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Electoral Finance Bill—Consequences of Overspending

Tuesday 18 December 2007 Hansard source (external site)

English3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) Link to this
to the Minister of Justice

Is it the Government’s policy that any person who knowingly spends more than $120,000 in an election year encouraging people not to vote for the Government should be liable for imprisonment of up to 2 years and a fine of up to $100,000?

KingHon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) Link to this

Any person who knowingly breaks any law must be prepared to face the consequences.

HideRodney Hide Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to rule on whether the Minister has addressed that question, which was put down on notice. It is an important issue for the debate to be held later today, for all the parties in this House. I suggest to you that that answer was a bit light, because it could be an answer to any particular question about any particular law, when the question was quite specific.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

I think the Minister did address the question.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Is it the Government’s policy that any person who intends to spend over $12,000 in an election year on publicity that could be construed as political advertising must register as a third party, appoint a financial agent, and meet a number of other requirements, and if that person does not do that, then he or she will also be liable for imprisonment of up to 2 years and a fine of $100,000?

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Can the Minister confirm that if Southland interests want to continue their campaign of criticism of the Government policy for the funding of polytechs, then they will be bound to register as a third party if they intend to run one more advertisement after 1 January, because the threshold is in fact $12,000 of spending?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

If Southland and Mayor Tim wish to undertake advertising and stick with the issues, none of this will apply to them, any more than it would apply to their saying do not privatise accident compensation, do not privatise the roads, do not privatise our prisons, do not privatise our schools—all of which are National Party policy. As long as they stick with the issues, they are not covered.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Is the Minister aware that if the police suspect that Southland interests are going to spend over $12,000 and are not registered as a third party, then the police have powers under the Electoral Finance Bill to search the Invercargill City Council or Mr Shadbolt’s home to find evidence of whether they have broken the law?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

I do not believe that Mayor Tim or his council would be so silly as to get themselves in that situation. They will stick with the issues. I suggest that the member should stop scaremongering.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Does the Minister intend to read the bill, or to advise the Prime Minister to read the bill, where it defines a political advertisement as any form of words that encourages voters to vote for or against a party by reference to views, positions, or policies, which would certainly include a campaign that refers to the Government and criticises its policy over funding polytechs, thereby making Southland interests liable to up to 2 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $100,000, even if they are spending only $12,000?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

Both the Prime Minister and I have read the bill. I can say to the member—

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

It’s about time.

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

Oh, “Mr Nasty”!

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

Be seated, please! This is the last warning. I do not care whether you are on the front bench of either side of the House, you will be asked to leave. Would the Minister please just stick to the question.

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

I am very happy to. Both the Prime Minister and I have read the bill. I say to the member that the Electoral Commission will be charged with making decisions on whether publications by third parties fall into the definition of an election advertisement, not Mr English and not me.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Is it the Government’s policy that the definition of an election advertisement is so wide and so uncertain, and that the liabilities for breaking the law are so severe, that they will have a chilling effect on criticism of the Government, and it will take brave leadership, such as that of Mayor Tim Shadbolt, to run a campaign against the Government in an election year?

PetersRt Hon Winston Peters Link to this

What is the special feature of this law that suggests that in the 3 months out from an election the activity would be legal—and, therefore, within the electoral law of this country—and soundly placed, but if it is in the 9 or 10 months before an election, it is somehow wrongly placed; what is the special feature that gets it from one position, which the National Party supports, to one that it does not?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

It is a simple matter of a large amount of money that the National Party intended to spend, pretending that it would not have influenced the vote before the 3 months were up but would have influenced it after the 3 months. That is the nonsense we have had from the National Party.

PetersRt Hon Winston Peters Link to this

Just to get this clear, is the Minister saying that if an activity was undertaken in, say, next September, for a November election, then it would be OK, but, under the National Party interpretation, if it happened in April it would not be OK; what is the special feature about that, which is so much a matter of angst in the Opposition ranks today?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

That is a very good question; it goes right to the heart of this debate. The answer is that the National Party had planned to spend a lot of money between January and September—and therefore not counting in terms of an election—but once it got to the magical 3 months it would spend in that period, and say that was OK. Everyone knows that was a nonsense.

PetersRt Hon Winston Peters Link to this

Notwithstanding which month the expenditure occurs in, is it a fact that in 2008 such expenditure will attract GST, and therefore must be paid?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

We have explicitly put into the bill that the expenditure does incur GST. You see, the National Party did not pay it, and has not paid it, but we have made sure that it cannot make the mistake next time. It is in the bill.

PetersRt Hon Winston Peters Link to this

Has the Minister of Justice—seeing as she occupies that most distinguished and important role—made submissions to the Minister of Revenue, because, clearly, the head of the Inland Revenue Department is not enforcing the law? If GST is outstanding, then legal action should have been taken against the National Party.

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

No, I have not made such representations, but I suggest that maybe the member, having raised the issue in front of the Minister of Revenue, might like to take it up with him.

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