Speech at March for Democracy – Saturday 1 December 2007 – Auckland

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thank you for coming and for your support.

I am John Boscawen and I have organised this march against the Electoral Finance Bill with help from Garth McVicar of The Sensible Sentencing Trust, [Garth sends his apologies] Bob McCoskrie of Family First and many others including ARC Councillor Christine Rankin and representatives of Grey Power. I also acknowledge the presence of Newstalk ZB host Danny Watson and Grey Power National Vice-President  Don Chapman.    Bob, Christine and Danny will speak to you shortly.

I also acknowledge the presence of a number of parliamentarians and other civic leaders today.  In particular, MPs Wayne Mapp, Judith Collins, Jackie Blue and Rodney Hide.

As this is apolitical march it is not my intention to invite any sitting MPs to speak however, I am grateful that they have taken the time to march today to show their opposition to the Bill.

Freedom of speech is beyond party politics.  It is an issue for all New Zealanders.

The numbers here today send a very clear message to the parties supporting this Bill – Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First and UnitedFuture that informed New Zealanders will not tolerate an attempt to inhibit their freedom of speech without proper process.

Just as importantly, they send the same message to National, ACT and the Maori Party.  New Zealanders will not tolerate any attempt to substantially skew electoral law so dramatically in favour of the incumbents.  I would expect John Key to make it very clear before the next election that any government he leads will immediately repeal any Electoral Finance Act and I invited him to provide a statement for me to read today to that effect.

Over the last month, I have tried to create an awareness of the provisions of the Electoral Finance Bill and in particular, the views of our Human Rights Commission which I believe have been ignored.  I acknowledge there have been a number of other critics of the Bill including the NZ Law Society which is still calling for the revised Bill to be withdrawn but I have tried to focus my campaign on the submissions of the Human Rights Commission.

Throughout this campaign I have been totally open, and transparent.  I have acknowledged that I am a member of the ACT party and I have previously held elected positions within ACT.  However, as I said earlier the issues we are discussing today concern all New Zealanders of whatever political persuasion.

I have also disclosed openly what I have spent on this campaign.  In the last week the total expenditure, of myself, Family First and the Sensible Sentencing Trust has exceeded $120,000.  We have done this deliberately to highlight the issues involved and to show New Zealanders what will be illegal next year.  This is about a quarter the $500,000 that expatriate Owen Glenn gave to Labour before the 2005 election.  I support his right to do so, it’s called democracy and our parents and grandparents fought for it.

[At this stage I introduced again the seven former soldiers on stage with me including gentlemen who had served in WWII, the Korean War and Asia].

While you will have your own views, I should also acknowledge that there are a number of things that Helen Clark and the Labour Party have done that I totally support.  These go back to the 1980s when as Minister of Health Helen Clark introduced restrictions on tobacco advertising of sport and more recently the introduction of Smokefree environments.  I am also a keen supporter of the principles behind KiwiSaver.  Accordingly, I do not condone personal attacks on any politician. However on issue Helen Clark and I have different positions.

This is the second march I have organised in Auckland and I have done this for a number of reasons:

Firstly, following our last march, the Prime Minister dismissed the over 2000 people present as being members of the ACT and national parties and “not being indicative of a groundswell”.  The calls to talkback radio and letters to the editor told her how wrong she was.  I wanted to provide another opportunity for New Zealanders to demonstrate their opposition to this Bill.

Secondly, since the last march the Bill has been reported back to Parliament and has passed its second reading.  Despite the protestations of Human Rights Commission restrictions place on free speech under the Bill will apply for a full election year, a potential eleven months in every three yearly electoral cycle.  No other democracy in the world has such severe restrictions.

Thirdly, the government continues to ignore the submission of the Commission on three principal areas.  I will come back to this shortly, but before I do, it is important to acknowledge a number of significant changes to the Bill which were introduced last week.  Not surprisingly the Commission supports some of these as do I.

Some of you may be surprised to know that in the original Bill there was a requirement that any individual or group wanting to speak out on any political issue first had to either register with the Electoral Commission or sign a statutory declaration before a Justice of the Peace.  For example, the placards that many of you carried with you down Queen Street this afternoon would have been illegal under the original Bill if you had not first signed a statutory declaration.

