The amendments

December 5th, 2007 at 8:43 am by David Farrar

Okay let us look at some of the proposed amendments to the Electoral Finance Bill.

First SOP162 by Annette King.

  1. Deletes the “megaphone” paragraph which the Select Committee added on.  This is a 100% backdown, which is good.
  2. Moves the deadline for third party registrations from writ day to 21 days before the election.  A small improvement, but the Electoral Commission itself has said they have no problems with allowing registrations at any time, as other countries do.
  3. Plug a massive loophole with donations made via trusts. The current provisions could have been got around by donating a Trust A which donates to Trust B which donates to a party.  This is the problem with having inserted these clauses in just a couple of weeks ago – lots of loopholes.
  4. allows the electoral authorities to not report breaches to the Police if inconsequential.  This is similiar to the status quo when small breaches often were not reported.  However the EFB changed the requirement for notification to the Police from “shall” to “must” which effectively would have removed all discretion, hence the need for this further change.
  5. The requirement to have a name and address on “election advertisements” is changed from “persons” to promoters”.  This in fact changes very little, as any person who makes a statement advocating support for or against a party becomes a promoter.  If you post to Usenet “Don’t vote National as they hate workers”, then you are a promoter and need a name and address on the post.  If you make up a placard for a protest march which says “Don’t vote for parties against Kyoto”, then that still needs you to put your name and address on it.  The effect of the change is that if someone makes up ten placards for the march, and gives them to other marchers, then it is that person’s name and address which must go on the placards – not the person they have given it to.  So the change is sensible in that regard, but it doesn’t change the situation that posts to Usenet and placards are now election ads which require names and addresses. It’s a pity the Government didn’t use the amendment Dean Knight drafted for them, which would have solved almost all these problems.  One can only assume they did not, because they want to have this effect.

Then we have SOP163 by Annette King:

  1.  scores of apparently minor amendments.  I’ve yet to work through them all.  One of the problems of amendments at this stage is you need to work the amendment into the Bill to see the effect it has.  This is unlike the select committee changes which are marked up within the Bill itself.
  2. removes the ability for non cash anonymous donations to be made via the Electoral Commission.  The EC will be very pleased with this, especially as I know someone was planning to deliver to them $1,200 worth of logs as a donation to a party for use as wood for hoardings.  The poor EC would have been required to store the logs, and then pass them on :-)

SOP164 just divided the Bill into three Acts, once passed.  They will be:

  1. Electoral Finance Act 2007
  2. Broadcasting Amendment Act 2007
  3. Electoral Amendment Act 2007

One of the good things a future Government can do is to bring all the electoral law back under one .  If you want parties, candidates and now even the public to obey the electoral laws, it will help a hell of a lot if there is only one Act of Parliament they have to read and understand.

Chris Finlayson proposed SOP 165. It proposes the creation of a Chief Electoral Prosecutor who shall be a QC or SC. This is a superb proposal (and should have been in the Bill from the beginning) as the Police incompetence with the 2005 breaches is well known and documented.  I’d almost say nothing is more important than having an authority which actually will prosecute clear breaches of the electoral laws – otherwise what is the point of having them.  The Police failure to prosecute in 2005 greatly undermined the authority of the electoral agencies who asked them to prosecute.  This would be a great step forward. I love the powers Finlayson has given it also.

The Greens and United Future should seriously look at supporting this SOP. It would be nice if Labour did also, but they were the prime beneficiaries of the Police incompetence or timidness last election, so may not be motivated to do so.

Finally we have SOP 166 from Chris Finlayson. This has several dozen substantive amendments – none of them are fillybusters.  They include:

  1. Change start date to 1 April 2008
  2. Rename third party to interest group
  3.  Make clear a periodical can not include a political party publication
  4. change the massively wide definition of publish back to close to the 1993 Electoral Act definition (would exempt placards, Usenet posts, etc)
  5. change the regulated period back to the traditional 90 days
  6. deletes the definition of election advertisement which includes advocating for or against a class of party or candidate, by just referring to policies (ie support parties which support Kyoto would now not be an ad)
  7. widens the exemption for blogs to all personal political views on the Internet
  8. changes the thresholds and limits for third party advertising to those recommended by the Electoral Commission
  9. corrects a drafting error which could be interpreted as accidentially reducing the limit for parties from $2.4 million to $1.4 million (it comes down to using “plus” instead of “and”)
  10. Brings in CPI indexing of various donation and spending limits (in a very well worded new Part)
  11. Allows political parties, not just individuals, to be sued under the Act

It will be very interesting to see how some of the minor parties vote on these amendments.  Are the Greens going to vote against extending the blog exemption to all personal political views on the Internet?
Each amendment is voted on one after another within each Part of the Bill, so it is hard to keep up with which amendments have been accepted.  Generally all the Government ones get accepted and none of the Opposition ones, but some of Finlayson’s may get through.

