COMMENT:

Labour moved quickly on Wednesday to distance itself from yet another proposal to fleece the taxpayer for its election campaign, but rust never sleeps.

Nor has Winston Peters — the true power in the Government — yet opined on the Appropriations Review Committee's recommendation to shovel another $13 million of taxpayers' money to political parties, most to Labour, the Greens and NZ First.

One of Labour's deepest beliefs is that the present election-funding system works against it.

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Currently, parties rely mainly on their own fundraising, and their advertising spending is capped. There is no cap on spending on policy development and public engagement, including market research.

Labour has long argued that this benefits National, which tends to have a higher party membership if Labour's union affiliates aren't counted.

Despite New Zealand companies and multinationals usually having policies against political donations, Labour also asserts that the corporate sector unfairly lines National's pockets.

Labour's long-term goal is clearly taxpayer funding of political parties, as in Sweden and Norway, where established parties receive government grants to spend on whatever they like.

The problem is that New Zealanders resist paying for election propaganda, forcing Labour Governments to move by stealth.

In the 1980s, Labour radically expanded taxpayer funding for electorate activity. When it knew the 1990 election was lost, it decided the Opposition leader should have access to VIP cars.

In the 2000s, Labour massively increased the number of Beehive "ministerial advisers", which in practice put Labour activists on taxpayer salaries to operate from the very centre of power.

The rot spread to the supposedly neutral public service.

In 2006, a little-known Labour activist called Clare Curran wrote a paper called "Language Matters", proposing the National Party be publicly positioned as "enemies of the people".

The Beehive then helicoptered her into the Environment Ministry to run climate-change PR. In the ensuing scandal, the Ministry's chief executive resigned.

Even more infamously, Labour unlawfully helped itself to $800,000 of taxpayers' cash for its 2005 election campaign, including for its pledge card.

Michael Cullen then introduced the Appropriation (Parliamentary Expenditure Validation) Bill 2006 to declare the spending to have been lawful after all.

In parallel, Annette King rammed through the Electoral Finance Act 2007 that in practice made it illegal for organisations like business groups or unions to effectively oppose government policies in election year.

So egregious were King's attacks on democratic norms that the Herald took the highly unusual step of actively campaigning against them.

King is again at the centre of the latest fuss as the Labour representative on the Appropriations Review Committee, along with former National MP Eric Roy, and a former Treasury official.

The proposal this time was for the Beehive to get about 30 more political staff, supposedly to help with constituency work. As employees of Parliamentary Service, these staff would not have been subject to the Official Information Act. The 30-odd taxpayer-funded activists would in reality be full-time campaign workers.

List MPs would have received a funding boost to hire new staff, who would also have worked outside the Official Information Act. With the Government having 34 list MPs and the Opposition just 15, 70 per cent of this money would have flowed to Labour, the Greens and NZ First.

Unbelievably, King and her colleagues also proposed that Labour and National be permanently funded as if their support is always 38 per cent or above, despite Labour winning just 37 per cent of the vote even in 2017.

The proposal would have kept Labour's taxpayer funding artificially high throughout its last nine years in opposition, given it won only 34 per cent in 2008, 27 per cent in 2011 and 25 per cent in 2014.

For NZ First and the Greens, King and her colleagues proposed they be funded as if their party vote is at least 8 per cent.

The overall effect would have been to scam the taxpayer to line the campaign war chests of the three parties in the governing triad.

Labour may have moved quickly to avoid negative publicity this week, declaring the proposals "dead in the water", but its historic record suggests it will find another way to raid the Treasury. Taxpayers must remain vigilant.

- Matthew Hooton is managing director of PR and corporate affairs firm Exceltium.