Archive for ‘Democracy’ Category

This week we look certain to see National repeal most of the Electoral Finance Act under urgency. While Simon Power is publicly stating they’re going to keep the disclosure rules, which sounds good but … as National well knows the disclosure rules have loopholes.

Like the old rules they allow organisations and individuals to wash large donations by cutting them into smaller donations which fit below the “anonymous” donations threshold. This is the same practice that was enabled by a similar loophole under the old electoral finance rules.

If National was committed to transparency it would be closing that loophole now, and publicly shaming any party that refused to support the action. In reality, of course, National is committed to the appearance of clean hands while maintaining funding routes for its large donors.

Whither Labour?

datePosted on 23:02, February 10th, 2009 by Lew

That’s a question, not an imperative.

It’s impossible to ignore the impact of the Clark-Cullen legacy on NZ’s political orthodoxy. Their government – like Thatcher’s and like Lange’s – moved the political mainstream, requiring incoming governments to appeal to it in order to win support. John Key’s ability to learn from some of the mistakes of his predecessors in both major parties, but not others, has been considered in plenty of different ways, and some of those give more than a moment’s thought to his future. At least now people agree that he has one which doesn’t involve being rolled by Bill English.

But what of Labour? I see two broad possibilities, which I’ll characterise as the Crusaders Game and the Hurricanes Game. Despite being a Hurricanes supporter, by that I don’t mean to privilege one over the other.

The Crusaders Game

Labour recognises that the political agenda is no longer theirs, and concentrates on their core stuff: defence, set-piece, taking advantage of their opposition’s mistakes and infringing at the ruck (but not so much as to seem a cheat).

This means a retrenchment of sorts. Goff is the ideal leader for this game: steady, capable, etc. but they will probably have to alienate the Greens, and if the māori party and its constituency gets what it needs from being part of the National-led government Labour may find themselves friendless. Whatever the case, this strategy will mean ceding the political field to National and starting again in three or six or nine years from within someone else’s political agenda – as National are doing now. This relies on fairly orthodox two-party-plus-hangers-on political thinking – the idea that occupying the centre is the route to success.

The Hurricanes Game

Labour sees in Key’s concessions to the Clark-Cullen agenda an opportunity, and maximises it by relying on gut instinct, team spirit, inspirational leadership, raw opportunism, personal brilliance and complaining about Key’s infringing at the ruck (but not so much as to appear a whinger).

This strategy will require three things: first, new leadership; second, a much closer relationship with the Greens; third, intense and sustained energy. Labour will have to learn to live lean, to rehabilitate itself with the wider left, and ultimately to normalise the idea of the Green New Deal among skeptical NZ voters. This relies upon a quite unorthodox political strategy – the idea that a party or bloc of parties can and should cooperate to move the centre in order to more easily occupy it in their common interest. The danger is that they run out of puff in getting there, and find themselves in three or six or nine years having to adopt the Crusaders Game anyway.

There are other possibilities, of course, but these seem most plausible and simple dichotomies are nice.

So, four questions: what should Labour do (in your humble opinion) and what will Labour do? How, and why?

L

NGO advocacy: it’s all right with me!

datePosted on 06:00, February 10th, 2009 by Anita

Idiot/Savant has been wading through OIAs in an attempt to figure out which government agencies joined SOE Solid Energy in paying for a report to undermine government climate change policies. Solid Energy has paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars of our money to lobby against the government addressing climate change.

Yet at the same time NGOs are rigourously banned from using any state funding to advocate for legislative or policy change. Small volunteer run organisations are forced to segregate their government funding from any funding used for advocacy.

This causes all kinds of administrative and compliance overhead – if a social worker’s salary is paid by a government contract for service, can they discuss difficulties caused by Housing NZ policy when they meet HNZ staff to organise emergency housing for clients? If someone producing information material’s salary is 60% funded how can we prove that the time they spent putting together material for the CE’s meeting with the incoming Minister was in their other 40%?

