The Ardern-Peters Government should withdraw its Bill that enables party leaders to dismiss an MP from Parliament following unanimous opposition to it, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.
“All three governing parties appeared shocked by the strength of the 43 submissions in opposition to the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill.
“We have had over 20 constitutional law experts from four universities, the Human Rights Commission, the Law Society, two former Speakers, former Green MPs and even the Clerk of the House of Representatives express strong concerns about it.
“There was not a single submission that supported the Bill’s purpose to allow a party leader to dismiss an elected constituency MP, and only two supporting the provision for list MPs.
“The major objection from submitters is that it increases the power of party leaders at the expense of MPs and voters, that it will have a chilling effect on the free speech of MPs in Parliament, and that it breaches the Bill of Rights.
“Other concerns include the effect of undermining the requirement for governments to retain the confidence of the House, the damage it will do to New Zealand's reputation on democracy and human rights, and preventing the evolution of new political parties.
“This Bill has become an early test to as whether the Coaliton Government takes the parliamentary and select committee process seriously.
“It would be breathtakingly arrogant for the Government to pass legislation - particularly on constitutional and electoral matters against this unanimous chorus of submissions opposing it.
“The fundamental problem with this Bill is that it has never been about improving our Parliament democracy but about propping up this fragile government.
“We must not undo centuries-old democratic principles for the vain ambition of Mr Peters to have absolute power over his New Zealand First MPs. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Dr Smith says.
The Government’s Electoral Integrity Bill which would enable party leaders to dismiss an MP if the leader believes the MP distorts the proportionality of Parliament has hit further problems by clashing with the Parliamentary Privilege Act 2014, National Party spokesperson for Electoral Law Dr Nick Smith says.
“This flagship policy from the Ardern-Peters Government has hit the rocks by clashing with the Bill of Rights and is now taking on water because it also conflicts with the Parliamentary Privilege Act,” Dr Smith says.
“The Government has come under significant pressure and criticism on this draconian electoral Bill and the Justice Minister needs to pull this Bill before it sinks.
“The Government’s electoral Bill enables a party leader to dismiss an MP when the leader reasonably believes that proportionality of Parliament had been distorted.
“However, the only check on this broad ranging power given to party leaders is the courts, yet this power has been hamstrung by the Parliamentary Privilege Act which prohibits the courts from questioning or inquiring into voting records, debates or the proceedings of Parliament.
“The Bill has already been dammed by over twenty legal and political academics for breaching the Bill of Rights in respect of freedom of speech and freedom of association.
“Even the Attorney-General has admitted the Bill will have ‘a chilling effect on an MP’s freedom to express themselves inside and outside the House’.
“This Bill contradicts New Zealand’s democratic traditions of respect for free speech, the separation of powers from the courts and tolerance of dissent.”
Justice Minister Andrew Little should not be lecturing the world in Geneva on human rights when he is breaching them at home, National’s Electoral Law Spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.
“It is hypocritical of Mr Little to be lecturing the world on human rights and democracy when his first bill as Minister, enabling party leaders to dismiss MPs from Parliament, breaches basic human rights of freedom of speech at home.
“There is no more important place for free speech than in the Parliament. Mr Little’s electoral law change will have a chilling effect on free speech. It breaches the Bill of Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“Twenty legal and political academics, including eight professors from the Universities of Auckland, AUT, Victoria, Canterbury and Otago released a submission opposing the law change and attesting to the breach of the Bill of Rights.
“Mr Little should visit the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) while in Geneva to get an understanding of how badly his proposed law changes would damage New Zealand’s good reputation for democracy and human rights. The IPU has described such laws as a breach of ‘fundamental human rights’ and said that they create ‘political party dictatorships.’
“It would put New Zealand in the company of only a few authoritarian regimes like Pakistan Zimbabwe, and the Central African Republic that have such draconian electoral laws. The Minister in the House today was unable to name a single country that has high standards of democracy and human rights that has such provisions as proposed for New Zealand.
“The Supreme Court in Papua New Guinea in 2010 struck down similar laws, saying they breached the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Bill of Rights. Mr Little needs to explain why laws unacceptable to PNG are acceptable to New Zealand.
“The Government cannot justify this draconian law change on the basis of MMP. Germany has had MMP for over 70 years and has no such provisions, because it would breach their constitution approved by the Allies like New Zealand to prevent a repeat of the atrocities of World War II.
“The Government must abandon this unjust attack on our democracy and the rights of free speech of MPs before it seriously damages New Zealand’s reputation as a free and open democracy.”
