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.”
The Government has its priorities wrong by rushing through controversial law changes to give prisoners the vote while the country is in lockdown, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“The rush to pass this Bill contradicts the Prime Minister’s public assurances when Parliament was shut down that only urgent matters would be progressed.
“The Electoral Amendment Bill had its first reading on March 18th during extended sittings. The Government has shortened the normal six month Select Committee process to less than three months despite the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic.
“Justice Minister Andrew Little last week insisted the Justice Select Committee progress this Bill during the lockdown and refused to support any extension of time. This is despite the Minister telling the Committee officials would not be able to provide the usual quality of departmental report, nor be able to respond fully to information requests on the Bill by the committee.
“Justice Select Committee Chair and Labour MP Meka Whaitiri has used the Chair’s powers to set the closure date for submissions and stated she intends video conferencing submission hearings in the week of 13 April while the nation is still in lockdown.
“The Chair has ignored National’s objections in three video conference discussions with myself as the Deputy Chair. The other two Bills before the committee on sexual violence and protecting emergency responders have more relevance to the Covid-19 emergency but are proposed for extensions of time.
“It is unreasonable for New Zealanders to be expected to make rushed submissions on the this Bill when the nation is in crisis. It is worse when the Government openly states that officials won’t be able to do their normal job on the Bill.
“National MPs are working hard to support constituents during this time and shouldn’t be diverted from that work to fast-track this narrow law change. I have a tsunami of constituent problems, the most ever in my 30-years as an MP, on issues like access to Covid-19 testing, access to flu vaccines for seniors, personal protective equipment, support for seniors essential shopping, specialised foods for children, housing for the homeless and families and businesses accessing financial support.
“I call on the Justice Minister to reconsider and defer the Bill until New Zealand is through this national emergency and Parliament is back to normal.”
No progress has been made on advancing the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary over the past two years despite specific Government promises in their coalition agreements to do so, Nelson MP Nick Smith says.
“Written Parliamentary Question to Ministers reveal the Government has all but given up on advancing the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. There has been no Cabinet papers and little work by Ministers or officials on the sanctuary. There has been no meetings, no correspondence, and no official papers in more than six months.
“There is now no realistic prospect of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary being put in place during this term of Parliament, despite specific promises in the Confidence and Supply agreement with the Green Party to do so.
“Far from helping to create the new Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, the Government has blocked attempts to progress it. They have put my original Government Bill to create the sanctuary at the bottom of the work schedule and repeatedly blocked my Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Members Bill from being introduced.
“This important sanctuary would protect an area of ocean twice the land area of New Zealand and hundreds of threatened marine species. The Kermadec Sanctuary now joins a long list of policies this Government has failed to deliver on.”
Labour’s decision today to block the request of former New Zealand First President Lester Gray and former Treasurer Colin Forster is the Government covering up serious allegations of financial impropriety of its coalition partner New Zealand First, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.
“There was no good reason for blocking these senior New Zealand First officials from being heard at the Justice Select Committee on electoral law. They sought the hearing because they had serious concerns about the failure to disclose major donations, unauthorised campaign expenditure and concerns over the New Zealand First Foundation.
“They were fearful of speaking publically with threats of legal action and the Justice Committee provided a safe place for them to disclose their knowledge of what has occurred.
“Labour is part of a cover up in denying the Committee and New Zealand the opportunity to hear their concerns.
“These issues in New Zealand First go to the heart of our democracy and the result of Election 2017. New Zealanders have a right to know who were the financial backers of the Party that was decisive in the 2017 Election outcome.
“New Zealand First was the only Party that did not disclose the source of any donations and it had 10 times the value of anonymous donations of any other Party at Election 2017. It has also been revealed since that $500,000 was secretly contributed to the New Zealand First Foundation.
“Labour’s denial to allow senior New Zealand First officials to submit to the Justice Select Committee makes a joke of the Government’s commitment to be the most open and transparent Government ever.
