‘Urgency’ for ‘virtue signalling’ foreign donation ‘ban’

Again the Government is talking big and doing little, this time under urgency in Parliament. It has been described as little more than “virtue signalling”.

Beehive: Government to ban foreign donations

The Government is taking action to protect New Zealand from foreign interference in our elections by banning foreign donations to political parties and candidates, Justice Minister Andrew Little announced today.

Legislation will be introduced to Parliament this afternoon and passed under urgency.

“There’s no need for anyone other than New Zealanders to donate to our political parties or seek to influence our elections,” Andrew Little said.

“We need to protect the integrity of our elections. These changes will reduce the risk of foreign money influencing our election outcomes.

“We don’t want our elections to go the way of recent overseas examples where foreign interference appears to have been at play.”

Other countries ban foreign donations. Foreign or anonymous donations cannot be accepted in Australia over $1,000, Canada over $20 or the United Kingdom over £500 respectively.

The Bill contains a minimal threshold of $50, to ensure that small-scale fundraising activities such as bucket donations and whip-rounds won’t be affected. But big donations will be gone.

What the Beehive/Andrew Little don’t say is that all they are doing is lowering the threshold, from $1500 to $50. So donations are not being banned, they are just more limited than they were.

The Bill also introduces a new requirement that party secretaries and candidates must take reasonable steps to ensure that a donation, or a contribution to a donation over the $50 foreign donation threshold, is not from an overseas person. The Electoral Commission will issue guidance on what ‘reasonable steps they might take to check the origin of the donations.

The Bill also requires Party Secretaries to reside in New Zealand, to make it easier to enforce parties’ compliance with the donations rules.

It also extends the requirement to include name and address details on election advertisements to apply to election advertisements in all mediums.

Another couple of tweaks.

The threshold reduction is unlikely to have much effect on donations – and leaves large loopholes open (that have been used by NZ First and National foundations).

Newsroom: Govt’s foreign donation ‘ban’ leaves loopholes untouched

At first glance, the changes seem reasonable: a ban on foreign donations is a topic on which nearly all political parties agree, and the threat of foreign interference in elections (such as the Brexit vote and the United States presidential elections) is a growing concern around the world.

On closer reading, though, the changes seem to create as many problems as they solve.

The “ban” is not in fact a ban, but a reduction in the overseas donation limit from $1500 to $50, designed to protect smaller fundraising efforts such as whip-arounds.

But in 2017, overseas donations of the type being curtailed made up less than a quarter of a percent of all party donations that year (or $26,272 out of a whopping $11.4 million).

Even the Ministry of Justice concedes (in its regulatory impact statement for the bill) that the rationale for a ban is not about the amount of money being donated, but “the implicit message that allowing foreign donations sends to domestic political parties and prospective candidates, and those who are not part of New Zealand’s electoral system” – virtue signalling, if you will.

And it won’t stop loopholes from being used – Jacinda Ardern admits political party ‘foreign donation ban’ won’t close loopholes

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has admitted it won’t stop an apparent loophole: big foreign donations of over $100,000 being funnelled through New Zealand trusts, businesses or foundations.

In August, the Prime Minister accused the National Party of operating”outside the spirit of the law”, for accepting a $150,000 donation from a Chinese billionaire channelled through a New Zealand business.

Electoral law expert Andrew Geddis explained to Newshub: “It doesn’t matter if that company is owned by an overseas person – the law allowed it and will continue to allow it.”

But the Prime Minister appeared to have a different view. She said she “absolutely acknowledges” that the law change wouldn’t completely close loopholes in the law.

In fact, she said the law change wouldn’t catch donations like the one she once described as “outside the spirit of the law” at all.

“It does not cover the substantive issues that some have raised around how the National Party have used donations,” she told Parliament.

The Electoral Commission is currently looking into allegations New Zealand First has been hiding donations through the New Zealand First Foundation.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wouldn’t say if the law change would prevent foreign donations to foundations like the New Zealand First Foundation.

If NZ First are supporting the changes, and supporting urgency to ram through the changes, then it is unlikely it will impact on how NZ First are using the NZ First Foundation.

Newsroom: Govt’s foreign donation ‘ban’ leaves loopholes untouched

The “ban” is not in fact a ban, but a reduction in the overseas donation limit from $1500 to $50, designed to protect smaller fundraising efforts such as whip-arounds.

But in 2017, overseas donations of the type being curtailed made up less than a quarter of a percent of all party donations that year (or $26,272 out of a whopping $11.4 million).

