New Zealand Law Society - Committee recommends bill to support disabled persons in political life

Committee recommends bill to support disabled persons in political life

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The Governance and Administration Committee has reported on the Election Access Fund Bill and recommends that it be passed with amendments. The bill seeks to establish a fund to facilitate the participation of disabled persons in political life.

The Committee received and considered submissions from 90 interested groups and individuals and also heard oral evidence from 18 submitters.

As introduced, the bill focuses on disabled persons standing as candidates in general elections. The Committee considers that the bill should also cover by-elections and so recommends amending clauses 3 (Purpose), 4 (Interpretation), and 6 (Election Access Fund) to this effect.

The Committee recommends changing the reference throughout the bill from “persons with disabilities” to “disabled person”.

The Committee recommends amending clause 7(3) to remove the provision for political parties and not-for-profit entities to apply for the fund so that only an individual disabled person would be eligible. This would streamline the fund and make it easier to implement.

Clause 8 should be amended so that it is clear that payment from the fund should not be treated as an election expense or party donation. It should also clarify that payments are not for campaigning; they are specifically for accessibility costs. Clause 8A should be amended to ensure that any payment from the fund would be exempt from income tax.

The Committee suggests strengthening the provisions in the bill for review of the fund. The bill should include a further review by providing for the Electoral Commission to consider the funding in its regular report (inserting clause 12 to amend section 8(1) of the Electoral Act 1993).

The Committee recommends tightening the timeframe for the Minister to arrange the one-off review, and to give further details on what the review should entail (amending clause 9). The review should be within 6 months after the release of the Electoral Commission’s Report.

Many submitters suggested that local elections should be covered by the fund. The Committee thinks that the first use of the fund should be on general elections and it suggests that the possibility of extending its coverage should be considered in the first review.