Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance)
: I move,
That the Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill be now read a first time. Despite some of the breathless claims made by those opposite, this is actually quite a simple bill. The legislative framework—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It’s a rort.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: —the member should know about those—under which parliamentary parties are currently spending money for parliamentary purposes expires on 31 December this year. This bill extends that expiry date until 30 June 2009. The question before the House is whether the current legislative framework should be extended or allowed to lapse.
Extending the current framework will ensure certainty and transparency for all parties. If the legislation lapses, then we will return to the unclear, uncertain situation that followed the report of the Controller and Auditor-General of last year, which of course covered only some parts of parliamentary spending, and the implications for other parts have continued to remain entirely unclear—particularly those covering the employment of staff, travel, and other matters. It is also important to note that this legislation relates to the legislative framework in which the rules relating to parliamentary spending are set. The legislation itself does not set out all the rules. The detail of the rules is set out in the determinations and the directions issued by the Speaker under the Civil List Act and the Parliamentary Service Act. I note that the Speaker has recently overseen a substantial piece of work to improve and update the determinations and directions, and that the new determinations and directions issued last month have been well received, and have even received praise from the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General.
The introduction of this bill marks the culmination of a long process of consultation and negotiation with all parties in the House. This includes consultation with the National Party. In fact, the National Party was one of the first parties we engaged with in developing the legislative proposals. We believe that it is very important to try to reach agreement between the two largest parties, as well as between the other parties in the House, to try to achieve a stable, long-term regime to replace the interim regime that lapses on 31 December 2007.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: We wouldn’t let you cheat. We won’t agree to cheat.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: But I have never ever been found guilty of contempt of court, unlike that member.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What did the Auditor-General say?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Auditor-General said that he did not look at a large part of the National Party’s spending, so he could not conclude whether it was inside or outside the rules.
I hoped, therefore, to be able to bring to the House this year a piece of legislation that would substantially overhaul the legislative framework and address the range of concerns that exist. However, that did not prove to be possible. Until quite recently it appeared that there would be support for legislation to put in place a new set of permanent rules. But in early September this year the Government’s representatives were informed by the National Party’s negotiators that rather than supporting a substantive amendment, they would be prepared to support only an extension of the
current rules. They have also admitted that these current rules were working well and had not caused difficulty to any party in the House.
We were faced with two options: either to continue to develop substantive legislation in the knowledge that we might have sufficient support to enact it, but with a slim majority, or to agree with the proposal from the National Party to legislate to extend the current interim framework.
Hon Bill English: What a load of rubbish.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I emphasise that that was the National Party’s proposal. The Government took the view that it was more appropriate to seek compromise, and developed legislation that could be supported by a clear majority of the members of Parliament. We were then told by National that its members were not prepared to support what was, in essence, their proposal. Indeed, Mr Brownlee indicated in this House on Tuesday that “National was happy for a rollover, provided it would lead to a much shorter election period.” for the Electoral Finance Bill, so that the National caucus could spend its vast treasure chest in the election period of, say, just 3 months. That is what it was all about. The truth is that National decided that the temptation to play politics was too strong, and they admitted as much in front of the representatives of the other parties.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What about fair electoral law rather than cheating in elections?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member who committed contempt of court hates any kind of referee in the place. He is the person who can least talk about those kinds of issues. Mr Brownlee can try to suggest that National—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Just cheating on electoral law.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Well, how many people has that member cheated on in his life? Mr Brownlee can try to suggest—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): I remind the member that his interjections are just too much. He is doing constant barracking. I just ask him to desist.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Mr Brownlee can try to suggest that National would have supported the extension with certain conditions, but that is not the reality. National did not come back to the Government saying it would support an extension to a different date. It did not seek to negotiate; it simply rejected the proposal. Other parties, luckily, have been more interested in trying to achieve a sound and sensible position.
This House will still have to come back to permanent long-term rules in 2009. The inability to resist the temptation to play politics by National also highlights the need to extend the framework to 2009. The closer we come to an election, the less likely it is that common sense and good faith will allow parties to reach common ground on an issue of this sort. “Common sense” are words that I doubt Dr Smith can read, let alone understand. Given the outcome this year, we simply must extend the current rules for long enough to allow serious consideration to take place outside the heat of an election campaign. Being an appropriation bill, of course, the bill does not stand referred to a select committee but is simply set down, after the first reading has passed, for second reading.
Despite the fact that National is complaining about this legislation, in this bill it received the largest amount of Parliamentary Service funding of any party. It stands to gain the most from it. It will protest and pontificate, and attempt to seize the high moral ground, but will then happily spend the money to take on campaign staff on polling and on media management as it did in 2005—and the Auditor-General never investigated that aspect of the National Party’s spending in 2005. We know National is happy to spend the money, because this flyer shows what the party is spending it on in the current year: Parliamentary Service spending by the National Party about what National’s policies are. Which bit of this does National not understand is a legitimate use of
Parliamentary Service’s funding? This bill simply continues the rules under which this has been issued. National seems to be believe—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: You passed the law!
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The point about the high moral ground is that if one thinks something is wrong, one does not do it. The National Party does not seem to understand that.
The fact is that in 2005 that party spent money out of the Parliamentary Service vote on staff who were engaged in election activity. The National Party has never denied that fact, and the Auditor-General never looked into that fact, and, indeed, declined to look into that fact. National got away with it, and now pretends to take the high moral ground. The high moral ground that National occupies is about as good as that which the Anglo-Saxons occupied in 1066, in that respect. The arrows are descending from the sky on to those members at the present time, in that particular respect. The fact is that National will spend this money in 2008, and it is legitimate.
National argues that politicians should spend election year not explaining what the policies of their parties are, and that, somehow or other, politics stops during election year and politics is all right in any other year in the electoral cycle. Well, that is stupid, and we will now hear from Mr English all that fake rage he can summon up, and all that enormous principle that he finds so convincing. But he needs to explain why this card I am holding went out this year to hundreds and thousands of households and was paid for out of the Parliamentary Service budget.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Because it’s lawful.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Ah, because it is lawful! Ha!
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National)
: What is at issue with the Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill and its companion, the Electoral Finance Bill, is that there will be one rule for politicians and one rule for everybody else. Three million adults out there in New Zealand are under the mistaken belief that they have at least an equal role in this democracy as the people in here do. Well, when this bill passes, and when its companion, the Electoral Finance Bill, passes, they will not: there will be one rule for the politicians and one rule for the public.
Let me summarise those rules. The politicians will be able to do almost anything when it comes to political advertising; the public will be able to do almost nothing. The politicians will be able to do almost everything and the public will be able to do almost nothing. When it comes to the politicians and money that is spent on election campaigns, there will be a lot more for the politicians and there will be a lot less for the public and the citizens. Whose opinion will fill election year? It is the opinion of the people with a lot more money who can advertise almost anything. And who will that be? That will be the politicians. Whose opinions will be crowded out in election year? Who will be allowed to say almost nothing and can spend a lot less money? Any private citizen or organisation in New Zealand that mistakenly believes it is their role to influence how people vote.
That is what is at stake here. This bill that is being passed gives a broad definition of what politicians can spend their money on—including National, as well as Labour, and as well as all the small parties—at the same time as we have just had big increases in our funding.
What happens if a person is the candidate who decides he or she wants to contribute to public life and politics in New Zealand, and he or she stands in an electorate? That person will have the amount of money he or she can spend in 3 months restricted to him or her for 11 months at $20,000.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It’s the same since 1996.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is the same since 1996, but it used to be restricted for a 3-month period and now that restriction applies for 11 months. That is all the candidate can spend. That is not enough money to get one’s name recognition up. The incumbent will have his or her parliamentary budget of $60,000, plus his or her share of the much larger leader’s budget to spend, and the Labour Party says that is fairer than it was before!
