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Law Society still has concerns about EFB

Electoral Finance Bill

“WHILE noting some improvements in the Electoral Finance Bill, the New Zealand Law Society remains concerned at its complexity and the restrictions it will place on people’s ability to participate in public debate in election years,” the Society’s President John Marshall QC said today.

“We have taken time to examine carefully the bill as reported back from the select committee. Our stance on the original bill was that it could not be patched up but should be scrapped and the matter considered afresh from first principles.

“This would still be our preference but, at the very least, the various amendments should be referred back through the select committee process so that the public can have a further say on this substantially-amended legislation that goes to the heart of our democratic processes.

“Some of the changes the select committee has recommended are for the better,” he said. “In particular, we welcome the suggested deletion of the clause that would have required anyone who took a position on an issue and wanted to spend more than $5,000 to go through the strict process of registering as a third party.

“That provision would have stifled debate on important issues and it is heartening to see that the select committee has realised that.

“We also welcome the generally increased spending limits and the recommendation to remove the requirement for individuals involved in election issues to make statutory declarations. The former is desirable in the interests of promoting freedom of expression, and the latter would remove one of the obstacles in the way of people wanting to participate in the election process.

“However, the Society remains concerned about the effect of the bill as a whole on freedom of speech and the participation by ordinary people in the democratic process.

“The limits on electoral advertising spending, covering individuals and third parties as well as political parties, taken with the proposal to increase the regulated period to cover the whole of the last year in the three-year election cycle, do amount to serious restrictions on people's existing rights to support candidates and parties, and to participate (through advertising and pamphlets, for example) in public debate in an election year.

“Another continuing concern is the sheer complexity of this legislation.

“While all legislation should be drafted in clear and simple language so that it is understandable by the general public, this is especially important when the legislation is regulating our electoral process.

“As amended, this bill now runs to 113 pages and is even more complex than the original. For example, a new part that establishes a comprehensive regime for anonymous donations takes five pages to describe and covers all anonymous donations over $1,000.

“We are not sure if the select committee intended it to be an offence for the donor to tell the recipient of the donation, but we believe that is one effect of these provisions.”

“If the bill is not to be withdrawn, then, given these sort of substantial changes, we hold to the view that, after passing through the committee stages of the House, this bill should go back to the select committee so that those who made submissions on the original bill have the opportunity to make submissions on the amended bill.

“Our electoral law exists for the benefit of the people of New Zealand and they have the right to be heard on this substantially-amended bill.

“Finally, the Society is concerned at the haste with which this legislation is being pushed through the House. In our experience, hasty legislation is usually ill considered and contains defects. As we understand it, the reason for the rush is so that the regulated period for the next election can start on 1 January 2008. If the regulated period was three months, as it is at present and as we believe it should remain, there would be no need for such haste,” John Marshall said.

ENDS

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