I’ve found the Law Society submission online. Some quotes:
The bill has serious defects, which mean it will not achieve its stated aims. Moreover, it is likely to curtail the legitimate expression of opinions while failing to curb (and potentially even incentivising) clandestine conduct in relation to the electoral process. The bill as a whole represents a backward step in the integrity of democracy in New Zealand.
Okay not too positive.
Tags: Electoral Act
The fact that redrafting and brokering is going on amongst political parties as to changes that will be promoted by the Government at the same time as submissions are being sought, excludes public participation and is an anathema to the Select Committee process.
It would be inappropriate to repair such a measure with a complex, negotiated Supplementary Order Paper even if this were referred to a Select Committee. A Supplementary Order Paper would not usually be subject to Bill of Rights Act certification by the Attorney-General. This is particularly important given that the opinion on Bill of Rights Act consistency given by the Crown Law Office in relation to the present bill does not seem to engage with the points raised in this submission.
That puts paid to the notion of lets just amend the Bill and all will be fine.
Withdrawing the bill and starting again would enable a Regulatory Impact Statement and a list of those consulted to be added to the Explanatory Note. Both are notably absent from this bill.
Accordingly the Society submits that the current Bill should be abandoned and a process embarked upon whereby:
the principles to which New Zealand aspires in terrns of its democratic process are identified (clause 3(a) to (e) may indeed identify these);
the areas where current law fails to embody and protect these principles are determined; and
fair and practical solutions to these problems are formulated.
This is polite lawyer speak for “Kill the Bill”.
They also have a good analysis of the problems of extending the regulated period:
Informing people about the services available to them from their government is a necessary, important and proper function of government. However, when a restricted period (during which any criticism of government initiatives is a regulated election advertisement) is too long and spending limits are too low, the dissemination of information about government services provides an unacceptable advantage to the incumbent government. This is so even if used in good faith, though the advantage is easily amenable to abuse.
An unacceptable advantage to the incumbent Government says it all. Of course that is the unwritten primary purpose of the Bill.
They they deal to the regulations on issue advocacy:
The primary issue with this restriction is the potential for it to be used as a weapon for shutting down debate. Bizarrely, the regime seems to mean that the best way to take an issue off the table is to take a position on it. By taking a position on an issue a party or candidate ensures that any person or entity wishing to take the opposing view publicly will be required to go through the strict process of registering as a third party and then be limited to $60,000 in its spending. The net effect is a stifling of debate on important issues. Furthermore, the basic fact that collectively parties and candidates will be found to have “taken positions” on almost everything, entails the financial regulation of speech on almost all relevant issues at election time. The net effect is a stifling of political debate.Of course we are sure the Government never wanted to shut down debate on unpopular issues. No no the “haters and wreckers” are embraced by Helen.
Then again the conclusion:
The broad purposes of the bill may well be admirable. However, it appears that its operative provisions have been formulated in a manner so divorced from these purposes that the bill will have the opposite effect to that which is intended. In this case a political compromise has resulted in a compromise of principles and this cannot be accepted in an area as important as regulation of the democratic process.
The Society considers that the bill goes no way towards increasing transparency or accountability in the democratic process. Conversely, it risks encouraging large anonymous donations to political parties and candidates in preference to open participation in public debate. In this way it promotes rather than prevents the undue influence of wealth.The rules regarding registration, disclosure, spending limits and related offences are so complex, vague and uncertain as to make participation in our parliamentary democracy an arduous and perhaps even legally dangerous undertaking for ordinary New Zealanders.
In conclusion, there is no one part of the bill that is problematic. Rather, the bill in its current form is a flawed attempt to achieve a legitimate social objective. Its cumulative defects make it irredeemable: the democratic deficit associated with use of the Supplementary Order Paper procedure (even if that were referred to the Select Committee) means that redemption ought not to be attempted in that way. Hence the bill ought not to proceed.
I’m not quite sure what irredeemable means (okay I do know) but it doesn’t sound like a good thing for the New Zealand Law Society to say about a proposed law.
The Select Committee has an easy job. The oral submissions have now concluded. All that is required is a half hour meeting to resolve that the Bill does not proceed. Just do it!