While this requirement has now been dropped, it is hard to comprehend how the parties supporting this Bill allowed such a draconian provision to be introduced to our parliament in the first place.  I believe that this was just one of the provisions in the original Bill that breached your basic human rights and I commenced legal action, with others, against the Attorney General, Michael Cullen seeking a declaration from the Court that he failed to meet his obligations under section 7 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990 to notify parliament that the Electoral Finance Bill was in breach of the Bill of Rights Act.  I continue to believe that this is the case and the proceedings are continuing.

In addition, the definition of political advertising and the range of third parties likely to be caught by the legislation have been tightened.  These are all positive things.

Notwithstanding these changes it is very important to understand the draconian and anti-democratic nature of the provisions that remain.

Firstly, the overriding effect of the Bill is to reduce and restrict the rights of individuals or groups to spend their own money either criticising or supporting any political party or parties.  It has been discussed at a time when the recent Appropriation Act substantially freed up the ability of political parties and in particular, the governing party, be it Labour or National, to spend taxpayer’s money promoting their own views.  For example, the Appropriation Act which was passed just 10 days ago now makes legal taxpayer spending on a large range of activities that would have been previously illegal, including the so called Labour pledgecard.

Secondly, restrictions are now being placed on the amount of money that may be spent by so called third parties – that’s me and you – in an election year.  Third parties wanting to spend between $12,000 and $120,000 opposing or supporting any political party will now be required to register and be subject to various regulations including a search warrant.  Spending in excess of $120,000 in election year will be illegal.  This sum compares with the total cost of the election campaign run by the major opposition party, inclusive of both private and taxpayer money of $5-10 million, and in the case of the major governing party a sum well in excess of $10 million.

So we have the hypocrisy of parliament taking more of your money to discuss their views, while restricting your right to spend you own money promoting your own.  You will be simply drowned out.

Restrictions also apply to candidates wanting to stand for parliament.  A candidate who is not currently an MP will only be able to spend $20,000 seeking election over the entire year, versus the current three months.  However, an existing MP will have in addition to the same $20,000 limit, much larger and more freely available amounts of taxpayer funding.  This is unfair and it will even be harder to unseat a sitting MP.

The revised Bill has also introduced tighter restrictions on anonymous donations to political parties which were not in the original Bill and have not been subject to the select committee consultation process.

I would now like to come to the submissions of the Human Rights Commission.

The Commission is an independent Crown Entity mandated by the Human Rights Act 1993 and funded by taxpayers.  It has been set up to protect our most basic human rights.  The Human Rights Commission is headed by Labour appointee Rosslyn Noonan, a form trade unionist and National Secretary of the Primary Teachers Union, the NZEI.

The Commission called the original bill ‘inherently flawed’ and its provisions a “dramatic assault on two fundamental rights that New Zealanders cherish, freedom of expression and the right of informed citizens to participate in the election process”.

It also said “the proposed legislation lacks public authorisation and as a consequence will undermine the legitimacy of political processes.  It requires radical change”.

On 18 October Garth McVicar and I attended a specially convened Select Committee meeting to hear Rosslyn Noonan and her colleague Dr Judy McGregor.

Rosslyn Noonan reasserted the view that the Bill should be withdrawn and went on to say that if it wasn’t withdrawn it would be essential that any changes be subject to the widest possible scrutiny by way of a further round of public consultation.  Her exact words were and I quote:

“The Commission’s preference is, and remains, that the proposed legislation, the Bill, is withdrawn and redrafted to take into account the very substantial and in-depth submissions of the over 600 submitters to the Select Committee”.

“If it is not to be withdrawn, and rewritten, the Commission’s view is that it is essential that any changes be subject to the widest possible public scrutiny to ensure the credibility and legitimacy of whatever electoral law reform emerges”.

The Commission also said that the current regulatory period of three months prior to election day, when free speech is restricted should be retained and not extended to a potential eleven months.  The government has ignored them on this issue also and there is not democratic country in the world that has restrictions on free speech of this length.

