Human Rights Commission on Electoral Finance Bill

Audrey Young has picked up the significance of the submission from the Human Rights Commission on the Finance Bill. She notes:

The commission is viewed as a liberal agency of state that rarely uses such strong against anyone, let alone proposals.

So what does the Human Rights Commission say in their submission:

the Bill will infringe certain human rights – most obviously freedom of expression but also the right of all citizens to participate in the election process.

Pretty black and white.  The bill is a breach of human rights, and prevents freedom of expression and participation in the election process.

They then make a key point:

Given the significance of the changes to the funding regime, there is a need for an extended public participation in a more neutral environment to allow for discussion, debate and contestation of core principles. This has not happened with the proposed legislation, and the opportunity for informed authorisation has been lost. The Commission therefore recommends that the Bill is either withdrawn or substantially redrafted to reflect a better balance between political participation and freedom of speech and controls on electoral financing.

They’re saying that restricing the rights of third parties is no minor things, and any should be based on principles and policy which the public have had input into.  And this is crucial – we need the public debate, the forums, the seminars, the issues papers, the recommend.

Another great point is:

Democracy implies far more than the mere act of periodically casting a vote… it covers the entire process of participation by citizens in the political life of their country – Secretary General

In analysing one clause of the Bill, they say:

It will also limit lobby groups, for example, to expenditure under $5000 in promoting a particular cause (if not registered as third parties). It is difficult to see how this will promote the ability of civil society to participate in the political process and makes a mockery of clause 3(b) which refers to promoting participation by the public in parliamentary democracy.

But get this paragraph:

The combination of “election advertisement” in clause 5 and “regulated period” defined in clause 4 will have a chilling effect27on the expression of political opinion during an election year.

Now these are the sort of statements we are used to hearing from overseas human rights bodies about repressive regimes.  But this is the NZ Human Rights Commission on Helen Clark’s Finance Bill.

They specifically reject the year long ban on non regulated speech:

Currently the Act 1993 limits the regulation period during the run up to an election to 3 months. The Commission does not accept that extending the period to almost a year is justified.

They also refer to the muzzle your targets clause:

The cannot register third parties once the writ for a general election is issued: cl.17. As a result of how election advertisement is defined in cl.5, if a political party makes negative comments about a lobby group or particular ethnic group, the group itself would be unable to respond to the criticism during the writ period if it was not registered as a third party.

It is difficult to conceive of a greater limitation on freedom of speech than this.

They also quote approvingly from the Bell Gully opinion against the Bill.  Now some commenters here tried to smear Bell Gully as being funders of the National Party (which just displayed their own ignorance).  Will they alspo now try and smear the Human Rights Commission?

Finally we have their excellent conclusion:

A human rights approach to democratic government requires genuine participation. Genuine participation, in turn, requires an informed electorate. By limiting freedom of expression and creating a complex regulatory framework in the way it does, the Finance Bill unduly limits the rights of all New Zealanders to participate in the electoral process. The Commission therefore considers that the Bill is inherently flawed and should be withdrawn.

What more needs to be said.  Kill the Bill.

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