I am hearing whispers from Parliament that Labour is 100% determined to get the Electoral Finance Bill passed into law, with the minimum of changes, and the Greens and NZ First are staying staunch to do so. The Select Committee is meeting outside its normal schedule so the Bill can be reported back in November.
The good thing is that there have been 579 submissions on the Bill – a very high number. One of the great new features of the Parliamentary website is you can read all the submissions on a bill online. A huge change from the days when they were secret and privileged.
The vast majority are against the Bill, and I’m pleased to say I recognise many a familiar name from here.
Now this makes last Friday’s Dom Post editorial worth highlighting:
Seldom has a piece of legislation so spectacularly failed to achieve its objectives as the Electoral Finance Bill.
According to the bill’s preamble, its purpose is to “provide more transparency and accountability in the democratic process, prevent the undue influence of wealth, and promote participation in parliamentary democracy”. But the bill’s effect is to do almost the opposite.
Prime Minister Helen Clark’s promise last year to “clamp down” on anonymous donations has proved, in Shakespeare’s words, to be nothing more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
The bill abysmally fails to live up to its promise to “promote participation in parliamentary democracy”.
The bill does almost the opposite, effectively creating a “licensing regime for political speech during an election year”.
Even a person who wishes to make a placard to hold up at a public rally will need to make a statutory declaration before a solicitor, Justice of the Peace or notary public.
Had a past National government had the temerity to introduce such measures, Miss Clark and her Labour colleagues would have been the first to denounce its attack on free speech and participation in the democratic process.
That they have chosen not to see what everyone else sees shows just how desperate they are to cling to office.
In the wake of the outcry over the bill, Miss Clark has said changes will be made during the select committee process. But this is not a problem that can be solved with a better form of words.
The Government should go back to first principles. All that is needed is an open, transparent regime that requires all those who put significant sums into the political process to disclose their identities.
Another significant voice for the notion that should tell the Government to start again.