Labour have learnt nothing from the Electoral Finance Act. It was a partisan attempt to skew the electoral laws in their favour. And they have done it again their announcement of an expert panel to review electoral administration and political party funding.
Electoral law does not belong to Labour. It represents the basic constitution of our country. And once again they are desperately trying to bring in further state funding of political parties.
Labour have announced the expert panel just weeks out from a general election. That is bad enough and a breach of conventions. A panel which reviews electoral law is a bloody significant appointment. But they totally failed to consult the Opposition on its composition. Electoral law issues should be as bi-partisan as possible. Sure at the end of the day, parties may have to agree to disagree, but you do not start off the process by excluding the major Opposition party.
I made this point back in June, when the proposal was announced. I said:
- The independent experts must be chosen by a super majority of parliamentary parties, not just by the Government of the day. The formula which I like is that any appointments must be agreed to by party leaders representing over 75% of the MPs and over 50% of the parties in Parliament. This means that not only must both major parties agree, but so must at least half of the minor parties.
- The issues, terms of references and high level process must also be signed off by that super-majority. The most unforgivable crime that Labour and the Greens have done with the EFA is to treat electoral law as a bauble for the winner, rather than a bipartisan constitutional law.
- Issues referred to a Citizen’s Jury should be in totality, not just a narrow aspect such as taxpayer funding of political parties. It is ridicolous to exclude from consideration all the issues dealt with by the Electoral Finance Act. In fact the EFA should be abolished immediately upon a change of Government, and a citizen’s jury could be used as part of the process of consulting on and determining its replacement.
You see the concept of a panel of exports and a citizen’s jury is not without merit. But as usual Labour’s desperation to skew everything, destroys what should be a worthwhile endeavour. Now that was not just my view back in June, but also Green co-leader Russel Norman agreed partially with me:
David Farrar says some silly National Party things about the citz assembly but he also makes some good points over at Kiwiblog. He says the political party buyin should be as broad as possible – I agree with that but don’t know how to acheive it give the politicisation of the issue.
He also says that the terms of reference should be broad. I agree that they should be broader than simply ’state funding of parties’ but after talking to Jonathan Rose (an expert on citz assemblies) I’m not sure the ToR should be too broad. He says that if they’re too broad the assembly lacks focus. maybe there is a compromise in there somewhere.
So did Russel stand up to Labour and say don’t just appoint a panel without consulting the other parties. We insist you go to National and ask if they have any recommended panelists and what they think of the ones you propose? No they roll over, as usual:
“The Forum will provide much needed independence in the review of election funding”, Green Party Co-Leader Russel Norman says.
Independent? When the Government hand picks the panel that will advise them?
“While the Act was needed to close loopholes in the law revealed at the last election, we need a more inclusive and disinterested process to further consider the bigger picture of political party and election funding.
“We hope that all New Zealanders will support this process and that we can find a place to have some non-partisan reasoned discussion about the future of our democracy.”
Non-partisan??? Fuck all hope of that considering there was *zero* consultation with the Opposition.
Now I am not attacking the integrity of any the three panelists. I know two of them, and they have a lot to contribute in this area. However the Government has obviously chosen the panel, based on the known viewpoints of some of them. Associate Professor Geddis has written supportively of state funding on many occassions and in the Press described the issue as:
This failure to really debate the pros and cons of public funding is regrettable. The public was never given the choice of whether it would rather politicians get their money from large, hidden, private donations or taxpayer grants.
Now if the citizens assembly gets the choice described to them in that terms, I can guarantee you what they will say. Just as if you describe it as “Should parties raise their own money from volunteers and supporters or take it from unwilling taxpayers” you would get a quite different result from the assembly.
Now I am not saying Geddis, would put choices in as crude terms as he did in The Press article. He has written some very useful stuff on the issue. I am not even saying I would not have him on the panel. What I am saying is that the process has been tainted from the very beginning by the lack of consultation with the Opposition.
First, the failure to consult with opposition parties before introducing the Bill to the House leaves it vulnerable to allegations of partisanship. Electoral law should not be, nor be seen to be, a vehicle for one party to gain an advantage over others.
Geddis is right. Maybe he should have made a condition of his participation on the panel, being that the Government consult on its membership.
The panel and assembly should be terminated if there is a change of Government. However I would advocate that a National-led Government look at using a similiar mechanism in reviewing parts of the Electoral Act post-election. And they should consult with and get buy-in from all the parties on the composition and terms of reference of such a panel.