Tui ads & NZ First secretary ok

23/10/2008

The Electoral Commission  has decided that Tui’s billboards about Winston Peters are not election advertisements.

The billboards said “When Winston says no, he means no – yeah right.”

The commission said:

Whether any particular item is an election advertisement within the meaning of section 5 of the

Electoral Finance Act is a question of circumstances and degree. In the Electoral Commission’s view the statutory test is not whether an item “can be regarded” as encouraging or persuading voting in a particular way – as a matter of logic, almost anything “can” be so regarded – the test is whether the item “can reasonably” be so regarded, allowing inclusion within the definition only when it is objectively reasonable to do so.

I think this is a reasonable decision but if the Act meant “can reasonably” rather than just “can” why didn’t it say so?

The commission also found the New Zealand First secretary didn’t commit an offence in relation to the Party’s 2007 return on donations. However, the commission said:

This summary does not form part of the decision, which is withheld for now in order to avoid potential prejudice to a continuing police investigation. 

The commission’s third decision was that office space provided free-of-charge to Act by Sir Robert Jones at a value of about $20,000 ought to have been included in donations returns up to 2005 and the party is required to make ammended returns.


SFO – no NZ First fraud

10/10/2008

The Serious Fraud Office investigation has found that there was no fraud involved in the doantions to New Zealand First from Sir Robert Jones and the Vela brothers.

However, Director Grant Lidell said other laws may have been broken.


Politics of the absurd

12/09/2008

The Taranaki Daily News notes that in politics an absurdity isn’t a handicap:

Napoleon Bonaparte said that about 200 years ago . . .Given the political drama that has unfolded in the past few weeks, that statement has an uncanny prescience and the timing of its publication is both poignant and troubling.

But in the context of the turmoil surrounding Winston Peters, Helen Clark and the story behind the grease that smooths the wheels of our democracy, Bonaparte’s offering alludes to a wider truth that we must face in the next few weeks.

If, as Bob Jones points out in his column today, Labour is a real chance to win the General Election tipped to be called for November, does that mean that, finally, we have reluctantly conceded that politicians can and do lie, cheat and steal as part of their job and this affliction must be accepted; like an involuntary muscle reflex that must be accommodated and tolerated?

Is this absurdity of avarice and treachery in public service not a handicap, but more of a default position? And therefore, how much weight do we place on honesty and integrity when standing, marker pen poised, before our voting forms?

. . . Have we just become too accustomed to, too beaten down by, too many lies and falsehoods; an innocence that became a scepticism that mutated into a grudging, resigned cynicism.

. . . Maybe Helen Clark is counting on the same moral blindness from her supporters, her nation; that we will forgive her moment of political madness and impropriety because we are sophisticated enough to know that lying and deceit is as much a part of being a politician as kissing babies and shaking hands.

If that’s the case, then shame on her and shame on us. There should be more to surviving in politics than clinging on to a drowning man and hoping everyone else will look the other way.

Not everyone’s looking the other way but the election will be the only way to know if there’s enough of us who still believe that honesty and integrity matter.


But they still owe us

05/09/2008

Some of the money donated  to New Zealand First went to pay back the $158,000 the party mis-spent at the last election.

The mysterious big-money donation that spurred Winston Peters’ infamous “no” press conference was $80,000 and went towards helping to put right New Zealand First’s wrongful spending at the last election.

But exactly whose $80,000 it is remains hidden behind the Spencer Trust – the entity already exposed as host to donations from Sir Robert Jones and the Vela brothers.

The money was paid to NZ First last December and the Herald understands it went towards the $158,000 the party should have refunded to the taxpayer after the Auditor-General found it had wrongfully spent. NZ First gave the sum to charity instead.

The donation is now likely to be investigated by police as NZ First breached the law by not declaring it to the Electoral Commission as required with all donations over $10,000.

