S42 of the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act states:
Every person commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $20,000 who, either alone or in combination with others knowingly spends, on advertisements published or broadcast in relation to an indicative referendum petition, more than $50,000
It is clear that Labour, Greens and the unions have spent well over $50,000 in promoting the petition. They have trampled over the intent of the CIR Act which is to stop people or groups from purchasing a referendum. Even worse, they have done it with our money. We see the hypocrisy where they are the ones who demand spending limits on all electoral issues, yet often flout them – remember the $400,000 overspend in 2005.
Whether they have broken the actual CIR Act will depend on what gets classified as an advertisement.
We know from their leaked strategy document they have spent the following on the petition:
- 30 hours a week from Labour parliamentary resources – estimated value $40,000
- Greens have permament staff working on it – assume $60,000
- Union paid national co-ordinator for three months – $15,000
- 10 FT Labour/Green staff planning for their national day of action – $50,000
- Carfuls of paid union organisers – say 200 people x 4 days – $150,000
- $75,000 on Greens paying petition signature gatherers
So I’d estimate conservatively they have spent $390,000 of which $225,000 is from the taxpayer.
Now what we don’t know is how much of this could be counted as an advertisement? If the staff collecting signatures were wearing t-shirts promoting the referendum than they could be walking billboards. And I’ve seen a lot of people wearing those t-shirts.
What difference is there between paying for an ad in a newspaper for people to sign the petition and paying someone to wear a t-shirt and harass passerbys to sign a petition?
I suspect a number of lawyers will be taking a very keen interest in the return that the petitioners file, and there could well be complaints to the Police about their possible over-spending.
Sadly though the maximum fine for over-spending is $20,000 so maybe they have just decided to ignore the spending limit and risk a $20,000 fine. time will tell.
What we do know is never before has there been such a massive use of paid (mainly taxpayer funded) staff to purchase a referendum. The four other CIRs have all been genuine grass-roots efforts, with the exception of the Firefighters Union one.