Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she believes New Zealand's disclosure regime for political donations is doing its job but will stay "vigilant" for any overseas influence.
The Government has been urged to counter the Chinese Communist Party's influence in New Zealand affairs, after Australia decided to ban foreign political donations and set up a register of foreign interests.
New Zealand's donation rules already ban parties from accepting more than $1500 from overseas donors other than New Zealand citizens, including companies based overseas.
Any donations over that amount must be returned to the donor, or if the donor is unknown, handed to the Electoral Commission. Ardern believed the regime was working well and said the issues that had troubled Australia had not been seen here.
She said it was important to strike a balance between naming large donors and making sure people could give smaller amounts "without being caught up in too much bureaucracy".
"When it comes to some of the issues that have been raised in Australia, I haven't seen evidence of the kinds of issues they are talking about here in New Zealand. That's not to say we should be complacent. We have to be vigilant and we are."
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week said he would introduce legislation to crack down on espionage and improper foreign influence within Australia's political system. He said the new measures, which include a register of people working for foreign interests seeking to influence politics in Australia, were not aimed at any particular country — but China responded by declaring it did not interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries.
Canterbury University academic Professor Anne Marie Brady, internationally recognised for translating China's propaganda campaigns, said New Zealand should consider following Australia's lead.
She said the Government should not engage in "head-butting" with China, but should strengthen its resilience against interference.
"I am encouraging our Government to look at [what Australia has done]," she told the Herald.
She said attempts by foreign powers to influence other countries were not unusual, but the Communist Party's activities in New Zealand had been "very successful and very comprehensive" and were now at a critical level.
In a public lecture at Victoria University this week, she said China had several strategies, including:
● Managing Chinese communities overseas through Chinese media to make them agents of Chinese foreign policy;
● Managing public opinion through multiple platforms including social media;
● Co-opting non-Chinese political elites.
Brady said Labour MP Raymond Huo and National MP Jian Yang had been pushing the party's "United Front" strategy, including trying to influence Chinese-language media here. Yang said he had no comment. Huo said, "Professor Brady's sweeping generalisation is unfortunate. There is a fine line between what she has alleged and the genuine promotion of the NZ-China relationship." Brady believes that under President Xi Jinping, China has stepped up its foreign reach.
"It has had a silencing effect in our universities and policy debates. It's created a situation where people are afraid to raise challenging issues to do with China within the state sector and within our universities."
She raised questions about anonymous political donations and pushed for reform, saying, "We could look at countries like Norway and depoliticise the donation system and look at some kind of proportionality to remove any risk of interference."