Whaleoil transcript: Espiner & Ghahraman on the Strengthening Democracy Member?s bill

Guyon Espiner Credit: Suff.co.nz

Radio NZ Morning Report

Guyon:

The Green party wants to give prisoners the right to vote, change the 5% party threshold to 4% and to ban overseas donations to political parties. Golriz Ghahraman has introduced a member?s bill on this, or wants to, it?s going to be called the Strengthening Democracy Member?s bill and she joins me now. Tena koe, good morning

Golriz:

Good morning.

Guyon:

Let?s go one by one? ah? on some of these? firstly the donations changes that you are proposing. Why ban overseas donations?

Golriz:

Well this is introducing a suite of measures that we say will bring the necessary transparency and sort of safeguards around ah? money and New Zealand politics. Um? one of those measures is to ban overseas investments, I think we?ve seen overseas investments? I think we?ve seen? ah? investments? ah donations? some might see them as investments um? and I think we?ve sort of seen globally um? at the moment that actually international interference um? with individual nation state politics is a big problem. Some would say? ah? the threat?s coming from the US, some would say Russia, some would say China and we just want to make sure that New Zealand?s laws are sort of future proofed against that.

Guyon:

And I see Nick Smith picking up on the same idea.

Golriz:

Yeah, that?s right. Yeah?

Guyon:

Because it was raised in Chris Finlayson?s valedictory wasn?t it?

Golriz:

That?s exactly right. So, in terms of political donations I think there is some level of consensus across the house that we need to look at this. We need to look at um? all of the different safeguards and so this suite of measures aims to do that.

Guyon:

Okay. Thirty-five thousand you want a cap on? That?s the maximum anyone would be able to donate. So that?s domestic as well?

Golriz:

Yep. Absolutely. So, we wanna um? as well as banning overseas donations make domestic donations far more transparent and also cap them at thirty-five thousand.

Guyon:

Have the Greens received donations of more than thirty-five thousand in the past?

Golriz:

We have in? in the current framework. So, we?ve got an ethics committee, for example, in the party that decides where our donations are allowed to come from. We just don?t think this kind of thing should be up to individual political parties.

Guyon:

In fact, you?ve received one ten times that amount, once didn?t you?

Golriz:

Yeah, we?ve? and it?s?

Guyon:

Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars from Betty Harris last year.

Golriz:

And it?s perfectly possible within the current system but I think we actually?

Guyon:

Is that a good thing?

Golriz:

I think we need to get big money out of New Zealand politics. I think, again we?ve seen ah? the damage that can do elsewhere around the world?

Guyon:

I challenge? I challenge you on that though. In New Zealand, right? I?ll tell you who spent big money on politics, and I can?t even remember the name of his party. That? that? that proves my point. Kim Dotcom and his mates spent millions of dollars.  Internet Mana was the name of it. My producer just told me so?

Golriz:

That?s right.

Guyon:

The other one that has spent millions? the Act party has spent millions and not got results. NZ First have spent very little? um? well at least? um at least not declared a lot and they have done quite well in electoral terms, so I don?t see any evidence, perhaps you can give it to me, that money has bought influence in terms of votes in New Zealand politics?

Golriz:

Yeah, so you are looking at who gets votes through money. Um? but what we are talking about as well is um? looking at? who?s controlling the purse strings of bigger parties. So, internationally we know that big oil um? industry donations have managed to keep action on climate change um? at bay. Um? so we want to know where donations are coming from and we want to limit them so that big business doesn?t have an? um? a disproportionate influence on our policies.

Guyon:

There will be some people screaming at their radios now saying ?well, you get money and take a lot of policy from Greenpeace who are? who are a? a multi-national NGO.? Now, so I mean? you might see it when it?s your opponent?s something that is wrong, but don?t you do the same kind of thing?

Golriz:

Well we want to stop that from being possible across the board. Um? so, like I say, we?ve got an ethics committee, we wouldn?t take money from big oil, we might take money from an environmental group, but then that reverses in other political parties and actually New Zealanders deserve better than that. That?s a one vote per person system, we don?t think that anyone should have a disproportionate influence on our politics depending on how much money they can donate.

Guyon:

Okay. Last two or three minutes we?ve got I want to focus on the threshold because this is an interesting part of what you are calling a suite of measures. Now, currently 5% threshold you need to get your party into parliament if you don?t win an electorate seat, that?s the rules under MMP and has been since the first MMP election in 1996. Why change it to four?

Golriz:

Um? so this? the part of the bill that we are speaking about now comes under the ah? ah? electoral commission recommendation, so we want them to ahh be picked up as a whole. Um? ah? the full suite of recommendations?

Guyon:

Which electoral commission report are you talking about?

Golriz:

The 2012 MMP um? review.

Guyon:

But are you talking about doing that before the 2020 election?

Golriz:

Um? well, we are hoping that? I mean it?s been so long and governments haven?t picked up the Electoral Commission?s Recommendations.

Guyon:

But this is important though ahh you know because if? if this was a rugby game and we?d be approaching half time and you?re talking about changing the goal posts.

Golriz:

Ah? not by much, (laughs).

Guyon:

You try that in a rugby? I?m changing the goal posts but not by much. My point and a serious one, is we are halfway through an electoral cycle, are you really saying that it should be 4% at the 2020 election? Because some people would look at you and NZ First and go hmm. gee? you?re not that? you?re close to the 5% threshold, isn?t this changing the rules, or lowering the bar, and that may help your own political ends?

Golriz:

Well, the Electoral Commission, in its recommendations, they did two rounds of ah? massive public consultation. They came up with 4% they said it should actually have been three but they said? you know? we need to ease it down to where it should actually be. They called the 5% threshold arbitrary um? and they talked about what MMP is meant to achieve which is a diversity of political opinions in parliament.

Guyon:

Sure. But any threshold?s arbitrary. My question is about timing. I? I?m not taking issue with? with what the threshold? the threshold could be anything you like but I?m talking about timing here.

Golriz:

I think? you know?. Look?. I think you?d have a point if it was? you know? in an election year, for example. But we?re not in an election year, we?ve got small parties popping up? I think that?s who it will help, by the way, because the Green party?s actually achieved a 5% threshold easily over 20 years?

Guyon:

Why not make it two then?

Golriz:

Well, again because there?s been public consultation and 4% is where they?ve landed. They?ve actually recommended that we review it regularly. Um? to suit? to suit this sort of electoral landscape. Um? they?ve also recommended getting rid of the electorate threshold which they called um? which they said created? which they called? um? which they said controlled?

Guyon:

Coat tailing.

Golriz:

Coat tailing, yeah, and getting rid of the electoral?

Guyon:

Just finally, what support are you going to have, because this is a dead duck if you don?t have more than your own party, obviously. What support have you got cross party.

Golriz:

Um? ah? well I?ve spoken ah? with the minister about electoral reform a number of times as we?ve met since I?ve been in parliament and ah? certainly their coalition partner as well and everyone?s aware of that so we?re having those conversations and I think ideally this needs to be a government bill.

Guyon:

Thanks for your time this morning, do appreciate it.

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