The Government’s actions today, blocking the public release of the Justice Select Committee draft report on the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill, shows the extent it will go to hide critical advice on the Bill, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.
“This Government is going to unprecedented lengths to hide critical advice and the poor process on this Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill because it exposes just how bad this undemocratic Bill is for New Zealand’s democracy.”
Labour members of the Justice Select Committee blocked a report on the Bill being published last Thursday and the Government today in Parliament denied leave for the draft report prepared by the Clerk’s Office to be tabled, earning a rebuke from the Speaker.
“These actions come on top of the Government reversing years of practice, by refusing to release officials’ advice on the Bill’s compliance with the Bill of Rights,” Dr Smith says.
“We also had the very unusual situation of the select committee unanimously inviting these officials to appear before the committee who then refused to attend.
“The devious ways this Government has blocked the publication of reports and advice on this Bill makes a complete mockery of its commitment to be the most open and transparent Government ever.
“It is bad enough that this Government is undoing a 330-year-old principle that voters alone get to fire MPs, by giving this power to party leaders, but it is even worse that it is doing so through a dodgy process and against the views of the majority of Parliament.”
The Justice Select Committee’s failure to make changes or report on the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill is an indictment on the Government’s respect for good parliamentary process, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.
“The committee was unable to consider any amendments, nor get any advice from officials on key issues. Government MPs simply stated the Bill had to be reported back to the House unamended to meet the demands of Winston Peters.
“This Bill received a torrent of opposing submissions from 21 constitutional experts, former Speakers, former Green MPs, the Human Rights Commission, the Law Society and even the Clerk of the House of Representatives.
“In fact, not a single submission supported the Bill without amendment yet the Government insisted it be progressed as is. The Ministry of Justice would not provide any views on the Bill and simply stated it was Government policy to pass it unamended.
“The process over the critical issue of compliance with the Bill of Rights made a complete joke of the Government’s promise to be the most open and transparent ever. Constitutional experts said it breached the Bill of Rights and previous officials’ advice from earlier versions of the legislation said the same.
“The Government refused to release officials’ advice on Bill of Rights compliance even though it has been long-standing practice to make such advice public. It was also unusual for officials to refuse a unanimous request of the committee to appear and give evidence.
“National moved motions to require the officials and the Attorney General to appear and to get independent advice on Bill of Rights compliance. These were voted down by Labour members of the committee.
“It was Labour’s decision to block a factual report on what occurred around the Bill of Rights from being included in the select committee report that led to the committee being unable to agree to a report to the House.”
The Justice Select Committee is equally split with four Labour and four National members and was unable to agree on the Bill’s progression. The Bill was automatically reported back to the House with all submissions and advice being released at midnight.
“The offensive part of this Bill is enabling a party leader to dismiss an MP, a provision demanded by Mr Peters to enable him to wield even more power. It’s particularly outrageous that this Bill is proposing to be passed when a majority of Parliament oppose it.
“It is an affront to the core Kiwi values of freedom of speech, tolerance of dissent, and democracy. National will continue to fight this Bill every step of the way,” Dr Smith says.
Government changes to New Zealand MMP electoral law enabling a party leader to dismiss an MP would break the constitutional law Allied Powers put in place following the end of the Second World War, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.
“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. In fact, the Human Rights Commission has drawn to Parliament’s attention that it would be ironic and wrong for New Zealand to have insisted on specific democratic protections in Germany, but to be breaching those protections at home,” Dr Smith says.
It is not just Germany that has constitutional protections for MPs’ free speech. The European Court has over-ridden similar laws like those being proposed for New Zealand as undemocratic. The Supreme Court in Papua New Guinea struck down similar laws there in 2010.
New Zealand is putting itself in the company of totalitarian states like Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Sierra Leone with these electoral law changes.
“In these countries, Members of Parliament have been dismissed for challenging corruption in their own Government, for participating in a press conference without their leaders consent and for voting in Parliament differently to how their leaders instructed them. The Government is opening up the risk of this happening in New Zealand.
“New Zealanders should be deeply concerned that changes are being made to our electoral law that would be illegal and unconstitutional in most parts of the world. At a time when autocratic rulers are on the rise, New Zealand should be strengthening and not weakening our protections for democracy and free speech.
“This draconian bill that the Government accepts will have a ‘chilling effect on the expression of dissenting views by MPs’ must be abandoned.”
Stats NZ’s admission that over 400,000 New Zealanders were not counted in this year’s census raises serious questions for the Government to answer, National’s spokesperson for State Services Nick Smith says.
“Census 2018 has turned into a shambles with the lowest participation rate in over fifty years. The Government must figure out what went so wrong and how the serious flow on problems for the public sector can be rectified,” Dr Smith says.
“The data for over 400,000 people is missing – that’s the equivalent of the population of Christchurch. This will compromise the quality of the statistics.
“Stats NZ yesterday delayed publication of the statistics from October 2018 to March 2019 so they can fill the hole using 2013 Census data and computer modelling. This is at a time of strong population growth and turns what would usually be reliable statistics into guesswork. Any assumptions about the make-up of the 400,000 will significantly distort the statistics.
“There is over $10 billion of health funding allocated to the twenty DHBs each year based on census population data. The funding formula for the operating grants for our 2500 schools is derived from the census as are decisions about the allocation of resources in social services, police, sports, transport and many other services.
