Dom Post on Labour’s electoral breaches

July 12th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Today’s Dom Post editorial:

Politicians are not above the law.

They should not seek to be. For the third time in six years the Party has been found to have breached the rules governing election advertising. The Electoral Commission has referred the matter to police. They should prosecute.

The breach is not as serious, or wilful, as Labour’s 2005 misuse of $824,000 of public money to subsidise its election campaign.

Certainly not as serious, but arguably more wilful. In 2005 they could claim they honestly thought that anything paid for by Parliament was not an election expense. In 2011, there is no way they could genuinely hold that view.

It would appear that the only way to convince Labour politicians they too must operate within the law is to hold them to account when they fail to do so. In 2005 police mystifyingly opted not to prosecute prime minister Helen Clark’s chief of staff, Heather Simpson, for exceeding Labour’ election spending limit, despite receiving legal advice that a prosecution would result in a conviction.

I blogged at length on the 2005 investigation. I found a degree of incompetence that was disturbing. The Police in fact investigated the wrong offence and didn’t even understand concepts such as strict liability. They have a chance to redeem themselves now.

The latest offence is similar. Labour campaign spokesman Grant Robertson has attributed it to a difference of opinion between the party and the commission over what constitutes advertising. Labour did not consider the postcard advertising, in part because it had received prior authorisation from the Parliamentary Service, he said. That is an irrelevance as Mr Robertson, a bright, capable new MP of whom his party has high hopes, should know.

Grant would indeed know this. All MPs should know this. It has been made clear by the Electoral Commission.

That role is filled by the Electoral Commission which offers any individual or organisation seeking to produce electioneering material an opportunity to have it vetted in advance.

To find out whether its postcard complied with the law Labour had only to submit it to the commission. It did not do so.

And this is why it had to be referred to the Police. Labour had a chance to get an opinion on it, and simply decided not to.

The lessons of the past have not been learnt. It is time for them to be reinforced.

It is bad enough that the public’s hard-earned money gets squandered on political bumf by all parties. It is even worse that Labour cannot be bothered complying with the rules when it does so. It has trifled with the law long enough. It should be stopped.

The question for the Police should be what message will it send out if they do not prosecute? I believe it will mean that the Electoral Commission will be a lame duck, if the Police take no action.

The challenge for the Police may be in deciding whom to prosecute, as it must be an individual, not a party. But a proper investigation should establish who in Labour made the decision to publish them and not seek an opinion from the Electoral Commission.

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19 Responses to “Dom Post on Labour’s electoral breaches”

  1. wreck1080 (3,529 comments) says:

    Why do the police investigate this stuff?

    Shouldn’t they have an electoral fraud office, who are responsible for these types of investigations.

    The standard police person is unqualified when it comes to such matters.

    I wonder, if they would have prosecuted had it been national? I bet so!!

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  2. reversespin (65 comments) says:

    I agree. Police credibility is on the line. Imagine what it would look like, internationally, if the police shy away from investigating a political party.

    Labour have broken the law, that is quite clear now. The fact that the Electoral Commission has referred the matter to the police is very telling.

    In my view they are saying, without out taking the bold step of actually saying it, that the law has been broken.

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  3. Elaycee (4,085 comments) says:

    With the appointment of a new Police Commissioner (and the ‘retirement’ of Howard Broad), Labour no longer has the influence it once enjoyed within the corner offices at Police HQ.

    It should be a ‘no-brainer’ that this breach is tested in Court. And if someone / some organisation is found guilty, then they need to be held accountable.

    That would be a nice change from what we witnessed during the Klark years.

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  4. ciaron (1,165 comments) says:

    D’ya reckon Labour could get away with playing Dumb (as in can’t speak) a la Kahui investigation?

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  5. Nookin (2,891 comments) says:

    Although Robertson says that it was a difference of opinion, Goff is now saying that whoever put out the material was not aware of the change of the rules. This suggests that there was in fact no opinion let alone a difference of opinion. It also suggests lack of consistency between the various “excuses committees” established by the Labor Party. If Robertson and Goff served on the same excuses committee, they might at least come up with the same excuse.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/5271791/Labour-election-advertising-dossier-with-police

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  6. tristanb (1,133 comments) says:

    I agree with wreck re:police investigating.

    Our police should be catching rapists, murderers and other thugs in our society not investigating obscure (and frankly boring) pieces of legislation amongst our politicians. It seems ridiculous.

    Would the SFO or some other white-collar crime investigator be more appropriate?

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  7. krazykiwi (9,188 comments) says:

    And if someone / some organisation is found guilty

    Can anyone suggest who is accountable in this instance?

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  8. Nookin (2,891 comments) says:

    krazykiwi

    Robertson suggests that it is Goff and that they simply failed to insert the words “authorised by”. On the other hand, he also started off by saying that the words “authorised by” did not need to be included because it was not advertising.

