INDEPENDENT NEWS

Govt Blocked Debate on Election Defamation Clause

Published: Fri 16 Nov 2001 01:50 PM
Govt Blocked Debate on Election Defamation Clause
Friday 16 Nov 2001 Stephen Franks Press Releases -- Justice, Law & Order
ACT New Zealand Justice spokesman Stephen Franks said today the new clause the Government inserted in the Electoral Amendment Bill yesterday got no debate. "When the House reached that part, Jill Pettis as Chair of the Committee accepted an early Government motion to close the debate.
"The Government inserted 24 pages of completely new provisions into that part of the bill, adding to over 30 that had been considered by the Select Committee - and then used its majority to force closure of debate within just 45 minutes.
"In the Select Committee I proposed the much more carefully drafted Section 199A to make it a corrupt practice for a candidate to deliberately lie to influence an election. It applies only for two days before the election, and was designed to block the Winston Peters ploy of making startling claims too late to be checked out by investigating journalists and the normal process of campaign rebuttal. We had no warning until this week that Margaret Wilson would spring her much wider provision on us.
"The Select Committee had carefully debated various alternatives and rejected a late suggestion now included by Ms Wilson.
"Labour's cavalier attitude to free speech has been the hallmark of their approach to electoral issues. They seriously considered Winston Peters' demand for a ban on opinion polls. Their spending restrictions disguise badly drafted clauses that can be misused to chill free speech.
"Earlier this year the Hon Sandra Lee had to "suspend" a section in the Local Electoral Act after I blew the whistle on the gag it would mean for journalists.
"The suppression of debate in the House on this major chunk of new law was the last straw. In sullen determination, ACT and National ensured that the Bill did not get through its committee stages yesterday evening," Stephen Franks said.
For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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