Sweeping law changes proposed by an official inquiry into last year's election and foreign interference have taken too long to be of use for next year's election, Justice Minister Andrew Little says.

Parliament's Justice Select Committee on Tuesday released the findings of its long-delayed report into the 2017 election and 2016 local body elections.

Major recommendations in a lengthy list of 55 include handing control of local elections from councils to the Electoral Commission and giving the Commission powers to enforce and investigate minor breaches of electoral law (major breaches would stay with the police).

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They also cover changes to foreign donations, a ban on foreign Government's owning New Zealand media organisations, changes to advertising laws, stricter requirements on parties to properly check the source of donations and recommendations aimed at defending against misinformation and hacking during the next election.

But Justice Minister Andrew Little, who has already introduced a series of changes to electoral laws in this term in Government, says the report has come back too late to be of any use before voters head to the polls in 2020.

"The inquiry has been going for over 18 months … It's unfortunate that the delay means that we pretty much won't be able to take anything else out of the report to make changes," Little told reporters.

"When you leave it to two weeks before Christmas before an election year to recommend changes to the Electoral Act it's pretty hard to make changes."

Little has already introduced legislation based on the Electoral Commission's recommendations and says he couldn't wait any longer.

Changes already put forward by the Government include a ban on most foreign donations announced last week, and allowing voting at supermarkets on election day, revealed earlier this year.

National MP Nick Smith as blamed the Government for taking too long to get the inquiry going in the first place. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National MP Nick Smith as blamed the Government for taking too long to get the inquiry going in the first place. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Select Committee process has been fraught, having gone through six different chairs this year and prompted National MP Nick Smith to describe it as a farce.

The committee is split between National and Labour Party members.


It wasn't started until September, 2018, - a year after the election – and later expanded to also cover foreign interference risks – although intelligence agencies said their security protocols for dealing with foreign and cyber-security threats weren't necessary in 2017. Two National and two Labour members also left the during the process.

The committee's first chair, Labour's Raymond Huo, stood down in April this year after a debate over whether to let China expert and University of Canterbury professor Anne-Marie Brady be heard.

In its response to Tuesday's report, National said the process had also been turned into a "sham" by Little introducing electoral laws before the recommendations were out, and without consensus with the Opposition.

"I don't think the Government took the inquiry seriously," Smith said.

"It's very disappointing and dismissive of the Minister. There's many recommendations in there that are important."

Smith said the Government had taken too long to begin the process.

"It's peculiar for the Minister to be criticising the delay," he said.

"They didn't even start the inquiry until 12 months after the election. The extension of the terms of reference did not occur until late last year and we didn't even hear submissions on the foreign interference issue until April this year."

But Labour's Meka Whaitiri, the committee's last chair, said while she shared Little's regret at the delay, she dismissed Smith's criticism and said "a lot of diplomacy" had been required to get the report over the line.

"If it was just a single, stand-alone inquiry, but it was complicated that it was really three substantive inquiries in one," she said.

"Put it this way, the fact that it's a split Select Committee you are going to get robust debate. And that's exactly what we got."