Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A new law to govern how New Zealand political parties spend money in the run up to an election has just been passed in Parliament.

The Appropriation Bill was passed by 61 votes to 50 after hours of debate.

Parliament’s been under urgency to allow Member of Parliaments (MPs) to discuss the new legislation, which now validates the $1.2 million of unlawful spending before last year’s election.

National, ACT and the Maori Party opposition failed to stop the passage of the Appropriation (Parliamentary Expenditure Validation) Bill and it passed by 61 votes to 50. The Green Party abstained.

The Government rushed the bill through under urgency in two days, despite National putting up 130 amendments to try to slow it down.

A key National amendment to make the validation conditional on all parties paying back the money was among those that failed.

The bill prompted fiery scenes in parliament with many MPs ejected from the Chamber for disorderly and inappropriate behaviour.

All parties but New Zealand First have agreed to pay back the money they were pinged for. Labour’s $824,000 bill is by far the biggest.

The bill validates all types of spending under the Parliamentary Service budget for MPs’ support going back to 1989, and extends beyond the advertising and publicity Auditor-General, Kevin Brady scrutinised to regular MPs expenses such as travel and accommodation.

It also provides a temporary definition for parliamentary purposes and electioneering to preserve what the Government says MPs had generally understood these to mean before Mr Brady’s inquiry.

Dr Donald Brash, leader of the National Party, has said that the bill effectively over-rode Mr Brady’s report and Labour had been trying to defend the indefensible.

He again argued that Mr Brady’s view that Labour’s $446,000 pledge card was outside the rules for parliamentary funding meant the card should have been counted as campaign expenses, putting Labour in breach of the election spending cap under the Electoral Act.

This meant Labour had stolen the election by breaking two laws, he said “It’s a fraudulent illegitimate government and I believe that Helen Clark should go the Governor-General, offer her resignation and invite the Governor-General to call a general election.”

The bill contained no legal obligation for anybody to pay anything back, Dr Brash said, and he questioned if Labour would get around to paying.

“What has come through this debate is a fierce and ugly sense of entitlement on the part of the Labour Party . . . that they are able to do with taxpayers money whatever they like to serve Labour Party interests,” English, said.

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