Speech: Disqualification of convicted prisoners - Hone Harawira

Wednesday 21 April 2010, 5:33PM
By Hone Harawira

Mr Speaker - if an election was held today, some 3200 sentenced prisoners, those with a release date between now and 5 March 2011, would be able to take up their democratic right to a vote; and there are another 1800 prisoners on remand who are also eligible; about 5,000 people in prison who can legally vote in a General election; who, under the terms of the Electoral Act 1993, are serving a sentence of less than three years, and are therefore eligible to vote.

But today we get a Bill which seeks to deprive those 5,000 people of their legal rights, to punish them again for the crime for which they have already been prosecuted, sentenced and incarcerated.

And I have to wonder at the motivation of targeting people who are already isolated from our society, who are already alienated from every day life, and who are already serving the time to pay for their crime, and I have to ask what on earth would be the motivation for denying them their rights?

Except to punish them; to prove how nasty and vicious this society can be; to show how we care not for those who have fallen by the wayside; and to show what a callous and depraved society we really are.

Mr Speaker, this Bill is a backward step, taking us back to before 1993 when, based on a recommendation of the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System, the Solicitor General agreed to the three year rule.

This Bill will take us back to the days when anyone in prison on conviction was disqualified from voting, this bill will take us back to the days of prejudice and ignorance, and a society ruled by fear rather than freedom.

Kim Workman, director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, said the bill would affect the 90% of prisoners who would be out of jail in two years, and that it would also actively disenfranchise the families and the communities that these inmates come from - communities like Otara, Flaxmere and Cannons Creek, which would stand to lose a significant number of their voters.

And it doesn’t take too much consideration to realise that with Maori and Pasifika constituting the great majority of inmates, the Polynesian voice will be the voice silenced by this Bill.

Mr Speaker, the history of the right to vote in this country is one of confronting prejudice and challenging exclusion; a history which has opened up the right to vote for women, for Maori, for people who were not British subjects such as the Chinese, for people living on the Chatham Islands; for 20 year olds, and ultimately for 18 year olds as well.

This bill along with a range of similar bills aims to take us back to a time when exclusion defined us as a society, to reset us on the track of slowly but surely rebuilding the walls of racism and denial that will see this country plunge into levels of hatred and violence that will make today’s problems look like a bun fight.

We shudder at might come next, and we signal quite clearly that we will most certainly not be supporting this Bill.