    Goff inferentially he denies that it was him because he refers to third parties who did not know that the rules had changed. Goff knew that the rules had changed because he was there at the time. So, it could not have been him that he was referring to. Because he knows why they slipped up, it follows that he must also know who they were.

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  9. jaba (2,069 comments) says:

    even with H1 and 2 gone, Labour are above the law. We all know that.
    IF, in this case, they do get prosecuted, they will need a sacrificial lamb and it must be a MP, not a staff member.
    If I was Mallard, I would select pistol Pete Hodgson

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  10. tom hunter (4,010 comments) says:

    In some respects this is a little like the CGT debate.

    By that I mean that the details of who did what and whether the correct interpretations were made and whether these were deliberate or accidental, are all beside the real point.

    That real point is not even that they, at best, deliberately bent the intent of the law (at worst broke it – and I do hope the Police follow through on all this)

    The real point is that Labour is running out of money. They were desperate to get something out in public but could not afford it.

    If they can get back into power and change the laws or once again bring up the “public financing” deal then this is a criminal risk worth running.

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  11. Nookin (2,891 comments) says:

    Straight from the Labor Party Policy on Accountability.

    “I wasn’t there. Even if I was there I didn’t see anything. Even if I saw something, I did not realise what it was and I did not participate. Even if I did participate I did nothing wrong. Even if I did something wrong, I was insane.”

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  12. Graeme Edgeler (3,222 comments) says:

    Although Robertson says that it was a difference of opinion, Goff is now saying that whoever put out the material was not aware of the change of the rules. This suggests that there was in fact no opinion let alone a difference of opinion.

    The rules around this bit of the law haven’t greatly changed. Advertisements relating to an election have needed a name and address on them for a number of years, a requirement that didn’t alter in substance from the change from the Electoral Act 1993, to the Electoral Finance Act 2007, or back to the newly amended Electoral Act 1993.

    The change in the rules that there has been is about who can pay for these. The Auditor-General reckoned The Parliamentary Service couldn’t. Labour and later National changed to law so that Parliament could. The law around whose name they have to have on them has been basically constant since before the pledgecard.

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  13. La Grand Fromage (145 comments) says:

    Pinkos stealing your money to benefit themselves personally.

    Why is anyone suprised, I thought this was the Labour motto.

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  14. Elaycee (4,085 comments) says:

    @Nookin: “Goff is now saying that whoever put out the material was not aware of the change of the rules…”

    Ignorance cannot be any justification for actions or behaviours.

    Just look at Hone.

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  15. hmmokrightitis (1,458 comments) says:

    @Elaycee – even more than that. When I did law one of the base principles was always Ignorantia legis neminem excusat, and it still is. They all know that. Goofy included.

    Funny isnt it that The Standard is oh so quiet about all of this. Technical breach, as per GR? Please. Might try that if I decide not to pay my tax bill soon. As said above, if the she-beast was still in the round building, and it were National, the Police would have already been told what charges to lay, and that the case would be tried a month out from the election.

    Thankfully that sort of abuse of power seems to have passed, and hopefully this time the Police will do what they have to do – investigate and decide whats right. Hey Labour – you crave the chance to make our laws, you must also be seen to abide by them. Anything else is seen to be sneaky, underhanded and smell really really bad – and the message it sends to the electorate is clear – do as we say, not as we do.

    You bunch of clapped out, tired and pathetic losers. Thats the message I take away from this.

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  16. Elaycee (4,085 comments) says:

    @hmmokrightitis… says: “You bunch of clapped out, tired and pathetic losers.”

    Yup – that sums it up nicely. ;)

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  17. Paulus (2,299 comments) says:

    Robertson knows the rules well.

    He is a lying toad – but practicing to become leader.

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  18. backster (2,000 comments) says:

    They should be prosecuted but I think the Electoral Commission should prosecute,or even judge and penalise, not the Police.

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  19. Rex Widerstrom (5,129 comments) says:

    In 2005 police mystifyingly opted not to prosecute prime minister Helen Clark’s chief of staff, Heather Simpson

    Dear Dompost;

    Thanks, I LOLed. Of course there was nothing mystifying about it, to anyone who understands anything about the way modern police forces (not just NZ’s) operate. It helps if you realise they’re a lobby group like any other, angling for bigger budgets, more staff and, above all, more power.

    But unlike most lobby groups, they get to collect the dirt on public figures. A police service in the old style would prosecute without fear or favour, but those days are long gone. Now, the threat of an embarrassing prosecution is just another lobbying tool. Things can “mystifylingly” become “not in the public interest” provided laws are passed – laws which are truly not in the public interest – granting ever greater power (and ever greater immunity from examination on the misuse of power). And of course a nice budget and manpower increase as the icing on the cake.

    It’s what business would call a “symbiotic relationship”, which it might be when dollars are the currency, but when we’re talking a free pass on political sleaze it’s called corruption.

    Try a bit of investigative journalism rather than recycling police PR and hanging off police HQ for juicy leaks on crime stories and you’ll be a bit less mystified.

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