Clark still wants state funding

September 3, 2008

Whatever questions Helen Clark is asking over the New Zealand first donations debacle, she’s giving the wrong answer:

Miss Clark said it would be better if parties were State-funded.

“The quickest way to clean up kiwi politics is to move away from corporate funding and substantial individual giving to a transparent process of government-led funding, state funding, of political parties.”

There is a presumption that spending more money attracts more votes. But David Farrar  analysed the amount of money parties spent in elections and how many votes they got and found that wasn’t the case:

Finally we have 2005. Note Labour for two elections in a row have had a higher total spend than National. This time they spent around 30% or $950,000 more than National yet got only 2% more. ACT spent twice as much as NZ First for one quarter the votes. The Greens spent more than NZ First yet got less votes. Of the parties that made Parliament the spend per vote ranged from $3.40 to $34.00.

So while there is a case for overall spending limits, any nonsense about buying elections is just that – nonsense. The last four elections stand testament to this. The impact of money on elections is relatively insignificant compared to policies, party reputation, leadership and media treatment.

As my earlier post  argues, the bar is already set too low for registering to be a political party. They need only 500 members and are voluntary organisations with no right to taxpayer largesse.

If they haven’t got the membership and fund raising capabilities to operate effectively and within the law they haven’t got what it takes to run the country.

Wee towns coming back to life

September 3, 2008

Country towns which nearly died during the 80s ag-sag are getting new leases of life for a variety of reasons.

Improvements in technology enable people to run their businesses from almost anywhere. A couple who live near us make a very good living from importing goods and selling them on Trade Me.

Changes in land use from extensive sheep and beef farming to more intensive dairying, horticulture and viticulture have created more jobs and brought more people into country districts which flows through in to the wee towns.

Tourist ventures such as the Central Otago Rail Trail  and the Banks Peninsula Track  bring visitors which creates opportunities for the provisions of food, accomodation and retail.

And sometimes the arrival of a new business is the catalyst which brings a wee town to life. Fleur Sullivan did it for Moeraki when she opened her cafe there and now Jo Seagar has done it for Oxford.  

A group of us went to Jo’s cooking school last year. She told us their first year had gone much better than they’d budgeted for and it was easy to see why. After enjoying the cooking lesson and meal we all bought something at the homeware store on our way out.

But it’s not just the Seagars who are doing well, their business has brought people into their new home town which has created opportunities for other businesses. One of which is Emmas at Oxford a book, gift and gourmet essentials store which Jo encouraged us to visit before we left town.

TV3 profiled Jo and her impact on Oxford. You can read about it and watch the video here.

Is the bar too low?

September 3, 2008

New Zealand First has twice used the excuse of a change in adminstration staff for their failure to comply with electoral finance laws of disclosure.

Ben Thomas at the NBR  recalls that the excuse was first used when it was filed its 2007 donations return late and then again over omitting to declare the $25,000 donation from Sir Robert Jones.

Helen Clark  isn’t concerned:

“They’re a small party with a rather amateur organisation. These things can happen.”

Miss Clark has no plans to sack Mr Peters, who has stood down as Foreign Affairs, Racing and associate senior citizens minister.

That means he is still entitled to a ministerial salary, residence and crown car.

“This has happened at the level of party administration I wouldn’t expect to be held accountable for some sort of mistake at the Labour party head office,” Miss Clark said.

In the normal course of events the leader wouldn’t be held accountable for the party administration, but one of the excuses for filing the donations return late was the party was waiting for Peters to return from overseas.

However, even if we accept he’s not responsible for the party administration, if a party can’t run itself properly how can we have any confidence in its ability to run, or help run, the country?

The requirements for groups wishing to register as political parties  in New Zealand are not onerous:

1)      An acceptable party name (and any abbreviation).

2)      Satisfactory evidence of at least 500 eligible members.

3)      Statutory declarations from its party secretary concerning membership, intention to contest general elections, and advising of any component parties.

4)      Party membership rules showing what is required for current financial membership, and candidate selection rules which provide for the democratic involvement of members in the process.

5)      An auditor (or person who has agreed to be auditor when the party is registered).

6)      A party secretary with a postal address (and ideally phone, fax and e-mail contact details).

7)      Either the secretary, or a sitting MP who is a current financial member of the party, to make the application.

The party should also understand and be prepared to meet the ongoing compliance requirements of being a registered political party.

All of that is fairly simple, although New Zealand First obviously has problems with the last point about meeting ongoing compliance requirements.

But that isn’t a reason to make it even easier. The bar is already set too low and one way to raise it would be to increase the number of members required before a party can register.

Under MMP wee parties can have power that is well out of proportion to their membership and share of the vote. It is possible for one, with just 500 members, to hold the balance of power.

That’s not a lot of people – National has a lot more than that in the Waitaki electorate alone. Any other volunatry organisation would need many more members to have a national profile and and a fraction of that sort of influence.

Participation from as many people as possible is one of the signs of a healthy democracy and the requirements to register as a party should not be so difficult as to deter people with a genuine desire to participate in the process.

But it’s not expecting too much for a group which could hold the balance of power to have at least 2,000 members.

