March tomorrow

There is another Auckland March tomorrow. Here are the details and a letter from John Boscawen.

[quote]To my friends, family & business colleagues

Just over a fortnight ago I sent you an email drawing your attention to the Electoral Finance Bill and asking you to support me in a protest march I was organising.

I am doing so again tonight as I prepare for a second march this Saturday 1 December, assembling outside the Auckland Town Hall from 2pm.

For the last month I have been trying to create awareness and opposition to the provisions of this Bill which I feel goes to the very heart of our democracy. I have attached a copy of an ad that ran on page A6 of today's NZ Herald (there will be another one again on Friday and Saturday). I hope you will take the time to read it, and hopefully act on it.

I have been trying to draw New Zealander's attention to the submission of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission on this bill. The Commission called the original bill "inherently flawed" and called on the government to withdraw it and start again. It was ignored.

Secondly, in the event that the bill was not withdrawn, the Chief Commissioner said it would be: "essential that any changes be subject to the widest possible public scrutiny (via a second round of public consultation) to ensure the credibility and legitimacy of whatever electoral law reform emerges". I attended the select committee hearing in Wellington on 18 October to hear her give this evidence. Again she was ignored.

Finally she said whatever restrictions were placed on "third party" speech they should be for no longer than the three months before an election. Again the government ignored her and is pushing on with restrictions for the entire election year (up to 11 months). Basically one year in three. There is no other democracy in the world that has restrictions on freedom of speech of this length.

I believe if this law passes we will no longer be a democratic country. There will be massive benefits of incumbency. It is not an issue of political philosophy, but freedom. Many others have openly opposed the bill, despite the recent amendments, including the NZ Law Society, the former Labour Leader and Prime Minister the Right Hon. Mike Moore and radio hosts and former MPs John Tamihere and Willie Jackson.

Unlike others, however I do not believe this is a fait a compli. I believe if enough people express their opposition at least one of the government parties will back down, be it Labour, The Greens or NZ First. I maybe wrong on this, but I am not prepared to simply sit back and see it happen before my very eyes without doing everything I can to stop it. However, I need your help.

Please make every effort to march with me this Saturday 1 December. We will assemble outside the Auckland Town Hall from 2.00pm and march off at 2.30pm for QEII Square/Britomart where there will be brief speeches.

I urge you to bring this matter to the attention of as many people as possible and would be very grateful if you would be prepared to onforward this email to your family, friends and business associates. I would also urge you to either write or email your views to the leaders of the parties supporting this Bill whose addresses are quoted in the attached NZ Herald advertisement.

Kind regards

John Boscawen

PS For those wanting to know more detail I outline below some of the key provisions of the Bill.

1. The overriding effect of the bill is to reduce and restrict the rights of individuals (or groups of individuals acting together) to spend their own money either criticizing or supporting any political party. It is being introduced at a time when the recent Appropriation Bill substantially freed up the ability of political parties, and in particular the governing party be it Labour or National, to spend taxpayers money promoting their own views. For example, this Bill which was passed just last week now makes legal the taxpayer spending on the so called "Labour pledgecard", which was previously illegal.

2. For the first time restrictions are now being placed on the amount of money that may be spent by "third parties" in an election year. Third parties wanting to spend between $12,000 and $120,000 opposing or supporting any political party will now be required to register and be subject to various regulations. Spending in excess of $120,000 will be illegal. This sum compares with the total cost of the campaign run by the major opposition party of between $5-10 million, and in the case of the major governing party a sum well in excess $10 million. In effect the two major political parties will be able to drown out any third party private opposition. (An earlier provision requiring any third party who wishes to spend just one dollar, to sign a declaration before a JP has been deleted).

3.Restrictions also apply to candidates seeking election to parliament. A non MP candidate will now only be allowed to spend $20,000 over the entire election year (versus the current 3 months prior to election) while any existing MP will have in addition to the same $20,000, much larger and more freely available amounts of taxpayer funding. This will tilt the playing field even more firmly on the side of incumbent politicians, of whatever political persuasion. It will now be even harder to unseat a sitting MP.

4. Tighter restrictions on anonymous donations are also being introduced. Subject to a maximum limit of $240,000 of total anonymous donations, all donations to a political party above $1,000 (previously $10,000) will be required to be separately disclosed. The effect of this will be to reduce the amount of money a political party can raise and hence spend. Even tighter restrictions apply to third parties. This anonymous donation regime was not in the original Bill and has not been subject to public input or debate at the select committee process.[/quote]