Nats, privatisation and electoral finance reform

So if National gets control of the treasury benches after the next election, and they move to flog off state assets to their mates for a song (like Labour and National did last time), how will we be able to scrutinise them to determine whether they are giving our public assets to their mates in who funded National’s election campaign? Or to those mates who funded a third party campaign in parallel with National’s campaign? 

After I laid a compaint with the police, about the revelations in Nicky Hager’s book that the National Party board knew the identity of the donors behind the secret trusts, the solicitor general ruled that it is legal for National to funnel donations through the secret trusts so that the public does not know who the donors are but the National Party does. So there is nothing illegal in National doing this.

So the Nats would know who funded their campaign but the public wouldn’t. So how would we scrutinise the sale of public assets to determine whether people are getting special treatment because of their donations? We couldn’t. Likewise the funding of ‘third party’ campaigns.

Yet another reason for electoral finance reform. That’s why the Electoral Finance Bill should be fixed to cover anonymous donations and donations from secret trusts.

21 Comments Posted

  1. and russel..surely by now you cannot claim to be unaware of the ideological depth/breadth of this opposition to this legislation..?

    and how much of that opposition is from groups/organisations..that are ones who are/would normally be onside..?..with the greens..

    you will also know by now..of the overwhelmingly opposing submission..(both written and oral)..asking you in essence ‘to kill the bill’..?

    does all this not tell you how wrong/off the mark you are on this..?

    or are we seeing the manifestation of your (self-admitted)..hubris-drenched ‘ignoring of opposition’..and ‘just doing what you ‘feel’ is right’..?

    um..! do know..that at this stage..

    that you are almost ‘naked’..?

    better put that (silly) flag down..

    say it was all a ‘mistake’..bame the weather..!.anything.!

    and go and put some clothes


  2. i see the law society are the latest ‘radical’ group to condemm this bill..

    and to call its’ withdrawal..

    and for these important democratic issues to be settled with public input..

    is there anyone left russel..?

    apart from you boosters of this puppy..who supports it..?

    and one with a doctorate in political science(?).. cannot claim to be not cognisant of the historical..and other..fostering -democracy-imperatives..for such important legislation not to be just rammed through..under urgency..

    by any government of the/any day..?

    esp. one with such a slim majority/grasp on

    so..knowing can you possibly justify/defend your (shameful)/dissembling/’debate-controlling’ roles in this whole shabby exercise..?

    and hey..!..should you not see sense..and ditch your support for this bill..

    and should you vote with labour..and bring this to pass..

    it will not be the end of the story..

    it will be just ‘the end of the beginning’

    and you/the greens will be the targets..along with labour..

    of the civil disobedience/graffitti such an attempt at shutting us up will inevitably engender..

    you have a doctorate in political science..

    and you can’t see this coming..?


  3. Molly, We would be a lot better off if we stopped paying for most of our public goods from general taxation. But we would be even better off if the provision of public goods was kept at arms length from democracy. An awful lot of our infrastructure was built by statutory boards, not government departments or local councils. Water, drainage, tramways, electricty reticulation, highways and ports were mainly developed by these types of boards. Board members were often appointed by the Governnor General, or councils or associations were entitled appoint their own representatives. The fact that these boards weren’t democratically elected seems to have made most of them much more successful at long term planning than most government departments and local councils. They often derived a substantial proportion of their funding from user charges.
    Unfortunately these were the organisations that the rogernomes were most successful at getting rid of. Presumably because they actually did what they were set up to do, unlike government departments which can’t safely plan any further ahead than the next election.

  4. If the Nats suggest making 25% of some SOE’s available for investors means “selling off the entire SOEs” then do the Greens plan on banning all forms of C02 generation if they speak of a 25% reduction?

  5. Molly – there’s a huge difference between tax loopholes and electoral loopholes. Although they both involve money, there’s few other similarities, and the while tax experts find that the tax loopholes are generally able to be plugged up (especially because billions upon billions of dollars are at stake for the state) it’s the opposite with things like donation disclosure. In country after country where tighter laws are introduced there’s been an endless and fairly fruitless chase to plug loopholes – there’s just too many problems with trying to tightly regulate political activity, which is what we’re currently finding with the EFB. Whenever you try to plug a loophole in political laws you have a strong carryover effect on peoples rights and democratic liberty. (In contrast when you plug up tax loopholes there’s no corresponding delicate balance of democracy removed). So, yes, we can move towards the US system of a high regulated politics, but this *has* lead to complacent attitudes to money and politics. Or you can move towards a less regulated version of politics that normally exists in electoral systems that have MMP or other proportional representation – such as Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Iceland or Austria. These are democracies where there isn’t donation disclosure regimes or even expenditure disclosure regimes. These are places where they realise that “it’s better not to pretend”.

