Wellington, NZ, 31 January 2012 – Activist and Mayoral candidate, Penny Bright went to Parliament, to attend to unfinished business.
MP for Epsom, John Banks may have escaped prosecution for not properly declaring campaign donations in the 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign (see previous related blogpost: John Banks – escaping justice (Part Toru), et al), by a legal technicality - but self-declared anti-corruption campaigner, Penny Bright has other ideas.
Ms Bright is one of several people engaged in citizens’ actions to bring John Banks to justice. Another person, Graham McCready, a retired accountant, has launched a private prosecution against Banks (see: Judge calls Banks to court over donations).
On 31 January, Ms Bright arrived on the grounds of Parliament. She was scheduled to appear before Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee at 11.15am. (See copy of submission here: Justice and Electoral Committee Local Electoral Amendment Bill (No 2) – Submission by Penny Bright)
Ms Bright had spare time and wanted to make her cause more widely known to the public. She set about preparing to raise banners, in front of the statue of the former, late, Premier Richard John Seddon.
Her activities came to the almost immediate attention of a Parliamentary security guard,
There was discussion between the guard and Ms Bright,
Ms Bright explained her intentions to the Guard. Ms Bright then related her conversation with the Guard to this blogger that if she went ahead with her “mini-protest”, she could (would?) be trespassed from Parliament’s grounds for 24 hours – thereby threatening her scheduled appearance before the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.
I found this to be utterly extraordinary. Ms Bright had done nothing illegal. It was inconceivable that a single woman by herself could pose a “clear and present” danger to the Western hegemonic military-industrial complex.
I attempted to elicit an answer from the Guard on this issue, but he became reluctant to state the position clearly, on record, regarding Ms Bright’s rights to hold a peaceful protest on Parliament’s grounds. The Guard moved away and Ms Bright packed up her gear,
Ms Bright quietly said to me,
“We can come back later.“
At the Select Committee hearing, the Committee chairperson, Tim Macindoe, welcomed Ms Bright and reminded her of New Zealand’s defamation laws.
Supported by local body Wellington activist Maria Van Der Meel, from Wellington loves Manners Mall , Ms Bright stated her case,
Ms Bright advised the Select Committee that under current rules, copies of financial electorate returns (donations, expenditure, etc) were not available to the public except by viewing the documents at the local Electoral office where they are stored (in this case, Auckland). The rules dictate that citizens may take notes from the returns – but are not allowed to photocopy, photographe, scan, or take any other form of facsimile copy.
Some members of Parliament sitting around the table seemed unaware of this fact. [Blogger's Note: When I tried to obtain a copy of John Banks' 2010 mayoral-campaign electoral returns, my request was turned down. I would have to travel to Auckland; physically visit the Office during opening hours; and view the hard-copy. I could take notes, but otherwise not record them electronically. This seems an untenable situation in a suppodsedly otherwise open democracy. - Frank] Committee member Jackie Blue questioned if returns could not be requested under the Official Information Act.
Ms Bright explained that Graham McCready has taken a private prosecution out against John Banks and that his case requires Banks’ electoral returns as evidence for his case. The Police were able to able to obtain a copy for their investigation into John Banks’ returns – and questioned why this was denied to members of the public?
Ms Bright stated that the finding of the Police that John Banks could effectively delegate the compiling of his candidate’s election expenses and donations, and sign this ‘declaration’ without first personally double-checking this information for accuracy – defied belief.
Ms Bright produced a copy of her signed declaration as a fellow 2010 Auckland Council Mayoral candidate, and asked if any members of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, (who would have had to sign similar candidate’s declaration), had delegated the responsibility for the accuracy of this information to someone else?
Ms Bright stated that, in her considered opinion, all electoral returns should be scanned and made publicly available online.
On a related issue, Ms Bright was critical of the fact that some candidates [Blogger's note: this has been amended and names removed] claimed to be independents – yet were members of political parties. She questioned how candidates could be deemed “independent” whilst openly members of political parties.
To which Tim Macindoe responded that whilst he might stand as a candidate in a local body election, he would not necessarily be representing the National Party, and nor would he require or request an endosement.
Ms Bright responded that not everyone in the community might be aware of a candidate’s Party affiliations and using the “independent” label could be mis-leading. She said her personal philosophy was “presume nothing”.
Ms Bright raised the issue that New Zealand is internationally well-regarded and first-equal with Denmark and Finland for a lack of corruption in New Zealand (see: Corruption Perceptions Index 2012). She said that recent events in this country suggested that we no longer merited our standing in the international community for top ranking in lack of corruption.
However, Ms Bright pointed out a number of areas where New Zealand lacked a domestic legislative framework for genuine transparency,
- lobbying – there currently being no ‘Register of Lobbyists’, or ‘Code of Conduct for Lobbyists’,
- and ‘State Capture’ – where vested interests gained influence at ‘policy’ level, prior to legislation being passed.
On the issue of civil servants and political figures leaving the public service and entering the private sector (eg; consultancy-work) – Ms Bright denounced the practice of the “revolving door”, and recommended a “quarantine period”.
A policy of ‘post-separation employment’ could deny sensitive information from being used for personal gain.
It was also pointed out that, at Local Government level, there was no mandatory requirement for a ‘Register of Interests’ for elected representatives (unlike central government MPs).
Ms Bright also criticised some local bodies for not revealing details of consultants and contactors they used. Ms Bright said this constituted a lack of transparency and said she had a right to know who was being paid from the public purse, ie; the names of consultants and private contractors; scope; terms, and value of these contracts (see: Call for end to council secrecy, Super-city plan for mortgagee sales).
The committee had been discussing, with previous submitters, the nature of donations to candidates standing for local bodies. The committee asked Ms Bright where she stood on the issue.
Ms Bright took a minute or so to consider the question.
“I don’t believe in anonymous donations. Anonymous means we don’t know what’s going on and if anyone is in someone’s pocket.”
Committee member, NZ First MP, Denis O’Rourke, asked,
“Do you believe all donations should be recorded?”
Ms Bright replied that $10 or $20 donations need not have their donors publicly recorded, but that a threshold should be established,
“Maybe set at $500?”
She pointed out that both John Banks and Len Brown had recorded some donations as “anonymous”.
Committee member, Katrina Shanks asked whether this would affect people donating to causes and shouldn’t they be allowed to do so as of right?
Ms Bright replied that this issue could be difficult. It might be seen that there was a difference between privacy and private donations to a cause and transparency for funding candidates in public elections.
After fifteen minutes, the Chair thanked Ms Bright for her submission and presentation to the Committee. Ms Bright thanked the committee, and she and Ms Van Der Meel left the Committee Room.
The two women returned to Parliament’s forecourt and proceed to unfurl the banners that Ms Bright had wanted to use earlier in the day.
A passing member of the public (woman in white dress) voiced her support for their cause and consented to being photographed with the pair,
And then to the Supreme Court in Lambton Quay, where Ms Bright “flew the flag” against the theft/sale of the people’s assets,
The banners caught the attention of the tail-end of the “Super Sevens” parade that was moving through Lambton Quay at the same time. One of the security guards took Ms Bright’s banners in good humour,
Whether or not one agrees with Ms Bright’s beliefs and philosophy - no one can deny her dedication to causes she feels strongly about. By anyone’s definition, two protest actions and an appearance at a Select Committee is undeniably dedication.
[Amended: 3 February 2013]
Parliament: Justice and Electoral Select Committee members
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