Greens swipe at Labour for selling $2000 'business conference' tickets to meet Jacinda Ardern

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman has taken a swipe at Labour for selling tickets costing more than $2000 to attend a 'business conference' with Jacinda Ardern.

An invitation to the 'Labour Party Business Conference', obtained by Newshub, was emailed out by Labour Party president Claire Szabo to businesses, with tickets costing $1795 plus GST - which adds up to $2064.

"We need to get big money out of our democracy," Ghahraman wrote on Twitter. "No excuse for big oil to be able to buy seats across from Gov members while School Strike for Climate is locked out (a not uncanny hypothetical). We know it's legal, that's why the law must change."

Taking place on July 30 at Auckland's Aotea Centre, the Labour Party business conference includes "morning and afternoon tea, lunch, and networking drinks at the end of the day".

It's pitched as a chance to discuss policy with Labour's senior members. Ardern is referred to as Labour leader as opposed to Prime Minister. The same goes for Finance Minister Grant Robertson who is listed as Labour's finance spokesperson. 

This keeps the event within the rules set out in the Cabinet manual, which allows Government ministers to participate in fundraising activities for their parties.

Greens swipe at Labour for selling $2000 'business conference' tickets to meet Jacinda Ardern
Photo credit: Supplied

Environment Minister David Parker, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Transport Minister Michael Wood will also attend. Like Ardern and Robertson, they are referred to as party spokespeople for their respective portfolios.

"For many years political parties have hosted events which their MPs attend, and sold tickets to those events," Labour Party general-secretary Rob Salmond told Newshub. "There's nothing new in that."

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman wants "big money out of our democracy".
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman wants "big money out of our democracy". Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

It's not the first time the Greens have had a crack at Labour over fundraising events. In 2018, Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson "registered a concern" over Grant Robertson taking part in a fundraising dinner where attendees paid $600 for tickets.

Political parties have for years battled with the perception that these types of events are tantamount to luring donations in exchange for access to policymakers.

In 2014 Newshub revealed National's 'Cabinet Club' meetings at which attendees paid thousands of dollars to meet then-Prime Minister John Key and other ministers. At the time Labour and the Greens were critical, accusing National of cash for access.

Labour then launched an exclusive soirée of its own in 2017 - The President's Club, for those who donated big bucks. Salmond confirmed The President's Club is still a thing to this day, but that it's different to the business conference.

"The business conference is a one-off ticketed event open to people inside and outside the party. The President's Club, by contrast, is an ongoing subscription-based membership only open to Labour Party members."

By splashing more than $2000, businesses can meet Jacinda Ardern face-to-face.
By splashing more than $2000, businesses can meet Jacinda Ardern face-to-face. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Political party donations

The Greens' criticism of Labour follows broader scrutiny of political parties and their relationships with donors - and the Greens are no exception.

Lindsay Fraser, a woman who donated $53,970 to the Greens over two years, was found guilty of severe animal abuse for leaving her animals to starve with untreated open, gaping wounds, and leaving sheep ridden with parasites.

The Greens have pledged never to accept any more donations from Fraser, but the party said it wouldn't repay the money because the law required it to be used for party purposes.

"We are required as a not-for-profit, under the Incorporated Societies Act, to use funds received for the intended political purpose of the Green Party," a spokesperson said. 

"This means we cannot donate outside of the remit of Green Party work. This rule exists because when someone donates to a cause or organisation, they must trust that it will be used for the reasons intended and not passed on to another cause or organisation."

As for Labour, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) charged six people last month in relation to a donation made to the party in 2017. It confirmed none of the defendants were sitting MPs or current or former officials of the Labour Party. 

Labour joined a list of parties being investigated by the SFO over donations. The law enforcement agency is also probing donations made to the National Party, Māori Party and the NZ First Foundation.

Ardern said last month the law needed to change.

"That sends a message to us in the political system that we should be looking at the way our regime works. Clearly, it's not currently, so let's do something about that."