Labour/Greens on electoral finance reform

September 29th, 2009 at 5:28 pm by David Farrar

Just going to respond to press releases from Labour and the Greens on electoral finance reform. Now to some degree it is no surprise they disagree with some of the details in the proposal document. But it is useful to put their comments into context and recent history.

First Labour’s David Parker:

The Government is happy to consult on aspects of electoral law reform that suits it, and won’t look at changes to the donations regime that might disadvantage National, says Labour Electoral Reform Spokesperson David Parker.

First of all I must point out the Government in which Mr Parker served did no consultation on electoral law reform prior to introducing legislation. Yep, zero zip.

Mr Power has consulted all parties over the issues paper, consulted the public on the issues paper and is now giving both parties and the public an opportunity to give feedback on the proposal paper.

So the hypocrisy from Mr Parker is immense. It is also wrong.

The Electoral Finance Reform Proposal issued by Justice Minister Simon Power today shows he is determined to retain the regime governing donations to constituency candidates and political parties even though it became clear at the last election that the rules do not achieve transparency, David Parker said.

Mr Parker does not seem to know what a multi-stage consultation process is. That is because Labour never did them.

The first stage was the issues paper where people could havetheir say on issues, without any idea of the Government’s thinking.

The second stage is the proposal paper, where the Government says this is what we think should happen, but we want your feedback. In some cases they identify options.

The Government has said it proposes no change to the donations law, and the public and parties can give feedback on that before they make a final decision. That is consultation – again Mr Parker may be unfamiliar with the concept.

“Unfortunately, the current regime on donations doesn’t promote transparency. Labour included the regime in good faith in the Electoral Finance Act 2007, but it failed to achieve its purpose.

This is worth stressing. The regime Mr Parker is so bitterly complaining about is one his party passed into law less than two years ago.  Now how about the claim it has failed to get transparency:

“This was shown by the low rates of disclosure by both major parties. National disclosed the source of just $130,000 in donations and Labour just $420,000, though both spent more than $2 million each. This is clearly not transparent.”

Mr Parker is having 2+2=5. He is like the cop who demands tougher powers to search premises, and upon not finding any drugs there, cites it as proof they must be elsewhere and wants even greater powers.

The intent of the donations disclosure regime is to identify the source of any donations that could be large enough to be though to purchase influence. Personally I reckon you need $50,000 before you start to get inflluence but the the law for the last 15 years or so has been set at the lower limit of $10,000. I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument to break the privacy of supporters who gives say $1,000 considering that represents 0.02% of a party’s election spending. Even $10,000 is (for a major party) only 0.2% of a party’s election spending.

Even putting aside that argument, how about the complaint that very few donations were declared in 2008. Well there is a very obvious reasons for that. Many donations normally made in election year, were made in 2007 before the increased transparency (which I supported) requirements came in.

In other words if Mr Parker is patient enough to wait until the next election, he may find a higher level of donations disclosed.

Incidentially I do favour some tightening of the limits. I advocated getting rid of the provision for parties to received up to $240,000  in anonymous donations through the Electoral Commission. Mr Parker does not support getting rid of that, I believe.

I also think a disclosure level over a three year term, not just annually, should also be introduced. But that is a debate for another day.

David Parker said Labour strongly believed there should be public comment on potential improvements to the existing disclosure regime.

“But while the proposal paper seeks submissions on other issues, National has clearly already made up its mind on the donations regime because it suits their purposes.”

There are a number of areas where I intend to submit against the Government’s proposed option. That is the whole pointof seeking feedback on a proposal paper.

Finally I must point out how Labour responded when there was real proof of inappropriate donations. The Serious Fraud Office revealed that the Foreign and Racing Minister in the Labour-led Government had received tens of thousands of dollars in personal donations (to pay his court costs) from a source in the racing industry which had greatly benefited by the Minister’s advocacy of extra funding for the industry.

What did Labour do when the SFO revealed this? They complained bitterly about the actions of the SFO. ANd what did then PM Clark say in response to questions in the house? She said she had not had the time to read the report.

So in case anyone thinks there is anything remotely sincere about Labour’s position, think again.

Then we have Metiria Turei:

Metiria of course voted for the EFA and voted against abolishing it. The Greens never used their power to force Labour to consult on the EFB before it was introduced. Their credibility on these issues is much dented after that.