Let us just go back and remind ourselves why we have this bill. We have this bill because the Labour Party issued a pledge card that the Auditor-General said it should not have issued. The Chief Electoral Office told it not to. I want to take members through the history because I think this bill needs to be debated in the context of our understanding of Labour’s reckless disregard for electoral law and for the consequences of this electoral law, and in the context of our understanding of the way that Labour ignored the officers of the electoral law in the 2005 election.
What is the point of passing this law if Labour plans to break it in the same calculated way it did last time? Why do I say that? Let me take members briefly through the events before 2005. All parties were told by the Auditor-General to be careful—they were all told. On 30 August 2005 the Chief Electoral Officer rang the Labour Party members and told them that he was worried about the pledge card. The Labour Party members wrote back and said: “No, we think the pledge card is OK.” The Chief Electoral Officer wrote to them again, and Labour members wrote back with a much longer opinion—and listen to this—appealing to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and freedom of expression, exactly the measures that the Human Rights Commission has said Labour will trample all over with this legislation. But here is the nasty bit. Three days before the last election the Labour Party members said: “Yes, we agree. The pledge card is electioneering, and we will count it in our election expenses.” They said that. I believe they said it to stop the Chief Electoral Officer going public. They said: “It is electioneering, and we will count it.” Three days after the election they wrote back and said: “Oh, we withdraw our offer.” How can this Parliament deal with that kind of calculated deceit against the law of the land and against the citizens of New Zealand?
That is what this legislation is doing. Dr Cullen can go on and on. All his speech shows is that the Labour members think they are the ones who were wronged in all of this—that they are the ones who have been picked on, and they are the ones who have to pass this law. This legislation is not needed. It never was. There were rules there, the Auditor-General applied them, and people got caught out. We never needed this legislation. It is here today only because Labour members cannot accept they have done something wrong. That is the evil in this debate. Labour members cannot accept they did something wrong, even though they paid the money for the pledge card back. I ask Dr Cullen: if the pledge card was not the wrong thing to do, why did Labour pay the $800,000 back? The only reason Labour was not convicted of corrupt practice was because the police read the wrong legislation. The police could not even figure out which piece of legislation to use to convict Labour of breaking the electoral expenses ceiling.
This piece of legislation is a disgrace. It is about handing to the politicians a lot more taxpayers’ money. It is about relaxing the rules compared with what applies to the citizens of New Zealand so that the politicians can spend taxpayers’ money pushing their own opinions, while private citizens and organisations will be prevented from spending their money on pushing their opinions. In fact, Labour has thrown out a practical, fair, and balanced system. The system balanced the interests of the parties, and it balanced the interests of the public and the politicians. Now the politicians are taking over.
The other thing that is invidious about this legislation is that the public have always opposed State funding of political parties. They demonstrated that again earlier this year. They are against State funding of political parties. So what do Labour members do? Purely in their own partisan interest they say: “Well, if we can’t get State funding upfront we’ll get it through the back door. We’ll make one law for private citizens to heavily regulate their ability to articulate views in election year, we’ll push their amount of money down, we will loosen up the rules for politicians, and we’ll pump more money through that side.” This is a deeply cynical, self-serving, partisan exercise from a party that just will not accept the wrong. Labour does not understand anymore the morality of the rule of law.
I have no confidence at all that Labour members will obey even this self-serving law they are passing. Last time the documentary evidence was that they deliberately broke the law, despite the Chief Electoral Officer telling them they were doing so. They deliberately broke the law. They owned up 3 days before the election, then did a U-turn 3 days later. Now they are still fighting the argument. That is how Labour is getting out of touch with the public.
We will defend the right of the public to take at least as big a role as the politicians in the election and in our democracy. We will keep attacking the Labour Party, which is using all the weight and the tools of Government to change the law to get its own partisan interests better funded and better protected. Labour is trying to stop anyone else from criticising it, contesting it, or throwing it out of office.
Hon DARREN HUGHES (Deputy Leader of the House)
: Nobody does fake outrage better than Bill English, Tony Ryall, and Nick Smith. It is no wonder that we have just had a contribution from the deputy leader of the National Party and that we are shortly to hear from Dr Nick Smith, the former deputy leader of the National Party. When Bill English campaigned around New Zealand under his slogan of “one standard of citizenship” in the 2002 campaign, who had to pay for the majority of National’s campaign when the corporate donors, the big boys who normally support them, walked away because his leadership was so hopeless? The Parliamentary Service Commission funded most of National’s campaign that year, and National members know it. Bill English did not refer to that at all, because when it suited him he was quite happy with that.
When the foreshore and seabed debate was on, when Bill English was still the National leader, he was quite happy to have billboards around New Zealand saying “No deals”, with his photo, a photo of the beach, and a big crest of the House of Representatives as he struggled and tried to save his failing leadership campaign against Dr Don Brash. So in a general election campaign Bill English has been prepared to use Parliamentary Service money on a campaign against Don Brash to try to keep his job as leader. [Interruption] He says “absolutely”. When the Exclusive Brethren church turned up and said it would secretly funnel National some money to try to help its campaign in 2005, all of sudden high moral principle came up, but, as Moana Mackey says, National did not even attribute that money.
Bill English was saying in the debate this afternoon that there should be transparency in all of this and that it should be upfront and above board. Mr English should tell us why National did not include the Exclusive Brethren contribution to its campaign in 2005. The reason is that that contribution would have put National over the top. That is exactly the reason that National did not include it, so there is no credibility in terms of the outrage.
We have to deal with what is practical in terms of this bill. As the Leader of the House said, despite all the hype and the hot air, the Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill is actually very simple.
What I want to do this afternoon is dispel some of the myths that have been pedalled about by members opposite. The first is around electioneering. This bill will not allow parties to use parliamentary funding to pay for electioneering material.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Rubbish!
Hon DARREN HUGHES: We know about that member and consistency. Nick Smith cannot put out a pamphlet that says “Tick Nick” and have that funded by Parliamentary Service. That will not be allowed to happen; this bill does not allow it to happen. If the member does not know that, then he shows that he has not read the bill before making a contribution.
Clause 3 makes it quite clear that funding cannot be used for communication services that include electioneering. Those who try to claim that this bill will provide for electioneering are trying to deliberately mislead the public, in that regard. This bill continues the clear legislative prohibition on using parliamentary funds for the purposes of electioneering. This clear prohibition did not exist—and this is an important point—until it was legislated for by the majority of Parliament last year. So it provides for clear and transparent rules by which all parties have to abide.
The second myth that needs to be dispelled is that this bill is part of some grand plan—as we heard from Mr English—to allow MPs to spend money when others cannot. This bill does not allow MPs to spend money on campaigning for votes when others cannot. It provides rules under which MPs can carry out their obligations to their constituents and to communicate with them. Perhaps that is an obligation that the National Party is not taking seriously, but the parties that support this bill do take that seriously, and that is why Mr Brownlee is not correct when he continues to pedal the line we have heard from him—that the Electoral Finance Bill has changed rules around accounting for MPs’ election expenses. It is not correct, and he does not know what is in the current Electoral Act.
The Electoral Act was passed in 1993 when the speaker we have just heard from, and the one to come next, were National Government members. That Act provides quite clearly that activity undertaken in a member’s capacity as a member of Parliament does not count towards election spending, providing it does not seek to solicit votes. Nothing in the Electoral Finance Bill or, indeed, in this bill changes that. But what the National Party seems to be suggesting is that MPs should be prevented from communicating with their constituents. That is something that the majority of parties in this House simply cannot support.
