This week Bernard Darnton says something political, and doesn’t even tell the Electoral Commission what time he’ll be home.
The Labour press release on the topic is not so much eye-opening as gob-opening. David Parker complains that “the Government is happy to consult only on aspects of electoral reform that suits it.” Yiddish lexicographer (amongst other things) Leo Rosten described chutzpah as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”
There’s no need to actually read the press release. We know what Labour’s preferred system would look like. Phil Goff may have apologised for scolding us about what shape lightbulbs we use and how many litres flow through our shower heads but you can be sure that Labour still knows exactly how many spots a leopard should have and won’t tolerate any alternative.
At the time the original Bill was being debated, National’s freedom-loving cohort – and it’s genuine, if inconsistent – was in the fore. A few cynics suggested that they were just in it for their own venal reasons but I was just happy to be fighting for something popular for a change.
However, like any large political party, National is also home to the pompous and the power-hungry. Their objection to the Electoral Finance Act wasn’t its contents but the fact they weren’t doing politics, they were having politics done to them.
Beside them were the thin-skinned – the ones who were upset because they weren’t asked nicely (or at all) about what should be in the new law. These people should get another job. If politics was about asking nicely for things I wouldn’t have so much to complain about each week.
So back comes the tinkered-with version. There will still be restrictions on who you can give money to, and how much. There will still be restrictions on what you’re allowed to say during an election campaign and in which media you’re allowed to say it. There will still be requirements to register with the Electoral Commission if you’d like permission to speak and to put your address on flyers so that nutters can stick knives in your lawn.
Advocates for election-period gagging rules, like Green co-leader Metiria Turei, are constantly in a flap about money: “It is vital that New Zealand’s democracy cannot be bought by big business.” Here’s the thing: it can’t anyway. The correlation between money spent on an election campaign and number of votes gained is very weak. As the New Zealand record holder for dollars spent per vote, I should know.
The Exclusive Brethren, another of Turei’s bogeys, know too. They’re always used as an example of what was wrong with the old system – big money from mysterious groups piling in to swing an election. The trouble is the plan was a complete failure. It didn’t work. It didn’t come close to working. If it was a dog you’d shoot it. If it was a person you’d insulate its house and pay it to breed.
Justice Minister Simon Power’s proposal document asks for more advice on “how the scheme could uphold freedom of expression, be simple and easy to comply with.”
Lindsay Perigo responds to Power’s challenge in the only way it’s possible to respond to wordy regulatory blather – by stating the bleeding obvious: “Well, here’s something simple, Simon. Just repair to Section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act, which upholds ‘the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.’
“No restrictions on who may fund whom (publicly or privately), who may campaign for whom, who may advertise for whom and with whom – and no taxpayer money to anyone. That’s freedom of expression, Simon, and it’s darned simple and easy to comply with.”
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