This went up yesterday on the Parliament website. The bill has gone through the first and second readngs and is now in committee stage where amendemnts can be considered. It will get voted on either part by part or clause by clause. There are seven clauses, of which four do the business:
Clause 4 defines the appropriations to be validated as being from 89/90 to the current day. This goes beyond what is needed. The Auditor-General has not found there to be illegal expenditure before 04/05. There is no legal requirement to validate back to 1989. Going back that far is Labour making a political statement that we believe the Auditor-General has changed the rules, so we need to validate all the way back. The Auditor-General is quite adamant he has not changed the rules.
Clause 5 validates the expenditure and deems it not have have breached the Cvil List Act or the Parliamentary Service Act(s). What is not clear to me is whether it does totally kill off the Darnton v Clark lawsuit. That lawsuit alleges a breach of the Constitution Act 1986 s.22(c), the Public Finance Act 1989 sections 4, 5 and 9, and Article 4 of the Bill of Rights 1688.
This is the problem of rushing stuff through under urgency – Parliament does not have time to make a considered decision. The best course of action would be for the Committee of the Whole to amend the Bill to specifically exempt the lawsuit (which was filed many months before the Auditor-General’s report) from being affected by the Bill. I hope all the minor parties would support this (it only affects Labour’s pledge card) and even Labour might agree that to kill off the lawsuit by retrospective legislation is an abuse of Parliament.
Clause 6 says this Act doesn’t affect the criminal liability of any person. That is good. What again is unclear (lawyers please chime in) is whether the offences listed under the Public Finance Act for breaches of it (and one lawyer has suggested Heather Simpson could well have a case to answer) are offences of “criminal liability”?
Finally Clause 7 over-turns the Auditor-General and former Solictor-General’s determination of the law, and redefines electioneering as Labour wants it to be. This definition will last until Dec 2007 and is:
“Any communicatiion that explicitly seek seeks support for the election of a person … seeks support for the casting of a party vote … encourages any person to become a member … solicits financial support”
The key word here is explicit. This has just legalised Labour’s pledge card for the next 15 months. If you have an early election, Labour can now legally plunder the taxpayer again. This definition allows state funded newspaper adverts the week of the election etc.
Here’s an example of what would be legal under these rules:
“Party B is going to destory this country with its policies. They have to be stopped. They will abolish the minimum wage and force children into slavery. If you don’t want this to happen, well don’t forget to vote at the election this Saturday”
Now this does not explicitly seek the party vote for a particular political party so is legal if this bill gets passed.