I invited Rosslyn Noonan to march with us at the last Auckland march but she advised that to do so would be against Commission policy.  She did however say that she is watching with interest.  The Commission could not run the advertising that we have, nor organise the marches and so we took it upon ourselves to do it for them.

I believe Rosslyn Noonan has taken a courageous and principled stand against the draconian provisions of this Bill.  Rosslyn Noonan and her colleague, Dr Judy McGregor are a credit to our tradition of an independent public service.  Despite the fact that they were appointed by this Labour government, they have taken their role as a key accountability mechanism in our democracy very seriously.  The government’s hypocrisy in ignoring the Human Rights Commission is further illustrated by the fact that they have put so much effort into the human rights issues in Zimbabwe and Fiji while blatantly ignoring our own.

I believe the provisions of this Bill go to the very heart of our democracy.  It this legislation passes we will not have a democracy.  It provides massive benefits to incumbent governments.

To further illustrate this point, I would like to read a brief extract from last Thursday’s  Wellington’s Dominion Post editorial:

“At election time in real democracies – New Zealand used to be one – ordinary voters, as well as lobby groups can participate through public meetings, advertising, marches and, in this technological age the blogosphere.  No longer”.

Last month on talkback radio I queried if the National Party would be prepared to repeal this legislation given the massive benefits they would derive from it.

I was asked earlier this week if I would allow John Key to speak if he attended this march.  As I was very keen to keep it apolitical, I said I was reluctant to allow him to speak but I would be prepared to read a brief statement from him if it clarified National’s position, and in particular if it corrected anything I had said on talkback radio.

I will now read the statement he provided me.

“Within two weeks Helen Clark’s Labour Government will force the Electoral Finance Bill on to the people of New Zealand.

They plan to steamroll this bill into law by a slim majority of Parliament before Christmas.  National simply does not have the votes to stop it.

Labour has turned its back on the convention that significant changes to our election laws should have bi-partisan political support, and public backing.

The Electoral Finance Bill has neither.

It stifles free speech for one in every three years, and it is cynically designed to protect incumbency.

Labour is not listening.  National is.

Today, I give you this assurance.  If I have the privilege to be the next Prime Minister I will overturn this law.  I will set about building a proper political consensus for fair changes to our election rules.  I will listen to what people like you, and many thousands of others are saying.

You are fighting for a principle.

You are fighting for THE most important principle.

You are fighting for democracy.

I salute you

John Key”

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am not a politician and you may think I am naive, and I recognise that John Key knows his opponents better than I do, but I disagree with John Key.  He has said Labour will force this Bill through in the next fortnight.  I do not believe that this is necessarily so.  I have organised this protest march today to further create awareness and opposition to this Bill.  I believe our future is in your hands.  I believe there is still time to convince the politicians supporting this Bill to act on the recommendations of our Human Rights Commission and withdraw the Bill.  Failing that, at the very least, the regulatory period for third party speech should be reduced to three months and the Bill put out for a further round of public consultation as required by the Commission.

No one should be in any doubt whatsoever that this government supported by New Zealand First, UnitedFuture and the Greens is proposing legislation that will gag public criticism for one year in three.  This is by far the worst for any democracy in the world.

The Prime Minister also said that New Zealanders had not “engaged” on this issue.  I agree with her and I believe she is counting on that to introduce the most draconian attack on our freedoms of speech imaginable.

Finally, the Prime Minister concluded to Mike Hosking by saying “I think you will find that every issue that the Human Rights Commission raised as been addressed”. I totally disagree with her.  The Commission has called for the amended Bill to have the widest possible public scrutiny.  The Commission has been ignored and the Prime Minister continues to treat the watchdog of our human rights and our people with total disdain.

You have taken considerable time to be here today just three weeks before Christmas.  I urge you to take just ten minutes more to email or write to the Prime Minister and the leaders of the other parties supporting this Bill and to simply ask why they are not prepared to follow the submission of our own Human Rights Commission in full.

Thank you again for attending and I will now call on Mr Bob McCoskrie to address you.


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