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Pita Sharples - Parliamentary Purposes Bill Speech

Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill; First Reading
Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party
Thursday 8 November 2007

Over the last week, there has been a great deal of political postering and jostling for airtime about the concept of the ‘rule of law’.

Two of the minor parties, desperate to reach the threshold, have leveled wild accusations at one of my colleagues, that he is supposedly, and I quote, “insisting he will flout the rule of law”.

This concept - the rule of law - is absolutely relevant to this Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill, and as such, worthy of some definition.

TRS Allan, in Law, Liberty and Justice defines the rule of law, and I quote, as:

An amalgam of standards, expectations and aspirations: it encompasses traditional ideas about liberty and natural justice, and more generally ideas about the requirements of justice and fairness in the relations between government and the governed”.

This, of course, is where it all becomes subject to interpretation.

The offence taken by the two minor parties, arose from a comment that Mr Harawira made around the Terrorism Suppression Act, namely:

“I will not sit quietly by, while State forces terrorise my people. If this requires of me that I speak out against the rule of law that would impose terroron Māori communities in this country, then I will speak out. I will speak out against it in this Chamber, on television, in newspapers, and anywhere else I possibly can.

The rule of law Mr Harawira was following, most certainly adheres to the requirements of justice and fairness that we would expect to see in any relations between government and the governed.

But does that samerule of law make it acceptable for the National Party to refuse to pay $112, 500 of GST owed on 2005 election advertisements screened on television?

Does that same rule of law make it acceptable for NZ First to mis-spend $157, 934 of taxpayers funds at the 2005 elections, and over two years later, the debt is still unpaid?

How can it be that political parties misspent over one million dollars of taxpayer funds, without Baycorp, IRD, the Serious Fraud Office or any other debt collector knocking on their door to pick up the unpaid dues?

Is the rule of law the same law applied in one law for all?

Because when we think about ‘justice and fairness in the relations between government and the governed’, we can not go far without remembering the events of last October, when Parliament passed a Bill validating Parliamentary spending back to 1989.

A bill, passed under urgency, to validate the invalid; to push through legislation which would authorize the illegal expenditure.

Were parliamentary standards breached? Was the rule of law overthrown? What are the standards that apply when public monies are misspent?

Was the mere move to turn invalid spending into valid spending, the Government’s attempt to turn water into wine – making use of their legislative power for their own self-interest?

Was Parliamentary power misappropriated to serve the Labour Party well? Under whose gaze was the invalid spending being validated?

Mr Speaker, we in the Maori Party, are motivated by standards, expectations and aspirations inkeeping with the rule of law of tikanga and kaupapa Maori.

The kaupapa that we believe to be of most relevance to this Bill, continuing the interim meaning of funding for parliamentary purposes, are rangatiratanga (chieftainship); kaitiakitanga (sustainable protection of taonga), kotahitanga (unity of purpose) and manaakitanga (Mana enhancement).

It follows on, then that the pursuit of tikanga such as accountability, transparency and integrity give expression to rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga and as such uphold the rule of law according to te Ao Maori.

We are a party motivated by the practice of ‘walking the talk’.

Transparency is the means by which we enhance democratic political participation.

We maintain that disclosure of the rules and definitions – and more particularly the range of interpretations possible related to expenditure for parliamentary purposes, must be blatantly clear across the House.

For it is in the interests of the wider democratic state – not just the Parliament – that should dominate our thinking as we consider the meaning of taxpayer funded parliamentary spending.

I come back to the discussion around rule of law.

How can any party agree to the rollout of the appropriations law for election advertising and campaigning costs, when it is blatantly evident that the parties across this House have been unable to reach consensus over issues such as third party sponsorship; party donations; setting up trusts and other related issues?

Mr Speaker, New Zealand has been watching this Parliament as it attempts to come to terms with the various models of electoral reform being played out.

And as they watch, they have not been impressed. I refer to one New Zealand citizen, who wrote to us in April this year about these very issues. I’ll call him Malcolm –and I want to share his views about the proposed electoral reform. Malcolm said:

“My grandfather fought such forces in the Second World War to avoid this type of system being imposed on New Zealand. No parliament, no political party should ever be as arrogant as to change New Zealand’s democratic system without either testing such a policy through a general election or putting it to a referendum”

We believe the exercise of democratic participation is of such prime importance that the people must be intimately involved in guiding the parliament onwards.

Mr Speaker, in its effect, this massive Bill – of three entire pages – does nothing to move us forward from the catastrophic debarcle that followed the 2005 elections.

The Bill, in restoring the meaning of ‘funding entitlements for parliamentary purposes’ to that which was commonly understood before Mr Kevin Brady’s report as Controller and Auditor General sent the Parliament into a spin.

On one hand, we in the Maori Party were satisfied with rules surrounding election campaign expenditure and sources of campaign finance, as set out in the Electoral Act 1993.

We understood such rules and terms to be explicit and unambiguous, and as such, we were mortified that we were found to have misspent the sum of $48 following the election wash-up.

It is quite one thing however to have clear rules in place – and quite another to receive independent advice that these rules have not been routinely followed or applied.

That is the process that we now find ourselves in. The 2006 Report of the Controller and Auditor General takes us to a place vastly different than the one we were in prior to the 2005 elections.

We can not simply ignore his advice, or pretend that the expert independent opinion we have received is somehow irrelevant.

This Bill forces parties to revert to the status quo – prior to such a controversial and comprehensive report of our collective failings.

We in the Maori Party cannot freely, willingly adopt a position of perceived ignorance, when we all know there are many measures required to make general improvements to the funding of parliamentary purposes. We will be voting against this Bill.

ENDS

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