“There could be nothing more important than the transparency of the source of funding for the Party that ultimately determined the Government.
“This is deja vu of the New Zealand First funding scandal that led to the defeat of the last Labour Government. Labour has learnt nothing and is continuing to cover for New Zealand First’s shady dealings.”
Former Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith and National’s West Coast spokesperson Maureen Pugh welcome the official opening of the Paparoa Track on the West Coast.
“The new 55km Paparoa Track between Blackball and Punakaiki and the 10km Pike29 Memorial Track to the mine site are about remembering the men whose lives were lost and providing a new economic asset for the West Coast,” Dr Smith says.
“I pay tribute to Bernie Monk and the Pike Families for initiating this project, and the Department of Conservation (DOC) staff and contractors that have seen it through.
“Funding for this Great Walk was approved by Cabinet in 2016 on the basis of estimates that, five years after opening, it would see 1,000 users each year. I’m delighted that already bookings for the first year have topped 3,000.
“It’s been a tremendous privilege to have been among the first to walk the track over the past three days. The Moonlight Tops Hut has one of the most spectacular vistas I’ve seen of the many hundreds of DOC huts I’ve stayed in around New Zealand.”
“Tourism is a vital part of the West Coast economy and the new Paparoa Great Walk will bring thousands of trampers and mountain bikers to the region. It’s significant because it’s the only Great Walk that’s exclusively on the Coast,” Mrs Pugh says.
“The new track is so important to ensuring we never forget the tragedy of Pike River and the 29 lost men. The Memorial Track down to the mine site will allow people to access this area of the National Park and pay their respects.”
The Government’s Referendum Bill which was reported back to Parliament last night from the Justice Select Committee is unfair and undemocratic, National’s Electoral Law Spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“The Government is playing fast and loose with referendum at next year’s election. It is manipulating the rules to satisfy NZ First and the Greens and to get the referendum result it wants.
“It is wrong that this Referendum Bill transfers the decision on the topics and wording of referendum at next year’s election from Parliament to Cabinet. Every previous referendum since 1853 held at a general election has been determined by Parliament.
“The Government’s justification for this change that ‘Parliament cannot be trusted’ is deeply concerning.
“The Government’s own officials said the Bill is contrary to ‘free and fair elections’. While former MP Peter Dunne has described the bill as ‘Putin-esque’ and ‘reminiscent of the plebiscite approach adopted in countries where democracy in any form is but the thinnest of veneers.’
“It is inconsistent for the Government to be supporting a referendum on euthanasia but not on abortion, when both are sensitive life and death issues at the beginning and end of life. It is also inconsistent that Parliament is having a say on the topic and wording on the euthanasia referendum, but being excluded from any input on the referendum for recreational cannabis.
“The hypocrisy of the Referendum Bill is that it only applies to the 2020 Election. This is the Government writing the election’s rules to suit itself but not wanting any future Government to have these new powers.
“It is also inappropriate for the Government to be setting up a new unit in the Ministry of Justice to manage and monitor the public debate on these referendum. The Government has a clear preference of outcome on these referendum and any controls on free speech need to be completely independent such as the Electoral Commission.
“National wants a consistent and principled approach. We need to respect our democratic traditions. The topics and wording of questions for referendum at General Elections needs to be subject to a proper public and parliamentary process.”
The problems with Census 2018 continue with the population data out today, a year late, and the scramble to complete electorate boundaries for the 2020 election, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.
“It is difficult to have confidence in today’s population figures and the decisions on the allocation of General, Maori and List seats when 16 per cent of New Zealanders did not complete Census 2018 and when Statistics New Zealand acknowledges eight per cent of people cannot be placed in a specific place.
“National’s preference was for Election 2020 to be conducted on the same boundaries as for 2017 and for a new census to be conducted in 2021.
“The timetable is becoming incredibly tight with the new electoral boundaries now not to be finalised until April 2020 and the election scheduled to be only a few months after that.