On the one hand we give the most ethically dubious state owned enterprise the right to use as much of our money as they like to lobby, hire spies, breach the Conservation Act and pay private investigators to summarise Indymedia.

On the other we load such compliance cost on small NGOs that using their own money to lobby becomes impractical.

As well as tightening the leash on Solid Energy, we need to give NGOs their freedom. NGOs provide richness and diversity, they advocate for people whose voices are lost in our majoritarian culture – a little government funding would be worth every dollar.

Meaningful referenda

datePosted on 06:00, February 5th, 2009 by Anita

Later this year we will have the opportunity to vote on a referendum asking:

Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in NZ?

There are two pretty serious problems with the question. Firstly, it has rolled two ideas together but we only have one vote. What say I believe one should not criminalise good parenting (“No” to the explicit question) but I believe that smacking is not good parenting and should be criminalised (“Yes” to the implicit question)?

Secondly, if the referenda succeeds what should the government do? The referenda is intended to be about repealing the current section 59 and replacing it with an explicit permission to use physical discipline for correction, but that’s not what it says. The government would be entirely justified in saying that the law as it stands is not criminalising good parents.

So we have a question that is not straightforward to answer and which doesn’t actually say what it wants.

I believe we should change the process for setting the question for referenda so that they are clear simple questions which provide an unambiguous direction to government. This probably means groups providing a description of the issue as well as possible questions if they wish then the Office of the Clerk getting the possible questions checked or new questions drafted so that the group can be given a choice of questions which are simple, clear and directive.

RfP: Electoral systems

datePosted on 14:56, February 4th, 2009 by Anita

National has promised us a pair of referenda over the next 5-ish years on whether to retain MMP or move to a non-proportional system.

Many of us have strong feelings about how our system should word: proportional or not, electorates or not, how much parties should have, and so on. So this is a request for posts, would you like a chance to put up your opinions for discussion? 

If you’re interested please email us at kiwipolitico@kiwipolitico.com or put a comment onto this post.

And with further ado I’ll put up our first post in the series. Many thanks to Ari for kicking this off with the first of two posts arguing for open lists.

Why would someone give $100,000 to a political party? Because they know that money makes a difference in politics, even if they don’t want a personal pay back, they believe that the money will help the party advance its agenda. 

One of the principles of democracy is described as “one person one vote”, which is to say each voter should have equal influence. If money can help buy a party influence, then the amount of money each person can given to political parties should be equal. This requires capping political donations to a level everyone can afford, which is going to be pretty low.

The usual counter argument is that I’m suggesting restricting free speech, but I’m not. Everyone can speak as often as an loud and as enthusiastically as before, what they can’t do is buy political influence: that’s not free speech.

Principle III: equal money for equal influence – individual’s donations to political parties should be capped at a level every voter can afford.

RMA – National’s changes will go to Select Committee

datePosted on 17:44, February 3rd, 2009 by Anita

Well the broad outline of the changes has been announced, and it’s looks pretty ugly for both sustainability and community involvement, so no surprises there.

On the plus side, firstly and this is a huge plus given National’s behaviour last year, the changes will go to Select Committee. Last year’s arrogant undemocratic practice of major changes without public consultation might, hopefully, be over. That said whether the committee will listen to the public remains a pretty big question.

Second good news, again genuinely good, according to the Greens’ analysis the ludicrous loophole allowing the Crown to breach consent conditions and preventing Councils from stopping them looks like it will go.

Other than that… it looks like we’re trading community voices and a sustainable future for a chance to pave our way out of a global recession.

P.S. As usual the best analysis is over at No Right Turn

The Second Job of Citizenry

datePosted on 06:00, February 1st, 2009 by Anita

During last year’s election campaign I was struck by just how few people actually care; the cynicism and distrust of politicians, no-one expects honesty. More and more often I hear people talking about just not bothering — “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, it’s always a politician who wins.” The reality is that if you don’t vote the politicians win too.

Overseas negative and attack campaigning to suppress the vote is a common tactic. It may not be possible to persuade your opposition’s supporters to vote for you, but you might be able to put them off voting altogether. In our context, National may not be able to get many working class women to vote for them, but if they can stop them voting at all, that’s nearly as good.

