Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On taking away the right to vote from prisoners, and John Key’s latest slur on MMP

September 21st, 2010

three strikes, prisoner bashing
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For the last few months a silly and spiteful private members Bill sponsored by National MP Paul Quinn has been working its way through the system. In essence, this legislation will deny the right to vote to anyone who is in jail. The Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has already reported on the various ways in which Quinn’s initiative would violate the New Zealand Bill of Rights. Regardless, the Law and Order select committee has just reported back. Alas, the National/Act majority on the committee has just recommended that this hopelessly flawed Bill should proceed.

For the last fortnight I’ve been preparing a fuller article about the Quinn Bill for the next edition of Werewolf, due on Monday. Suffice to say there are many problems with what Quinn is proposing. Since the early 1990s, New Zealand has removed the right to vote from everyone in prison for more than three years. The Quinn Bill now goes the whole hog, and extends the ban to everyone in jail. The Attorney-General has pointed out some of the basic injustices this creates: eg, someone on home detention for the same offence can vote, but someone in jail can’t.

Essentially, the random chances of timing – which have nothing to do with justice or even with spiteful revenge – will dictate the outcomes. Someone who gets out of jail a week or a month before the election can vote, someone who committed the same offence but is sentenced a week or month before the election, cannot. Due to a drafting error that may or may not have been added at select committee stage – as the Otago University academic Andrew Geddis has pointed out on Pundit, all the people in jail at the same of the Bill’s passing will be able to vote, and only those sentenced after its passage will be barred. As Geddis points out, this will mean that in the cause of cracking down on crime, National/Act have just given murderers such as Clayton Weatherstone and William Bell the right to vote.

That particular drafting error can be easily addressed by a Supplementary Order Paper closer to the time of passage. My problem is with the entire thrust of the Bill. In the early 1990s, the National government of the day erred when it removed the vote from criminals convicted of serious crimes. Canada by contrast, ruled in 2004 – in the wake of the landmark Sauvé case) that the right to vote was a basic right embedded in one’s status as a citizen. Since imprisonment did not entail the revocation of citizenship, prisoners should therefore retain the right to vote. (There is also an argument that a vengeful removal of the right to vote does nothing to assist the process of rehabilitation.)

Of course, removing the right to vote from people in prison is a cheap way for politicians to show they are being ‘tough on crime’. The Quinn Bill, now called the Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill, deserves to be tossed in the rubbish tin. At the very least, it should be sent back – as the Law Society is now urging – before the select committee that deals with electoral matters, since it is about disenfranchising a large number of New Zealanders. It should not have been put in the hands of a group of National and Act MPs who seem more than happy to exploit the worst impulses of the redneck fringe of New Zealand society.

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Garrett and MMP

john keySo Prime Minister John Key is now trying to shift the blame for the David Garrett fiasco from where it belongs – with Rodney Hide – and hang it on MMP. At his press conference yesterday, Key ventured a ‘personal opinion” that voters would blame the MMP electoral system for the affair.

Really? Why does Key think the public would be that stupid? I thought everyone was pretty clear that it was Rodney Hide who chose to encourage a person guilty of identity theft to stand for Parliament, who then made this wretch the Act Party’s law and order spokesperson, who campaigned on a platform of denying mercy, name suppression and clean slate forgiveness to every law breaker except Garrett himself, and who then chose to keep all this dirty linen concealed from the public. Now, Key is trying to promote the idea that the public will blame the voting system for all this – and not Rodney Hide?

Blimey. I thought it was only liberals who blamed the system for personal failures to accept responsibility. Of course, Key sought to give himself wiggle room. It was only his personal opinion blah blah, he had no scientific basis for thinking the public would react that way etc etc But then came the money quote : “I’m not saying they should or shouldn’t take that view,” he said. Wow. Shouldn’t he? I thought leadership means putting blame where it belongs. In this case, shouldn’t Key be defending MMP if the public is indeed wrongly blaming it for the personal failings of his Act Party buddies ? Of course, that’s not what Key is doing here. He’s really trying to save Hide’s neck, and you have to wonder why.

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    1. 15 Responses to “On taking away the right to vote from prisoners, and John Key’s latest slur on MMP”

    2. By Joe on Sep 21, 2010 | Reply

      A real problem I have with denying prisoners the right to vote is that it insentivises for the sitting govt. the introduction of laws that result in prison for those likely to vote for the opposition. This insentive should not exist. For example Maori, women, beneficiaries are not the traditional National voters. It also insentivises longer sentences for these groups. Already white collar crime is treated much more leniently than blue collar – so National benefits as soon as this bill is made law. But the point isn’t National. No sitting Govt. should have that insentive.

    3. By Sean on Sep 21, 2010 | Reply

      that voters would blame the MMP electoral system for the affair.

      Well, if we are going to be fair about this, should the public blaim Phillip Fields, Chris Carter, Hone Harawira, Winston Peters on the electorate system? They are/were all electorate MPs.

      Should it also be accepted that the presently enormously legally powerful Gerry Brownlee is in parliament simply because a relatively self-selected group forming the National party electoral commitee of Ilam put his name forward in an electorate which would return a concrete block if it had a blue rosette glued to it?

      MMP makes parties directly responsible for the clowns on the list. Garrett is a simply a lesson that the list has to contain suitable candidates, who are able to take scrutiny.

