MPs divided over need to reform rules on political donations and support for 4-year term
National leader Judith Collins has been invited to comment on the government’s review of New Zealand’s electoral laws. Video / Mark Mitchell
Electoral law scholar Andrew Geddis says current rules on political donations work if followed, but changes ahead of the next election could help restore public confidence after a string of investigations and accusations of fraud.
Justice Minister Kris Faafoi announced that the government intends to review and change donation rules ahead of the 2023 election as part of a longer-term review of electoral law changes.
Calls for reform of donation rules have been made since the Serious Fraud Office’s donation investigations led to charges against people for donations to National, Labor and the NZ First Foundation. Donations to the Maori party are also under investigation.
Geddis said he could see why the government wanted a solution to the donation rules before the next election.
“You have all parties except Act and the Greens under some sort of criminal investigation, so it’s probably important to do something before the next election to make sure the regime is as good as it can get. “
Geddis said if current transparency rules are followed, then all is well.
However, the changes could include lowering the current $ 15,000 disclosure threshold for party donations and aligning it more closely with the $ 1,500 disclosure limit for voter candidates.
Another issue to be addressed was that the Election Commission had no executive power to verify the accuracy of donation declarations. Often, problems were only discovered if someone pointed them out.
Faafoi said he hoped to be able to push forward the donation laws before the next election and that he hoped to get broad political agreement for any changes.
The government also intended to make it easier for Maori to move from the Maori list to the general list, rather than just every five to six years. It is a measure called for by the Green Party and the Maori Party.
Green Party electoral reform spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman supported changing the rules on donations before 2023, including “limits on large donations.”
However, Act Party leader David Seymour said the current rules were working: and the charges for alleged violations of those rules were proof of that.
“That’s why almost every other party except Act is in court – because the law works.”
National Party leader Judith Collins also said she believed the rules were already clear.
“There is nothing wrong with the rules. I think the problem is, as we have seen in some of the lawsuits that have taken place, that not everyone followed those rules.”
Faafoi proposed that an independent panel examine measures such as a four-year term in parliament, the voting age and funding of political parties, including whether they should be state funded.
It will also look at the five percent threshold for parties to enter Parliament, and the ponytail provision that allows an MP who wins an electorate seat to bring other MPs to the list, even if the MP’s party is below five percent.
Under electoral law, changing the mandate of parliament, voting age, or the MMP voting system requires either a public referendum or at least 75 percent of parliament to support it.
Ghahraman said it was essential that the review did not suffer the same fate as previous reviews of MMP rules and end up thwarted by political disagreements before any public referendum.
There is fairly broad political support for a change to a four-year term: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she supported it, and Collins said she saw merit in it as well.
Seymour also pleaded for a four-year term, but with the added control of giving opposition parties responsibility for select committees. However, he was less inclined to abandon the ponytail rule, which Act benefited from in the past.
Neither Collins nor Seymour were in favor of changing the voting age.
However, Collins said these issues should be decided by the public in a referendum rather than by politicians.
“Elections belong to the people, they do not belong to deputies. Personally, I think a four-year term would be more useful, but it absolutely depends on the people.”
Faafoi said the review committee will report by the end of 2023. It was likely that any major changes would go to a referendum – likely in the 2026 election – but that could depend on recommendations.
The issue of public funding of political parties and candidates could be politically controversial.
The Green Party has long called for public funding as a way to limit or end donations, while Act and National have opposed it.