The other myth that needs dispelling is that this bill has somehow been rushed through the House. This bill is following the normal legislative process for a bill of this type. This bill relates to appropriations, and as such it has to meet a test for such bills, otherwise it would not have been permitted on to the Order Paper in this form. It will proceed through the normal deliberative process for appropriation bills. It is the National Party that seems determined to play games with the proper legislative process on this bill. I would be shocked if the shadow Leader of the House really believed his mock outrage about this. He has been in this House long enough to understand the legislative process, but I am worried that some of his backbench colleagues might actually believe Gerry Brownlee’s crocodile tears in this regard. There are no short cuts with this bill. It is not being rushed through under urgency, and we are not bypassing scrutiny. We are following the normal legislative process.
Another myth that Mr Brownlee has insisted on propagating is the idea that this bill somehow allows the Labour Party to use Government departments and their funding to promote the interests of the Labour Party. Again, this is simply not true.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It does.
Hon DARREN HUGHES: The fact that Nick Smith says it does reinforces the point that it is simply not true. This bill relates to spending for parliamentary purposes, for which we gave a legislative definition last year that Dr Nick Smith voted against. Mr Brownlee seeks to confuse two quite separate issues, and we heard him doing it again on the radio on Tuesday. Nothing in this bill relates to spending by the Government of New Zealand; it relates only to spending by parliamentary parties. And let us be clear: the party that will benefit the most from funding for parliamentary parties is the National Party. It received the largest slice of taxpayers’ money for parliamentary party purposes.
Finally, I would like to mention the whole range of myths—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What about ministerial budgets?
Hon DARREN HUGHES: One cannot solicit votes from ministerial budgets, either. The member has been here for 17 years! The bill we are discussing at the moment is not about the electoral finance regime. The bill is not about Labour’s pledge cards from the last election, or indeed National’s pledge pamphlets, which it put about at the last election, as well. The bill is not about whether money that has already been repaid should have been. That matter is settled.
Hon Bill English: Why did you repay it?
Hon DARREN HUGHES: Here is Mr English saying it is terrible that the Labour Party repaid some money. The National Party had to repay money, as well. For Mr English the principle is the size of the amount that had to be paid back, not whether the Auditor-General found a technical breach and ruled that money had to be paid back. That finding has been honoured by the parties concerned.
This bill is certainly not about whether Mr English pushed the boundaries of the rules in 2002 when he was the leader of his party. That is something he is very keen to extinguish from memory today. To be fair, I would say I would probably want to do the same if I were in his situation, but the point is that his false outrage is a little bit hard to swallow in that regard.
This bill is actually quite a simple bill. It is about whether the current legislative framework under which we are operating right now should be extended through to June 2009. I wish we were actually debating a substantial rewrite of the rules that would provide an enduring legislative framework, but unfortunately we are so close to a general election that it has been impossible to reach agreement among parties on such a framework. For that very reason it is essential that we extend this current interim framework until 2009. The Government’s hope is that that will allow parties to work together outside of the heat of an election campaign and come up with some enduring rules that we can all agree on and, importantly, abide by.
In commending the bill to the House, I also acknowledge the support for this measure that has come from across the Chamber. It is not often that Labour and ACT agree on an issue, let alone Labour, ACT, the Greens, New Zealand First, and United Future. But I think that shows that this is not an example of Labour trying to foist something on the House. This bill has grown out of a genuine consultation between parties across the House, and is an example of the benefit of parties working together in good faith. It is a shame that the National Party could not bring itself to see this process through. I commend the bill to the House.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson)
: The Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill is all about Labour rorting our electoral laws. It gives the fingers to the Auditor-General. It is dirty, slimy legislation that brings into gross disrepute this Parliament, respect for the rule of law, and the very democracy we have.
Let me just recite the dirty history that lies behind this bill. At the last election Labour put out a pledge card in Helen Clark’s name—$800,000 of public money was spent on it. That was despite the fact that the Auditor-General had given very clear warnings to all political parties 3 months prior to the election. When the Chief Electoral Officer raised the issue of the pledge card with Labour Party headquarters, headquarters staff said it would be declared within Labour’s spending cap 3 days before the election. But then 3 days after the election they said it was not electioneering. We even had the gall of the Prime Minister telling the police that this pledge card was not electioneering. No New Zealander believes that. What sort of example is our Prime Minister giving, running those sorts of fibs past the New Zealand Police?
When the Auditor-General bravely reported in 2006 that that pledge card was illegal, Labour passed retrospective law to make it legal again. That was an appalling precedent. The signal that Labour has given is to cheat on the electoral laws, do whatever it takes to win an election, then pass a law afterwards to retrospectively make it right. That is appalling. Labour breached the law in two respects: firstly, with the illegal use of taxpayers’ money; and, secondly, by not including it within its declaration of expenses. Yet what Labour is doing—firstly, with this bill; and, secondly, with the Electoral Finance Bill—is making those two illegal acts lawful in the future.
The real exposure of the gall of this bill is the different definitions. I want to read them to the House so that Parliament sees the contradiction. In respect of this bill, electoral advertising, when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money, is defined very, very narrowly. We members can spend the money on any advertising we like, providing we do not use the words “vote National” or “vote Labour”, and providing we do not solicit party members or party funds. Anything beyond those limits is not considered electoral advertising in this bill.
Those are the rules for us; let us look at the rules and definition of electoral advertising for the public. For the public, any form of words or graphics that encourage or persuade voters to vote, and any taking of a position on a proposition that any one party or candidate might have, is constituted as electoral advertising. I have a simple question for members opposite: when it comes to electoral advertising in this bill, why is it that we have to use the words “vote” or “become a member” or “give us some money”, but when it comes to the public the definition of electoral advertising is anything that comments on any issue of which any political party or candidate might have a view? It is nothing less than a total rort.
I want to go back, though, a little bit further in history. What has governed electoral law and elections are the key decisions made in 1988 in the Reg Boorman case. In 1988 Reg Boorman was thrown out of this Parliament for breaking the rules of the Electoral Act. The key thing Reg Boorman did was use parliamentary money to secure his re-election in the Wairarapa. The judge made some key decisions that have affected the interpretation of the law since. In trying to work out what was electioneering when MPs went about their normal course of work, he set some pretty common-sense rules. He said that if, for instance, MPs had advertised their services as constituency MPs every single week, then they were quite entitled to do that every week during the election period. If they sent out 300 or 400 letters each month to constituents during the normal course of their work during the 3 years of their terms, then it was fine to do so also in the election period.
But this bill reverses that Reg Boorman law. Firstly, this bill states that MPs can spend money on any advertising they like, providing it does not say “vote”. Equally, the Electoral Finance Bill states that any of that budget that is spent is not to be included within the cap, which is what ultimately cost Reg Boorman his seat. Let us be quite
plain. If Reg Boorman had managed his election campaign under these rules, nothing would be wrong. We are overturning that law.
Let us flow through and see how that affects things. You see, under the law, any person who wants to stand for Parliament is limited to spending $20,000. That $20,000 figure—the $20,000 that is to be spent in the 3 months prior to the election—has not changed for 12 years. If one goes to any electoral manual, as every contesting politician in this Parliament would know, one would see that candidates need to spend at least $1 per voter just to get their names known. It is a dollar per voter just for that voter to know a candidate’s name. Our electorates have 55,000 people in them. That is $55,000. So we are to say to any members of the public who want to stand for Parliament that they can spend only $20,000, not just within the 3 months prior to the election but in all of the election year. Then, with this bill, members are saying that they will give themselves $65,000, that they will change the law, and that they will exclude that amount from being included in their spending limits.
