www.mccully.co.nz 6 June 2008
6 June 2008 (#332)
A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully
MP for East Coast Bays
EFA Exposes Labour’s Forked Tongues
Remember the long hours in Parliament in the latter part of 2007 as the Labour Party and its cronies passed the Electoral Finance Act (EFA)? The aim, we were told, was to establish principles of transparency, accountability and integrity in the fabric of the nation’s electoral laws.
Well this week we saw the first minor embarrassment of many as Labour’s EFA comes back to bite them severely on their hypocritical backsides. And worse, some of the paperwork exposes duplicity on a major scale – all of this from the party that allegedly champions transparency, accountability and integrity in our electoral laws.
You would imagine that having pontificated at great length about the provisions of the EFA, Labour managers and MPs would at least show some attempt to comply with their new laws. Apparently not. Early in 2008, with the EFA clearly in force, Labour activists, including some MPs, were on university campuses distributing a Labour brochure entitled “We’re Making a Difference.” The only problem was that the brochure did not carry the authorisation by the party’s financial agent that Labour’s new EFA required.
The matter was duly referred to the Electoral Commission, which, according to the EFA, “must report” any breach to the Police, unless the Commission believes the breach to be “inconsequential”. Continuing the long line of good fortune that the Clark Government has enjoyed at the hands of Crown Law, the Police, and other authorities, the Commission decided that the distribution of the brochure was a breach of the EFA, but also decided not to refer the matter to the Police. The Commission did not, however, find that the breach was “inconsequential”, and for that reason may find, at some point, a High Court ruling that it should have referred it.
It emerged in the Court this week that a public-spirited citizen had done what the Commission had failed to do, referring the matter directly to the Police. The Police, it has been reported this week, are now investigating. Which is what should have happened in the first place if the Commission had followed its duties under the EFA.
Much much more interesting were revelations from the Electoral Commission this week as a result of a request under the Official Information Act. A letter to the Commission by Labour Party General Secretary Mike Smith, regarding the above-mentioned brochure was released, making it possible to compare the Labour Party’s public stance through Justice Minister Annette King in Parliament, with the private stance conveyed in the Smith letter. And it suggests that Labour’s much vaunted commitment to transparency, accountability and integrity expired at the end of 2007 as the EFA kicked into action.
On April 10 Justice Minister Annette King was asked by National Deputy Leader Bill English to confirm that the costs associated with any copies of the “We’re Making a Difference” brochure delivered during 2008 (after the EFA took effect) would be counted against the Labour spending cap.
“Yes”, said King, “because the general secretary of the Labour Party has already said … that it is attributable.”
Pressed for further confirmation, King stated again that “the general secretary of the Labour Party has decided that this particular booklet…….will be apportioned against Labour Party expenses.”
OK then. No problem with that. Except that the Electoral Commission has now released a letter from the very same Mike Smith, General Secretary of the Labour Party, telling a very different story. The totally opposite story to be precise and written only two days before King appears to have led Parliament completely up the garden path.
The Smith letter expresses “concern” to the Commission about the manner in which the complaint regarding the brochure had been handled. There was, Smith asserted, an “absence of the most basic principles of natural justice in the way in which the allegation was dealt with.” And far from conceding that Labour officials had distributed the offending document during 2008, and that some of the costs would be apportioned for the purpose of the Labour Party return, he argued exactly the opposite.
The Smith position stated in the letter was to “absolutely deny that there was any breach on the part of the Labour Party.” Further, said Smith, “I do not agree that the breach was one of lack of a promoter statement on a document that was published and distributed lawfully last year by the parliamentary party. A person or persons unknown may or may not have distributed that pamphlet this year without such a statement, but that does not constitute a breach by the Labour Party.” Given that these “person or persons unknown” for whom the Labour Party has no responsibility included Labour Members of Parliament, this was an extraordinary claim to make.
Smith goes on to state that he would “like to have the opportunity to make submissions to the Commission regarding the way in which it handles the application of the law in relation to political parties” – a clear indication that he intended to remind the Commission who their political masters were.
But the real question is this: what was the Minister of Justice doing telling Parliament that the General Secretary of the Labour Party had accepted that because Labour had distributed some of the brochures during 2008, a proportion of the cost would be included in the official return, when just two days earlier the same General Secretary had written to the Commission stated there was no breach because if the brochure had been distributed in 2008 (and he did not concede that it had) it was by “persons unknown”? The costs would therefore not be apportioned for the return.
The Minister of Justice Annette King is the minister responsible for the EFA legislation, and for the Electoral Commission. And now she has been caught telling a full frontal porky to Parliament in relation to the very legislation she claimed would bring integrity back into our electoral system. All of which is deeply symbolic.
Now the EFA may be a mass of vile, petty, arbitrary, vindictive Stalinism. But it is Labour’s vile, petty, arbitrary, vindictive Stalinism. Very specifically it is Annette King’s vile, petty, arbitrary, vindictive Stalinism. And if the Labour Party, aided and abetted by foolish cronies, are going to visit such anti-democratic nonsense upon our statute books, the very least they can do is abide by it themselves. Failing that, it will fall to others to ensure that their misdemeanours are exposed, and the authorities hold them to account. Fortunately, such is the outrage over this particular piece of legislation there are plenty of people prepared to do just that.