Suspension of elections 'disturbing'

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 15:03 15/11/2012
Waikari artist Sam Mahon.
FILE
ANGRY ARTIST: Sam Mahon.

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Proposed legislation to extend the suspension of Environment Canterbury (ECan) elections is a ''disturbing'' breach of the rule of law, the New Zealand Law Society says.

The New Zealand Law Society's Rule of Law committee convener, Austin Forbes, hit out at the Government for introducing the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Bill, during a Local Government and Environment Select Committee meeting in Christchurch today.

The bill will allow Government-appointed commissioners to run the regional body until at least the 2016 elections.

''Democratic decision-making in local government is a very important and legitimate expectation of citizens. The proposed further suspension of local body democracy runs counter to core constitutional values, most importantly that of a free and democratic society,'' Forbes said.

In September, Local Government Minister David Carter and Environment Minister Amy Adams said ECan elections would not be held until 2016 at the earliest, despite an earlier Government promise to hold regional council elections next year.

Government-appointed commissioners have been in charge of ECan since democratically elected councillors were sacked in 2010.

Forbes said the Law Society was ''strongly opposed'' to the bill as there was no jusitification to suspend local body democracy in Canterbury for at least six and a half years.

He said the Government had cited the earthquake recovery as the reason but that was not a good enough.

''Only a clearly demonstrable or overwhelming reason might justify the suspension of the democratic right to vote within a region for a period of six and a half years. This time frame cannot be said to be 'temporary'.''

Forbes said the Law Society believed this issue was of real concern to the public, as well as lawyers, both in and beyond Canterbury.

He urged the select committee to stop the Bill from proceeding.

Representatives from Community Law Canterbury and the Resource Management Law Association of New Zealand also spoke against the Bill.

High-profile artist and writer Sam Mahon earlier told government officials to "f... off back to Wellington" during the hearing.

Cantabrian Cliff Mason slammed his fist onto the table during his submission, calling the extension of commissioner's terms a "bloody outrage" and comparing it to a dictatorship.

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When comittee chairwoman Nicky Wagner told him to calm down, Mahon yelled at her and the other National MPs to "f... off back to Wellington".

The room was cleared while the committee decided whether to continue with the submissions.

After five minutes the submitters and public were allowed back in on the basis there were no more outbursts.

The hearing, which is being held at the Air Force Museum, is expected to finish this afternoon.

Mahon, a Waikari artist, has previously courted controversy by painting Prime Minister John Key dead in an alley and fashioning a cow-dung bust of then Environment Minister Nick Smith's head.

Mahon, the son of former High Court judge Peter Mahon, has also written about environmental issues in Franzi and the Great Terrain Robbery and The Water Thieves.

- The Press

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