The Government has its priorities wrong by rushing through controversial law changes to give prisoners the vote while the country is in lockdown, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“The rush to pass this Bill contradicts the Prime Minister’s public assurances when Parliament was shut down that only urgent matters would be progressed.
“The Electoral Amendment Bill had its first reading on March 18th during extended sittings. The Government has shortened the normal six month Select Committee process to less than three months despite the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic.
“Justice Minister Andrew Little last week insisted the Justice Select Committee progress this Bill during the lockdown and refused to support any extension of time. This is despite the Minister telling the Committee officials would not be able to provide the usual quality of departmental report, nor be able to respond fully to information requests on the Bill by the committee.
“Justice Select Committee Chair and Labour MP Meka Whaitiri has used the Chair’s powers to set the closure date for submissions and stated she intends video conferencing submission hearings in the week of 13 April while the nation is still in lockdown.
“The Chair has ignored National’s objections in three video conference discussions with myself as the Deputy Chair. The other two Bills before the committee on sexual violence and protecting emergency responders have more relevance to the Covid-19 emergency but are proposed for extensions of time.
“It is unreasonable for New Zealanders to be expected to make rushed submissions on the this Bill when the nation is in crisis. It is worse when the Government openly states that officials won’t be able to do their normal job on the Bill.
“National MPs are working hard to support constituents during this time and shouldn’t be diverted from that work to fast-track this narrow law change. I have a tsunami of constituent problems, the most ever in my 30-years as an MP, on issues like access to Covid-19 testing, access to flu vaccines for seniors, personal protective equipment, support for seniors essential shopping, specialised foods for children, housing for the homeless and families and businesses accessing financial support.
“I call on the Justice Minister to reconsider and defer the Bill until New Zealand is through this national emergency and Parliament is back to normal.”