Return of the EFA

God I am pissed off. The Electoral (Finance and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill has been reported back, and National and Labour have voted for introducing a cap on third party spending.

I really wonder sometimes why we bother changing Governments, when the  new Government adopts so many politics of the old Government – especially a policy that was a big part of why they got thrown out.

The law is not as bad as the old EFA, for four reasons, but is still an unjustified limitation on the rights of New Zealanders to campaign against Governments or parties they don’t like. The four mitigating factors are:

  1. The limit is $300,000 over three months rather than $120,000 over 11 months. That is around 10 times as high per month.
  2. The bill does follow a public and transparent public policy process where people were allowed to have their say, and where most backed a limit
  3. The bill has bipartisan support, and is not an attempt by one party to do over their opponents
  4. There have been some trade-offs with Labour agreeing to back higher spending limits for candidates

But don’t read that list of mitigating factors as signalling agreement with the bill. I think National has sold out far too cheaply. I did say in my submission that I supported bipartisan agreement, and if National concedes on something , then basically Labour should do the same. But the only concession that in my opinion would be suitable for having a limit on third party spending would be removing the draconian ban of political parties being able to but advertising time on television and radio. If National could have got Labour to agree to that change, then I would grudgingly accept a compromise on third party spending.

I think many of those who protested against the EFA will feel a sense of betrayal with this bill. National has put the desire to be bipartisan with electoral law (which is commendable) ahead of doing what is right.

I did support the bill at select committee stage on the basis it did improve things in several areas. And the select committee has also made many other minor improvements which I support (and will detail in a later post). But the inclusion of a limit on third party spending, combined with no lifting of the ban on parties buying their own broadcasting time, means that I no longer think the bill is worth proceeding with.

I accept that in reality few third parties will find the $300,000 limit a barrier. The trade unions tend to be the biggest spenders and their biggest contribution is staff hours (which do not count as spending). And the limit is simple to get around also. But by agreeing to such a limit, National has now made it easier for future Governments to lower it, to try and silence their opponents.

Labour should be very very happy with the willingness of the Government to not just give them a veto over changes to the existing law, but also to introduce measures the National Party submitted against, all for the sake of bipartisan electoral law. It is a universe different from what Labour did in its last term, and my fear is that a future Labour Government will not return the benevolence and when they are next in Government, make changes without bipartisan support.

National MPs who railed against the Electoral Finance Act should feel very sheepish when they vote for this bill to become law. I suggest National Party members take advantage of end of year meetings to ask their MPs why they agreed to support limits on third parties using their own money to have a say during election campaigns.

UPDATE: Whale provides us with this updated billboard:

It would look better if it was 6 metres by 4 metres in size I think.

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