Heather Roy on Labour’s Appropriations Bill

This speech from ACT deputy leader, Heather Roy is so good, I re-produce it in its entirety.

Third Reading speech to Parliament on the Appropriation (Parliamentary Expenditure Validation) Bill, 18 October 2006.

Few things have generated as much media coverage since the election as this issue. We shouldn’t lose track of the principle that lies behind it – and we should be aware of the perversion of democracy that is taking place here today.

A good government is one which can win a battle of ideas. A bad government forces through its dictates at all cost. Kiwis should have no doubt what kind of government is facing us today.

Societies become less democratic when their governments become less transparent, less accountable to the public they are supposed to serve, and makes laws for their own preservation.

Today we are passing, without any public consultation, retrospective law to validate Parliament’s own spending. There will be no sending this Bill to Select Committee and no chance for the public to submit their opinions.

As we opened our newspapers or turned on our TVs this morning, we saw the crisis of confidence which is developing for parliament and government in this country.

This Bill might pass a Confidence and Supply vote in this House, but Kiwi communities have no confidence in the politicians who pass it.

No individual citizen, no company, can change the law to suit themselves. The Labour party can – and is.

Smaller parties find themselves excluded from decisions, and often, from parliamentary debates. Some MPs have hardly said a word in the House since their maiden speech.

Government departments pay off whistleblowers to keep them quiet. Public servants are fired or suspended for asking questions or speaking out.

Since last year’s election we have seen heavy-handed Select Committee chairmen tear up letters from Committee members who raise serious concerns.

And for the first time in 103 years, a crown-owned company has been fined for contempt of parliament.

In 2003, the government suspended an electoral law so that a Labour MP who swore allegiance to another country didn’t lose his seat or salary. Again, this was done under urgency, so that the public were denied the chance to comment, and again the legislation was retrospective – Parliament moving back in time to cover the butt of a government MP.

Now, this Bill excuses parties from misspending public money.

How can we expect other New Zealanders to follow the rules made in this House, when our Government refuses to live by the rules, then changes the law to suit themselves?

How can we expect our Parliament and our democracy to be respected, when we push through self-serving Bills under urgency to protect ourselves?

I admit that ACT did not escape scrutiny in the Auditor-General’s report. Rodney Hide and I have paid our personal cheques, to right the wrong that the Auditor-General found.

We thought we’d done everything correctly; we did what we thought we had to, to work within the rules.

And it hurts that, despite our best efforts, we were found to have spent money wrongly.

We have repaid Parliamentary Service – from our own pockets, not those of our Members.

It is true that without this Bill, politicians would have to be much more careful about how we spend public money.

That would be much better than using our special privilege to stand here today and ram through a Bill which the public haven’t had a chance to read, haven’t been able to comment on and do not want.

The Auditor-General’s report has demonstrated why we need limits on the power of politicians – because otherwise they will use their power to political advantage, at the expense of taxpayers.

People are saying that the Government’s response to the report – this Bill – takes New Zealand closer to a banana republic, and it raises serious questions of credibility for the parties supporting it here today.

How can any party come to this House and talk about “strengthening core institutions” when they vote for a Bill that undermines the rule of law?

How can they discuss the behaviour of politicians when they’re willing to push through a Bill that validates the wrongful acts of their own MPs?

How can they talk about the breakdown of law when they are terrified at the very idea of a transparent democracy?

ACT stands against big, powerful, privileged government. We are opposed to politicians who change the law to suit themselves.

We want a government that people can trust – and that trusts the people.

We have never fought to defend privilege or to take what belongs to others – and we will not be turning on that record today.

Democracy requires more than the relentless pursuit of power. A genuinely democratic government consults its people and governs in an open and accountable way.

This Bill defies the rule of law, it has not been subject to public submissions and it is out of place in any liberal democracy. That is why ACT will oppose it.

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