Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill — In Committee

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The ACT Party will be opposing the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill at the Committee stage, but I will start by acknowledging that there was a proposal that the three bills to be discussed today should have been debated together. Although the Hon Lianne Dalziel referred to the fact that she and Labour would have preferred the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill, the Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill, and the Electoral Referendum Bill to be discussed together, I will put on the record that the ACT Party was the party, or one of the parties, that objected to that. We see a very big difference particularly between the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill and the Electoral Referendum Bill, although there are some issues that relate to both bills.

The first point we would like to make is that we congratulate National and the Hon Simon Power on the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill. Let us acknowledge that absolutely up front, because the provisions in this bill are a very, very far cry from Labour’s original Electoral Finance Act. Let us not forget the history of the Electoral Finance Act; I noticed that Lianne Dalziel was happy to talk about the unpleasant 2005 election campaign, which I will come back to later, but the genesis of this bill was the moves by Labour prior to the last election to put in place a new regime on electoral finance and the conduct of elections. We should not forget the fact that one of the fundamental provisions of the original Electoral Finance Bill, when it went out to the public for submission, was a requirement that if any single person or organisation other than a candidate or a political party wanted to speak out in opposition to any other political candidate, before they so much as spent a single dollar, they had to sign a certificate before a justice of the peace. That is hard to comprehend, but that is what the Labour politicians in this Parliament prior to the 2008 election voted for when they voted for the first reading of the then Labour Government’s Electoral Finance Bill. They said to the people of New Zealand that if they wanted to have any right to free speech and to participate in the election, they had to make a submission. The Labour Government said that as a very minimum it wanted those people to sign a certificate before a justice of the peace. There was a very significant demonstration of objection to that bill.

Hon Judith Collins: You were there.

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: I am reminded by the Minister of Police, the Hon Judith Collins, that she was there marching down Queen Street with me when I was simply a member of the public speaking out about an issue that was very important to me and many, many other New Zealanders.

Let us look at some of the provisions of this bill and contrast it with what the previous Labour Government proposed—and in actual fact did. I acknowledge that, as a result of that widespread public opposition, the requirement for people to sign a certificate before a justice of the peace before they so much as spent a single dollar was modified, and I think the limit was increased to $5,000. So the legislation as passed was not as bad as promoted, but certainly when it was put out for public discussion, it showed the contempt—the complete and utter contempt—with which Labour treated the people of New Zealand when it first promoted the legislation.

The Electoral Finance Bill as passed prior to the last election had a regulated period that applied from 1 January. For practical purposes, that could have been 10 or 11 months. We all know now that the election was in November 2008 and the legislation put restrictions on New Zealanders to speak out and criticise the Government of the time for 10½ months. One of the significant changes provided for in this bill is that that regulated period will be approximately 3 months. That is a very significant change. However, this bill still carries across the provisions from the previous Labour Government’s electoral finance legislation that restrict the rights of ordinary New Zealanders to participate in the election by limiting what so-called third parties can spend. Lianne Dalziel this afternoon talked about the use of vast sums of money. In her second reading speech she talked about “paid speech”. She talked about how people can go out and spend their own money and buy advertising.

Let us put those restrictions in context. This bill seeks to restrict the right of ordinary New Zealanders, either by themselves or in organisations, to spend no more than $300,000 running a campaign or being involved in an election campaign—that is, $300,000 for a third-party organisation. I do not care whether it is the Exclusive Brethren, the Catholics, the St John Ambulance, Family First, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, or the New Zealand Amalgamated Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union; it restricts the right of those individuals to spend no more than $300,000 of their own money. But let us put that in context. Under this bill, the two major political parties and their candidates are able to spend more than $5 million. In fact, it is about $5.5 million. But ordinary New Zealanders are restricted to spending less than one-sixteenth of what political parties reserve for themselves the right to spend.

I notice that Lianne Dalziel talked about the very, very unpleasant election campaign in 2005. Well, she may have unpleasant memories of 2005, but I have my own unpleasant memories. I recall, as I am sure many New Zealanders do, the very condescending remarks of the then Prime Minister, Helen Clark, as she looked down her nose on national television during the final debate of the election campaign and said goodbye to Mr Hide. She was trying to tell New Zealanders that the ACT Party was beaten for all money and would not be returning to Parliament. Mr Hide proved to Prime Minister Helen Clark and a lot of other members of the Labour Party how very, very wrong she was.

