United Future leader Peter Dunne sent this email to a friend of mine.
Thank you for your message about the revised Electoral Finance Bill. I have noted what you have to say.
At the outset, I have to say that there have been a number of inaccurate and extreme comments about this bill and its implications that should
For example, it does not restrict any citizen’s freedom of speech, nor does it limit the ability of lobby groups to participate in the election process.
In essence, what it says is that where a lobby group is explicitly promoting a particular party, there is a limitation on how much that group can spend in support of that party.
Even in that instance, the group would have to be spending in excess of $120,000 before it was affected. After all, it is illogical to place limits on how much politicalparties can spend without placing a similar limit on lobby groups
promoting a particular party. Otherwise, political parties and lobby groups
can combine to thwart expenditure limits, which is contrary to what most
people would see as fair.
In all other circumstances, lobby groups will be able to operate exactly as they do now.
United Future believes strongly that a fair and workable electoral financing regime is an important element of a functioning democracy. But, as the excesses of the last election showed, we do not have that at present, which was why we considered some change to the existing system was required.
However, we were not satisfied with the shape and content of the Electoral Finance Bill as it was introduced, over four months ago, which was why we supported its reference to a select committee for the hearing of public submissions.
We considered that the original Bill’s provisions regarding third party participation in election campaigns were obnoxious and
needed to be rewritten to ensure that the registration process applies only
to those third parties who genuinely seek to mount campaigns around
We further argued that the definition of election advertising neededm reworking to make it clear that it related only to activities that
third parties undertake that could be seen as seeking to influence voters to
vote for a specific party or group of parties; and, that the $60,000 cap
needed to be substantially lifted to enable their campaigns to be somewhat
more than token.
United Future also wanted tighter and more transparent disclosure requirements for individual and corporate donations to political parties, and we called for specific provisions regarding official government advertising during election campaigns to make sure this is not
covert election advertising.
In the event, all these concerns have been addressed by the select committee, and we are therefore prepared to support the Bill, without further amendment, now that it has been substantially rewritten, through its remaining stages in Parliament. But we will not support any moves to progress it under Urgency.
United Future remains critical of the process followed by the government
in progressing this legislation. It has been our belief all the way through that electoral law of this type should be made on the basis of the widest political support possible, which is why we successfully promoted the inclusion of all parties on the select committee looking at the Bill.
However, while we have been satisfied at the degree of involvement we
have been able to have in securing the changes we were seeking, we
remain disappointed that neither Labour nor National were prepared to lay
politics aside and work together on this issue. I had meetings with both the
Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to urge them to engage
in all-party discussions regarding the shape and content of the
Electoral Finance Bill, but both have declined to do so, which indicates to me
that both are as guilty as each other of playing politics on the issue,
and seeking to preserve their respective positions of advantage.
United Future supported the second reading of the Bill following the
select committee process. However, we are concerned that the government may
still be considering further amendments that go beyond the scope of the Bill
as it presently stands. We have made it clear to the government that if
it makes further amendments to the Bill, without the benefit of
select committee consideration, we will be unlikely to support the Bill further.
It is worth noting too that the Bill as revised has the support of the Coalition for Open Government, the National Council of Women, and the
Human Rights Commission which says three of its four criticisms of the
original Bill have now been resolved.
Looking to the future, United Future believes there now needs to be
an independent inquiry into all aspects of election financing, including
the vexed question of state funding of political parties, in time for
majorchange to be implemented for the 2011 election and beyond.