Should have known the rules

March 23rd, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Prime Minister John Key will not pay his “teapot tapes” settlement with public money, his office said, as Speaker David Carter confirmed today to do so would be against Parliamentary rules.

Mr Key said yesterday that it was “pragmatic” to pay a small settlement to freelance cameraman Bradley Ambrose out of his National Leader’s Office budget.

However, his office said today that after taking advice from Parliamentary Service, this would no longer take place.

A good outcome, as even if it was permissible, it was a bad look.

However it is not good that they announced the parliamentary budget would be used, without realising they could not. Staff should have checked in advance, and if so this would have never been an issue.

NZ First in breach of Parliamentary Service Act

March 10th, 2016 at 8:30 am by David Farrar

The Parliamentary Service Act specifies what taxpayer funded parliamentary budgets can and can not be spent on.

Section 3B((2)(a)(vi) states:

However, funding entitlements for parliamentary purposes does not include funding for any communication that explicitly seeks support for casting a vote for one of the responses to a proposal to be put to electors in a government initiated referendum

But go to this website promoted by NZ First – and read:

Keep Our Flag

“Don’t be fooled. Every other party, including Labour and the Greens, support changing the flag.”

Now this would be fine if NZ First were paying for this out of their own pocket. But they are not. They are using taxpayer money to run this site – in clear breach of The Parliamentary Service Act.

The domain is registered to:

Registrant Contact Name: New Zealand First
Registrant Contact Address Freepost Parliament Private Bag 18888
Registrant Contact City Wellington
Registrant Contact Province Wellington
Registrant Contact Postal Code 6160
Registrant Contact Country NZ (NEW ZEALAND)
Registrant Contact Phone +64 48178xxx (changed by DPF)
Registrant Contact Email (changed by DPF)

The contact address, phone number and e-mail are all Parliament.

I hope The Parliamentary Service and/or the Auditor-General investigate.

Labour’s taxpayer funded campaign office

February 4th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

An e-mail from Paul Chalmers, Project Manager of Labour House:

We all know whoever wins Auckland, wins the next election.

That’s why Labour Leader, Andrew Little, has decided to open a fully staffed Labour office in Auckland where he and other MPs will base themselves every week.

That strongly indicates it will be funded by taxpayers from their parliamentary budgets. Labour has no money, so I can’t imagine the party is paying for much of it, if any.

The building will also become the centre of the Labour and the progressive movement in Auckland and the place to co-ordinate the local government and General Election campaigns. 

So by their own words they will be running Phil Goff’s mayoral campaign of this taxpayer funded office. Something they promised they would not do.

Does The Parliamentary Service know this office will be used to run their election campaigns from? That is a breach of the funding rules.

Greens wrong on Ministerial funding

November 23rd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins reports:

The Government has been told to boost political party coffers with more taxpayer funding and it probably should. But if MPs want the extra money, they are going to have to swallow some very big dead rats first.

The first is agreeing to come under the Official Information Act, just like the rest of the public service.

This would then allow people to OIA e-mails between opposition MPs, and between opposition MPs and their staff.

I think the OIA should apply to Parliament for financial information, but not communications.

Anyway to the main point:

The ARC is a panel convened once every parliamentary term to review funding for Parliament and MPs. It usually comprises former MPs (on this occasion John Carter and Rick Barker, who have respect across the political spectrum) and an accountant or similar to lend it the air of independence. Its job is to poke into every aspect of parliamentary and state funding for political parties represented in Parliament and decide whether more money, or any other tweaks, are required.

These areas include the costs of running electorate offices, staff pay rates, support staff funding and political party funding, which largely comprises the leader’s budget. Controversially,the leader’s budget is one area where the ARC proposes a boost in funding – controversially because “leader’s budget” is really just a euphemism for slush fund. Millions of dollars in taxpayer funding disappear into these slush funds every year with little public accountability.

The ARC points out that these budgets have not been increased since 2007, so have fallen in real terms thanks to inflation.

Overall funding has not increased – as is the case for most of the public sector.  That is how we have managed to get out of deficit.

But a breakdown of how the funding is divvied up between the parties shines a light on the problem .

National gets by far the biggest cut, receiving $3.7 million in leader’s budget funding. Labour trails by $800,000 on $2.9 million. Parliament’s third biggest party, the Greens, get $1.3 million.

The reason for the disparity is obvious – National got easily the most seats at the last election so qualifies for the most funding as it’s on a per-MP basis.

Note you only get leaders office funding for MPs who are not Ministers. Otherwise National would get twice as much as Labour.

But that’s not where the problem is, according to the Greens and ARC.