    In terms of the “water-tight” issue – I guess I agree with you that something doesn’t have to be totally fraud-proof etc. The problem is that anonymous donation disclosure rules normally have 101 different and easy ways that you can get around them. A leftwing perspective on them therefore is: “It’s better not to pretend”.


  6. I don’t know that there’s ever such a thing as a water-tight regulation, but I’m not sure that ‘water-tight’ is a fair standard to demand before justifying action. Some people will always attempt (and sometimes succeed) to find ways around tax rules, but I don’t think that we’re better off flagging the whole idea of taxation to pay for public goods. I’m not sure I agree that getting rid of anonymous donation and secret trusts would breed such a complacent environment that more harm than good would be done – seems like quite a stretch.


  7. Molly – your argument in favour of transparency comes from admirable intentions, I agree. Unfortunately none of the proposed mechanisms for achieving that goal would necessarily work. This means that you would actually end up obscuring those relationship further. At the very least, the laws on donation disclosure lead to a false sense of security in democracies. People think everything is hunky dory, yet all the loopholes that inevitably exist mean that the wealthy (or whoever) get to donate to parties with even less concern being shown by watchdogs, the media, academics etc. How confident are you that the Greens’ proposals on dealing with anonymous donations would be watertight?

    Corrupt or even murky dealings by governments should be criticised regardless of whether the public thinks they know how parties get their finances.


  8. Re: or The New Zealand Experiment, pp 132 – 5
    I don’t think that Kelsey argues that the privatisation process was ‘corrupt’ due to any big business donations to the Labour Party does she?

    You can easily critique Labour’s 1980s privatisation process – as indeed I’ve done to a considerable extent – without resorting to a theory of Labour-business payoffs.

    The lessons of neoliberalism in NZ have much less to do with corruption than parties restructuring economy and society in the interests of business due to structural needs of maintaining the capitalist economic system. Getting caught up with theories of backroom payoffs and rewards obscures more than it clarifies this situation.


  9. and for those wondering at the ‘tactics’ being used by norman to ‘fudge’/not answer..

    it pays to remember the aphorism..

    “the person who defines the debate..controls the debate.’

    and this explains on many occaisons now..opponents of this bill have gone to lengths to explain their concerns..and to ask norman lucid/relevant questions..

    and he just comes back..totally ignoring what you have said..

    and spinning the angle he wants..usually unrelated to the questions/concerns posed..

    this is him attempting to ‘define the debate’..

    another (telling) example of this is seen in metiria ttuteis’ attempts to do the same thing..

    with her desired pot-breathylser law..

    she is attempting to move it from the in ‘why have this law in the first feckin’ place’..

    to the micro..of..’it’d be so much worse if we weren’t here..”

    they must think we are really really


  10. Remember too that IF instead of mucking about with this we do the simple prohibition on non-parties to the election in the last 2 months the MONEY WILL BE LESS IMPORTANT. Won’t matter. The Party still has a cap and the party is the only one who can advertise. The party has to raise enough funds to be able to spend its whole cap but that is not a big challenge if the cap is set reasonably….

    Tagging the money is good. Making it unimportant is good. No reason we can’t do both.


  11. toad: or The New Zealand Experiment, pp 132 – 5, which gives the dismal history of corruption around our first round of privatisation. And many of the people who benefitted from that corruption are currently large donors to the National Party.

  12. Russel,

    Yet another reason for electoral finance reform. That’s why the Electoral Finance Bill should be fixed to cover anonymous donations and donations from secret trusts.

    I agree. Infomation should be placed in the public arena where ever possible. This is pretty much why people are anti the EFB.

    If by fixed you mean a complete 180 degree reversal of intent, then yes it must be fixed. The EFB limits the rights of NZers to place political infomation before the public and at the same time allows totally anon payments to political parties. The EFB encourages political corruption because it both prevents money from being spent on encouraging public debate and legitimises hidden payments to politicians.

  13. Kevin said: This is just an irrational outburst. You rail against some mythical “mates? of the national party waiting in the wings to snap up the state’s assets without a shred of evidence.

    Kevin – read The Hollow Men. In particular, read endnote 15.63 on page 322, in rtelation to the privatisation of ACC:

    Email from Richard Long to Don Brash, Kathrine Rich, Gerry Brownlee, Murray McCully and others 21 August 2005:

    ‘Chris Ryan Insurance Council memo to members, advising on National’s ACC announcement, has been leaked to Helen Clark and is in the Hands of Kevin Taylor on the New Zealand Herald. It will be used to further the conspiracy between National and big business. Chris advises that we should refer queries to him as it was not sent to us, to his knowledge. His letter includes the National announcement, says it is very positive, and goes on to note that “details have been deliberately witheld in agreement with the Council”. Further details would be negotiated if and when National came to power, he said…’

    Without a “shred of evidence”, eh?

