The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Electoral Commission must give political parties time for both an opening and a closing address. In 2008 the Commission gave the Alliance (which got 0.07% of the vote in 2005 and 0.08% in 2008) and ten other minor non-parliamentary parties one minute for an opening address and no time for a closing address, out of the total 72 minutes made available from broadcasters for opening addresses and 30minutes for closing addresses.
Now s73(1) of the Broadcasting Act says:
In respect of each election period, the Electoral Commission must allocate to political parties, in such proportions as the Electoral Commission considers appropriate, the time that TVNZ and RNZ have made available for opening addresses and closing addresses in accordance with section 71A.
The question was whether the Commission must give each party both an opening and closing address.
The High Court found it would be wrong under the Bill of Rights Act to give a political party no time at all for either opening or closing, but that s73 refers to a single allocation of time, and some components of that allocation may be zero, so long as the total allocation is not zero.
The Court of Appeal has sided with the Alliance and ruled that the Act requires each party to get time for both an opening and closing address, despite the fact they had only 30 minutes of closing time for 18 parties.
What is interesting is that the Court of Appeal suggests TVNZ breached the ACT by only providing 30 minutes for closing addresses, as this is not enough time to divide up between 18 parties, considering the parties on 40% in the polls are meant to get more time than those at 0.07%. TVNZ may face problems if they do not increase the allocation next election.
The Court also deals with the issue of whether the Electoral Commission should have given more than $10,000 to non-parliamentary parties for their broadcast advertising. The Commission escapes a formal ruling from the Court, but it notes that their reference to the amount being enough for a radio campaign was in error, as it suggests they knew the amount was not enough for a television campaign.
So the Electoral Commission gets pretty battered by this decision. But the good thing is, the law is now clearer. And hopefully the law will also be changed so parties can spend their own money purchasing broadcast advertising, rather than only be allowed to use taxpayer money.