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Election Advertising—Government Departments

Wednesday 27 August 2008 (advance copy) Hansard source (external site)

English4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) Link to this
to the Minister of Justice

Is it Government policy that Government departments may not publish election advertisements; if so, why?

KingHon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) Link to this

As I have told the member previously, it is not only Government policy but also the wish of Parliament, as set out in section 67 of the Electoral Finance Act 2007.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Can the Minister confirm that the Inland Revenue Department dropped plans to distribute 1.4 million copies of a KiwiSaver flier to every household in the country, and can she confirm that the Inland Revenue Department drafted an email to the Minister of Finance, which stated: “The main reason that we are concerned that a leaflet arriving into every household in an election year is too risky, there is too much potential for people to say: ‘Look how the Government is spending your money to get around the Electoral Finance Act.’ ”, and what does it say about a Government, when even its own departments believe it is trying to rort the law?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

Perhaps I could just update the member. He has a nice little email that he thought would be a very good little question today, but I would like to table the letter from the Commissioner of Inland Revenue, Mr Robert Russell, who said the eventual decision reflected the fact there was a high awareness and uptake of KiwiSaver, already much higher than anticipated, meaning the household-wide distribution of the flier was not warranted, and this was conveyed to Ministers. [ Interruption] Oh, so they are saying that Mr Russell was a liar. Well, I take exception to that.

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

Can the Minister confirm that Mr Russell informed both the Minister of Revenue, who is not a Labour Party member, and me that the advice he and officials gave was that there was no need for the flier, because the uptake was so high, that Ministers were never informed about any departmental officials’ doubts in terms of the Electoral Finance Act, that that played no part in the final decision; or is the National Party—

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

—now going to call Mr Russell a liar? “Yes, that’s right.”, says Dr Nick Smith, the only person in this House convicted by a court of being a liar.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think you know what the point of order is, Madam Speaker. Earlier on you pulled up my colleague Rodney Hide for using that term. I would have thought you would pull up Dr Cullen for the same reason.

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

Dr Nick Smith was convicted of contempt of court, and the judge made some lengthy comments about the fact that he did not regard any statement made by Dr Smith as at all reliable.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Madam Speaker, in the case of Rodney Hide and Winston Peters you took the action of getting the member to withdraw that term because it is unparliamentary. I suggest that these are similar circumstances and that the same action would be required of the Chair.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

The reason I was hesitating is that I was recalling that what was said was in the context of not directly calling Dr Smith a liar, but in the context of a decision by the court. However—if members wish to remain to hear the end of my ruling—if members taken offence, I will ask the member to withdraw and apologise.

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Perhaps Dr Nick Smith would like to apologise for implying that the Commissioner of Inland Revenue is a liar. Anybody who knows Mr Russell knows he is not. In fact, Mr Russell is on record as saying that the matter around the KiwiSaver pamphlet was not drawn to the attention of Ministers and therefore played no part in their decision.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

Normally it is when you call each other liars that it is required that you withdraw and apologise. When a reference is made to someone outside this House, there are procedures that enable that person also to take a course of action to correct the record if that is what that person wishes to do.

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I was making a different point. I was inviting the member to withdraw and apologise on this matter because we are talking about a very senior public servant and, given the very nature of his office, members of Parliament have to have a very high level of confidence in the Commissioner of Inland Revenue. He is a man who has said very clearly—and the documentation is available—that the matter raised in that email was never brought to the attention of Ministers and therefore played no part in the Ministers’ decision. It was based solely on the advice that the uptake of KiwiSaver was so large there was no need for any further publicity.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

The Minister said that the decision by the Commissioner of Inland Revenue not to publish the KiwiSaver pamphlet was nothing to do with the Electoral Finance Act. I interjected “Yeah, right!”—I did not call the Commissioner of Inland Revenue a liar or anything else. The only person who suggested that has been Dr Cullen himself. I suggest that the member get a little bit less sensitive, rather than going down the track that he has.

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

I cannot let this point go, because of the nature of the official we are talking about. What I have said very clearly to the House, and with documentary evidence that has already been in part tabled by the Minister, is that the matter in the email was never brought to the attention of Ministers. The only matter brought to the attention of Ministers by the Inland Revenue Department was that the KiwiSaver scheme was so successful that there was no need for further publicity. So the member is either calling me a liar, or calling the Commissioner of Inland Revenue a liar.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

I will take the member’s word for it. He said he did not call the official a liar, and if he said he did not, then we must take his word for it.

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the last contribution to the point of order, and the previous one that Dr Cullen was making, both Dr Smith and Mr Brownlee repeatedly—at least twice each—interjected during the point of order. I ask that the normal rules apply to members at this time.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

It would certainly assist with the rulings on the numerous points of order that I have been asked to rule on today if people would not speak or interject during them, as is the rule.

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

I agree with the comments made by Dr Cullen. I have with me a letter from the Commissioner of Inland Revenue, Robert Russell, who makes it clear that the decision on the KiwiSaver pamphlet—not to issue it—was because there was already much higher than anticipated uptake, meaning that the household-wide distribution of the flyer was not warranted. That is the reason why there was no distribution of—[ Interruption] You see, they do not have to say he is a liar. The members imply it by their comments.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

I seek leave to table the emails written by Inland Revenue Department officials, which include the statement: “The main reason that we are concerned that a leaflet arriving into every household in an election year is too risky” is because people will say: “Look how”—

Documents not tabled.

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

I seek leave to table the letter from the Commissioner of Inland Revenue, Robert Russell, setting out the KiwiSaver flyer decision.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Can the Minister confirm that in the Electoral Finance Act, which did prevent the Inland Revenue Department from putting out that pamphlet, Labour also altered section 32 of the Electoral Finance Act to ensure that Owen Glenn would be able to continue to donate to the Labour Party, despite having lived overseas for decades? They altered a provision designed to stop overseas donations, simply for Owen Glenn.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Does the Minister, as part of the Labour Cabinet, now regret changing the law so that Owen Glenn could continue to donate, given the complexities that have arisen from his donations to various political parties?

KingHon ANNETTE KING Link to this

The Government does not regret the changes that were made by the Electoral Finance Act, because it has meant that Bill English and his mates, who were salting away millions of dollars so they could spend it in a rort to buy this election with their Brethren mates, have been stopped.

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