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Be careful whose spin you believe

15 August 2006

Be careful whose spin you believe

Today the New Zealand Herald has dismissed legitimate concerns of most parliamentary parties about the scope of the draft Auditor-General's report based on National party spin which claims that nothing that happened before 2003 was relevant, Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said today

"This is not the case. The 2003 determination reiterated the longstanding principle that that parliamentary services funding is intended for Parliamentary purposes. This is not in dispute. What is complicated is exactly what is included as Parliamentary purposes.

"The recent decision of the High Court in Tauranga electoral petition highlights the difficulties in determining this. In that case the Court noted that promotion of a person as a sitting member of Parliament does not qualify as an election expense.

"This reflects the understanding that MPs from all parties have operated under for many years. Such expenditure relates to Parliamentary business as approved by the Parliamentary Service and as such is within the scope of the appropriation.

"If the view of Crown Law and the Auditor-General is that this is no longer the case then the legality of a large proportion of expenditure, totalling hundreds of millions of dollars, funded out of Vote Parliamentary Service since 1989 is now unclear. This includes spending by all parties represented in Parliament over the last 17 years.

"The Herald also seems to have swallowed the National Party line that the report relates only to spending in the three months prior to the 2005 election.

"However, the position the Auditor-General has adopted goes considerably further than this. The Crown Law Opinion on which he relies states "I agree with your view that no particular date is determinative of whether, in terms of the appropriations, material is to be considered as electioneering."

"Like National, the Herald would have you believe this issue is black and white. It is far more complicated which is why most parties in Parliament except National are working to clarify the situation.

"The Herald would be wise to consider the consistency of its position.

"The owners of the Herald recently found themselves liable to a very large tax bill even though they could reasonably argue that the transaction which triggered it would not at the time have done so according to the general understanding of the law.

"As a result the government has agreed to support legislation which effectively retrospectively validates that understanding and relieves the Herald's owners of the bill.

"The amount involved would, for example, pay for a very large number of elective operations.

"I challenge the Herald's owners to release the full details and try to explain the essential difference between their case and the current storm in a tea cup over Parliamentary Services funding, other than that the former is very much larger," Dr Cullen said.


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