Okay let us look at some of the proposed amendments to the Electoral Finance Bill.
First SOP162 by Annette King.
- Deletes the “megaphone” paragraph which the Select Committee added on. This is a 100% backdown, which is good.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Electoral Finance Act 2007
- Broadcasting Amendment Act 2007
- Electoral Amendment Act 2007
One of the good things a future Government can do is to bring all the electoral law back under one Electoral Act. 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:
- Change start date to 1 April 2008
- Rename third party to interest group
- Make clear a periodical can not include a political party publication
- change the massively wide definition of publish back to close to the 1993 Electoral Act definition (would exempt placards, Usenet posts, etc)
- change the regulated period back to the traditional 90 days
- 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)
- widens the exemption for blogs to all personal political views on the Internet
- changes the thresholds and limits for third party advertising to those recommended by the Electoral Commission
- 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”)
- Brings in CPI indexing of various donation and spending limits (in a very well worded new Part)
- 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.