Workers Party submission to the Electoral Commission on the distribution of broadcasting monies



Main points

1.

The previous allocations of broadcasting monies was designed when there were two parties who were keen to make sure that other new parties could not compete effectively with them. A cartel has previously operated in dividing up the broadcast allocation amongst the parliamentary parties. This has previously given only a few crumbs to the parties outside Parliament. The Workers Party welcomes the change in the configuration of the Electoral Commission when determining broadcast funding.

2.

There is a very strong argument to be made that all parties contesting the list vote should receive exactly the same allocation of funding. Any other allocation is contrary to natural justice and notions of democracy and ‘level playing fields’. This is how other countries divide broadcasting funds.

3.

The Workers Party is a new party with over 550 members. We are about to register with the Electoral Commission and intend to contest the party vote and a number of electorate seats throughout the country.


Equality of political parties

A strong case against the cartel that currently operates in dividing up the broadcast allocation amongst the parliamentary parties. Currently the division just gives a few crumbs to the parties outside Parliament.

There is a very strong argument to be made that all parties contesting the list vote should receive *exactly* the same allocation of funding.

Any other allocation is contrary to natural justice and notions of democracy and ‘level playing fields’. Such unequal allocations show just how the current system of funding has been used by Labour and National parties to unfairly and inequitably assert their monopoly on elections.

In this period of political finance change, it would be particularly hollow if the Electoral Commission continued with the old style of allocating money along lines of contemporary public strength. It would go against all the popular desire in favour of “fairness” and equality in political finance.

Previous criteria that Labour and National representatives on the Electoral Commission have pushed for should no longer be seen as useful or fair. Previously this criteria has included details of: the parties most recent election and by-election performances, their numbers in Parliament, their number of members, recent opinion poll results, and the need to give all nation-wide parties a fair chance to promote their policies.

In New Zealand, the overall effect of the system of state funding has been to consolidate the present players in the party system and prevent the entry of new competitors. Previously, the Electoral Commission’s uneven allocation of state funding for election broadcasting has operated as an impediment to the competitiveness of new parties in New Zealand politics. Such monopolistic practices has meant that since the introduction of MMP there has only been one new political party to be elected to Parliament – the Act party, which was bankrolled by millions of dollars of private wealth. No other new party not already represented in Parliament has been able to compete with the millions of dollars of state-funded resources that the Electoral Commission has gifted to the Parliamentary parties.
Such previous criteria used to distribute broadcasting funds are simply a restriction on freedom of expression and are also inequitable in effect.

It is the opinion of the Workers Party that the only genuine and fair criteria should be the last of these criteria. There is nothing in the Electoral Act 1993 that suggests otherwise.

It is relevant that the political finance expert Pinto-Duschinsky points to the Czech Republic, Italy, India, Mexico and Japan, as having equal or nearly-equal distribution of broadcasting time or money to parties. (Pinto-Duschinsky,1997)

The legislation governing the allocation of election broadcasting funds has been constructed by National and Labour to benefit the established parties and restrict the entry of new parties into Parliament. The uneven distribution of such funds is inconsistent with the Electoral Act, because the legislation contains, as the Act party has previously pointed out, ‘a number of measures which make it clear that all candidates and parties are to be treated equally. The size of deposits and limits on campaign expenditure are identical for all parties and candidates. All rules are the same for all parties and candidates’ (Tate, 1999: pp.1-2). The party has therefore argued that ‘The democratic principle on which allocations should be based therefore is that all registered political parties conducting a nationwide campaign should receive the same amount of time and money. It is grossly undemocratic and unfair that some parties should receive more time and money from the taxpayer than other parties’ (ibid).

The effect of the Electoral Commission’s previous broadcasting funding has been to reinforce the existing arrangements in the party system. Because the division of resources is determined by parliamentary strength, the system acts to perpetuate the status quo and make it more difficult for outside parties to enter, or small parties to grow.

According to Act, ‘This is censorship. The only justification for the legislation under which this censorship was imposed can be that Parliament intended that equal time be made available for all parties. Any other allocation is contrary to the principle of free speech, undemocratic and must be an attempt to influence the outcome of the election’ (Tate, 1999: pp.1-2). Electoral expert Alan McRobie has supported this view, saying, ‘the differential allocations of state funding and broadcasting time appear to run counter to the long-standing objective of providing all who seek elective office with equality of opportunity’ (McRobie, 2001: p.190).

Details about the Workers Party

* 550 members

* Very soon to register

* Will contest 2008 list vote

* Will stand candidates in electorates throughout the country including all the main centres

* The organisation is involved in many other non-parliamentary activities such as union organising and protests.

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