Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search 5 May 2006 (#245)
5 May 2006 (#245)
A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully
MP for East Coast Bays

Arnold Unfit For Appeal Bench

First the good news: Terence Arnold will no longer be Solicitor-General. The bad news: Arnold has been appointed a Judge of the Court of Appeal. And while the convention is that judges should be free from political criticism, this case is an exception. Arnold, having piloted the culture of obsequious acquiescence which now infests our law enforcement authorities, is not fit to serve on the bench, let alone the Appeal Court bench.

The office of Solicitor-General (S-G), and the Crown Law Office over which the S-G presides, have enjoyed a high and respected status in our system of government. Politicians from all sides have respected the neutrality of the office. They have had no cause to do otherwise. But during the Arnold regime the office has been increasingly seen as partisan, as overly accommodating of the Government’s political needs - and the evidence is hard to refute.

Paintergate saw Crown Law advise Police not to charge Helen Clark with forgery, despite their acceptance that a prima facie case was clearly established. That set the scene for the Arnold regime. A culture of obsequious latitude for their political masters has overtaken both Crown Law and the Police. David Benson-Pope has been a recent beneficiary of the prima facie case, but no charge Arnold modus operandi. Along the way, Clark has escaped any personal consequences of her infamous cross-Canterbury speedathon as Police officers were hung out to dry by their bosses. And the decision to turn a blind eye to Labour’s deliberate rorting of the Electoral Act spending caps is the most recent manifestation of the weak partisanship which now characterises our law enforcement authorities.

Clark’s political opponents have fared less well under the Arnold regime. Arnold decided to prosecute National MP Nick Smith for contempt of Court, but not to prosecute then Principal Family Court Judge Patrick Mahony on similar facts, in relation to the very same case. National MP Shane Ardern was briefly in the dock for driving a tractor up Parliament’s steps, until the case was laughed out of Court. Later scrutiny of the Police files showed prosecutors knew there was no way the charges should be pressed, but were ordered to proceed by politically-conscious Police brass.

Confidence in Arnold’s Crown Law was not enhanced when the Office obligingly advised Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres that he could declare himself to be exempt from the very laws enforced by his office. A full bench of the High Court dispatched that notion without equivocation. And in the Ho case, the Employment Court instructed that the actions of the Chief of Defence Force (CDF) be investigated for contempt by, of course, the Solicitor-General. Arnold spent weeks attempting to avoid the damaging admission that it was Crown Law that had advised the CDF on his actions in the first place.

The result of all of the above has been a serious battering for the reputations of both the Solicitor-General and the Police. While Arnold cannot be held personally to account for each of the misdemeanours chronicled above, that he has been a key architect of the culture of accommodation of his political masters is beyond dispute. As the worldwide headquarters of has opined on prior occasions, new leadership is needed to rebuild public confidence in both Crown Law and the Police.

The hapless outgoing Police leadership will, at least, exit the scene. Terence Arnold, by contrast, has been appointed by a grateful Sisterhood to the second highest Court in the land. A welcome end to the worst Solicitor-Generalship in recent memory. An unwelcome burden and undeserved taint for the second highest Court in our land.

Cops Caught Out Over Labour Breach

Paperwork released by the Police and the Chief Electoral Office this week confirm a deliberate Labour Party plan to rort the Electoral Act campaign spending caps using over $400,000 of taxpayers’ cash. Police files even confirm that had they pressed charges, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Heather Simpson, would almost certainly have been convicted. So how, we hear you ask, has no one been held to account?

The Police files are a saga of incompetent bungling. For a start, they managed to find some investigating officers who had no idea what the law meant. Seriously. Try this gem from the Inspector in charge: "Whilst it is not clear what illicit purpose Sect 221 is trying to dissuade, it seems to be trying to restrain the publication of scurrilous electioneering propaganda as well as to provide some basis for controlling election campaign expenditure." In fact S221 imposes spending caps on parties and candidates, and requires all expenditure to be formally authorised to make the cap enforceable.

Later, the inspector describes the law as "unclear, confusing and contradictory." Which is hardly surprising because he has "not referred the file for local legal opinion." Why ever not, we hear you ask?

Because, the inspector says "I don’t believe this is a legal issue - this is a question of evidential sufficiency. We don’t have that sufficiency." Pardon me. The Police don’t understand the meaning of S221 of the Electoral Act but they decide not to ask for some legal advice. Unbelievable. That sort of Police work, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Labour Party, yet again, managed to get off the hook.

