New Zealand passes law to banish jargon and complex language from its bureaucracy

MP Rachel Boyack said people had ‘the right to understand’ government .

New Zealand has bid farewell to grandiloquent memos and sesquipedalian documents, passing a new law to banish jargon and complex language from its bureaucracy.

The Plain Language Act, which requires officials to use plain, easily understood language when communicating with the public, passed its third reading on Wednesday.

The government says it will make for a more inclusive democracy, particularly for people who speak English as a second language and those with lower levels of education.

MP Rachel Boyack, who presented the bill, said: “People living in New Zealand have a right to understand what the government is asking them to do, and what their rights are, what they’re entitled to from government.”

The bill has proved controversial, with the opposition vowing to repeal it if elected next year.

National MP Simeon Brown said on Wednesday that it was “a solution looking for a problem” and would create new layers of bureaucracy in the form of plain language officers.

“The plain language police, who will be having their clipboards and their little white coats, running around, looking over the shoulders of all the public servants, checking … Are they writing with words of less than one syllable?” he said.

Advocates have said the bill will save money and government time – and that clear communication is key to a functioning democracy.

Others argued the bill would improve accessibility for older people and those who needed documents translated.

In a colourful, sometimes heated debate, MPs drew on Shakespeare, Chaucer and Wordsworth to debate the bill.

“Be not afraid of plain language,” said MP Glen Bennett, “all of you beautifully educated people, with eloquent spoons in your mouths.

You can still speak your big, wonderful, wonderful, huge words that I don’t have, and I’m OK with that, because this is around accessibility.

This is around having language that everyone and anyone can understand.”

The bill ultimately passed with support from the Labour, Green and Māori parties.

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