As the governing party, National also has a large number of staffers funded by Ministerial Services. And that budget has not been squeezed to anywhere near the same extent.

Figures supplied to the Greens by the Parliamentary Library show support funding for ministerial offices has risen from $26 million in 2007/2008 to about $38 million now.

This is incorrect. Totally incorrect. In fact funding for ministerial office has fallen.

The 2007 Budget allocated $26.72 million for Support Services to Ministers (M47). It came in slightly over that at $26.84 million.

In the 2008 Budget, $27.28 million was allocated. So that was Labour’s last Budget.

Now we turn to the 2015 Budget. And here is where the Greens have made a mistake. There is a total called Services supporting the Executive which is $38.22 million but that includes VIP Transport and Official Visits. The actual comparable line item is Support Services to Ministers and in 2015 is $25.84 million. If you look back at the 2007 and 2008 estimates, you will see VIP Transport and Official Visits are separate items there also. The Greens have compared a sub-total to a line item. This is a basic fail.

So in fact National’s latest Budget has support services for Ministers $1.44 million less than in Labour’s last budget – a 5.3% reduction in nominal terms. I think most taxpayers would be pleased that they have reduced their own support budget by 5.3%.

So the Greens has misled the media with their press release. I look forward to their apology.

This should not be allowed in the regulated period

July 24th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar


Photo from Whale.

This billboard would be fine before the regulated period, but the rules are much tighter during the regulated period and I would be very surprised if this falls within the rules.

UPDATE: It seems that despite the crest, it was not funded from the parliamentary budget. Mana have agreed to remove the crest as that normally signifies it has been paid for by Parliament.

The campaign you’re all paying for!

August 27th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins at Stuff reports:

The three contenders for the Labour leadership have confirmed taxpayers are stumping up for the cost of them flying around the country to pitch for votes.

Labour MPs are also likely to charge their flights to the taxpayer for attending any of the 12 candidates meetings planned around the country over the next two weeks.

The three contenders – Grant Robertson, David Cunliffe and Shane Jones – confirmed they would use the travel perk to campaign over the next twarging their o weeks.

But they will pay for all their other expenses, such as accommodation, out of their own pockets.

Annette King has tried to justify this by saying MPs flights to party conferences get paid by Parliament also.

But I think there is a difference. MPs get invited to or are expected to attend many conferences and engagements around New Zealand. They attend business conferences, union conferences, party conferences, rotary club meetings and the like.

But this is different. This is three MPs choosing to stand for the leadership of a party, and attending meetings explicitly to persuade people to vote for them to become leader.

I think that is closer to a campaign expense, than a parliamentary expense, even though it is within the rules.

Just as the party leaders don’t charge their campaign travel to the taxpayer in a general election, prospective party leaders should not do so in a leadership election. They’re in line for a huge pay rise if they win, so surely paying for a few flights is a good investment?

Have Labour, Greens and unions broken the CIR Act?

March 15th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

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.

The taxpayer purchased referendum

March 13th, 2013 at 1:11 pm by David Farrar

A mole has leaked to me a couple of strategy documents from Labour and Greens on the referendum they have just purchased with our money. The documents are embedded below, and they show the extent of taxpayer resources used to purchase this referendum.

CIRs are meant to be about the public being able to send a message to MPs, not MPs using taxpayer funds to relitigate an election result. Some key revelations:

  • They aimed for 400,000 signatures as they knew a fair proportion would be found to be invalid.
  • At the 300,000 mark the Greens collected 150,000, Labour 105,000 and Unions 40,000. The Greens are the ones who used taxpayer funding to hire petition collectors.
  • Labour pledged 30 hours per week staff time from their taxpayer funded budget
  • Greens were using their permament taxpayer funded staff to co-ordinate
  • The unions had a paid national co-ordinator
  • They refer to unions gathering “car loads” of organisers and activists to travel to areas
  • For their day of action, Greens said they will committ five full-time staff – presumably all taxpayer funded, if Labour does the same. That’s 10 taxpayer funded organisers.
  • A list of unions to pressure to do more, including PPTA, NZEI, Nurses Organisation – minority shares in power companies of course being key education and health issues!

It is very clear that there has been very few ordinary citizens involved in this petition – mainly a legion of taxpayer funded staff and union staff.

Asset Sales Petition Strategy Docs

Is the taxpayer funding Mallard and Little’s legal fees

June 27th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Judith Collins has stated she is paying for her own expenses in the defamation suit against Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little. She had the option of applying for taxpayer funding, but chose not to.

Has anyone confirmed whether or not the taxpayer is funding the legal costs for Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little? It would certainly be within the rules, for them to be funded  out of David Shearer’s parliamentary budget – but have they chosen to do so?

