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Referenda (Postal Voting) Bill - Second Reading

Hon. Margaret Wilson
7 November 2000 Speech Notes

REFERENDA (POSTAL VOTING) BILL

SECOND READING SPEECH NOTES

EMBARGOED UNTIL DELIVERY


I acknowledge the report of the Justice and Electoral Committee on the Referenda (Postal Voting) Bill.

This Bill is intended to introduce a generic statutory mechanism for holding both government and citizens initiated referenda by postal vote.

Currently, holding government initiated referenda requires the passage of separate empowering legislation.

This has an inevitable impact on parliamentary time and resources.

Under existing legislation, citizens initiated referenda can only be conducted by a stand-alone ballot box poll or in conjunction with a general election.

This bill amends the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act and creates a new Referenda (Postal Voting) Act.

Conducting indicative referenda by postal vote has been identified as a practical and cost effective alternative to a ballot box election.

The holding of the government initiated referendum on the Compulsory Retirement Saving Scheme in 1995 highlighted a number of benefits and cost savings in holding such referenda by postal vote, including:

 A more convenient means of voting for the public, in the comfort of their own home
 A higher voter turnout
 Considerably lower costs.

This Bill has been broadly modelled on the provisions of the Compulsory Retirement Savings Scheme Act 1995 with a few minor adaptions.

Three submissions were received on the bill, and all were supportive.

The Committee has recommended four amendments to the Bill of which two are technical drafting changes.

One submission expressed concern that the bill did not provide for the purchase of the preliminary referendum rolls, and that the copying of the rolls is expressly forbidden under the bill.

The Committee considered that the bill should continue to prohibit the roll being made generally available, but should still provide for copies to be borrowed from the Chief Registrar for certain purposes.

These purposes are:
 to check the qualification of electors,
 to check that qualified people are enrolled and
 to encourage people to enrol.

The Committee has recommended that it be clarified on the face of the bill that the clauses from the Electoral Act 1993 that relate to borrowing the preliminary referendum roll for specific uses would apply under this Act.

The Committee also considered that the bill should continue to forbid the copying of the rolls to protect the privacy of voters.

A submission queried whether the voting papers should be able to be returned to the office of the Returning Officer by a postal agent other than New Zealand Post Limited.

In the past, for most electoral events conducted by post, it has been common practice to include a New Zealand Post pre-paid envelope with voting papers.

However, it is acknowledged that the public may wish to return their votes via one of the 31 postal operators currently registered under the Postal Services Act 1998.

The Committee considers that the bill should be amended to allow all postal operators to be able to return voting papers to the Returning Officer before the end of the voting period.

The Committee has recommended an amendment to clause 38 creating a general rule that all papers that are received before 7pm on the last day of voting are valid.

The Committee considered how to address the need for a date stamp in order for the Returning Officer to determine that the vote was cast within the voting period.

The absence of any legal requirement for all postal operators to date stamp mail under the Postal Services Act raised the possibility that the Returning Officer would not be in a position to determine the validity of every vote received.

To address this issue, the Committee recommended a further amendment to make specific provision for the return of voting papers after the close of the voting period, provided it is received no later than four days after this period and it bears a date stamp that falls before the close of the voting period.

The Committee has also considered the generic issue of the implications of postal voting for Mäori electors, and whether the Mäori language could be used in voting material.

The Committee acknowledges that voters on the Mäori roll do not participate in electoral events generally in the same proportion as those on the General roll.

It is clear that a number of factors may influence this. However, it was not possible to conclude, on current research, that postal voting per se disadvantages Mäori.

Having acknowledged that, the Committee are assured that in the event of government initiated referenda, the government would have sufficient opportunity to employ a number of strategies to address this issue, such as

 face to face campaigns
 0800 free phone lines
 specialist advertising

The Committee note that voting material can, and commonly is, made available in Mäori, English and other languages.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Justice and Electoral Committee for their work in relation to the Bill, which has ensured its thorough consideration and report back.

I look forward to this Bills passage and I commend it to the House.

ENDS

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