The Most Important Issue in the World

OK, here’s a potentially boring but important law change that citizens should take an interest in.

Submissions on the Local Electoral Amendment Bill are due this Friday. Given the Government’s desire to have the amendments enacted for the 2013 local government elections, the consultation period has been short.

The Bill tightens the rules around anonymous donations, and basically aligns the local election requirements with those that apply to Parliamentary elections. Candidates can not accept an anonymous donation of more than $1500 and the definition of anonymous donations has been amended so that a donation is anonymous if the candidate does not know the identity of the donor, or could not be reasonably expected to know the identity of the donor – I hope John Banks supports this!

The Bill also incorporates amendments that were in a similar bill Rodney Hide introduced into Parliament just before Parliament rose for the 2011 general elections.

There is a need to minimise the undue influence of wealth in local body election campaigns and to promote transparency and accountability in relation to election financing by introducing caps on donations, limiting the use of anonymous donations and regulating third party spending.

The purpose of this Bill is to strengthen the law governing electoral financing in relation to local body elections, in order to increase transparency and accountability in relation to electoral donations, and strengthen the integrity and efficiency of the local electoral system. As a result, the hope is public confidence in local elections will increase.

Key provisions in the Bill provide for anonymous donations not to exceed $1,500 and more regulation of third party spending.

Significantly, the new legislation provides for more latitude on the application of the +/-10% of voters to councillor rule that caused some controversy during the Gisborne District Council representation review this year.

The bill also requires candidates to identify their primary place of residence because we could have a situation where someone living in Auckland is a ratepayer in Gisborne and could stand for election here.

Other suggestions not included in the bill would lower the anonymous donation amount, put a limit on the total amount that could be donated by an individual or group, a ban on donations from overseas and a pecuniary interests register for members of local authorities.

If I’d written the bill I would have included the requirement for local body candidates and elected members to disclose on a public register any position they hold within a political party. The position could be for any appointed or elected role with a registered political party. Perceived or actual conflicts of interest can exist when local issues are affected by central government changes and a local politician is in a local or national leadership role of either a party whether it is in government or opposition. I’m not suggesting this has happened in Gisborne District Council but the bill claims to be about increasing transparency. While all elected councillors swear an oath to act in the best interests of the whole district, voters should be able to know of any official position a candidate or councillor has with a political party.

Submissions close this Friday (http://tiny.cc/mh0bpw) and though very unlikely, changes may still be made at the select committee stage. I’m sure hundreds of readers care about our democracy so much they will be keen to spend the week before Christmas holidays analysing the bill and writing a submission.

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