Ruth Porter | 22 April 2008
Published in The Northland Age, 22 April 2008
Finally Parliament is waking up to the reality of the Electoral Finance Act. The legislation, passed last year, is badly written and unclear. Given that even MPs newsletters may come under the law’s provisions, politicians are rightly concerned.
It is reassuring that our nation’s elected officials are worried. Last election led to a flurry of allegations of wrongful election spending, much of which it seems was unintentional. Still such PR is damaging for New Zealand. A system that is so unclear that it allows MPs and parties to mis-spend in good conscience is a worry. It is then troubling that the Electoral Finance Act is causing even more confusion. Questions such as “what constitutes an election advertisement?” “what can be defined as a ‘parliamentary purpose?'” and “who is included as ‘the public?'” still have not been answered despite the Act having now been in force for almost four months.
Finally, politicians are beginning to demand answers, some even calling for clearer definition from the courts. Yet we need to ask, why is it that many MPs have waited until they have found the Act personally inconvenient before starting to ask rigour questions. The reality is that the Act affects all four million people living in New Zealand, most of whom do not have the power to change the law or to demand answers from the courts as readily as politicians do.
Being a representative of the people charges our political leaders with the responsibility of advocating on our behalf. This law is adversely affecting the public, stifling their ability to speak. It would be good to see our leaders taking some responsibility for that; admitting that the legislation should never have been passed in the first place, that the concerns of submitters on the legislation were not adequately addressed at the time and that we are now facing the consequences. First and foremost, we should be hearing our representatives calling for clarification on the law, so that the public are not silenced out of fear. Only when those concerns have been addressed should politicians be looking to cover their own backs.