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PM’s Presser: Voting, McDonald's off prisoner menu

PM’s Presser: Voting same as “right to go to McDonald’s”

New Zealand’s prisoners have no more right to vote than they do to eat McDonald’s.

That was the message Monday from Prime Minister John Key, who defended his party’s support for a bill that would strip the country’s entire prison population of the right to vote by comparing democratic participation to the iconic fast food.

National MP Paul Quinn’s Electoral Amendment Bill won a recommendation for a second reading from Parliament’s law and order select committee Friday, sparking outrage and condemnation from prison reform advocates and constitution law experts.

The bill would disqualify sentenced prisoners from voting for the duration of their sentence but allow them to re-enrol if released.

The National-led law and order select committee, which included convicted criminal David Garrett, recommended the bill for a second reading despite a minority view that there was no evidence it would reduce crime and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson’s finding that a blanket ban on prisoner voting was irrational, irregular and inconsistent with New Zealand’s Bill of Rights.

Otago University’s associate law professor Andrew Geddis called the bill “downright wrong in its intent, outright stupid in its design and (if finally enacted) would be such an indelible stain on the parliamentary lawmaking process as to call into question that institution's legitimacy to act as supreme lawmaker for our society.”

But Key threw his support behind the bill at a post-Cabinet press conference, saying infringement on the Bill of Rights would not necessarily stop his government from passing the legislation.

Key denied using prisoners as a scapegoat, saying many New Zealanders would support the bill and existing legislation already barred prisoners with more than three years left in their sentence from voting.

There were a number of ways that prison effectively removed people from society for a temporary period and suspending voting rights would be “just another one of those”.

“The reason you’ve gone to prison may very well be that you’ve done something that’s actually removed those freedoms and privileges from other New Zealanders.”

Key said removing prisoners’ voting rights would not reduce crime – but that was not the intent of the law.

“The intent of it is that if you go to prison, you lose some rights. Just like you lose the right to go to McDonald’s when you’re in prison and you may well soon lose the right to smoke.

“It’s just one of those rights you lose by being in prison,” he said.

Key insisted the Government still saw voting as a universal human right.

“But not for those in prison,” he added.

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