From the Chair

Kate SheppardLeader of of the women's suffrage movement in New Zealand

Kate Sheppard
Leader of of the women's suffrage movement in New Zealand

This month sees the 125 Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage.

But there is much more still to be done as demonstrated in Transparency International New Zealand’s (TINZ) findings during its update of the 2013 National Integrity System Assessment.

On September 19,1893, a brief Wellington Post editorial titled “The Enfranchisement of Women” said:

“The Electoral Bill, by which, amongst other things, the electoral franchise is extended to women, was assented to by His Excellency the Governor at 11:45 this morning, on its being presented to him by the Clerk of Parliaments.  We heartily congratulate the women of New Zealand on being at last admitted to a direct voice in the government of the colony. The battle has been a long and severe one…To Sir John Hall, Sir Robert Stout and the other members of the Legislature whose advocacy and energy is now crowned with victory, the greatest credit is due…” (See The Dominion Post : 150 years of news Paul Elenio, The Dominion Post/Fairfax Media, 2014.)

New Zealand at the time had an upper chamber of lords.  This group signed a protest on the basis that such an important change to the “constitution” had not been submitted to electors – at that time all men – for their decision on the subject.

The lords protested despite the 31,872 signatures to Kate Sheppard’s petition for this right to vote.  These represented nearly a quarter of all adult women living in New Zealand at that time.

As well as being the first country to give women the vote, New Zealand led the way in giving its first settlers the vote.  Maori male property owners had the vote prior to 1893.

Maori women could vote from 1893 so with the passage of the Electoral Bill, all Maori had the right to vote.

In contrast, It took Australia a year longer than New Zealand to grant European women the vote in 1894. 

The first Australians, the Aborigine people, were only granted the right to vote from 1967. 

Three days after the suffrage legislation was passed in New Zealand,  600 Wellington women had applied to be placed on the electoral role.

It took until 1919 for New Zealand women to win the right to stand for Parliament. Lyttelton’s  Elizabeth McCombs became the first woman elected in 1920.

Even with the vote, it has taken years for policy and practice to become more gender neutral.  Kate Sheppard went to her grave in 1934 campaigning for equal pay and other demonstrations of human rights for women.

Inside this newsletter is an article that gives an early flavour of the 2nd edition of Transparency International New Zealand’s Integrity Plus 2013 New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment. This 2nd edition provides updated evidence to 2018. 

An unexpected finding is, given the passivity and lack of urgency at the time, how much has been achieved since 2013 to increase transparency within government. Amongst other achievements, in 2015 Parliament unanimously ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption after passing comprehensive anti-corruption legislation including anti-money laundering.

One area that hasn’t changed is the weakness of the electoral system because of problems that exist at the interface between political party financing and public funding. 

As was pointed out in the 2013 NIS:

  • “The combination of continuing concerns about the transparency of political party financing and of donations to individual politicians, a long-term decline in party membership, increased party reliance on public funding, and a lack of full transparency of the parliamentary wings of the parties, interacts with the refusal to extend the coverage of the Official Information Act 1982 to include the administration of Parliament.”
  • “In practice, financial oversight of political parties mostly occurs on an ad hoc basis.”
  • “In practice, virtually all decision making in political parties occurs at the elite level – whether it is leadership selection, candidate selection and listing, or policy making, the upper-echelons of the parliamentary party invariably have the most power.”

A political commentator interviewed on CNN on 1 September 2018 reported that  in America 158 donors account for 90% of reported political party funding.

At the recent Institution of Public Administration New Zealand (IPANZ) Public Sector Excellence Awards, the New Zealand Electoral Commission was rightly celebrated for its strategy to increase voting by going to “where the people are” to enable voting.  This resulted in increased voting turnout compared 2014, particularly among younger voters.

Democracy will remain fragile, though, until there are sufficient money and media  resources available to those campaigning to enable diverse perspectives to be heard.

Suzanne Snively, ONZM


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