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Harawira - Electoral Finance Bill Second Reading

Electoral Finance Bill Second Reading
Hone Harawira, Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau
Thursday 22 November 2007

Over the last couple of months we’ve seen all kinds of groups and individuals opposing and interpreting this bill as “almost impossible”, very difficult, messy and expensive, and overly complex.

And yet here we are today, discussing a Bill that leading justice agencies still have major reservations about.

As we reviewed the select committee report, I was reminded of a comment in Te Putatara, a column by Ross Himona, which described the National and Labour ‘two-party power culture’ as having created a sham democracy around the bastion of privilege called Parliament; an illusion of representative government. He said:

In the coming election campaign they will argue that one has more "integrity" than the other. They will argue that one is more "competent" than the other. They will argue about the "decent society" that they claim to represent. They will argue about who cares more for the "people".

None of that matters. They are but two halves of the same dragon; there is no difference between the parties.

Himona said his analysis is of a Parliament ruled by an ‘unwritten constitution’ and the myth of parliamentary sovereignty which dominates the control of information. He concluded:

It has been able to keep most of the country in ignorance about the parlous state of democracy in New Zealand, and it has been able to keep most of the country in ignorance as it dipped into the coffers and delivered power and wealth to the favoured few.

Mr Speaker, Himona’s analysis was written way back in 1990, some seventeen years before this Bill even came up, but in many respects Te Putatara could be put alongside the views of the Human Rights Commission, the Electoral Commission, the Law Society and many of the other 572 public submissions on this Bill that called for accountability, transparency and integrity in the laws around electoral financing; a position very much supported by the Maori Party, because in examining the rules governing election campaign expenditure and the sources of campaign finance, we firmly believe that maintaining integrity and honesty is essential to the whole process.

The Maori Party supports government driven by participation, discussion and debate; the Maori Party supports treating public monies with respect; the Maori Party supports the right of the electorate to be informed; and the Maori Party supports elections conducted in an environment of transparency; because they are principles we have supported right through this debate; principles encapsulated in an address by Professor Whatarangi Winiata, at the Symposium on Political Party and Election Campaign Funding held in June this year, when he described the pursuit of tikanga such as accountability, transparency and integrity as giving expression to the principles of rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga.

Donation Disclosure

We welcome the tightening of rules around political donations, and particularly the rules on anonymous donations, to ensure that financial power does not determine electoral success, and we understand the thinking behind clear recording and reporting procedures for donations; but there is a big difference between supporting the general principle and supporting this Bill.

When the Electoral Commission says that the clause differentiating between election expenses and daily MP duties is almost impossible to interpret, then this House has a real problem.

Dr Catt has suggested that this clause would make it almost impossible to interpret parts of the Bill, and she wasn’t the only one.

The Law Society also described the sheer complexity of the law as one of its major flaws; referring in particular to the new part of the Bill which takes over five pages to describe the rules around anonymous donations; a complexity which descends into outright absurdity when we find that if someone brings 300 koura to a hui, those juicy crayfish might actually have to be sent to the Electoral Commission to get stamped before being sent back to the hui, and before anyone tries to tell me that the limit only applies to political events, believe me when I tell you that any hui for Maori, is a political hui.

Third Parties

The Bill also adds a special level of regulation, requiring third parties to disclose election specific donations for amounts over five thousand dollars, but the Human Rights Commission was particularly concerned at the way in which third parties might be fined for not complying with the requirement to register.

And the Maori Party is concerned that the new definition of election advertising to cover the whole last year in a three year election cycle is so wide that it is likely to catch any comment made during election year, the Maori Party is concerned that the new definition of election advertising will effectively curtail freedom of expression in Aotearoa in that year, and the Maori Party is concerned that this Bill will gag anyone not registered as a third party with the threat of a conviction if they dare to speak out, a huge concern for Maori who consider that they have the right to speak out wherever and whenever they feel like it.

The Maori Party supports the suggestion of the Law Society for wider discussion on electoral reform, the Maori Party supports the submission of the Human Rights Commission, that this whole issue should have been given back to the public for full discussion and debate; the Maori Party supports the advice from the Electoral Commission that clarity and public ownership is needed to prevent any further loss of public confidence in the election campaign process; the Maori Party supports the right of the public to being able to determine the way in which our governments are chosen; and the Maori Party supports the call for a publically appointed independent body to be set up to oversee such a process.

Election finance laws should not be designed and determined by politicians and parties in isolation of the people; neither should they be designed and determined by the coalition of parties that make up only the majority party and their associates.

No government should ever be so arrogant as to make changes to the way in which we elect our representatives without first taking such an important principle to the people for discussion.

As the independent Maori voice in Parliament, the Maori Party shares the concern of the Human Rights Commission, hardly a doyen of the wealthy elite that this Bill is a dramatic assault on fundamental human rights – freedom of expression, and the right to participate in the election process; the Maori Party will not be party to a bill which restricts freedom of speech; and neither will we be party to a bill which penalises people for daring to do so.

ENDS

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