How we can avoid our politics becoming as toxic as those of the USA

OPINION: The US presidential race has ended its official campaign season and the contrast with our own election is stark.

In the US election we see politicians using half-truths, downright lies, faked videos, name-calling and attempts to discourage people voting. There are people who try to import US style politics here.

How do we avoid becoming that polarised, with politics seemingly designed to confuse voters rather than promote democracy.

An MP from each side of the house gives their views.

National Party MP for Kaikoura, Stuart Smith.


National Party MP for Kaikoura, Stuart Smith.

Stuart Smith, National MP Kaikōura

The US Election is again raising the question of whether we should implement laws to prevent political candidates from deliberately lying or making misleading statements throughout the entire election campaign process.

We regulate what companies can say about their products so why can’t we regulate what candidates say about the policy or political party they are trying to sell?

The answer is fairly simple – political issues often can’t be neatly judged true or false as claims made by a company selling a product can be.

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Political misinformation can be a serious problem, leading people to disengage from and distrust the political process.

But it won’t be fixed with a legal solution.

Further regulation of the political process is a risky path that we should not take in New Zealand.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This is enshrined in our Bill of Rights which provides the foundation to democracy in New Zealand.

The free flow of information and ideas informs political debate.

People are generally more ready to accept decisions that go against them if they have the ability to speak up against them.

Political candidates should be free to express their ideas, even if those ideas are unpopular, unconventional, or even wrong.


Supporters of US President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden held demonstrations outside Pennsylvania’s vote counting centre in Philadelphia on November 5, as ballot-counting continued in the battleground state.

By debating what they say, doing our own research and ‘fact checking’ any claims, we are able to hold political candidates to account.

New Zealand already has the exception of the law which provides that a person is guilty of a corrupt practice if they deliberately publish a false statement with the intention of influencing an elector, on election day or the two days prior.

The purpose of the tight constraints that apply just to the two days prior to the election is because extending these provisions would reduce the opportunity for scrutiny or rebuttal of statements made by parties or candidates so close to an election.

They were only introduced to stop scandalous claims being made in the last moments before an election.

There will be different views as to what people consider as false statements from political parties or candidates, but these are best contested through debate in the context of freedom of expression.

Any changes to our electoral laws would be worrying due to the potential erosion of free speech that will compromise free and fair elections.

Restricting free speech should only be done when absolutely necessary.

There are far better approaches we can take rather than further restricting that right by attempting to regulate what political candidates can say.

Labour list MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan


Labour list MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan

Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Labour List MP based in Maungakiekie

New Zealand has a healthy democracy.

We keep it that way by embracing our diversity and welcoming a constructive contest of ideas.

Strong leadership and good progress in education and community development can make a big difference.

When the Prime Minister appeared on BBC last year, she said, “We want our people to be engaged in politics. When they’re not, it’s a problem. It means we have democracies that people don’t buy into anymore. And the more that we have that tit-for-tat, name-calling, insults – it looks as if we’re not focussed on the things that matter to people. People disengage and our democracies come under threat.”

This kind of leadership is an antidote to dirty politics; serving as a beacon of hope for people disillusioned by the unrest they see in some parts of the world.

I am proud to call Jacinda Ardern my Prime Minister.

Maintaining a healthy democracy is also about sharing with the next generation how our society works now, and how it has broken down in the past.

That means teaching civics and New Zealand history in schools.

We’ve started providing civics guidance as part of the new School Leavers’ Toolkit, while still aiming to eventually provide some form of civics education in schools.

And the Prime Minister has said that New Zealand history will be taught in all schools by 2022.


Grant Robertson replaces Winston Peters as deputy prime minister, while Chris Hipkins heads a newly created Covid-19 portfolio.

Related changes to the curriculum will ensure that all learners are aware of key aspects of our history, including colonisation, and how they’ve shaped the nation.

Maintaining a healthy democracy is about fostering inclusive communities, too.

That means increasing support for the community and voluntary sector, particularly representatives working closely with our ethnic minority communities.

March 15 reminded New Zealand of our responsibility to be the place that we wish to be; one that is diverse, welcoming, kind and compassionate.

Those values represent the very best of us, and I think we have honoured them since.

More recently Covid-19 has prompted our team of five million to unite again; staying home to save lives early on, and remaining vigilant thereafter.

We are fortunate to call New Zealand home, but luck has nothing to do with the state of our democracy.

Every day each one of us helps to build and strengthen the society we live in; all choosing over and again to embrace our diversity and welcome a contest of ideas.

Keeping it that way will require a collective and sustained effort, and I trust in ours.

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Written by Politixia

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