Closed and opaque

December 6, 2019

Didn’t Jacinda Ardern promise to lead an open and transparent government?

That promise has been broken again:

Labour’s decision today to block the request of former New Zealand First President Lester Gray and former Treasurer Colin Forster is the Government covering up serious allegations of financial impropriety of its coalition partner New Zealand First, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.

“There was no good reason for blocking these senior New Zealand First officials from being heard at the Justice Select Committee on electoral law. They sought the hearing because they had serious concerns about the failure to disclose major donations, unauthorised campaign expenditure and concerns over the New Zealand First Foundation.

No-one with any knowledge of running a political party and election campaign could believe that a party could do that on membership subs, members’ fund raising and donations under the disclosable amount alone.

If the way the NZ First Foundation has been used to funnel donations is within the law then the law must change.

“They were fearful of speaking publically with threats of legal action and the Justice Committee provided a safe place for them to disclose their knowledge of what has occurred.

“Labour is part of a cover up in denying the Committee and New Zealand the opportunity to hear their concerns.

“These issues in New Zealand First go to the heart of our democracy and the result of Election 2017. New Zealanders have a right to know who were the financial backers of the Party that was decisive in the 2017 Election outcome.

We also have a right to see if any dots can be joined between those backers and NZ First policy.

“New Zealand First was the only Party that did not disclose the source of any donations and it had 10 times the value of anonymous donations of any other Party at Election 2017. It has also been revealed since that $500,000 was secretly contributed to the New Zealand First Foundation.

“Labour’s denial to allow senior New Zealand First officials to submit to the Justice Select Committee makes a joke of the Government’s commitment to be the most open and transparent Government ever.

“There could be nothing more important than the transparency of the source of funding for the Party that ultimately determined the Government.

“This is deja vu of the New Zealand First funding scandal that led to the defeat of the last Labour Government. Labour has learnt nothing and is continuing to cover for New Zealand First’s shady dealings.”

The failure to deliver open and transparent government joins a growing list of this administration’s record of rhetoric unmatched by action.

This government is closed and opaque and its MPs’ veto of  NZ First’s former office holders to be heard is another brick in the wall between its promises and delivery.


Rushed law is bad law

December 4, 2019

This headline is a lie:

Government to ban foreign donations

So is the first paragraph:

The Government is taking action to protect New Zealand from foreign interference in our elections by banning foreign donations to political parties and candidates, Justice Minister Andrew Little announced today.

It isn’t banning foreign donations, it’s lowering the amount foreigners can donate from $1,500 to $50.

Concern about foreign influence on elections is real, but why the lies and why rush the Bill through under urgency?

Why not give parliament and the public at least a little time to scrutinise it and recommend improvements?

One such improvement would be making it quite clear that donations to a foundation set up to fund a political party would be treated like, and subject to, the same requirements for disclosure as, donations to a party.

Winston Peters claims the New Zealand First Foundation is a similar model to the National Party Foundation.

But National the National Foundation has a website on which the purpose of the capital-protected fund and the uses to which investment proceeds are put is explained.

It also discloses donations to the foundation as donations to the party.

This openness contrasts with the secretive nature of the NZ First Foundation and the way in which it appears to have funded the party’s operational and campaign expenses.

The Electoral Commission is investigating claims it breached the law.

Whether or not it did, this Bill is an opportunity to make it quite clear that donations to party foundations should be disclosed as donations to parties, whether or not proceeds from foundations are donated or loaned parties.

Rushed law is bad law and this one is no exception. This omission could have been corrected and further time to consider could well have discovered other faults and allowed for improvements to be made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Not so popular

December 3, 2019

There is little doubt that Jacinda Ardern’s leadership enabled Labour to gain enough votes in the 2017 election to cobble together a coalition government.

Her fans among the commentariat would have us believe her popularity is unquestioned.

But over at Kiwiblog David Farrar has the numbers that tell a different story:

    • Governing Party – Clark Labour 45%, Key National 55%, Ardern Labour 39%
    • Opposition Party – English National 39%, Goff Labour 33%, Bridges National 46%
    • NZ First – 2001 2.7%, 2010 3.1%, 2019 4.0%
    • Greens – 2001 6%, 2010 4.5%, 2019 7.0%

And how is the PM as Preferred PM

    • Clark 2001 41%, Key 2010 56%, Ardern 2019 36%

Popular yes, but not as popular as her predecessors.


