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Democracy Under Attack!!!

Written By: - Date published: 10:15 am, December 21st, 2010 - 22 comments
Categories: election funding, newspapers - Tags: , ,

I couldn’t let the last of the year slip away without a fond farewell to the good old Electoral Finance Act.

Cast your minds back to where it all began. The 2005 election, where National’s lies and dodgy dealings with third party lobbyists cost them both the election, and their leader (when Don Brash resigned in the face of the public outcry). Trying to close the loopholes, Labour put forward the Electoral Finance Bill. The first draft was flawed. Overall there is no doubt that Labour bungled the process. But the final version was acceptable, and the Act was passed by the majority of parties in Parliament.

During this process the attacks mounted on the EFA were extraordinarily feral. The “respectable” face of the crusade was the Herald’s “Democracy Under Attack” campaign. Taking the fight to the gutter, was National blogger DPF and his series of billboards comparing the government to a range of brutal dictators. And let’s not forget the rent a mob demonstrations and the perfectly valid and reasonable comparisons of Helen Clark to Adolf Hitler. Ahhh – good times.

Fast forward to the National government of today. Last week their replacement Act was passed. Legal academic and constitutional expert Andrew Geddis at Pundit sums up:

[On December 15th] Parliament once again passed the Electoral Finance Act – repackaged as the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill …

Those compromises also have resulted in a set of rules that are less prescriptive than the Electoral Finance Act’s were. So, the period of pre-election regulation is much shorter than under the Electoral Finance Act – dialed back from up-to 11 months to about 3 months. “Third parties”, now called “promoters”, can spend up to $300,000 on election advertisements during this period – up from the $120,000 cap that applied previously. There’s been an increase in how much political parties and candidates can spend on their own campaigns, to take account for the fact these limits hadn’t changed since 1996. Donors to political parties can give up to $15,000 without having to identify themselves publicly, up from the former threshold of $10,000.

So, all-in-all, the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill is less restrictive of campaign spending than was the Electoral Finance Act. But, and here’s the germ of truth I referred to earlier, it is more restrictive than was the law prior to 2008. And the restrictions it applies differ from the Electoral Finance Act more in degree than substance.

Most importantly, the new legislation accepts the proposition that anyone who wishes to involve themselves in the election campaign with the aim of influencing the outcome of the vote ought to be subject to financial limits. So it doesn’t matter if you are a political party, a candidate, an outraged individual, a pressure group or a labour/business organisation – if you want to tell people how they should vote come election day, then you should get a say … but not too much of a say.

So the Nats’ replacement has tweaked some thresholds, but it retains the principles (and much of the actual substance) of Labour’s EFA. Is the Herald running “Democracy Under Attack” banners? No. Is DPF on TV pushing his dictator billboards? No. Are wealthy bagmen spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to fake grass roots concern? No.

If the EFA was actually a bad law then the same people who campaigned against it then would be campaigning against it now. But they aren’t, and that silence speaks volumes. That silence tells us that the new Act, like the old EFA, are perfectly reasonable documents. That silence tells us that the real attack on democracy was not the EFA, but the crusade against it. That silence tell us that we have witnessed one of the most extraordinarily cynical and feral propaganda campaigns of our recent political history.

22 comments on “Democracy Under Attack!!! ”

  1. Sookie 1

    I started dipping into NZ political blogs in 2008. The misogynistic bile and vitriol directed at Helen Clark I discovered used to make me feel physically sick. I knew then that NZ wasn’t the lovely green, leftie, feminist-friendly land of frolicking Hobbits I so fondly thought it was while I lived and worked in the UK. Now the sad little Hollow Men so awesome at stirring up cynical faux-outrage like this EFA nonsense are in charge, and I want to bugger off again. But where can a girl run to? It’s just as bad everywhere else.

    • foveaux 1.1

      Scandinavia is probably your best bet. That’s where I’m off to when I graduate.

      • r0b 1.1.1

        We’re sorry to lose every graduate, every Kiwi. But I can’t argue with the logic.

      • grumpy 1.1.2

        Alas, the Scandanavia of a few years ago is no longer there. Most of the governments are Right Wing and the taxation is horrendous. However, if you are looking to be taken care of from cradle to the grave and have every original thought kicked out of you – go for it!

  2. Bill 2

    Jut an observation (not the first time it’s been made), but the astro turf EFA effort bears a remarkable resemblance to the Tea Party nonsense in ‘the states’ with it’s reliance on conflating democratically elected leaders with dictators and using the traditional symbolism associated with dictatorships.

    If the main protagonists were identified…ie, the people behind Farrar and the rest, then I reckon that Mallard’s ‘bag man’ would be discovered to be not a million miles distant.

    And while I’m on a role of unsubstantiated musings, you don’t think that Key…the man the world revolves around…was stupid enough to assume that by being a conduit for US foreign policy and economic policies finding favour in NZ, that he would be rewarded with a faux ( but real to John) Obama friendship that he could exploit through the media for his own political gain? I can just picture him, all tearey eyed and fretting wondering why he was experiencing such feelings of rejection and firing off a cable, hoping to be told it wurrent so…it just wurrent so.

