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.”
New Zealand’s democracy is being treated with disrespect by the Government’s rushed and unconventional changes to electoral and referendum law, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“The Government is playing fast and loose with New Zealand’s electoral and referendum law, creating uncertainty and confusion for the 2020 general election.
“The Government’s Referendum Bill gives Cabinet absolute power over what referenda are to be held and the wording of questions. This excludes the public and Parliament.
“It is unprecedented looking back across all of the previous 20 referenda that have been held at general elections since 1853.
“It is shabby that New Zealanders who have differing views on abortion, recreational cannabis legalisation and euthanasia do not know what referenda are to be held next year, and that they are being denied the opportunity to have a say on the wording of questions.
“Ministers are showing contempt for democracy by adopting a ‘we won-you lost’ and ‘Parliament can’t be trusted’ attitude to justify making all the decisions on referenda.
“The convention on electoral law is that changes follow the Justice Select Committee triennial Election Inquiry and are consulted on with opposition parties, as well as being subject to a full select committee process. This Government’s Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill, Referendum Framework Bill and Electoral Amendment Bill have all breached these conventions.
“It’s easy to see why the Government has not followed proper process. It was sneaky for Justice Minister Andrew Little to last month announce same-day enrolment and voting but to not tell New Zealanders this meant the final election results and formation of the new Government would be delayed by ten days.
“These problems over electoral law and what referenda are held at the 2020 election are the product of Government incompetence and the dysfunctionality between its three parties.
“Labour should not have left the triennial Election Inquiry so late and then added foreign interference and local elections to the terms of reference.
“It should have sorted out long before now how it would deliver on its promise to the Greens of a referendum on recreational cannabis. It also failed to manage NZ First’s long held promise that a referendum would be held on abortion and euthanasia.
“These rushed and messy changes to electoral law expose the vulnerability of this country’s democracy. National will have policies at the next election to secure a fairer and more robust democracy for New Zealand.”
The Government’s Referendum Bill, giving itself control over what issues and questions will be put at the 2020 election is undemocratic and wrong, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“It is an outrageous abuse of power for this Government to be taking away from Parliament and the public the opportunity to have a say on what referenda will be held, and their wording, at the 2020 election.
“The conduct of elections and referenda must not be the purview of the Government of the day. It has always been subject to robust Parliamentary and public processes to ensure the election and referendum outcome are not manipulated.
“Referendum topics and questions are politically sensitive and constitutionally significant. The wording of a question can bias the result. The topics can affect the election result by increasing participation of particular groups.
“Multiple referendums can distract from the core issues of the election, disadvantaging the Opposition. Parliamentary and public scrutiny of referenda is required to ensure fairness.”
“This Bill makes a mockery of the planned referendum on cannabis. Officials advised the most robust process was for a detailed Bill to be passed by Parliament, only taking effect if adopted in a referendum, as was used for MMP and the flag.
“We now have the farcical position where Parliament and the public is not even going to get a say on the cannabis referendum question.
“This undemocratic process is highlighted by the Bill only applying to the 2020 Election. It is also an affront to good parliamentary practice that this Bill, like Labour’s two other electoral law changes, has not involved any consultation with Opposition parties.
“This Bill is setting a dangerous precedent where elections and electoral law are becoming the plaything of the Government of the day.
“This Government is tainting New Zealand’s proud tradition as one of the oldest and fairest democracies in the world. It has amended our electoral law to enable a party leader to dismiss an MP who disagrees, to satisfy NZ First. Now this Bill gives carte blanche for the Government to hold referenda, to satisfy the Greens on cannabis.
“We should not be messing around with our electoral law and the conduct of elections to satisfy the demands of minor parties to hold a coalition together.
“National will vigorously oppose this Bill. These electoral shenanigans reinforce the need for reform to better protect New Zealand’s democracy.”
Revelations that three government departments have been conducting polling into people’s political persuasions is wrong and compromises the political neutrality of the public service, says National’s State Services spokesperson Nick Smith.
“Government Departments polling people on their political views is plain wrong. It is a waste of public money and it blurs the boundary between the State and political parties. The practice must end to protect the political neutrality of the public service.
