Herald weighs in on FIGJAM's Law

It didn’t take long for the NZ Herald to weigh in on Simon Power‘s ill-conceived back-room deal with Labour to stifle our freedom of speech.

Three years after the outcry at financial restrictions on independent electoral advertising, the Labour Party has got its way. National has folded on an issue it fought from Opposition, agreeing to restrictions that differ only by degree with the spending limits legislated by the Labour Government.

National’s amendment to the Electoral Finance Act has emerged from a select committee of Parliament with a $300,000 limit on the amount “third party” participants can spend to promote an issue to voters. “Third party” is the politicians’ term for people or groups of no affiliation who are not standing for election but are moved to spend their own money on a cause close to their heart.

Yes, National has folded, collpased, kowtowed, surrendered to Simon Power and his dirty back-room deal with Labour. I love the Herald’s no nonsense definition of “Third party”.

Throughout this long debate over their rights, most people who practise politics or study it avidly have missed the central point. It is this: people who are not avid followers of politics and public issues have their voice effectively muzzled by law that is mined with arcane, pernickity requirements.

They will not recall the precise rules and may be deterred by the bother of dealing with them.

The law is an ass. There should be NO restrictions on speaking out against your government or against any politician you disagree with.

National came to office with a commitment to repeal the act and set about seeking an across-party consensus on the subject. This it has now achieved by inserting a spending restriction in its amendment bill. In return, Labour has agreed that parties need not disclose the identity of donors to their campaigns for donations up to $15,000.

The public stands to lose on both counts. Independent participants will have to worry about financial limits and reporting requirements while less will be known about who is backing the parties seeking power. The parties will be able to spend 10 times as much as independent campaigns as well as enjoying state-funded television time.

This is what really pisses me off. Politicians won’t even allow any other group or person to advertise on television, ring fencing that for their own state-funded purposes.

he bi-party agreement leaves any non-party organisation that is thinking of promoting or opposing any policy or principle at an election having to register with the Electoral Commission. If it spends more than $100,000 in the three months to the election it will have to file an expense return and it may not spend more than $300,000. If anything in the return is false or misleading it will be audited at its own expense.

There are enough hoops and risks to discourage all but the established lobbies familiar with political regulation. The spending cap and associated rules might permit their continued presence in election campaigns but the novices, the unexpected, the unconventional campaigns that can add an extra dimension to public debate, will be put off.

And they will, leaving the playing field wide open for the big money of the unions.

National has surrendered to the left’s fear of money, which is just one possible influence among many in an election. Its bipartisan fix will leave our politics poorer and preserve elections largely for the parties who have conspired to produce this disgraceful discouraging law.

Simon Power is a traitor. He is a traitor to the party and a traitor to the principles that the National Party used to hold dear but have now sold down the river in a back-room deal with Labour. They disgust me, I’m glad I’m not a member of their gut-less party.


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