Monday, November 19, 2007

Election funding: the HRC on the report

The Justice and Electoral Committee's report [PDF] on the Electoral Finance Bill praised the Human Rights Commission's input and said that the HRC "believed the changes enhanced freedom of expression and upheld the right to participate in electoral processes". So what do they really think? Fortunately, they've since put out a statement:

Several significant changes to the Electoral Finance Bill go some way to addressing the Human Rights Commission’s concerns about freedom of expression and citizen’s rights to participate.

“We’re pleased to see the very wide definition of election advertisement has been dropped which allows outside groups to participate in issues-related advocacy,” says Human Rights Commission, EEO Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor.

“We also welcome the acknowledgement of younger people’s rights to participate and the end to age discrimination against those under 18 years in electoral processes.”

The Commission also welcomes the proposed amendment that removes the need for a statutory declaration which was an unnecessary compliance burden.

And on the negative side, the HRC thought the regulated period was still too long, and that third-party spending limits should have been higher. These changes of course would have run directly counter to the purpose of the bill, which was to prevent the circumvention of spending limits through parallel campaigns and early spending. The only interpretation is that they think that these are not serious problems in New Zealand. I humbly suggest they read The Hollow Men, look at the National's 2005 campaign, and think again.

They also think that the changes should have gone back to the public for further consultation - something which, to be blunt, is not part of normal Parliamentary procedure, and for which there is no time anyway. If the bill is to come into force on January 1 2008 - something vital to achieving its purpose - it must be passed before the end of the year. A delay would see us facing another election in which shadowy campaigns funded by big money attempted to subvert the will of the electorate. And that is something we should not allow to happen. The right to free and fair elections is a human right, just as freedom of speech is - but on this occasion, it seems the HRC has got the balance wrong.