The law of common sense is muffling free speech.
In an outspoken speech, Dr Helena Catt has outlined the difficulties the commission is having with the new Electoral Finance Act, describing it as containing significant “obscure” sections and uncertainty which had stifled political activity.
“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.”
The law was passed under great controversy in December last year, and its provisions applied from January 1 because of the extension of the election period from three months prior to an election.
In Dr Catt’s speech yesterday to the Lexis Nexis electoral finance law forum, she said significant parts of the law were “obscure” and the commission was “unable to be as fast and definitive in our actions or guidelines as would be desirable”.
She warned the Commission’s decision were open to legal challenges, which was made more likely by the heightened litigious environment following the controversy over the new law.
“The Commission is not confident it will be able to reach informed positions on the interpretation of some provision within the election period, and note the situation is exacerbated by the legal reality that it cannot finally determine questions of whether, for instance, an item is an election advertisement.”
National Party deputy leader Bill English said Dr Catt was effectively confirming the EFA was unenforcable.
“This has confirmed National’s worst fears. The voices of those who want to participate in our democracy have been silenced and just a few months out from the election watchdogs still don’t know what an election advertisement is.”
He said the Commission was effectively saying it could not promise the law would be properly policed or applied and said this was “the direct consequence of Labour’s decision to railroad the law into place with the support of NZ First and the Greens”.
The only ones who may be surprised by this are the parties who rammed it through against very good advice.
That advice came from people and groups with no political axes to grind including, as Keeping Stock points out, the Human Rights Commission.
But the really chilling thing is they haven’t learned from the experience and are repeating their mistakes with the Emissions Trading Scheme.