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Referendum Bill an abuse of power

Nick Smith - Electoral Law

30 July 2019

The Government’s Referendum Bill, giving itself control over what issues and questions will be put at the 2020 election is undemocratic and wrong, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Nick Smith says.

“It is an outrageous abuse of power for this Government to be taking away from Parliament and the public the opportunity to have a say on what referenda will be held, and their wording, at the 2020 election.

“The conduct of elections and referenda must not be the purview of the Government of the day. It has always been subject to robust Parliamentary and public processes to ensure the election and referendum outcome are not manipulated.

“Referendum topics and questions are politically sensitive and constitutionally significant. The wording of a question can bias the result. The topics can affect the election result by increasing participation of particular groups.

“Multiple referendums can distract from the core issues of the election, disadvantaging the Opposition. Parliamentary and public scrutiny of referenda is required to ensure fairness.”

“This Bill makes a mockery of the planned referendum on cannabis. Officials advised the most robust process was for a detailed Bill to be passed by Parliament, only taking effect if adopted in a referendum, as was used for MMP and the flag.

“We now have the farcical position where Parliament and the public is not even going to get a say on the cannabis referendum question.

“This undemocratic process is highlighted by the Bill only applying to the 2020 Election. It is also an affront to good parliamentary practice that this Bill, like Labour’s two other electoral law changes, has not involved any consultation with Opposition parties.

“This Bill is setting a dangerous precedent where elections and electoral law are becoming the plaything of the Government of the day.

“This Government is tainting New Zealand’s proud tradition as one of the oldest and fairest democracies in the world. It has amended our electoral law to enable a party leader to dismiss an MP who disagrees, to satisfy NZ First. Now this Bill gives carte blanche for the Government to hold referenda, to satisfy the Greens on cannabis.

“We should not be messing around with our electoral law and the conduct of elections to satisfy the demands of minor parties to hold a coalition together.

“National will vigorously oppose this Bill. These electoral shenanigans reinforce the need for reform to better protect New Zealand’s democracy.”


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