Is Labour breaking the rules again?

18/03/2014

Matthew Beveridge is providing a comprehensive commentary on politicians’ use of social media and he’s noticed a possible breach of parliamentary guidelines:

In my recent post about Brand Consistency I talked about Labour and a lack of brand consistency in the emails listed on their candidate contact details page. I noticed one other thing, that I thought was worth its own blog post. . .

If you look closely at that screen grab, there are four Labour Party candidates on there whose contact details include an @parliament.govt.nz email address.

The Parliamentary Service has very strict rules on the use of Parliamentary Service resources for explicit electioneering. This is expanded on by the Parliamentary Service in their Publicity Guidelines:

“The prohibition on explicit electioneering extends to any use of Parliamentary Service funds. This includes phone services, postage, email, and staff time. “

So the question has to be asked, have the Labour Party and their MPs breached the rules by using Parliamentary Service resources? . . .

The candidates in question are sitting MPs who have a right to use the @parliament.govt.nz email address for their parliamentary duties.

But is it breaching Parliamentary Service rules to use it for campaigning?


MPs’ employment spats expensive

08/01/2014

Spats between MPs and their staff are proving to be very expensive:

The Taxpayers’ Union has released figures showing that MPs are chewing through more than $65,000 per month on payouts to avoid messy employment grievances.

“While every other New Zealander must follow the letter of employment law, MPs are often ignoring it and having the poor taxpayer fund the resulting payouts,” says Jordan Williams, Executive Director of the Taxpayers’ Union.

“Many of the payouts result from MPs sacking staff on the spot. It appears that parliamentary officials offer generous settlements to avoid cases going to the Employment Relations Authority.”

The Taxpayers’ Union is aware of two examples of instant dismissal due to a minor party leader being unwilling to hear his employee’s response to minor allegations made by a colleague. The former employees were offered confidential payouts from Parliamentary Service well above what the individuals were advised they would be awarded in court.

“Parliamentary Service is effectively buying the silence of former staff, some of whom have been treated appallingly by MPs.”

“Parliamentary Service contracts include an instant dismissal clause when there is an ‘irreconcilable breakdown’ of the relationship with the employee’s MP. The legality of the clause is questionable and it appears that the Parliamentary Service offers these generous settlements to avoid them being challenged.”

The six months of severance pay figures total $395,941 and show the average payout is approximately $20,000.

Ministerial Services has refused to provide the equivalent information for ministerial staff. A complaint regarding that request is currently before the Ombudsman.

PARLIAMENTARY SEVERANCE PAYMENTS

Severance payments made to former parliamentary (non-ministerial) staff in the 6 months ending 13 November 2013.

• Support staff working directly to Members of Parliament: 11 payments totalling $122,935
• Other Parliamentary Staff: 9 payments totalling $273,006.

Paying employees to leave isn’t confined to parliamentary service.

It is usually the easiest and fastest way to solve a problem and it can be the cheapest.

However,  a large sum of public money has been spent on this way and the Taxpayers’ Union is right to question it.

If these payments are happening because MPs are doing wrong then that is a problem which must be addressed.

However, one of the questions that should be asked is whether it is the fault of the people involved or the laws under which they have to work?

It is very difficult to sack someone these days, even when they are not doing what they should be the way they should be doing it, creating more work and stress for other staff and the employer, and costing money through their incompetence.

Employees need protection from bad employers and MPs should not be responsible for wasting public money because they ignore employment law nor should they be leaving parliamentary services to clean up messes they have made.

However, good employers shouldn’t have to keep bad employees or pay large sums to compensate them for terminating their employment when they aren’t doing what they are paid to do to the standard required.


Campaigning with our money again

28/06/2013

The left haven’t managed to get public funding of political parties but that hasn’t stopped them campaigning with our money.

Whaleoil spotted Labour and Green Party  soliciting votes for their candidates in the Ikaroa Rawhiti by-election on material which bears the parliamentary crest that signifies it’s been paid for by us.

You’d think they’d have learned from the pledge card rort.

All parties found to have misused funds in the investigation following that had to repay that money and these two parties should be required to repay all money misspent on the by-election too.


Information or persuasion, parliamentary or political?

