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Dunne: Third Reading Electoral Finance Bill

Media statement

For immediate release

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Hon Peter Dunne, Speech Notes, Third Reading Electoral Finance Bill, 18

DECEMBER 2007

UnitedFuture supported the development and introduction of the Electoral Finance Bill because we believed it was important to tidy up the excesses of the last election to ensure that New Zealand continued to have a fair and open electoral system into the future.

We still do - that is why we worked in the select committee and elsewhere to improve the legislation to remove its most obnoxious features, which we believe has been achieved, and why we have continued to support the Bill through the Second Reading and Committee of the Whole stage, despite our very deep concerns about the partisan way in which it has been developed.

We would have strongly preferred there to have been genuinely multiparty involvement in the development of this legislation, given that there was, at least initially, a measure of common ground apparent on some of the issues it was likely to cover.

Over recent weeks, partly but not solely in response to a well orchestrated campaign, it has become clear that many New Zealanders have deep unease about the Bill and its provisions as they perceive them.

Many hundreds of people have contacted me through letters, emails, our party website and other sources to let me know what they think about this legislation.

Contrary to what some may think I have read personally every single communication.

While some of those messages have contained the usual measures of abuse and partisanship, that I have properly disregarded, and others have been plainly misinformed, many have also come from people within my electorate and around the country whose views I genuinely respect.

In particular, I have been struck by the messages from individuals with no special political axe to grind who genuinely fear that this Bill will limit their rights to freedom of speech and expression.

I am not talking about lobby organisations who have a vested interest to pursue, but the average citizen who feels affronted by what they consider to be an attack on the essential freedoms they enjoy as a New Zealander.

Various efforts by me and others to persuade them that this is not the case have not succeeded, and it is pointless continuing to attempt to do so.

All of which brings me to the Bill itself.

No matter what it says, or how well it has been crafted, or what official interpretations are placed upon it, in the court of public opinion it is held to be a self-serving attack on the freedom of our electoral process.

That perception has become the new reality, whatever we in this House may think of it.

So the dilemma we as a party and I as an individual legislator face is this: should we continue to put in place legislation that we know is failing the test of public credibility, and the answer we have come to is that we should not.

During the life of a Parliament there are likely to be many pieces of legislation passed that are unpopular, and this Bill could just be another one of those.

There will be those who say Members of Parliament need to be able to withstand the public pressure on these matters in the wider interest of doing what is right.

We are elected here to lead our country, not blow aimlessly like straws in the wind, they will argue.

And that is so, and that is why UnitedFuture works constructively and co-operatively with the Labour-led Government through its confidence and supply agreement to achieve policies we believe are in the best interests of our country, and why we remain committed to doing so for at least the balance of this Parliamentary term.

However, this Bill is not just another piece of unpopular legislation.

Because of its nature and content, it goes beyond that.

There comes an occasional time when a blind adherence to leading the country gives way to what some might see as a form of arrogance, and where the perception of being a straw in the wind is outweighed by the necessity of being seen to listen to the people.

This Bill has become one of those occasions.

The blunt truth is New Zealanders have gone beyond caring about its content - they simply mistrust it.

I acknowledge the rich ironies here.

Many of the same people were properly appalled at the antics of the last election, and would be horrified if our election process ever became subverted by big money.

They do want to know just who is pulling the party strings.

But their mistrust has developed because, those views notwithstanding, they do not see this Bill so much as a genuine attempt to resolve those problems, as a case of political utu.

Legislation perceived in that way cannot succeed.

A more robust and transparent process of independent review of all aspects of election funding, including the provisions of this Bill and such vexed issues as state funding of political parties and a fixed election date, is a far better way to proceed.

UnitedFuture has listened carefully to the views and feelings of New Zealanders and consequently, we have come to the conclusion that we can no longer support the passage of the Electoral Finance Bill.


ENDS

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