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20 Responses to “The amendments”

  1. Lindsay Addie (1,164 comments) says:

    One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Finlayson has a much deeper understanding of electoral law than anyone in the Labour Party.

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  2. Inventory2 (10,170 comments) says:

    Agreed Lindsay – Finlayson’s performance has been a real positive for National throughout the EFB debacle. He will add much value to their front bench.

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  3. PaulL (5,983 comments) says:

    There is no real way that anybody can make a good assessment of these changes in time to vote on them. In theory the Labour party might, but I suspect that very few of their MPs have seen them before either. The minor parties simply don’t have the talent to read and understand them in time, and who knows what new problems they introduce. The select committee ones must have had at least some cross-party discussion in the select committee, and look at the problems they introduced.

    I expect that many of these will get passed, and that many of them will cause problems of one sort or another.

    Pity National didn’t put up an amendment banning all anonymous donations over $1000. The minor parties might have voted for that – it would have shown Labour’s amendment up for being the self serving shambles that it is.

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  4. Craig Ranapia (1,915 comments) says:

    Gee, DPF, what up with giving credit when you think there are features of the Government amendments that aren’t so bad? Haven’t you been paying attention to Sonic et. al. — you’re just a ‘dog-whistling’, ‘scare-mongering’ right-wing prick whose real agenda is to allow National to buy elections!

    Now lift your bloody game, or I’ll have to send 20,000 volts through your VRWC mind-control chip (sponsored by the Exclusive Brethren, Business Round Table, New Zealand Herald & various golf clubs)!

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  5. dave (986 comments) says:

    I dont think it is a good idea to rename a third party as an interest group, given that an individual can register as a third party. However in terms of all personal poiltical views on the internet does that mean that If I write a comment to a NZ Herald story and they publish it on site, is that captured by the bill if the story is not on of the blogs?

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  6. ghostwhowalks (389 comments) says:

    Taito Phillip Field was casting his vote ( via labour) FOR Finlaysons admendments.

    Does that mean National offered him a new bathroom..
    and the only thing he got from labour was a flick with a wet towel

    [DPF: And still no analysis, only smears. You're a class act]

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  7. David Farrar (1,871 comments) says:

    As the Herald publishes it, not you, they are exempt.

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  8. Zippy Gonzales (485 comments) says:

    OK, not fillibusting ;-)

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  9. Tina (687 comments) says:

    But this is NZ….watch the Nats claim victory then roll over.

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  10. Buggerlugs (1,609 comments) says:

    Everyone’s trying it! From today’s Capital Times:

    “STUDENTS are alarmed at a Victoria University policy shift they say will restrict free speech.
    The university is preparing to get tough on students with new regulations that will restrict peaceful protest and stifle political protest at the university, says Student President Geoff Hayward…
    …A change to VUW’s Policy on Student Protests – under clause 4.6 Involvement by VUW of Police and other external parties – will allow people other than Vice Chancellor Pat Walsh to call police onto campus. Formerly, this was a power held only by the vice chancellor.”

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  11. Kent Parker (449 comments) says:

    I hope we are not going to need a law degree/employ a lawyer in order to conduct politics during election year.

    My guess is rather than repeal the EFB, National will amend it to simplify it when they are in govt.

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  12. milo (538 comments) says:

    David, you’ve missed something, I think.

    There seems to be a big change in SOP 163, page 5 to third party expenditure restrictions. Instead of applying for the regulated period, they now apply for the “same campaign” or the “same general election”.

    What does this mean? Does it mean that third party restrictions now apply for the entire term of the government? Does it mean that the cap now applies to all campaigns against the government over the whole three year term? Or is it intended to free up campaigning, allowing multiple campaigns on multiple issues? It’s clear as mud at the moment … great way to change our constitution, eh?

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  13. Grant McKenna (1,157 comments) says:

    I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.

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  14. Insolent Prick (417 comments) says:

    Ghostie, is the same Taito Phillip Field whom Michael Cullen, after the Ingram Inquiry, claimed was “guilty of nothing other than being helpful”, yet is now facing charges of lying to the Ingram inquiry?

