Oral Submission on the Electoral Finance Bill

Well I’m just back from making my oral submission on the Electoral Finance Bill.  Can’t complain at all about the treatment – all the questions were useful ones, and we went significantly over my allocated 15 minutes (mainly as I got long winded explaining how the bill wouldn’t even stop the Exclusive Brethren).

Anyway my oral submission is below.  I was on one after Nicky Hager and got to very briefly meet him afterwards. I imagine his submissions will be the main part of any reports.

Oral Submission of David Farrar on the Electoral Finance Bill

I’d like to make just three points, and then move on to questions.

Firstly I think it would be incredibly unfortunate for this bill to pass into law without there having been a public policy process and debate, especially on the third party provisions.  I am astonished that a law which seeks to restrict political speech of non parliamentarians can emerge from the Government without even a single public policy document on which is it based.

Minor areas of law such as digital copyright often have three or four rounds of public consultation, before a bill based on agreed policy emerges.  And here we are not talking a minor area of law, but arguably our most vital constitutional Act.  Where are the policy papers, the options papers, the forums, the consultation, the attempt at consensus?  These are all meant to happen before, not after, a bill is introduced into Parliament.

To proceed without this process, greatly risks angering the public, which the April 2007 Colmar Brunton poll found to be against greater third party restrictions and in favour of banning anonymous and trust donations – the exact opposite of this Bill.

Secondly I wish to briefly talk about the Exclusive Brethren.  Their activities are often cited as the rationale for this Bill.  Well I have some bad news.  While this Bill will make participation in the political process near impossible for most New Zealanders, it will still allow the Exclusive Brethren to spend $500,000 urging people to vote against the parties they don’t like.  This Bill is so badly drafted it doesn’t even achieve its primary goal.  I’ll be happy to answer questions in a minute on how this works.

Finally though can I address the most important issue for the – that of enforcement – and the area where sadly the Bill doesn’t make any significant change.  If you do proceed with the Bill, then please please remove the Police as the enforcement agency for the Electoral Act.

There were massive breaches of the Electoral Act in 2005, and the Police investigation into them can only be described as abysmally incompetent.  They got the most basic details wrong and made blunder under blunder. And the final result was a terrible undermining of the unsung heroes of elections – our specialist electoral agencies.

National effectively pleaded guilty to the $100,000 over commitment of broadcasting funds.  They wrote to the Electoral Commission saying “We accept responsibility”.  The Electoral Commission wrote to the Police saying Please prosecute them, and there is no doubt National should have been prosecuted.  But the Police didn’t.

And even worse was Labour’s over spending.  The Chief Electoral Officer three times warned Labour prior to the election about the pledge card being considered an electoral advertisement. His advice was ignored, and he asked the Police to prosecute.  And they failed to even take the case to court.  I can’t think of an action which more undermines the authority of the Chief Electoral Officer, than having his explicit warnings disregarded and no action occurring.

So please consider this.  If the Police were not up to the job of even being able to decide if a pledge card “Encourages or persuades or appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote for a party, how on Earth do we think they would cope with this new Act, where they have to decide whether a particular proposition is associated with a political party or not. 

The Police do an excellent job in many areas.  But electoral enforcement is not one of them, and again if you proceed please transfer the power of enforcement to the Electoral Commission.  It will at least ensure cases get to be heard by a Judge.

Very happy to now take questions.

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