Thursday, December 06, 2007

Insolent Prick blasts The Standard bloggers to bits over Electoral Finance Bill

This is pretty good from blogger and commenter "Insolent Prick". A lengthy but good and accurate summary worth reading. From "The Standard" - a blog that reflects Labour Party standards. Yeah, I know...

Electoral law is the bedrock of our constitutional framework. Labour should have set up a royal commission, consulted with the public on the policy framework, sent some MPs overseas for a comparison of electoral financing regimes, got the Law Commission to give its input, put together a committee of experts, made Justice Ministry policy advice available for public comment and consultation, consulted with the Human Rights Commission, and then got onto legislative drafting, before presenting the Bill to the house for introduction and followed the select committee process. Then we would have robust legislation that the public could have faith in.

Instead, Labour and New Zealand First refused a royal commission, consulted only with each other, didn’t investigate international regimes, ignored large tracts of Ministry of Justice advice, refused to release that advice to the public, didn’t commission the Law Commission to do a report, didn’t consult with the public on the policy framework, and introduced a Bill to the House without any public consultation, or, for that matter, any public mandate to so dramatically change the electoral system.

Labour refused to consult with other parties, and rammed through a process in select committee that overwhelmingly ignored the sentiments expressed in this Committee. As a consequence, the Select Committee was so bogged down with the policy issues that what has emerged is a flawed, poorly drafted, ambiguous travesty of legislation.

There has never been any opportunity for the public to be involved in the policy framework. That is a disgrace. Labour didn’t allow public input in the policy-formation process, rejected expert advice in select committee, and now Parliament as a whole, led by Labour, has rejected the Electoral Commission’s expert advice.

The EC’s expert advice to the Select Committee on limits for anonymous donations, and spending limits for third parties, and the disclosure regime for third parties, were all rejected by the Select Committee. Annette King’s SOP does not restore the EC’s recommendations. Chris Finlayson moved amendments this evening, to restore the limits as recommended by the Electoral Commission, and the Labour Party, along with the Greens, New Zealand First, and United Future voted down those amendments.

A select committee is demonstrably not part of the policy formation process. The purpose of a select committee is to take draft legislation from the House, hear submissions, and ensure that the policy objectives as represented in the legislation are transmitted into robust law. It is a legislative drafting process.

The Select Committee was so bogged down with the policy issues–because the public didn’t have any input into the policy formation process–that it overlooked its core responsibility of creating robust legislation. That’s why we need 150 amendments from the Minister in a supplementary order paper. Because the Select Committee didn’t do its job.

Yes, it is Helena Catt’s ( from the electoral Commission) job to interpret the law, and recommend for prosecution parties and individuals that she believes are in breach of the law. But it is the job of Parliament to create robust law that can be interpreted. It is frankly a disgrace for Parliament to create what is knowingly an ambiguous law. Saying: “We don’t want to make the hard calls about what this law means: we’ll let the Courts sort it out”, is downright cowardly.

If you are a taxpayer, and you have a tax question, you can call the IRD and ask them about their interpretation of your tax liabilities. You can challenge the IRD’s position in Court, but you’re not likely to win. Parliament takes a lot of care in formulating tax law–which is as complex as it gets in terms of its scope and interpretation–that can be interpreted by the IRD. The IRD doesn’t say: “We don’t understand this bit of tax law. How about you, as a taxpayer, get your own legal advice on it, then we can prosecute you, and we’ll let a judge decide what the law is.”

It’s the same with electoral law. Parliament should create robust electoral law. It is only because the Government has followed such a thoroughly flawed process that we won’t have it.

What was the point in having a select committee process at all, if you’re going to ignore expert advice, and then do what you were always going to do anyway?

The Government rejected the opportunity to open up the electoral finance and expenditure regime for public consultation during the policy formation process. We didn’t have a Royal Commission, or a citizen’s jury. We didn’t have the Law Commission write a report on the issue. We didn’t have the Ministry of Justice policy consultation process. We didn’t have a committee of expert advisers assess international jurisdictions. We didn’t have any attempt by Labour to generate cross-party consensus for its proposals. We didn’t even have a political party seek public mandate on its proposed reforms at the last election.

Instead, we had a Bill whose policy objectives were stitched up in secret between the Labour, New Zealand First, and United Future parties. We had a deeply flawed Bill referred to a Select Committee, which subsequently rejected the views of the overwhelming majority of submitters. The Select Committee rejected recommendations on some fairly core issues by expert advisers. The Government refused to release the advice it received from officials. All of this prompted both the Law Society, and the Human Rights Commission, to call on the Government to reject the Bill in its entirety, and start again. The Law Commission was so outraged with the process that it refused to provide any expert advice to the Select Committee on the Bill.

All of those steps are downright unprecedented within the normal policy-formation process, let alone a process making constitutional change.

The outcome is a Bill that has emerged from the Select Committee that is so flawed that the Electoral Commission says it doesn’t understand what the law means, and can’t do its job of advising the public on some fundamental aspects of electoral law. In response to this shoddy piece of legislation, which should have been robust emerging from Select Committee, is for the Minister of Justice to propose 150 amendments to the Bill in the Committee stage of the House. None of those amendments address the Electoral Commission’s ability to interpret the law.

The Labour Party made much of changing employment law to introduce “good faith bargaining”. When it comes to the rules around electing MPs, Labour has acted in totally bad faith. It has done no bargaining with the public.

The Prime Minister assured the public that the Select Committee would address all of the public’s concerns with the Bill. The Select Committee has reported back, and yet STILL needed 150 amendments just two hours before the Bill was to be voted on by MPs.

After such a shambolic process, do you really have faith that Labour has finally got it right?

For the first time in New Zealand’s history, the Electoral Commission can’t interpret the electoral act for candidates, because it doesn’t understand the law itself. They have to go and consult a lawyer.

That’s like the IRD not being able to advise taxpayers on their tax obligations.




Blogger ZenTiger said...

Yes, kudos to Insolent Prick for a well argued thread. I picked out another of his many worthy comments - the argument deserves full coverage.

Razing the Standard

December 9, 2007 at 8:58 PM  

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