Justice Minister Andrew Little expects a barrage of egregious misinformation in the lead-up to next year's referendum questions about euthanasia and recreational cannabis.
Yesterday the End of Life Choice bill passed its third reading, sending the fate of the bill to the public vote at the 2020 election, where a question about legalising recreational cannabis will also be asked.
Teams in the Justice Ministry will prepare neutral, factual information for each referendum and make that publicly available, but they will not be tasked with calling out misinformation.
And with such emotive issues, the campaigns from all sides are expected to be passionate.
"The chances it will be a reasonably ugly election are reasonably high," Little told the Herald.
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Anyone with an issue with any advertising could lodge a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority, but Little recently lost a case with the ASA that has shattered his confidence.
"The ASA may wise up between now and the early part of next year. I hope they do.
"I just hope they understand they have a responsibility when they are regulating advertising for the purposes of a general election and or a referendum. They should discharge their duties responsibly."
He said he wasn't only talking about his complaint that the ASA rejected.
"Somebody complained about an ad that said icecream makes you happy, and they ruled that the ad had to be removed on the grounds that it was factually incorrect.
"You've got to wonder where their heads are at ... I want to meet the person who has had icecream and it hasn't made them happy.
"They've got to do their job properly and responsibly, and there are now two decisions in quick succession that show they are possibly operating on a different planet, or are being too frivolous about their responsibilities."
ASA chief executive Hilary Souter said the ASA recognised free speech and differences of political opinion, and she was surprised at Little's comments.
"The ASA has been dealing with political and advocacy advertising for over 30 years.
"It has a nine-member independent complaints board that rules on code compliance and the process is quick – with a fast-track process of around three days in place during the month prior to election day."
Little also expected "clearly egregiously factually incorrect statements" to be circulated on social media.
"The intensity of social media exchanges will be greater than ever before, and that is backgrounded by what we've seen in general elections in other countries where social media platforms can be weaponised very easily."
While Twitter recently put a ban on political advertising, Facebook has said it is not its responsibility to fact-check political posts.
Little said he would do what he could to call out misinformation, and called on others to do the same.
"I will do the best I can to make people alert to the possibility that half of what you might see on social media might be bullshit.
"We've got a duty in the political sphere to draw the voting public's attention to the real possibility that people will try to exploit vulnerabilities using social media, and vulnerabilities of people's lack of knowledge and understanding.
"If there are people who share that view, there are more people who might be prepared in their own conduct to make sure it doesn't descend to ugliness. In a vibrant democracy, you call stuff out. That's all you've got."
He said Ministry of Justice officials would not be expected to step in when they see misinformation, though they should be able to answer questions.
"The unit is not there to provide advocacy. It's not their job to climb into the fray. They can be a source of neutral factual information.
"We want to do everything we can to make sure there is a source of reliable, factual information."
The Electoral Commission will monitor compliance with the rules of referendum advertising in the Referendums Framework Bill currently before Parliament, which are similar to general election rules and include spending limits.
Selection of quotes from the End of Life Choice readings in the House:
National MP Judith Collins (second reading): Twenty-five years ago I held my father's hand as he died. I have always been opposed to euthanasia as of right on the basis that people like my dad got to, essentially, tell everybody when they wanted to go, and I thought that was available to everybody. It's not available to everybody.
National MP Harete Hipango (third reading): Let's not euphemise this with niceties and phrases: this is a "Kill Bill".
Labour MP Grant Robertson (third reading): I discussed this issue with Helen (Kelly) before her death several times. She said, "I could let myself die now. I could refuse treatment … lawfully and die rather quickly. Instead I am trying to live, which is actually what most terminally ill people want — we don't actually want to die — but if we have to then we want to do it peacefully and some of us may want tools to help [us] when it is not going to happen naturally."
National MP Agnes Loheni (third reading): We are aghast at the idea of war. We have turned our back on the State-sanctioned killing of criminals, murder is rightfully and justly condemned, and we are troubled by our terrible suicide statistics. Yet now we are giving ourselves licence as the State to arrange the death of our citizens. How will history ever smile on this?
National MP Shane Reti (third reading): I am the only person in this House who will be permissioned to euthanise New Zealanders. This weighs heavily on me. In 1827, Ludwig Beethoven was dying with cirrhosis of the liver. He was eligible for euthanasia, and yet in his final months he completed some of his most admired work ... Under euthanasia, this brightness would be gone from the world.
National MP Chris Bishop (third reading): I came into this Parliament as a liberal, and I am determined to leave as a liberal. This bill upholds individual dignity. It affirms individual autonomy. It sanctifies self-determination.
Labour MP Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki (third reading): We all die. It is a natural phenomenon. I speak from my insights as someone who has experienced sharing a journey with my relations at the beginning of their death — their final breath, through to the burial grounds or to the furnace at the crematorium. I have been at their bedside as they took their final breath. They passed away with dignity, despite their varying ages and their terminal illnesses.
Act MP David Seymour (third reading): I've listened to New Zealanders talk about their experiences, literally from Kerikeri to Gore. Overwhelmingly, they've said to me, "I've seen bad death. If my time comes and I'm not doing well, then I want choice. And, by the way, it's nobody else's business but mine."