Secrecy, Conflict and Corruption in New Zealand Elections
Green Party leader James Shaw is advocating for greater transparency around political donations and wanting to expose potential conflicts of interest. Some years ago Metiria Turei managed to open MP expenses to public scrutiny and it is likely that this has saved the country millions when the spotlight was shifted to the use of public funds by our elected representatives. The Sunday Times has revealed that the two major parties manage to keep the names of around 80% of their major donors secret and New Zealand First refuses to reveal any of theirs.
It is generally understood that the United States political system has been corrupted by money. Few candidates for any elected position can run a successful campaign without significant funding and major donors generally expect a return on their investment. The influence of big donors and corporate funds enables legislation that often impacts negatively on the wider population. This system has led to processed tomato sauce being regarded as a vegetable for school lunches and the wealthiest businesses receiving government subsidies. I believe that New Zealand is now becoming similar to the US with regards to the impacts of money.
There are so many examples of both National and Labour governments favouring the wishes of large corporates and rich individuals over ordinary New Zealanders and it is very probable that most are secret donors:
- National bowed to the lobbying of the liquor industry and watered down legislation to limit the advertising and sales of alcohol.
- Many large individual donors get personal audiences with the Prime Minister and backroom deals are clearly done. Wealthy immigrant businessmen, from countries where bribes are accepted practice, are obviously using the same approach here with some success.
- The SkyCity conference centre deal was criticised for its poor process and the business has obvious connections with National. I would be very surprised if it is not a major donor.
- New Zealand's tax haven status was supported by John Key and his Ministers despite concerns from Treasury. Key's own lawyer was involved in lobbying for softer regulations and who knows who involved in foreign trusts donated to the National Party. It is interesting that greater disclosure requirements have seen most of the foreign investors disappear, it was obviously a dodgy set up.
- Private Schools get preferential treatment under this government and one wonders how many donors have children attending these exclusive institutions.
- The National government has been soft on property investors despite the fact that we have record housing disparity and the most unaffordable housing in the world. In the National Business Review Rich List property investors dominate and a good number are likely to be major donors.
- Conflicts of interest between her role as a Minister and her husband's directorship of Oravida were raised with Judith Collins some time ago and led to her demotion. However the conflicts still exist and Oravida's profits from exporting swamp Kauri continue to be supported by weak regulations. Orivida is a known National Party donor but the true amount of its donations and influence may never be known.
- The Government has supported the highly polluting dairy industry with subsidised irrigation schemes to further intensification despite the fact that the industry is a major contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions and the degradation of our fresh water systems. Most dairy farmers contribute little in tax as they rely on largely untaxed capital gain and increasing equity to increase their wealth. The external effects of the dairy industry is subsidised by tax and ratepayers. Given the lack of balance in government policy one can assume the influence of major donors from the industry.
- I do wonder why this government has such an obsession with building motorways over investing in cost effective public transport and surmise that most of its major donors drive expensive cars and wouldn't be seen dead on a bus or commuter train. Both Gerry Brownlee and Simon Bridges ignore research and evidence and base their investment in the Roads of National Significance on their belief that "people" want them. National's people (and their major donors) drive cars.
- When the Health Minister refuses to introduce a tax on sugar despite the evidence of its effectiveness overseas (and our growing rates of obesity), the influence of the sugar based food industry is the obvious explanation. Major donors here too?
- The shift of funding from the Problem Gambling Foundation to the Salvation Army probably involved undue influence from the Gambling industry. The PGF was internationally regarded because of its efforts to address the causes of problem gambling but that was negatively impacting on the industry. It would be useful to know if the gambling industry was another major donor.
If all donations over $1,000 had to be publicly listed then it would clearly show where a party's support base comes from and who may have influence over any Government. The ideal funding system for elections would be through tax revenue (it already is for TV advertising) and that would remove the potential of private donors and big business from having an undue influence. Sadly, given the general distrust of politicians (despite their influence on our lives), we are left with a political system that is increasingly resembling the US in terms of funding practice. The power of money trumps evidence when formulating policy and prioritising spending.
Until our elections are fully government funded then at least we should have greater donor transparency. It is important that the Green Party has a strong influence on any future government because of the party's track record on transparency and good process. A party vote to the Greens is insurance that even Labour won't be unduly influenced by its major donors.