Controversial electoral law passed in heated debate

United Future leader Peter Dunne swapped sides to vote against the
Electoral Finance Bill, as it passed into law this evening.

His was the most surprising act as the bill passed by a majority of 63 votes to 57.

Dunne told Parliament he had previously supported the bill but now felt the weight of public opinion had turned against it.

"I have been struck by the messages from individuals with no special political axe to grind who genuinely fear that this bill will limit their rights to freedom of speech and expression," Mr Dunne told parliament.

Mr Dunne said his party supported the development and introduction of the bill because it believed it was important to tidy up the "excesses of the last election".

But he said a "genuinely multiparty" involvement in the development of the legislation would have been preferable.

The bill was supported at its third and final reading in Parliament by Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First and Jim Anderton.

It was opposed by National, the Maori Party, United Future, Act, and Taito Phillip Field.

There was heated debate during the third and final reading.

Justice Minister Annette King said the Electoral Finance Bill (EFB)
did not restrict free speech, but instead restricts the right to purchase speech.

Ms King said the legislation had been the subject of contentious and acrimonious debate.

There had been a "campaign of misinformation" about what the bill did, she said, singling out the Herald's stance against it and questioning the motives behind it.

"We don't want to see the Americanisation of our political system," she told Parliament, arguing the EFB was being passed to protect democracy and prevent the "undue influence of money in politics".

National Party leader John Key said the Electoral Finance Bill was being passed for only one reason "so Helen Clark can try to cling onto power".

Mr Key told Parliament the legislation was opposed by the majority of New Zealanders and a number of groups including the Law Society and Human Rights Commission.

"National will repeal this legislation," Mr Key said.

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira said his party opposed the EFB despite "not having a bean to our name".

Mr Harawira said that despite what Helen Clark might argue, the bill was actually being opposed by people other than those who have millions of dollars to donate to parties.

The Maori Party was angry with the divisive "Iwi-Kiwi" advertisements run by the National Party before the 2005 election, and knew it didn't have the money to counter the campaign.

"But we still are opposed to the bill," Mr Harawira said.

"We stand free in this House, uncompromised by shady deals with either of the two big parties," he said.

He then referred to the amount of money poured into the last presidential campaign in the United States, to try to get George W. Bush out of the White House.

"It didn't work too well, did it?," he said.

Mr Harawira launched a stinging attack on Labour, saying the bill was an "arrogant dismissal" of the rights of the public to participate in an election, and was driven by the "sweet scent of power and lust for control".

He went as far as to say that there was a "refusal to accept the reality of impending defeat" in Labour.

- NZPA, NZ HERALD STAFF

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