Even the Ministry of Justice concedes (in its regulatory impact statement for the bill) that the rationale for a ban is not about the amount of money being donated, but “the implicit message that allowing foreign donations sends to domestic political parties and prospective candidates, and those who are not part of New Zealand’s electoral system” – virtue signalling, if you will.

It seems that virtue signalling is now done under urgency by the Government.

In Parliament yesterday (Tuesday):

URGENCY

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House): I move, That urgency be accorded the passing through all stages of the Electoral Amendment Bill (No 2), the third readings of the Farm Debt Mediation Bill (No 2) and the National Animal Identification and Tracing Amendment Bill (No 2), and the second reading of the Maritime Transport (Offshore Installations) Amendment Bill.

The Electoral Amendment Bill (No 2) takes action to protect New Zealand from foreign interference in our elections by banning donations to political parties and candidates. It’s an issue that is being faced around the world, and, of course, it is one that we will face next year in our election year. The Government believes it’s important that the measures in the bill are put in place as early as possible before election year gets under way, which is the reason that we are asking the House to pass it through all stages under urgency.

It’s likely that consideration of the Electoral Amendment Bill (No 2) will continue into tomorrow morning, meaning that select committees will not meet. In order to make optimum use of the House’s time, the third readings of the Farm Debt Mediation Bill (No 2) and the National Animal Identification and Tracing Amendment Bill (No 2) and the second reading of the Maritime Transport (Offshore Installations) Amendment Bill are also included in this motion. Both of the agriculture sector bills make important contributions to safeguard the future of the country’s most important industry.

The Farm Debt Mediation Bill (No 2) is scheduled to commence in part on 1 February next year, and the Maritime Transport (Offshore Installations) Amendment Bill also commences at the start of next year. It’s important that these bills complete their passage through the House this year, which may not be possible without the granting of urgency.

I do want to undertake it publicly, as I have given an undertaking to the shadow Leader of the House, that the Government does not intend to progress with urgency beyond 1 p.m. tomorrow, so that the House’s regular business of question time and members’ day can resume in the afternoon.


A party vote was called for on the question, That urgency be accorded.

Ayes 63

New Zealand Labour 46; New Zealand First 9; Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand 8.

Noes 57

New Zealand National 55; ACT New Zealand 1; Ross.

Motion agreed to.


National actually supports lowering the threshold, but not doing it under urgency. Nick Smith in the First reading:

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): This is an extraordinary situation where we have our Parliament in urgency being asked to rush through changes to our electoral law, where the Opposition party only received a copy of the bill at 11 a.m. this morning, after our caucus had even started, and where the bill is proposed to go through its first reading, its committee stage, its second reading, and become law by today. The question the Parliament has to ask is: why on earth is the Minister of Justice panicked into this sort of shoddy parliamentary process? The honest answer is this: firstly, the Government’s just had a bad poll, so they want to be looking like they’re doing something, and the second thing is they are behaving like a wounded bull in response to the very serious disclosures of the New Zealand First Foundation and what is going on within the Government.

National supports a reduction in that limit, but we should not pretend that, somehow, this is a magic solution to the inappropriate use of foreign donations. Everybody knows, and the Minister accepts, that all a foreigner needs to do is set up a New Zealand registered trust with a lawyer friend or set up a company in New Zealand, and that company could quite legitimately make donations under this bill. That is why this bill is all about politics and not really contributing to the improvements in the fairness of our democracy and ensuring that it is protected from some of the growing influences of foreign individuals.

So every single bill of an electoral nature under the nine years of the previous Key Government, introduced by justice Minister Amy Adams, Judith Collins, or Simon Power, involved extensive consultation with the Opposition and involved more than a majority, and that involved compromise. I contrast that with respect to the record of Mr Little. This is the fourth electoral amendment bill that he’s brought to this Parliament without any consultation with Opposition parties at all. We had it with the waka-hopping law, we had it with the law on referendums that’s just gone through its third reading, we had it with the Electoral Amendment Bill, and now we have it with the Electoral Amendment Bill (No 2). Andrew Little is on the public record saying that electoral bills should be consulted with the Opposition.


Pushing this through under urgency has raised some eyebrows about the Green Party involvement, given their history of supporting sound democratic processes.

Co-leader Marama Davidson in the First reading:

The Green Party are very clear that we need to fight strong and long for a democracy and a public decision making process that people with a connection to New Zealand can absolutely trust, that people can feel confident is here for the will of the people of our country. So the Green Party welcomes and supports the Electoral Amendment Bill; the changes that we are making to ban overseas donations in our electoral processes.