Lianne Dalziel talked about the perception that vast sums of money can influence an election. Once again, I put that $300,000 limit in the context of what we the politicians and political parties reserve to be able to spend ourselves. We are happy to pass legislation. Today we are passing legislation that will increase what a political party can spend—it will actually increase it. A formula currently set down in legislation allows a political party to spend just over $1 million plus $20,000 for every electorate in which it stands a candidate. That amount is being increased to $1,032,000 plus $25,000 per electorate in which it stands a candidate. So for National and Labour, with their broadcasting allocations, the figure will rise to some $5.5 million. Later on in this debate, ACT will be moving amendments to increase third-party spending limits, and I look forward to discussing those later in the debate.

I conclude by summarising what I have said on this part. The ACT Party strongly opposes the restrictions on third parties, and certainly the restriction that means they are allowed to spend only $300,000, or less than one-sixteenth of what the major political parties have the right to spend

Part Two:

I will take a brief call, in particular on clause 27 of the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill. Clause 27 deals with the transitional provisions relating to donations. We had a contribution from Metiria Turei from the Green Party on the issue of donations; this clause raises the issue of why we actually disclose donations at all and, as a consequence, why we need clause 27, or any provisions relating to donations.

I am surprised that National members did not take the opportunity to speak on the first part of this bill, because in the last week we have seen a classic instance relating to donations. We are arguing whether a party should have to disclose donations of $10,000 or more, or of $15,000 or more. But what have we had from the Labour Party? Its candidate for the Auckland mayoralty has disclosed in the last week that his funds were paid into a separate trust, and that trust wrote a cheque. It was not for $10,000 or $15,000. How much do Labour members think it was for? It was for half a million dollars.

Hon Judith Collins: No! Big business.

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: We would not know whether it was big business. We would not know whether it was 100 people putting in $5,000 each. Who knows? It could have been that Mr Owen Glenn wrote a cheque for $500,000. Perhaps Mr Owen Glenn wrote a cheque for $250,000. How do we justify that?

Let us put on the record the fact that the ACT Party believes in privacy. The ACT Party believes in people being able to spend their own money. The ACT Party believes in political parties being able to raise money, and it believes in the right of third parties to go out and raise money.

Let us look at the justification. What did Mr Brown say when he was asked about the cheque for half a million dollars that was written from his trust? One of his staffers was reputed to have said that their support has come from across the political spectrum—some left, some right—and they all believe in the vision of Mr Brown, and they would like privacy. They want the right to donate money to Mr Brown’s campaign. They do not want to be disclosed; they want that right.

The reason I raise this issue is that clause 27 specifically deals with the issue of donations. You may not have read clause 27, Mr Chairperson—you have a big job—but it talks about transitional provisions for donations. Essentially, in voting against this clause the ACT Party is saying that it should not be there at all. We actually support the spokesperson for Mr Brown. We support Len Brown, the Mayor of Auckland, selected by the Labour Party, whose spokesperson said that their supporters come from across the wide political spectrum and they are entitled to their privacy. That is what he said. He said that they were entitled to their privacy. They went out and raised that money and paid it into the “Support Len Brown for Mayor” trust, and the trust wrote a cheque. The ACT Party does not disagree with that. In fact, Mr Banks did the same thing—let us acknowledge that. Let us acknowledge that both Mr Banks and Mr Brown had supporting trusts that wrote cheques for a substantial sum.

I am very conscious of Labour. It often puts up speakers who say: “There is a word for that. One cannot say it in this Parliament, but it starts with ‘h’.” That is what we object to in this bill. Yes, there are restrictions on donations, and there are restrictions on what one has to disclose, but the ACT Party makes this point. The supporters of Mr Brown believe they should be able to support Mr Brown, whether they are from the left or the right, because they believe in Mr Brown’s vision for Auckland, and we think other New Zealanders should have the same right. If they support the vision of the Labour Party, they should be able to support the Labour Party and have their privacy protected. It is the same for those who support the vision of the Green Party, the National Party, the ACT Party, or the Māori Party. People are entitled to their privacy.

We will be voting against this part—[Interruption ]—and for the same reason we will be voting against the bill.

The CHAIRPERSON (Hon Rick Barker): I have not called the member again. I say to the member that despite my request for people to focus on the bill, the member ranged over a whole range of things. Yes, the member mentioned clause 27, but even I can see past that. I say to the member that I will give him the call again if he is going to focus on this part of the bill.

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: Thank you, Mr Chair. I conclude by saying that the ACT Party is opposed to this part of the bill, as it is opposed to the whole bill.

We acknowledge the work that Mr Power has done and we certainly acknowledge, quite genuinely, Mr Power. I am sure Mr Power is well aware that this bill is a million miles away from what Labour, at the last election, inflicted on the people of New Zealand, and he is to be congratulated at least on that. Thank you.