National MP calls for ban on foreign political donations

News 24/01/2019

A National MP wants to put a total ban on foreigners who wish to donate to political parties in New Zealand.

Nick Smith, former Environment Minister and MP for Nelson, says New Zealand's democratic values are at risk from larger foreign powers seeking to gain influence.

"Unless you are a citizen of New Zealand, or a permanent resident, in my view you shouldn't be able to provide funds to political parties or funds to campaigns that are designed to influence elections," he told Magic Talk.

The law currently restricts donations to $1500, but Mr Smith said someone could set up as a company or a trust in New Zealand that would make it "very easy to funnel funds in a political party or campaign".

Ironically, Mr Smith's boss, Simon Bridges, was accused of doing that last year by rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross in the year's biggest political scandal.

He alleged Mr Bridges instructed him to hide a donation of $100,000 from Chinese businessman Yikun Zhang and asked him to split it into small amounts to hide it from the Electoral Commission.

It also came out in a secret recording made by Mr Ross that he discussed with Mr Bridges getting a Chinese candidate on the party list, who National Party President Peter Goodfellow confirmed was training to become an MP.

Nevertheless, Ms Smith said he's "quite satisfied that the National Party, of which I am a member of, has ensured that it's complied with the law".

"We need to make sure that our law is more robust. I think there is a weakness in the law in this area."

He said the Government needs to ensure that the source of donations from companies or trusts comes from New Zealanders or permanent residents.

"We don't want inappropriate influence of big cheques coming inadvertently from governments that may be undemocratic, trying to influence our politics.

"New Zealand is one of the oldest and strongest democracies, it's a really precious part of being a New Zealander, and so it's right that political parties in New Zealand safeguard the strong democratic traditions that we have."

Nick Smith. Photo: Getty.

Mr Smith's concerns go beyond New Zealand's borders.

He said the democratic world "isn't in great shape at the moment" and said that's why "we should be focused on ensuring that we are protecting and enhancing our own democracy".

Over the last three or four years, he said, democracy has been a "bit more shaky" in the wake of Russia being accused of interfering in the US elections, and turmoil gripping Britain over Brexit divisions.

"You look at the United Nations Security Council, there are three liberal democracies represented: the UK, France and the US. All of these democracies are in turmoil," he said.

"We're in the 33rd day of the shutdown of the federal government of the US, you've got a huge problem in Britain around Brexit, and you've got big riots going on in France."

Mr Smith said New Zealanders would be "naive to think that we are insulated from that risk".

China and Russia have been signalled as threats to New Zealand's democratic systems.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) uncovered links between malicious cyber activity and the Russian government in October last year.

And last month the agency said it had found a link between a long running cyber campaign and the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS).

Watch the full Magic Talk interview with Nick Smith above.