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Electoral (Administration) Amendment Bill

Electoral (Administration) Amendment Bill
Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki
Tuesday 27 October 2009; 5.50pm

Parliament is one of the very structures in our society, that is inhabited by people who truly believe that elections, in and of themselves, make the crucial difference in our lives.

And I am reminded of the comment by a person of the name of James Freeman Clarke, who said, “a politician thinks of the next election. A statesmen of the next generation”.

The Maori Party supports the latter school of thought, that the future of our people can be greatly improved by the opportunity we provide them to participate in our democracy.

We come then to this Electoral (Administration) Amendment Bill considering how the various legislative amendments to be introduced will impact positively on the future prospects for New Zealanders.

We absolutely welcome the move to get the electoral shop in order, to reduce duplication of functions, and get rid of the confusion regarding costs and complexities for political parties, candidates, and the general public.

Mr Speaker, we do so from the very recent history in both 2005 and 2008 that administrative issues arose on election day for Maori roll voters (as they did in 2008 also).

The issues included insufficient Maori roll voting papers and a lack of Maori roll data at some polling booths – both issues would have been extremely easy to rectify – and yet the lack of information had an immediate and adverse impact on compromising the rights of individual Maori to vote.

In the inquiry into the 2005 elections, the Justice and Electoral Select Committee in fact drew attention to the issues raised by the Maori Party, concluding that although isolated, in the view of the committee, the problems outlined should have been avoided.

Mr Speaker, there were three major issues that we tabled with the Committee.

Firstly, a lack of or inadequate supply of ballot papers

In the Te Tai Tokerau electorate voting papers ran out in several polling places by mid-afternoon on polling day. In the Tamaki Makaurau electorate voting papers were not available in some polling places in the South Auckland area until 10.30 or 11am.

I recall that one of the worst affected areas in the North was as a result of a large influx of people being in the area, to attend a tangihanga. These people had every right to be able to register their vote and yet as it turned out, due to the lack of papers, many were turned away or chose not to return and take up their voting entitlement because of the lengthy delays experienced in waiting for new ballot papers to become available.

A second key issue was that Māori electoral rolls were reported as unavailable in some polling places in the Tamaki Makaurau electorate and Manurewa area until midway through the morning.

Thirdly, electorate votes were disallowed because incorrect voting papers were issued. In such cases the electorate vote would be disallowed and only the party vote counted.

In addition to these major issues, concerns were raised about others, including the incorrect pronunciation of Māori names by issuing officers in polling places and reported instances of voters being confused about whether they were on the Māori or the general roll.

Mr Speaker as it is of course now well known, these administrative errors were not so large as to impact on the voting outcomes – the Tamaki Makaurau and Tai Tokerau candidates achieving resounding victories, despite the problems with the paper work.

But they do give a particular edge to the need for Government to review its organisation and resourcing of polling places. We believe that all polling places must have sufficient supplies and trained staff to cope with the demands they may face on polling day; and this is of particular importance for voters on the Māori roll.

But in thinking of the bigger picture, outside of that one Election Day in 2005, we are concerned that the democratic entitlement of some Maori constituents was compromised and therefore future voting practice affected.

So the opportunity for an overhaul of both the Electoral Act 1993 and the electoral administrative regime is something that is both timely and in the long term interests of the nation.

It is also in line with our policy position which supports the call for a single administrative body for elections. Reviews have indicated the need for, and benefits from, the creation of a single administrative body for elections.

Mr Speaker, as the House has already heard, responsibility for electoral administration is currently split between the Chief Electoral Officer (Ministry of Justice), the Electoral Commission (an independent Crown entity), and the Chief Registrar of Electors through the Enrolment Centre (a business unit on NZ Post Ltd).

While the distinctions between the roles are clear, the over-riding public perception is that this is an overly complex and complicated way of allowing the voting process to take place.

This proposal, to provide a better service to voters, candidates and parties is also an idea which has been some years in the making.

In 2001, the Election Framework Taskforce conducted a comprehensive review of the electoral agency arrangements and recommended that a single electoral agency be given overarching responsibility for electoral administration, along with mandated statutory independence.

We are therefore extremely supportive of the intention to amend the Electoral Act 1993 and the Crown Entities Act 2004 to create a new independent Crown entity, an Electoral Commission.

We are interested in how to ensure long-term outcomes will be achieved through the efficient operations of the electoral administration functions of the Chief Electoral Officer and the current Electoral Commission.

And I want to share with the House a particular matter of relevance, not just for the Maori Party, but more broadly for the representation of Maori throughout this nation.

In structural terms, the bill merges the Chief Electoral Office and the current Electoral Commission; with a projected cost saving to government of 3.19% expected from the Bill.

This is all very positive – and we welcome the views of the public through the select committee process.

But we don’t just want the review to focus on the administration and the structures of our political system without actually considering a far more comprehensive look into electoral law.

Any reform of electoral law should be preceded by consultation with the public.

For us the Maori Party focus is on increasing Maori electoral participation, including a review of the Maori Electoral Option, particularly timing restraints.

We believe that electoral representation in a democracy is not only a basic human right, but it also enables our nation to move forward together.

Some of the issues that we consider useful for public feedback are particularly located around Maori electoral participation. We would be interested in the views of New Zealanders about the decisions to be identified on either the general roll or the Maori roll.

We believe that all New Zealanders should be automatically entered on to the General Roll at 18 years of age; or the Maori roll if Maori, with an option to transfer to the General Roll.

We are interested in the views of whanau, hapu and iwi as to whether electoral rolls should also have constituents identified on the basis of their iwi and hapu. Such a process could assist tribal development planning and maintenance of identity.

We welcome the feedback of Maori as to whether the Government should also extend the provision in the Census to identify tribally to the electoral roll, where tribal affiliation is also stated.

And finally, but not insignificantly, we would be interested in feedback about a proposal to amend section 45 of the Electoral Act to be consistent with section 35 of that Act, meaning that no Maori electoral district shall be situated partially in the North Island and partially in the South Island.

Sir, this has particular relevance to my colleague, Rahui Katene, as what it would mean in effect is that voters on the Maori roll would be treated equally with voters on the General roll, in that voters living in the South Island would not need to be merged with voters living in the North Island.

Mr Speaker, these are just a few of the issues we look forward to hearing back from the public in the select committee process.

We recognise that to move to a single body will be an enormous task, not easily achieved without a risk of disruption to elections; and we want to acknowledge also the high quality of officials and outcomes that have been evident in the current arrangements.

But as we move our eyes to the next generation, it is about time to review the current system, and we therefore support this Bill at its first reading.

ENDS

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