“The key issue for National is the accuracy of this population data. It is inevitable that the backfilling of data for the 800,000 people who did not complete the census will not be as reliable.
“National has doubts as to whether these numbers are sufficiently robust for determining the boundaries for electorates for the 2020 Election.
“We will be closely scrutinising today’s reports and the process through the Representation Commission to determine whether we can have confidence in the final outcome.”
The Government must reconsider its Referendum Framework Bill after its own Legislative Design and Advisory Committee (LDAC) has criticised it as being against free and fair elections, National’s Electoral Law Spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“The LDAC has raised concerns that the Executive’s power to frame questions to be put in front of voters at the time of a General Election, without Parliamentary input, creates a power imbalance between the branches of Government.
“The Committee has warned that giving the Executive a broad power to procure a referendum and frame the wording of it, would bring into question the neutrality and impartiality of free and fair elections.
“Alarm bells are ringing over this Bill. The Law Society says it compromises public engagement and representative democracy and the Regulations Review Committee says it contains ‘Henry the Eighth’ type powers.
“Officials have rightly highlighted the parallels between this Bill and the constitutional mess in the United Kingdom over the Brexit Referendum. That situation has seen the Conservative Government unable to internally resolve its issues over European Union membership. We could see a similar stagnation in process in New Zealand given the differences between coalition parties over recreational cannabis use.
“The Government is making a hash of the recreational cannabis referendum and tarnishing New Zealand’s democratic traditions through this shambolic process.
“The Government should heed this critical advice, withdraw the Bill and introduce a new Bill that sets out detailed wording and process specifically for the cannabis referendum.”
The LDAC’s concerns can be found here.
National rejects the proposals for Māori being given an ownership interest in freshwater as proposed by the Waitangi Tribunal report, National’s Crown-Māori Relations spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“National has consistently and sensibly maintained that no one owns freshwater. We urge the Government to reject the more radical recommendations in this report on water ownership. The Government is creating uncertainty and confusion by not clearly ruling out Māori having an ownership interest in freshwater.
“Water is a public resource, like air. Māori have a right to be involved in decision making on freshwater and National provided for that in changes to the Resource Management Act and Treaty Settlements. Transferring ownership or providing a veto to iwi over water is a step too far.
“The confusion in Government over Māori rights to freshwater is a product of the messy coalition. NZ First promised to repeal National’s provisions for iwi participation in water management whereas the Green and Labour parties promised to go further.
“New Zealand is richly blessed with huge freshwater resources with only two per cent extracted for use. A debate over ownership is an unhelpful distraction from the important work to improve freshwater management so as to achieve better water quality and further economic opportunities.”
The Government’s policy on referenda at the next election is contradictory, confusing and a mess, National’s Electoral Law Spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“New Zealand’s democracy deserves much better than this Government’s shenanigans on the different referenda being considered for Election 2020.
“We have Ministers contradicting each other and accusing each other of acting in bad faith. It is particularly galling that the Government has introduced a Bill that gives Cabinet the power to have whatever referendum it likes at the next election and set the wording, saying ‘Parliament can’t be trusted’.
“The Government is saying that Cabinet alone will decide on the referendum for recreational cannabis use, but takes a difficult stance on whether there will be a referendum on euthanasia or abortion. These differing approaches have everything to do with the internal politics of the Government, rather than what is best for New Zealand or a good decision making process.
“The Government is not giving the public any opportunity to have a say on the wording of any of the referenda, despite every previous referendum held at a general election since 1853 having a robust process for public input.
“The question I sought to ask of the Minister of Justice was perfectly reasonable and deserves an answer. I wanted to ask; Why does he support a referendum on euthanasia, a sensitive issue at the end of life, but not on abortion, a sensitive issue at the beginning of life?
“It is disgraceful that the Speaker blocked me asking this question and then removed me from Parliament when I objected.
“The Government is playing fast and loose on referenda for political reasons. The issue of what referenda are held at elections and the wording needs care and a robust process that includes public input.”