The Government must reconsider amendments to the Electoral Act enabling party leaders to dismiss MPs from Parliament following today’s damning submission from leading political and legal academics, National’s Electoral Law Spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“This chorus of condemnation from such a large group of political and legal academics shows what a dog this Bill is. It is unprecedented for so many experts to come out so united against a Government electoral law change.
“These 19 academics, from five universities including seven professors, conclude that this Bill breaches the Bill of Rights.
“Their evidence is unequivocal that these electoral law changes are flawed, will harm our democracy and will give party leaders too much power. It rightly argues that voters, and voters alone, must reserve the right to hire and fire MPs through the ballot box.
“The Government would be wise to withdraw this Bill in the wake of such damning criticism. It is trying to fix a problem from 20 years ago when MMP was introduced and 25 MPs switched parties, but which has been resolved by voters ejecting the opportunists and re-electing those who did so on justifiable grounds.
“The Bill makes the flawed assumption that all MPs who fall out with their party are unprincipled and lack integrity. It undermines core Kiwi values of freedom of expression and tolerance of dissent.
“Governments must exercise restraint in electoral law changes and the convention has developed that significant changes require a supermajority. This Bill sets an awful and dangerous precedent where a party with only seven per cent support has used its leverage in government formation to force permanent changes to electoral law that undermine democracy.
“This is a crude power grab by Winston Peters to give him absolute power over his MPs in this fragile government, but which dangerously converts New Zealand into what the Inter Parliamentary Union calls a party dictatorship.
“Fundamentally this Bill is an attack on basic democratic values and centuries-old freedom of speech in our Parliament. National will oppose the Bill at every step and with every tool available.”
The Government’s policy of a billion more trees is being directly contradicted by its decision to scrap years of work on Māori land reform, National’s Forestry and Māori Development spokespersons Dr Nick Smith and Nuk Korako say.
“The Government needs a million hectares to deliver on its promised one billion more trees and has identified underutilised Māori land as the key opportunity. The problem is that it has just scrapped the very Te Ture Whenua reforms that would enable this land to be used for forestry – and admitted part of the problem is the difficulty of using Maori land,” Dr Smith says.
“Regions like Northland and the Bay of Plenty are the worst victims of this muddled policy. There is over 500,000 hectares of Māori land in these regions, with at least half of that suitable for forestry but inaccessible because of the bureaucracy of current Māori land law.”
“It is extraordinary that Forestry Minister Shane Jones is blaming the fact he can’t deliver on his 100 million trees promise this year on the difficulty of getting approval to use Māori land when his Government has just scrapped the very reforms that would solve this problem,” Mr Korako says
“Labour and New Zealand First only have themselves to blame for this mess. They have scrapped the six years of hard work put into the Te Ture Whenua reforms and must now accept responsibility for the lost economic opportunity for Māori – a work programme which would have helped create jobs and boost incomes and regional economies - and for not being able to deliver on their flagship billion tree promise.
“It is time for Labour and New Zealand First to do what is right for Māori. They played cynical politics by previously opposing the TPP, but with some window dressing, are now supporting it. They need to do the same on the Te Ture Whenua Bill and give Māori the tools to create wealth and jobs off their own land.”
The new Government’s target to plant a billion trees in ten years is rapidly turning into a fanciful mirage, National Party MPs Simon Bridges and Nick Smith say.
“We learnt on Friday that Regional Development Minister Shane Jones is now hoping to plant just five million extra trees this year,” Regional Development Spokesperson Mr Bridges says.
“At 5 million trees a year, it would take 200 years to achieve a billion trees. I know Mr Jones is not the hardest worker but stretching a ten year target out to 200 years would be an impressive under-achievement even for him.”
Forestry Spokesperson Nick Smith says this back down on the flagship forestry policy is hugely embarrassing and damaging to the Government’s economic and environmental credibility.
“The Government initially promised 100 million extra trees per year. This was then cut in half by including 50 million trees already being planted each year. The latest back down further reduces the new planting planned for this year to only five million,” Mr Smith says.
“The new target for 2018 is now no different from what is already happening. An average of 55 million trees were planted each year over the last seven years, increasing to 62.5 million in 2016, the last year of full data. The Minister’s new promise of 55 million trees being planted this year is barely any promise at all.”
Mr Bridges says this change in target is on top of plans to change the overseas investment rules so the values of forest investments drop significantly. That will only decrease forest plantings.
“We are three months in and not a single tree has been planted - so the Government is around 24 million trees behind target already.
