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ACT's Attack On Spending Constraints 'Predictable'

27 May 2001
Lee Says ACT's Attack On Spending Constraints 'Predictable'


The Minister of Local Government , Hon Sandra Lee, says claims that the news media might be gagged under provisions in the new Local Electoral Act are "drawing a long bow".

"There is no intention of gagging news media freedom of speech under any of the new legislation's provisions," Ms Lee said. "I will be seeking further advice on the issue from the Crown Law Office this week."

"In order for Government policy on limits on local authority candidates electoral expenses to be effective, the new legislation has made provision to stop other people from publishing electoral material on behalf of a candidate in order to get around the expense limits applying to that candidate."

Ms Lee said section 128 of the new Local Electoral Act, dealing with unauthorised expenditure, makes it an offence carrying a maximum fine of $1000 if any person "publishes or broadcasts any material promoting the election of any candidate without the written authority of the candidate or the candidate's agent".

"This provision came from a draft Bill submitted by the local government sector," she said. "There were no submissions to the Justice and Electoral select committee on this provision, including from news media, when these were called earlier this year."

"I have been advised by the Department of Internal Affairs and the Parliamentary Counsel's Office that ACT MP Stephen Franks' media gagging interpretation of this section, which he raised in last week's Parliamentary debate on the legislation, is misleading," Ms Lee said. "I am advised by officials the issue was not raised at the earlier select committee stage."

"The particular section, which Mr Franks has selectively interpreted, is not intended to relate to news media commentaries on candidates or campaigns ," she said. "Rather it is aimed at ensuring that a cap on a candidate's campaign expenditure is not subverted."

"It would be a travesty of local democracy if big spending candidates, or big spending parties like ACT if they ever decided to fund local authority candidates openly or secretly, got two bites of the cherry," she said.

"This provision is aimed at preventing a candidate running one campaign where funding and support resources are open to scrutiny, and a second parallel campaign involving so-called supporters who produce material promoting the candidate using secret funding sources."

"In my opinion, this ACT 'beat-up' of one of the new laws on candidate spending and promotion is predictable given that it was reported in the Sunday Star Times last month that a group of New Zealand's richest men secretly bankrolled ACT's 1996 election campaign in a scheme set up to avoid disclosing their identity and the amount of their donations," Ms Lee said.

"The commencement of the Local Electoral Act is yet to be set by the Governor-General by Order in Council, she said. "It is a long bow to raise this provision as a threat to freedom of speech. I am determined to ensure that effective limits on candidates' election expenses will be well established in time for the October local authority elections."

Ends

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