Electoral Referendum Bill — In Committee

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Part One:

I will respond to the comments of Lianne Dalziel and Metiria Turei, but before I do so, I will place something on record. The Hon Lianne Dalziel keeps asking why we are discussing these bills individually and not as a group of three. Let me advise her and the rest of the Committee that the ACT Party had no objection to discussing the Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill and the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill together. All we asked was that they not be discussed at the same time as the Electoral Referendum Bill, which we saw as a totally separate bill. We wanted it discussed in a totally separate debate, as had been proposed prior to 2 o’clock this afternoon.

Let me come back to the comments of Metiria Turei. Lianne Dalziel referred to the fact that Metiria Turei had used the opportunity of speaking on Part 1 to engage in quite a wide-ranging debate. She related the history of MMP. I will come back to the history of MMP and the reason why we are having this referendum, but this afternoon Metiria Turei made comments that simply astound me. I cannot believe what she has said.

Metiria Turei said that there would not be the opportunity to have the best possible information. Those were her words. She said that there will not be the opportunity to have the best possible information. She said that we have taken from the community the chance to have the best possible information. What, she asked, is more important than informing people about, and voting on, the system that elects their politicians—not so much the politicians themselves but the options for our electoral system. She criticised the fact that people will be denied that information. Well, the reason I find those comments absolutely astounding is that I suspect the Green Party and other members of this House are voting for provisions that will restrict that very information and deny groups the opportunity to pull together and form organisations to stand up and speak for or against a particular electoral system.

The reason this bill is so flawed is that it restricts the rights of ordinary New Zealanders to spend more than $300,000 promoting a particular system. They can spend no more than $300,000. Metiria Turei should be taking a good, hard look at herself and at her party’s position. She criticises the fact that the people of New Zealand will be denied the opportunity to have the best possible information, yet Metiria Turei and other members of this House are doing exactly that, because they are restricting the right of third parties to be involved in this debate.

I come now to the comments of Lianne Dalziel. I think she made some very important points. Lianne Dalziel and the Labour Party are another group of people who have argued that we need to restrict the rights of people to put their position. I think that the Hon Lianne Dalziel has explained very well this afternoon why we should not in fact put on that restriction. She has just quoted a statement that our Prime Minister made when he was the Leader of the Opposition. She said—and I have no reason to disbelieve what she said—that John Key, who is now the Prime Minister of New Zealand, said that he thinks people will vote MMP out and that they will not vote for first past the post but for a new proportional system.

The reason I make those points is that the Prime Minister was making a comment. He was giving the public a steer. He was indicating that maybe it is not such a good idea to have MMP, but that if we are to vote out MMP, then perhaps we need to vote in a new system that is proportional—or, as Lianne Dalziel would argue, only slightly proportional. The Prime Minister’s view has huge weight. Just by the very manner of his position, his view has huge weight. If one takes the position of the Labour Party and is opposed to what the Prime Minister is saying, then one will find that we are restricting the right of ordinary New Zealanders to stand up and speak out against the Prime Minister.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: And spend $300,000. How many ordinary citizens have access to $300,000?

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: Yes, they have $300,000, but they have $300,000 in the context of a general election where the Labour Party will spend close to $5 million and the National Party will spend close to $5 million. The Green Party spent $1.8 million at the last election, so we have no reason to believe that it will not do the same thing again at the next election. So in the context of political spending, whether it is $10 million, $12 million, $15 million, or maybe millions more dollars, people who want to put the alternative view to the Prime Minister’s—and I am not saying whether the Prime Minister is right or wrong—are restricted to spending no more than $300,000.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: So is the Prime Minister.

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: I say to the Hon Lianne Dalziel that the reason why it is important not to have those restrictions is that the Prime Minister is in a very powerful position. He can make comments, which are carried in the media, that favour one particular voting system, and he can steer the public in a particular way. That seems to be what Lianne Dalziel is criticising.

So if people strongly support MMP—and there are people in this country who do—how do they counter the Prime Minister’s comments? How do they counter the free publicity the Prime Minister gets when he goes on national television and says: “Look, these are the faults of MMP, but we’ve got a better deal for you.”? The only way people can counter those comments is to try to get into the media, to try to get a campaign going, and to try to put up arguments so that the people of New Zealand are informed and can be in exactly the position that Metiria Turei wants them to be in—informed, and with very best possible information.

The ACT Party will be supporting the Electoral Referendum Bill. We think that the people of New Zealand should have that opportunity. It is a very, very sad day for New Zealand when we pass a bill that restricts the right of New Zealanders to participate in this referendum and denies New Zealanders the ability to get the best possible information, in the way the Green Party says they should be able to. Thank you.

Part Three:

I will respond to those comments from the Hon Lianne Dalziel because, like the Hon Lianne Dalziel, I was expecting a debate about the expenditure limits—the limits on the amount promoters will be able to spend for or against any particular electoral system—specified in Part 3 of the Electoral Referendum Bill. I was somewhat surprised that the Chairperson put the amendments from Hilary Calvert to the vote in the previous part. The ACT Party promoted an amendment that would allow third parties to spend up to $750,000; if we could not get Parliament to agree to a $750,000 limit, we suggested $500,000.

It is interesting that Lianne Dalziel criticised the fact that we put forward an amendment that would allow a third party the ability to spend $500,000, because she would call that paid speech. Yes, it is paid speech: it is buying advertising. It is what political parties do. Earlier this afternoon we voted on a bill that would enable the two major political parties in this Parliament to spend over $5 million—$5 million in paid speech, I tell Ms Dalziel.