“It is vital that New Zealand’s democracy cannot be bought by big business.

Funnily enough if you look at the spending at the last election campaign, there was masses of spending by lots of unions but no spending from any businesses or business groups. The only purchasing of democracy has been from the left.

But the whole notion of “purchasing” democracy is bumper slogan politics, rather than rational analysis. The relationship between the amount a party spends and the vote they get is pretty weak. As an example Labour spent more than National last election and got whacked. ACT spent more than the Greens and got under half the vote.

“One of our key concerns is that National’s proposals will not stop political parties secretly giving money to third parties to run campaigns,” said Mrs Turei.

Now we get the paranoia. First they worry about third parties donating to political parties, but now they are worried about political parties having so much money they will give it away to third parties to spend.

I’ve yet to meet a political party that gives away its money. Do the Greens have any examples of when this has happened?

If a third party runs expensive ads in a campaign, I am sure the media will ask who is behind that third party, and where did the money come from. And if the third party refuses to say, well the public are pretty good with this stuff, and will tend to punish those involved.

In the 2005 election, the Exclusive Brethren ran a secret $1 million dollar campaign against the Green Party.

From their own money. Or is Metiria saying she thinks National were secretly funding the Exclusive Brethren?

“Another problem is that donations to political parties under $10,000 can be kept secret – the public has a right to know who is giving their MPs money.

Yes, but at what level. As I said $10,000 is 0.2% of an election campaign for a major party and maybe 0.5% for a minor party. Are the Greens saying you can get “favours” for such a small amount?

The Greens of course have an agenda. They find raising money a hassle, as do all parties. They think taxpayers should be forced to fund their political party. And the best way of doing that is setting the disclosure threshold for donations so low, that fewer people donate voluntarily so they can force everyone to donate to them compulsorily through their taxes.

“We are also concerned about the proposal to allow anyone to run electoral ads on TV and radio, as this would lead to the airways being saturated in electoral ads paid for by wealthy special interest groups,” said Mrs Turei.

Consider what they are really saying here. They are saying that in an election campaign, they do not want anyone who wants to criticise a party, to be able to do so through a broadcast medium. They are saying that only political parties should be able to have their voices heard on broadcast medium. Even worse they are saying that only political parties funded by the taxpayer can have their voice heard, while individuals or organisation who want to use their own funds, are banned from the airwaves.

Such defenders of free speech.

“We don’t want to end up like the US where negative campaign ads paid for by big business dominate the airways.”

Ironically almost everything the Greens propose takes us closer to the US system of political finance. It is the limit on donations to parties and candidates that has shifted the spending to the lobby groups.

Oh and their constant bogeyman of big business is tiresome. Again in NZ there were no business funded election ads, but plenty of union ones. And in the US last election the left massively outspent the right.

Again it would be nice to see some sensible analysis rather than slogans.

The Government’s proposals do not include the option of a fixed election date.

A fixed date would provide certainty for the public and political parties, said Mrs Turei, there is no good reason not to have one. The only reason not to fix the election date was to give an advantage to the Government of the day.

Now I agree with Metiria that there should be a fixed election date. But to be fair to the Govt, this is a consultation on finance issues, not wider electoral issues. A change to a fixed election date is a fairly major constitutional issue. It is one I support but probably needs its own workstream.

Tags: , , , ,

Electoral Finance details

September 28th, 2009 at 2:28 pm by David Farrar

Here are the major proposals or options from the proposal document.

Broadcasting Allocation

Option 1 is the status quo of $3.2 million for political parties that can only be spent on broadcasting, and parties can not buy additional time.

Option 2 is moderate reform where the allocation can be spent in any advertising medium, and parties may buy additional broadcasting time.

Option 3 is significant reform where the funds can be spent on any purpose (not just election advertising) plus parties may buy additional broadcasting time.

Personally I would restrict access to the allocation to non parliamentary parties, but that is not an option.

Option 3 is effectively state funding of political parties, so I am not in favour. If we are to have taxpayer funds supplied, they should be for the express purpose of election advertising, not to pay people to administer the party.

I support Option 2 then, as it is the fairest, allowing parties to purchase time beyond their allocation and also allowing them a choice of medium.

I would suggest the amount allocated be set in legislation (and inflation adjusted) so a future Government can not just double or triple the amount allocated.

