Free speech restricted in New Zealand with passing of Bill, say opponents

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

At various times protestors gathered in the main centres in New Zealand to march against the Electoral Finance Bill. The above photograph was taken at the Christchurch march (there was one in Wellington and two in Auckland).
Image: Gabriel Pollard.

The proposed amendments to the Electoral Finance Act have been passed into law, which critics call an attack on free speech. The law will come into effect on January 1, 2008 - the start of election year in New Zealand - after receiving royal assent by the Queen's representative in New Zealand, Governor-General Anand Satyanand.

Under the new law, individuals or groups of New Zealanders will face restrictions on what they can say for or against a political party. Once an organisation has spent over NZ$12,000 (currently USD$9,080) on a campaign, they must register and then face what opponent John Boscawen describes as "draconian restrictions or requirements" including a limit of $120,000 ($USD 90,800). "At a time when political parties are free to spend millions and millions of dollars promoting their own views - both from their own money, and taxpayer's money.

On its third and final reading, the new Act had 63 votes for, 57 against. National Party, Māori, ACT, UnitedFuture and independent Taito Phillip Field voted against, with Labour, Greens, New Zealand First and Progressive voting for.

Justice Minister, Annette King, dismisses the claims by opponents who claim that free speech will be stifled. She says that it only restricts speech that has been paid for, not free speech.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt faces a conviction under the new law because of a campaign he is spearheading against the Government over tertiary funding cuts. However, Mr Shadbolt says that he is not worried about possibly breaking the law, "Well I’ve been to jail twice before, I’ve spent five years in periodic detention centres, I’ve been arrested 33 times I’m not likely to be intimidated at this stage of my life."

National leader John Key said, "So Tim will be in breach of the law and there is every chance that he will go to jail for two years or face a fine of $40,000...."

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