Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill — Third Reading

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

So far in this debate on the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill we have heard a lot about the issue of spending limits for third parties. I will address that issue in my speech later this afternoon. I also want to focus on the issue of broadcasting limits on television, but I will start by addressing the issue of donations and limits on donation disclosure.

I will comment on the comments that have just been made by Metiria Turei. She said that people should not be able to give money in secret to political parties to get policy in exchange. All I can say to her is that she must have a very poor view of her fellow human beings. She must believe that the only—

Hon Ruth Dyson: For goodness’ sake!

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: No, I say that very sincerely. The implication is that the only reason a person would give money to a political party or to a cause is that that person wants something out of it. That is what Metiria Turei is saying. She is saying that people should not be able to give money to political parties to buy policy.

I have fundraised for a political party over the last 10 years, and I would say that the proportion of people who want something in exchange is very, very tiny. My experience with human nature is that people who give of their own money and time do it for the community interest and not because of what they can get out of it themselves.

I find it very interesting that in the last week the candidates in the Auckland mayoral election have disclosed how much money they raised and how much they spent. We now know that the two leading candidates, Mr Brown and Mr Banks, had trusts set up for them into which donors paid money, and then each of those trusts wrote cheques of approximately $500,000 to fund those campaigns. There was no transparency, which is fine, because the ACT Party supports the rights of privacy of those individuals who make donations.

I relate to the House the comment of David Lewis, the spokesperson on behalf of Len Brown. He said of the people who had paid into Len Brown’s trust that the campaign raised money from hundreds of people from across the political spectrum who supported the mayor’s vision. Most wanted anonymity, as per the current laws, simply because they are private persons with no interest in being in the media. There we are, I say to Metiria Turei. Those people supported the vision of the mayor. I suggest to Ms Turei that the people who support the Green Party—and I do not know the financial backers of the Green Party—are perhaps different from the people who back the ACT Party. The people who back the ACT Party support the vision of the ACT Party, and I would have thought that the people who fund, donate to, and work towards the Labour Party would support the Labour Party for its vision, and not for what they could get out of it.

I now come to the issue of third parties. It is interesting that Lianne Dalziel has once again brought to the House the issue of the Brethren campaign in 2005. It is also interesting that that campaign came to the public’s attention. The media ferreted it out. It was known. It may well have had an impact on the election—I suspect it did—but it came without any requirement for disclosure of donations. In actual fact, it works when the system is left to work, as evident from the fact that the Brethren involvement was reflected in the media.

It is interesting that Amy Adams acknowledged this afternoon the issue of whether it is philosophically reasonable for a political party or a candidate for election to have a limit on what it can spend, while a third party has no limit. She concluded that, philosophically, she does not have a problem with that. Clearly, National does not have a problem with that, which is why it is voting for this legislation this afternoon. She said that the limit of $300,000 is perhaps too low; she thought that $500,000 was more appropriate. In respect of that issue my colleague Hilary Calvert yesterday promoted an amendment to increase that cap to $500,000. It is a pity that that amendment was voted down.

Why would we look to increase that limit? I repeat that each of the major political parties in this House is entitled under this legislation to spend more than $5 million in next year’s election. I repeat that the figure is $5 million. We are restricting the rights of ordinary individuals, organisations, and associations who want to come together to form a campaign. They can spend no more than $300,000, or one-sixteenth of what each of the two major political parties will be entitled to spend in this campaign. I remind the House once again that both Labour and National spent more than $4 million in their campaigns at the last election, and under this legislation they will be entitled to spend more than $5.5 million.

I acknowledge the work of the Electoral Legislation Committee and its chair, Amy Adams. As I said earlier in this debate, I acknowledge the contributions of Lianne Dalziel and, in particular, Pete Hodgson, whom I got to know better through interacting with him through the work of the committee.

It interests me that Pete Hodgson referred again to being distressed or surprised that organisations such as the New Zealand Listener, which he referred to this afternoon, and the , whichhe referred to in last week’s debate, would actually express opposition to a limit. I say to Mr Hodgson that it should not surprise him, because they are standing up for the right of New Zealanders to speak out and be involved in an election campaign.

Mr Hodgson referred to people who do not physically put themselves up for election as the non-participants. That is what he called them. We have 122 successful MPs, and probably fewer than 1,000 people who physically put their names on a ballot paper, but Mr Hodgson referred to other New Zealanders as the non-participants. I say that the people of New Zealand have every right to have a say in how this country is run and to participate. They can participate by being involved in the election campaign of a particular individual or a party. They can throw their weight behind a campaign and deliver brochures and make phone calls, or they can form separate lobby organisations.

There is all manner of third parties. There are trade unions, business associations, and lobby groups that support a particular cause. I think of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, of Family First, and of the various trade unions. Each of those organisations should be able put out its case at the 3-yearly general elections. With this bill we are restricting them to spending no more than one-sixteenth of what the two major political parties in this Parliament can spend. Those two parties are using their voting strength to put those restrictions in place.

It is not the only restriction that the two major political parties impose on the smaller political parties in this House. It might surprise New Zealanders to know that it is illegal for a political party to use its own money to buy broadcasting time. As political parties, we cannot go out to the public, raise money, and buy television advertising. We have a broadcasting allowance. Each of the two major political parties gets $1 million worth of broadcasting time. The smaller parties at the last election—the Greens, the Māori Party, and New Zealand First—were given just over $240,000. The ACT Party was given $100,000. We do not have a level playing field. None of the smaller political parties is entitled to go out, raise money, and try to compete on an equal footing with the major political parties in this Parliament. Once again, the ACT Party thinks that is a disgrace.

Finally, I acknowledge that the process adopted by Simon Power was a far, far better process than that adopted by his predecessor in the Labour Government.

The ACT Party will not be voting for this bill; we will vote against it. One of the fundamental reasons we are doing that is that it puts restrictions on freedom of speech, which the New Zealand Herald, the , and most New Zealanders can see. It is a pity that Parliament is going to do that.

I sadly come back to the comments made by Metiria Turei. How tragic and how sad that a leader of a political party thinks so little of her fellow New Zealanders that she thinks that a party would give money to a cause only because of what they could get out of it. Thank you.

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