Friday, June 01, 2012

A good idea

Last year, we had an election. In the run-up to that election, numerous parties allegedly violated electoral law in various ways (usually by publishing election advertisements without the requisite promoter statement). As required by law, the cases have been handed to the police - who have done nothing about it. Of 24 alleged electoral law violations, only one has resulted in a decision - that over John Key's unlawful election broadcast.

This is not a new thing. In 2005 the police failed to prosecute Labour for its egregious overspending on pledge cards, or National for its convenient "mistake" of forgetting to include GST in its broadcasting spending. In 2008 they systematically ignored complaints around unlawful advertising. From this, you'd get the impression that they didn't take electoral law seriously, and that they thought they had "better things to do" than protect our democracy by robustly enforcing electoral law. And you'd be right. When it comes to electoral law, the police simply do not give a shit, and parties can violate it wantonly and with impunity.

Which is why I support the calls in the Justice and Electoral Committee to take enforcement off them and give it to someone who will actually enforce the law:

There has been further criticism of the police for delays in investigating electoral law breaches and calls for the job to be handed to another body.

Electoral law expert Graeme Edgeler told a select committee inquiry into the 2011 election that police were quick to consider issues such as people voting twice, but when more complex issues were sent to police "it seems very little happens because police perhaps do have more serious things to do".

Mr Edgeler said minor breaches should be dealt with by a fine so police time was not wasted but candidates would realise there was a consequence for breaching the rules.

The Electoral Commission has made a similar call in its report to the committee on the election, saying it was concerned about the priority police gave to referrals on more complex electoral law issues. It suggested another enforcement agency or a Crown solicitor be charged with investigating breaches.

Pretty obviously, the police are not up to the job. Time to give it to someone who is. The question now is whether our politicians want the law to be enforced, or whether they will act out of self-interest to support the current farce.