I was pleased to see the paper say:

While some submissions on the issues paper supported an increase in state funding to political parties, many submissions considered there was no case for additional state funding to political parties at the current time, particularly in light of the donations returns for the 2008 general election which demonstrate that some political parties are able to raise adequate private funds for their campaigning.

That was a point I made – the empirical evidence from 2008 is that there is sufficient private funding.

Parliamentary Service Funding

No change at this stage just  a desire to harmonise definitions of electioneering. I still believe the best way forward is to prohibit PS funding of any advertising during the regulated period.

Private Donations

No change. This is not entirely surprising. Personally I would have got rid of the ability to donate anonymously through the Electoral Commission.

This means the law passed by Labour and the Greens, as it applies to donations, will remain in force.

Campaign expenditure limits

The Government has decided in principle that the limits for party spending (currently $2.4 million effectively) and constituency spending (currently $20,000) should increase. They are seeking feedback on what level they should be set at, and also a desired mechanism to adjust the amount for future elections.

If you inflation and population adjust back to 1995, and include the $1 million broadcasting allocation then the party limit would be close to $5 million. I think $50,000 is around what you need at electorate level to be able to do even a basic campaign. That is a bit over $1/voter only.

Ideally the limits should be calculated using research on how much one needs to spend to reach x% of the population with a frequency of y.

Future increases should be based on inflation and population growth.

Regulated Campaign Period

Four options

  1. Starts on Writ Day. This means a period of around five weeks. Would give PM’s party a huge advantage as they could spend up large before writ day knowing when it will be before others do. Mind you I doubt any party would come close to spending up to the limit for such a short period.
  2. Starts on 1 August in the scheduled election year. This is my preferred option.
  3. Starts on 1 May in the scheduled election year. I think this is too far out as it covers the period of the Government’s Budget and you don’t really hit campaign mode until after that.
  4. The status quo of three months before the election. My least favoured option as it means you are halfway through the regulated period before knowing exactly when it starts.

The paper also canvasses two options for snap elections. Either have it retrospective to three montsh before the election date, or have it from the date of the announcement (which I favour).

Election Advertising

Definition will be based on 1993 Act’s definition of seeking to influence voting behaviour, and will be media neutral. It will not include policy advocacy that does not mention parties.

Exemptions will include media, personal correspondence between individuals, low cost merchandise (pens etc), personal opinions published on the Internet (or by text messaging), website maintained by parties and candidates and parallel campaigners (if registered), and anything put out by electoral agencies.

This seems quite good. The website exemption may seem strange to some, but it is hideous trying to work out what portion of a site is an advertisement and further it is a passive medium which people seek out – it is not like advertising that is displayed to people who are not seeking it.

All adverts will have name and full daytime address (but need not be home).

Parallel Campaigning

Two options.

The first is a “proportionate” regulatory scheme that has a high registration threshold and overall expenditure limits. Registered campaigners will not have to disclose donations to them as per the EFA. Registration restricted to NZ citizens, residents and organisations.

The second option is the status quo. No registration but you must identify yourself. This could possibly include restricting advertising to NZ citizens, residents and organisations.

While the first options is considerably superior to what was in the EFA, I am not convinced there is enough of a problem to change from the status quo. There was very little third party spending in 2008 and the main problem in 2005 was the lack of transparency by the Exclusive Brethren, not the fact they spent money.

Some will argue as parties have a limit, so should non parties. But the argument against that is the voting public will tend to discount the message anyway, if they perceive an inappropriate amount of money is being spent on a campaign. The public should be trusted – even the 15% who think Hillary is alive!

At the end of the day I think the spending by the EB helped the left, more than it harmed them.

Broadcast advertising by parallel campaigners

Two options again. The status quo is no spending is allowed. The other option is to allow parallel campaigners to advertise on TV and radio if there is a system of “proportionate regulation”.

I don’t like having to choose between two restrictions. I would prefer no need to register, and being able to spend on TV and radio.

The ability to gain access to TV and radio advertising might make the option of proportionate regulation of parallel campaigners more attractive for some.

Monitoring and Compliance

Electoral Agencies to be merged as detail in previous post. Best of all the new agency will be able to advise parties and candidates as to what constitutes an election advertisment.

No changes to penalties or time limits, and I presume (sadly) the Police will retain the prosecution function.

Overall it is a good document. There are definitely some things I do not agree with, but they have generally made quite sensible decisions, and the options outlined are workable models. Of course of high interest will be which option they choose!