11/07/2011

Providing information to or seeking it from constituents could be a legitimate part of an MP’s parliamentary work and therefore should be publicly funded.

But persuasion is political work and should be funded by polticial parties not the public.

Labour’s asserton they  didn’t intend to breach the Electoral Act is difficult to believe.

Equally troubling is the fact that Parliamentary Services okayed the payment  for the offending stop asset sales signs.

Nobody is suggesting that funding breaches any rules which means the rules are still far too lenient.

Some, perhaps almost all, of an MP’s parliamentary work could also be political but campaigning is definitely political not parliamentary and the public should not be funding that.

 


The trouble with volunteers

12/06/2011

Whaleoil has come across Labour Party  emails, finan­cial details, party plan­ning infor­ma­tion and mem­ber­ship data among which is the minutes of a meeting of Labour North which say:

The meeting was reminded of the successes and achievements of the LN collective – in fundraising and public meetings. The role of the office and MP were clarified, noting these add value to the collective, and to use Parliamentary services for best outcome for the LP.

The Herald On Sunday asked MP Darien Fenton, who was at the meeting about this:

She said minutes of meetings were taken by volunteers and could contain errors.

However, she conceded that there had been pressure to use the Parliamentary staff member for party business.

“It has been an area of tension. It is an ongoing discussion with them about how we protect the role of the staff member and the MP. . .”

The trouble with volunteers is that they do sometimes get carried away with their enthusiasm and they might make errors.

However, MPs should be very well aware of the very clear division between what Parliamentary Services staff and funds do on behalf of constituents and what a party and its members do for political ends.

An MP who was taking part in campaign discussions should have left the meeting and the minute taker in no doubt at all that Parliamentary Services had absolutely no role in any outcomes for the Labour Party.


An oath in any other language

06/12/2008

The complaint by Labour’s new Managere MP Sua William Sio  because he can’t be sworn into parliament in Samoan had the talk back callers running hot yesterday.

I agree that Parliamentary Services is not being unreasonable. New Zealand has three official languages, English, Maori and sign, MPs are sworn in three at a time and it would take too much time if other languages were used.

Most callers used this argument but there was a distrubing number who were simply racist and used this story to exercise their prejudice.

However, there was a glimmer of hope. Most noted that Maori is an official language and it would be acceptable to use it and I suspect that level of acceptance wouldn’t have been evident a few years ago.


Who’s right?

25/10/2008

I had just finished reading a Kiwiblog post on the story behind the trust which received $78,000 from New Zealand First when TV One’s news came on.

Kiwiblog says the trust was set up a couple of months after Winston Peters announced his party had donated to charities the $158,000 they owed the tax payer; that two of Peters’ lawyers are trustees and:

There is no reference to Susan Couch in the trust deed, except being the name of the trust. Couch is not listed as the Patron, and the three Trustees have total power over the Trust.  She is not listed specifically as a beneficiary either. Again the Trustees have total discretion over who the money goes to (so long as within the objects), and Couch has no rights or say at all. So the Herald is wrong when they say it is “A trust for Susan Couch”.

That doesn’t mean the trust can’t give her money, but there’s a difference in a trust for someone and a trust from which someone may benefit.

However,  TV 1 says:

A trust for Susan Couch received money that was supposed to be paid back to parliamentary services for New Zealand First’s overspending in the 2005 election campaign, but was instead given to charity.

“I’m not sure what the exact figure is, but obviously I’m not going to say no and this money benefits,” Couch says.

“It’s a victim of crime fund, so it will benefit many people,”

That’s a little vague – does it mean she’s actually got some money, or just that she knows the trust has money it could give her?

I’m not doubting her need. She was the victim of an horrific crime and is unable to work because of the injuries she received. But Peters has used her for political ends and chose to donate money to a trust rather than repay the debt he owes the public.

That makes it a story of public interest and the TV news version appears to be at odds with the information on Kiwiblog.


Rules don’t apply to NZ First?

29/09/2008

When Pita Sharples complained that a New Zealand First staff member had heavied the Maori Party over voting against censuring Winston Peters I asked if the staffer was employed by the party or parliamentary services.

Tim Donoghue  has found that the employee was Tommy Gear and:

Mr Gear, who has received hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars from Parliamentary Service for a job many in NZ First know little about, did not return calls yesterday.