    Taito Phillip Field is still in Parliament because Labour dragged out the process of holding him to account for as long as possible. Now you’re suggesting he took bribes from National in the way he casts his vote–which, by the way, is a proxy held by the Labour whip?

    DPF, that kind of defamation has to be worth some demerit points, at least.

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  15. Rex Widerstrom (5,327 comments) says:

    IP, with respect I think it’s by now probably impossible to defame TPF ;-)

    Grant McKenna: best laugh of the day so far!

    As for the amendment banning anonymous in-kind donations, there goes my plan to deliver some of Australia’s yummy uranium to certain political parties to assist with their fund raising efforts and simulataneously do my bit to help rebalance the trade deficit. Damn!

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  16. roger nome (4,067 comments) says:

    <blockquote>The requirement to have a name and address on “election advertisements” is changed from “persons” to promoters”. This in fact changes very little, as any person who makes a statement advocating support for or against a party becomes a promoter. If you post to Usenet “Don’t vote National as they hate workers”, then you are a promoter and need a name and address on the post.</blockquote>

    Except DPF you overlook the point you made moments before, that….

    <blockquote>allows the electoral authorities to not report breaches to the Police if inconsequential.</blockquote>

    If anything could be deemed to be “inconsequential”, surely an anonymous Usenet post is such a thing. So if anybody actually bothers to complain about such a comment – it will be ignored, just as most of your analysis of this bill should be.

    [DPF: Ha my analysis of the Bill has resulted in more changes than almost anyone else. I get second most mentions in the Departmental report. But anyway ignoring your usual pitiful distraction, to the substance:

    The issue is why not have a better law without needing to rely on discretion for prosecution. Can you point to any downside of voting for Finlayson's amendment? No. Would it make the law much clearer for thousands of NZers? Yes. Then do it. Of course the Police will not prosecute this sort of offence, but that doesn't mean you're not still breaking the law if you ignore it, and many people don't want to break the law. This is hard for you to understand but for some of us, it is not fear of prosecution which makes us obey the law - it is called being a good citizen. But the moral obligation to be a good citizen and not break laws is diminished when you have daft laws like this one]

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  17. roger nome (4,067 comments) says:

    “This is hard for you to understand but for some of us, it is not fear of prosecution which makes us obey the law – it is called being a good citizen.”

    Fist you imply that I’m a criminal (is that defamation?), and then you try and tell me that you crap your pants every time you go 101 kmph down a highway. Get a grip DPF.

    I admit that the quip at the end of my last comment was a bit glib. But seriously – you already had thought about my point hadn’t you? But it’s a bout point scoring for you – that’s why you didn’t mention it in your analysis.

    ” Can you point to any downside of voting for Finlayson’s amendment?”

    If you’re talking about “7″, of course it’s reasonable, and I would support it. The only thing is that it wouldn’t make a material difference, s I’m not overly worried about it.

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  18. Rex Widerstrom (5,327 comments) says:

    DPF says:

    for some of us, it is not fear of prosecution which makes us obey the law – it is called being a good citizen

    Oh please. I know you qualified that by saying a daft law like this makes it hard to resist law breaking but this law isn’t daft, David, it’s insidious. No one in Australia to whom I’ve related the provisions of the Bill can believe it. Even those who voted Labor a couple of weeks back are asking whether they’ve unleased a genie (unlikely, I think).

    I’d argue, as Gandhi did, that it’s our duty to not co-operate with unfair laws.

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  19. pete (428 comments) says:

    Can you point to any downside of voting for Finlayson’s amendment?

    The problem with #7 is that there are three amendments to clause 5:

    (1) remove the silly “blogs” part — good idea.
    (2) allow documents published in accordance with statutory requirements — fine.

    (3) open a huge fucking loophole where any ad that doesn’t explicitly mention a party or candidate is exempt — this would be the downside.

    I notice in a later thread (Greens vote to outlaw anonymous advocacy on the Internet) you misrepresent the amendment as being just (1).

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  20. Pascal (2,015 comments) says:

    Rex Widerstrom: No one in Australia to whom I’ve related the provisions of the Bill can believe it.

    I’ve shown this bill to five Americans, two Fins, three Englishmen and a lady from Korea and all of them are aghast that a western nation, one who upholds democracy, would introduce such a bill. Most of them thought I was joking or playing a prank on them. That’s how funny this is to the outside world.

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