  3. Bunji 3

    Great post r0b – shows the hysteria up for what it was…

  4. Bill 4

    What I detest about all of this; the EFA and the Amendment, is the blithe acceptance that money should be given an avenue to talk…awarded a platform. It’s bullshit. Financial limits only moderate the interplay between those already advantaged by the monetisation of politics.

    See, I just shook my piggy bank. Couldn’t raise so much as a squeak. And there was me thinking democracy was something for us to practice and engage in. Silly me.

    You and I are rendered mute. Just as democracy should be.

  5. tc 5

    ” Is the Herald running “Democracy Under Attack” banners? ” pure gold R0B….keep up the great work and have a great xmas new year.

  6. Nick C 6

    “The Act was passed by the majority of parties in Parliament.”

    No it wasnt. National, Act, United Future and Maori Party voted against at third reading. Labour, Greens, NZ First and Progressives voted for. So it was 4 parties in favour 4 against.

    edit – In fact Taito Philip Field voted against at third reading too :P. He was not a party, but if he was it would have been majority of parties voting against.

    • r0b 6.1

      You are correct on the third reading, but on the first two readings United Future voted for, not against.

      Note also that the Maori Party (who voted against) supported the goals of the Act and voted against in part because they felt that it wasn’t strong enough.

      Interesting to go back and see what all the Party leaders were saying at the time.

  7. But this time there is no “Democracy Under Attack” campaign. I wonder why…

    Well I’ll tell you why my protest has been more muted this time round (though I have voiced my disapproval here and elsewhere).

    Because what’s the point? NZ got rid of a cold, supercilious, dictatorial, hubristic leader and a Cabinet that was too emasculated (or simply didn’t care) about democracy replaced them with a smiley, supercilious dictatorial hubristic leader and a Cabinet that actually wants to erode democracy.

    So really, what’s the point?

    • r0b 7.1

      I’m certainly glad that I’m not as pessimistic as you Rex. See, I only believe that half our politicians are dangerous to our health, not all of them. How do you get through the day?

      • burt 7.1.1

        It’s easy for you though rOb because you only need to look at the colour of their party affiliation rather than scrutinise their actions or words.

      • How do you get through the day, r0b, maintaining the delusion that, say, Kris Fa’afoi or Chris Carter have principles?

        Yes, some pollies do, on both sides of the aisle and on the cross-benches. But never enough to form a critical mass in any major party and rarely even in a minor one.

        And it appears I’m getting through the day by gradually morphing into a centrist version of Redbaiter… 😀 And hoping that, at some time in the future, I’ll once again be in a position to try and effect change, rather than rant impotently on a blog.

        • r0b 7.1.2.1

          I’m not sure that hating everyone is exactly “centrist”! More like left right out.

          My suggestion, pick the lesser of the evils and get involved. Effect change from within. It’s the most effective way…

  8. ak 8

    Terrific post r0b. Clearly demonstrates and proves the synthetic quality of the insanity that was whipped up over this relatively minor issue – and others, especially Winnie-bango. The first inkling of this pathetic phenomenum emerged with Orewa One: editorials and talk-back insanity (genuinely and naively thought I was listening to sophisticated parody!) – the hint given in “The Hollow Men” via a Brownlee reference to “work that was done for weeks before” pointing to a deliberate, well-heeled campaign of mainstream media hatemongering (“Death of Democracy” the risible nadir) the like of which we had never witnessed. Except, in hindsight, on Fox News.

    We tend to forget that the polls were neck-and-neck around Sept-Oct 07: then the Mallard/Henare slappo was heavily blamed on Trev, and the deluge of EFA mania began. Most disappointing was the willingness of hitherto ostensibly sensible actors to lap it up: Harawira screaming an extreme sewerblog montage in the house, Espiner and Garner gleefully jumping on the hatewagon for their drinking buddy with extensive “detached” reporting on extremists like Farrar and his billboards, to the extent that even in refined and mature company “that bitch” passed withered lips that had never whispered a “damn” in eight or more decades. A time of shame for many, of disappointment for others. To all sunday-school children who had ever scratched their heads as to how the Jews could flick from praise to crucifixion in days – or how refined and cultural Germans could unite behind Adolf, mass, hysterical hatred bared its ugly fangs in our very own idyll.

    Here’s a word to help you get through the day Rex: forgiveness. Requires courage, but works far better than correction. And as r0b proves with every post, builds strength and hope.

    • Thanks for the thought, ak (and for the very eloquent piece that precedes it).

      But forgiveness is only possible if one sees contrition and change, as I know full well from my justice sector work. I’ve championed murderers whom I’ve seen genuinely change their ways.

      But if you’re suggesting I forgive Labour their excesses I have two problems with that. First, many still involved don’t see them as excesses at all – or at least refuse to admit they were. And accepting guilt is the first, and utterly necessary, step to rehabilitation. Second, when given a chance to show they realise they need a game-changer, they trot out Kris Fa’afoi. Or abdicate power to Gerry Brownlee. Or fail to go into bat for the Chief Justice. Or vote for EFA Mk II. Or…

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