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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.


What a waste

November 14, 2019

WInston Peters has accepted that then-Ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley did not leak the overpayment of his superannuation to the media.

However, his lawyer is still laying blame for the leak on the Ministry of Social Development.

Crown lawyer Victoria Casey QC gave her closing arguments this morning and argued that Winston Peters’ claim his privacy was breached “falls away entirely” when held up against the law. . .

Casey told Justice Venning the only question he needs to consider is whether her clients’ decision to brief their ministers under the “no surprises” convention breached a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and whether it was “highly offensive”.

“The questions is not does the court agree with these decisions to brief, or even whether the court has any reservations about the decisions to brief,” she said. . .

None of them establish whether there was a reasonable expectation in private facts. None of them establish that the communication from the chief executives to the ministers constitute highly offensive publication.

“Winston Peters could not have had a reasonable expectation public agencies with such information would not tell their ministers who have accountability to the House,” she said.

Casey also spoke of the high stakes for her clients, because these allegations go to the heart of their integrity.

She warned that if Peters’ complaints are upheld it would be “catastrophic” and career-ending for them.

“I ask the court to pay due attention to the chilling effect on the public sector and the reputational impact of even a passing comment by the High Court of the judgments exercised by these two senior public servants.

“I submit that it is appropriate that the court should exercise real caution before engaging in a review of matters that are beyond the scope of the pleaded claim,” she said. . .

What a waste of time, and public money this has been.

Peters has breached his own privacy and that of his partner by exposing them to a couple of weeks’ publicity that has done neither of them any credit.

And sadly while might have put some wavering voters off him and his party, it could also have confirmed the views of the deluded who support him that, in spite of the evidence to the contrary that this is a mess of his own making, he is somehow a victim.

The media has given very good coverage of the trail but it’s hard to beat Cactus Kate for pithiness in these posts:

Winston Peters and his reputation for detail

Winston Peters and his reputation for detail II

Tim Murphy v Barry Soper just got ugly

Who knew in advance about WInston Peters’ super stuffup?

The media have been the story for years Barry

Courtroom 13 – the week in review

Respecting WInston Peters

Silence…

Winston Peters and subjudice

And…….Denny Crane


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.


Peters suing himself for defamation

November 6, 2019

New Zealand First leader and deputy leader Winston Peters is suing himself for defamation.

He made the decision after realising his claim that publicising details of his superannuation overpayment was defamatory made him realise that his reputation was already low in the opinion of right-thinking people and that was as a direct result his own words and actions.

“After some deep contemplation, on what I’ve said and done and how I’ve said and done it, I have to admit that I have been guilty of that which I accuse others,” he said. “That is, making right-minded people at best think less of me and sadly, too often hold me in contempt.

“Of course it’s the media’s fault and my political opponents have done all they can to aid and abet them.

“If they didn’t stir up matters best left unstirred and uncover things best left covered, the public wouldn’t know anything about those things that make those right-thinking people think less of me.

“A man ought to be left in peace to not read cabinet papers, use taxpayers’ money for electioneering, respond to questions with bluster and equivocation, to accept the baubles of power in contradiction of earlier assertions he was not tempted by them, to do what he said he wouldn’t and not do what he said he would.

“But they would keep digging and stirring and asking questions that paint a picture of me that I have to admit is almost a self-portrait, a picture of me for which I, though my own behaviour, am responsible and therefore I have no option but to sue myself for defaming myself.”

Mr Peters said it was blindingly obvious that a man with a reputation already lowered by himself could not accuse others of lowering it.

“Any fool can see that right-thinking people, amongst whom you will not find the media or my political opponents, already think so little of me it would be an impossibility to go lower in their estimation and the blame for that lies with me.”

When asked if he would attempt to settle with himself out of court, Mr Peters simply held up a sign on which the word no was printed.


Political blood thicker than water

October 7, 2019

The reason New Zealand First has been polling below its election night support is obvious:

NZ First voters would have preferred National to be in Government than Labour by a large margin, newly released survey results say.

