Political Finance – Private resources

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I read the literature relating to who is really financing our political parties in New Zealand. I must be honest, and own up to not really knowing that much about the subject, finding the subject overly complex. Like most New Zealanders, I have heard of the ‘John Banks affair’ and ‘Skycity’. Involving money from Kim dotcom and not declaring it. As with Skycity National changed the law to get more pokies in and longer opening hours. I have always known that the National party was funded and backed by big business, and Labour was financed by the unions. I must admit after doing the readings and finding out whose putting money into which party, it certainly opened my eyes. Three elections back political financing by both major political parties was a scandal, after the election party finance came into the public spotlight.

In 2007

“The Labour-led government moved after the election to tighten up the regulation of political finance, with Parliament passing the Electoral Finance Act 2007 (EFA). The government’s stated intention was to prevent the undue influence of money on electoral outcomes, while providing greater transparency and accountability on party and candidate election activity” (Edwards 2012).

Political parties are influenced by money, and that’s the long and short of it, you might wonder why people and companies give large amounts of money to political parties. They are not giving political parties large amounts of money out of the goodness of their hearts, they want something back for it, its simple economics.

Let’s take for example ‘business’ and the National party.

“The business community can’t give us enough votes to win, but [they] can provide us with money” (Hagar 2006, 213).

The National party did not win that particular election, business had to wait on their return from the money they had ‘invested’. It’s a bit like interest you earn at the bank, for business their investment matured in 2008 with the election win of the National party under the leadership of John Key.

LAW CHANGES
Meal breaks bill
* Removes fixed 10-minute and half-hour breaks, allows flexibility.
Employment Relations Bill
* Extends optional 90-day trial for new employees to all employers. f
* Requires employer consent for union access to workplace; consent cannot be withheld unreasonably.
* Ends compensation for dismissal where employer makes only “minor or technical” mistakes.
* Lets employers communicate directly with workers during collective bargaining.
(Collins 2010)

As you can see the above law changes implemented by the National party relating to employment after the 2008 general election, business were set to profit. If the ordinary New Zealand worker doesn’t benefit from the employment changes, then who does?

Helen Kelly the president of the council of trade unions said

“workers are turning up to show their disgust at what is a raft of changes going through the Parliament – to move the tea break, to lose the tea break and the lunch break, to remove security of employment and – the Cabinet papers say – to allow employers to drive wages down” (Marbeck 2013).

Political parties in New Zealand are too well resourced by private business and individuals to the point that they don’t see how it looks to the public. Instead of political parties relying on party membership and other fundraising activities like baking cakes, they have moved away from that to large donations from private funders. Political parties have lost their way, a perfect example of this is the Donghua Liu case where National and Labour were involved in giving a Chinese national , citizenship in New Zealand. Donghua Liu was given citizenship against official advice, Ministers in labour and National were both involved.

“The Herald revealed yesterday that Mr Liu was given citizenship in 2010 after National Party minister Maurice Williamson and the then Mayor of Auckland, John Banks, lobbied the Minister of Internal Affairs, Nathan Guy” (Savage 2014)

the article then goes on to say that

“Mr Williamson, the Minister of Building and Construction, and Prime Minister John Key then opened the first stage of a $70 million construction project launched by the Chinese-born developer after he became a citizen”. (Savage 2014).

Later we find out that after this man has become a New Zealand citizen, he invests 70 million dollars into a building project in New Zealand. Why couldn’t he have done that before he was a citizen?

“The following year, one of his companies made a $22,000 donation to the National Party” (Savage 2014),

was this the pay off, for becoming a New Zealand citizen? If he was just a normal person without money would he have obtained citizenship? I doubt it very much especially as the official advice was not to grant him citizenship. What is wrong with Politian’s? Are they all so corrupt that they don’t care where their donations come from, and even the Prime minister doesn’t care,

“Prime Minister John Key said there was nothing wrong with the National Party receiving a $22,000 donation from Mr Liu two years after a senior National MP supported his citizenship bid. (Bennett 2014).

Something needs to be done about private donations because governments should be for the people, not just for the small minority that can afford to influence them through money, this is a national disgrace!.

 

Bennett, Adam. 2014. Donation draws political fire. March 14th. Accessed April 5th, 2014.http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business                   /news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11219248.

Collins, Simon. 2010. Hundreds protest employment law reform. August 21th. Accessed April 4th, 2014. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10667838.

Edwards, Bryce. 2012. Elections and campaigns, Electoral finance. July 13th. Accessed April 4th, 2014. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/elections-and-campaigns/page-5.