Oh the irony – the donation which is started all the trouble, was meant to pay back money which should not have been spent in the first place, and still hasn’t gone back to parliamentary services so the party is still in debt to the tax payer.

And of course until the party does settle its debt to us, every cent it spends on campaigning is our cent, and tells us that New Zealand First thinks getting re-elected is more imortant than repaying the tax payers’ money it should not have spent in the first place.


Is the bar too low?

03/09/2008

New Zealand First has twice used the excuse of a change in adminstration staff for their failure to comply with electoral finance laws of disclosure.

Ben Thomas at the NBR  recalls that the excuse was first used when it was filed its 2007 donations return late and then again over omitting to declare the $25,000 donation from Sir Robert Jones.

Helen Clark  isn’t concerned:

“They’re a small party with a rather amateur organisation. These things can happen.”

Miss Clark has no plans to sack Mr Peters, who has stood down as Foreign Affairs, Racing and associate senior citizens minister.

That means he is still entitled to a ministerial salary, residence and crown car.

“This has happened at the level of party administration I wouldn’t expect to be held accountable for some sort of mistake at the Labour party head office,” Miss Clark said.

In the normal course of events the leader wouldn’t be held accountable for the party administration, but one of the excuses for filing the donations return late was the party was waiting for Peters to return from overseas.

However, even if we accept he’s not responsible for the party administration, if a party can’t run itself properly how can we have any confidence in its ability to run, or help run, the country?

The requirements for groups wishing to register as political parties  in New Zealand are not onerous:

1)      An acceptable party name (and any abbreviation).

2)      Satisfactory evidence of at least 500 eligible members.

3)      Statutory declarations from its party secretary concerning membership, intention to contest general elections, and advising of any component parties.

4)      Party membership rules showing what is required for current financial membership, and candidate selection rules which provide for the democratic involvement of members in the process.

5)      An auditor (or person who has agreed to be auditor when the party is registered).

6)      A party secretary with a postal address (and ideally phone, fax and e-mail contact details).

7)      Either the secretary, or a sitting MP who is a current financial member of the party, to make the application.

The party should also understand and be prepared to meet the ongoing compliance requirements of being a registered political party.

All of that is fairly simple, although New Zealand First obviously has problems with the last point about meeting ongoing compliance requirements.

But that isn’t a reason to make it even easier. The bar is already set too low and one way to raise it would be to increase the number of members required before a party can register.

Under MMP wee parties can have power that is well out of proportion to their membership and share of the vote. It is possible for one, with just 500 members, to hold the balance of power.

That’s not a lot of people – National has a lot more than that in the Waitaki electorate alone. Any other volunatry organisation would need many more members to have a national profile and and a fraction of that sort of influence.

Participation from as many people as possible is one of the signs of a healthy democracy and the requirements to register as a party should not be so difficult as to deter people with a genuine desire to participate in the process.

But it’s not expecting too much for a group which could hold the balance of power to have at least 2,000 members.

That’s not a lot of people to commit to your cause if you’re got what it takes to help run the country; and it might be enough to pay adminsitration staff who have the ability to comply with the law.

[Update: Inquiring Mind has the quotes about the party waiting for Peters before filing its return.]


Trust gave to NZ First

01/09/2008

TV3 has been given an extract from the Spencer Trust’s records which show Sir Robert Jones’ $25,000 donation did go to New Zealand First.

Grant Currie one of the Trust’s three trustees said its sole purpose was to receive donations from NZ First supporters and pass them to the party.

The Trust was formed in August 2005 – its intention was to channel money from donors to New Zealand First.

Its bank statement shows the first payment made into the trust was from Tirohanga Holdings Limited, the company of which Sir Bob Jones is a majority shareholder.

He gave $25,000 on the 18th of August 2005.

The statement shows that money along with another anonymous $25,000 donation was paid to New Zealand First less than a month later, on the 7th of September.

“If the allegation is that Mr Jones’ donation didn’t go where he intended it to then it completely refutes that allegation,” says Currie.