I suppose a party that thinks it can get away with not repaying the $158,000 it stole from the public purse before the last election by saying it’s donated the money to charity thinks it can also get away with its staff who are paid by parliamentary services doing its political work too.

Hat Tip: The Hive


Who employs NZ First staffer?

24/09/2008

Further to the story two post earlier of the Maori Party being heavied to vote against censuring Winston Peters, I have a question about this from Pita Sharples:

Dr Sharples said he was not only taken aback by the personal attack from Winston Peters, but was disappointed at the personal lobbying by a NZ First staffer and a government Minister over the past weekend to influence the Maori Party’s decision prior to the vote.

Is the NZ First staffer employed by the party or parliamentary services?

If it’s the the former, it was unethical. If it’s the latter it was unethical and s/he has stepped well over the line between working for an MP and doing political work for a  party which no parliamentary services employee should ever cross.


52 more sleeps . . .

17/09/2008

. . . until the election and we know New Zealand First hasn’t paid back the $158,000 it took from taxpayers to fund it’s last campaign, but what about United Future?

Have they repaid their debt to Parliamentary Services yet?


NZ First still owes us $158,000

04/09/2008

I wonder if any of the investigations into New Zealand First’s finances will uncover to which charities the party donated $158,000 in the mistaken belief that would absolve them from their debt to parliamentary services?

Given the confusion over their finances and the many different versions of what’s been happening, it’s fair to question if the donations were made at all.

However to whom or if they donated isn’t as important as the fact that New Zealand First still owes us $158,000.

Until it is repaid to parliamentary services, every cent they spend on their campaign tells us they believe getting re-elected is more important than repaying their debt to tax payers.


They’re spending our money on their campaign again

05/08/2008

Bill English  has proof that Labour is spending tax payers’ money on their election campaign – again.

“Labour is at it again, using taxpayer money in a bid to be re-elected, just as they did with the pledge card in 2005.”

Mr English is referring to a document obtained by National under the Official Information Act. It refers to the taxpayer-funded Budget pamphlet titled ‘A fair economy for a strong future’.

“For the first time, the General Secretary of the Labour Party has confirmed that pamphlet was an election advertisement, which was funded and produced by the Labour Leader’s Office.”

The letter reads: ‘The pamphlet is an election advertisement on behalf of the Labour Party, which was produced by the Labour Leader’s office on behalf of the Labour Party’.

Mr English says the Labour Party has become so brazen that the secretary of the party now openly acknowledges they are funding their campaign with taxpayer money.

“Once again, the New Zealand Labour Party appears to be using large chunks of taxpayer funded Parliamentary Service money to pay for election brochures.

“Helen Clark must now confirm that the party will include the brochure as an election expense, although that is no guarantee, since Labour promised to do that with the pledge card but changed its mind after the 2005 election.

“Now all four parties which supported the Electoral Finance Act have been found to have breached it, and three of them are being investigated by police.

“Labour’s now executing the agenda which its self-serving Electoral Finance Act was designed to facilitate. All Kiwi taxpayers are now being forced to fund Labour’s re-election campaign.”

Either they haven’t learned from the damage they inflicted on themselves by mis spending taxpayers’ money at the last election, or they’re so desperate they don’t care. 

[The letter from the party secretary is here]


Let’s not forget the $158,000 debt

29/07/2008

In all the excitement over whether or not Winston Peters and NZ First received donations which ought to have been declared, let’s not forget there is no question that they took $158,000 from the taxpayer for their 2005 election campaign and have yet to pay it back to Parliamentary Services.

The Auditor General found it was illegal at the time and the fact that NZ First supported Labour to make it legal in retrospect does not make it right. Nor do the donations which Peters says have been given to charity cancel out the debt to the taxpayer.

Until the money is repaid, every cent Peters and his party spend on their campaigns is a cent they owe to the tax payer and that tells us they think getting re-elected is more important than repaying what they owe.


Another NZ First Donation Goes Back

18/06/2008

The first of the nine charities to which NZ First donated money, in the mistaken belief this means it no longer owes $158,000 to parliamentary services, has repaid the $10,000 it recieved.

