Thursday, April 12, 2007

Practical Application of Labour’s Electoral Act Reforms

Hand-wringing socialists are coming up with piss-poor on-line defenses of the Labour Government’s gerrymandering of the electoral act to silence its critics in election year, and provide a forum for its own friends—the unions—to launch full-on attacks against the Government’s foes.

Welcome to the law of unintended consequences. Except in this case, it is easy to believe that the Government actually intends these consequences to occur. What Labour has done is make no distinction between organisations that exist to advocate in the public’s mind on behalf of its membership—such as the Employers and Manufacturers’ Association, the Cancer Society, the Heart Foundation, and Federated Farmers; and those organisations that have the membership clout, and affiliations with the Labour Party, to significantly change public opinion merely through promoting issues among its own membership—such as trade unions.

The difference between trade unions and other interested lobby groups is one of incumbency. Trade unions already have the Government’s ear, through their dominance of the Labour Party. Andrew Little doesn’t have to mount a public campaign to get the Labour Party to listen to him: he just calls up a Labour Minister and lets them know his thoughts. The organisational advantage for the Labour Party is that through its relationship with the unions, it has a captive market of members among which to advertise Labour policies.

Not so with the Heart Foundation. The only way that it can get the Government to act in its interests is through political lobbying, and spending resources winning public hearts and minds to make it a public issue. And here lies the great gerrymander of Labour’s electoral act reforms: it favours interests that are already close to Government, while severely restricting the right of those organisations that aren’t cosy with Government to generate public interest.

Let’s look at specific examples of public lobbying by special interest groups over the last few years, and which campaigns will and won’t be allowed under Labour’s proposals:

Rev Up The Government: Remember this? A group of Auckland pro-roading interests put together a campaign promoting increased spending on roads in Auckland. Exactly the kind of public lobbying that has been used to raise awareness of public issues in election year. In 2005 the campaign received particular attention because the Labour Party hijacked the website in a patsy pro-Labour transport initiative. Now, under Labour’s proposals, the Rev Up The Government campaign would not be allowed to spend more than $60,000 in an election year. That’s five modest advertisements in the NZ Herald.

PPTA Campaign Against the National Party: The PPTA spent massive amounts of money in 2005 attacking the National Party, among its 15,000 members. All perfectly legal under Labour’s proposals.

Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind: Spends substantial amounts of resource lobbying Government for better services for its members. If it spends more than $60,000 publicly promoting better services by Government for its membership, it will break Labour’s proposed law. The RNZFB's membership already wants better services for its members. The only way they're going to get them is by either lobbying government, or publicly encouraging non-members to support policies that will further the Foundation's interests.

PSA Campaign Against the National Party: 55,000 members. Can spend as much money as it likes promoting the Labour Party to its membership.

Employers and Manufacturers Association: Spends money lobbying Government on everything from better tax treatment of research and development, industry training, and lower compliance costs for business. If it spends more than $60,000 in election year promoting these issues, it will break the law.

EPMU: 50,000 members. Unlimited spending on promoting the Labour Party to its members, and attacking National.

Federated Farmers: If the FART tax campaign had taken place in an election year under Labour’s proposals, Federated Farmers would have broken the law.

No More Rates Campaign: Spent more than $60,000 on newspaper advertising pressuring Government to limit the rating powers of local authorities. Government eventually acknowledged that it was of sufficient public concern to warrant a select committee inquiry. Would have been illegal under Labour’s proposals.

A cursory look at Scoop's Politics thread gives readers an idea of the huge number of special interest groups that spend significant resources promoting its views to bring make its issues, public issues. Some are successful in geting the public behind them; others, like the Exclusive Brethren during the 2005 election, actually hurt National. Yet in Labour's cynical move to create itself a political advantage next election, it will wipe out the ability of all of these organisations to spend more than $60,000 publicly promoting their own interests.


Chris said...

Your argument has a major weakness. It assumes that the rules would be different for unions than it would be for employer groups. If unions could communicate with their members through public campaigns, so could employer groups, the foundation for the blind etc.

I do agree with you, however, that if there are to be exemptions for some types of activity, they will need to be tightly defined. If the EPMU, for example, were to print of thousands of leaflets promoting Labour Party policy and hand them out in the street, that would clearly be campaigning. Similarly, if the EMA were to take out a full page ad in the NBR communicating its support for National or ACT policies to its members, that would be campaigning too.

In principle, the notion that membership based organisations should not be prevented from communicating with their members is a good one, but there are some real issues of definition that would need to be sorted out.

pdq said...

All of which brings the rule of law into utter contempt (assuming they pass it) and if done under the legislative process suggested. I hope it leads to civil unrest because this proposed incursion on our rights is unprecedented.

Pity our millitary has been so neutered. Is that comment seditious? It would be in North Korea, oh well, best I wait for the knock at the door.

But then as a nation on one benefit or a "tax relief" arrangement of one kind or another I don't see much of a problem for the army to contain.

Insolent Prick said...


You have patently misunderstood my point.

My point is that unions do not need to communicate outside its membership on labour market issues to put their issues on the political agenda under a Labour Government. All the union has to do is call up the Labour Party minister, and it is instantly on the agenda.

