Fran and Audrey on Electoral Law Changes

Audrey Young and Fran O’Sullivan on Saturday did a nice tag team effort on the Government over their proposed electoral law rorts reforms.

Audrey writes

The one thing that can be said of Labour’s handling of the sensitive issues of election spending and election funding is that it has been consistent – consistently poor.

The process smacked of self-interest at the outset, and the result has lived up to its promise: a series of proposals affecting disclosure of donations and restrictions on spending, which in relative terms advantages Labour over National.

And Fran:

Voters beware! Helen Clark’s Labour, the party that filched $800,000 of taxpayers’ money to pay for its 2005 election campaign, is trying to orchestrate a state-funded bailout using your money.

That’s the only possible conclusion a right-thinking person could draw from the contemptible abuse of process the ruling party is demonstrating with its behind-the-scenes machinations to get state funding for political parties in place for next year’s election.

You would think Labour would have learned some lessons from its public drubbing last year. It was ultimately forced to back down and pay back the $800,000. The grubby deal it is trying to negotiate with two minor parties has outraged the public.

But if New Zealand is to examine making a substantial shift to state funding to provide a bedrock for political parties, then it should be addressed by an authority that is independent of politics. Certainly not by a partisan Justice Minister. And not through grubby inter-party negotiations that do not include the ruling party’s opponents.

Undoubtedly there are complexities. National – and Labour – have received anonymous donations. National Party president Judy Kirk concedes her party is prepared for more open donor disclosure and will also need to dismantle the trust structures which are subject to abuse.

But Labour was itself propelled into power in 1999 on the back of some $824,000 of anonymous donations. Labour argues that dismantling anonymous donations will ensure that National can’t make any cash-for-policy deals. But that simply begs the question whether Labour gave its anonymous donors anything in return for their support.

The foreign-donor clampdown preserves Labour’s practice of hitting up businessmen like Owen Glenn, an expat who has not lived here for decades, for $500,000 donations. But it outlaws part-time residents, such as US businessman Julian Robertson, from contributing to National.

The third-party spending clampdown is aimed at the Exclusive Brethren. But it tramples our rights to free speech.

Labour wants the election campaign period backdated because National got its witty billboards up well before the last election. Such a clampdown will, however, give Labour an extraordinary opportunity to boost its policy profile by ramping up Government advertising while critics suffer in silence.

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