Not excuse for public funding of political parties

November 22, 2019

The questions over New Zealand First’s funding are a reason for an overhaul of electoral law.

They are not an excuse to introduce public funding of political parties.

A party needs only 500 members to register. That is a very small number for the power a party can wield should it get into government or even parliament.

Participatory democracy requires active involvement and engagement of members and supporters. Fundraising is part of that engagement and involvement.

If parties can persuade enough members and supporters to fund them, they don’t need taxpayer support.

If parties can’t persuade enough members and supporters to fund them, they don’t deserve it.


Holes in electoral law?

November 19, 2019

At last  New Zealand First’s funding is being exposed to sunlight:

Almost half a million dollars in political donations appear to have been hidden inside a secret slush fund controlled by a coterie of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters’ trusted advisers.

The secretive New Zealand First Foundation collected donations from wealthy donors and used the money to finance election campaigns, pay for an MP’s legal advice, advertising, fund a $5000 day at the Wellington races and even pay an IRD bill.

A New Zealand First spokesperson said on Monday the foundation had been in existence across several election cycles. “There has never been any suggestion that it is anything other than lawful,” she said.

Records uncovered in a Stuff investigation show a complex web that appears to be designed to hide donations to the NZ First Party via The New Zealand First Foundation. . . 

I was a regional and electorate chair for the National Party and am still a party member.

The necessity of  adherence to electoral law has always been drummed in at every level of the party, especially for fundraising and financial reporting.

No-one with any understanding of what’s involved could believe that a party like New Zealand First could function and run itself and successive election campaigns on lots and lots of small donations and few if any over the threshold for declaring who’s given how much.

Former NZ First treasurer Colin Forster claimed he was moved out of the party after questioning the financial records.

“When Winston wanted to hire a bus for the Northland by-election we were on the bones of our arse,” he said.

“We had about $20 in the bank and I would not let the party take out a loan. We were told not to worry about it and suddenly there was money.

“I could not understand where the money came from.”

Stuff has seen records for the foundation that suggest there have been breaches of the Electoral Act and that the foundation is being used to obscure political donations to the NZ First Party.

Donors to the foundation are primary industry leaders, wealthy investors and multi-millionaires. . .

Every other party in parliament, and most outside it, get donations like this, why would NZ First be any different?

Invoices paid by the foundation seem to show funds were being used for, what appear to be, party expenses.

Among other things, the foundation spent $9364 hiring boxer Joseph Parker to speak at the 2017 NZ First conference, $10,643 on travel reimbursement for MP Clayton Mitchell, $12,000 on legal advice from Russell McVeagh lawyers for Mitchell, and $5000 for a day at Wellington Cup Day races.

It also paid for the party’s Nation Builder website and donations platform, a cost of about $10,000 a month. . . 

Until now it’s been reported that the Foundation only made loans to the party. These payments don’t look like loans.

Efforts have been made by party officials to find out details of the foundation and some say they were removed from the party when they challenged Peters or Henry about finances. There is now a conga line of NZ First Party officials who say they have been forced out of the party. . . 

The party is known as Winston First because it looks like he has total control of it.

But absolute rule works only as long as there is absolute loyalty, or submission.

It looks like there are now enough people who are no longer loyal, or submitting, and they are talking.

The only surprise in this is that it has taken so long for the party’s funding to be questioned like this and that points to holes in electoral law or its administration.


Sustainable NZ good in theory but

November 12, 2019

Ever since MMP was introduced, New Zealand has been in want of a party that stands for something and sits in the centre, able to coalesce with National to its right or Labour to its left.

The Maori Party could have been that party, but in spite of being the last cab off the rank when Helen Clark led Labour, and in government at National’s invitation its natural home was towards the left.

The many iterations of United Future rarely stood for anything more than keeping its leader, Peter Dunne, in parliament and government.

New Zealand First, similarly stands for keeping Winston Peters in power and his strong antipathy towards National now makes it a natural ally for Labour rather than a true centre party.

