Electoral Referendum Bill — Second Reading

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The ACT Party will be supporting the Electoral Referendum Bill. However, once again we have major reservations about placing a limit of $300,000 on what a third party or a group of individuals can spend to promote one of the four alternatives. I would like to go back and listen again very carefully to the speech made by the previous speaker, Catherine Delahunty, because I was somewhat surprised by her comment about buying advertising to distort messages. It might surprise the member to know that the Green Party spent $1.5 million at the last election, and I wonder whether she is prepared to concede that the Green Party spent $1.5 million trying to distort the truth. The reason that the ACT Party will be supporting—

Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is quite offensive to say that we spent that money to distort the truth.

Hon Members: You did.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order!

Catherine Delahunty: No—and I think it is a really offensive comment.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member has taken offence. Under Standing Order 116 I ask the member to withdraw that comment.

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: Because the member has taken offence, I withdraw that comment.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Well, you do not need to qualify it. I ask the member to continue.

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: Let me clarify what I was saying. The member talked about organisations—individuals grouping together—raising money and spending money. As I said, I am quite keen to listen to that speech again, because I am sure I heard the word “distort”; I am sure I heard that word. If the member is suggesting that individual groups and organisations that want to participate in the electoral process want to distort the truth, then how do we know that the Green Party did not spend $1.5 million to also distort the truth? That is all I am asking. What makes the paid messages of the Green Party any different from the paid advertising messages of any other party or any other organisation that wants to participate in the electoral process? I note that the member referred to the late Rod Donald. He was a person who wanted to encourage New Zealanders to participate in the process.

Catherine Delahunty: But not the rich buying it up.

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: Let us look at this $300,000 limit, because we have just heard another interjection from the Green member, who said “But not the rich.” I think that was the point that Pete Hodgson was trying to make. He asked why the ACT Party has such an objection to restricting people to $300,000. Well, it is not as though it is one individual; organisations can be formed to push one or more of the particular four electoral options. I think Mr Hodgson conceded that a group of people could be clubbing together—I think he used those words.

I express the ACT Party’s objection to the $300,000 limit in the context of what the major political parties could spend in their own campaigns. I noticed that in Mr Hodgson’s response he said that one could spend that but that, possibly, in reality one would spend substantially less. It might surprise Mr Hodgson to know that if one looks at just the core spending of the Labour Party at the last election—ignoring the broadcasting, and ignoring what the party spent—one would see that the Labour Party was entitled to spend $2.4 million, yet it spent $2.271 million. So it was within $130,000 of the maximum.

Let us come back to this $300,000 limit, but let us also come back to the reason we are having this referendum. I think Amy Adams put the reasons for having the referendum very, very well. She said that most New Zealanders had a perception that there would be a second referendum. Most people, if we asked them honestly, would say they were going to get a second vote. But she said that people had not looked at the fine print and the little asterisks on the footnote that said: “only if Parliament agrees.”

National promised at the previous election to put this issue to the vote, and I say: “Good on them for doing just that.” Labour asked why. Well, this bill is enabling New Zealanders to express a view on their electoral system. Ultimately, that is the reason that the ACT Party is supporting this legislation. We support the right of New Zealanders to be involved and to express a view. We do not support the fact that an artificial limit has been put on the amount that groups that club together can spend. Nevertheless, we support this referendum and we will be voting for it, despite that reservation.

Interestingly, Steve Chadwick said that $300,000 will buy a reasonable campaign. I would like to remind Steve Chadwick that the contestants in the mayoral campaign for Auckland were entitled to spend $500,000—$500,000—to put their message across. What did we see in the weeks leading up to the Auckland vote? We saw Len Brown on television every night, night after night for 3 weeks. I congratulate Len Brown. I thought the television advertisements he did were very good, and he certainly got the jump on his principal opponent, Mr Banks. Len Brown was entitled to spend $500,000 to communicate with the people of Auckland, but we are going to restrict the amount of money that can be spent by people in New Zealand who want to club together to form an organisation, a support group, in favour of one or more of the various options. We will restrict the amount to just $300,000.

I also thought Steve Chadwick made another very interesting comment. She said the public information campaign that is budgeted to cost $5 million probably will not be sufficient. So she and the other Labour members are prepared to say that the State can go out and spend $5 million educating the public but that the State will restrict to $300,000 the spending of any group of people who want to club together to vote for and promote one or more of the options.

Earlier this afternoon Mr Hodgson made a reference to the 1986 Electoral Commission. He correctly recorded the fact that the Electoral Commission said that if we are going to restrict political parties, why would we not restrict third parties? He also said that the Electoral Commission in 1986 put up the proposal that there should be State funding of political parties. I would like to remind Mr Hodgson that we already have massive State funding when we travel around our electorates. Members of Parliament are paid salaries. In essence, they are funded to campaign.

What else did that Electoral Commission say? That Electoral Commission, in recommending MMP, said there was no reason for the Māori seats. There is no reason for the Māori seats, because if we have an MMP vote that is strictly proportional, each party will have in Parliament its share of the party vote. The Electoral Commission in 1986 said there is simply no need to retain the Māori seats. The ACT Party strongly opposes electoral seats based on a racial basis, and we will be putting forward an amendment in the Committee stage to have a referendum on that very issue. If we go to a great deal of expense to conduct a referendum on MMP, the ACT Party says we should actually be holding a referendum on Māori seats at the same time. We should let the people of New Zealand express a view.

Mr Hodgson earlier this afternoon asked why we are having a referendum. He actually queried whether it was in the National Party manifesto. The Minister of Justice said that, yes, it was. Mr Power said: “Yes, it is in the National Party manifesto.” I would like to remind the National members in the House this afternoon that there is actually something else in their manifesto, and that is an intention to abolish the Māori seats; to abolish seats that were based on a racial divide, if you like, or that were created along racial lines.

The ACT Party strongly believes in one law for all. We do not believe that we should be having those electoral seats. This is a tremendous opportunity, if we are going to the expense of having a referendum, to put that vote to the people of New Zealand, and to give them a chance to express an opinion. Thank you.

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