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May 24, 2010 | by  | in News |
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New Zealand’s democracy “up for sale”?

Finance reform passes its first reading among serious concerns.

The Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill passed its first reading in parliament, despite concerns from the Green and Maori Parties that it does not go far enough.

The bill is just one part of an extensive package of electoral reforms which also includes a bill to establish a new Electoral commission, and a bill to provide a referendum reviewing the MMP voting system.

Justice Minister Simon Power is confident the bill will “establish a regime that is fair and transparent to all groups and individuals participating in this vital element of New Zealand’s democracy”.

Power says the government would like to see the bill enacted by December, in order to provide ample time for both political parties and the public to become familiar with any changes to the electoral system.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has raised concerns over the absence of any restriction on spending for third parties in elections.

“The bill will rightly limit political party spending to help provide a level playing field—it doesn’t make sense not to also limit third-party spending. The lack of a third party cap creates a massive loophole.”

Turei has announced that as a result, the Green Party opposes the bill.

She says “Our democracy should not be up for sale to the highest bidder. We don’t want to end up like the US where ridiculous amounts of money are spent in election campaigns, and lobby groups can buy influence.”

Rahui Katene, the Maori Party’s Justice Spokesperson, says she is encouraged by “the commitment of the Minister of Justice to encourage wholesale support for the reforms, to ensure greater certainty and transparency in the conduct of the electoral process”.

Katene says, however, that the issue of “unethical advertising” needs to be addressed, to combat “the appalling way in which some parties and advertisers have used Maori as negative fodder during election campaigning”.

“We must never again return to the era where politicians gamble on national identity and threaten the unity that has been so desperately sought by pitching campaigns to create unnatural divisions between Iwi vs. Kiwi.”

Having passed its first reading, the bill will now be referred to the Electoral Legislation Committee, which has been established to review both this, and the Electoral Referendum Bill.

Power welcomes “the public participation during the select committee process”.

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