That old adage about lovers of sausages and the law? It's true.

I've just finished watching Parliament move a step closer to disenfranchising all sentenced prisoners whilst they are serving their terms of imprisonment. It was not an edifying spectacle.

For one thing, the chair of the Law and Order Committee, which recommended by a majority that the Bill progress, didn't even bother turning up to the House for the debate - let alone speak up in defence of her Committee's decision. For another, the Government MPs who voted to support the measure gave a series of one sentence "speeches" to justify their votes. Apparently removing a fundamental human right from thousands of your fellow citizens isn't thought to require anything more by way of explanation than a brief "just don't do the crime" homily.

Just for the record - the voting went like this: National and Act voted in favour of the Bill. Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party, United Future and Jim Anderton all voted against it. Chris Cater was at the gym.

Oh - one other interesting point from the debate. Paul Quinn admitted that there would be a Supplementary Order Paper introduced during the Committee of the Whole to amend the Bill, unfairly blaming the Parliamentary Counsel Office for his and Sandra Goudie's incompetence.

Told you so.

Comments (14)

by Dean Knight on October 20, 2010
Dean Knight
Sigh. I might have to revise my claim that Parliament deserves due respect and deference on Bill of Rights judgements made by it. But may that respect just first needs to be earned first....
by The Falcon on October 21, 2010
The Falcon

Sounds like very lazy lawmaking, not good. Although it's hard to muster up too much sympathy for criminals in jail, given that it takes a serious crime to get there.

In a way, under the new Bill, criminals are no more disenfranchised than the 95,000 people who voted NZ First in 2008. Personally I would say good bill + bad process.

by Kyle Matthews on October 21, 2010
Kyle Matthews

I think you need to look up 'disenfranchised' in the dictionary The Falcon.

It doesn't mean "voted for someone and they didn't get elected". The people who voted for NZ First got to vote. Disenfranchised people don't.

by The Falcon on October 21, 2010
The Falcon

Semantics, Kyle. 95,000 (presumably law-abiding) people have no representatives in Parliament due to a quirk of our electoral law. I feel more sorry for them than for violent criminals who no longer get to vote for light sentencing, personally. It's about priorities.

If you want to ensure the prisoners have no representation, but are still technically "not disenfranchised", maybe we could set up ballot boxes just outside the prison. The prisoners would have every right to cast their vote - but they won't be able to reach the ballot box.

by Andrew Geddis on October 21, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Falcon,

Sorry, but the issue of where to set the party vote threshold (5%? 4%? 2%? no threshold at all?) simply is not the same as the issue of whether people should be allowed to vote or not. Of course casting a vote doesn't guarantee you anything except that your vote be counted according to the rules in place at the time. It may be that those rules then render your vote worthless in a practical sense - and that may be thought to provide a reason to revisit those rules. But do you honestly think there is no difference between a rule that says "parties getting less than 5% of the vote do not get representation in Parliament (subject to the electorate exception)" and a rule that says "members of parties polling less than 5% before an election do not get to cast a vote"? Because that is what you appear to be arguing ...

by Justin Maloney on October 21, 2010
Justin Maloney

Didn't United Future vote against it? When I tuned in the Nat whip was rather embarrassingly seeking leave to change that vote when she realised she'd cast it the wrong way. Leave was granted. I admit I only flicked over just as the vote was taking place so maybe missed something.

It was a wee bit amusing watching the debate on the Student Association bill which followed where ACT said one of the reasons they were pushing the Bill was that compulsory membership was a breach of BORA. One of the Labour MPs pointed out it seemed rather contradictory to propose one Bill that explicitly breaches BORA then immediately following one that justifies its existence as giving effect to BORA.

That's politics I guess.

by Andrew Geddis on October 21, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Justin,

If that is the case - I turned off in some disgust as soon as the oral votes were recorded - then I am wrong. It also would accord with the vote at first reading ... only Act and National voted for it then, too.

