Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Confirmed: The police don't care about electoral crime

In 2007 Parliament passed the Electoral Finance Act. One of the changes it made to our electoral law, retained in the subsequent amendments, was to massively increase the penalties for electoral offences. The penalty for a corrupt practice was doubled, from one to two years imprisonment. That for an illegal practice was increased from a $3,000 to a $40,000 fine. The message was clear: Parliament took electoral offending seriously.

Meanwhile, police have stopped prosecuting them entirely.

According to an OIA sent via the FYI system, not a single case resulting from the last election or subsequent by-elections has resulted in prosecution. Instead, police have dealt with even clear cases of double voting with warnings. Eighteen months ago they hadn't even done that, so its hard to see it as anything other than a conscious push to clear cases off the books, to tick the "resolved" box so the stats look good.

The police's excuse is that offenders are mostly first-timers and that warnings are appropriate. That may be true in the case of double voters (but even so...). But its certainly not true in the case of political parties violating advertising and donations law. These are organisations who know what they're doing, who have past experience, who should know better. The police also say that they will prosecute "high-end" offending against the Electoral and Broadcasting Acts. Their past behaviour shows otherwise. And against a backdrop of Parliament increasing penalties, it signals a conscious desire to thwart Parliament's will.

So, the Electoral Commission considers complaints, refers them to the police, who then do nothing. While on paper we have a law, in practice it means nothing. Its a farce, which will only be fixed by taking the job away from police and giving it to someone who actually cares, like the Electoral Commission (OTOH, having watched Media Tkae last night, that might not be such a good idea).

But on the upside, you can probably play "Planet Key" on the radio, because the police will never do anything about it.