New Zealand Law Society - 2017 General Election report has 55 recommendations

2017 General Election report has 55 recommendations

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Parliament's Justice select committee has released a report on its inquiry into the 2017 General Election and 2016 Local Elections.

The report contains 55 recommendations. Justice Minister Andrew Little has been reported as stating that it is unlikely that any which were not included in the recent Electoral Amendment Act 2019 will be introduced before the 2020 General Election.

Of the recommendations, 14 relate to changes to the Electoral Act 1993 on various matters such as if a voter who has lodged an advance vote dies before election day, proof of New Zealand citizenship, and researchers' access to voting information. A further 19 relate to local elections, and the remaining 20 focus on foreign interference in New Zealand elections.

The inquiry began in July 2018. A National Party view included in the report says the inquiry's integrity was compromised by Cabinet decisions being made and legislation introduced ahead of the inquiry's conclusion.

Legislative proposals on foreign influence

In its recommendations on legislative amendments around foreign interference, the report recommends that the Government consider amendments to existing legislation to incorporate an offence, similar to that in section 482 of the Canada Elections Act 2000, that would prohibit hacking into computer systems owned by parliament and a range of other organisations and individuals.

Another recommendation is that the Government follow the Australian Government in prohibiting foreigners from advertising in social media to influence a New Zealand election outcome.

It recommends amendments to the Electoral Act 1993 to require political party secretaries to be New Zealand residents, legislation to allow only persons or entities based in New Zealand to sponsor and promote electoral advertisements, and legislation to create an offence for overseas persons placing election advertisements as well as organisations selling advertising space to knowingly accept impermissible foreign-funded election advertising.

The report recommends that the Government examine how to prevent transmission of foreign donations through loopholes such as shell companies or trusts.

"We recommend that the Government consider one over-arching anti-collusion mechanism, including penalties, to replace those in the Electoral Act," the committee says.

It also recommends that the Government make it unlawful for third parties to use funds from a foreign entity for electoral activities, and to require registered third parties to declare where they get their donations from.

Control of media in New Zealand

The report also recommends that the Government consider requiring all media organisations to have a majority of board members who live in New Zealand, and that it prohibits foreign governments or foreign state entities from owning or investing in media organisations in New Zealand.

The committee recommends that as part of its review of media content regulation, the Government consider requiring all media companies to belong to an industry self-regulating body.

Another commendation is that the Government explores "regulatory tools that would assert New Zealand's strong tradition of free speech".

Strengthening of Electoral Commission

The report recommends that the Government gives the Electoral Commission investigatory, enforcement, and sanction powers commensurate with its proposed changes. This would include powers to investigate electoral offences, to obtain documents and other evidence, to impose fines, and to impose other remedies for minor breaches of electoral law. Major breaches of electoral law would remain with the Police.

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