Hagar, Nicky. 2006. The Hollow Men: A Study in the politics of deception. Nelson, New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing.

Marbeck, Briar. 2013. Thousands rally against employment law changes. August 28th. Accessed April 5th, 2014. http://www.3news.co.nz/Thousands-rally-against-employment-law-changes/tabid/1607/articleID/310942/Default.aspx.

Savage, Jared. 2014. Businessman in citizenship row up on violence charges. March 14th. Accessed April 5th, 2014. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11219251.

 

 

 

 

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Voters elect governments into power, but what power do voters really have?

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I would say not very much. Politician’s don’t really listen or want to listen to the general public, politicians are like some strange breed of animal that comes out of hibernation every three years, they creep around, kiss babies, pay lip service to the voters, then as soon as the elections are over they go back into hibernation.

But who do politicians really listen to? Who do they really formulate policy for?

It isn’t for the normal New Zealander, the person that votes for them, pays taxes, and lives in the country; it’s the interest groups that lobby and have vast amounts of cash to influence governments. An example of this would be the Sky City convention centre. The Prime Minister was out one night having a meal, probably at Sky City, (I wonder if he had to pay for it?), at this meal there just happened to be the Sky City directors!

“Mr Key has championed SkyCity’s involvement in the convention centre deal since discussing it at a dinner with the firm’s directors in 2009” (Fisher 2012).

As a result of lobbying SkyCity agreed to pay for a new convention centre while the government would change the law so they could have more gaming tables and extend their licence. Where is the National parties election night headquarters, you guessed it, Skycity; when the National party have conventions, where are they generally held? You guessed right again, SkyCity. This is the power that wealthy interest groups can weld.

Interest groups try to influence every government not just National; the Labour party has and still is heavily influenced by the Unions when it is in government. The Unions want better workers’ rights, and pay for their members, so they try to influence government policy. National on the other hand have business trying to influence their policies; business wants workers’ rights suppressed and more power given to the employer.

Under the heading “Building a Stronger NZ for Families” on the National Party website (http://www.national.org.nz/business.aspx.) you can see policy after policy that has empowered employers over employees. Who is National building a stronger New Zealand for, to me it seems that it is not families. An example of one of their ‘Building a Stronger NZ for Families’ policies would be the 90 day trial period; where an employer can dismiss you from your job without any reason. I am sure when the average voting New Zealander voted, they didn’t think they would be voting in such a draconian law.

Lowering youth wages; 90 day trial period; lowering company tax; cheaper ACC for employers etc

Who would these new employment laws help?

The National party argues that it will help more people into jobs, but how will lowering children’s wages; sacking people at any time for any reason in their first three months at a new job be good for a worker; the only group that I can see these laws helping IS THE EMPLOYER.

The Green party point out during a 2007 press release that

“according to Nicky Hager’s book The Hollow Men, leading members of the Business Roundtable were secret donors to the National Party in the last election campaign” (Green Party, Press Release 2007)

The power of the interest groups are immense; the bigger and richer your interest group is; the more influence they wield; the more the government will listen to them.

The issue of interest groups is not just a problem we face in New Zealand politics. It is an international issue. For example in America the voting public are fed up with influence that interest groups wield.

“Americans think members of Congress have no interest in listening to them. According to a Public Campaign/Democracy Corps poll, they believe politicians’ priorities are first and foremost special interest groups, then campaign contributors, party leaders and the media, listening to their own consciences and their constituents tied for dead last.” (Nyhart 2014).

It seems politicians in New Zealand are following what is happening internationally. They are listening and formulating policy that benefit those interest groups, and the voters are being left out. Interest groups are making big contributions to political party’s coffers

“The system creates a political inequality that leaves those unable to write big checks left out. It’s not what our Founding Fathers had in mind. We need to return to a government that is truly of, by and for the people, not bought and paid for by big money donors and special interests.” (Nyhart 2014).

Governments are becoming not for the good of the people but for the good of who pays the most and speaks the loudest.
In New Zealand, as in America or for that matter all round the world people don’t give other people money for nothing, they do at some point want something back in return. Under the MMP system it was hoped that interest groups would not have the same power that they once had

“It would be naïve to conclude that these developments have brought about the truly level playing field of classical pluralism. Some interest groups remain more equal than others, and those that are well resourced and organized stand to gain more for their members than those that are not” (Shaw and Eichbaum 2009, 196).

