Pita Sharples: Appropriation Bill
Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill
Dr Pita Sharples; Co-leader of the Maori Party
Tuesday 13 November 2007
Every year, on the 9th August, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is celebrated. It is a day which provides the world with an opportunity to focus on indigenous peoples - to address the issues of exclusion, of discrimination, of poverty, of marginalization that are still very much part of the daily reality for many indigenous peoples.
On the August 9th this year, was marked by another significant event – and that has been referred to as ‘credit crunch Thursday’ - the day that the world banking community took fright. It was a day when simply all international banks stopped lending to each other, on the brinks of a complete financial meltdown.
And so here we are, just three months later, throwing caution to the wind, allowing the liberal use of taxpayer funds for political party spending.
This Bill extends the interim - and narrow - definition of electioneering in order to validate the range of spending allowed under the auspices of taxpayer funding.
So where does August 9 fit in the greater scale of things? How does the credit crisis, the disparate economic outlook of Māori New Zealanders feature within the argument over election funding?
Well the answer is nowhere.
And this is one of the most serious issues that we have regarding the funding entitlements for parliamentary purposes.
That the payment of funding entitlements does not occur in a vacuum.
And so when we look at the context of estimated spending for this Appropriation Bill, we can not ignore other realities such as the fact that bankruptcy levels in New Zealand are now at an all-time record high. New Zealand households now owe some $78 billion dollars - a five billion increase in this financial year.
So having established that this Appropriation Bill has nothing to do with financial reality, it only remains to be seen what the funding entitlements for parliamentary purposes really stands for.
In this Bill, the provision will apply to the close of 30 June 2009 for funding to be used by the performance of an individual Member of Parliament or political party in meeting their roles and functions.
We in the Māori Party have supported the pursuit of tikanga such as accountability, transparency and integrity in association with the funding of political parties and election campaigns.
But this is where the challenge of this legislation is so apparent.
Because of course its origins are anything but in line with tikanga. Its origins are based, firmly and squarely, in legislation which validated the invalid spending for purposes deemed improper by the Auditor General after the 2005 Elections.
What we know is the confidence and trust of te iwi Māori is essential towards enhancing democratic political participation.
And the question we must ask is when we look at this Bill, what is the record of honesty that we know of the parties sponsoring this Bill? Can we really trust any party who can support retrospective legislation to condone past illegalities?
Can we trust any party who can call for strict rules of sub judice to be applied in debates in this chamber, but then go outside and suddenly it’s open season on matters before the Court?
Integrity and honesty is hardly the image, however, that we associate with parties who have variously interpreted the rules regarding the broadcasting spend or parliamentary funding to serve their own needs.
There is no way to entertain corruption, illegalities, invalid spending or abuse of power in the running of democracy.
And so we look towards this Bill, as with any Bill, to ascertain how it can guarantee the active exercise of responsibility,
If one was to believe yesterday’s front page Herald editorial, that active exercise of responsibility being debated in this Bill is being potentially undermined by backroom deals being struck by Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First in the secret election spending laws being dreamt up outside of this Chamber.
So while all other political parties are being lulled into a false sense of innocence that basically this Bill is nothing more than a temporary stop-gap to continue interim definitions of funding for parliamentary purposes, some other players are merrily reforming electoral spending laws.
What presumably is going on behind closed caucus doors, are laws to favour the political parties that are putting the Bill together.
And this, hilariously, is meant to be a Bill which is about how to enhance participation in the democratic process.
Madam Speaker, in the interests of supporting transparency, good governance and ethical practices in our parliament, we in the Māori Party want to share four important concepts which could be helpful in the legislative process.
The concepts that we believe complement transparency are:
Kaitiakitanga (sustainable protection of taonga)
Kotahitanga (unity of purpose)
And manaakitanga (mana enhancement).
We believe these four concepts are central to the pursuit of a healthy political democracy.
The Bill before the House today, is merely an exercise to adjust the timeframe which were due to expire on 31 December 2007.
But while this Bill is just to stretch out the time boundaries, at the same time the Electoral Finance Bill is spinning along regardless.
The question that we are of course curious to know, is whether the Justice and Electoral Select Committee will keep to the original timeframe anticipated for the Electoral Finance Bill of reporting back by the 25th January 2008, or whether, miraculously, there will be suddenly sufficient agreement behind closed doors for the process to be sped up before Parliament breaks up this year.
We return again to this central concept of democracy - and enhanced political participation.
Remembering that this Appropriation Bill is based on the premise set up by Auditor General Kevin Brady that there needed to be fairness in matters of parliamentary expenditure, we cannot help but be influenced by the power of messages put forward from groups such as the Law Society or the Human Rights Commission regarding electoral law reform.
The Law Society stated in their submissions on the Electoral Finance Bill, and I quote, that the Bill would:
“make participation in our parliamentary democracy and arduous and perhaps even legally dangerous undertaking for ordinary New Zealanders”.
And the Human Rights Commission has famously described the restrictions on election activity as a “dramatic assault” on fundamental rights, which “undermines the legitimacy of political processes”.
Madam Speaker, just as this Government could carelessly, callously disregard the priorities and world views of indigenous peoples, by voting against the Declaration the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; it would appear that they are also seemingly oblivious to the fact that democracy is generally considered to be about sanctioning a system of decision-making processes which promote free and equal rights of participation.
Not three parties in; all other parties out.
And it is perhaps useful, to conclude with the wisdom of Aristotle, who has said, and I quote:
“if liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost”.
It is because these factors are not found in this Bill, that the Māori Party has no alternative but to vote, in protest, against the Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill.