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The Letter: Pay it back

The Letter – Wednesday, 27 September 2006

The Letter – Wednesday, 27 September 2006

The Letter Limited -

The Haps

We're back! Without our sage advice politicians have gone into the gutter. We have been hard at work on Richard Prebble's first book in seven years "Out of the Red".

Pay it back

Labour may be able to persuade the Auditor-General that some of the $800,000 they spent while parliament was sitting and before the election was called was spent on legitimate parliamentary business. There is no way the $450,000 spent from Helen Clark's Leader's fund on the "pledge card" is legitimate spending even under the old rules.

Refer Labour to the Serious Fraud Office

The Crown cannot be sued. When a Government Department over spends it cannot legally be forced to return taxpayers money. MPs believe it is Parliamentary Services, a Government Department, that has misspent and therefore the Auditor-General cannot demand the money be repaid. We think they are wrong. In the case of the pledge card spending, Parliamentary Services advice was that it did not meet the rules. It is not misspending it is stealing. When Donna Awatere-Huata filed misleading accommodation expense claims, even though there was no money missing, Parliamentary Services, on the Auditor-General's advice, referred the spending to the Serious Fraud Office.

Court Case

In the private court case to have Helen Clark's use of her Leader's fund to finance the pledge declared illegal, Parliamentary Services is saying that MPs spending is covered by parliamentary privilege. We understand there is an Irish case that says spending to run parliament is covered by privilege and cannot be reviewed by the courts. We think there is an important distinction. The Clerk's office spending is needed to enable parliament to function and is covered by privilege. However the Parliamentary Commission is a department and its expenditure is reviewable.


The public, (and maybe Don Brash), believe that National have repaid the taxpayer the $10,000 National MPs misspent. Not so. The cheque was given to Parliamentary Services. When money is returned the Commission says it is then available to be spent by the party again. Labour could repay its $800,000 and demand to be able to spend it all! The Auditor-General by failing to advise on what should happen to the money is, in effect, saying the Commission can act as a bank and lend MPs the money to fund their election campaigns, interest free.

It is corrupt

Brash is mistaken to claim that if Clark repays then it is not corruption. That is like saying if the burglar returns the stolen goods it is not theft. Clark's claim that Labour's misspending is OK because the Auditor-General signed off the public accounts after previous elections is the Enron defence. It is like saying to the referee; 'I have been punching him in every ruck so you can't penalise me now'. Every fraudster would love to be able to say, "It is not fraud because the auditor signed off the accounts".

Future issue

It was ACT's Stephen Frank who first complained to Speaker Margaret Wilson that Labour's pledge card was misspending. Speakers normally rule on such allegations within 24 hours and require misspent money to be immediately repaid. Wilson is yet to rule! It is widely known the Parliamentary Commission advised the Speaker before the election that Labour's spending was outside the rules and should be repaid. Wilson's excuse is she is waiting for the Auditor-General's report. As successive Speakers have always required spending outside the rules to be repaid if Wilson, as we expect, fails to demand Clark repays, then respect for the Speakership will reach new lows.


The Anglican Church can organise a hikoi to parliament! Jenny Shipley did not threaten to remove the church's tax status. Yet when one member of the Exclusive Brethren hires a detective, (legal), the government threatens to legislate against the whole church and Don Brash says he will not meet any member of the church.

Out of the Red

"Out of the Red is a sequel to "I've been thinking". Below are some extracts from the book:
* * *
"That spring morning I walked into the prime minister's office still fairly green. I walked out the biggest businessman in New Zealand's history - as chief executive of twenty billion dollars of business (about one hundred billion in today's dollars)"
* * *
"There it was. The nation's silver. A terrible liability. Every one of those businesses losing money hand over fist. Millions of dollars a day - tens of millions on a bad day. I needed to know what makes an organisation succeed. I needed to know fast."
* * *
"David often left cabinet, caucus and other meetings. He had a low boredom threshold, and found conflict distressing. He also used to slip out for a fag. So when he slipped out we were not at first concerned. It was Michael Bassett who noticed the Prime Minister wasn't there. We tried to workout his last contribution and calculated he had been gone for more than forty minutes. We realised David Lange was not coming back."


"A wonderful read - even better than 'I've Been Thinking'". Rt Hon Mike Moore
"Full of new information"- "engagingly written" Jane Clifton
220 pages, illustrated, clear print, on quality paper.

Special Offer

As a special offer you can purchase 1st edition copies of "Out of the Red" for just $29.95. We will deliver it to you free of charge. Out of the Red is not yet available in bookstores. It's only available from Richard Prebble will personalise your book. Buy five copies and you'll only pay for four. The books make great Christmas gifts.


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Please Note: Formerly the column The Letter was circulated by the ACT Party. It no longer is.

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