Apologies to Peter Dunne, and I shall amend the post accordingly.

by The Falcon on October 21, 2010
The Falcon

Andrew

Yes there is a difference between electoral laws (made in good faith) resulting in votes being rendered worthless, and not being allowed to vote in the first place. But the difference only really exists in theory; in reality, NZ First voters are as disenfranchised as prisoners.

So yes I can understand you opposing the bill out of principle (one person one vote), although I think a legitimate case can be made that it is okay to take away the right to vote from criminals. Most people accept that people who infringe grievously on the rights of others have to suffer consequences in terms of losing their liberty. Perhaps they should lose their vote too.

I expect you are also concerned about nightmare scenarios in which a guy is in prison during an election, isn't allowed to vote, and finds out to his horror that the new government legalises torture on prisoners.

But imagine this scenario, which could happen under the present rules: A Bulgarian woman emigrates to New Zealand just before an election. She is not allowed to vote at that election because she hasn't been in the country long enough. At that election, the NZ public votes in a government that immediately bans all flights out of NZ, and implements a genocide against Bulgarians.

Stupid examples I know, but I'm just pointing out that some people who are in a position to be negatively influenced by the results of an election are already denied the right to vote on rather arbitrary grounds (not having lived in NZ long enough).

In conclusion, I find it hard to be too outraged over the bill given that:

1) Disregarding the principle/appearance, the reality is that NZ's electoral system effectively disenfranchises some people, and that this reality (for 95,000 decent people) is more important than the reality of some criminals losing their vote.

2) The recent immigrants example shows that NZ already does disenfranchise some adults, both in principle and reality. This reduces the force of a 'nightmare scenario' argument.

by Andrew Geddis on October 21, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Falcon,

The rights/wrongs of disenfranchising prisoners has been kicked around on this previous thread (not that I'm trying to forestall the debate, just noting that it's been had before).

I'm actually not concerned about the "nightmare scenario", because I don't believe that allowing prisoners to vote would do anything at all to stop a government from deciding to torture them (if such a government were ever to get into power in NZ.) My concern is about the symbolism of the move - to tie this into my previous post - and what it says about how society views prisoners, what effect that view is likely to have on prisoner rehabilitation and, generally, the petty meanness of the decision.

From a practical perspective, disenfranchising prisoners makes as much difference as would (say) banning the Workers Party of NZ or the Kiwi Party ... but just because a legal rule won't change how the world works doesn't mean it's not important!

by Graeme Edgeler on October 21, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

One of the Labour MPs pointed out it seemed rather contradictory to propose one Bill that explicitly breaches BORA then immediately following one that justifies its existence as giving effect to BORA.

Voting for both bills does seem contradictory, but then so does voting against both bills.

by Otto von Bismarck on October 21, 2010
Otto von Bismarck

It would be foolish to disregard the principle because that is precisely what is wrong with this law. Once it is in place, how hard would it be to change the threshold? Given Gerry Brownlee's recent powers, he could extend it to all of those with a conviction if he felt that somewhow criminals-with-votes were thwarting Chch's recovery.

by The Falcon on October 21, 2010
The Falcon

Andrew

Looking at your comment in the other thread, you seem to acknowledge a need for some punishment/imprisonment of criminals, but don't think taking away the vote is the right form of punishment to dish out. Fair enough, I am probably 50/50 on that issue.

But when you talk about "what it says about how society views prisoners, what effect that view is likely to have on prisoner rehabilitation and, generally, the petty meanness of the decision", you are taking a partisan political viewpoint, i.e. sympathising with criminals as victims of "meanness" when a decision goes against them. We will have to agree to disagree on that.

by Andrew Geddis on October 21, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Falcon,

Of course, I'm as susceptible to the odd partisan burp as the next blogger (insert smiley emoticon here ...).

by Justin Maloney on October 21, 2010
Justin Maloney

Voting for both bills does seem contradictory, but then so does voting against both bills.

Fair point, I guess it all comes down to whether you think it is a justifiable limitation or not... If I were to oppose a Bill that made torture legal (s 9) would it be contradictory to then oppose a Bill that meant the courts could not stop people awaiting trial for major crimes from leaving the country (s 18(3))? Then again, what is the sound of one hand clapping?

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