“It also has major implications for the Representation Commission. The number of general and Maori electorates in Parliament are determined by the Census and the process for determining the new boundaries was due to start in November.
“Changes in population figures as small as 1 per cent can impact on whether there is, for instance, an extra or the removal of one of the Maori electorates. This process will now not be able to start until April next year and the compromised statistics will affect the integrity of the make-up and boundaries for the 2020 and 2023 elections.
“The Minister and Chief Statistician must accept responsibility for this debacle. They rejected serious concerns about the excessive reliance on online census returns, repeatedly reassuring the public of the census’s success.
“Reports that high need people including the elderly, those in rural communities and those with disabilities faced greater problems in participating in the 2018 Census are also particularly concerning.
“The public need answers on went wrong and what reliability the public sector will be able to place on the 2018 Census data given the size of the hole in the data and the door needs to be left open to bringing forward the 2023 census if it is found that the data is compromised.”
The Government’s must ensure that its decision to remove the cap on public service numbers will not see bureaucracy spiral out of control as it did under the last Labour Government, National’s State Services spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“Between 2003 and 2008 under Labour, public service expenditure grew by 50 per cent with no improvement in outcomes for New Zealanders.
“Today’s announcement carries the risk that we’ll see another blowout of the public service and taxpayers’ money will again be frittered away on pointless bureaucracy.
“It comes at a time when the Government has outsourced most of its work to 122 working groups which could cost up to $1 million each.
“There is little point in boosting the public service’s policy capacity when the Government on key decisions like ending oil and gas has sought no advice and extraordinarily made decisions without going to Cabinet.
“The previous National Government introduced the cap on the number of core public service staff so that public sector agencies would have to work smarter and more efficiently, and ensure that taxpayers’ dollars were spent more wisely.
“The Government bureaucracy will always be biased towards funding policy advisors and administrators in Wellington over putting the money into frontline services for New Zealanders. We will be closely monitoring this change of policy because it risks taxpayers’ money for important services instead being wasted on paper pushing.
“The Government must ensure that removing the cap will not mean millions more being spent on a bloated bureaucracy and that any increase in public service spending will come with better outcomes for New Zealanders.”
The State Services Commission must immediately investigate the relationship between the Labour Party and the Department of Internal Affairs’ Office of Ethnic Communities, National’s State Services spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“An article in last week’s Onehunga Community News says the Office of Ethnic Communities is moving into an Onehunga office with Labour list MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan.
“In the article Labour’s Parliamentary Undersecretary to the Minister of Ethnic Communities, Michael Wood, says ‘we have boosted the support that we’re providing in terms with connecting with ethnic communities, so we have more staff members working in our ethnic communities’ outreach teams.’
“Ms Radhakrishnan adds: ‘We’ve got a hub that serves the needs of our wider ethnic community. We will look at holding some events here, where people can come and meet with their locally-based Labour MPs, plus our wider team as well’.
“Accompanying the article is a photo of the Labour MPs and public servants smiling in front of a Labour Party banner.
“Labour cannot fob this story off by claiming the journalist has it wrong. The editor of the Onehunga Community News has confirmed the story’s accuracy and said she has checked it against the recording of the interview with Ms Radhakrishnan.
“A member of the public contacted the office just this morning and was told the office was shared but mainly the Office of Ethnic Communities.
“This is an unacceptable blurring of the boundaries between the Labour Government and the neutral public service.
“We either have a government department inappropriately sharing an office with a Labour list MP or we have Labour MPs misleading ethnic communities by saying the office is a government department when it is really a political office.
“How do people visiting the office know their cases won’t be politicised? Or is this part of the plan announced by Shane Jones for political operatives – “shit kickers” in his own words - to be appointed to the public service to do the political bidding of the Government?
“The SSC provides clear guidance to its employees that they must be careful to keep politics out of their job, and their job out of politics.
“This blurring of lines between government departments and Labour MP offices amounts to soft exploitation of ethnic communities. Labour is misleading members of those communities into contacting and engaging with the office on the basis it is a government department when it is the political office of a Labour MP.”
National MP Nick Smith says he is disappointed with the Government again blocking the establishment of the 600,000 km2 Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, in spite of strong support for the proposal at Parliament today.
“The proposed Kermadec Sanctuary would be an internationally significant conservation initiative which would protect one of the most pristine and diverse areas of ocean anywhere in the world.
“It would be home to six million sea birds, 35 species of fish and three of the world’s seven species of sea turtle. This is a unique opportunity for New Zealand to make a global contribution towards better conservation of the world’s oceans.
“That’s why I have a member’s bill in the ballot to establish the sanctuary and with National’s 56 votes and the Greens’ eight, there is a clear Parliamentary majority. But Labour and NZ First inexplicably continue to stand in its way – and did so again in Parliament today.
“The Sanctuary has strong public support with independent opinion polls showing 93 per cent of New Zealanders - including 82 per cent of Māori - support it while today Pew, WWF and Forest and Bird were all at Parliament to show their support.
“I will continue to work to build support for this Sanctuary because the reasons for establishing it far outweigh those for not.
“All of the 17 marine protected areas I have been involved in creating have had some controversy and setbacks, but perseverance and advocacy have seen them achieved and huge environmental benefits realised.
“I appreciate today’s campaign from Pew, WWF NZ and Forest and Bird, and will continue to work with them to advance this Sanctuary. We have a clear public and parliamentary majority so it is just a matter of time.”
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.”