Let us be honest about another cute little feature: members are bulk funded. They can spend that money anytime they like. Any member of this House can save up all his or her $65,000 and spend it in this financial year, which ends on 30 June, and on 1 July next year that member will get another big chunk of money—$35,000. So technically speaking, members are writing in this law that they, as members of Parliament, will be able to spend $100,000 of public money on advertising and promoting themselves in their electorates; they will be able to get another $20,000, which is declared; and any person wanting to contest their seats can spend only $20,000. That is a 6:1 ratio. I would ask whether any member here really believes that is fair. Labour is setting up Parliament as a closed shop. If members apply these laws long term, every constituency member of this Parliament is effectively guaranteeing that nobody will be able to contest his or her seat fairly, because of the consecutive rorts that Labour is setting up with this bill.
I say that this bill is a disgrace. It is a cynical perversion of our electoral laws. The risk, I say to my fellow parliamentarians, is that this place makes itself irrelevant if it does not have a fair mandate from the communities that members seek to represent. All the criticisms I have made of the unfair contest that this bill sets up in electorates—in stating that electorate MPs effectively can spend $120,000, with $100,000 of that as public money, securing their re-election, but anybody else can spend only $20,000—are pointing out that the bill is really taking away the democratic accountability that should go with this electoral process and with electoral law.
I say that this is an absolute disgrace. This bill is about only one objective. It is about Labour members trying to secure their seats and their position in the Government at any price. Their recipe is to dig deep into the taxpayers’ pockets by increasing the budgets for MPs and parties, and to change the rules so that members can spend money on anything they like, overruling what the Auditor-General said was fair and about what could be spent.
PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First)
: I have to say that that was a disgraceful speech. That member could have done a lot better. He has distorted the view the public will take of what an MP spends his or her money on. He has undermined this very occupation, big time. He gets $65,000 a year, as any constituent MP does—list MPs get a good deal less, I might add—and not one cent of it is wasted on electioneering. We advertise ourselves, we advertise clinics, we provide an office, and we provide all the equipment in that office with that money. That member should have at least acknowledged that. If he even thinks that he will go out and spend $65,000 a year on promoting himself as an MP in this place, then I would say to him that he should not be here. He should be ashamed of himself even for thinking that.
Clearly, we need this law. We need this law and the simple reason we do, I tell this House, is that the Auditor-General did not understand the previous process. The Auditor-General did not understand the previous process. As far as New Zealand First is concerned, the Auditor-General got it wrong—[Interruption]
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): I warn the member Nick Smith that he has stretched the boundaries of interjection all afternoon, and I ask him not to barrack consistently, as he has just done to the member. I call Peter Brown.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: He’s just corrupt.
PETER BROWN: I do not care whether the member apologises or withdraws. The man is a fool. He should be out of here.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): I warn the member Nick Smith that I will not take any more.
PETER BROWN: The other morning Gerry Brownlee was on
with the Rt Hon Winston Peters, debating this very bill. Winston sat there in silence whilst Gerry Brownlee put his case. Then, when Winston put his case, the member Gerry Brownlee interrupted no end, and at one point he said that there was no definition of electioneering. We have a three-page bill here, and the definition takes up quite a lot of space on it.  The member should listen and maybe he will learn something. The definition of electioneering is when a member goes out and asks for a vote for the individual or the party. He or she is then electioneering. The definition of electioneering—
Anne Tolley: Why is it different—why is it different?
PETER BROWN: I ask that member to listen and she will learn something.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): Please be seated. The member can interject once or twice. She cannot barrack at the member with constant questions. That has gone on with two or three members this afternoon. I have given three warnings. This is the last warning. I have asked members to desist, and the next time members will leave.
PETER BROWN: Electioneering is asking for a vote, either for the individual or for the party. Electioneering is asking for membership. Electioneering is asking for funds; that is electioneering. It is defined exactly in this bill.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The member has given a definition of electioneering, so I seek leave to table the definition of electioneering in the Electoral Finance Bill, which does not define electioneering in the manner that he read.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): That is a debating point, but of course the member can ask for leave. It is usual to do it at the end of a member’s speech and not interrupt the speech. The member has asked for leave to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
PETER BROWN: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member is obviously quite confused. I think, Madam Assistant Speaker, that you should advise National members that we are debating not the Electoral Finance Bill but the Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill. That is where the definition that I am referring to is.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): OK. The member will continue, please.
PETER BROWN: That decision is easily understood. The document that we produced at the last election outlines New Zealand First’s policies. It was distributed before the election period and it is now still being distributed. It does not ask for a vote, it does not ask for any money, and it does not ask for membership. Another thing we have to comply with is having the crest on the back, or somewhere, and we have to have contact numbers. Our document has all of those things. It was taken to the
Parliamentary Service for its approval, and the service approved it. But the Auditor-General, in his wisdom, said that it did not qualify. Yet the Auditor-General said to the Hon Peter Dunne that two parties in this House were captured by his report, and they should not have been in there—namely, United Future and New Zealand First. Peter Dunne asked the Auditor-General whether he would make that clear, but the Auditor-General said no, he would not.
So we have a document here that will cost us a lot of money. It is a document that complied with the rules and that was checked off by the referee, the Parliamentary Service. But the Auditor-General said in his report that it did not comply, although he told Peter Dunne privately—and National members can ask Peter Dunne themselves if they doubt my word—that New Zealand First and United Future had not broken the rules. We had followed the rules exactly.
We need this law if for no other reason than to protect ourselves from the Auditor-General. It has been asserted here that the Auditor-General gave a very clear message beforehand. He gave nothing to New Zealand First. He had produced a report some months before that had dealt largely with ministerial spending. The Auditor-General did talk with Don Brash for well over an hour. Don Brash has admitted that. The Auditor-General did not talk to Winston Peters. He did not talk to me as the deputy leader of New Zealand First. I know that he did not talk to many other people, but he did talk to Don Brash. He did alert Don Brash to his concerns—I will give the Auditor-General that.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Because the others refused to meet with him.
PETER BROWN: No, I say to the honourable member that there was no invitation for the others—like New Zealand First—to meet with the Auditor-General.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the letter from the Auditor-General to the leaders of each of the political parties prior to 2005 seeking a meeting to discuss the use of parliamentary—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There is objection.
PETER BROWN: The importance of a letter comes when one receives it, not when it is tabled years after the event to say that it existed. No letter was received by New Zealand First and no meeting took place.
The law that we are supporting right now is an extension of the current law. It should be expiring next month, but we are extending it to take it past the next election—I think, as Dr Cullen said, to take the emotional heat out of the issue. Clearly we need some rules, clearly we need some guidelines, and clearly this law will do the job at hand. I say that from our point of view, we welcome it. We welcome a law that governs this procedure as far as MPs are concerned. It is absolutely ridiculous to believe that political parties, MPs, or candidates for political parties cannot go out there and outline their political policy. That is absolutely ridiculous. There is an obligation that befalls us all to go out there, say what we stand for, and explain it. That is what people vote for. We are not in here for our looks or our talent. We are here because we represent people who choose to vote for a political party that addresses the issues they are concerned about. It is an obligation that befalls all the political parties in this House.
