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Dalziel: Third Reading Electoral Amendment Bill

Lianne Dalziel
Labour Spokesperson on Justice
Third Reading Electoral (Finance Reform & Advance Voting) Amendment Bill & Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill
14th December 2010

Labour will be supporting the final reading of the Electoral (Finance Reform & Advance Voting) Amendment Bill & Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill.

These Bills did not excite the same level of public attention as did the Referendum Bill – with the Electoral Finance Bill attracting 44 submissions – 11 of which were heard in person – and the Parliamentary Service Bill attracting only 6 submissions – 4 of which were heard. I wish to acknowledge the work of that committee and in particular to thank Amy Adams for her competency in chairing the committee and also for her willingness to engage on issues where there wasn’t agreement. There are issues upon which she and I will never agree, but I respect her position, because I understand it and I believe that is the side of this place that the public doesn’t see – the genuine contest of ideas that occurs in the select committee behind closed doors.

Can I also acknowledge the Minister’s willingness to seek a compromise that enabled a consensus to emerge around the most important elements of the legislation. For the Labour Party that was the cap on third party spending, believing as we did that without the cap, the potential for well-resourced campaigns to exert undue influence or even the perception of undue influence would be damaging to the integrity of our electoral system and run the risk of what I call the Americanisation of New Zealand elections.

I have traversed the issues throughout the debates on the bill, so want to summarise them by way of contribution to the Third Reading by reminding us why we are having this debate. I am not going to defend our attempt to write new rules in the wake of what happened in 2005; they were not durable because there was no attempt to reach consensus or make compromises, because of the uncompromising position of a party that avoided the regulated period to set the scene for one of the most bitter campaigns I have ever experienced in my then 15 years in politics, and which culminated with the secret collusion with a religious sect to help bring down a government.
The irony in the fact that the sect does not vote and the fact that they used subterfuge to hide their identity was not lost on a voting public, who would have been unaware of their involvement had it not been exposed prior to the election. Trust between the parties broke down completely when consensus on race issues was finally destroyed with the Iwi Kiwi billboard campaign masterminded by John Key’s right hand man, Steven Joyce, and the team from Crosby Textor.

The billboards with the photo-shopped photos – the scowling face of Helen Clark contrasted with the benevolent kindly face of Don Brash – set the scene for a campaign I would prefer to forget, but which I will always remember - to remind me what would have happened if the subterfuge had not been exposed.

This bill will not stop the scene-setting behaviour outside the regulated period – but it will stop third parties like the Exclusive Brethren going to the Electoral Commission with a $1.2M campaign and after finding out that using Don Brash’s photo and promoting him as the next Prime Minister, changing it to attack pamphlets on the Labour government on health and defence and the Greens on drug policy. To know that this religious sect preaches the virtues of integrity but failed to practice them by hiding their true identity with false addresses, as they did in that campaign, was a revelation to the extent that these extreme right wing organisations will go to. They will not be allowed to spend $1.2M in the next campaign as a single entity - $300,000 will be the limit. And by law we will be entitled to know who they are and where they can be genuinely contacted.

I hope I never see the like of the 2005 election campaign again. Let us contest ideas and aspirations. Let us debate plans and strategies. Let us engage with the public and each other with respect for the democratic process. And let us never ever allow this place to become subservient to the influence of a well-resourced minority who would never stand for election to serve the public interest, but who would only ever seek to exploit a private benefit from the shadows.

They say sunlight is the best disinfectant and this law does cast light into those shadows and that is why the Labour Party will support its final reading today.


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