Monday, 19 November 2007

"There's only so much democracy to go around"

It's said by supporters of the Electoral Finance Bill that to protect demoracy it's necessary to ration political speech in election year -- all of election year -- thus effectively destroying democracy, which heretofore has been seen as a system whereby citizens get to have their say.

Not so, say EFB supporters. There's only so much democracy to go around. Free speech is so important in a democracy, says the Electoral Finance Bill and its supporters, that only politicians and those registering with a government censor should be allowed it.

Thus are free speech and democracy destroyed in the name of protecting free speech and democracy! What could be more ingenious?!

Its also argued that private money should be banned from public debate because -- too much private money slants debate, it is said, and laws are need to level the playing field. This of course is bullshit.

People who have money are just as entitled to have their views expressed in public as those who don't -- if democracy has any meaning it is that anyone of whatever race, creed, colour or means is entitled to express their views, and should not be encumbered from doing so.

Taking money from those with one view of politics (while banning their own use of it in expressing those views) and giving it to those with opposing political views who wouldn't otherwise attract such support -- which is what state financing of political parties amounts to -- is wrong. It means that I, in my role as citizen and ripe suck, am required to pay for views that I vehemently oppose. And it means that I, in my role as subject and slave, must pay attention when my political betters tell me I may not freely express my own views.

That is just obscene. Voltaire's dictum is to defend the right of others to express views with which you disagree, not to provide them with a microphone, an advertising budget and a censor's office to bar views with which they disagree.

It's wrong to ban or limit free speech in election year, which in NZ is one-third of our lives. And it's wrong to ban private money from public debate. After all, if it were so easy for money to buy elections, why is the ACT Party the only party in the MMP era that has never been in government?

Bernard Darnton encapsulates the argument in a recent issue of The Free Radical:
Labour seems to have concluded that political speech is so important that no one else should be allowed to have any... The Clark Government is not just nibbling at the edges of free speech, they are engaged in both direct frontal assaul and deliberate flanking attacks on free speech [and democracy].

... Political speech must be especially protected because it is in the political arena that all other freedoms must be protected. The Clark Government's assaults on free political expression must be resisted because if we fail to withstand this latest round of assaults, it may be illegal to resist the next.
I salute every single one of the two-thousand or so good honest and angry people who got off their arse in Auckland on Saturday to protest this obscenity, and I look forward to seeing that anger land on Parliament's steps on Wednesday with a loud and resounding bang.

Let us hear the outrage echo from one end of this beautiful country to another, and let's Kill This Bill.

UPDATE: Submitters to the Electoral Finance Bill, who were overwhelmingly against the Bill, were told effectively, "Don't worry. It'll be all right on the night. Changes in Select Committee will address your concerns."

Today those changes have been announced and the Bill as it is about to be rammed through can now be seen in detail. It can't have been easy to achieve but the Select Committee hasn't made it better -- as David Farrar summarises they’ve actually made it worse!

Not content with regulating written political advocacy, they’ve extended the definitions to also include verbal political advocacy!

The Electoral Finance Bill now even regulates someone who gets up on a soap box and starts communicating to the public.

And while they have scrapped the ludicrous system of statutory declarations, they still treat a placard in a protest march as an election advertisement (if it targets a political party) and that placard will need your name and residential address on it.

Remember all those protesters outside the Labour Party Conference? They would all have been breaking the law if they didn’t have their name and address on their placards. The ones with the megaphones – they would be breaking the law if they didn’t announce over the megaphone their name and residential address each time they chanted.

And this is no drafting error. The select committee report makes it clear they have intentionally widened the scope to capture “the use of loudspeakers and megaphones”. Yes Labour, NZ First, United Future and the Greens have deliberately moved to regulate verbal political advocacy. What sort of parties and Governments are threatened by megaphones?

Read on here to see more details about the form in which the death of democracy is proposed.


  1. If Labour's concern was really about money slanting debates, it is an odd time to introduce constraints on freedom of speech. The internet makes the cost of broadcasting about zero, and very much levels the playing field. Money is much less important in that medium than the quality of ideas and, possibly, the reputation of the person saying it (and even reputation is quickly eroded by bad ideas: witness the destruction of Paul Krugman's towering reputation).

  2. It would be most interesting to know the identity of the Auckland MPs who *weren't* protesting the bill. Unlike many NZers (including myself), none had the excuse of being at work in Wgtn ...

    Funny, too, how the PM was quick to condemn the marchers as opposition activists. Bit rich from a professional past-protester.

    It would seem that the neo-Establishment don't like the tables being turned.

    Totalitarians: Vile, no matter their stripe.

  3. Matt B

    I'm interested by your comment about Paul Krugman. Can you elaborate about what occurred to him and his reputation.



  4. This bill is indeed vile and disgusting, and typical of the Clark regime. So nice to see Labour tangled in a web of their own making. Poetic justice, that.


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