Climate Voter and the freedom of speech | The Jackal

14 Jul 2014

Climate Voter and the freedom of speech

There's been a great campaign going on recently to raise awareness about climate change issues that's so far been a resounding success with over 20,000 New Zealanders signing up in support.

However that success is potentially being undermined by the Electoral Commission and policy wonks that don't know how to interpret the law properly.

Today, Newstalk ZB reported:

Environmental groups are taking the Electoral Commission to court over a ruling on a climate change campaign.

Greenpeace, Forest and Bird, WWF and others (Oxfam, 350 and GenerationZero) launched the Climate Voter initiative last month.

But the Electoral Commission says the campaign counts as an "election advertisement", and is therefore subject to rules around wording of communications and spending restrictions.

The specific law that governs such things is the Electoral Act 1993 (PDF) which states:

3A Meaning of election advertisement

(1) In this Act, election advertisement—

(a) means an advertisement in any medium that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to do either or both of the following:

(i) to vote, or not to vote, for a type of candidate described or indicated by reference to views or positions that are, or are not, held or taken (whether or not the name of the candidate is stated):

(ii) to vote, or not to vote, for a type of party described or indicated by reference to views or positions that are, or are not, held or taken (whether or not the name of the party is stated); and

(i)a candidate advertisement; and
(ii)a party advertisement.

One of the apparent champions of this law is the blogger known as Idiot/Savant who writes over at No Right Turn. Today he accused the organisations involved in the Climate Voter campaign of being "partisan hacks who think the law doesn't apply to them".  I think that's an unfair criticism, especially considering that his interpretation of the law is wrong!

Even if the Act applied to Climate Voter, which it doesn't, the problem for Idiot/Savant is that he cannot provide an example of where the campaign has said or implied people should vote or not vote for any particular candidate or type of party. That's where his and the Electoral Commission's argument that they have jurisdiction falls down.

The Climate Voter campaign is solely concerned with highlighting the various policy of all the political party's involved in the 2014 election campaign. They are also asking direct questions of all party's with the response being entirely up to the various contenders themselves.

Simply put, the Climate Voter campaign isn't favouring or giving precedence to any particular policy or response to try and influence how people should vote.

It's the policy itself that should influence how people vote, which is exactly how things should be. The organisations involved in Climate Voter have no responsibility for what a political party's climate change policy contains, or indeed the response they receive to some very relevant questions that are of public interest.

In my opinion, to try and close down a public discussion concerning the important issue of climate change is highly undemocratic, which begs the question as to why exactly is Idiot/Savant making such a fuss about it?