Tags: , , ,

Superb Electoral Finance Reform Submission

July 2nd, 2009 at 2:28 pm by David Farrar

I’ve been sent a copy of a superb 85 page submission on the Government’s Electoral Finance Reform process.

It’s been authored by four young lawyers and law students and the quality of their research and arguments is first class – they have 157 citations in the submission and make a strong argument for a lightly regulated system. I don’t agree with them, of course, on every point but I admire the scores of hours of work that must have gone in to produce such an excellent submission.

They make a strong case for anonymous political speech, citing important political works published under a pseudonym such as the famous Federalist papers published by Publius. Actual authors turned out to be 4th President James Madison, 1st Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and 1st Chief Justice John Jay.

On spending limits, they make the point that Obama outspent McCain by $397 million but there are no indications that US citizens think this made Obama’s election unfair.

I won’t do the paper justice by trying to summarise it, but I would recommend those with an interest in this issue read it. You won’t agree with all of their positions, but I hope like me you’ll regard it as a wonderfully well researched and argued submission.

Tags: ,

Electoral Funding Issues Seminar

May 27th, 2009 at 8:45 am by David Farrar

There is a seminar in Wellington on Friday for those interested in electoral funding issues. I encourage interested persons to attend. It is from 1 pm to 2 pm so can be done on your lunch break.

Transparency International (NZ), School of Government and the Institute of Policy Studies iInvites you to a seminar presented by Associate Professor Andrew Geddis, Faculty of Law, University of Otago on

The Regulation of Electoral Funding in New Zealand: What are the big issues?

Associate Professor Andrew Geddis teaches at the University of Otago, and has a particular research interest in the field of electoral law. He is the author of Electoral Law in New Zealand: Practice and Policy, as well as numerous articles on the regulation of election funding.

Friday 29 May 2009
1.00 – 2pm
Railway West Wing 501
RSVP to yvette.blades@vuw.ac.nz

I’ll be there.

Tags: ,

State funding of political parties

May 26th, 2009 at 10:04 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Prime Minister John Key says he is “not completely closed” to the prospect of using more public funding to run political parties and their campaigns – an apparent softening of National’s vehement opposition to such suggestions in the past.

The question of public funding of parties is one of the central issues of a review of electoral finance law to find a replacement to the now repealed Electoral Finance Act.

First of all, I would not read too much into this. As state funding is within the terms of consultation on electoral financing, he is not ruling it out in advance. This is a good thing as it means the consultation is not a sham.

But it should ring some small warning bells. If you are oppossed to further state funding of parties, then don’t rely on MPs to be against it. Have you say. I will blog next week some further encouragement on this.

Currently, the only state funding for party campaigns is about $3 million in broadcasting allocation to registered parties for election advertising on television and radio.

That is the only direct funding. But parties also gain considerable indirect benefits from being in Parliament – they gain budgets, staff, travel for MPs etc etc. Now this is for parliamentary purposes and I do not advocate it should be reduced. But I think one should recognise there is a political benefit also from this funding. Bryce Edwards will comment no doubt in more detail on this.

If there is a case for taxpayer funding, my inclinations are that it should go to the small parties not in Parliament, to give them an opportunity to have their voices heard at election time. I don’t see a case for giving more money to parliamentary parties that already have a huge advantage over parties not in Parliament.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said his party supported at least partial public funding and limits on how much one donor could donate to ensure parties were not dependent on a few wealthy donors.

This excuse holds little sway with me. So long as one has transparency, you can see if a party is dependent on a few wealthy donors and voters can judge that party accordingly. What Noram advocates will actually led to a US style dirty money system where donation limits leads to less transparency as donations go into third parties, or major donors become recruiters of other donors instead. Transparency and simplicity are far preferable that the US system of dirty money that Norman advocates (even if he doesn’t realise that is what he advocates).

It said supporters believed it would limit “actual or perceived corruption or inappropriate influence” because parties would not be as dependent on private donors. It would also help ensure an even playing field for parties whose supporters were not wealthy.

Why stop at an even playing field on wealth. How about time? It is unfair that some parties have supporters who are too busy to volunteer at much time. We shoud have the state force everyone to volunteer the same amount of time to a party to keep it equal.

Also it is unfair some parties have more members than other parties. Who should Labour with 8,000 members get less money than National with close to 40,000?