If they lose, and have to pay Collins’ legal expenses (she is not seeking damages, just a declaration and costs) will that also be funded by the taxpayer?

More taxpayer funded electioneering

June 26th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The rules say you can fund it, if it does not ask for votes, members or money. This however must come pretty close to the line.

I love it how it talks about “our farms”. As far as I know, no Govt owned farms have been sold off. In fact Landcorp has been expanding internationally with its partnership with Shanghai Pengxin.

Also love the inclusion of Kiwibank on there, which escapes being called a lie I guess by inclusion of a question mark.

I wonder how you’d feel though if posters went up around your neighbourhood about you that (for example) had “Paedophile?” on them. I doubt you’d think the question mark makes it okay.

Robertson v Graham

June 22nd, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Grant Robertson blogs:

I am very annoyed at Kennedy Graham’s misleading blog about Labour’s non-attendance at Rio+20. It is pure politics and just plain wrong. I presume I am the person he is referring to when he says he spoke to a ’senior Labour person’ about this last week. It is simply not true to say as Ken does that the reason I was not in Rio was because “I could not get away”. What I actually said was that I could not afford the cost of going. There is a big difference between the two. (In fairness to Kennedy he has now apologised for any personal offence, though the blog remains unchanged)

I would love to be there. I was at Rio+10 in Johannesburg as a member of the New Zealand delegation. I had spent the previous two and half years at the UN working on the preparations for the event. It was a big deal to me. On that delegation Nick Smith was there as the opposition representative. Just as ten years before at the original Rio Summit there had been an opposition representative on the delegation. This year the government decided not to issue such an invitation. I did raise with Amy Adams the funding for other MPs going to Rio and she said it was not happening citing “budgetary constraints”.

Grant is correct to point out he said that the reason he couldn’t attend was financial, rather than not being a priority to take the time to attend.

However it is worth pointing out that just because the Ministry for the Environment won’t pay for him to attend,  doesn’t mean he could not have still chosen to attend. Labour’s parliamentary budget is a total of $5.1 million. Labour could well have decided to fund Grant or another MP to travel to Rio out of that budget. However they obviously decided that was not a priority for them. So it was still a matter of priorities for Labour in deciding not to attend.

Personally I think it was the right decision. If I was an MP, I’d rather spend my parliamentary funding on some good policy research, rather than flying the Deputy Leader to Rio. But it was a decision open to Labour.

Herald on Greens taxpayer funded petition

June 21st, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

 On the strength of its election result, the Green Party has been given a great deal more public money to spend at Parliament. It needs to be careful how it spends it. Taxpayers might be surprised to learn the party is spending $76,000 of its allowance to hire people to collect signatures on a petition for a referendum on asset sales. This is not a proper use of the money.

It also makes you wonder about the boasts from the Greens that they have so many members and activists. Yet, they have to pay people to collect petition signatures. The Greens are ironically doing what they always rally against – bringing US style political campaigning to NZ, where money is used to purchase a result.

The country pays for a Parliament that has been set up to resolve public issues and Parliament provides elected parties with funds to ensure they can research issues, question ministers and contribute to legislative debate.

The law provides a separate procedure for citizens outside Parliament to petition for referendums when they are so moved. The citizens’ initiative, as it is called, is supposed to be exactly that. It is not a second chance saloon for those who have the privileges of Parliament.

It is obviously wrong for Parliamentary funds to be used to pay people to get signatures to petition Parliament!

There appears to be nothing in Parliament’s rules to prevent a party using its leader’s office allowance in this way, though that may be because it has not happened before. The Parliamentary Service’s general manager said the Greens were within the rules because the petition does not ask the public for money, membership or votes. But that is a rule for election spending and referendums held separately from an election should not be promoted by parties with public funds.

Especially as the Greens have consistently tried to limit people spending their own money on referenda. Their true motivations it seems is to restrict the voices of those who do not have taxpayer funding, while allow themslves to spend as much as they can, with the taxpayer paying. They were the only party in Parliament to vote against repealing the horrific Electoral Finance Act, and they constantly call for greater taxpayer funding of political parties with no restrictions.

Greens employing eight taxpayer funded staff to collect petition signatures

June 19th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald reports:

The Green Party has used $75,000 of taxpayer money to pay signature-collectors for a referendum opposing asset sales.

The party has used its Leader’s Office fund to hire the equivalent of eight fulltime staff members in an attempt to force a citizens-initiated referendum before the Government begins to sell state-owned power companies.

The payments were permitted under parliamentary rules, but it was believed to be the first time the fund has been used to gather support for a party policy.

