‘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)

Government puts House in urgency over fuel tax bill

This may be largely unnoticed as most attention is on Trump’s immigration fiasco and New Zealand media will likely be obsessed with a maternity hospital in Auckland.

URGENCY

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House): I move, That urgency be accorded to the committee stage and third reading of the Land Transport Management (Regional Fuel Tax) Amendment Bill and to the committee stage and third reading of the Taxation (Neutralising Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) Bill. McGee says that “the use of urgency is expected to be confined to situations where an urgent approach is genuinely needed.” The passing of these two bills meets this criteria quite comfortably. The passing of the Land Transport Management (Regional Fuel Tax) Amendment Bill this week is essential so that the Order in Council in clause 5 under new section 65K of the Land Transport Management Act can be made in time to establish the Auckland regional fuel tax scheme from 1 July, as scheduled. A late delay in the start date would make that very difficult, if not impossible.

The Taxation (Neutralising Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) Bill must be assented by the end of this month to allow the commencement of most of its provisions on 1 July to apply in the income year that begins on that day. Any delay could create serious compliance issues for the IRD and for taxpayers. The bill has been supported by all parties at its first and second reading.

The scheduling of the remaining stages of these two bills this week was notified to all parties last Thursday, so there are no particular surprises here. The use of urgency today will prevent the disruption of the third readings of the Treaty settlement bills that are planned tomorrow and next Thursday, and it will stop the Government having to interrupt members’ day next Wednesday, which is an undertaking that I have given to members opposite—that we would avoid interrupting members’ days wherever possible.

Urgency will be used very rarely by this Government, as we showed last month when we became the first Government not to seek post-Budget urgency, and therefore I ask the House to support the motion.

  • [Party Vote—Ayes 63, Noes 55]

    Motion agreed to.

Scoop:  House goes into Urgency over tax bills

The Government moved to put the House into Urgency tonight after making slow progress on the committee stage of the Land Transport Management (Regional Fuel Tax) Amendment Bill.

The unusual step was taken to end the debate by reporting progress and then immediately afterwards the Leader of the House Chris Hipkins put the Urgency motion to complete all stages of the fuel tax bill and the Taxation (Neutralising Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) Bill.

Hipkins said Urgency was required as the two bills had to be enacted by July 1 and it would mean less disruption to the rest of the House’s sitting programme.

One could ask why the Government has left themselves with so little time to get these bills through in time.

National MPs disagreed saying Urgency was being given without notice due to the Government losing control of its parliamentary agenda.

National MP Jami-Lee Ross then put forward a motion that “it be an instruction to the Committee of the whole House on the Land Transport Management (Regional Fuel Tax) Amendment Bill that all members wishing to speak that have already spoken in Part 2 have the ability to have a full four calls reset to zero so each member is able to restart their speaking number”. This in effect would have extended the debate by some time.

Hipkins then moved an amendment to the motion that “the motion be amended to delete all the words after “That” and replace them with “That it be an instruction to the committee that the remaining questions on the Land Transport Management (Regional Fuel Tax) Amendment Bill be put without further debate”.

Debate will resume in Parliament at 9 am this morning.

The fuel tax was originally intended to help Auckland with it’s urgent need for more money for transport infrastructure, but it could spread around the country.

Newshub – Revealed: The number of councils considering a fuel tax

Newshub can reveal at least 14 councils across the country have discussed the possibility of implementing a regional fuel tax.

This time next month, Aucklanders will be paying an additional 11.5 cents a litre for their fuel through the regional fuel tax – and it seems other councils want in on the action.

In response to a number of local government Official Information and Meetings Act requests, numerous councils across the nation admitted they were considering a fuel tax.

Those councils are:

  • Christchurch City Council
  • Rangitikei District Council
  • Bay of Plenty Regional Council
  • Thames Coromandel District Council
  • Tauranga City Council
  • Gisborne District Council
  • Greater Wellington Regional Council
  • Hamilton City Council
  • Western Bay of Plenty
  • Waikato Regional Council
  • Waikato District Council
  • Westland District Council
  • Environment Canterbury
  • Hurunui District Council

Another eight lower North Island councils had discussed the policy at a Mayoral Forum.

The law is currently making its way through Parliament – and while it was drafted to address Auckland congestion, the legislation doesn’t specify that the tax should only be applied in the super city.

 

 

Parliament under urgency

The 52nd Parliament of new Zealand kicked off under urgency yesterday.

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

Ayes 60

New Zealand Labour 45; Green Party 8; New Zealand First 7.

Noes 55

New Zealand National 55.

Motion agreed to.

No vote from ACT.

RNZ: Govt puts Parliament into urgency to start 100-day plan

The new government made a swift start on its 100-day plan, putting the house into urgency within hours of Parliament’s state opening.

Senior National MP Amy Adams told the House she was witnessing an incredible turnaround of principles by the parties now on the government benches.

“From parties who until now have derided, castigated, abused, got outraged over the use of urgency.

“When the National-led government took urgency it was very clear as the the need and the reasons for doing so.”

It is clear why urgency is being used here too – the new Government wants to get a lot through Parliament in their first 100n days, but it is questionable whether rushing things is good for democracy and whether the legislation will be sound or not.

Opposition parties tend to oppose urgency. Jacinda Ardern has done this in the past – this from Hansard in 2013:

I did just want to say that although Labour supports this bill, we have proactively engaged with the Minister to get to this point. We had some initial concerns that this might not have been the outcome and we were seeking this particular outcome for now. This process, I think it is fair to say, would have been smoother, Minister, if perhaps we were not debating this one in urgency.