“The sort of polling done by Inland Revenue corrodes public confidence in the public service. It risks policy advice being targeted towards the supporters of whomever may be in Government when we want tax policy that is good for all New Zealanders.
“There is a worrying trend under this Government of its departments and others doing work that Ministers and MPs should be doing themselves.
“We have more than 200 working groups doing the job of developing policy that should have been done in when Labour was in Opposition. We have taxpayer funded contractors like Sir Michael Cullen attacking the Opposition. We now have departments doing polling work that should be left to political parties.
“New Zealand needs to jealously guard our democratic traditions where there is a clear separation between the state and political parties.
“These Government agencies need to fess up the amount they have spent on these dubious polls and the State Services Commissioner needs to put an end to any more being done.”
The Government must act on the strong support for roadside drug testing in the findings of a Coroner’s report into the tragic Waverley crash that killed seven people, Nelson MP Nick Smith says.
In paragraph 33 of Coroner Tim Scott’s findings, he says: “I have noticed that there is a ‘groundswell’ of opinion to support such testing and I add my voice (here) in support of such random roadside drug testing.”
“The coroner’s findings must shake the Government out of its complacency over drug-impaired driving. The Coroner explicitly identifies cannabis as the cause of this horrific crash and adds to the groundswell of public support for random roadside drug testing,” Dr Smith says.
“The findings add weight to Matthew’s Petition calling for the urgent introduction of random roadside drug testing. It was started by Karen Dow whose son Matthew was killed by a drugged-driver in Nelson. The families of the Waverley victims joined with Karen to push for change.
“Random roadside drug testing could have prevented this horrific Waverley crash and these seven tragic deaths. The driver had incurred a number of demerit points in recent years, showing he was being pulled over by police, and we know from his partner that he was a regular cannabis user.
“This crash in June 2018 was particularly horrific, but every week people are being killed by drug-impaired drivers. Fatalities from crashes involving drug-impaired drivers have increased from 14 to more than 70 in the past four years.
“This Government has a blind spot when it comes to addressing this serious road safety problem because of its broader policy to liberalise access to recreational cannabis.
“The Government erred 18 months ago by not picking up the comprehensive recommendations from Police and Transport officials for introducing random roadside drug testing. Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter was wrong to say she was ‘unimpressed’ by the recommendations, and that saliva testing was ‘too intrusive’. The Government also made a mistake by voting down and blocking National’s bills to get testing introduced.
“The Government’s recent discussion document on drug-impaired drivers is hugely watered down from what was proposed by officials, and is more focused on the problems of introducing random roadside drug testing than the positives.
“With submissions on the discussion document closing today, the anniversary of this horrific Waverley crash and this potent Coroner’s report, the Government has no excuses for not getting on urgently with implementing roadside drug testing.”
The state sector will be more expensive, less accountable and more centralised under the Government’s proposed reforms, National’s State Services spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“These reforms will deliver a bigger and more centralised State Sector. It will mean more taxpayer money going into Wellington bureaucracy and less into the important front-line public services that New Zealanders use every day.
“It will make our Health Boards less responsive to community needs and the dozens of other public institutions like Callaghan Innovation and Antarctica New Zealand more bureaucratic and less innovative.
“These reforms repeat this Government’s errors with KiwiBuild and the Polytechnic reform in believing that bigger government is better government. The failure of KiwiBuild shows that centralised government agencies cannot build houses faster or more cheaply. Nor will centralising New Zealand’s 16 Polytechnics into a mega-polytechnic deliver better skills training.
“National is not convinced of the need to rename and rebrand the State Services Commission into a new Public Service Commission. This is change for changes sake and a further waste of public money.
“There are some changes in these reforms that National can support. It is useful to enable public servants to move more easily between different agencies, this is something we championed while in Government. There are also some useful changes that make the process of re-organising state agencies more efficient.
“These state sector reforms are a recipe for a bloated bureaucracy. The Government has already appointed a record number of Ministers and working groups. The core state sector is growing at the fastest rate in over a decade. National will be pushing back on this expansionist view of the public service and seeking a greater focus on value for money and quality in our public services.”