Justice Minister Andrew Little (Photo: Radio NZ/ Daniela Maoate-Cox)

The Bulletin: Bizarre lawmaking billed as foreign donations ban

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Government rams through foreign donations law under urgency, substance of cannabis referendum laws announced, and Samoan boy allegedly denied measles vaccine in NZ.

Justice minister Andrew Little has announced that the government is banning foreign donations to political parties. Or rather, that’s what the press release was titled, but the reality is not quite as thorough in scope as might be understood from such a headline. In fact, it’s more like the limit on donations from those overseas will be lowered from the current level of $1500, to a new limit of $50. Little says it will reduce the risk of big overseas money influencing our political system, and that the moves are about protecting the integrity of elections.

But some will be disappointed that the bill won’t do anything to stop existing donations practices which have been controversial. For example, there was a donation to the National party before the last election – $150,000 from Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Industry (NZ) Ltd, which PM Jacinda Ardern recently said went “against the spirit” of donations laws. But as electoral law expert Andrew Geddis explains on The Spinoff, such a donation would still be entirely legal. It should also be noted that this proposed law totally ignores the other potential donations scandal going on right now – the one around the NZ First Foundation. It’s fair to assume that any sufficiently motivated actor will still be able to find an easy loophole to throw money through.

One aspect of the law which may have more merit is the new requirement for all election advertisements to have a name and address of a person attached to them. That is aimed at stopping “an avalanche of fake news social media ads that contain no information about who is behind them,” according to Little. “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,” he said.

The law has been absolutely hammered through parliament under urgency. There was debate on it until about 10pm last night, and two out of three readings have so far been completed – the third is expected to take place this morning. Some suggestions have been made that this was because the Justice select committee is not currently functioning effectively, and as a result Little needed to move more decisively. But by his own admission, “further policy work is ongoing” on the subject, so it’s unlikely to be the last time the issues get raised. Incidentally, all parties bar ACT voted for the changes during the first two readings last night, though many speeches from National members criticised the process, and former Nat Jami-Lee Ross criticised the donation practices of his old party during his speech.

There are serious and legitimate concerns around both foreign influence on politics, and big money influence on politics. But questions need to be asked about what the point of this bill is, and whether it will really do anything that addresses the actual problems there. A key piece to read on it all is this column from Stuff’s Henry Cooke, titled ‘Andrew Little’s foreign donations ban is good politics, terrible lawmaking’. It’s a fairly critical column, but even so, I wonder if perhaps Cooke is being generous in describing it as good politics. After all, the sorts of people who care about the integrity of political donations probably also have thoughts about integrity in the lawmaking process.


The cannabis legalisation legislation that will go to referendum at the election has been revealed. The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire has outlined exactly what will be involved, and if a yes vote comes in, what will change. The top lines are these though: Sales will be restricted to over 20s only, and there will be purchase limits. No advertising of cannabis products will be permitted. Sales will be restricted to licensed stores, with no online sales. And it still won’t be legal to smoke cannabis in public.

All in all it’s a much tighter regime than that which currently applies to alcohol. I hope I’m not being too on the nose here in noting that this legislation is also under the auspices of justice minister Andrew Little, time and care has been taken with it, and the bill that has come out is robust and considered.


A Samoan boy on the verge of returning home was allegedly denied a measles vaccination in Auckland, because he didn’t have a New Zealand passport, reports Nita Blake-Persen for Radio NZ. The kid is 15 months old, and has since gone back to Samoa, which is in the grips of a deadly outbreak that has mostly killed children under four. This is despite a clear law allowing anyone in NZ under the age of 18 to receive publicly-funded immunisations, “regardless of citizenship or immigration status in New Zealand.”


Here’s an interesting piece of reading for those who think multinational digital giants should pay more tax. Dan Brunskill at Business Desk (paywalled) has reported on a settlement between Microsoft and the IRD, worth $24.7 million. Further into the story, there’s commentary about how that’s actually quite a good outcome for the country, as NZ is still competing with other countries for a share of the overall tax bill. That leads to a delicate and perhaps troubling balancing act, between the need for a fair tax collection, and the need to keep the company in the country.


Hospo businesses in tourist hotspots are struggling to fill vacancies ahead of their peak season, reports Radio NZ’s Tracy Neal. There’s a bit of confusion and conjecture about why, but in simple terms the applications aren’t coming in, when previously the workforce had been abundant. It may also just be a regional anomaly – the story is focused on the top of the South Island, an area which currently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.


Authorities have been on alert overnight around the Lakes District for flooding, reports the ODT. It follows a day of absolutely wild weather around the country, including extreme winds in Wellington – much more so than normal at least. We’re likely to see a whole summer of weird weather patterns, as Josie Adams reports for The Spinoff, with a bit of everything happening all at the same time.


Some changes are coming to laws around education, and this is a good explainer of them. Radio NZ spoke to education minister Chris Hipkins about the changes, which include a relaxing of rules around the use of force from teachers on children. That initially sounds really alarming, but it’s more about tidying up existing laws, rather than reintroducing corporal punishment to the classroom or anything like that. As well as that, religious education will become opt-in, and schools will be expected to put a greater focus on Te Tiriti.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

North Drill operates like a whanau. (Photo: Te Puni Kōkiri.)

Right now on The Spinoff: Acclaimed novelist Lloyd Jones writes about the steady dismantling of book culture in New Zealand, and his own complicity in not speaking out against it. Sticking with books, Catherine Woulfe has a sensitive but strongly critical review of the latest Nalini Singh novel, a thriller that falls into old tropes around gender. Comedian Angella Dravid is the latest guest to draw and chat with Toby Morris on Two Sketches. Leonie Hayden writes about the rise of cohousing and papakāinga, and how a concept long understood by Māori is being embraced again. And Maria Slade writes about North Drill, a Northland drilling company (you may have guessed) that is going above and beyond for its workers and their housing.


Now normally ‘enforcement of tax law’ wouldn’t make for great clickbait. But for a feature today, I want to share this piece from Interest contributor Terry Baucher, who has covered how the IRD is going about investigating and cracking down on non-payment of tax – particularly on the old cheeky cashie jobs. For any small business owner, I’d say this is very much worth a read. Here’s an excerpt:

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Scott began by pointing out something we had noticed over the past few months that Inland Revenue had not appeared to be very active and in the investigation field and certainly wasn’t being very visible. And he raised the point that in such an environment, voluntary compliance falls and “industry practices” emerge where advisers respond to non-activity from Inland Revenue by thinking that keeping quiet is actually a valid strategy.

Tony Morris responded by acknowledging that that was an issue, but in fact, Internal Revenue after the business transformation restructure was now moving forward again.  It had much more data available and understood that data better. For example, he noted that there was now potential to get the EFTPOS data for a particular industry. And then from there calculate what should be the potential cash sales for a business in that industry. The analytics were now available to determine more quickly if there were issues around non reported cash sales.


There’s a really tricky situation playing out at the moment in Australian tennis, over the presence of playing great Margaret Court within the sport. Court has notoriously extreme views against homosexuality and transgender people, and Tennis Australia has gone to great pains to distance themselves from those views. But as Stuff reports, they have also had to consider that next year will mark 50 years since she won the Grand Slam, and there is a precedent for such figures to be feted at the Australian Open. They’ve come to a compromise position on inviting her to the 2020 Open, but it’s unlikely to be the end of the matter as Court has never apologised for said extreme views.


That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme.


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