Oh this is Embarrassing

New Zealand Parliament – 2. Electoral Finance Act?Reporting of Offences

Minister King didn’t front and left the embarrassing task of explaining Labour’s breaches of the Electoral Finance Act to Michael Cullen. ote also Winston’s blatant attack on the media in a desperate attempt to hide his own parties breaches.

2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader?National) to the Minister of Justice: Is it the Government?s policy that if the Electoral Commission believes an offence has been committed under the Electoral Finance Act 2007 it must report this to the police, unless the commission believes the offence is so inconsequential that there is no public interest in doing so?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: That is the purport of section 111 of the Electoral Finance Act.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the Electoral Commission has ruled that Labour breached the Electoral Finance Act by not having an authorisation statement on its We?re Making a Difference for Everyone booklet; if so, does she expect the commission to refer this matter to the police?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I understand the Electoral Commission has determined not to send the matter to the police.

Hon Bill English: Is she aware that the Electoral Commission has not said that Labour?s breach is inconsequential but merely that it is the first offence, and therefore the commission is, in fact, obliged by the Electoral Finance Act to refer this matter to the police?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Electoral Commission is an independent body and acts independently.

Hon Bill English: What did the Government intend by the use of the term ?inconsequential? when the Minister introduced it in her own Supplementary Order Paper to the Electoral Finance Act, and does she think that spending hundreds of thousands of dollars publishing a booklet designed to get people to vote for the Labour Party is inconsequential, or is it only inconsequential when Labour is spending the money?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: This pamphlet was prepared last year. It points out things like in 1999 the Labour Party restored superannuation; it has introduced zero interest on student loans; and the number of young people receiving the unemployment benefit has dropped from 17,514 in 1999 to 990 in 2007. It is true of course that these are not inconsequential achievements, but the commission determines its own conclusions.

Hon Bill English: How does the Minister think it looks to other political parties and to the public, when this is, in fact, the second warning the Labour Party has had?the first one being when the Electoral Commission had to correct Labour Party secretary Mike Smith, who misled the public about the advice he had been given?and now it has had another warning on this booklet, so after two flagrant breaches of the Act there is still no referral to the police of Labour?s activities?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I would have thought that the National Party would feel greatly relieved, given that it prepared a DVD last year without an authorisation on it that has been distributed this year, and therefore National has committed exactly the same offence, which, hopefully, the Electoral Commission will make the same decision on. What I think the decision of the commission has shown is that it is very important for parties to err on the side of caution, and to put authorisations on everything they put out, and, secondly, to be very careful about redistributing information prepared last year and re-releasing it this year. By no means is this pamphlet prepared by the Labour Party the only offender, in that regard.

Hon Bill English: Why is it that Labour always seems to get a ?get out of jail free? card when it comes to breaches of the electoral law, like it did after the 2005 election, when it promised before the election to count the pledge card in its electoral expenses, then after the election it wrote to the Electoral Commission and withdrew that promise, and despite the fact that the police, deciding there was a prima facie case against Labour, decided not to prosecute?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: One might well ask, in response, why a State-owned organisation failed to demand the GST owed to it by the National Party, which got out of jail by giving some money to a charity, and then it attacked New Zealand First for attempting to give money to a charity in a similar situation.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: So that we can have some idea of what is reasonable and fair and equal in this business, has the Minister received any reports from the foreign-owned media in this country as to its raving and ranting about the National Party?s actions by way of criticism, or has there been from the foreign-owned media, in the main, a deafening silence on the National Party?s actions, which were, after all, a crime?

Madam SPEAKER: I do not think there is any ministerial?[Interruption] Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member be seated. I want to be clear. Your question asked for reports. Could you please repeat the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports on the acceptance of the mainly foreign-owned print media in this country in its view of the National Party?s actions, which were, after all, a crime, despite the fact that it paid the money to charity?in short, one has a crime and a charitable payment, and one has a botch-up by Ministerial Services, and we are responsible; what is fair about that?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister is not responsible for National Party actions.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Three times in the last 3 minutes Bob Clarkson MP has referred to ?you???your? this and ?your? that. If I was associated with Blue Chip, I would not be saying too much about anybody, at this point in time. He has brought you into the debate three times.

Madam SPEAKER: If the member wants to make his interjections, would he please make them rarely, appropriately, and quietly.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the three parties that pushed through the Electoral Finance Act?Labour, New Zealand First, and the Greens?have each so far this year breached the authorisation provisions of the law; so how can it be fair that although Labour has got away with a slap on the hand with a wet bus ticket because it has the first case, New Zealand First and the Greens may well have to suffer referral to the police and prosecution?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Electoral Commission is independent and makes its own decisions, and I am not going to make comments that predetermine what those decisions should be. I do note that the National Party distributed a DVD this year that has no authorisation on it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Produced last year.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: So was this pamphlet produced last year, I tell Dr Smith; that is the point. Pots and kettles should get out of this place.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr English made an allegation that we in New Zealand First had breached the Electoral Act but provided no substance or evidence for that; he just got up in the House and said it.

Hon Bill English: That is not a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is a point of order. If he is going to accuse a party of breaching some law, that is likely to lead to disorder when it is demonstrably, palpably untrue.

Hon Bill English: Yes, I think on one day this week I produced actual evidence of billboards that had been put up by New Zealand First in Tauranga, with no authorisation on them, at all.

Madam SPEAKER: These are matters of debate?these are matters of debate.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell the House whether it was the Government?s intention that under ?the law of common sense?, as articulated by the Minister of Justice, the Labour Party would be allowed to breach the law three times now this year and suffer no penalty, but everyone else would have to keep the law, and if they break it?even if it is New Zealand First and the Greens?the Electoral Commission will refer them to the police?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the Electoral Commission refers the National Party to the police on the basis of this DVD, then I suspect that the answer would have to be yes?but it has not done so.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it a fact that because of legislation passed post the 2005 election, there is no money to be paid back to the taxpayer that, if it were the case, would not attract gift duty, which is the reason why some parties have decided to send the money to charity?is that not in fact the legal position, as set out by Tony Molloy QC?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Yeah, right!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: ?not a dumbo like that fellow over there, who is complaining about his defamation costs, and whingeing and whining because he cannot face one case? I have faced nine, and have no trouble with it.

Madam SPEAKER: No, the member has asked his question but his question contained the seeking of a legal opinion. The Minister is not responsible for legal opinions, but if he wants to make any other contributions he is free to do so?but, no.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If a Minister has ushered a piece of legislation through this House, and I have asked a question as to its effect, surely I am not asking for a strictly legal opinion; I am asking what the legislation was intended to achieve. I am asking whether its effect, when passed, is that such a payment is likely to attract gift duty, given that there is no place in our legislation, constitutionally, for that money to be paid to. It is that simple. That is what the legislation, in terms of the opinion of Tony Molloy QC, is in fact achieving. So if the media do not understand that, and if this House is not able to understand that, then, frankly, we are limiting the reason why we have the passage of a bill?so that there is some general understanding by the members of the House and the public as to its effect.

Madam SPEAKER: By the way the question was framed, I think it was framed as though a legal opinion was required on a specific set of facts. That is why I have ruled accordingly.

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