Electoral panel cover for Labour agenda


The electoral panel Labour appointed last week and the consultation process it is to oversee looks like it is open and transparent but it is merely cover for its long held and self-interested agenda to introduce public funding for political parties.

John Armstrong says that while Labour has made no secret of its desire for the tax payer to fund political parties it is also aware it would suffer a public backlash if it tried to introduce it.

Finally, it has put its foot in the water, carefully making any introduction subject first to a major and (for New Zealand) unique public consultation exercise.

On the face of it, Labour would seem to deserve a small bouquet for this exercise. A panel of experts comprised of an electoral law specialist and two political scientists will report back to Parliament after a 70-strong representative “citizens’ forum” – the selection method has still to be worked out – has discussed possible options for changing existing ways of funding parties, including state funding.

But Labour is basically doing it this way to cover itself and therefore more out of political necessity than out of any generosity to critics of state funding. Labour also deserves a large brickbat. As it did in formulating the Electoral Finance Act, it has shut other political parties – principally National – out of the process by which it decided to set up the public consultation exercise.

Not a pretty picture is it? Acting out of political necessity, from self interest and without consultation.

National is miffed that Labour is getting away with giving the appearance of consultation while having again broken the convention that there be multi-party consensus on changes to electoral practises and electoral law.

That convention has been breached by National in the past. But that is no excuse for Labour continuing to do the same thing.

Changes to electoral practices and electoral law should have the widest possible buy-in from political parties in Parliament. Consensus is important both to buttress the credibility of the electoral system against undue criticism and to avoid constant chopping and changing to parts of it.

Constitutional matters are too important to be captured by party political interests. Stability and contancy require cross party and public support.

National argues financially-stretched Labour, in getting state funding on to the agenda, is simply putting its self-interest ahead of the public interest. More so because the panel’s review will not include existing taxpayer funding that parties get for their MPs through Parliamentary Services.

Labour, however, is punting that once state funding is in place, it will be difficult for National to dump it because it too will be a big beneficiary of the taxpayer-funded largesse.

All the more reason for National to stick to its principles and oppose state funding to ensure it isn’t introduced.

Friday’s announcement establishing the panel of experts shows some political cunning from Labour.

National might want to make state funding an election issue, but Labour will urge that such a recommendation will be for the panel to make.

That will be lost on many voters. It will be much easier for National to sell its opposition to state funding than for Labour to explain it’s leaving it to yet another committee.

National counters such a recommendation for state funding is likely because the chairman, Otago University’s Andrew Geddis, has previously expressed enthusiasm for the idea. That is a warning shot across Geddis’s bows that National will be watching the panel’s work closely.

Labour has also been clever in making the panel produce its final report by the end of October next year.

That not only helps take the issue out of the coming election campaign. It will make it easier to legislate the necessary law change introducing state funding in time for the 2011 election – presuming Labour is still in a position to do so.

National has everything to gain by making sure it is an election issue because it can argue that a vote for Labour is a vote for tax payer funding of political parties.

State funding on electoral review agenda


Labour and it’s allies are determined to introduce state funding of political parties.

Among the terms of reference for the expert panel  to review electoral administration and political party funding are:

The review will examine the current system of election funding and the question of introducing a system of state funding of political parties in New Zealand, including:

  • a review of international funding models;
  • issues with the current system of funding elections and political parties;
  • how any recommended changes to funding would impact on other Parliamentary funding;
  • what level, if any, of state funding of political parties is appropriate;
  • how any such funding should be allocated between political parties;
  • what constraints, if any, there should be regarding what such funding for political parties could be spent on;
  • whether such political party funding should incorporate, or be additional to funding for election programmes set out in Part 6 of the Broadcasting Act;
  • the relationship between state funding levels and rules regarding private funding of political parties.

Annette King announced the panel members today. They are: Otago University associate law professor Andrew Geddis who will be chair; Professor Stephen Levine, head of Wellington University School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International relations; and Dr Jean Drage from Canterbury Unviersity’s poltical science department.

Ms King said that during the first stage of the review, the Panel will review the administration of the electoral system, including the structure of the electoral agencies.

“The second stage includes the establishment of a Citizens’ Forum to ensure public participation in the review process. This group will include citizens selected from each electorate in New Zealand. They will be tasked with examining the funding of elections and political parties.

“The Expert Panel will assist during the Citizens’ Forum learning phase, and will prepare background information on the issues the forum will consider. The work of the Citizens’ Forum and its report will inform the Expert Panel’s final recommendations to the Minister of Justice.”

Ms King said the Expert Panel and Citizens’ Forum will provide an independent, non-political perspective on the reform options. “The independent nature of the process should give the public confidence in the outcome. The two stages of the Review, including the Panel’s work and the public participation process, will be completed by the end of October 2009.”

I don’t know the panel members and make no comment on their abilities, but yet again Labour has failed to consult other parties about the appointments. Yet again they are taking a party partisan apporach to a constitutional matter which ought to have cross-party support.

And while it may have escaped Labour’s notice there is an election in less than two months which might bring a change of government.

Can blustering be genetic?


Ever wondered why Winston Peters can’t give a straight answer to a simple question?

There is an indication that it might be genetic in his brother Wayne’s interview with Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon  yesterday which is transcribed here. When asked about the Spencer Trust and donations to New Zealand First his response was:

“You can read between the lines. . .if anyone is suggesting there was somehow some misconduct with respect to the Spencer Trust they’re going to be sadly embarrassed,” he said.

Responding to that remark, Sir Robert said Wayne Peters sounded like a Winston Peters clone.

“He’s obviously implying it did reach the party and if that’s the case why not say so?” he said.

“This is just silly, it’s fudging the issue. I’m not holding my breath for an accurate answer.”

Silly, yes and whether it’s a result of nature or nurture this shows there is obviously a family failing when it comes to giving straight answers. 🙂

P.S. Ryan has just interviewed University of Otago associate law professor Andrew Geddes on how donations to political parties might have been legally channelled through trust funds prior to the Electoral Finance Act. It will be on-line here  soon.

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