Herald on Catt

The Herald talks to retiring Electoral Commission CEO Helena Catt:

Tomorrow Dr Catt will head off for a more nomadic life of what she describes good-humouredly as “democracy-enhancing activities in the Pacific”.

First stop will be Vanuatu to help run a new civic education programme with the Australian Electoral Commission, largely funded by Australia’s aid agency, AusAid. She will also be working on the professional development of electoral administrators, trying to ensure the electoral processes in Pacific countries are robust enough to reduce reliance on overseas aid – Micronesia is on the list and Timor, probably in August.

A nice time to be in the Pacific 🙂

Her five years at the Electoral Commission spanned two of the more volatile elections in recent history.

The first, in 2005, involved the Exclusive Brethren and the Auditor-General later ruling some party spending of public money unlawful. That, combined with ongoing disquiet about anonymous donations and donations being squirrelled away in trusts led to the Electoral Finance Act in 2007.

It was at this point that Dr Catt became more widely known than electoral agency heads usually are after going public with concerns about the new law – rare for a public servant.

Dr Catt spoke out while the EFB was before Parliament still, and made the point that they would not know how to interpret parts of the proposed law, especially around the exemption for spending for parliamentary purposes as that had never been defined.

Labour’s problem was they were trying to legalise their pledge card and exempt it as an expense, but they did not wish to clearly state that in the law for fear of the backlash. So they left it undefined and had then Justice Minister Annette King give contradictory speeches as to what she thought it means. It was a farce.

Dr Catt said she spoke out because “it had to be said”.

It left her slightly battle scarred and was one of the reasons she decided not to remain.

Heh. Whle the 2011 election should be less trouble than 2008, the mere fact there will be a new set of rules will make it somewhat challenging.