The message from the public is that they fully understand there have to be some guidelines and some rules in place under which MPs and political parties have to operate. We think this is particularly fair; it is not onerous. It allows us a good deal of freedom to explain what we want and what we stand for. We think New Zealanders are entitled to that. We know that politics is a tough, hard game. We know that people need to compare one political candidate with another. Therefore, we have to have rules that allow political parties to go out and sell their message, and to say what they stand for on
an individual basis as well, so that the public can make its choice. That is what democracy is all about—the public having the final say. But, to govern that, some rules need to be in place. This bill will do that. It is a simple bill.
Sandra Goudie: With Winston in the Government he gets to use taxpayers’ money.
PETER BROWN: The member keeps on interjecting. I am sure that sooner or later she will say something that is worthwhile listening to.
Ron Mark: Don’t bank on it.
PETER BROWN: I will not bank on it. The Parliamentary Service has gone through the rules and the Speaker has given new directions that I think every party has signed up to. I know privately that the National Party has signed up to them. I might add that when we were making the rules before we had this legislation, when we were determining the five points about 5 or 6 years ago—we must not ask for votes, we must not ask for money, we must not ask for membership, we must have contact numbers, and we must show the crest on the document—the people making the loudest and the longest noise on the Parliamentary Service Commission were members of the National Party. National agreed that it supported all of those points, and all that has happened since is that we have put those Speaker’s directions into law. I say that this will be a helpful piece of legislation when it comes to the next election. Thank you.
NANDOR TANCZOS (Green)
: I begin by referring to Mr Brown, who said that we are not here because of our talent. I just want to assure him—and I do not care what anybody else says—that I do not think he is entirely useless!
The Greens are supporting the Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill, but not because it is a good bill in our view or because we think it makes this place a lot more democratic. We are supporting this bill because we think that we have no choice. Neither Labour nor National has come up with a clear set of guidelines that really addresses the concerns of the Auditor-General about how taxpayers’ money is spent by political parties during election years. So we are supporting this bill because it has been impossible to get agreement on a more democratic process that is able to deal with new technologies, new ways of communicating, and new, more appropriate ways of involving young people in political debate, and that is able to communicate the work that we do here with people, more generally, in the public.
We see this bill as a kind of holding action that simply extends interim guidelines and slightly improves the previous situation. But it fails to address messy and ambiguous legislation, under which MPs remain unclear about how we use some of our Parliamentary Service funding, and this continues to cause concern amongst the public about the way public money is applied. We would rather have a different process entirely. The Green Party would rather have a process that took these kinds of decisions out of the hands of those with the biggest vested interest—us the politicians—and put them into the hands of the citizenry. We have long promoted the use of a citizens’ assembly where people from many walks of life, including outside experts in the parliamentary process, can look at the way taxpayers’ funds are used by political parties and make decisions around them.
We would apply this process not just to this bill but to the Electoral Finance Bill. We think it is vital that we open these questions up to the people of New Zealand not just through a submission process—and that word “submission” is itself instructive in terms of how we view the public—but through giving some real decision-making over to the people that is grounded in comprehensive information and discussion. Unfortunately, there is no time for that this year, though we have been lobbying hard for it. We still hope we can have a citizens’ assembly at a later date—a citizens’ assembly where political parties do not decide the rules around what they spend and how they spend it,
but where we have a more democratic process to come up with clear and fair guidelines, and, most important, a process that benefits not just the big parties but all parties. This is not a novel idea. An independent inquiry into campaign finance reform along these lines has been recently used in Canada. We believe that one could start in early 2009, or even before, if we could get support from other parties.
When it comes to the substance of this bill, we say that of course we must use parliamentary resources to explain and promote the work of Parliament and parliamentarians. That is our responsibility and obligation as members of this House. MPs are elected to pursue policies and to promote political philosophies on behalf of the public. Debate, discussion, and persuasion are what we are all about—in here and in public. Discussing the business of this House, debating the ideas associated with the business of this House, and hearing feedback from members of the public are vital parts of our jobs.
However, after the 2005 election the Auditor-General ruled, for example, that newspaper advertisements inviting the public to discussions with Green MPs on climate change and oil depletion were out of order, even though the adverts made no reference to the election. I myself held a public meeting on Waiheke Island to talk with young people about their rights under the law, because they were being harassed by the police. That, according to the Auditor-General, was electioneering, even though the intended audience was under 18 and unable even to vote! Whatever else the Auditor-General’s ruling provoked, it demonstrated very clearly that we need clear rules about what is OK and what is not. Although we did not necessarily agree with the Auditor-General’s decision, we respected the fact that he is the umpire and paid the money back.
Next year there is another election, and we want to know clearly where we stand. We want to be able to do our jobs as MPs in informing the public about policies, and about the business of this Parliament and the issues that it is discussing—or not discussing, given that we continue to ignore important issues.
We do not think this bill has found the perfect solution, but we think it is better to have clear rules than not to. We cannot have a robust democracy if the public does not know what is going on in Parliament or what MPs and parties stand for. This House is a pretty strange, self-referential world, and members easily become more and more divorced from ordinary people and their concerns—particularly the concerns from certain sections of the public. This is especially true of young people, who increasingly use new modes of communication that are unfamiliar to many members of this House. This bill reinforces that divorce between young people and our Parliament through its lack of recognition of those new modes of communication. In our view, that is one of the reasons why we need a citizens’ assembly—to allow some new perspectives into these discussions.
As I have said, we view telling the public what we think about legislation and issues of public concern as being a core part of an MP’s job. Letting New Zealanders know what our policies are on issues like student loans, climate change, health care, and their human rights is a part of our work. We cannot have spending rules that prohibitively restrict that kind of communication. Part of being a good parliamentarian is holding public meetings where people can ask questions and get answers. Those meetings can now be virtual. Using new technologies—and being clear that we can do so by using parliamentary funds—to communicate with young people, especially, should be part of being an MP. This enhances the robustness of our democracy and improves the ability of all New Zealanders to take part in political discussion and promote ideas that they believe in.
It can be difficult to draw a line between where the work of a parliamentarian stops and electioneering starts. We acknowledge that. This will continue to be difficult. For
example, Labour has promised not to have another pledge card this election, even though under this legislation that is still possible.
Although we are supporting this bill, we are not supporting the status quo. We are supporting this bill, although wanting to have much clearer guidelines in future elections, and in the meantime we are seeking much clearer guidelines from the Speaker. We have already started the process, as members know, of seeking clearer rulings in respect of the way in which some of our funds are spent. We hope to continue that dialogue. With this unsatisfactory patch-up job I am afraid that the Speaker’s job will be much harder, as ours as parliamentarians is, in terms of trying to interpret old-fashioned guidelines when we are trying to use new technologies, some of which are not all that new—for example, websites. Again, we are already in dialogue with you, Madam Assistant Speaker, as you know, about the use of websites. What about newer technologies like YouTube and iPods? In this context it is ridiculous that we are doing a patch-up job on old legislation that does not even have rules on these kinds of new media.
Although we have misgivings about this bill, we would be in a worse position without it. If we argue, as National seems to be arguing, that we cannot use parliamentary funding to get our message to the public, then we would be accepting that only those who have rich corporate backers should be able to discuss political ideas. We do not believe that the wealthy should have the upper hand in political debate simply as a result of their wealth; nor do we believe that a poorly informed citizenry can support a democracy. Democracy is about the active engagement of the people of our land, and we will be the worse for having rules that inhibit that engagement.
Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party)
: Over the last week there has been a great deal of political posturing and jostling for air time about the concept of the rule of law. Two of the minor parties, desperate to reach the threshold, have levelled wild accusations at one of my colleagues that he is supposedly “insisting he will flout the rule of law.” The concept of the rule of law is absolutely relevant to this Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill and as such is worthy of some definition. T R S Allan, in
Law Liberty, and Justice, defines the rule of law as “An amalgam of standards, expectations, and aspirations: it encompasses traditional ideas about liberty and natural justice, and more generally ideas about the requirements of justice and fairness in the relations between government and the governed.” That, of course, is where it all becomes subject to interpretation.
The offence taken by two minor parties arose from a comment Mr Harawira made about the Terrorism Suppression Act, namely: “I will not sit quietly by, while State forces terrorise my people. If this requires of me that I speak out against the rule of law that would impose terror on Māori communities in this country, then I will speak out. I will speak out against it in this Chamber, on television, in newspapers, and anywhere else I possibly can.”
The rule of law that Mr Harawira was following most certainly adheres to the requirements of justice and fairness that we would expect to see in relations between government and the governed. But does that same rule of law make it acceptable for the National Party to refuse to pay $112,500 of GST owed on the 2005 election advertisements screened on television? Does that same rule of law make it acceptable for New Zealand First to misspend $157,934 of taxpayers’ funds at the 2005 election, and, over 2 years later, for the debt to be still unpaid? How can political parties misspend over $1 million of taxpayer funds without Baycorp, the Inland Revenue Department, the Serious Fraud Office, or any other debt collector knocking on their
door to pick up the unpaid dues? Is this the same rule of law that is applied in the concept of one law for all?
When we think about “justice and fairness in the relations between government and the governed”, we cannot go far without remembering the events of last October, when Parliament passed a bill to validate parliamentary spending back to 1989. The bill was passed under urgency to validate the invalid, to push through legislation that would authorise the illegal expenditure. Were parliamentary standards breached? Was the rule of law overthrown? What are the standards that apply when public moneys are misspent? Was the mere move to turn invalid spending into valid spending the Government’s attempt to turn water into wine, making use of its legislative power for its own self-interest? Was parliamentary power misappropriated to serve the Labour Party well? Under whose gaze was the invalid spending being validated?
We in the Māori Party are motivated by standards, expectations, and aspirations in keeping with the rule of law of tikanga and kaupapa Māori. The kaupapa that we believe to be the most relevant to this bill, continuing the interim meaning of funding for parliamentary purposes, are rangatiratanga, or leadership; kaitiakitanga, or sustainable protection of taonga; kotahitanga, or unity of purpose; and manaakitanga, or mana enhancement. It follows then that the pursuit of tikanga such as accountability, transparency, and integrity give expression to rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga, and as such uphold the rule of law according to Te Ao Māori—the Māori World. We are a party motivated by the practice of walking the talk. Transparency is the means by which we enhance democratic political participation. We maintain that disclosure of the rules and definitions, and, more particularly, the range of possible interpretations related to expenditure for parliamentary purposes, must be blatantly clear across the House. It is the interests of the wider democratic State, not just those of Parliament, that should dominate our thinking as we consider the meaning of taxpayer-funded parliamentary spending.
I come back to the discussion around the rule of law. How can any party agree to the roll-out of the appropriations law for the election advertising and campaigning costs, when it is blatantly evident that the parties across the House have been unable to reach consensus over issues such as third-party sponsorship, party donations, setting up trusts, and other related issues?
New Zealand has been watching this Parliament as it attempts to come to terms with various models of electoral reform being played out, and as people watch they have not been impressed. I refer to one New Zealand citizen who wrote to us in April this year about these very issues. I will call him Malcolm. I want to share his views about the proposed electoral reform. Malcolm said: “My grandfather fought such forces in the Second World War to avoid this type of system being imposed on New Zealand. No parliament, no political party should ever be as arrogant as to change New Zealand’s democratic system without either testing such a policy through a general election or putting it to a referendum.”
We believe that the exercise of democratic participation is of such prime importance that the people must be intimately involved in guiding the Parliament onwards. In its effect, this massive bill of 3 entire pages does nothing to move us forward from the catastrophic debacle that followed the 2005 elections. The bill, in restoring the meaning of funding entitlements for parliamentary purposes to that commonly understood before Mr Kevin Brady’s report as Controller and Auditor-General, has sent the Parliament into a spin.
We in the Māori Party had been satisfied with the rules surrounding election campaign expenditure and sources of campaign finance as set out in the Electoral Act 1993. We understood those rules and terms to be explicit and unambiguous, and, as
such, we were mortified when we found we had misspent the sum of $48 following the election washup. However, it is one thing to have clear rules in place, and quite another to receive independent advice that those rules have not been routinely followed or applied. That is the process that we now find ourselves in. The 2006 report of the Controller and Auditor-General takes us to a place vastly different from the one we were in prior to the 2005 elections. We cannot simply ignore his advice or pretend that the expert independent opinion we have received is somewhat irrelevant.
This bill forces parties to revert to what had been the status quo prior to such a controversial and comprehensive report of our collective failings. We in the Māori Party cannot freely, willingly adopt a position of perceived ignorance, when we all know that many measures are required to make general improvements to the funding of parliamentary purposes. We will be voting against this bill.
Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future)
: When I first came to this House 23 years ago, I recall very clearly being told by my senior colleagues at that time, and by the officials of the legislative department, that the funding that would be available to me as a member of Parliament, to assist me in my activities as a member of Parliament, could not be used to solicit support for my party, to invite people to join my party, or to invite people to donate funds to my party.
Over the last 23 years, those three core understandings have guided successive generations of members of Parliament, and successive parties and Governments in this Parliament, about the way in which the funding that is directed towards us as members of Parliament is to be applied. It is quite a separate situation from the provisions of the Electoral Act, in so far as they relate to the funding of political parties—not members of Parliament, but political parties—and political candidates for election purposes.
The change occurred in the wake of the ruling of the Auditor-General after the last election, which effectively stated that the long-held understandings set out in the
Members’ Handbook of Services, and the various guidelines issued by successive Speakers and chairs of the Parliamentary Service Commission, were now to be interpreted by him in a way that differed from all of the interpretations that applied previously. I do not want to get into an argument about whether he was right or wrong—that is history—but the reality was that he applied a different set of standards. He then challenged Parliament to review its rules, but, significantly, he did not offer any advice as to what those rules should be. So Parliament was faced with a challenge to sort things out—“I don’t like what you’ve done, despite the fact that I liked it previously. I’m not explaining to you why I’ve had a change of heart, but you now sort it out.”
Treasury then advised the Minister of Finance that on the basis of that advice from the Auditor-General there was a legitimate question about the validity of all parliamentary expenditure back to the time of the passage of the Public Finance Act in 1989. As a consequence of that advice, the Minister of Finance brought to Parliament about a year ago legislation to validate that expenditure in terms of the provisions of the Public Finance Act, given the warning implied in Treasury’s advice that there might be a question as to the expenditure’s validity in the wake of the Auditor-General’s report.
Following on from that, parties in this Parliament began informal discussions about a way forward. The chiefs of staff of the various parties have been meeting for many months now to try to work out what a new regime might be. It is fair to say that until about a couple of months ago—funnily enough, about the time that the heat on the Electoral Finance Bill started to intensify—good progress was being made. At that point, it all fell apart and we were faced with the situation—and we are still faced with the situation—whereby the legislation that was passed last year to give us breathing space until the end of this calendar year is rapidly running out of time, and no
replacement is in place. So if we do not pass a new Act now, we face a situation whereby, from the start of next year, considerable ambiguity applies.
There are various levels of interpretation as to what the situation might be at that point. The most extreme interpretation that is around is the same one that was raised last year, which is that the absence of any legislation will lead the Parliamentary Service Commission and Parliamentary Service to effectively freeze all expenditure, for the avoidance of doubt as to its legality.
