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The anti-democracy bill

A campaign like the one the New Zealand Herald launched just under a week ago almost literally screams for attention.  When does a newspaper put its editorial on the front page?  It is a remarkable display of media power, normally frowned upon as unethical.  An actions like this wouldn’t have been taken lightly: the editors of the Herald clearly had a very, very big point to make.

The scale of their campaign is no secret.  Their front-page editorial was followed in the next four days by three normal editorials, and countless pieces from other columnists.  One went so far as to use its own campaign to demonstrate the how the media could gain power as a result of the bill.  Their title, “Democracy under attack”, explains it all.

So many times have the arguments been mentioned and rementioned in just about everywhere you look that I would get bored writing them all out again.  For those who have yet to realise it, this is it in a nutshell: the government’s Electoral Finance Bill, which was so predictable after conflicts about last election’s campaigns, offers a vast assault on New Zealand’s democratic principles, effectively muffling the voices of commoners and favouring incumbent politicians.  And it could be passed soon, with a one-vote majority.

Being of the age where we start to discover our political selves, I’ve more than once been asked who I’m going to vote for next year, or whether I might be “left” or “right”.  Despite my vast array of opinions, my response has always been the same: I don’t know.  I’ll decide next year.  I’m what some would call a “swinger”, one who decides who to vote for pretty much on the day before the election.  Similarly, I don’t think the winner of next year’s election is predictable.  It’s too close to call, there’s too much to happen between now and then, too much to go wrong.  Don Brash was wasting Helen Clark in the polls just after he took office.  He lost the last election.  Who’s to say John Key’s not going to suffer a similar fate?

The Electoral Finance Bill, though, could be a decider, before the campaigns even start.  The editors of the Herald put it better than I can: “If these bills pass, they will be Labour’s epitaph.”  I think the sentence deserves elaboration: they will be Labour’s epitaph, if voters remember what it was about.  The bill effectively tips electoral law in favour of major left-wing parties, while placing impressive restrictions on the freedom of speech of commoners.

Sure, Helen Clark’s a strong leader and has done a fine job keeping her party in power—she deserves credit for that.  But this bill gives the impression not of a party seeking fairness, but a party desperate to hold onto whatever power it has left.  Which is sad, because it shouldn’t need to be.  Clark has consistently proven herself, and Labour has not done an overly-poor job of running this country.

Labour’s use of the Exclusive Brethren’s campaign as justification is weak.  If anything, it was a giant trip-up for National’s leader, whose integrity was shattered by it.  Did anyone take the campaign seriously once we discovered who was behind it?  Democratic principles do not, and should not, prohibit activists from making fools of themselves.  National reaped little from it—the Herald put its effect nicely: “With friends like the Brethren, who needs enemies?”

The fact that both the Law Society and Human Rights Commission have called for it to be scrapped speaks volumes; as does yesterday’s 2000-strong march down Queen Street.  Even left-wing columnist Matt McCarten expressed a sour distaste.  The bill’s list of allies is growing thin.

After all, the bill contradicts both common-sense and over-analysis.  Its infringement on freedom of speech is unwarranted, and would send New Zealand’s democratic principles on the exact downward spiral it has, for so long, so proudly avoided.  Labour cannot expect to have a chance at the next election if this bill is passed.  Campaigns reminding us of its grossness might become banned, but our memories will not.

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