For some time now around the world, and, certainly, here in our own country, public confidence and trust in our democratic processes has been waning. We need to have the public interest of the people who are connected to this country at the heart of every decision that we are making, rather than any overseas interests or influence or advocacy, and so, again, really leaning into why the Greens are strong in our support of this bill.

So they support abusing one democratic process to tweak rules around another process.

I wanted to pick up on the time restraints that were identified by officials, that we need to start getting these changes put into place before the 2020 election, and that it is essential that we are giving parties, the electoral systems, the authorities involved, and our own political system enough time to be able to make sure that we have got these changes—that we’ve got the system set up to be able to take on board a ban on overseas donations and, again, a raft of other measures that need to be put into place as well. So I understand and accept and hear the justification that has been given to make sure that we get these changes through, to get us towards a better engagement, a better public confidence in our system.

Urgency gives no time for normaal democratic processes, making a mockery of “it is essential that we are giving parties, the electoral systems, the authorities involved, and our own political system enough time to be able to make sure that we have got these changes”.

It seems that the Greens don’t care about democratic processes if it gets them laws that they want.

So, once again, to close—it is of the utmost importance for us to be working together to address the big crises that are facing the future of our world, and the big issues that we are going to have to work together on. It is in the utmost interests for all of us to have a strong, transparent, and equal access democratic system.

Tweaking donation rules is addressing a big crisis?


But urgency wasn’t enough to get it through last night:

Part 1 Amendments relating to overseas donations

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): I look forward to this very important stage of the House and the extensive time we’ll have available for the remainder of this session. This bill is very important. It does a very important thing. It’s meaningful, it’s real, it deals with a serious risk, and it will make a serious difference for the conduct by parties and their general secretaries to make sure that our electoral system has integrity. It’s not called the electoral integrity bill; it is called the Electoral Amendment Bill (No 2), but it is about integrity. What is similar between this bill and that bill of the other name is the catastrophising that goes on by members opposite, and they do it every time there’s a very minor but important technical change to our law, as it is in this case. But this bill and this part of the bill—

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Ruth Dyson): I’m sorry to advise the Minister, but the time has come for me to leave the Chair.

Sitting suspended from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. (Wednesday)

Greens want Government to adopt electoral reform bill

Greens are pushing for electoral reform. Golriz Ghahraman is introducing a member’s bill, and her party wants the Government to adopt it. That would require NZ First or National support to get it over the line.

Proposed changes:

  • Ban foreign donations to political parties to “stop unfair influence and potential corruption in politics”
  • Overturn a ban on prisoner voting
  • Enable Māori to change roll types at any time
  • Lower the MMP threshold to 4%

If foreign donations can be effectively banned it should be a worthwhile change.  They coukld be suported by National. In January (NZH): National floats ban on foreign donations

Calls to ban foreign donations to political parties received a shot in the arm yesterday after National Party MP Nick Smith signalled reforms were needed to ensure the integrity of the New Zealand electoral system.

… in a speech last night to Nelson Rotary, Smith went public with his call for electoral finance reform, saying he wished to promote “a ban on foreign donations.”

“The existing electoral law does put limits on foreign donors, but needs strengthening. Only Kiwi citizens and residents should be able to donate to political parties or to campaigns that seek to influence an election outcome,” Smith said.

Prisoner voting is a human rights issue. Excluding people from voting on things that directly affect them is undemocratic.

Andrew Geddis:  Taylor strikes again (but still has no right to take his place in the human race)

The Court of Appeal has upheld Arthur Taylor’s challenge to the ban on prisoner voting under the NZ Bill of Rights Act … except that he personally shouldn’t have been able to bring the case in the first place, and he still won’t be able to vote. But still – exciting!

I’ve been writing on the issue of prisoner voting generally, and jailhouse lawyer Arthur Taylor’s various challenges to the 2010 law preventing it in particular, for quite some time now.

Māori roll changes is not a big deal, but the current system seems odd, where voters can only switch rolls during a designated Māori Electoral Option period.

One could be cynical about the proposed threshold drop to 4% given the closeness to this of both Greens and NZ First. I ask why 4%? Why not 3%? But 4% may be a pragmatic increment – I would strongly support any lowering of the threshold, which currently favours larger parties, hence their reluctance to make it more democratic.

Source NZH: The Green Party will introduce a members’ bill which would ban all offshore political donations

75% of Parliament means Labour plus National. They should support it. In the past they have been too self interested to implement lower threshold recommendations, but the new reality means it may be in their interests to lower it. It’ is also in the interests oif democracy.