John Boscawen’s Oral Submission On The Electoral Finance Bill

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thank you Madam Chairman for this opportunity

My name is John Boscawen and I am an accountant and investment manager.

I am a member of the ACT Party and am a former trustee, treasurer and fundraiser for ACT. This is my personal submission and is not done on behalf of any other organisation including ACT.

As an ACT fundraiser it was my job to travel throughout New Zealand asking people for money. I did this on a totally voluntary basis and at my own expense. Over the years, I have asked many hundreds if not thousands of people for money. However, this is the first time I have spoken before a Select Committee.

It truly is an amazing privilege of our democracy that I can come into Parliament buildings and stand here today and make this submission.

In an ideal world I would prefer to be back in Auckland getting on with my day to day business. However, I strongly oppose the provisions of this bill and believe it is so badly conceived and drafted it should be abandoned.

Our democracy currently gives me the opportunity to express these views.

I joined ACT in 1995. In the first MMP election in 1996, I stood for ACT in the Epsom electorate against the National MP and former cabinet minister, the honourable Christine Fletcher.

I am still proud to say today that the campaign I led over ten years ago, with over 60 volunteers achieved just under 8,000 party votes for ACT. 21% of the total party votes cast. This was a record for ACT in 1996 and still is today.

In August 2005, just over five weeks prior to the General Election, I took over the running of Rodney Hide’s Epsom campaign as his campaign manager. At that time, our polls showed that Rodney was over 30% behind his chief opponent, National MP Richard Worth. Over the following five weeks Rodney and I mobilised a team of over 200 volunteers from throughout New Zealand.

We telephoned people, we wrote to them and we stood on their front door steps and talked to them. Over 15,000 front doors in total.

I believe Rodney Hide’s victory was one of the greatest electoral turnarounds in our political history. Above all, it was a victory for democracy and the participation of all those involved.

The representatives here today from New Zealand First, the Greens, United and the Maori Party in particular should not doubt the enormity of what was achieved. Rodney’s victory was achieved despite the strenuous opposition of the two largest parties in our parliament

In particular, despite the overwhelming mathematical logic of our argument, the President of the National Party still chose to write to most of the 40,000 electors in Epsom. It is a tribute to Rodney’s team that of those who gave their party vote to the National Party, three quarters (75%) voted for Rodney.

This is participation, this is DEMOCRACY.

I oppose the Electoral Finance Bill in its entirety. I believe this bill has been deliberately structured to deny New Zealanders their basic human rights of free speech. I was both delighted and saddened to think that no lesser person than the Human Rights Commissioner agreed with me.

I don’t propose to comment on the bill clause by clause. I simply believe the whole project should be abandoned.

It has taken me many, many hours to read just one third of the submissions. I don’t envy your task in coming to grips with all the evidence.

Of the 200 submissions I have read, by far and away the overwhelming majority opposed all or most of the provisions of this bill.

It heartens me that so many people and organisations have taken the trouble to submit an opposition.

I think it is a tragedy however and deeply distressing that someone like Rita Coskery whose son was murdered has to come down here to stand up for New Zealand’s rights of free speech.

Finally, I feel it would be discourteous of me if I did not tell you that I feel so strongly against this bill that I have been giving a lot of thought to running a campaign against it and how I would do it.

Ideally, you will do as I and many others have asked and recommend that this bill be scrapped and any thoughts I have of running a campaign against it will be only that, thoughts!

In reading the submissions supporting the bill, two overriding themes come through. Submitters are opposed to anonymous donations and secret organisations.

If I was to run a campaign I would have to front it myself and I would have to be prepared to pay for it myself. I would imagine to have any real effect; one would have to be prepared to spend up to $250,000 – even this would only buy less than 500,000 pieces of direct mail. This wouldn’t frighten me.

Clearly, I would need to give it a lot more thought before I embarked on a project of this nature and I will be listening closely to what the government has to say on this bill over the next fortnight.

If I was to run a campaign one option would be simply to take the report of the Human Rights Commissioner and ensure as many New Zealanders as possible understood its implications.

You may think I would be wasting my money and my time. You might be right; I might not be able to stop this bill. However, what I wouldn’t do is stop on 31 December.

I would continue to campaign against any act of parliament that restricted New Zealanders democratic rights to free speech.

In doing so, I would be inviting the New Zealand Police to arrest me. I can’t believe that the media would not be interested in a story.