Hughes: Interim Parliamentary Funding Bill
Hon Darren Hughes
Deputy Leader of the House
Embargoed until delivery
Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill:
First Reading Speech Notes
As the Leader of the House has said, this is a very simple bill. I want to use my speech to day to dispel some of the myths being peddled about it.
This first myth I need to dispel is around electioneering. This bill will not allow parties to use parliamentary funding to pay for electioneering material.
This is made quite clear in clause 3 which states that funding cannot be used for communications services that include electioneering.
Those who claim that the bill will provide for electioneering are misleading the public. This bill continues the clear legislative prohibition on using parliamentary funds for electioneering. This clear legislative prohibition did not exist until we legislated for it last year. This provides clear and transparent rules which all parties must abide.
The second myth I need to dispel is that this bill is part of some grand plan to allow MPs to spend when others can’t. This bill does not allow MPs to spend money on campaigning when others can’t. It provides rules under which MPs can carry out their obligations to communicate with their constituents. Perhaps National MPs don’t take this obligation seriously, but MPs supporting this bill certainly do. On a related point, Mr Brownlee continues to peddle the line that the Electoral Finance Bill has changed the rules around accounting for MPs spending as election expenses. This is not true and if Mr Brownlee doesn’t know this then he needs to read the current Electoral Act.
The Electoral Act of 1993, passed when a National Party Government held office, provides quite clearly, that activity undertaken in a member’s capacity as a Member of Parliament, does not count towards election spending. Nothing in the Electoral Finance Bill changes this and nothing in this bill changes it. What the National Party seems to be suggesting is that MPs should be prevented from communicating with their constituents. This is not something that we can support.
The third myth I want to dispel is that this bill is being somehow ‘rushed through the House’. This bill is following the normal legislative process for a bill of this sort. The bill relates to appropriations. It had to meet the test for such bills, otherwise it would not have been allowed on the Order Paper in this form. It will proceed through the normal deliberative process for such bills. It is the National Party that seems determined to try to play games with the proper legislative process on this bill. I would be surprised if the Shadow Leader of the House really believed his mock outrage on this. He has been in this House long enough to understand the legislative process, but it does concern me that some of his acolytes might actually believe his crocodile tears. We are not taking any short cuts with this bill, we are not rushing it through under urgency and we are not bypassing scrutiny. We are simply following the normal legislative process.
Another myth that Mr Brownlee insists on propagating is the idea that this bill allows the Labour Party to use government departments funding to promote the interests of the party. Again this is simply not true. This bill relates to spending for Parliamentary purposes. Mr Brownlee seeks to confuse two quite separate issues. We heard Mr Brownlee doing this again on National Radio on Tuesday. Nothing in this bill relates to spending by the Government. It only relates to spending by Parliamentary parties – and let’s be clear, the party which benefits the most from funding for Parliamentary parties is the National Party.
Finally I need to address a whole range of myths about what this bill is actually about. This bill is not about the Electoral Finance regime. This bill is not about Labour’s pledge cards, or National’s pledge pamphlets. It’s not about whether money that has already been repaid should have been. It’s not about whether Katherine Rich in 2005 or Bill English in 2002 pushed the boundaries of the rules.
It is actually a quite simple bill. It is about whether the current legislative framework under which we are operating should be extended through to June 2009. I wish we were debating a substantive rewrite of the rules that would provide an enduring legislative framework. Unfortunately the proximity of the election made it impossible to reach agreement among parties on such a framework. For this very reason it is essential that we extend the current interim framework until 2009. This will allow parties to work together outside the heat of an election campaign and come up with some enduring rules that we can all agree on.
In commending this bill to the House I would also like to acknowledge the support that has come from across the House for this measure. It is not that often that Labour and Act agree on an issue, let alone Labour, Act, the Greens, New Zealand First and United Future, but I think it shows that this is not an example of Labour trying to foist something on the House. This bill has grown out of genuine consultation between parties across the House and is an example of the benefits of parties working together in good faith. It is a shame that the National Party could not bring itself to see this process through.
I commend this Bill to the House.