Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search 17 March 2006 17 March 2006

A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully MP for East Coast Bays

Test for Police/Crown Law

The revelation that the Labour Party had overspent the campaign budget allowed under the Electoral Act was always going to test the authorities charged with enforcement of the law. The overspending was the result of a plan to use taxpayer funds (through Helen Clark’s Parliamentary Service Commission Leader’s budget) to pay for the Labour credit card – a centrepiece of their campaign – and then pretend that this was a Parliamentary, not a Labour Party campaign expense.

That plan ran onto the rocks prior to the election when the Chief Electoral Officer ruled that it was clearly a campaign expense. But Labour kept on spending anyway, with the result that they had to declare expenses $400,000 over the $2 380 000 limit.

The Electoral Commission, who received the return, had no option but to refer the matter to the Police. And the Police, on the facts stated (and with Labour’s guilt obvious from their own return), have no option but to prosecute (the Act says they “shall” commence a prosecution) within six months of the offence being committed.

Legal opinion is divided as to when the offence was committed. Was it committed when they placed the order for the printing, on Election Day, on the day they filed the return declaring the overspend, or on the date they paid their final campaign bills? But the fact that an offence was committed is accepted by everyone except the key Labour officials who attempted to rort our electoral system.

This is not just any old technical breach we are talking about here. This is what the Act calls “a corrupt practice” or “an illegal practice”. Those found guilty can be fined, imprisoned, and lose their right to vote. So the stakes are high. And the pressures on the Police, the Auditor General, and the Crown Law Office, were always going to be severe.

This week saw developments which raise serious questions in the minds of some about the integrity of the key enforcement agencies involved. Crown Law is reported to be intending to advise the Police on whether a prosecution should be laid at the end of next week.

But you don’t need a law degree to work out that next week will be one week too late if the six months prescribed in the statute starts running from Election Day. And if the law is uncertain in this respect, you would expect the Police to do what they would do in any other case – namely file a standard charge in order to get the process running and protect their position.

But the Police have gone awfully, awfully quiet. And this week, one or two people around Wellington have been starting to think the utterly unthinkable: that perhaps, between Crown Law and the Police, they intend to let the deadlines slip. That the Labour Party might be let off the hook for the greatest rorting of our electoral system of all time.

Here at the worldwide headquarters, we are reluctant to draw such uncharitable conclusions. We think the Police and Crown Law are working on the basis that any offence is committed when the final campaign bills are paid, and knowing Labour, they probably still haven’t been. But if some legal commentators are right that an earlier deadline applies, then the Police and Crown Law will have let Labour off the hook. And if that was to happen, some very very big scalps would be in the offing.

It Won’t Go Away

If, indeed, the Police and the Crown Law Office did succumb to some unprincipled, and potentially unlawful desire to help the Labour Party out of their $400,000 hole, then the worldwide headquarters has very very bad news indeed. This issue is not going to go away.

When the original complaint about the Labour pledge card was raised with the Speaker, she referred it on to the Auditor-General (AG) as a convenient way of parking it until after the campaign. But, with the campaign over the AG still needs to report on the complaint.

And there can only be one conclusion to the AG’s report – the very same conclusion that the Chief Electoral Officer advised the Labour Party of during the campaign: the credit card was an election expense and must be declared as such. Clark’s Leader’s budget should never have picked up that bill.

But that is not the end of the matter. The presenting of a report by the AG outlining Labour’s flagrant breach of our constitutional law is only the beginning of the matter. Later this year, the AG will have to audit the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC), which holds Helen Clark’s Leaders budget.

And anything which is declared to be a campaign expense in the hands of a political party, simply cannot be a legitimate expenditure within the Parliamentary Service Commission. So we are talking about public money being spent for a purpose other than that for which it was solemnly appropriated by Parliament. And when that happens, the AG has an uncomfortable habit of asking for the money back.

So the really really bad news for the Police and the Sisterhood’s old mate Solicitor-General Terence Arnold is this: if they drop the ball and let the Labour Party off the prosecution hook, they will then have to endure the indignity of watching the Auditor-General first report to Parliament on the matters referred by the Speaker – that they scammed the PSC budget.

Then they will have to watch as the Auditor-General files an audit report for the PSC which clearly finds that the money voted by the Parliament was used for a different and unlawful purpose.

About that time, it will start to dawn on the Sisterhood that their attempt to rort the Electoral Act, one of the pillars of our constitutional democracy, was a really really bad idea indeed. And it will be clear, even to them, that they can run, but they certainly can’t hide.

The Global Business Forum

Last Wednesday was the deadline for Ministers to answer the questions for written answer about officials attending the $2,700 a head Global Business Forum. But for some reason, the Department of Labour and the Immigration Service (now, technically the Workforce Division of Labour) were reluctant to comply.

It was several days in breach of the deadlines, before answers were presented. And then it became clear exactly what Dyson had been attempting to hide. Two of her officials had indeed attended the Forum. “They went to network and relationship build with employers and increase understanding of global issues impacting on our workforce,” said Dyson.

The attendance of an official from the Ministry of Economic Development and two from Trade and Enterprise might, on a generous interpretation, have a legitimate purpose. But for officials from the Department of Labour – in this case clearly Immigration Service officials – to have attended there is no legitimate explanation.

The Immigration Service, you see, is completely out of control. And Minister Dyson, who presides over the Department of Labour empire, is totally out of her depth. So watch this space. Many, many interesting revelations about one of our weakest departments of state are about to follow.

Another Dyson Special

Also several days behind the official deadline was the response of the ACC to the very same question. And the Minister for ACC would be …. er…. the very same Minister Dyson. Minister Dyson, as Minister for ACC clearly has about as much command of her portfolio as Minister Dyson the Minister of Labour.

One ACC official had indeed attended the Forum. And the reason? Well, the need to “network and relationship build” with ACC beneficiaries, who may well not have represented a huge proportion of the attendees at the $2,700 a head Forum, simply wasn’t going to wash. So, guess what? The ACC attendee was there, according to Minister Dyson “as part of their personal development plan.” So if you, too, feel the need for a personal development plan, especially one that costs over $2,700 a day, just forward your application to Minister Dyson at Parliament House. Oh, and be sure to mention that the worldwide headquarters of recommended the approach. That’s guaranteed to get you a welcoming response.

Special Announcement For the Benefit of the NZ Herald

The humble and hard-working Member for East Coast Bays is pleased to announce, for the special benefit of the NZ Herald, that he will soon embark on a non-secret, fully transparent, widely publicised visit to the Cook Islands (in contrast to the secret visit to the Cooks which he furtively went to so much trouble to hide from the Herald last week).

The visit (the future transparent one, not the secret, furtive past one) is being undertaken to accompany the Leader of the Opposition Dr Brash, and former PNG Ambassador John Hayes MP, on a two-day familiarisation jaunt (sorry, for the Herald that should read junket), and meet with the PM, Deputy PM, Opposition Leader and other key figures. Dr Brash will also soon conduct a similar visit to Samoa, also accompanied by the humble Member for East Coast Bays. And the NZ Herald may rest assured that this visit too, will be announced with appropriate fanfare.

Herald journalists wishing to accompany the travelling party (provided they are of good and abstemious character) should lodge applications with the worldwide headquarters forthwith.

News Flash

Right on deadline Mr Plod has come through with a decision. And guess what? It’s Paintergate all over again. A prima facie case – but no prosecution.

This was a test for both the Police and Crown Law. And they failed. Thank God for the Auditor-General.


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