Thursday, September 27, 2007

A blurt at the J&E committee

Well, I did my blurt on the Electoral Finance Bill today. I sat in on the select committee from 2 to 4, watching video conference submissions, hearing audio conference submissions of wildly varying sound quality, as well as a handful of old-fashioned in-person submissions. One thing's certain, that there's a lot of concerned citizens out there; 585 written submissions and around a hundred orals. One dude drove down from Napier to give his first ever select committee oral submission in person. The people are pissed off.

Originally, I had planned to walk into parliament with duct tape over my mouth labelled Electoral Finance Bill. I had printed up a sign saying: "Gudday, my name is Will. I'm here for the J&E select committee, Room 4. Can you please tell me where to go? Ta." At the bottom was "Authorised by the Ministry of Freedom" and my home address. Thank Dagg I didn't. I'd have suffocated or hyperventilated or something. Also, David Benson-Pope had turned up. The man has suffered enough and my idea would have sent entirely the wrong message.

The scrum of MPs sat around the table, laptops a go-go. Toshiba is the choice of Parliamentary Services, but there were a few renegades with their own, noticeably Rodney's Vaio. When the strain of craning my brain to listen to the cracklier conference call submissions got too much, I'd wander back out into the crisp sou-easter that prowled the parliamentary forecourt for a smoke. Then back through the X-Ray machine, just to make sure I hadn't suddenly strapped a hammer to my chest while I was out there. It's a bit like those crazy Finnish people who sit in saunas then roll in the snow, but repeated ad nauseam. I don't see the thrill.

If you don't have the right letter on your sticker, Parliament can be a very unfriendly place. Between the public entrance and the select committee rooms, there's nary a drop of refreshments to be had, not so much as a Coke machine. I could have bought a souvenir plate but even that store was shut. Behind the MPs in Room 4, there's this tray of food and drink for their pleasure. Water, coffee, biscuits, fruit platters, sitting like Tantalus. An hour and a half into the proceedings, I'm called up to the chair. I've got five minutes and they're running behind time so please be concise.

A deep breath and... blurt. Third party nonsense bad enough, but the rort in favour of the party is breathtaking. Chief Electoral Officer being responsible for monitoring candidates and third parties, something that hasn't previously been their function. Meantime, the party is monitored by the Electoral Commission. Why are we using the UK and Canadian models, when their level of voter participation is about 20 percent worse than ours? Please pick a number at random between 1 and 158 and I'll rebut. Any questions?

Silence. I remember to start breathing again and realise my mouth has gone dry, like my mouth is stuffed with tampons. Rodney kindly asks a question. Good onya, Rodney. I return to my seat. Already, the L'Esprit de L'Escalier hits. Bugger. Bugger bugger bugger.

The vibe from all this is not good. A hypothetical Supplementary Order Paper was mentioned, talk of redefining not only electoral advertisement, but also third party. The report date for the J&E on the Electoral Finance Bill is set as 25 January 2008, nearly a month into when it is supposed to take effect. Either the regulated period is in for a big shift, or the J&E hearing was just a going-through-the-motions exercise. I fear the latter will prove true.