The Green Party could have been that centre party if it wasn’t so red. But its hardline social and economic agenda put it to the left of Labour.

Now a new player the Sustainable New Zealand Party has enterer centre stage:

. . .Sustainable New Zealand is neither left nor right wing but is focused on sustainability.  We are able to work with parties of the left or right to get the best deal for the environment. Sustainable New Zealand’s approach is to work with business to innovate and to correctly price ‘externalities’. We will be led by the science when finding solutions and developing policy. Our future will only be sustainable with technological and scientific innovation.

Sustainable New Zealand’s focus is on being ‘practical environmentalists.’ We will work with rather than against our farmers. We favour a regulatory light-touch where possible but with a willingness to act decisively on core issues. We will foster innovation to transition our economy from one that relies on chopping down, digging up, burning or milking something for economic growth to one that is environmentally-benign and makes us all richer. We know that nothing is free. We need to be prosperous to ensure that we can afford to look after our people and our environment. . . 

There’s a lot to like in that and an environmental party that sits in the middle is a good idea in theory, but will it be strong enough to get at least some MPs in to parliament?

One avenue would be to reach an agreement with either Labour or National to allow it to win a seat, the way Act does in Epsom.

But doing that would compromise its ability to work with left or right.

Besides Labour is very unlikely to sour its relationship with the Greens by throwing a seat to a rival and it would be a big risk for National.

Peter Dunne already held the seat when National voters were asked to back him. They did and had to endure three long terms of him supporting Labour governments before National got back into power. He stayed in cabinet and thwarted National’s agenda several times, most notably its attempts to improve the RMA.

Rodney Hide won Epsom by his own efforts, taking it from a sitting National MP who was trying to hold it. Voters have continued to back an Act candidate in the seat but a majority of them give their party vote to National.

Asking a sitting National MP to throw the seat for a Sustainable NZ candidate, or expecting a new National candidate to campaign only for the party vote is a very different and much riskier strategy.

So could Sustainable NZ make it to 5%?

History would say no.

The Progressive Green Party broke away from the red Greens and fielded 15 candidates in the 1996 election but could muster only .26% of the vote.

No new party has made it into parliament without a sitting MP.

However, small parties generally get punished for their performance in government and the Greens will have lost support from both those who think it’s been too left and those who think it hasn’t been left enough.

If enough of the former were joined by those disenchanted by Labour and NZ First and perhaps some of the blue-greens who’ve supported National it might, but the chances of it doing so are slight.

Sustainable NZ has had reasonable publicity since its weekend launch but that will be hard to sustain and it will need a lot of people power and the money they bring to have any hope of turning a good theory into practical electoral success.


Two years and what have we got?

October 28, 2019

The Labour, NZ First, Green government has just passed its second anniversary in power and what have we got?

  • Fee-free tertiary education which hasn’t had a positive impact on participation, and a third of those who got the help failed or withdrew.
  • KiwiBuild turned into KiwiFlop.
  • Higher fuel taxes for all to pay for public transport in Auckland which includes the stalled project of rail to airport about which officials can’t get direction from the Minister.
  • Two Ministers resigned/sacked.
  • Thousands of hectares of productive land converted to forestry.
  • Subsidies that incentivise forestry over farming.
  • Foreign ownership of productive land encouraged by much less rigorous requirements than for purchase for farming, horticulture or viticulture.
  • Business confidence in the doldrums.
  • Interest rates heading towards zero and below.
  • DHB deficits growing.
  • Polytechs that are working well to be sacrificed for those that aren’t.
  • Virtue-signaling environmental policies that come at a high economic and social cost here and add to environmental cost elsewhere.
  • Policy at the mercy of the minor coalition partner’s leader’s whim.
  • The waka-jumping legislation.
  • The Provincial Growth Shane Jones Promotion/NZ First re-election Fund.
  • Policy announcement after policy announcement that is high on feel-good but low on planning.

It was easy to come up with those negatives, and it wouldn’t be hard to add more.

But what of the positives?

The only one that comes to mind is a Prime Minister who  gets a lot of focus and high praise internationally.

But how much is that worth when there are so many problems that aren’t being solved at home?

A new government needs some time to get up to speed, but more than two-thirds through its term is too long on training wheels.


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