    4. By Richard on Sep 21, 2010 | Reply

      I don’t think that Key wants to save Hide.

      He is just following the playbook and turning “a negative” into “a positive”.

      1) National want to get rid of MMP.
      2) The public are appalled by the ACT clowns.
      3) Therefore, Key should blame MMP for the ACT clowns.

      It is syllogism as performed by Crosby/Textor.

      I notice that Paul Henry repeated the same mantra on Breakfast this morning.

    5. By Sean on Sep 21, 2010 | Reply

      I notice that Paul Henry repeated the same mantra on Breakfast this morning.

      Which is a clear message to us all to reject the mantra.

    6. By nommopilot on Sep 21, 2010 | Reply

      “It’s just one of those rights you lose by being in prison,” he said.
      Key insisted the Government still saw voting as a universal human right.
      “But not for those in prison,” he added.

      because of course universal human right doesn’t mean ‘applies to all humans’ it means something else. apparently voting is in the same category as eating at McDonalds when it comes to human rights.

      This government clearly hates democracy with a passion.

    7. By Joe Blow on Sep 21, 2010 | Reply

      1. Breach of Right to Vote

      I’m shocked we haven’t already been talking about the breach of rights that already exist for prisoners in New Zealand!

      Good to see that Findlayson is doing a good job even if he is a National Party MP. I saw a lecture by him once and I was not impressed with the guy. He’s much better now he’s on TV!

      I think this really points to a bigger issue which is why we have not entrenched our Bill of Rights like the Canadians have done with their Charter but I’ll just give that a mention this time… What’s wrong with us? Do we only think rights are good enough for American actors in Hollywood or something?

      2. MMP

      There is one feature to MMP which has contributed to the ACT fiasco and that is that when one MP like Rodney gets in on a consituency then the rest of the party come with them even though they haven’t made the 5% threshold. May be they should be having a referendum just on that issue instead of turning it into an MMP or another system question.

      I think Key wants to keep Rodney in so he doesn’t lose ACT as a counterweight to the Maori Party. I don’t think National has decided whether to replace Worth with another National MP in Epsom yet.

      I wonder if he will?

    8. By Kat on Sep 21, 2010 | Reply

      Stop wondering, keyboys mission is to discredit MMP.

    9. By Irascible on Sep 22, 2010 | Reply

      Key’s attack on MMP is not to excuse Hide for his incompetence or to disguise the fact that Key has been a willing bed fellow of the ACT mistress before and since the 2008 election. Key and his NACT membership are opposed to MMP because it rope-ties their tendency to adopt an authoritarian, dictatorial form of governance when in power. Key wants to return to the good old days of the Muldoon gerrymander of FFP. Hence his ill disguised glee when he had the opportunity to crosby-textor his new NACT supporters’ mantra “Down with MMP- it has given us Garrett and the loonies. Let’s have FFP again.”

    10. By roderick on Sep 22, 2010 | Reply

      Scrap MMP? No, let’s get rid of the candidate vote and retain party vote. This would encourage voters to vote on policy rather than personality, which is now being sensationalised to such a degree we could well end up with the circus they have in the US.
      Is it such a bad thing to actually expect people to know what they’re voting for?

    11. By Joe Blow on Sep 22, 2010 | Reply

      Well it does both.

      It takes the heat off Rodney because National will need him next term (and the next?) no matter what the result is in the referendum on MMP and it discredits MMP at the same time.

      We haven’t seen the last of MMP for a while yet:

      “If a majority of voters opt for a change from MMP, there will be a second referendum at the 2014 general election. This will be a contest between MMP and the alternative voting system that receives the most votes in the first referendum. It will be binding.

      “If a majority of voters prefer the alternative voting system to MMP, the 2017 general election will be held under the alternative voting system.”

      http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/mmp+referendum+be+held+2011+election

    12. By Sean on Sep 22, 2010 | Reply

      Scrap MMP? No, let’s get rid of the candidate vote and retain party vote. This would encourage voters to vote on policy rather than personality,…

      I agree Roderick, its electorates which warp the system, not percentage vote.

      Even with its faults, I still prefer MMP to FPP. Under First Past the Post, there was nearly no reason to vote, the results were so predictable.

    13. By simon on Sep 22, 2010 | Reply

      The funny part of all this is that the next election has to be held under MMP. And the one after that (although that could still change).

      So Key is saying “Vote for me in 2011, because I can work with other parties to deliver stable government, but vote against MMP in 2011, because I can’t work with other parties to deliver stable government.”

      If he wants to destabilise his own government, and his own re-election, good luck to him.

    14. By Tractor Nut on Sep 22, 2010 | Reply

      This is insane. You simply cannot have a democratic society if you are going to disenfranchise people. Fundamental.

      One person, one vote. Very simple. Anything more or less is not democracy.

    15. By Not a Victim on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Voting is a privilege and a serious responsibility, not a right. Those in prison forfeited their right to enjoy the privileges of society when they violated the rights of the rest of us who manage to live within the law. When they’ve done their time and show they can live responsibly with the rest of us, sure, they can vote. But while they’re inside, I say no voting for violent criminals, at least. I don’t care to have burglars and rapists helping decide on the government of my country.

    16. By Grant on Oct 9, 2010 | Reply

      Not a Victim: Totally agree.

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