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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): We’re in the extraordinary position of all select committees being deferred, of this bill being rushed through in less than 24 hours and making significant changes to our electoral law, and a Government that’s been panicked by the incredible mess in New Zealand First with the foundation and so is trying to create a diversion with this bill and the provisions in Part 1. I, firstly, want to question the motive of how you can possibly improve democracy by bypassing democracy, in that if these issues are real—and, actually, I gave a speech on behalf of the National Party at the beginning of the year suggesting tightening in this area of law—why is it necessary to do what has been widely described by the media as terrible lawmaking? Terrible lawmaking, that’s what the Parliament’s doing this morning—terrible lawmaking.

Now, the Minister has attempted to justify it on the basis that there’s this swarm of foreign donations. Let’s look at what the regulatory impact statement said about the issues that are covered in clauses 4 to 14. It said that over the last seven years, the number of foreign donations to the Labour Party each year has averaged two per year. To the National Party, we’ve had an average of three per year, and the New Zealand First Party has had an average of four foreign donations per year. The Green Party may be interested, because they have championed the issue of the ban of foreign donations, that the regulatory impact statement says that the Green Party has received 60 foreign donations per year—60. And I do have to challenge the Green Party and say: there is something of a double standard in being the champion of banning foreign donations and actually receiving more than 20 times more than any other political party in this Parliament. But before the Parliament gets into the mind of this being a crisis, can I also give some further information. The average value of those foreign donations is $66 per donation. So we’re talking about an issue that involves a total level of contributions to political parties in New Zealand of $5,000 per year. Can anybody in this Parliament, including the Minister, put hand on heart and just say that $5,000 of donations per year justifies the Parliament ramming this through and being part of what is widely described as terrible lawmaking?

I want to come to the specifics of clause 5, because I have a very detailed question, an important question, for the Minister. Clause 5 sets out the issues of who is defined as a foreign person, and I want to take a very serious question on this. In my 29 years in this Parliament, the one proven case of fraud resulting in a member of Parliament going to jail was Labour MP Taito Phillip Field. It was over the issue of taking donations for getting people New Zealand residency. Is there a member in this Parliament that doesn’t know the extreme pressure of people wanting to get residency? We get it every day. Well, here’s the issue. The way that a foreign person is defined in clause 5 means that any person that’s in New Zealand on a temporary permit, such as a work permit, or someone that’s claiming refugee status is defined as not being foreign. Now, let’s be honest as a Parliament. If there is a risk of donations under $1,500 inappropriately influencing a decision—and there’s been, actually, very good debate with the Minister of Immigration about a recent case in which it was unexplainable as to why a person that was convicted of various serious drug offences was given residency. It is my view that there is a risk—a real risk—of corruption in New Zealand of people that are desperate to get into and to stay in this beautiful country that we share, and that we should be cautious of our political system being used and manipulated to allow those people to make a political donation and then to get New Zealand residency.

So my question for the Minister is: what is intended in clause 5? Because it says that a person who resides in New Zealand, i.e., a person on a work permit, a person who’s claiming refugee status, would be allowed to make a political donation. Well, that’s a bit weird, isn’t it? You can see that while you would want to have a person who maybe is a New Zealand—this is not a person who’d be allowed to enrol, they’re not allowed to vote. Why is the Government saying these people should be allowed to make a political donation but shouldn’t be allowed to vote? Don’t we recognise the scandal of the Taito Phillip Field case and the risk of corruption in that area? And so my question relates to that provision.

Now I want to come to my Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) that I’ve tabled, because here’s the extraordinary part: if we are concerned about money influence in politics, the issue that the country has been focused on are the issues with New Zealand First. They did not declare a single donation at the last election. At the last election, they had 10 times more anonymous donations than any other political party. The president and the treasurer of New Zealand First resigned in the last two months, saying that there were moral issues about their finances. And so everybody up and down New Zealand—in fact, the political commentariat is saying that the scandal that is engulfing New Zealand First has the capacity to bring down this Government. So when this House is under urgency and it’s dealing with issues of donations, you would expect the issue would be, “Well, let’s sort out that issue of foundations.”. It’s interesting that not the Minister in the chair, not a single Labour member, not a single Green member has said boo about the scandal involving New Zealand First. I’d love to know whether Marama Davidson thinks what’s going on within New Zealand First is acceptable.

Erica Stanford: Tacit consent.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Tacit consent; she’s OK with what’s going on within New Zealand First. Well, I just want to simply do a simple thing with this SOP. If we are going to define a party donation, why not include the foundations? Why not include the obligation on New Zealand First? I think it’s a rort. I think it is a rort that a secret foundation of New Zealand First at the last general election received $500,000 in donations. Here’s the bizarre part: the New Zealand First Foundation can go out next week with this law and get a million-dollar donation from a Russian friend, and that would be quite lawful because the foundation is not a political party. And as so many commentators have said in the last 24 hours on this rushed law, it leaves loopholes untouched all over the place. So why would Government members not support closing the loophole today around foundations?

Hon Member: Because they’re corrupt.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I think I know why. You know why? The only reason they are on the Government benches—

Kieran McAnulty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to the member speaking, I’m very hesitant in interrupting his speech, but for the second time this morning I’ve heard an unparliamentary term being called out by way of interjection. I think for this debate to have the integrity that it deserves, we need to make sure that such interjections should remain parliamentary.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Speaking to the point of order. While it was a most unparliamentary comment that was made, there was no immediate offence taken to the comment from the Hon Damien O’Connor.

CHAIRPERSON (Adrian Rurawhe): I did not hear whatever comment that was, but if any member feels they have broken that rule, then they should stand and withdraw the comment.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: So I take issue with the provisions in Part 2 that leave a gap absolutely wide open around the issue of foundations, when it is on everybody’s lips, from Kaitaia to Bluff, the rort that has gone on within New Zealand First. So I would urge members opposite to get to their feet and say that if we are serious about improving the integrity of our electoral system, why we would not include, within the definition of such a donation, foundations that have been set up by parties like New Zealand First, solely—

Clayton Mitchell: National Party.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: —with the reason of getting round the electoral law. We’re more than happy to be open with our foundation. I hear the colleague from New Zealand First; will he be supporting the amendment to include the foundations?

Hon Member: That was your foundation.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: We declare everything.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: We declare everything. So I ask the question of New Zealand First: do you support the inclusion of the foundation in the declaration of donations? Does the Green Party support foundations that are set up by political parties being included?

Marama Davidson: A whole lot of reform there, Mr Smith.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Not prepared to answer a very simple question—I’ll tell you why. The only reason they’re on the Government benches is because of the decision of New Zealand First. We have the unusual situation where the party that got the most votes and won the most seats is not the Government—that is because of New Zealand First’s decision. The public have a right to know who was funding New Zealand First; that has been kept secret. That is immoral and that is wrong in our electoral system.