In a fascinating public lecture Therese Arseneau talks about what she learned from the use of consultants in US elections

their aim is to actually to suppress the vote. The aim of negative campaigning was to keep particular people away from the polls.

A study of US Senate races shows just how effective this tactic is at suppressing not only the targeted voters but the electorate as a whole. They found that in largely negative races turnouts were 4.5 percentage points lowers than in ones that were largely positive. In New Zealand a 4.5 percentage point drop is about 130,000 people.

Both major parties publicly stated they ran positive campaigns, yet the tenor was negative all the way. This is true of political parties, the media, the net and the whispering campaigns.

There has always been some negativity from the two main political parties, but volumes seems to have increased over the last two campaigns. From the National Party we see the increase in the build up to the 2005 election, with the Crosby/Textor strategy of targeting Helen Clark — arrogant, out of touch, childless — along with divisive rhetoric against traditionally Labour supporting segments of society. Labour’s negativity showed in some of the 2005 campaign — for example their anti-National mocked-up eviction notices. This time we saw attacks on Key, which didn’t looked well co-ordinated or thought through, but sure were negative. Read the rest of this entry »

One of the right’s many complaints about Owen Glenn’s contribution to Peters’ legal fees was that Glenn’s not resident in New Zealand; he’s not even eligible to vote here. Like Glenn’s donations to Peters fees and the Labour party, the controversial Vela donations were from a source unable to vote: the donations were from companies not people.

Donations from not-voters are common in New Zealand; a quick read of the 2005 donation return shows that far more money was donated by things than by people. That doesn’t include the corporate donations carefully crafted to avoid disclosure (e.g. British American Tobacco’s donation to the Nats).

It begs the question – why, if we let anyone and anything buy influence, don’t we let them vote as well? If Sky City can fund political parties, shouldn’t they get to vote too? And the pharmaceutical companies? And the banks? And the tobacco lobby? While we’re at it, they’re bigger than the average person, shouldn’t they get more votes?

It’s obviously ridiculous, as is allowing anyone or anything which cannot vote in our elections to buy political influence.

Principle II: Democracy is for voters – if you can’t vote, or won’t be able to when you turn 18, you shouldn’t get to buy political influence, end of story.

[edited to clarify the first para – Anita]

Electoral finance: the principles I – Transparency

datePosted on 06:00, January 25th, 2009 by Anita

In the run up to the election there was massive hypocrisy in the right complaining about the Electoral Finance Act while simultaneously amping up the fuss around New Zealand First finances; complaining about the exploitation of loopholes that the EFA they so hate was supposed to close. So I thought I’d use this as a an opportunity to look at the principles that should underpin our electoral finance rule one by one.

One of the most serious issue raised by Jones, Glenn, the Velas, and the Spencer Trust (not to mention National’s Waitemata Trust, Ruahine Trust, and so on) is transparency. People voted for NZF (and National and Labour) without knowing who was paying their bills, without being able to assess what the funders might be expecting in return.

Would the same people have voted for NZ First in 2005 if they’d known it was being funded by Bob Jones and the racing lobby? Perhaps, but they didn’t in 2008 once they knew. National if they’d known about funding from the tobacco, pharmaceutical and insurance industries? Perhaps.

But perhaps they would have looked closer at the policies and made a decision about whose financial interests they were voting for.

What would NZ First do for the racing lobby? We have an answer.

What will National do for tobacco and pharmaceutical companies now they have the cabinet benches? We’ve already got a pretty clear idea about what they’re offering the insurance industry: profit from a privatised workplace accident compensation model, and the Herceptin decision is positioning for politicians making decisions on drug funding.

Perhaps knowing who’s bought influence would help us weigh up what to do with our votes, and it sure would help us keep the bastards honest! 

Principle I: Transparency – it is vital for democracy that we, the voters, know who is behind the candidates, who is paying their bills, who is pulling their strings.

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