At the other end of the spectrum is the claim made in the House this afternoon that nothing much will really change and that the status quo will simply prevail. Well, I want to remind the House what that status quo would be. It would be the situation we all thought we were in prior to the Auditor-General’s report. When it is clear that most of the parties in this House at that time had one set of understandings and expectations about that situation, and that the Auditor-General had an entirely different set, then simply to revert to that status quo is a completely unacceptable situation and a recipe for doubt and chaos going on into the future.
So in the absence of agreement having been reached—for reasons that are nothing to do with this Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill, but everything to do with a wider political game about the Electoral Finance Bill—it became necessary to bring forward further interim legislation, which will apply until a date in 2009, to ensure that the understandings that were put in place last year in the wake of the original report and Treasury advice can carry on through next year, for the avoidance of doubt.
That is all this issue is about. It is relatively simple and mechanical legislation, the need for which arises because of the turn of circumstances since the passage of the original bill last year. The debate that will be held over the next few weeks about the Electoral Finance Bill and its provisions is quite separate from this debate, because this bill makes it clear in law, for the second time, that members of Parliament cannot use the funding advanced to them to solicit for votes, to solicit for support for their particular parties, or to solicit for membership and funding for their particular parties. That is a very clear definition of what constitutes election activity. It is prohibited for members of Parliament to use their public funding for electoral purposes. That is clear-cut, well stated, and unambiguous.
The issue of political campaigning is dealt with by the Electoral Finance Bill, and, as I said, that is a separate debate. But if one takes the argument that has been raised here to its logical conclusion, it would go something like this: everything that members of Parliament do is directed towards their re-election, so helping a constituent with a difficult immigration problem, working through with a local community the ways in which a pedestrian crossing might be installed on a dangerous street, and dealing with the myriad other examples we can think of that we all do week in and week out, by that extreme definition all constitute election activity.
One could say that that is a bit extreme; it is not quite as bad as that. There is a clear boundary here, but I ask where that boundary is. If someone writes to me and asks me what my policy is on dangerous dogs, if I send back a glossy pamphlet stating “Here is our policy.” then, according to some lights, I am breaching the law in terms of what is electioneering. If I write that person a letter, crafted in my parliamentary office in parliamentary time and sent on parliamentary letterhead, that is an OK activity. If I telephone that person from my office, that is apparently an OK activity.
The point I am making is that some very ridiculous boundaries are being drawn. This bill simply enables members of Parliament to get on with the job we have all been elected to do. If anyone suggests that this advantages incumbents of any particular political persuasion, then I say to them that they are treating the New Zealand public as
fools, and the New Zealand public are not that. They see through cant and hypocrisy and they make their decisions, election after election, on whom they wish to support, based on performance and on their perception of what is in the country’s best interest. I have never yet, in all my time in this House, come across a situation whereby an election has been decided on the way in which a party, or an individual, has used the funding advanced to them to carry out their duties as members of Parliament. That is all this bill is about.
The high-flown hyperbole and debate should rest for another day when we debate the Electoral Finance Bill. But in the meantime we should get on with passing this bill to enable us to do the very job we were elected to do.
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Labour—Rimutaka)
: It is a great shame that the member who has just sat down, Peter Dunne, did not speak first. To try to get a little bit of history and background into the debate before all the hyperbole, whinging, moaning, and grizzling would have been quite helpful. The recollections the member has about the way in which parliamentary funding is used are exactly my recollections, and I have been here 17 years. Of course, the issue was thrown up into dispute, but I think that the fundamental point the member made is that this is actually quite a simple matter and is not related to any other matter. It is a simple matter that unless we pass this legislation now, it will create huge confusion about what can be spent as part of the parliamentary budget. For example, one of the options, and possibly the most extreme option that the member mentioned, was that maybe we will have to freeze all our electorate office finances. You know, we may not be able to honour our lease agreements, for example. That could well be one of the outcomes of this. So it is very, very simple legislation that just extends the time from 31 December 2007 to 30 June 2009—very simple legislation.
If people had listened to the debate, they would think that the National Party never ever spent any Parliamentary Service money. That is what they would think if they had listened to those members. They would think that no money had ever been spent by the National Party. Of course, the media are now reporting, because of the way that Parliament works—and the fact that we have Ministers on our side of the House and National has not—that National gets the most money from the Parliamentary Service. In fact, I think it is of the order of $7 million.
Hon Peter Dunne: How much?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I think it is of the order of $7 million. So the basic question that I want to ask the National Party is simply this: if it is so morally outraged by this legislation, will it make a commitment now that it will not spend one single cent of that $7 million? I ask Anne Tolley whether she will make a commitment in this House, because she is so outraged by what we are doing, that she will not spend one single cent of the $7 million allocated by the Parliamentary Service to the National Party. I ask Sandra Goudie whether she will stand up and say that she will not spend one single cent of the $7 million allocated.
Hon Darren Hughes: She wouldn’t know.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Probably not. I ask Mark Blumsky whether he will stand and make a commitment, because he is so outraged by this legislation, that he will not spend one single cent of the $7 million allocated. I wonder whether Tau Henare, who is also outraged by this legislation, will make a commitment to not spend one single cent of the allocated $7 million. The point of the matter is simply this: although we have all the hollow outrage from the National Party, it will continue to spend Parliamentary Service money. So the next speaker from the National Party, and I think it will be Anne Tolley, when she stands to make her contribution, should tell the public that, yes, National members are morally outraged by this legislation, but that they will continue, notwithstanding their vote against this legislation, to vote for the money that Parliament
allocated to them. Indeed, this is very odd. The question then is: will the National Party commit itself to not spending money that was actually allocated this year?
Anne Tolley: Hold it up!
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Here it is. It is an advertisement with a photo of John Key, and it is headed: “Join the conversation”. I am amused at the kind of conversation that one would have with John Key—“Do I remember this, can I recall that?”. I am asking the National Party and Anne Tolley whether she is saying that this advertisement was OK in 2007, yet now she is voting against it.
Here is another interesting advertisement. It was produced in May 2007 and refers to 10 steps that a new National Government’s first Budget will take. Putting aside the misleading advertising in the document itself, I will ask a question to Tau Henare over there, who is looking amused. Who funded this document? I would hazard a guess that this advertisement, which has both the parliamentary crest and the National Party logo on it, was funded by the Parliamentary Service.
Hon Darren Hughes: Surely not!
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Well, I will hazard a guess that it was. I will be interested to know whether Anne Tolley, when she stands up, will tell us whether the Parliamentary Service funded that. If the Parliamentary Service funded that, I ask Anne Tolley why she is opposed to this bill. It is a very simple question, you see, yet there is no answer from the National Party.
Here is another advertisement. It states: “My commitment”. Well, there was a lot of talk about commitment. This one was produced in 2002 by Bill English. There is a whole pile of waffle on it about getting tough on crime, and all of that stuff. I wonder how this was funded. I wonder whether it was funded by the cake stalls that the National Party members run—I do not know whether they run cake stalls, but we do—or whether it was funded by the Parliamentary Service. I will hazard a guess, because it has the parliamentary logo on it, that it was funded by the Parliamentary Service. Therefore, we get into the position of using a word that we are not allowed to say in this Parliament, because the National Party will vote against the bill and rage against it, with its members saying that it is a constitutional and moral outrage—though I must say that they do not give those speeches as strongly as we used to when we were in Opposition—yet still spend the money. That is the basic point.