Many countries where parties do get money from the taxpayer have tighter restrictions on donations, including limiting the amount one person can give and prohibiting donations from corporations and trade unions.

The problem with this, is that most union support is in staff time – not money. During an election campaign hundreds of union staff are unofficially given time off to campaign for Labour and sometimes the Greens. They put up hoardings, supply union vehicles, deliver, door knock etc.

Tags: ,

Edwards on the axed electoral review

February 16th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Academic Bryce Edwards has a very well researched post on the axed Labour/Greens electoral review. Edwards is no National supporter, having worked for the hard left Alliance for several years – which makes his research and conclusions all the more powerful. I urge people to read the post in full, as it is too long to do justice here – plus he has many apt cartoons to illustrate it. But some key points:

This blog post examines what was behind the review, and why the exercise was always going to be more about window dressing than democracy. Although expert panels and citizens’ forums are not without merit, when compared to similar exercises carried out elsewhere, the planned Labour-Green model for New Zealand was designed to be incredibly weak and undemocratic. What’s more the process by which it was brought about was just as poor as the one that produced the EFA.

Labour and the Greens called its a citizens’ forum – but as you will see it was merely a means to an end – more taxpayer funding.

The Greens strategy on political finance reform entirely backfired in 2007, and the party has had to face up to the public derision – especially because the Greens were complicit in such an appalling and anti-democratic process. For the Greens their advocacy of the review was a cynical attempt to avoid apologizing for the damage done. But worse, the whole Citizens’ Forum was actually also quite a con.

And they still hold out the EFA to be better that its predeccesor!

Second, rather than having any teeth or real power, the review was designed to be purely advisory. For example, the Citizens’ Forum was merely given the task to produce a report for the Expert Panel to read. Such a report ‘may’ then have helped inform the report that the Expert Panel was going to write. And even then, this final report was also merely advisory, and the terms of reference stated that the Minister was then able to choose to accept any elements of it or reject it entirely. (And as we saw with other expert advice tendered to Labour and Greens – such as the Human Rights Commission, Law Commission on the EFA – if it’s not ‘the right advice’ it can be easily brushed aside.)

This part is quite crucial, and I did not even realise it until I read Bryce’s post. The Citizens’ Forum had no power. The main power lay with the hand picked Expert Panel.

Compare this to the British Columbia example where a citizens’ forum was established to look at the voting system. In this case, the established rules of the citizen forum said that ‘If the Assembly recommended a system different from the current system, its recommendation would be placed on the ballot at the next provincial election as a referendum item’ (Snider, 2008). The widely-referred to Ontario citizens’ forum had similar powers.

The Greens kept referring to the Canadian experiences, but as Bryce has detailed what the tried to implement in NZ was a sham with no actual powers at all – it was just political cover.

Essentially, the Citizens’ Forum was to have no role in making recommendations to either the public or the Government. Instead, any outcomes from the Citizens’ Forum would be filtered through the Expert Panel. The official terms of reference made it very clear that it was the Expert Panel body that was to come up with the proposals and options for any change, then educate the Citizens’ Forum on these, and then merely ‘consider the report of the Citizens’ Forum’ while making their own decisions.

I’m kicking myself for not realising how the Greens and Labour had structured this. The lesson for the future is to ignore any names or terms they use, and look at the fine print.

This situation was clearly quite some distance from what the Greens’ Metiria Turei presented it as, when she said in Parliament that the Expert Panel ‘would do a great deal of work preparing information and support systems for the Citizens’ Assembly’.

Much of the Government’s propaganda also tried to obscure the neutered nature of the Citizens’ Forum. The Labour blog ‘08 Wire’ attempted to sell the exercise by incorrectly describing the subservience around the wrong way: ‘the expert panel’s role is basically to do a lot of the (very important) donkey work for the Citizens’ Forum, while the Citizens’ Forum makes all the big decisions’.

But the terms of reference were very clear, and Panel Chair Assoc Prof Andrew Geddis was very unambiguous, saying that the Expert Panel would set the work programme for the Citizens’ Forum. And the Minister, Annette King said the Expert Panel and Citizens’ Forum would only provide an independent, non-political ‘perspective’ on the reform options.

And if either of these groups came up with anything disagreeable, well the public would never get a vote on them.

