The Government is abusing the pandemic lockdown by forcing the Justice Select Committee to rush hearings on its prisoner voting bill tomorrow, National’s Electoral Law Spokesperson Nick Smith says.

“It’s wrong the Justice Select Committee is holding rushed hearings on this controversial bill giving prisoners the vote when the nation is in lockdown.

“Parliament is meant to be adjourned except for urgent pandemic business. Justice Minister Andrew Little has told the committee that officials cannot provide the normal support and advice on the bill because of the national emergency but insists it be rushed through.

“The Government has deferred other bills on sexual violence laws and increasing protection for first responders but the Minister and Labour Chair Meka Whaitiri are insisting the committee rush the prisoner voting law through.

“Labour is effectively saying the rights of prisoners are more important and a higher priority than victims of sexual violence or frontline emergency workers like ambulance officers.

“The normal six months Select Committee consideration has been reduced to less than half, the Chair has used her powers without the committee’s support to close submissions early and hearings on submissions are being forced before those submissions are closed.

“Labour had ample opportunity with the other four electoral amendment bills during this term of Parliament to include this change. It’s also ignoring the advice of the Electoral Commission who told Parliament last year any law changes needed to be settled six months before an election to enable it to be effectively implemented

“National holds the view, like with the UK and Australia, that losing the right to vote is one of the liberties lost when someone commits a serious enough offence to be sent to prison. We are also concerned about the practicalities of prisoners voting when they are rightly restricted from access to information and from campaigning activities like meeting candidates.

“Respect for New Zealand’s democratic traditions are vital at this time of crisis and national emergency when the Government is making unprecedented controls and decisions impacting on New Zealanders lives. The normal convention is that Government electoral bills are subject to wide consultation and a thorough parliamentary process.

“Labour is putting its own electoral interest ahead of a national crisis by rushing this law change. The Prime Minister needs to step in and stop this Select Committee charade.”

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