Police Spin Unmasked

Shoddy Police work is arguably not the worst feature of the investigation into the Labour Party. Announcing the Police decision not to press charges against their political masters, acting deputy Commissioner Roger Carson over-reached himself:

"We are hoping as a result of some of the recommendations we have made to the Chief Electoral Office and others that things will be a lot tidier the next time around. It is in everyone’s interest - we want to run fair and proper elections in this country."

Unfortunately for acting Deputy Commissioner Carson, the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr David Henry, appears to be in the habit of reading his morning newspaper. And not being in possession of the advice described by acting Deputy Commissioner Carson he immediately wrote to the Police: "I have not received the recommendations to which Mr Carson refers and have no knowledge of what they might contain. Could you please arrange for me to receive them as a matter of urgency." Aha.

Sprung in a most embarrassing fashion the Police hurriedly arranged a meeting with Mr Henry the very next day. And the file note of the meeting kept by the Electoral Office suggests that Mr Henry must have caused Mr Plod to leave the room feeling very very ill indeed.

"The meeting was called at David Henry’s request and arose out of Mr Carson’s reported comments…." the note commences. After repeating Mr Carson’s foolish public comments, the note continues:

"Mr Henry stated that section 221 (the relevant provision) was clear and that the explanatory booklets for parties and candidates had been discussed in draft with party administrators and set the requirements out clearly. He said that it made no difference to the application of S221 who paid for an election advertisement. He said the CEO had obtained Crown Law Office advice before referring the complaints to the Police and Crown Law had confirmed that the law on the point was clear."

"Mr Carson said Police agreed that section 221 was clear." Hang on. These would be the same Police who just announced that no charges were being pressed against the Labour Party because the law was not clear, and boasted that things would be "a lot tidier the next time around" as a result of recommendations they had made.

And as to those recommendations? Well, explained the deputy commissioner, there was "confusion amongst political parties about parliamentary service rules on using the party leader fund for election advertising," and "the recommendations referred to in his comments to the media was a recommendation that the rules relating to the use of that fund be clarified."

But that, of course, was nothing to do with the Electoral Office, as Mr Carson was forced to agree. And clearly, no such recommendations existed. In any case, both the Electoral Office and Crown Law had already agreed that "it made no difference to the application of S221 who paid for an election advertisement."

All of which left Mr Carson fresh out of reasons for the decision not to charge the Labour Party. Reassuringly, the file notes: "Mr Carson said the Police were not intending to make any further statements on the matter."

A Tip

So here’s a tip for the lazy hacks who have, to date, spectacularly failed to get their heads around the essence of the issue. The Chief Electoral Officer, Mr David Henry, appears to be one very straight up and down dude. Having told the Labour Party in the simplest of terms that they would be breaking the law if they overspent the cap, regardless of whether it was their money or the taxpayers’, and having got a Crown Law opinion to confirm that view, and then having referred the matter to the Police, he is one very hosed-off individual that the Police have weaselled out of their responsibilities.

Mr Henry appears to be even more hosed-off that the chief Police weaselers have then proceeded to pretend that it will all be OK next election because they, the Police weasels, have devised a clever solution. All of which Mr Henry knows to be complete and utter garbage.

So don’t miss the appearance of Chief Electoral Officer David Henry at the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee when the review of the 2005 general election commences. It’s guaranteed to be a cracker. And judging by the clarity with which he has approached matters to date, even the dimmest of gallery hacks will then be able to understand what happened.

The Hercus Saga

Regular readers will recall accounts of the almost palpable resentment oozing from every pore of TVNZ chief Craig Boyce when appearing to give account before select committees. All of which was magnificently confirmed by his email to Ian Fraser, released this week. Boyce’s assertion of the Finance and Expenditure Committee that “these bastards are our enemy”, said it all.

The further Boyce email reference to “the mid year stuff between yourself and Ann” (Hercus) that needed to be suppressed because the truth would be “a disaster for everyone”, was the subject of parliamentary questions this week. Just what the Prime Minister was asked, was that all about?
Both Clark and Maharey are feigning mystification over the reference. And both are, in that respect, being very much less than fully truthful. Both had pivotal roles in the super-heated saga. And the same people who know enough to go hunting for the Boyce emails almost certainly know the full story.
When the facts emerge, as they surely will, about the roles of former Labour Cabinet Minister Ann Hercus, Minister Maharey, and Clark herself in this appalling saga, here’s betting it will be red faces all round.


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