Not surprisingly Peters reckons someone got to Cystic Fibrosis:

“The real issue is who got to them,” he said. “It’s a very sad day when people put petty politics ahead of human interest.”

Goodness me, the master of petty politics doesn’t understand the real issue is that donating to charity does not absolve the party of its debt to parliamentary services.

Audrey Young said she was tempted to feel a smidgen of sympathy for Winston Peters because the charity had asked for a donation.

But I have resisted temptation. Peters dreamed up a stunt that he believed would inoculate himself from criticism – who wants to bag groups like Cystic Fibrosis Association?

Yet all he done is draw more attention to a stunt that has backfired.

He has dragged yet another charity into the midst of a political row. This money was always going to be contentious and tainted in the view of some because so many people believe it rightly belongs with taxpayers.

He sought to keep the charities a secret from the public, knowing that news is anything someone doesn’t want you to know, especially something a politician doesn’t want you to know.

Speaker Margaret Wilson has agreed to keep his secret. She knows which groups have received which money but says it Peters’ secret for him to disclose – or words to that effect.

It is time for someone to do the right thing.

It is indeed and Keeping Stock has a link for on-line donations to Cystic Fibrosis should anyone wish to support them for putting principle before their genuine need for money. So do Kiwiblog,  and Whaleoil. And Not PC links to the charity’s website.

Is it too much to hope that inside Winston’s cloud of hypocricy there may be a silver lining in that this is the action that finally allows voters to see through him? The media and bloggers already have: 

The Dominion editorial says:

But giving $158,000, taken from the public purse, to outside organisations does not constitute repayment of a debt. Nor does refusing to name the recipients, something he had previously undertaken to do, lend credibility to the exercise. Mr Peters says he has decided not to name the charities because he does not want them bothered by the “prying media”.

That is a one-fingered salute to those who hold to the quaint notion that politicians should be accountable for how they spend public money.

It is also unsatisfactory. Who is to say that NZ First does not regard the Re-elect Winston Campaign in Tauranga or, for that matter, NZ First itself, as charities?

By retrospectively changing the law, the Government obviated the legal requirement for politicians to repay the money they unlawfully spent. But the moral obligation to comply with the law of the day remains. NZ First has not met it.

If no other benefit arises, Mr Peters’ reluctance to do the right thing serves as a useful reminder of how a politician positioning himself to once again act as a post-election kingmaker, operates.

And Inquiring Mind  notes: Peters yet again demonstrates not only arrogance, but total contempt for the media and indirectly for the public, as according to him they should only ever know what he wants them to know.

Annie Fox  doesn’t understand why NZ First hasn’t been struck off for not paying the money back. It’s because they colluded with Labour to change the law to make their illegal use of public money retrospectively legal.

I doubt that Winston and his party will admit defeat and repay Parliamentary Services, but the other eight charities which received donations can follow the lead given by Cystic Fibrosis and Starship (which turned down the initial donation last year).

Then it will be up to voters to deliver the final blow at the ballot box.  


Update on NZ First donations

16/06/2008

Claire Trevett says NZ First divided $158,000 between nine charities.

Speaker Margaret Wilson confirmed she’s received the list but it was up to NZ First or the charities to divulge the names.

Surf Lifesaving NZ and the Sensible Sentencing Trust say they haven’t benefitted from the party’s largesse. There must be thousands of charities in NZ – given NZ First’s zenophobia I think we can ignore overseas charities 🙂 .

It’s going to take a long time to check them all and there would be no need to do so if NZ First paid its debt to Parliamentary Services because then the money would be the party’s not ours so the names would be irrelevant.


NZ First still owes $158,000

16/06/2008

One criticism of MMP is that the wee parties have a disproportionate influence. Allied to that is that National and Labour sometimes hold back legitimate criticism of their actions just in case they need their support.

We’re seeing that now – has anyone seen or heard any of the other parties react to Winston Peters’ statement that NZ First has donated $158,000 to charities and has given a list of the recipients to Speaker Margaret Wilson?

That just happens to be the amount the Auditor General found NZ First spent illegally before the last election. The party can do whatever its members allow it to do with their money, but donating to charity does not discharge its debt to Parliamentary Services.

