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.]