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Government plays fast and loose with electoral law

Nick Smith - Electoral Law

7 August 2019

New Zealand’s democracy is being treated with disrespect by the Government’s rushed and unconventional changes to electoral and referendum law, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Nick Smith says.

“The Government is playing fast and loose with New Zealand’s electoral and referendum law, creating uncertainty and confusion for the 2020 general election.

“The Government’s Referendum Bill gives Cabinet absolute power over what referenda are to be held and the wording of questions. This excludes the public and Parliament.

“It is unprecedented looking back across all of the previous 20 referenda that have been held at general elections since 1853.

“It is shabby that New Zealanders who have differing views on abortion, recreational cannabis legalisation and euthanasia do not know what referenda are to be held next year, and that they are being denied the opportunity to have a say on the wording of questions.

“Ministers are showing contempt for democracy by adopting a ‘we won-you lost’ and ‘Parliament can’t be trusted’ attitude to justify making all the decisions on referenda.

“The convention on electoral law is that changes follow the Justice Select Committee triennial Election Inquiry and are consulted on with opposition parties, as well as being subject to a full select committee process. This Government’s Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill, Referendum Framework Bill and Electoral Amendment Bill have all breached these conventions.

“It’s easy to see why the Government has not followed proper process. It was sneaky for Justice Minister Andrew Little to last month announce same-day enrolment and voting but to not tell New Zealanders this meant the final election results and formation of the new Government would be delayed by ten days.

“These problems over electoral law and what referenda are held at the 2020 election are the product of Government incompetence and the dysfunctionality between its three parties.

“Labour should not have left the triennial Election Inquiry so late and then added foreign interference and local elections to the terms of reference.

“It should have sorted out long before now how it would deliver on its promise to the Greens of a referendum on recreational cannabis. It also failed to manage NZ First’s long held promise that a referendum would be held on abortion and euthanasia.

“These rushed and messy changes to electoral law expose the vulnerability of this country’s democracy. National will have policies at the next election to secure a fairer and more robust democracy for New Zealand.”


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