This is not a citizen-initiated referendum. This is a taxpayer-funded Green and Labour referendum.

Electoral law expert Graeme Edgeler said that while the Greens’ strategy was allowed, he did not feel it was appropriate.

“The reason that we give parliamentary parties money is so that they can keep us informed of what they’re doing so that they can effectively do their jobs in Parliament.

“Using the money as a direct funding of people to go out and get signatures is a step more than any other party has done to date, and that might be a little concerning if it is seen to be appropriate.”

When political parties’ spending was reviewed in 2010, Mr Edgeler asked for use of Leader’s Office money on gaining support for a referendum to be banned.

“If you’re not allowed to tell people to vote a certain way in a citizens-initiated referendum, why can you spend money telling them to sign their name on a petition to get a referendum? It seems an odd distinction.”

The Greens are guilty of massive hypocrisy on this issue. They demanded that people using their own money be restricted to how much they can spend on a referendum – yet use their taxpayer funding to buy signatures for a referendum.

Greens trying to buy a referendum

June 1st, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Green Party is spending $50,000 paying people to collect signatures for a citizens-initiated referendum on asset sales.

The equivalent of 10 fulltime staff have been hired for the next six to eight weeks in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

The Greens also have a volunteer army of about 2000 Auckland-based “issues assistants” helping with the campaign and have budgeted a further $28,000 for related sundries.

The bid for a citizens-initiated referendum was launched last month and is sponsored by a coalition of Grey Power, the Council of Trade Unions, Greenpeace, the Union of Student Associations, Labour and the Greens.

The sheer hypocrisy. The Greens spend years railing against money in politics, yet to use their language they are trying to purchase a referendum.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman said the funding was coming out of the party’s $1.3million annual leader’s fund.

`It’s very important to us to stop the asset sales and it’s very important to us that New Zealanders are given a voice because they currently don’t have one,” he said.

What bullshit. A referendum will not stop the partial asset sales. It is just an expensive publicity stunt. And Dr Norman is mad if he thinks people don’t have a voice on the issue. There was a 10 month debate on the partial asset sales last year, known as the election campaign.

Hours for Mathers

February 15th, 2012 at 8:42 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Parliamentary Service was working hard to provide technology and he had asked officials to explore voice recognition software. “That technology is something we are working on right now. That doesn’t have to wait for a Parliamentary Service Commission,” he said.

Smith also accused Mathers and Green party whip Gareth Hughes of politicising the matter and making public the details of a private meeting.

So it is not a dispute over technology to help her do her job, as it appeared yesterday. That is being provided. It is a dispute over hours.

Each MP gets funding to cover 80 hours of staff time, or two full-time equivalent workers, a week.

Mojo Mathers estimates she needs 1000 hours a year for electronic note-taking required for her to participate in Parliament through a laptop on her debating chamber desk.

The Speaker has suggested the other 13 Green MPs pool their support budgets to give some of their unused support hours to Mathers.

Now I do support Mathers being given extra hours, but this can’t be done at the whim of the Speaker. All Electorate MPs gets 120 hours a week and all List MPs 80 hours a week. To give Mathers extra hours you need to set up a third category of MP, and publish a formal determination specifying the criteria to qualify, and what the extra support hours or funding will be.

It is worth noting that the Green caucus as a whole gets 56,000 hours of support staff a year, plus $1.88 million of funding. The 1,000 hours is less than 2% of their overall hours and a party that consists entirely of List MPs rarely uses all its allocated hours up.

Again, I support a change to the funding rules to cater for a situation like Mathers. But the Greens could have chosen to work with the Speaker to establish a time-table for changing the determinations, rather than do a hatchet job on him.

Taxpayer funded Labour campaigning for Len

October 1st, 2010 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour MP Phil Twyford says he should not have used his parliamentary email to endorse candidates in the local body elections and he is sorry.

Mr Twyford, Labour’s Auckland Issues spokesman, met Parliamentary Service officials today following an accusation from ACT leader Rodney Hide about improper use of parliamentary resources.

Mr Twyford sent emails – including one to endorse Auckland super city mayoralty candidate Len Brown.

“Parliamentary Services have told me that there is a case to answer and that it has been referred to the Speaker’s Office. This was a genuine mistake. I am now aware of the rules and I won’t be making this mistake again.

Telling people who to vote for, from a parliamentary account, is no mistake. Everyone knows the rules – you an not ask for money, members, or votes.

Even worse when it is the Spokesperson for Auckland Issues. While of course Labour back Len Brown (a Labour Party member), it is not a good look to have the Auckland spokesperson actively campaigning for and against candidates – as he will have to work with some of them after the election.