Labour must abandon local election power grab

It’s promising that Chris Hipkins has listened to National’s concerns over an electoral power grab buried in a Covid-19 bill, National’s Local Government spokesperson Christopher Luxon says.

“The Government is proposing to give itself the power to repeatedly delay local body elections through a change hidden quietly in the COVID-19 Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill.

“This bill allows the Government to adjourn local elections multiple times without constraint – and not just in an election year, but the year after as well.

“As an example, it would let the Government delay one of next year’s council elections by six weeks at a time, right through to the end of 2023.

“The apparent reason for this draconian change is so local elections can be more flexibly managed during a pandemic – forgetting that both the Government and councils already have flexibility around elections, and despite the Government’s proclaimed commitment to ending lockdowns, which calls the need for this change into question.

“Labour has failed to explain why this power is being pre-emptively granted now, rather than next year if it were clearly needed then.

“If the Government is serious about meeting vaccination targets and opening up the country, this power is even harder to fathom.

“What’s more, this is a permanent change without a sunset clause, or expiry date – meaning it applies not just to the 2022 elections, but to local body elections into the future.

“It’s inconceivable Labour are using a sweeping Covid bill, being rammed through Parliament under a shortened timeframe, with almost no proper public consultation, to make an enduring electoral change.

“This is lawmaking at its absolute worst.

“However, we’re cautiously optimistic about Minister Hipkins’ quiet admission today that he has heard National’s concerns, and will be taking an amendment to Parliament next week.

“The electoral changes should have never been included in the bill in the first place. The Government’s amendment should do nothing less than remove them altogether.

“Hopefully the Government’s sudden reversal is a sign it will do the same on its Three Waters asset grab plan, and listen to the tens of thousands of New Zealanders demanding that it be dumped – but we won’t hold out much hope.”