Currie would not talk about the blacked out donations – saying they were made on a confidential basis.

But Act MP Rodney Hide says the blacked out donations are more evidence the SFO should be investigating – because those donations, and Jones’s, were never declared to the electoral commission by New Zealand First.

“The whole trust now needs to be broken open by the serious fraud office and looked at because it’s clearly a device to break the law. These monies have never been declared as required by the law,” says Hide.

The Electoral Commission has confirmed no payments over $10,000 were declared by the New Zealand First Party in 2005 – a technical breach of electoral law.

But New Zealand First cannot be prosecuted for it now  – the window closes if the alleged crime is not investigated within 6 months.

There would have been nothing wrong about the donations had they been declared – and had Winston Peters not built his political career on his opposition to secret donations.

It is too late to act on any breach of the electoral law, but there is no statute of limitations on accusations of hypocricy.


Ozyymandias

29/08/2008

I had something else in mind for this Friday’s poem but the events of the last couple of days meant I couldn’t go past Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

It is one of the poems in Dear To Me, 100 New Zealanders write about their favourite poems and published by Random House as an Anmesty International fundraiser.

By serendipitous conincidence it was the choice of Sir Robert Jones who said:

The reason why I like it is that it sums up so well the misplaced grandiose egotism of rulers, be they elected prime minsiters or tyrants, and their craving for permanent legacy after their inevitable demise.

It is an illogical aspiration: once dead, however, they’re viewed is utterly irrelevant to them as they’ll never know. That reality doesn’t stop retired prime minsiters wasting their remaining years writing memoirs which they hope will preserve their place and perceived importance in history.

Ozymandias demonstrates the futility of such aspirations and the inevitable denouement for us all of reduction to dust.

                Ozymandias

 I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two cast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shater’d visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,

The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

 

        Percy Bysshe Shelley –


On the verge of a trifecta

29/08/2008

Dene Mackenzie says that Winston Peters is on the verge of an unhappy trifecta:

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters last night proved the old adage of be careful what you wish for, when the Serious Fraud Office took him at his word.

After Mr Peters dared the SFO to either lay charges against him or shut up and go away, SFO director Grant Liddell announced he would conduct an investigation into donations made to NZ First.

He would particularly investigate allegations that funds donated to the party by Sir Robert Jones and Vela family interests did not reach their intended destination.

Mr Peters had accused the SFO of “creeping around back doors”, dropping hints and providing media speculation but not finding any evidence of wrongdoing or illegality on his part.

“I am prepared to wait on the court steps for them and, if they don’t turn up, they can go away for ever,” he said.

Well, the SFO did turn up and Mr Peters now faces another major challenge to his political career.

There have already been plenty.

He has been sacked by two previous prime ministers and now, as Minister of Racing, he must know he is facing the trifecta.

Mr Peters will this morning meet Prime Minister Helen Clark, who is under increasing pressure to sack her minister or at least stand him down while the investigation is under way.

Other ministers have been “gone by lunchtime” for lesser offences.

Had any other MPs faced the allegations Peters does he’d have been the first to call for their resignations. He could have stepped down with dignity intact until the privileges committee and SFO investigations are completed. But because he refused to jump he’ll have to be pushed.

He will then be on familiar territory as the martyred outsider. He will still have some supporters who think he’s hard done by, but it’s the SFO not the court of public opinion which will decide his fate.


Who do we believe?

25/07/2008

TV1 news showed Winston Peters at the press conference at which he said he’d never asked Sir Robert Jones for money.

Sir Bob has just been on Closeup saying Peters asked him for money – in his words “hit me up for 50 grand” and that Roger McLay from Peters’ office came to pick up the cheque.

Over at Keeping Stock Inventroy 2 was watching Campbell Live on TV3 where Peters said the cheque was given to the Spencer Trust, not his party, followed by Sir Bob saying that the donation was to New Zealand First.


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