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Legislative changes needed on political participation bill

Legislative changes needed to support political participation by disabled people

Legislation seeking to facilitate disabled people’s participation in elections and standing for political office needs to be changed to make it clear and workable, the New Zealand Law Society says.

The Law Society presented its submission on the Election Access Fund Bill to Parliament’s Governance and Administration Committee today. The private member’s bill aims to give effect to New Zealand’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities guaranteeing the right of disabled people to participate in political and public life.

However, there is a lack of clarity on key aspects of the bill, including the types of disability that would qualify for access to the proposed Election Access Fund, the Law Society says.

“The bill seeks to improve the opportunities for political participation by people with disabilities, but the central concept – disability – is not defined. It would be helpful for the bill to specify the categories of disability hindering political participation that would qualify for access to the Fund,” Law Society spokesperson David Cochrane told the committee.

The Law Society also pointed to the lack of guidance in the bill on how the Electoral Commission should divide payments from the Fund among eligible recipients: disabled people seeking to stand as candidates in general elections, not-for-profit entities organising election education events, and political parties.

“In its current form, the bill gives the Electoral Commission no guidance on how to divide the Fund among these three categories, or the basis for eligibility in each category. The same point has been emphasised by specialists in the disability field, such as the Blind Foundation,” Mr Cochrane said.

The Law Society also highlighted other areas of uncertainty in the bill that need to be addressed to make the legislation effective and workable in practice.

The Law Society urged the committee to consider a range of amendments to the bill, to ensure it delivers the intended outcomes efficiently and effectively and with minimal scope for disputes.

“Given the extensive changes needed, it may be preferable for the bill to proceed in stages or for the reforms to be incorporated in the more comprehensive government bill that usually follows the Commission’s statutory report after general elections,” Mr Cochrane said.

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