I also have here a letter from the National Party leader John Key that went out to a number of community organisations. This letter talks about what the National Party would do if it ever got into Government, so there is not much debate about that. If National got into Government, this is what it would do for the voluntary and community sector. The letter talks about tax-free reimbursement of expenses and tax-free honoraria payments. There is a lot of talk of spending in this letter, but, of course, I have never been able to work out how one can cut a lot and spend a lot more. I wonder who funded this letter, and I wonder how much it cost. I am not sure how many organisations this letter went to. I presume it would have gone to quite a few organisations. It was sent out on letterhead, so there is the cost of the paper, the cost of the photocopying, the cost of the envelopes, and then there is the cost of the postage. I would imagine that this was quite an expensive exercise, and that it was funded by the Parliamentary Service. If this letter was sent out in June 2007 by the Parliamentary Service, and if this legislation is saying in respect of this kind of funding that until we can get together and sort out the rules that the National Party welshed on, we need to confirm this by legislation so this kind of thing can be done, why, oh why is National voting against it?
So I ask Anne Tolley when she stands to give just a simple commitment. Will she or will she not give a commitment that she will spend none of the $7 million allocated by Parliamentary Service under the current vote? If she is not prepared to say that she will
not spend any of that money, can she then explain to the House why she is voting against this legislation with all the moral outrage that goes with it? It is quite a simple matter.
I want to finish where Peter Dunne left off. This is extremely simple legislation. It just continues the arrangement until June 2009, until such time as we can get together and come forward with some rules that clarify all this. This legislation simply extends the time. I ask National members finally to clarify why, oh why, they are voting against the legislation, when National will spend the money that is allocated.
PANSY WONG (National)
: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can I seek leave for the outgoing Labour member Paul Swain to table the excellent tax deduction letter for charitable donations, and to table the excellent poster of the handsome and youthful leader John Key, please?
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): The member knows that she cannot ask another member to table documents. That is over to the member himself or herself. That is not a point of order.
ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast)
: When the former junior Labour whip, Darren Hughes, stood up to speak to this bill earlier on this afternoon he said it was a very simple bill. I agree with him. It is actually a very simple bill that we are debating here this afternoon. It is State funding in drag. That is what this bill is about. It is about funding for MPs and parliamentary parties, and about giving them extra privileges over what the general public can have—it is State funding in drag.
I just want to start by talking about the process of how we got here today. It largely relates to the rather inept former Minister of Justice, Mark Burton, who has been talking about this validating legislation on the Parliamentary Service Commission for months. He has been talking since at least May or June about the need to debate and negotiate the ongoing rules when this validating legislation is due to run out at the end of the year. What did he do about it? He did absolutely nothing but talk. Perhaps that is why he is the former Minister of Justice. In actual fact, despite what has been said by a couple of Labour members in the House today, no sensible negotiations started on what was to replace this validating legislation until at least towards the end of August, and then, as the United Future leader said, there were a couple of meetings between the chiefs of staff. Well, that is not about genuine consultation. That is not about the major parties sitting down to work out a viable, sensible, fair, and equitable regime for the electoral law of this country. We now have a situation, in the third-to-last week that this House will sit this year, of a rollover bill being introduced into the House to proceed through all stages forthwith. That is not good process. That is not democratic.
Electoral law defines electioneering quite clearly. It is advertising or communications that are of a certain nature. Also, it has always been defined as happening within a certain time frame. That time frame is normally close to an election day. Why? Well, someone recently talked about why Hallensteins advertises a sale in the nights or days before it is going to have that sale. The answer is because that is when people are interested. So election law in this country has recognised that the general public is interested in an election only when it is close to that election. If one looks at the spending that parties, candidates, and MPs do on selling themselves as a product, which is what they all do, we see that the concentration of that spending is always in the weeks leading up to an election, because that is when they get the best attention from the public, the best engagement, and the best chance of selling their message.
National’s position right throughout this debacle has been that electoral law should be fair for everyone, and that is the position that we have argued in this House today. This bill sets up a regime that gives incumbents, whether they are parliamentary parties or MPs, a distinct advantage.
Last election, the Auditor-General caught parties spending on electioneering using their parliamentary funding. We have heard members from a couple of the other parties here in the House today saying that they did not know, it is not fair, and the Auditor-General is wrong. Taxpayers’ dollars funded parties’ election campaigns. In the last election year, in the 3-month period leading up to the election, which is the prime election time, taxpayers had to put their hands in their pockets and fund parties’ campaigns. The Auditor-General said that that was wrong, and those parties had to pay the money back. In other words, those parties were electioneering, as defined in the Electoral Act, during that 3-month period leading up to the election.
Labour’s pledge card of $800,000-odd was electioneering. It broke two laws. It broke the Parliamentary Service Act, which actually controls parliamentary spending, and says, as we have heard members say, that one cannot spend that money soliciting votes. It also broke the Electoral Act, because, in fact, if that $800,000 was included, it would have broken Labour’s spending cap. But the police did not prosecute because they were looking at the wrong bit of law. The police were inept. They should have taken a prosecution against the Labour Party. What is happening now? Well, actually, now Labour is changing the laws—both of them—to ensure that it will not get caught again. When most people get caught out breaking the law they change their behaviour. That is what we demand of our citizens. We demand that they change their behaviour. But this Government—this Labour Party—is not changing its behaviour. Labour is changing the rules because it has no integrity. Anyone with integrity would change their behaviour. Labour is changing the rules.
We are here today debating an appropriation bill that will allow parliamentary funding to be used on soft election advertising and communications, and they will not count towards a party’s or a candidate’s election spending cap under the Electoral Finance Bill, which will be debated in the House next week. This means that a pamphlet, letter, or advertisement that is put out by the Labour Party HQ will count towards its electioneering cap. But if that same pamphlet, letter, or advertisement is put out by the Labour leader’s office, with a parliamentary crest, paid for by taxpayers, and in the election period, it will not count towards the cap. So the same document in a different place has different rules. That is what the National Party says is a rort of the system, is unfair, and is undemocratic. It is State funding in drag, and this Labour Government is bringing in this legislation.
Labour members have talked a lot about the desire for fairness, but this piece of legislation will give a huge advantage to incumbents, whether they are political parties that have parliamentary representation, or individual MPs. It makes an absolute mockery of the spending cap and the regulated period, which will be changed in the Electoral Finance Bill. All other New Zealanders will have to face a complicated regime. They will have to register. There are Draconian rules on how much money they can spend and how they can spend it, and on what they say. This is a breathtaking double standard.
We cannot take the bill we are debating tonight in isolation. We have to take it in concert with the Electoral Finance Bill. It has been designed that way, and in fact that is the case. We cannot say we are just rolling over existing rules, because the rules have been dramatically changed by the Electoral Finance Bill. The election period—the regulated period—will now start on 1 January. It will go for 11 months, not just 3 months. So, as my deputy leader, Bill English, explained, the electoral spending cap for candidates means they will have only $20,000 to spend over 11 months to establish their names and fight an election campaign. They could well be up against an MP who has a budget of $65,000 at his or her disposal to get his or her name awareness out and to promote himself or herself around the district. That is an unfair advantage. Plus, that
MP will also have his or her $20,000. That is a huge advantage that is being put into law by this Labour-led Government. Political advertising under the Electoral Finance Bill is highly regulated for the general public. This bill is a rort. It is an absolute disgrace for democracy in New Zealand.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill be now read a first time.
||New Zealand Labour 49; New Zealand First 7; Green Party 6; United Future 2; Progressive 1; Independent: Field.
||New Zealand National 48.
|Bill read a first time.