“The Labour-led Government is already getting a reputation for lots of talk and no follow-through in regional New Zealand. Labour MPs at their Caucus this weekend need to think about what they’re actually going to do for the regions.
“As with Mr Jones’ Work for the Dole scheme and the Government’s unclear plans for the Opotiki Harbour and regional immigration, this is another policy that is a slogan without anything behind it. It is simply a mirage,” Mr Bridges says.
Government Minister Dr Nick Smith has paid tribute to the New Zealand servicemen who fought in the Battle of Passchendaele a century ago at commemorations today in Belgium.
“The 12th of October 1917 at Passchendaele was the worst loss of life in New Zealand history, with 843 soldiers killed that day. We remember the courage and sacrifice of these brave men in atrocious conditions and pay tribute to their service to our country and the values they stood for,” Dr Smith says.
“The huge losses New Zealand suffered on the Western Front during World War 1 exceeded those for all other battles and all other wars, with Passchendaele being the worst. These tragic campaigns contributed to New Zealand having the highest per capita loss of life of any country during WW1.”
Dr Smith attended the official commemorations at Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery in the world, containing the graves of 520 New Zealanders. Prince William attended on behalf of the Queen and Princess Astrid of Belgium on behalf of King Philippe, along with many New Zealanders, including Speaker of the House Hon David Carter.
The New Zealand Passchendaele Centennial Memorial and Garden in Belgium were also opened as part of the commemorations. Ceremonies concluded at sunset at Buttes New British Cemetery in Polygon Wood, where 95 Kiwis are buried and where the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing records the names of 388 New Zealanders who died near there but have no known grave.
“The losses at Passchendaele were so huge that most New Zealand families have a connection to a fallen soldier. It has added poignancy to the commemorations and my visit to have found the gravesite of my wife’s relative, Private Nelson Newport of the 2nd Battalion Canterbury Regiment, who was killed in action during the Battle of Passchendaele.
“We owe it to the memory of the thousands of New Zealanders who died under horrendous conditions on the Western Front in places like Passchendaele to value the freedom, liberty and justice they fought for and to constantly strive for peace so as to avoid repeats of such tragic conflicts in future.”
Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith has today paid tribute to the service given by David Bedford as a commissioner, appointed councillor and chair of Environment Canterbury during the past seven years.
“Mr Bedford, who was appointed an ECan commissioner in 2010 in recognition of his strong commercial and governance experience, has resigned due to ill health. He and fellow commissioners have done an outstanding job in turning ECan from being one the worst performers in local government to one of the best,” Dr Smith says.
“I particularly acknowledge Mr Bedford’s work as ECan chair for the past year, during which time he has successfully transitioned the governance of the council to the mixed model of elected and appointed councillors in preparation for full election in 2019.
“Mr Bedford has played a pivotal role in advancing significant air quality improvements, assisting with regional transport issues and in implementing tighter water quality and allocation plans across the region.
“Canterbury is indebted to him for his years of service to ECan at a difficult time, involving major organisational changes and the challenges of the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes. I know the people of North Canterbury have been particularly appreciative of his work and his willingness to listen, and his work on the zone committees in Hurunui and Kaikoura.
“I have today thanked Mr Bedford for his service, on behalf of the Government. I also met today with chief executive and acting chairman Steve Lowndes. The intention is for ECan to continue with the acting chair until a new Government is formed and a decision made on Mr Bedford’s replacement.”
Claims by the Green Party that its polls show it is going to win the Nelson seat this Saturday shows just how desperate they have become since their slump in the polls says Nelson MP Nick Smith.
“The Green Party is push polling in an attempt to manipulate Saturday’s result with alternative facts in the last week before the election,” Dr Smith says.
“This sort of polling is banned in some countries and it reflects poorly on the Greens that they have resorted to this tactic to try and save themselves.
Push polling is when a poll is conducted in such a biased way that rather than trying to predict the election outcome, it tries to skew it by asking leading questions.
“The poll question ‘Which candidate between the Green’s Matt Lawrey and Labour’s Rachel Boyack will beat Nick Smith?’ will never give a fair reading of public opinion on who is going to win the election,” Dr Smith says.
“The poll question is also at odds with the Memorandum of Understanding between Labour and the Greens, undermining how they could work together in any Government.
“I have been contacted by dozens of Nelsonians offended by the poll and this underhand tactic, who rightly refused to participate. The fact that most respondents when faced with such a biased question, still indicated their support, shows the strength of my support.
“Green Party Leader James Shaw needs to distance himself from his Nelson candidate rather than support him for his poor judgement or risk even further degrading the Green Party’s already seriously damaged brand.”