I think that some particular interest groups will always have the government’s ear over others and the general voting public. These elite groups will have the money and power that influence government policy, whether it be through donating monies or threatening to pull business out of New Zealand or not using New Zealand for their next big block buster movie.

 

Fisher, David. 2012. Puzzle of Key’s extra casino jobs. June 5th. Accessed March 27th, 2014. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10810802.

Green Party, Press Release. 2007. Bussiness Roundtable Member behind attack on reform. December 4th. Accessed March 30th, 2014. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0712/S00057.htm.

Nyhart, Nick. 2014. Lobbyists and lawmakers, one big family. March 29th. Accessed March 30th, 2014. http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/28/opinion/nyhart-lobbyists-lawmakers/index.html?iid=article_sidebar.

Shaw, Richard, and Chris Eichbaum. 2009. Public Policy in New Zealand, Institutions, processes and outcomes. Auckland: Pearson Education New Zealand.

 

 

 

Party Membership – an empty word?

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It’s funny how the world goes around, and it’s also funny how people vote and who they put in to parliament. Why do New Zealanders continually vote for political parties that hurt them, do we like punishment? Or are we just all stupid as a nation. The radical neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and the 1990s by the Labour and National governments brought this country to its knees, these reforms were supposed to be the best thing for the country, and it was seen to be tough love, and over soon and we would all live in a paradise.
Well the reforms were 30 years ago this year, and New Zealand is far from alright, the country has huge rates of child poverty, high unemployment, and low rates of wages, and the list goes on. John Key and his rag tag team of ministers are continuing the reforms of the 80s and 90s but they are doing it in stealth mode, like the Russians taking over Crimea, with balaclavas on their heads and unmarked uniforms, but make no mistake the National party is still pushing their own ideology. An example of this is asset sales.
I think maybe the two big political parties in New Zealand have their own selves to thank for low membership to their parties. I know that party membership was declining but since the radical reforms of the 80s and 90s the public in general have abandoned National and Labour in droves.

I think that this low party memberships all comes back to the neo-liberal reforms which have hurt so many people in our country, and that is why MMP was voted in to keep the two big parties from doing radical reforms like that again. Raymond Miller argues that

“… the big parties were not worrying so much about membership, as they relied more on corporate and private donations. (O’Connor 2005) Miller also points out that a lot of parties us email lists as their support base, and most of these people are not paid up members. (O’Connor 2005)

I signed a petition at university for the Green Party a few years back, and since then have been receiving emails from them, which I don’t even look at, but do they class me as being a member of their party?, because I can tell you I am not.
Even today with social media, political parties still need members to do the grunt work. Obama used members to ring people on the phones and knock on doors and talk to people in the street, there is definitely a place for the party member. England is also looking at low party membership, to the point that they are facing a huge problem, they unlike New Zealand are trying to fix it,
Michael Fabricant, a Conservative vice-chairman, said:

“Membership of parties across the political spectrum, like the membership of clubs and associations, is declining as other attractions fill people’s time. That is why the Conservatives are introducing ‘team 2015’ to recruit people to help at the election. We are also looking at alternative forms of campaigning, which has led to the recruitment of Jim Messina.” (Morris and Wright 2013).

The Tories introduced ‘Team 2015’ because they realized that they would not have the people on the ground to do the door knocking and leaflet drops. This type of support in swing seat areas could mean the difference between winning those seats or losing them.
Party membership is an important part of a political party, not just for their subs they pay, but for what those members do in the background, like the door knocking, leaflet drops and so on, for most of the public these party members are the face of the party.
I feel that people don’t trust and have been hurt by political parties in general over the years, through reforms and broken promises. This has created a political apathy resulting in the average person not caring about politics, let alone being party members. I honestly think that if a party emerged in New Zealand that campaigned on a platform that promotes full employment, improved living standards and kept their election promises, then you would see party membership take off, it’s a bit like a dog that gets booted and hit by its owner, it soon learns to cowl away from that owner, and in time it tries to escape or bites back. I can see this is what is happening to party membership in New Zealand and politics as a whole.

References
Morris, Nigel, and Oliver Wright. 2013. British politics at the crossroads: Tory membership plummets over disenchantment with Westminister. August 9th. Accessed March 23th, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/british-politics-at-the-crossroads-tory-membership-plummets-over-disenchantment-with-westminster-8753054.html.

O’Connor, Tessa. 2005. Maori Party ‘Biggest in the country’. May 29th. Accessed March 23th, 2014. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10128011.