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Govt ad contracts not exempt from electoral law

Bill English MP
National Party Deputy Leader

13 November 2007

Govt ad contracts not exempt from electoral law

“The new Justice Minister has shown today she will be just as incompetent as the last minister on the Electoral Finance Bill,” says National Party Deputy Leader Bill English.

In Parliament today, Annette King denied that departmental advertising campaigns ran the risk of falling foul of the Electoral Finance Bill, so long as they were checked off by the Auditor-General.

“This is patently incorrect. The Electoral Finance Bill determines what is and isn't an election advertisement, not the Auditor-General. There is nothing in the original bill that exempts government departments."

Unless the Government adds an exemption for its departments, all government advertising will be open to scrutiny by the police and the courts as to whether they meet the very broad definition of an election advertisement.

Mr English says the Justice Minister will need to make it clear to departmental CEOs what the new rules mean, because any political advertising will be regulated for the whole of election year, not just the last three months before an election as it is under existing law.

“Government departments currently signing legal contracts for multimillion-dollar campaigns should not proceed until the legislation is passed and they have sought legal advice.

“Clearly they can't rely on the Minister of Justice, who does not know the law.

“For instance, the Ministry of Health is launching a major taxpayer-funded campaign to promote the Government's primary healthcare strategy in April next year - four months into what will be a regulated election period.

“How is a tax-funded campaign backing Labour's stewardship of health any different from a nurses’ campaign or a teachers' campaign? All would technically be regulated in an election year.

“Annette King needs to explain. Either government departments are going to be subjected to the same rules as everyone else or they won’t be. She can’t have it both ways.”

ENDS

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