For groups such as the EMA, the Plunket Society, and the Cancer Foundation, a key part of their brief is to raise public awareness of their issues: they don't have proximity of access to ministers.

Secondly, the nature of union campaigning is primarily amongst its membership anyway. Unions tell their members to vote Labour. They are affiliated to the Labour Party, and are a key part of Labour's campaign.

Not so with the EMA, the Cancer Society, or Plunket. They go out and explain to their members which issues are of concern to the organisation, but they don't go so far as to promote political parties during an election. The EMA is not going to go out during an election and tell its membership to "Vote National", or "Not Vote Labour".

Labour's attempt to silence third party groups during an election year will stifle public debate. We would not have had a Pro MMP campaign under these third party rules. Referenda campaigns, full stop, will be confined to spending less than $60k per year.

It is quite clear that "communicating with membership" does not go so far as to take out advertising in newspapers, radio, or on television. It does extend to sending literature directly to members.

This is a preposterous attempt by Labour to silence any group wishing to bring public attention to its issues during an election year.

Chris said...

OK, yes I agree with your point in part, but I would be surprised, and indeed disappointed, if campaigning on 'issues' was the target of the proposed restrictions. There is a difference between campaigning on an issue and campaigning for or against a party. I agree that this is an area that needs careful consideration. For example, if the Cancer Society were to publish a brochure summarising their own position on the funding for cancer research, and then a summary of each political party's policies, and how they match up to those, in my view this is not the sort of campaigning we should restrict. If on the other hand, the Cancer Society were to start running ads saying 're-elect the govt' or 'change the govt' - that clearly is campaigning for or against a party and should be covered. As I said in my initial comment, there are some big definition issues to be resolved.

Insolent Prick said...

No, Chris. You cannot cherry-pick which third parties can or cannot raise issues during an election year.

Let's say this brand new drug curing a particular kind of cancer hits the market during election year. The Labour Minister says the Government won't fund it. So let's say in response the Cancer Society puts together a petition to the Minister, and an open letter to all political parties, with public advertising, calling on the Government to fund it.

That is not structurally different from the No More Rates campaign, or the Build Auckland Roads Now campaign, or the kind of public political activities that third party special interest groups engage in all the time. Putting a limit of $60,000 on third party groups in the whole election year does not just target the Exclusive Brethren: it takes out every other public organisation.

Anonymous said...


As someone working inside the EPMU I can assure you that,

a) While the EPMU has good access to Labour through its affiliation to the party, this rarelyif ever translates into actual policy. Where was the govt during Air NZ? Where are they now with what's happening at TVNZ?

b) The EPMU never tells its members to 'vote Labour', nor would they necessarily follow the orders of the union leadership in any case. What the union does do is advocate for a Labour-led government and highlight what the alternative would be for working people. I see nothing wrong with that.

Insolent Prick said...

Of course the Government won't intervene on your behalf in Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand is a publicly listed company. If the Government were to intervene on your behalf, the stock price would go through the floor, and the Crown would be short of a cool billion. Not even Michael Cullen is stupid enough to do that.

The EPMU, and the CTU, had fundamental roles in writing the Employment Relations Act, which gave a massive benefit to unions. We are seeing today the outrageous bribe of $650 by CYFS to PSA union members, to celebrate the PSA's anniversary. That is a complete fucking rort, and would only happen under a Labour Government.

You cannot honestly say the EPMU doesn't tell its members to vote Labour, yet then admit that the EPMU "advocates for a Labour-led Government."

Red Rasputin said...

Insolent Prick...we like your Blog. Like this debate

Will add it as a link. can you please add ours!

Red Rasputin

Insolent Prick said...

No, Rasputin, I won't.

I don't link to pinkos.

I also don't link to blogs that have no content. To date the only content your blog includes is the fact that you are a pinko, and one other post.

I do note, however, that the one post you do have rails against the taxes you pay. On that basis, I am surprised you confess to being a Labour supporter.

You would do well to stop writing a blog, and focus instead on developing a coherent view of the world.

And it is very poor form to go spamming other people's blogs to get them to link to yours.

Heine said...

What's the difference between telling members to vote for Labour and advocating for a Labour-led government? The money and resources are still going towards the same goal.

Do you think any union expects the same rewards from a National Govt. Of course not, so that's why they are putting their hands out as often as they can now, so that they can keep the Labour grvay train in power.

David said...

I love the blog that you have. I was wondering if you would link my blog to yours and in return I would do the same for your blog. If you want to, my site name is American Legends and the URL is:

If you want to do this just go to my blog and in one of the comments just write your blog name and the URL and I will add it to my site.


Insolent Prick said...

Fuck, Rasputin. Look what you fucking started.

I am sending an email off to the vast right wing conspiracy getting them all to flag your blog as objectionable content. It's what right-wingers are doing at the moment, principally to each other as a gag, but we're now going to do it to you since you started this "please link to me" spam on all our blogs.

Ditto to any other fucker who loads up my fucking comments section with requests for fucking links.

Mrs Smith said...

I freely admit I am too thick to have anything to add to posts with political content. I don't even read them. How about some more sordid tales of your thoroughly despicable sex life?