While other parties are shying from tackling Peters’ on this, several blogs are not:

Kiwiblog posts on it here   noting NZ First is the party of transparancy which receives secret donations that turns out not to be a donation and then makes its own secret donations. Kiwiblog also comments on Peters’ on Agenda here. He notes that the Speaker wants Parliament to be more open so in good faith should make the list available.

The Hive says shame on the charities and asks if they’d accept the proceeds of crime or theft? Queen Bee, prompted by Poneke, points out the speaker’s office is exempt from the OIA but urges National and Act to ask Wilson for the list.

Inquiring Mind ‘s  Adam Smith says:

No one seems to be prepared to hold Winston Peters to account.

Why is he being allowed to get away with not repaying the $158,000 of public funds that his party mis-used at the 2005 election? 

Why is he keeping secret what he has done with the money?

Where did the party get the $158,000 from?

NO, NO, NO and forever NO is what voters should be saying to this bullying popinjay.

Keeping Stock notes the irony in the noise NZ First made about transparency in political party funding, asks does it practise what it preaches,  and points out the hyprocricy because it doesn’t.

The Auditor General found NZ First illegally spent $158,000. That they then helped Labour change the law to make that illegal spending legal and has said they’ve donated that amount to charity does not excuse them from the need to repay the money.

Until they do that every cent the party spends on campaigning is a cent they have yet to repay to the public purse.


Another Labour EFA Breach?

14/06/2008

Does this appear to be words or graphics which might persuade someone to vote for a party? It’s in the exhibitors’ product listings in the Fieldays catelogue under the heading Labour Members of Parliament:

The NZ Labour Party has launched NZ Fast Forward, the largest ever boost to research, development and innovation in New Zealand’s history with $700 million dollars (sic) of new funding. It is part of the Labour-led Government’s commitment to transforming New Zealand’s primary industries to meet future challenges. In Government, the NZ Labour Party will continue to work alongside farmers to ensure the coninual growth and prosperity of the primary sector and rural communities, and that rural people have the same opportunities as their urban counterparts. Find out more about our rural policies – www.labour.org.nz This is funded by the Parlimaentary Service.

A Hamilton PO Box number and phone number follow – but there is no authorisation statement.

Then there’s this for New Zealand First:

New Zealand First is Parliament’s third largest and most dynamic party. It has led the debate in New Zealand on immigration, the Treaty, a fair go for senior citizens, law and order and owning our own country for more than 10 years. We will be seeking your party vote this year to continue this fight.

It has a Hamilton street address, phone number and fax but no authorisation statement.

And this for Libertarianz:

Libertarianz is the first and only political party in NZ to have an explicit individualistic philosophy. We are committed to shrinking the power an influence of the Government in every area of our lives, and are committeed to the concept of a free society with a free marekt economy. We offer you a unique opportunity to influence the future political direction of our nation. Join us and say no to OSH, RMA, NZQA and all other Government nanying!

It was followed by an Auckland PO Box & fax number, mobile phone number and website address but again no authorisation.

And National? It had this:

Take this opportunity to visit our site and meet a Member of Parliament. During the four days we will have several MPs manning the stand and they will be available to discuss issues of interest to people. Come along and have a chat and give your views. National is very interested in hearing what people really think. This is your chance to have a lively exchange of ideas.

It was followed by a Hamilton PO Box and phone number and no authorisation but I don’t think you could say the words were soliciting votes so it didn’t need one.

 

 Then there were the sites. Labours had two big red banners saying Labour, with the party logo and parliamentary crest; and a couple of bright red banners saying Waikato Labour MPs with a website address.

There was no authorisation. So are the Labour Party MPs acting separately from the party? And does Labour have to account for a donation from parliamentary services for the costs of the fieldays stand and banners in the same way Bill English suggested it might have to with the Prime Minsiter’s office over funding the budget brochure? (Keeping Stock comments on that here)

The NZ First site had authorisation statements and parliamentary crests on its posters.

I didn’t notice if posters at the Libertaianz site were authorised, but did enjoy a discussion with the bloke handing out pamphlets 🙂 and the National site was set up like an MP’s office, with nothing promoting National.

So three out of four statements in the catelogue appear to breach the EFA because they don’t have authorisation statements and Labour’s site as a whole appeared to be advertising the party with public money and without authorisation statements.


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