I know that that may not have been what you were necessarily seeking when you took it to your esteemed colleague the Leader of the House, but given that we now have this in an urgency motion, that will bring with it some complications, just in terms of our continuing to make sure that we debate it in full, as we are entitled to do with this process.

But that does not lessen the degree to which we support the notion of what we are doing within this bill. A bit more time with the bill would have also been helpful and appreciated. Although, as I have said, we support the content, we have not seen the content in writing till just now. I am literally just opening this bill as we speak.

Sounds like a similar situation to last night.

 

 

 

National criticise urgency but support Paid Parental Leave bill

The first bill to be considered by the new Parliament was debated under urgency, a move criticised as hypocritical, but National also voted for the bill, saying they shared policy to increase paid parental leave.

RNZ: Govt puts Parliament into urgency to start 100-day plan

The new government made a swift start on its 100-day plan, putting the house into urgency within hours of Parliament’s state opening.

The first bill to be debated under the new government enacts the extension to paid parental leave announced by the Prime Minister on Monday.

Minister for Workplace Relations Iain Lees-Galloway told Parliament the bill was a straight-forward one.

“It provides for a an increase in the duration of paid parental leave from the current 18 weeks to 26 weeks.

“This is achieved in two stages, first an increase to 22 weeks in 1 July 2018, with a further increase to 26 weeks on 1 July 2020.”

Despite National’s objections to the bill, it voted in support – saying it was in fact its policy as well to extend paid parental leave.

ACT voted against it.

The bill has to pass further readings before becoming law.

The bill is being pushed through under urgency, meaning it will skip the committee (and public submission) stage.

That led to accusations of hypocrisy from the Opposition, arguing Labour had castigated the National-led goverment for using urgency.

The legislation was being pushed through without being sent to a select committee, as the government argued it had already been through that process twice under the previous National government.

The first time it was voted down at third reading and the second time it got there it was vetoed by National.

It was vetoed on fiscal grounds, with the National led government saying they had no funds available.

Senior National MP Amy Adams told the House she was witnessing an incredible turnaround of principles by the parties now on the government benches.

“From parties who until now have derided, castigated, abused, got outraged over the use of urgency.

“When the National-led government took urgency it was very clear as the the need and the reasons for doing so.”

Ms Adams said the rushed, hurried, seat-of-the-pants process by the Labour-led coalition meant the bill was very light on detail.

New Zealand First’s Tracey Martin, the Minister for Children, said the bill had twice been through select committee with more than 6000 submissions, 99 percent of which were in support.

She said the bill was going through under urgency, because it was urgent.

“Because our families need it, our babies need it, our mothers and fathers need it – they need the security to know that as soon as possible they can plan for this.

I think this bill was probably chosen to push through under urgency because it had been debated last term in Parliament as a Member’s Bill, and it was a safe one to start with, uncontroversial and assured of passing.

But it is highly debatable whether it can be called ‘urgent’.

And the planned implementation doesn’t seem urgent – an increase in four weeks next July, and an increase of another four weeks in 2020.

The first bill to be considered by the new Government may signal the approach by National – a mix of apposition, criticism and cooperation.

 

 

 

Urgency and select committee arguments

National MP Simon Bridges makes a fair (albeit possibly hypocritical) point about the use of urgency in Parliament.

In July Labour Party spoke in Parliament against the use of “urgency as a lazy approach to avoid proper scrutiny in select committees” and there are quite a number of times over the years when they’ve railed against the constitutional outrage of urgency in Parliament.

In their first week of Parliament their first Bill will be under urgency with no pesky select committee process.

Bridges is the national Opposition’s shadow leader of the House.

There is also a stoush over numbers of select committee members. Stuff: National calls Government’s plans for select committee ‘undemocratic’

National and Labour are exchanging blows over Labour’s plans to cut opposition MPs out of select committees, after Bill English threatened National will use its size to frustrate government progress.

Now National has accused Labour of eroding democratic rights, and attempting to limit the scrutiny of its government by changing the number of committee seats to 96, meaning 11 National MPs will miss out.

The committees are a crucial step in the legislative process.

The move to have 96 select committee seats comes after National leader Bill English last week warned the government to expect “tension” and “pressure” in Parliament, and through the select committee process where National would have a strong presence.

“And that is going to make a difference to how everything runs — it’s not our job to make this place run for an incoming Government that is a minority,” he said.

National shadow leader of the House Simon Bridges said the government was now trying to cut the number of opposition MPs from committees because it was short on numbers itself.

Traditionally, the number of positions on select committees had matched the number of MPs in Parliament, he said.

But Labour claim that National started it (a move to reduce numbers):

Labour has not yet responded to requests for comment but the party’s leader of the House Chris Hipkins told NZME the number of 96 was settled upon because that was the recommendation from the standing orders committee.

Earlier this year, the standing orders committee, which included National, recommended the number of select committee places be reduced to 96.

The committee met in March to consider different options for the make-up of the subject select committees. It recommended the 96-member option, saying 84 wasn’t enough and while the 108-seat model would “essentially maintain current arrangements” due to the number of subject committees being reduced from 13 to 12, committees were “generally larger than is necessary for them to be effective, and some members have too many committee commitments”.

“And ultimately Bill English was out there on Friday saying the National Opposition was going to use the select committee process to grind the Government’s legislation to a halt,” Hipkins said.

“It would be fair to say we are not of a mind to increase the numbers on select committee in order to make it easier for them to do that.”

It would be fair to say that parties do what they can to look after their own interests in Parliament.

If the Government does everything under urgency then the numbers on select committees won’t matter.

The Government has set ambitious targets for their first 100 days in office – after a long time in Opposition they are obviously keen to get things done but hasty lawmaking is risky.