My concern about the Citizens’ Assembly is that it may be an expensive piece of window dressing, yet another one of those carefully guided sham consultations with the great unwashed public to simply avoid the charge that the public haven’t been consulted.

Indeed, it was to allow Labour and Greens to vote themselves increased taxpayer funding, and claim the public have been consulted on it.

Clearly, since 2005 the Labour and Green parties have taken the vital issue of political finance and electoral law and tried to politicize it for partisan advantage. By arrogantly assuming that they possessed the moral high ground, these parties claimed the right to change the electoral rules. This is fine – essentially it’s ‘victor’s law’ – the baubles of power. But they shouldn’t have turned around and pretended otherwise. And they shouldn’t have pretended that this is a basis on which to build enduring and robust policy and law.

Labour at least appear to have recognised the danger of continuing down this road.

It was therefore not surprising that the Greens tried to fast track the review process to start and be set up before the election, so that National wouldn’t be able to influence it. It was reported that ‘Russel Norman said the party wanted the [Citizens’ Forum] assembly running before the election so it was harder to derail if there was a change of government’ (Trevett, 5 June 2008).

Oh yes, can’t let an election change anything.

In appointing the so-called Expert Panel, the Government and Greens showed that they learnt nothing from the awful EFA process. Obviously, the question of ‘Who gets to appoint the independent panel and set the terms of reference’ would be vital, yet it was stitched up behind closed doors. There were no calls for nominations from the public, and no discussions with other political parties (although the Greens had a strong backroom role in determining who to appoint).

I made this point at the time – it was vital all parties be consulted over the composition of the panel. But again – all done in a private deal.

There should be no doubt that the selection of Associate Professor Andrew Geddis as the chair of the Expert Panel was a very sensible one. Geddis is the number one expert in electoral law. But there also shouldn’t be any doubt that they chose someone with a bias in favour of direct state funding – Geddis had often written supportively of state funding.

Indeed. You would be stupid not to have Geddis on the panel, as he is an expert in this area. But the panel should have been balanced with one or more people who are more sceptical of state funding.

In fact one of the biggest cons of the sham process was the fine print in the terms of reference, which specifically excluded the Citizens’ Forum from examining the current parliamentary funding of political parties. This is, of course, exactly the area of political finance in New Zealand that is most obscured, most influential on the parties, and most negative for the party system. Yet it is precisely this area that Labour and the Greens don’t want the public (or even the experts) sticking their noses into.

Indeed. The advantages of being an incumbent party is huge. Only the ACT Party has managed (since MMP) to enter Parliament without already having an incumbent MP or MPs.

Tags: , , ,

Hypocrisy from the Greens

November 29th, 2008 at 10:09 am by David Farrar

Frog is complaining that National has ditched the panel that was set up by Labour and the Greens to get them state funding of political parties.

Labour appointed the panel, without any consultation with National. This was inappropriate. In fact Green co-leader Russel Norman blogged that he agreed with me such appointments should not just be made by the Government of the Day.

If you and you mates act in a blatant self serving partisan manner, don’t be surprised when the new Government doesn’t feel any need to respect those decisions.

Personally I am a fan of citizen’s juries having a role to play in electoral issues. But the experts panels that advise such juries must not be unilaterally selected by the Government of the Day. By doing so, you can almost guarantee the outcome – and that is what the Greens and Labour tried to do – set up a process that would introduce their cherished dream of full taxpayer funding.

Tags: , ,

Labour never learn

September 5th, 2008 at 4:51 pm by David Farrar

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Also ironically Andrew Geddis now is the victim of something he advocated against:

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.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Electoral corruption allegations in Australia

March 17th, 2008 at 2:31 pm by David Farrar

News.com.au reports on claims the Transport Workers Union (TWU) extorted money from transport companies and used it to bolster Labor Party election campaigning:

The Nine Network’s Sunday program reported the TWU had been accused of extorting money from transport companies and double-crossing its own members.

It said the union had been accused of extracting funds from companies and funnelling the money into a slush fund used to help re-elect New South Wales Labor MPs. …

The NSW MPs allegedly involved included Paul McLeay, Noreen Hay, Ageing and Disability Minister Kristina Keneally and Di Beamer.

The MPs had reportedly declared the funds to the NSW Election Funding Authority as having come from the union, but the union had not.

Readers will also recall how the trade union movement spent $10 million “buying” the election. And if these allegations are correct, it wasn’t even their own money!

Tags: , ,