The new public survey data shows 44.5 per cent of NZ First voters answered “National” when asked to pick between Labour and National leading the Government, with Labour 10 points behind at 34.1 per cent. . .

I suspect if the choice had been National or Labour and the Green Party, the number preferring National would have been even higher.

But it’s not just Peters opting for Labour with Greens in support, that’s upset members.

A raft of internal NZ First documents have been leaked to the media and the National Party, revealing internal discontent about the way the party ran the last election campaign and Coalition negotiations. . . 

The papers show some were critical of leader Winston Peters for planning to take legal action against National Party figures before Coalition negotiation began and questioned what impact that had on those talks.

It is a very rare breach of the internal secrecy of the party and will be a blow to Peters. . . 

He has had absolute sway over the party for years, but these leaks show that, as many dictators before him have found, the grip eventually loosens.

Documented minutes of a party meeting in November 2017 show members levelling criticism at Peters.

One member said New Zealand First needed to “come up with solutions and start a succession plan post Winston Peters”.

Another said: “Resources for the campaign were not provided, no cogent policies, signs unreadable, distribution of sign issues, listing was confidential, no plan B (or even A) for Jacinder [sic]”.

After the 2017 election, Helen Peterson – a long-time party member, who has stood for election three times – wrote a report titled “NZ First Concerns and issues regarding Election 2017”. She has been approached for comment.

“A number of members nationwide have been extremely disappointed in the way in which the 2017 election campaign was handled,” it said.

The documents reveal members felt the party’s list showed disrespect for hardworking, loyal, hardworking and long-serving members, and favoured candidates who had personal relationships with those who select the list placement.

Members also complained the list process was sexist, as only three of the candidates in the top 18 were female.

It also shows members thought the campaign was unorganised, lacked leadership and had no strategy.

New Zealand First candidates were “for the most part unsupported” and given minimal mentoring or support by the board.

“The extent and magnitude of the issues demonstrate how the party will remain a third party for the foreseeable future unless there is an enormous shift towards accountability, adherence to the constitution and respect for its members.” . . 

These criticisms won’t be any surprise to the many who have long questioned Peters and the apparent disregard for democracy in his party.

But political blood is thicker than water and staunch members will put up with policies and behaviors from and within their party that they will condemn in others. But only for a time.

Peters’ power over his party and its members has been almost absolute.

The resignation of the president, and his explanation of why, and the leaks showing internal dissatisfaction indicate that for at least some members, the time for unwavering support is past.


Morals prompt NZ First’s president’s resignation

October 4, 2019

Morals were the reason behind the sudden resignation of NZ First president Lester Gray:

New Zealand First party president Lester Gray has quit the party, citing his refusal to sign off financial reports for ‘moral’ reasons. 

A resignation letter reveals Gray took his stand against signing the party’s 2019 reports with a claim he has been kept in the dark over party expenditure and donations, leaving him unable to put his name to them with confidence. . .

In Gray’s resignation letter, obtained by Stuff, he raises issues around communication with senior party officials and uncertainty over financial dealings.

“I refuse to sign off the 2019 Financial Reports with the information I have been provided,” he wrote.

“As President, the limited exposure I have had to Party donations and expenditure leaves me in a vulnerable position.

“This type of operation does not align with my moral and business practice values, and I am therefore not able to support the Party any longer.”

Gray also stated there was “insufficient communication and support from senior members of the Party for me to effectively function as the President“. . .

Is anyone surprised?

A friend with shares in a race horse received a letter before the last election seeking a contribution towards a generous donation to New Zealand First.

Was any donation like this, or from fishing and forestry interests which benefit from its policies, declared? No, and time after time, this party is the only one in parliament that never declares any sizable donations.

It isn’t so much a party as a principality presided over by Winston Peters whose word is law.

NZ First presents an ongoing risk to our reputation for openness, transparency and, relatively, low rates of corruption.

It is a carbuncle on the hide of democracy. Dare we hope that this news might prompt someone to lance it?


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