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Electoral Finance Act—Freedom of Speech

Tuesday 23 September 2008 (advance copy) Hansard source (external site)

English12. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) Link to this
to the Minister of Justice

Does she stand by her statement in relation to the Electoral Finance Bill: “This bill does not restrict free speech.”; if so, why?

KingHon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) Link to this

Yes; and we are already seeing examples of people freely expressing their views in this election campaign. A good example is the untrue jibes about Dr Cullen’s sexuality, made at Dr Nick Smith’s campaign launch, which the member asking the question had no hesitation in joining in. So much for the clean campaign promised by John Key!

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

How can the Minister continue to defend the Electoral Finance Act when the New Zealand Law Society’s rule of law committee, which includes, as a member, the Deputy Solicitor-General, said recently that the Act is an “unwarranted intrusion on the right to freedom of political expression …”, and it is “fundamentally flawed and misconceived, and ought to be repealed …”; and why should we regard the Minister’s opinion on this issue as more valid than the opinion of the Law Society?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

The New Zealand Law Society is exercising its right to free speech.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Well, under the law it would have to register to do that! What does the Minister think of the comment made by her Cabinet colleague Jim Anderton, who is now subject to two police investigations under the Electoral Finance Act, when he said that complying with the law is an extraordinary waste of everyone’s time; and was Mr Anderton not at the Cabinet discussions about this law?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

Jim Anderton is also entitled to exercise free speech and is allowed to make whatever comments he wishes. In the end, it is up to the Electoral Commission. But I think that member has probably distorted what Jim Anderton said.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Does the Minister stand by her rather obvious statement that she is not an expert on this law but that the Electoral Commission is; and what does she think about the expert opinion of the chief executive of the Electoral Commission, when she said: “It is clear that having uncertainty remaining within the regulated period has had a chilling effect on the extent and type of participation in political and campaign activity.”; and also said: “The meanings of significant sections of this legislation are obscure.”?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

Dr Catt is independent and she can hold her own views. However, I point out to the member that free speech is available and able to be used in this campaign, and that fact can be seen in these posters here, which have been put up on hoardings around Wellington. There are quite a number of them. People are allowed to do that under the Electoral Finance Act. They are authorised.

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

I will table them. This poster shows Maurice Williamson when he had a beard and was allowed to speak! These pamphlets are an example of free speech in an election campaign. No one stopped this, because the organisation did it right; it followed the rules. The National Party does not want to follow the rules. It wants big business to be able to buy this election campaign. Well, it has failed.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Is the Minister not aware that it is a disgrace that the law that she passed has been described by the chief executive of the Electoral Commission, 2 months out from the election, as “having a chilling effect on the extent and type of participation in campaign activity.”, and that 2 months out from an election New Zealand’s top electoral official has said: “The meanings of significant sections of the legislation are obscure.”, which means that MPs, campaigners, and lobby groups who try to comply with this ridiculous law could easily find themselves in court and in jail after the election?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

If it is so difficult, how did www.botheyesopen.org.nz manage to be able to work within the rules, put out posters like these, and not be caught by the Electoral Finance Act? They followed the rules. That is all anybody needs to do. But of course Bill English is on a mission to try to spread as much misinformation about this Act as possible, because the National Party wanted to spend its millions of dollars and it was not allowed to. It is a bad case of sour grapes.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Why is it that the Minister now professes to a detailed knowledge of the rules, when all the parties that voted for the Electoral Finance Act have been found to have breached the rules—namely, the Labour Party, New Zealand First, Progressive, and the Greens?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

The point I was making to the member was that over and over again he has said that nobody could campaign; nobody could get out there and put up a hoarding or put out a pamphlet. He said that was not possible, but I say that it is possible, and that organisations are out there doing that right now and they could have been doing it from the beginning of the year. That member needs to get over his sour grapes, get out there and campaign, and do his best, but at the end of the day people will remember that he was “Mr Pension-cutter” for the older people of New Zealand.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Is the Minister aware that when canvassed on the doorstep, many New Zealanders are keen to get rid of a Government that has passed a law where one has to register to have a political opinion, where the rules are so complex that many people are too scared to have a go at campaigning, and where the chief executive of the Electoral Commission has said that the law has a chilling effect and that meanings of the legislation are obscure; and has any Minister done a worse job than her on this law?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

There we go—“Mr Nasty” always makes it personal. I say to the member that I think he has lost the plot on this issue. It is his last shot on it; why does he not just get over it and get out and campaign? He has been whingeing and snivelling in this Parliament for most of the year when he could certainly have been out and campaigning.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think the Minister referred to me as personalising the issue and then went on to use some very unparliamentary and highly personalised language. I ask that she withdraw.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

She may well have, but unfortunately members were shouting too much for me to hear. But if the member has asked for a withdrawal, would the member please withdraw.

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

I withdraw—I think the words were “whingeing and snivelling”, but I did not know they were unparliamentary.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

It is all right; the member has withdrawn.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister is a longstanding member who knows the conventions around statements of withdrawal, and I ask that she be held to those conventions.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

Would the Minister please withdraw and apologise, and do nothing else.

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

I withdraw and apologise.

BrownleeGerry Brownlee Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether the Minister would clarify for the House why those posters that were held up are in such perfect condition, when they are supposed to have come off lamp posts and when the organisation that put them there is not connected to the Labour Party? [ Interruption]

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

The member has asked for an explanation; the Minister is to give it.

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

With very delicate hands one might be able to get them off a lamp post, but I can assure the member that these posters are available anywhere around Wellington. He can just go into any place and he will find them; they will be available for him. He can collect the whole set. There is a whole set of them. There are, in fact, three in the set. If the member is really lucky, they will give him the whole set.

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