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The Letter – Monday, 13 February 2006

The Letter – Monday, 13 February 2006

The Letter Limited -

The Haps

Labour stole the election. Parliament resumes. Consumer confidence collapses.

Over Spending

The Electoral Commission has referred Labour to the Police for over spending by 20% and the mass mail out to every household of the Labour plastic pledge card, "My Commitments to You". Helen Clark personally paid for this card with money taken from her taxpayers' Parliamentary Leaders fund.

It is Corruption

The Member's Handbook sets down the rules for using Leader's funds for advertising. Rule 1.3.1 says funds can only be used for "parliamentary business" and rule (b) says "parliamentary business" does not include "party political, promotional or electioneering material for the purpose of supporting the election of any person or party". Labour's pledge cards have been at the core of Labour's campaigns for three elections. This one says "1. No interest on student loans…!" The Electoral Act 1993 provides that printing and postage costs must be included as election expenses if; 1. Incurred three months before election day. (Yes), 2. Not sent in a candidate's capacity as an MP (It was not) and 3. It relates to the campaign for the members return. (It did). Labour is guilty.

It is theft

Labour budgeted $15 million of taxpayers' money through the Ministry of Social Development to promote the "Working for Families" package. Part of this spending was on 133 bus shelter billboards, many in South Auckland, where Labour won the election. On the same bus shelters the advertising agency also booked billboards saying, "You're better off with Labour". These advertisements costing $90,000 came from Helen Clark's Leader's fund. ACT's Ken Shirley lodged a complaint. The Parliamentary Commission in its report to the Speaker Margaret Wilson agreed it was a misuse of taxpayers' money and the Prime Minister should return the money. The Speaker invented a new rule, that because it related to the budget, the spending was legitimate.

Who Guards the Guardians?

Ken Shirley then complained to the Auditor-General who said the rules are not clear! No previous Speaker has ever found the rules unclear. MPs have frequently been required to pay back spending including party leaders, like Jim Anderton. Speaker Wilson and the Labour party have used the Auditor-General's "the rules are not clear" to loot the taxpayer to fund Labour's election. The Electoral Commission's ruling put the Speaker and the Auditor-General in an impossible position. Labour President Mike Williams admission that all three pledge cards were financed from the taxpayer just means the Auditor-General must rule that Clark must pay back over one million dollars. Oh dear.

The Media's Role

Fran O'Sullivan in the Herald contrasts New Zealand officials referring Labour's spending three months after the election with Victoria's Auditor-General who has agreed to rule on a claim that the State Labour Government is misusing taxpayer advertising before their election. Actually the Electoral Commission, ruling on a complaint from the National party, said before the election that the pledge card was electioneering. So Labour deliberately overspent. Imagine that the Herald, who investigated the Exclusive Brethren advertisements before the election and established the link to National, had also, before the election, investigated Labour's misappropriation of taxpayers' money.

They stole the election

Politicians would say that $410,000 was enough to swing 41,000 votes, enough to make Don Brash PM. One would expect fireworks in parliament except National also over spent saying they did not know that campaign expenditure includes GST, something the court ruled on in the Wairarapa petition in 1988! There is a difference, National's was a genuine if stupid mistake, and Labour's was a premeditated theft.

Opening of Parliament

The Prime Minister's Opening Statement on Tuesday will reveal no significant new policies. Labour is suffering from third term fatigue. Clark's speech at Waitangi was tired and uninspired. We will be examining her speech for more signs of weariness. Brash's response will be also closely examined as he is, in effect, under notice to improve his parliamentary performance.

National Goss

The unnamed National MP who criticised John Key for undermining caucus unity was Gerry Brownlee. In this case he was right. National's inveterate plotter Murray McCully is at it again, counting votes, this time for John. John does not yet have the numbers. His colleagues still don't know what to make of him. The support for him is coming from the Auckland division. Don's critics are saying with a different leader they would have won. Adding to Don's difficulties are the problems of managing a large Caucus. At the caucus retreat Don had suggested they use the U shape seating that worked well for 22 MPs. With 48 MPs they could hardly see across. Don's chairmanship has always been indecisive. Even with a small caucus it had been exasperating but with a big caucus it is a real problem. National MPs complain that the three day caucus was largely wasted listening to long irrelevant speeches.

No Challenge this year

All agree there will be no challenge this year. The concern is that if the leadership stories continue, Don will be seen as a lame duck leader. If there was a challenge today, Bill English, Simon Power and Brownlee would put their names forward. As these MPs start seeking support and MPs like Judith Collins sounds out support for her ambition to be deputy, the caucus could become destabilised.

Economy slowing

The Roy Morgan poll, that picked the election, says consumer confidence has declined dramatically in February. Consumer surveys do predict consumer behaviour. In our readers' poll, 75% of readers say Cullen is wrong and the economy is heading for a recession.

This Week's Poll

Do you think Labour was entitled to use your taxes to fund their campaign or should Helen Clark pay the money back? We will send your answer to the Auditor General. Vote at


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