The Electoral Finance Act 2007 (supported by amendments to the Broadcasting and Electoral Acts)
made a number of significant changes to the compliance requirements on political parties and
introduced compliance requirements for third parties beyond authorisation statements.
These changes have presented implementation and administrative challenges to all involved. The meanings of significant sections of the legislation are obscure. This situation has required – and will require – constant legal advice to assist with interpretation.
The commission is not confident that it will be able to reach informed positions on the interpretation of some provisions within the election period, and notes that the situation is exacerbated by the legal reality that it cannot finally determine questions of whether, for instance, an item is an election advertisement.
It is worth remembering that the Commission CEO actually warned the Government about this, before they passed the law.
The new legislation was enacted on 19 December 2007 with commencement the following day, and the regulated period commencing on 1 January 2008. This meant implementation planning and process development had to begin while the shape of the final legislation was unclear. The significant changes to the Bill at select committee, and a lack of time between enactment and commencement also meant that interpretive and practical implications could not be worked through in advance of the law being in force. A lack of broad political consensus through the passage of the bill and since has resulted in difficult law delivered into a litigious environment.
In other words the law change was left too late (Labour delyed it for months while it secretly negotiatedprovisions of it), the changes at select committee needed more time to consider and it was done without even an attempt at political consensus, hence shattering the bipartisan approach to it in the past.
Similarly, parties, candidates and third parties (listed or not) have had to come to terms with the implications of the new legislation also. It is clear that having uncertainty remaining within the regulated period has had a chilling effect on the extent and type of participation in political and campaign activity.
This is what Dr Catt said to a seminar some time ago, but it has more significance when included in the official annual report to Parliament, signed off by the various Judges and Secretary of Justice who make up the Commission along with Dr Catt.
If Labour First are re-elected they will not only keep the Electoral Finance Act, but they will change it to make their taxpayer funded advertising exempt from it.