15 Nov 2022

Government reaches compromise with National on electoral law change

4:45 pm on 15 November 2022
Kiri Allan

Justice Minister Kiri Allan says changes to the Māori Electoral Option bill will make sure nobody was able to "game the system". Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The government has reached a compromise with National in order to get its new electoral legislation over the line.

The Māori Electoral Option bill initially proposed allowing Māori to switch between the general and Māori rolls at any time, as many times as they would like, including on polling day.

Currently, the Māori Electoral Option is held after each five-yearly population census and runs for four months.

An exception had been put into the bill for by-elections. But now exceptions will also be made for the three months up to general and local body elections, after calls from National.

Ordinarily, a government, especially one with Labour's majority, would not have to listen to demands from the opposition. But in this case, a bipartisan approach was needed to get the bill passed.

The speaker confirmed it needed a 75 percent majority, meaning the government needed National's buy-in.

Minister of Justice Kiri Allan will introduce a Supplementary Order Paper to Parliament on Tuesday with the amendments for the bill's committee stage.

The changes would make sure nobody was able to "game the system" but still enabled switching between the rolls, she said.

She had worked with opposition parties for a number of months on the amendments, and said it was "a great day for democracy".

"I am incredibly excited. I think this is the right thing to do for New Zealand," she said.

Allan said the compromises were made so the bill would be enduring and not changed by future governments.

"You want to make sure whoever's at the helm of the day, the government of the day, that these types of issues won't be repealed. I'm really thankful because I think we've got that certainty in the House today."

National's justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said the changes would maintain confidence in the system.

"Ultimately, we do want people to have greater flexibility than they have now, we were just concerned around the election period," he said.

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Te Pāti Māori co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer had a electoral law change bill of their own voted down last week. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

But Te Pāti Māori said the changes were "second-rate".

A member's bill from co-leader Rawiri Waititi, which would have allowed Māori to change rolls at any time, was voted down last week with only the Greens supporting.

Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said it was a shame the government did not work with Te Pāti Māori on its own bill, but would still support the government's bill.

"It isn't the full suite of changes that we think are necessary to take racism out of democracy, but it's the one that's got the support," she said.

She was disappointed the government had compromised.

"When you get to do these things, you want to do them well and do them properly. There's one reason you're doing them: because tangata whenua are disadvantaged by the current system. A half pie ka pai will never work for us."

Allan admitted the reason Labour voted down Waititi's bill was because of its own bill, and the speaker's ruling it would need a 75 percent majority.

The bill is expected to pass its third reading this week, with the changes set to take effect in March, in time for next year's general election.

Over 22,000 people tried to change rolls in the lead up to the 2020 General Election.

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