That’s not a lot of people to commit to your cause if you’re got what it takes to help run the country; and it might be enough to pay adminsitration staff who have the ability to comply with the law.

[Update: Inquiring Mind has the quotes about the party waiting for Peters before filing its return.]

You can’t fool all the people

September 3, 2008

Adam Smith has been perusing the Domion Post’s letters to the editor:

Has there been a bigger irony this year than in race 1 at the Racing Tauranga meeting last Saturday? In this race, there was a horse called Winston and a horse called Who’s Got D’Cash. For the record, Who’s Got D’Cash finished 2nd but, sadly, Winston failed to produce anything.


You can fool some of the people

September 3, 2008

From the ODT letters to the editor:

Why wait until now to let the dogs loose on Winston Peters? After all there have been vague clouds of uncertainty about electoral donations swirling around since the last election. If the motives to uncover the truth were pure, the investigation should have happened back then. But no, Mr Peters’ enemies have deliberately bided their time until the election is nigh. It simply suits their agenda.

It is patently clear that National’s aim is to destroy, discredit, alienate or neutralise any coalition partners available to Labour. If the election is a close call, Labour’s ability to form a government is compromised.

National and Act have engineered this charade to suit their own purposes. Genuine concerns over the legality of donations should have been dealt with immediately they came to light.

Anyway, as Helen Clark has previously said, the Electoral Finance Act rules applying prior to January this year were so wide a bulldozer could be driven through them. No matter our private opinions of Mr Peters’ handling of the donation saga chances are whatever he did was legal under the legislation applying at the time.

Lynley Simmons – Timaru.

Champion CEO for Meat & Wool

September 3, 2008

Dr Scott Champion has been appointed CEO of Meat and Wool NZ.

He is MWNZ general manager for market access services and takes over as CEO at the end of the month.

MWNZ chair Mike Peterson said:


“Scott has significant knowledge and experience of industry issues and as the leader of the Market Access and Services team, he has shown us an energy for building important industry relationships that deliver benefits for sheep and beef farmers and the wider industry.


“Scott has led the development of our beef and sheep meat marketing programmes and the market access work that contributed to improved access for meat and wool products through the China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) plus the recently announced ASEAN-Australia New Zealand FTA.  This is alongside the range of technical issues work that helps protect our beef, and sheep meat trade and the wool industry.

“Scott has also led a re-focussing of our North Asia beef programmes which now clearly differentiate New Zealand grass-fed beef. He has helped facilitate the growth of commercial industry investment alongside Meat & Wool New Zealand through new joint venture programmes for lamb in North America and beef in North Asia.”

Before joining Meat & Wool New Zealand, Dr Champion was the Research Development and Product Innovation Manager for the New Zealand Merino Company, based in Christchurch. Prior to that he was a lecturer in animal production and related subjects at the School of Agricultural Science, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia. Scott’s PhD thesis looked at sheep nutrition and its impact on wool growth.


Dr Champion said he was looking forward to the new role. “This is a time of significant change for the sector and while it’s pleasing to see stronger prices feeding back to farmers, we must use this window to generate better long-term returns for sheep and beef farmers.”


Dr Champion said he was committed to ensuring Meat & Wool New Zealand played its role in ensuring the sheep and beef sector contributed maximum value to the New Zealand economy.


EFA has “chilling” effect” – Catt

September 3, 2008

The law of common sense is muffling free speech.

In an outspoken speech, Dr Helena Catt has outlined the difficulties the commission is having with the new Electoral Finance Act, describing it as containing significant “obscure” sections and uncertainty which had stifled political activity.

“It is clear that having uncertainty remaining within the regulated period has had a chilling effect on the extent and type of participation in political and campaign activity.”

The law was passed under great controversy in December last year, and its provisions applied from January 1 because of the extension of the election period from three months prior to an election.

In Dr Catt’s speech yesterday to the Lexis Nexis electoral finance law forum, she said significant parts of the law were “obscure” and the commission was “unable to be as fast and definitive in our actions or guidelines as would be desirable”.

She warned the Commission’s decision were open to legal challenges, which was made more likely by the heightened litigious environment following the controversy over the new law.

“The Commission is not confident it will be able to reach informed positions on the interpretation of some provision within the election period, and note the situation is exacerbated by the legal reality that it cannot finally determine questions of whether, for instance, an item is an election advertisement.”

National Party deputy leader Bill English said Dr Catt was effectively confirming the EFA was unenforcable.

“This has confirmed National’s worst fears. The voices of those who want to participate in our democracy have been silenced and just a few months out from the election watchdogs still don’t know what an election advertisement is.”

He said the Commission was effectively saying it could not promise the law would be properly policed or applied and said this was “the direct consequence of Labour’s decision to railroad the law into place with the support of NZ First and the Greens”.

The only ones who may be surprised by this are the parties who rammed it through against very good advice.

That advice came from people and groups with no political axes to grind including, as Keeping Stock  points out, the Human Rights Commission.  

But the really chilling thing is they haven’t learned from the experience and are repeating their mistakes with the Emissions Trading Scheme.

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