Hard News by Russell Brown

69

Pamphleteering

Audrey Young has herself a good scoop in the Herald this morning: in a conference workshop addressed on Saturday by Labour Party president, "delegates were advised to distribute pamphlets on KiwiSaver produced by the Inland Revenue Department and on Working for Families produced by Work and Income."

Young's story is based on "confidential strategy notes" handed out by Williams, which she says advised delegates to hand out the information leaflets whilst noting that National voted against both policies. This is not unlawful in itself, and the material is not political, but if information pamphlets were to be used as core campaign material it would not look good.

But it would have been handy for readers to have seen the notes, or at least to have a verbatim quote in the story.

An NZPA story also mentions the workshop, but less in the context of a machiavellian plan for the public purse than an effort to stay the right side of Labour's own defective electoral finance law. It says the law "follows general confusion among the parties over its provisions, including Labour's president Mike Williams saying the law was in need of a 'shake down' ahead of the election."

Labour is the only party so far to have committed a clear, if minor, breach of the Electoral Finance Act, and it is facing a significant campaign of litigation from National, which is seeking judicial reviews of the Electoral Commission's decisions not to prosecute Labour's breach (it didn't list the name of the promoter on a leaflet which it now says will be declared as part of its campaign budget) and that the EPMU can register as a third party under the act.

Bill English gloated to NZPA: Labour was so confused about its own law that "Our understanding is they've had to clean out their electorate offices of all promotional material and they will have to start again."

In Young's story, English takes a different view: "It confirms Labour's strategy, which has been to use the Electoral Finance Act to shut the critics up and use the resources of Government to broadcast its message with no competing views."

So it's cock-up versus conspiracy again; a scramble for something safe to hand out versus a cunning plan. It would be a good idea for Williams to speak up today and, ideally, release the notes himself. And he might even find it expedient to vent his own frustrations with the Electoral Finance Act …

Update: The Herald's story has just been updated with the following:

Helen Clark this morning reiterated that explanatory pamphlets produced by Government departments were not election advertising.

"Things that government departments put out, are not - underline not - campaign material," she said on TVNZ's Breakfast programme.

"Things government departments put out should be in every MPs' office electorate office, regardless of what party they are in, because the whole point of an electorate office is to be the interface, the link, between the MP and what government programmes are about."

However Helen Clark said on Newstalk ZB she would advise her MPs and their staff not to hand out the materials in a campaigning way, which some legal experts believe could fall foul of the Act.

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Late-breaking announcement:

The people at Portable Film Festival of Melbourne, Australia, have been kind enough to bring their latest guest to New Zealand. That's Ezra Cooperstein, "chief evangelist" for Current TV, the Al Gore-founded citizen journalism and user-generated content network. He's speaking at a free symposium at the Auckland Town Hall, 6pm tonight.

The event is free, but I gather that it's a good idea to email rsvp@portablefilmfestival.com with "CURRENT NZ" in the subject line to let them know you're coming. I think this will be worth the effort.

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