Government moving to ban foreign donations to political parties to stop 'interference' in elections

In a bid to stop "interference" in New Zealand elections, the Government has today says it's moving to ban foreign donations to political parties and candidates.

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As parliament sits under urgency to pass the bill, there is criticism the move lacks any substance and is just tinkering around the edges. Source: 1 NEWS

Justice Minister Andrew Little made the announcement today, saying legislation will be introduced to Parliament this afternoon and passed under urgency.

"The risk of foreign interference in elections is a growing international phenomenon and can take many forms, including donations. New Zealand is not immune from this risk," he said, adding there was "no need" for anyone other than New Zealanders to donate to political parties or seek to influence New Zealand's elections.

"The Justice Select Committee has heard there are credible reports of interference campaigns in the elections of other countries and these attempts are increasing in their sophistication," Mr Little said.

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The move comes after concerns about the risk of interference in New Zealand elections. Source: 1 NEWS

He cited a recent Canadian Government report which found half of all advanced democracies holding national elections had their democratic process targeted by cyber-threat activity in 2018.

"We must protect New Zealand as best we can from this risk to our democracy," Mr Little said.

"We’ve seen in other countries an avalanche of fake news social media ads that contain no information about who is behind them. That’s not fair and we don’t want to see it repeated here.

"We need to protect the integrity of our elections. These changes will reduce the risk of foreign money influencing our election outcomes."

New Zealand will follow other nations, including Australia who don't accept foreign donations over $1000, Canada over $20 or the United Kingdom over £500.

The Bill contains a minimal threshold of $50, to ensure that small-scale fundraising activities such as bucket donations and whip-rounds won’t be affected - but under the new law larger donations will be gone.

The Bill also introduces a new requirement that party secretaries and candidates must take reasonable steps to ensure that a donation, or a contribution to a donation over the $50 foreign donation threshold, is not from an overseas person.

Mr Little said the Electoral Commission will issue guidance on what "reasonable steps" they might take to check the origin of the donations.

The Bill also requires Party Secretaries to reside in New Zealand, to make it easier to enforce parties’ compliance with the donations rules. It also extends the requirement to include name and address details on election advertisements to apply to election advertisements in all mediums.

"Anonymous online advertisements aimed at interfering with our democracy will be prohibited. If someone wants to advertise online they need to say who they are, the same as if the ad was published in a newspaper," Mr Little said.

He also said further policy work in the area was ongoing.

"We look forward to receiving the Justice Committee’s recommendations to address the risk of foreign interference in New Zealand from its Inquiry into the 2017 General Election and 2016 Local Elections."

The National Party say they will support the legislation in the spirit of bipartisanship.

“National will support the legislation because it’s the right thing to do but like most other pieces of legislation it should go through a full and thorough process. In the spirit of bipartisanship we would support a shortened Select Committee process so experts and the public could make a contribution.

"The Government is trying to deflect away from a terrible poll result and allegations surrounding the NZ First foundation.

"This legislation doesn’t need to be rushed, the Government just wants to look like it’s doing something after two years of failing to deliver on its promises.

"The Government is sidestepping democracy for the sake of looking busy and trying to divert attention from its failures. Passing legislation under urgency without good reason sets a terrible precedent.”