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Minister Should Repeal Media Gag Immediately

Minister Should Repeal Media Gag Immediately

Monday 28th May 2001 Stephen Franks Media Release -- Governance & Constitution

ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks said today Local Government Minister Sandra Lee should stop the sham, admit she has not got away with her “mistake”, and immediately repeal the media gagging provisions in the Local Electoral Act.

“The new section 128 means that you are liable to a fine of up to $1,000 if you publish or broadcast comments promoting a local election candidate without them having had the opportunity to censor it. Radio talkback, as we know it, would be impossible.

“The Minister said my concerns about the draconian section 128 in the Act were predictable, but added that she will be seeking Crown Law Office advice on the matter this week. This is just a smokescreen, pretending the effect of the provision was not anticipated, or that it is hard to understand. Crown Law office advice is patently unnecessary. If my concerns really were predictable, why did Ms Lee not get all the advice she needed to understand the law before she forced it through under urgency. Anyone can tell her what Crown Law will say. Section 128 does conflict with freedom of speech!

“Labour, Alliance and Green members of the Select Committee acknowledged that they were ‘balancing’ freedom of speech with these new rules. Reports of official’s comments over the weekend show that they knew what was intended. So this was deliberate and not just a misunderstanding of words.

“The Attorney General Margaret Wilson is supposed to warn Parliament with a report when a Bill breaches basic freedoms in the Bill of Rights. That she did not do this shows that she can’t be trusted in that role and that she is not interested in maintaining longstanding freedoms.

“Select committee members will attest that I was constructive in committee work on this legislation. I raised section 128 directly, as destruction of free speech, during the committee stage debate in Parliament. But the Minister did not speak to say what she meant by this or other bad provisions in the Bill.

“Ms Lee is also obfuscating on the Local Electoral Act’s intentions to limit local authority candidates’ election expenses. What these provisions are about are putting power into the hands of political parties, pressure groups and local body incumbents – to disadvantage independent candidates who will not have the assistance of experienced political operators in finding ways through the new regulatory thicket. The new spending restrictions are designed to be avoided, but only if you know how to go about it.

“Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in our society. Ms Lee should stop the delaying tactics and repeal this and other provisions immediately to restore straightforward freedom of speech,” Mr Franks said.


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