4 Dec 2019

Dirty laundry aired as foreign political donations bill passes third reading in Parliament

6:21 pm on 4 December 2019

A bill cracking down on foreign political donations has passed its third reading in parliament, with MPs using it as an opportunity to air the dirty laundry of other parties.

Close-up of New Zealand fifty dollar banknotes

The government has introduced the legislation banning foreign political donations over $50. Photo: 123RF

The government introduced the legislation banning foreign donations over $50, after warnings overseas money was being used to influence politics in New Zealand.

There is broad agreement the law needs to be changed - but the views on how to get there are diverse.

National used this morning's debate on the bill to highlight questions around New Zealand First and the party's foundation, and its handling of donations.

MP Gerry Brownlee questioned why the government had introduced a bill for anonymous foreign donations, rather than for a much bigger issue.

"We are ignoring the fact there is a massive loophole here available and used so far by New Zealand First and available to others, to avoid the scrutiny of where the money comes from," he said.

MP Nick Smith told Parliament foundations and societies should be included in the the law change.

"We should not put up with the farce of New Zealand First having a foundation that collected over half a million dollars of secret donations," he said.

Mr Smith also took a swipe at the Greens.

"How is it possible that the Green Party has championed banning foreign donations for the last five years, but has got 50 times more foreign donations according to the regulatory impact statement than any other party?"he said.

But Minister of Justice Andrew Little didn't let National's attacks go unanswered.

"There is only one party in this Parliament that is currently the subject of a serious fraud office investigation, it happens to be the National Party," Mr Little said.

"There is only one party, who in their returns in the 2017 general election showed an extraordinary number of donations to candidates from their head office and that is the National Party," he said.

Mr Little said there were already requirements on party officials to discourage the misuse of structures like foundations.

He also hit back at criticism that the bill does not address the risk of foreign influence through funding political parties and candidates.

"I've seen commentary from some pretty esteemed academics who say that, and I have to say this to the House - they are wrong."

Officials were doing more detailed work to look at how to close other loopholes, but those reforms would have to wait until after the election, he said.

New Zealand First and the Justice Select Committee

Meanwhile, Parliament's Justice Select Committee is continuing its inquiry into the 2017 general election, which is also looking at the influence of overseas actors and cash from other countries.

MPs on that committee will tomorrow consider a request from two former senior New Zealand First officials - former party president Lester Grey and treasurer Colin Forster.

Both want to share their concerns with the Justice Select Committee about how the party has previously handled donations.

They said there were personal and legal risks to speaking out, but the Select Committee inquiry would be a safe place to do it.

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