Election Access Fund Bill

  • enacted

Election Access Fund Bill

Member’s Bill

27—2

As reported from the Governance and Administration Committee

Commentary

Recommendation

The Governance and Administration Committee has examined the Election Access Fund Bill and recommends that it be passed with the amendments shown.

Introduction

This bill seeks to establish a fund administered by the Electoral Commission that would facilitate the participation of disabled persons in political life. It aims to ensure that everyone has equal ability to be involved in politics.

In the bill as introduced, the fund could be used by any disabled candidate to cover the disability-related costs of standing in a general election. It could also be used by not-for-profit bodies to cover the cost of making election education events and materials accessible, and by registered political parties to support the access needs of any members.

The bill sets out the guidelines and conditions that the fund would operate under. In doing so, it would also amend the Electoral Act 1993.

Proposed amendments

This commentary covers the main amendments we recommend to the bill as introduced. We do not discuss minor or technical amendments.

Including by-elections in the bill’s coverage

As introduced, the bill focuses on disabled persons standing as candidates in general elections. We consider that it should also cover by-elections, as the bill’s high-level intent is to facilitate political participation by disabled persons. We recommend amending clauses 3, 4, and 6 to this effect.

Our amendments would include reference to a by-election in clauses 3 and 6, which state the purpose of the legislation and of the fund.

Our amendments to clause 4 would include a definition of “by-election” and make it clear that the definition of “candidate” would cover both general elections and by-elections.

Definitions of disabled persons

We recommend amending the wording used throughout the bill to refer to “disabled persons”, rather than “persons with disabilities”. We understand that this is the term used in the current New Zealand Disability Strategy.

However, we purposely do not propose including a definition of “disabled person” or “disability” in the bill, as we believe this would be overly prescriptive. It could also cause future conflict as definitions of disability evolve over time, as does the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

Payments from the fund

Eligibility for funding

We recommend amending clause 7(3) to remove the provision for political parties and not-for-profit entities to apply to the fund.

This amendment would narrow the scope of the fund so that only an individual disabled person would be eligible. We consider this appropriate in order to target the fund’s limited resources most effectively. Under the bill as introduced, the fund would be directed three ways, which could spread the available funding quite thinly, and limit its usefulness. There would also be difficult operational questions about how the funds were apportioned between the three groups. Removing these provisions would help by streamlining the fund and making it easier to implement.

We note that excluding political parties from applying to the fund could help to signal the fund’s neutrality, separate from any political affiliation. Although we propose that not-for-profit entities be excluded, we note that these services have been core providers of disability assistance, and the fund may help to alleviate the burden on them.

Payments would not be election expenses or donations

We also recommend amending clause 8 to make it clear that any payment from the fund should not be treated as an election expense or party donation. This is to ensure that the fund is apolitical, and to avoid giving State funding to a political party. It would also make clear that payments are not to be used for general campaigning costs; they are specifically for accessibility costs not faced by others.

Payments would be tax-exempt

We recommend adding new clause 8A to ensure that any payment from the fund would be exempt from income tax.

Future review of the fund and the legislation

As introduced, clause 9 of the bill provides for a one-off review of the legislation within 3 years, to consider the funding’s impact and assess whether any changes are needed. We believe it would be worthwhile strengthening the provisions in the bill for the review of the fund.

Electoral Commission’s review

We suggest including a further regular review by providing for the Electoral Commission to consider the funding provided under the Act in the regular report it prepares following a general election. To do this, we recommend inserting clause 12 to amend section 8 (1) of the Electoral Act 1993. This would add a requirement for the Election Access Fund Act to be considered in the Electoral Commission’s standard report on a general election.

Review by the Minister

We propose some adjustments to the one-off review provided for in the bill as introduced. This review would be initiated by the responsible Minister and would review the effectiveness of the Act, and the performance of the fund after its first use. We recommend amending clause 9 to tighten the timeframe for the Minister to arrange this review, and to give further details on what the review should entail. We propose that this review be within 6 months after the release of the Electoral Commission’s report.

We believe both of these reviews are necessary to test whether the fund is meeting its full potential. This would also give a clear pathway for reviewing and expanding the scope of the legislation in the future.

Whether the fund should cover local body elections

Many submitters suggested that local elections should also be covered by the fund. We acknowledge the importance of making all aspects of political participation accessible, but think that the first use of the fund should focus on general elections. We suggest that the possibility of extending its coverage be considered in the first review.

We hope and expect that local elections will be covered eventually, but this should be managed after the fund has been tested and reviewed.

Appendix

Committee process

The Election Access Fund Bill was referred to the committee on 16 May 2018. The closing date for submissions was 27 July 2018. We received and considered submissions from 90 interested groups and individuals. We heard oral evidence from 18 submitters at hearings in Wellington.

We received advice from the Electoral Commission and the Ministry of Justice.

Committee membership

Dr Jian Yang (Chairperson)

Ginny Andersen

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi

Hon Jacqui Dean

Paul Eagle

Hon Peeni Henare

Brett Hudson (until 31 July 2019)

Raymond Huo (until 24 October 2018)

Jamie Strange (from 24 October 2018)

Lawrence Yule (from 31 July 2019)