There is not really any alternative to this Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill if Parliament is to operate properly, particularly in the 3 months leading up to polling day. Every party in this House will be in the same bind, which is why it is so disappointing that there is not unanimity in this House over this question. Instead, it has become a political football, even though we just do not have any alternative.
On the Parliamentary Service Commission all parties, including National, worked as best they could to try to sort the implications of the Auditor-General’s decision in relation to spending in the last 3 months before the last election. If we do not clarify this issue through this legislation, all we will be able to do in the last 3 months before an election is to sit in our offices — if we have offices in the cities outside of Parliament — and do individual casework, because it is difficult to sort this out in terms of the Auditor-General’s decision, without clear legislation or reference to the Speaker’s direction. At one end, as the legislation makes clear, we can cut out anything that calls for a vote for a person or a party, that calls for people to join a party, or that calls for money for that party. Those things are clearly ruled out in this legislation. We can clearly establish that if any advertising — particularly during that 3-month period leading up to the election that the Auditor-General is so worried about — calls for any of those four things, then that advertising is not parliamentary business and is not paid for out of a parliamentary budget.
At the other end of the spectrum — and some of the Auditor-General’s rulings are confusing, as the previous speaker, Peter Brown, indicated — if we are dealing purely with policy and members of Parliament explaining policy, then that should not be included in this ban. If it is included, we run the risk of virtually the whole of Parliament closing down and all the staff being sacked for the last 3 months before the general election.
In between those two poles of things calling for votes, members, or money and things dealing with policy there is a whole grey area in the middle of what we might call sloganeering. This includes using billboards for sloganeering that do not necessarily tell people to vote for the National Party, the Green Party, the Labour Party, or whatever, but that are sort of in a bit of a grey area in the middle. That still has to be sorted out — we still have some work to do. We have not had time to work it all through in this Parliament before establishing rules for the next election, so we had to roll things over and pass this bill.
As has come up in Parliament today, the Greens have an idea of people outside of Parliament, a body representing the citizenry — we call it a Citizens’ Assembly — somehow getting to grips with this issue, as well. When MPs approach this issue they do so with a certain bias that comes with being in an incumbent party, and a certain vested interest. It would be good to have that independent look at it. It is true, and it cannot be completely avoided, that incumbent parties do have a certain advantage in the election period. We have resources — communications resources, travel resources, office resources — based on incumbency, which gives us an advantage, perhaps, over parties that are not represented in Parliament and are trying to get into Parliament, or individuals who are trying to get into Parliament. That is a structural problem, so we have to take advice. I think the Citizens’ Assembly is a way to help to achieve that, and to redress some of that imbalance. I do not think it can ever be completely redressed, but I think we have to proceed in an objective way.
I think we should work together on this issue, so it is disappointing that all the parties are not working together on it and that some parties in this House today are using the issue as a political battering ram, when we are really all in the same boat in that respect. So, hopefully, we can all work together, support this bill, and try to fine-tune it over the next year or two. Thank you.