Herald on electoral law

July 18th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

It is only a matter of time before bad law comes back to bite those who made it. Provisions of the Electoral Act regulating independent advertising in election campaigns were passed by the previous Labour Government with the support of the Green Party, and only slightly altered by the present Government. Now, seven years after its enactment, the electoral finance law is frustrating environmental groups that want to make climate change an election issue.

Six of them, including , Forest and Bird, Oxfam and WWF New Zealand, started a campaign called “Climate Voter” last month, aiming to force all parties to address climate change before the election. Whatever view may be taken of their cause, no democrat would deny them the right to put it in front of voters. But if they do, the Electoral Commission has ruled, their material will be deemed election advertising and subject to a discouraging array of statutory registration and accounting requirements.

The rules are less restrictive since National rewrote them, but they remain bureaucratic, which makes them onerous and off-putting for people who are not routinely organised for the purpose. The Climate Voter campaign is aggrieved to find itself subject to the act and has decided to challenge the commission’s ruling in the High Court.

“This is about freedom of speech,” said Steve Abel of Greenpeace. “There is a very real risk that if this law goes untested, many advocacy and civil society groups in New Zealand could be gagged. Some may even be forced to take down entire websites.”

I campaigned against the Electoral Finance Act. The most repressive portions of that were removed, but National did a deal with Labour and the Greens and agreed to keep in restrictions on third party advocacy. I believe that was wrong. I don’t think there should be any restrictions on third party advocacy during elections except to correctly identify the promoter of the advocacy.

He is echoing the warnings this newspaper and other critics expressed seven years ago. It is a pity green groups did not speak out at that time.

They went along with the Clark Government’s overreaction to pamphlets circulated before the 2005 election by a small religious sect, the Exclusive Brethren, whose material had been particularly harsh on the Green Party.

Now, the environmentalists want the courts to draw a distinction between that sort of campaign and theirs. “We think the law was clearly not intended to capture non-partisan, civil society groups,” says Mr Abel.

Typical hypocrisy. They’re saying that the restrictions that they no doubt supported, should apply to everyone but themselves.

The Greenpeace campaign is clearly aimed at influencing how people vote. There is a difference between commenting generally on issues, and running a campaign designed to change voting behaviour.

The only reason to regulate such advertising is to prevent it being used to circumvent financial restrictions on party advertising in an election period.

That purpose could be met if the law applied only to overt endorsements. In seeking to regulate all paid advertising of political issues in the three months before an election, the law remains too broad. Its registration and financial reporting requirements are too onerous for all but the most organised pressure groups, such as trade unions, and discourage others who could afford to promote their interests or concerns.

I agree. The law should be amended.

Environmental advocates seem to be under the impression the law applied only to the rich and the conservative. The courts are unlikely to see it that way.

Hoist by their own petard.

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22 Responses to “Herald on electoral law”

  1. Bad__Cat (141 comments) says:

    But aren’t the left automatically exempt from electoral laws?

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  2. MT_Tinman (3,263 comments) says:

    Bad__Cat (136 comments) says:
    July 18th, 2014 at 4:12 pm
    But aren’t the left automatically exempt from electoral laws?

    They’re certainly immune from prosecution for breaking such laws.

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  3. radvad (772 comments) says:

    The EB pamphlets were not harsh on the Greens at all, from memory they merely pointed out Green party policy, mostly quoted from the Green website. It could easily be argued the pamphlets were publicising and therefore promoting Green policy. The only reason Fitzsimons threw a hissy fit was because she did not want some of their policy widely known.

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  4. georgebolwing (1,011 comments) says:

    The solution to any instance of inappropriate political speech is more speech, not enforced silence. Clearly this part of the electoral law should be repealed as quickly as possible.

    Once again we are seeing the consequences of not having a binding bill of rights in New Zealand.

    But we also know that the real reason Greenpeace is taking this case is to support its claim to be a charity. I would have more sympathy with their position if they said that they were in favour of both free speech and paying tax.

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  5. OneTrack (3,237 comments) says:

    ” But aren’t the left automatically exempt from electoral laws”

    They think so.

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  6. Steve Wrathall (285 comments) says:

    “…passed by the previous Labour Government with the support of the Green Party, and only slightly altered by the present Government.”
    Story of the last six years

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  7. Fletch (6,497 comments) says:

    I notice that Australia has got smart and dumped their carbon tax. According to Abbott, that will leave families $550 better off a year. Isn’t it about time we dumped ours as well?

    http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/australia-repeals-controversial-carbon-tax-24593494

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  8. polemic (460 comments) says:

    radvad (660 comments) says:
    July 18th, 2014 at 4:18 pm
    The EB pamphlets were not harsh on the Greens at all, from memory they merely pointed out Green party policy, mostly quoted from the Green website.

    But Radvad how dare you question the Green Parties right to throw “Hissy fits”.

