are engaged in, what their votes will mean, and whom they will get as MPs after election day. The evolution of our constitutional framework here in New Zealand is highlighted by comparing where we are in New Zealand with what is happening in the UK, from which we have inherited all of our Westminster system of parliamentary governance. New Zealand has adopted changes to that system as we have seen the necessity of becoming more attuned with what is required within the polity of New Zealand, and this bill will continue to contribute to that constitutional evolution.
I look forward to participating as a member in the Electoral Legislation Committee under the able chairpersonship of Amy Adams, and to hearing submissions on the bill from as wide a variety of people as possible. It is important that New Zealanders take the opportunity that the select committee process offers them to make submissions, because what we end up with will be a reflection of all their contributions and of our select committee’s consideration of them. I very much look forward to hearing those submissions and debating the provisions of this bill in the select committee, and I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this bill at this time. Kia ora.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour)
: The Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill will—
John Hayes: Are you some kind of horse?
Hon Member: It’s his list ranking.
CHARLES CHAUVEL: —amend the Electoral Act 1993 to provide a package of reforms to ensure greater certainty and transparency in the conduct of elections, according to the explanatory note of the bill.
I can see that my tie is causing great amusement on the other side of the House. I will advise members opposite, because it is a good time to give this advice to them, that 350 is the name of a campaign by a group of young people who mobilised on the climate change issue last year. It is a bit of a shame that there is not instant familiarity with the issue among members opposite, as there is by members on this side of the House. Three hundred and fifty parts per million is the level at which carbon levels in the atmosphere have to be stabilised in order to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is the key goal for us. These young people—and I know this is a slight digression, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I hope you will indulge me—came to see our caucus this morning to talk to us about our policies in this area. They were incredibly engaging young people, and it was great to see them. I have worn this tie in their honour, and it is good to be able to explain that to members opposite. Hopefully that will end the levity on this serious issue.
Chris Tremain: I’m sure you just made that up.
CHARLES CHAUVEL: I can assure Mr Tremain that I never make things up. That is a monopoly that is enjoyed by members on the other side of the House.
As other speakers on this side of the House have said, Labour will support the referral of the new electoral legislation to the Electoral Legislation Committee, but there are some real concerns about this bill. The concerns that I want to speak about are very similar to those that I mentioned in respect of the electoral referendum legislation that parallels this bill and was dealt with in the House a week or two ago.
One major problem is the lack of any spending limit on parallel campaigners. No one in his or her right mind would want to see any election that is conducted at a local or national level in New Zealand be overrun by cash. On this side of the House we do not want to see that. We do not want to grant to parallel campaigners the ability to campaign on the two issues before voters without any financial limits, thereby overwhelming other voices in the election campaign.
It is clear from the debate around the Electoral Finance Act that there was widespread concern about limiting parallel campaigner spending to $120,000. Obviously, if there is to be a cap in the area of parallel campaigning—and Labour says there should be—we would consider a higher spending cap than that, but not unlimited third-party spending. Hopefully the Electoral Legislation Committee, under the chairpersonship of Amy Adams, will hear a lot of evidence on and address that matter. As I said in my speech on the earlier companion legislation, no one wants to see a rerun of what occurred at the 2005 election. The Government has not properly considered the effects of a lack of proper limits allowing wealthy individuals or groups to overwhelm other voices in the election campaign. If the Government has considered that and none the less has produced the bill in its current shape, then I say shame on it for actually allowing that to occur. That cannot be allowed to stand after the select committee process if we are to try, as a House, to produce decent electoral law.
It is a good thing that under the bill parallel campaigners will have to register with the Electoral Commission. Clearly that will increase the sort of transparency that anyone who thinks about this sort of law will want to see. It is an improvement on the current law, which requires parallel campaigners only to state their name and address on an advertisement and to get permission before advertising in support of a political party or candidate, so it should be supported. But clearly that greater transparency will have a beneficial effect only if forcing parallel campaigners to register reveals the person or entity responsible for the advertising. Under this bill’s regime it would be possible to use a front organisation to register as a promoter. A lawyer or another professional person could simply be used as an agent, and that would prevent the public from knowing who really was behind the group’s spending. There is no requirement to disclose where a promoter’s money comes from. That is not a satisfactory element of the bill, and the select committee will have to address that matter.
The Royal Commission on the Electoral System concluded way back in 1986 that limiting the spending by political parties but not that by parallel campaigners lacked any sort of logic, because political parties can simply give money to a lobbyist to run a negative campaign for them. Nothing in this legislation will address that evil; in fact, it will be exacerbated.
This very problem is also faced in the US at the moment. In January the Supreme Court struck down the “soft” money prohibitions in the McCain-Feingold Act, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of, I think, 2002. Eighty percent of Americans think that is a bad thing, notwithstanding that it was a restriction on absolute freedom of speech. There was a widespread acceptance, even in that bastion of freedom of expression, that in the area of electoral law we cannot allow money to buy votes. So
now in the US there is a vacuum as to what to do with “soft” money. Everybody knows that in the November mid-term elections, if that striking down of the law is not remedied, then there will simply be a deluge of “soft” money from corporates in favour of conservative candidates. The electorate will be awash with cash from the cash-rich part of the political spectrum. People who support democracy know that that is not a good thing. It is not good to see us replicating in our own legislation the vacuum that exists through the result of a court decision in the United States.
Because political parties do face strict spending limits—
John Hayes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I draw your attention to the
Standing Orders, at page 17—
Shane Ardern: Speakers’ rulings.
John Hayes: I am sorry; it is Speaker’s ruling 17/1. Although the first sentence of that ruling refers to the wearing of a hat, the second sentence talks about the wearing of attire with advertising or a message written on it being unacceptable. I wonder whether you would like to rule on that.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I will rule. In my view the member is just interrupting the speaker who is on his feet. There is nothing untoward in what the member is wearing, and I ask the member to continue.
CHARLES CHAUVEL: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I know that the 350 group will appreciate my wearing its tie and will not mind the fact that the member who has resumed his seat, notwithstanding his credentials as a climate change denier, is present in the Chamber.
Political parties face strict spending limits, and, as I said, the fact that both National and Labour spent close to their statutory limit in 2008 is important here. There will be an incentive in this bill, if we do not address the parallel campaign issue and the campaign spending limits issue, for parties to work with parallel campaigners who are not subject to the limits, in an attempt to get round the rules.
I hope that the chair of the select committee is paying close attention to these issues. She is nodding. That is good to see, because if a credible result is to occur from this process—which will be to the benefit of her career—then it would be really good to see these loopholes being closed. [Interruption] It is good that she says she appreciates the advice. I am not always the best person to give career-enhancing advice, but if we care about the quality of the outcome, the matter ought to be addressed.
As initially proposed the new electoral finance provisions would have required parallel campaigners to register only when they were spending more than $20,000, but this bill contains a lower threshold of $12,000. It seems to us that it would be far better to go back to at least the original proposal. It is useful that the Minister has engaged in consultation prior to the introduction of the legislation, and I think it is appropriate to pay some tribute to him for that exercise, because the experience of the House has been that in producing sustainable and durable electoral law it is appropriate to have widespread consultation on its provisions, and, if possible, to achieve a consensus across the House on those provisions. I hope that will be the outcome of this process, but if it is to be the outcome, then the issues that I have sought to address in my speech do need to be sorted out in the select committee process.
CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui)
: It is good to be able to take a very short call in respect of the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill. It is great to hear members from the Opposition side of the House talk about things like consensus and understanding, bearing in mind the atrocity we had regarding the legislation enacted when the previous Labour Government was in office. I commend this bill to the House.