National predictably cries foul at voting reforms

We need more government transparency – not less – writes PAT PILCHER of National’s sad moaning over the upcoming voting reforms.

Today, Stuff senior journalist Andrea Vance wrote a piece saying that National are objecting to proposed election reforms. The reforms would see the threshold for details of political donations being disclosed dropping from $15,000 to just $1500.

In December last year, the then Justice Minister, Chris Fafaoi, announced sweeping election reforms. Central to the reforms was how donations to political parties were handled. Under the new regulations, donations crossing the $1500 threshold would have to be disclosed in political party financial statements.

 

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National has taken umbrage with the proposed changes. In the piece, National is quoted as saying that the proposed reforms “will have a significant impact on parties’ ability to support candidates, meet regulatory requirements, and run effective election campaigns, with no alternative funding mechanism proposed or in place to make up for this loss of income”.

National is also understood to object to a requirement for quarterly financial statements instead of annual statements and that the changes will take effect in 2023, which is an election year.

It is abundantly clear that there is a growing need for greater transparency in how political parties are funded. National might cry poverty, but according to Elections.NZ, it received almost $3 million from donors in 2020, the largest amount of any New Zealand political party that year and roughly double what the Labour party received. If Labour can win an election with half the National Party’s donations, might it be fair to say that National should follow Labour’s lead to be more fiscally responsible with their election lollies?

Currently, the public has little visibility of who is giving money to which party – or what favours are promised in return for the donations. The scope for corruption and ongoing damage to New Zealand’s fragile democracy is immense. The timing of National’s handwringing over election donation reforms couldn’t have been better. A trial has been underway for the last three weeks over alleged fraud as NZ First officials face charges from the Serious Fraud Office of obtaining by deception.

If it were just NZ First, you’d be forgiven for saying that the whole sordid saga is just a one-off event, but few political parties are squeaky clean. Case number 190919 of the serious fraud office saw Labour party officials in court over donations made to the party in 2017. National Party officials have also faced the music over controversial Jaimee Lee Ross recordings that appeared to highlight how National considered placing two Chinese people on the party list after accepting a donation from a Chinese businessman. That this could have left one of New Zealand’s major political parties and potentially our next government exposed to interference from a foreign government is too alarming to contemplate.

The reforms around political parties’ financial and election funding activities will bring much-needed transparency into New Zealand politics. It would also give voters greater insight into what New Zealand political parties actually stand for. A well-informed voting public is likely to make better-informed voting decisions.

 

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