    The ideologies they extol are inherently driven by Socialist/Communist principles and that is why they are so hellbent on Climate Change. They do not want some meddling minnows to expose their falsehoods and nonfactual claims.

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  9. projectman (229 comments) says:

    Since when were the Greens (and other lobbyists aligned with them) “non-partisan, civil society groups”? This is just another example of the hypocrisy we have come to expect from them.

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  10. projectman (229 comments) says:

    “…passed by the previous Labour Government with the support of the Green Party, and only slightly altered by the present Government.”

    A smart move by National as it turns out.

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  11. polemic (460 comments) says:

    And what happened today that shocked the World….

    What goes up on FrogBlog…..

    The Green Parties can only exclaim about Israel attacking the Gaza strip.”Israeli Ground Invasion an Aggressive Action”

    The fact that the Israelis are enduring an endless bombardment of missiles is OK but get the UN in when Israel decides it has had enough.

    Sound familiar….

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  12. Pete George (23,687 comments) says:

    polemic – yes, and The Standard are siding with the Palestinians on it too (albeit a Green spokesperson).

    Certainly condemnation of the Israelis might be justified but Palestinians are deliberately attacking and provoking so they deserve it as much, both sides are responsible for the death and destruction there. Unfortunately there doesn’t look to be any easy solutions with current leadership on both sides.

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  13. All_on_Red (1,650 comments) says:

    Bwahahahahahaha. Good job. Let’s see what the Charities Commission makes of all this political advocacy too.

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  14. tom hunter (5,095 comments) says:

    Environmental advocates seem to be under the impression the law applied only to the rich and the conservative.

    The rich?

    Has this writer not noted the enormous number of rich people on the environmental bandwagon worldwide? It’s so extensive that a story of the rich screwing the poor really could be made out of it – if the modern left were anything at all like their predecessors. Let them eat Green electricity.

    That little piece of unthinking crap aside, the sentence sums up where the environmental left (and the left across the board nowadays) stand on any number of things: one set of rules for themselves and a different set for their ideological opponents, one that silences the latter.

    The left wing’s motto on almost any subject nowadays is, “Shut Up”.

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  15. altiora (279 comments) says:

    @ Pete George: that “it’s both sides to blame” is a cop out. At the danger of getting our pro Palestinian KB people roused to polemics, there is simply no moral equivalence between Israel (the only real secular democracy in the middle east, with a thriving economy and equal rights for its citizens) and the Palestinian-Hamas rabble. Simple as that. Can you imagine what it does to your peace of mind to be surrounded by countries whose national policy is to bring about your country’s destruction? I couldn’t.

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  16. lolitasbrother (751 comments) says:

    I am just for now in Thailand , our surrounding Countries love us. even i have a say on bangkok Post.
    We despise USA intervention here nigre.

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  17. Crusader (323 comments) says:

    polemic (359 comments) says:
    July 18th, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    The ideologies they extol are inherently driven by Socialist/Communist principles and that is why they are so hellbent on Climate Change. They do not want some meddling minnows to expose their falsehoods and nonfactual claims.

    DPF: by the way just out of interest, what is your personal position on Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming? I seem to remember you as a believer. After 15 years of NO WARMING AT ALL in the atmosphere, do you still think all climate change is human-driven, and that planet Earth is heading for imminent catastrophe?

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  18. Scott1 (577 comments) says:

    In a way this sounds like the law working well.

    The main concern I would have is that if the law is bureaucratic you get an issue where some people get used to finding their way though it (and then get even greater access to agenda setting for elections) and all normal people just give up.

    But in general they can just go back to commenting generally as opposed to campaigning.

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  19. stephieboy (3,414 comments) says:

    Polemic, the Greens driven by ” socialist/ communist principles…? ” Where did you get that piece propaganda from.? Are they proposing to e.g collectivize agriculture.?

    Or is this just more conservative party supporter paranoia and hysteria.?

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  20. OneTrack (3,237 comments) says:

    “Are they proposing to e.g collectivize agriculture.?”

    Well they are going to try and put so many costs and restrictions on farmers that some are likely to be driven off their land, leaving ” the state” to take over the management of the farm while waiting for a buyer to come along. And since that is not likely to happen …. – how convenient.

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  21. OneTrack (3,237 comments) says:

    “But in general they can just go back to commenting generally as opposed to campaigning.”

    But, but, the law is just meant for neolibs. How will greenpeace fly their executives to work if they can’t claim charity status? And putting promotior statements on their propaganda is just below them.

    Look, tax evasion is only bad when the right ( meaning anybody not hard-left) does it.

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  22. OneTrack (3,237 comments) says:

    Crusader – “After 15 years of NO WARMING AT ALL in the atmosphere, …”

    Isn’t it now 17 years of no warming? Time flies when you are having fun.

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