Should the taxpayer fund political parties?


David Farrar has given his usual intelligent and considered response to Labour’s submission on electoral finance at Kiwiblog.

The only thing I want to add is a very loud no to Labour’s self-serving and unprincipled suggestion that the taxpayer should fund poltical parties.

We have a very low hurdle for registration as a political party – just 500 members. The idea that any other organisation with as few members as that and as little accountability as most poltical parties have would get taxpayer funding as of right would never be countenanced and there is no reason why political parties should be treated differently.

Democracy is supposed to be of the people, for the people by the people not of a party, by the taxpayer for a few political groupies.

The Orange Man puts it succinctly at No Minister.

Labour’s rail dream taxpayers’ nightmare


Transport Minister Steven Joyce says the Labour government spent more than a billion dollars on KiwiRail  last year. It’s now valued at just $388 million.

Mr Joyce says that, in opposition, National was very concerned at the purchase price paid by Labour for the rail company and nothing has happened since to change that view.

“We now need some hard-nosed realism about future investments.  We need decisions that make sense when stacked up alongside other modal options, including sea freight and roading.

“We want to encourage an environment where rail can operate as efficiently as possible, with strong commercial imperatives to provide the greatest benefit to the New Zealand economy.

“There will be an expectation that investment in the predominantly freight-based national rail network anticipates a commercial rate of return. Any taxpayer subsidies to the freight side of the business should be provided transparently and should not be at the expense of other transport modes.”

Labour’s dream has turned in to an expensive nightmare for the taxpayer but at least the National government is awake to the problem and won’t be  blinded by ideology when seeking solutions.

State funding problem, not solution


Brian Rudman thinks the solution to the Peters debacle would be state funding of political parties.

What does it say about our democracy when the big two political parties – and some of the minnows – are dependent for much of their funding on private handouts from a few rich, anonymous businessmen. ..

Last year’s Electoral Finance Act has done away with the secret slush funds. Its big shortcoming is it failed to provide the political parties with an alternative source of funding.

But it hasn’t stopped parties getting money from their members which is the best way to ensure they stay in touch with their supporters.

Democracy is surely the loser if parties don’t have the money to develop and promote new policy. And be able to critique others.

The problem this year is not that parties have no money, it’s that the EFA prevents them from using it.

In 1986, the Royal Commission on the Electoral System recommended a form of state funding very similar to that already in existence in Australia.

Noting the increasing cost of the political process, the commission said “too great a reliance” on outside funders like trade unions and corporations would “be detrimental to our democracy and might … lead to corruption of our political process … ” Nothing’s changed.

In Australia, any political donation over $10,500 has to be declared by donor and receiver. State funding is provided based on votes cast. At last year’s federal election the payout was $2.70 a vote cast. It’s a cheap price to pay to keep the millionaires at bay, and democracy working.

But rather than being the solution, state funding would create a problem by distancing politicians from their supporters.

Democracy requires participation of the people and that would be handicapped if we hand over  responsibility for funding parties to the taxpayer.

13,600 EFA breaches


An investigation by the State Services Commission has found 13,600 references to the Labour-led Government which must be removed from government websites because of the Electoral Finance Act.

National deputy leader Bill English said the SSC had sent out a memo to 120 state agencies saying “Labour-led government” was not appropriate under the EFA.

A search by the SSC had found the offending phrase 13,600 times on taxpayer funded websites, Mr English said.

Cabinet Minister Pete Hodgson said the SSC had advised departments of their obligations under the EFA and he hoped they were well followed. He said as time went by the references would be removed.

As time went by? Would any of us be able to attend to matters which breached the law “as time went by”?

Mr English also claimed that a Labour MP was distributing stickers with the phrase “Labour-led Government” and featuring two ticks. These were funded by the Prime Minister’s office and in clear breach of the EFA, he said.

Mr Hodgson did not respond to the substance of Mr English’s allegation.

Why would he when the EFA was supposed to stop National spending its own money not hamper Labour in spending the taxpayers’?

If United’s Wrong NZ First is Worse


While we’re asking why anyone would vote for United Future  if they spend money on their campaign until they fully repay the taxpayers’ money they wrongly spent before the last election, we need to be even tougher on NZ First.

United might not agree with Auditor General Kevin’s Brady’s ruling that it wrongly used public funds in 2005, but it has accepted his ruling and the need to repay the debt it owes. NZ First not only refuses to admit it did anything wrong, it won’t accept the AG’s ruling nor has it any intention of repaying the money.

Leader Winston Peters’ scheme, to donate to the Starship Foudnation the $158,000  the AG found it spent illegally instead of repaying it, went sour when the Foundation rejected the cheque. Since then he’s said the money is going to other charities but refuses to say which ones because of the bad publicity over the Starship donation.

If NZ First wishes to make a donation to a chairty, providing the party’s rules don’t preclude this, it is entitled to do so. Some who given to the party to further its political aims may question why their money is going to a charity, or charities, instead but that is between them and the party.

It is however, taxpayers’ business that this party, led by the Minister of Foreign Affiars, is making no attempt to repay the money it wrongly spent three years ago.

Peters’ is right that the self-serving change of law  means that spending is no longer illegal; but retrospectively legal or not it was wrong then and still is now. Until the party admits this and pays it back every cent up to $158,000 which NZ First spends on its campaign is a slap in the face for taxpayers because until the debt is fully repaid each of those cents ought to put back in the public purse instead.

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