  14. thought for the day..russel..

    “..”How can a politician claim the right to hold office if they set out to undermine the critical democratic right of freedom of speech, and blatantly decline to evaluate the impact of measures put before the Parliament?”

    now..russel..does that summarise you and this poxy bill..?..or what..!

    and the quote is from a civil libertarian in aussie..

    talking about that governments’ exercise in repression..

    their legislative attempt to ‘control’ access/content on the internet..

    to control/stop ‘possible crimes’..

    as in say.?…a vegan-oriented website publicising/lauding the actions of animal-rights activists..?

    in their ‘crimes’ of liberating living/sentient beings from lives of unimaginable horrors..?


    do you see where i am going with this ..?..russel..?

    (oops..!..shouldn’t have told you about that..!..should i..?

    you’ll be phoning labour for another bill..that you (also) won’t be ‘involved’


  15. I do think people have a right to know where the money donated to parties for election campaigns is coming from, so that we can bear witness as to weather those with the biggest bank accounts are simply ‘investing’ in getting the policy in place which creates huge business advantages for them. And that doesn’t mean the Greens wouldn’t also be opposing asset sales on an ideological basis – the two are not mutually exclusive. Yes, you could say asset sales is bad policy whoever’s reaping the benefits, but if those persons have also been lining the pockets of the law makers, well that’s corrupt and we should have as transparent a process as possible to ensure the public can see it for what it is.

  16. National could still offer up an SOP, gert a majority on it and then and oppose the bill. The Greens could do an SOP too – so why dont they? If you are not going to get the wheels in motion to do an SOP, why on earth are you writing posts like this if you refuse to back them up in the political arena?

  17. i/s: the argument might be that that would be too hypocritical for them. National opposes this bill because it believes Parliamentary manoeuvring is not the way to fix the obvious problems in our electoral laws. It would be rather dodgy then for them to adopt Parliamentary manoeuvres to get fixed one thing they and the Greens agree needs fixing, but Labour does not.

    The challenge is perhaps for Russel and the Greens.

    Which is more important Russel: limiting the spending of third parties, or opening up donations to public scrutiny?

    If the latter, do the Greens promise to make it a bottom line for their continued support for the EFB that it includes prohibitions on large “anonymous” or trust donations to political parties? If not, was this post a little OTT?

  18. I think this is real Chicken Little stuff.

    What’s wrong with just opposing policies or government actions because you simply disagree with them? You don’t need to know everything about the donations to parties in order to spot poor political processes or bad policies. If the Greens are opposed to the privatisation of SOES, then the party should oppose that privatisation on an ideological basis rather than trying to work out if the actions are some sort of result of certain donations. And if the Greens think the selling process is not clean, then they should oppose it on that basis, rather than trying to work out if any supposed favours are being done. Russel’s post suggests that if a strengthened-EFB was passed which outlawed anonymous donations then he wouldn’t oppose the next National Government selling off SOEs because he would have confidence that everything is above board due to *apparent* stringent donation disclosure rules. Absurd.


  19. This is just an irrational outburst. You rail against some mythical “mates” of the national party waiting in the wings to snap up the state’s assets without a shred of evidence and then go off at a tangent about the brethren. Who are these fat cats with smoke stacks in the background? I can’t get anyone to identify them. The Zillionaires list is full of hollywood celebrities and by analogy you would be best of looking at NZ celebrites as being the new generation of fat cats. But even they are small fry since it is overseas celebrities who will be buying up large if our SOEs go on the market – are you saying national’s mates are overseas celebrities?

    Basically most “nats” are no different than you or I except – just normal hard working people. For most of them their major diffference lies in the fact that they are not so arrogant as to tell other people how to raise their children and they are not prepared to accept, as the greens do, that family violence is all “our” problem except in that it impacts them emotionally and in the wallet.

    However, the greens are transparent in their agenda of “if in doubt back labour” in increasing the size of government without so much as a thought of how to pay for it. You talk about sustainability all the time but it is patently obvious that your policies are unsustainable and yet you will not admit that to the public.

  20. Russel – as you know the only reason the EFB does not clamp down on these anon donations is because of Helen Clark. She removed the clauses which would have done this.

    Perhaps you could comment on what will happen if the EFB is passed, and National did sell off heaps of state assets in 2011. Any lobby group against such sales will not be able to spend more than $5,000 if they have a single member aged under 18.

    If the anti SOE sale lobby group organises a protest march, every placard will need to be authorised. All costs will need statutory declarations supplied to the suppliers.

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