Hon Member: How much?

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: Five million dollars. Yet we will restrict the right of an organisation that wants to be involved in this referendum to try to sway the votes of New Zealanders one way or the other to the sum of no more than $300,000.

That is not the only thing Ms Dalziel misrepresented. She derided my contribution by asking which ordinary New Zealander has $300,000 to spend. We are not talking about individual New Zealanders; we are talking about organisations. We are talking about organisations that want to get involved in this election campaign.

I sat on the Electoral Legislation Committee that considered this submission, as did Ms Dalziel. She will be well aware that an organisation came along and submitted on this bill—an organisation that had formed to promote the MMP option. It was not one person; it was a group of people who purported to represent a much larger group of people, and they sent their spokespeople along. I do not know the name of the organisation; I cannot recall it—it may have been “Promote MMP” or “Pro-MMP”—but certainly an organisation had formed for the purposes of promoting MMP. That is right: it is not one person, but a whole series of people, an organisation—a grassroots New Zealand organisation. So for Lianne Dalziel to stand up and suggest that the ACT Party is talking about one New Zealander having the right to spend $300,000 misrepresents our position. Worse than that, she actually knows that she misrepresents our position.

The other point Lianne Dalziel made was that under the provisions of this bill, third parties—organisations such as the one that appeared before our select committee—will have access to television. They will have access to television to promote their view one way or the other in support of or against one of the four different systems that are being put forward.

It is interesting that she finds the use of television particularly obnoxious. The reason Labour finds television obnoxious is that it is powerful. One can actually persuade and influence people through television. We know that one of the reasons Len Brown’s committee put down for their success in Auckland was the early use of television.

Television is also denied to the smaller political parties in this Parliament; they are denied the chance to spend their own money on television. Another major failing of this Parliament is that it has not taken the opportunity to correct that problem.

Amy Adams: This is the referendum bill; it’s not the finance bill.

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: This is the referendum bill, and I explain to Ms Adams that under the referendum bill people can form organisations for or against one or more of the electoral systems that have been promoted. They can spend their own money, they can spend it up to $300,000, and they can spend it on television. It is a pity that parties in this Parliament are denied the opportunity to do that.

Notwithstanding the fact that the limit is set at $300,000, the ACT Party will be voting for this bill. We support the right of New Zealanders to have a say on their electoral system; we think it is important. But also we think it is important that the people be informed and that they understand what is being offered to them. It is a tragedy that by putting limits on organisations such as the one that appeared before our Electoral Legislation Committee in Wellington—I think it included academics from Victoria University—we deny New Zealanders the opportunity to be fully informed.

I note that Lianne Dalziel referred to the supplementary member system. She called it first past the post with a winner’s bonus. I could take issue with that description of it, too, but I will not do so.

The other amendment that Hilary Calvert put before Parliament this afternoon was to do with the actual voting form that appears in schedule 1. I thought that I might have had an opportunity to speak to that before it was put before Parliament. Earlier this afternoon, the ACT Party put forward an amendment that would have provided for a vote in the referendum on the existence of the Māori seats. We did that because in the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System the commissioners in recommending MMP also said that once there is a proportional system, there is no longer any need to have electoral seats set up on a racial basis.

Hone Harawira: They were joking.

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: Mr Harawira may well say they were joking, but they were not. The record shows that the royal commission in recommending MMP said if there is a proportional system, a system where every vote counts, there is simply no need for the Māori seat option. It is a pity that Parliament took the opportunity of voting down that amendment this afternoon. Thank you.

Part Four:

Amy Adams said to give those members a chance, but National has taken just one call, I think, in this debate—one call since quarter-past 3. We have heard from Lianne Dalziel that MMP is flawed. Well, who says it is flawed? Yes, some people say it is flawed, but I ask what right the Labour Party has to pronounce that MMP is flawed. Who says so? Where is those members’ evidence? Where is the overwhelming evidence it is flawed?

Lianne Dalziel talked about fixing the problem. Well, there is no need for a review, and the ACT Party will be voting against her amendment. However, Lianne Dalziel raised a very, very good point. She has just told the public of New Zealand, notwithstanding the consultation and the extraordinary effort the Minister has made to reach agreement—and he has conceded a number of points, not least of which is a $300,000 limit on the right of free speech—that if Labour wins the next election, all bets are off. All bets are off. She said: “We have reached consensus, we have reached agreement, but if Labour wins the next election, we will screw you.” That is exactly what she said. She said that if Labour wins the next election in 2011, Labour will not proceed down the second referendum road unless the Government goes and fixes the system—the system that we do not even necessarily know is broken.

I put it to National members in the Chamber this afternoon that Mr Power is a gentleman. Mr Power is a gentleman. He has gone along to the Labour members and has consulted with them, but I say to my colleagues on this side of the Chamber that they have been screwed. They have been screwed because they are being told this afternoon that, rather than trust their judgment, allow third parties to campaign for what they believe, and put the Minister’s bill through in the way that he had originally presented it, they have fallen for a trap. That is one of the reasons the ACT Party strongly opposes the $300,000 limit. Let me simply say to Mr Mallard and Ms Dalziel that a further reason for the National-led Government to be re-elected in 2011 is so that it can give effect to the compromised agreement that this bill represents. Thank you.