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Democracy under attack?

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier
Shane Ardern
Local MP Shane Ardern

The Electoral Finance Bill currently making its way through Parliament is a major danger to our democracy and freedom of speech, says Taranaki-King Country MP Shane Ardern.

“National has been campaigning for months against this travesty of a bill, because we recognise the very real threat it poses to New Zealanders rights to freely express their political opinion.”

Mr Ardern claims the bill is Labour’s desperate bid to retain power and attempts to regulate political debate for one year in every three.

“From the moment you wake up on January 1 next year, you will be in an election period where free speech is tightly restricted and regulated. This would mean that third parties - in other words everyone who isn’t a politician (including the media), would be extremely constrained in how they participate in the political process and speak out on issues that affect them.

“In other words, there will be two standards of free speech - one for politicians and one for everybody else.”

Mr Ardern claims it is an attack on our democracy which is not acceptable and all New Zealanders should be concerned. He says that in its select committee submission, the Human Rights Commission condemned the Electoral Finance Bill as a ‘dramatic assault’ on fundamental human rights.

“The Law Society said that the bill made it dangerous for anyone to participate in elections for fear of unknowingly breaking the law. But, Labour has ignored all these submissions and is pressing on with bringing the bill into law regardless. Labour is trying to rort the electoral system because it is determined not to relinquish the reins of power. New Zealanders should be deeply worried when a government starts to put its own preservation ahead of their rights to express their political opinions.”

National has stated that if it comes into Government it would scrap the Electoral Finance Bill.

“The interests of democracy lie in healthy debate and eternal vigilance. Laws such as the Electoral Finance Bill that favour incumbents and suppress free speech is the exact opposite of this, and all Kiwis should stand up against it,” Mr Ardern says.

When the Bill was introduced to the House on Tuesday Justice Minister Annette King tabled 150 amendments - most deal with technicalities, but two of the proposed amendments urge the Electoral Commission and Chief Electoral Officer to use their discretion and not refer ‘inconsequential’ cases to police for prosecution.