Thursday, October 12, 2006

They're up

The Auditor-General's report on Parliamentary Services advertising expenditure and the Speaker's reply to it are now available from Parliament's website.

Update: Having read some of it: the Auditor-General concludes that almost half of all Parliamentary Services advertising expenditure in 2004 - 05, and over 60% of that in 05 - 06, was unlawful. Some parties - notably New Zealand First in 05-04, and the Greens and Labour in 05-06, had almost their entire spending considered unlawful, while many had over 50%. National seems to have been very well-behaved, though that's probably due to being wealthy enough to wage a permanant campaign with laundered funds, rather than relying on Parliamentary communications to advise the public of their policies. As a general comment, Parliamentary Services disagreed violently with the A-G's interpretation of the rules, arguing that they only outlawed explicit solicitation rather than anything which might persuade anyone to vote for a party. This difference of opinion is the key reason why so many parties have been caught out.

Update 2: having got to the end: the A-G has recommended a review of the Parliamentary Service's financial procedures to ensure they spend money properly, and restated his prior recommendation that the system of funding political parties be reviewed. The Speaker agrees with these recommendations (while disagreeing quite strongly with his interpretation of the rules, which she clearly regards as both retrospective and outlawing a great deal of Parliamentary activity - e.g. holding public meetings), and furthermore proposes retrospective validating legislation on the basis that this is standard practice and mere repayment is not sufficient to erase the unlawfulness of the spending. She will also be asking the parties to respond to the report and consider repaying the money, if only in the interests of restoring public confidence in Parliament.

I suspect we will see validating legislation - which National will oppose - and a lot of parties are suddenly going to become very keen on public funding or changing the rules so they can continue to actually talk with their constituents without having someone leaning over their shoulder to ensure that they don't persuade them of anything.


Here's the rub:

"It is the Service’s responsibility to ensure that expenditure is within the authority provided by Parliament. I do not accept that the authorisation of advertising expenditure by an MP or parliamentary party staff member absolves the Service of this responsibility."

Also, if his view is that electioneering is unlawful why did are Nationals postcards since the election not unlawful? I still fail to see why he limited the scope of his enquiry to three months when in countless other statements he said he would wait until *after* the election to clarify the messy and "poorly understood" rules.

Certainly plenty to disagree with here and I would suggest he has done very little to clarify the situation, in fact, I would go so far as to say he has ensured this will be a fully politicised debate without a clear, cross party agreed solution.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/12/2006 03:20:00 PM

I/S wrote:
National seems to have been very well-behaved, though that's probably due to being wealthy enough to wage a permanant campaign with laundered funds, rather than relying on Parliamentary communications to advise the public of their policies.

I know this is probably counterintuitive for you, but could it within the realms of possibility that National took the Auditor-General's 2005 report seriously and decided to err on the side of caution? Really whacky notion, I know, but stranger things have happened.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 10/12/2006 03:20:00 PM

Noddy wrote:
Certainly plenty to disagree with here and I would suggest he has done very little to clarify the situation, in fact, I would go so far as to say he has ensured this will be a fully politicised debate without a clear, cross party agreed solution.

Noddy, Kevin Brady has said from the beginning that it's not the Auditor-General's role to provide a remedy that would inevitably require legislation. That's the responsibility of... well, the legislature. I respectfully suggest that Parliament (and particularly the Government) is responsible for deciding whether this becomes "a fully politicised debate without a clear, cross party agreed solution" not the Auditor-General.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 10/12/2006 03:24:00 PM

Craig, in which case you would have expected the National MP who was on the PS commission to have pointed out the "illegality" of the authorisations to his/her fellow committee members. If that person had a clearer understanding than anyone else they were honour bound, in that role, to make that clarity available to their fellow committee members.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/12/2006 03:27:00 PM

"Deus, dona mihi serenitatem accipere res quae non possum mutare"

Helen says they will pay back the money.

Posted by Sanctuary : 10/12/2006 03:48:00 PM

Even with my rusty Latin, I can read that!

Posted by Anonymous : 10/12/2006 03:58:00 PM

So have I got the right end of the stick here - the Auditor-General says that a lot of the spending was unlawful, but that Parliamentary Services, who gives advice and sign-off to parties who run stuff by it, was ok-ing a lot of the spending the A-G subsequently found unlawful?

I'm busting to suggest that maybe the reason a very small number of parties haven't broken the law is because some people have been caught in the past, but in an election where it was all sorted out behind closed doors, not in this public blood-letting...

Posted by Span : 10/12/2006 04:12:00 PM


Pardon? I would be delighted (and politely stunned) if any other party felt 'honour bound' to accept the direction or advice of any member of the National caucus on any matter. I do love the way the Labour Party is never, ever accountable for its actions but that particular dog just won't hunt.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 10/12/2006 05:13:00 PM

the maori party is guilty to the tune of $48...
possibly because of their incredible wealth - or because they jsut only spent a total of $48 on the election.

Posted by Genius : 10/12/2006 07:07:00 PM

Other parties like the Progressives and Maori Party, Jordan?

Not the biggest fan of some of Don Brash's policies, but I actually believe he doesn't consider it appropriate to spend the leader's fund on electioneering.

The hefty donations National received just made it far more palatable.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 10/13/2006 12:21:00 AM

I wonder what the $48 was spent on. A bit of photocopying maybe, or a tin of paint to make signs?

Posted by Muerk : 10/13/2006 12:59:00 AM


I'll defer to your superior experience where undiluted sophistic party hackery is concerned. BTW, how much are Labour Party councillors getting hit up for by Mike Williams?

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 10/13/2006 06:25:00 AM

Jordan, if your going to bang on about business support for National then expect Union support of Labout to be put under the spotlight. I know Labour will claim this is oh so different but it ain't.

Labour's crime is one of hubris. They just don't believe waht they did was wrong. If they had just said right from the start "we will pay back whatever the AG says was wrongful spending" then I wouldn't have cared much for the issue. But Labour's complete arrogance and bloody-mindedness really leaves a bad taste. And that's from a Labour voter and union supporter.

But it's a good object lesson in the value of party politics. Even the well intentioned will ultimately be corrupted by power to some extent and that's why we need oppostion parties. It ain't pretty but that's our nature.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/13/2006 08:21:00 AM

Jordan says: "Everyone knows that National had so much money pouring in at the last election that the reason for not using the leaders funds in the way other parties did is precisely as I/S suggests."

This is crap. Both National and Labour spent about the same of their own money on the election - $2.2 million as allowed under the rules. Labour then stole another $800k from the taxpayer. It doesn't matter how much money National had "pouring in" - it only spent the maximum legal amount. UNDERSTAND THIS JORDAN: LABOUT SPENT MORE THAN NATIONAL.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/13/2006 09:40:00 AM

Just so I've said this somewhere:

I have a clear memory of Brash saying something to the effect of "...and in this campaign we're not going to spend taxpayer money at all, which amakes us special"

Which implies they expected other people to and could do so themselves.

They didn't spend because a) they were rolling in cash having got all the pool that's normally split between them and Act and b) they were running a campaign specifically based on not wasting taxpayer money.

Not too well informed on this, but I understood the AG's 'warning', as far as it clearly applied to the pre-election period, said 'be careful to obey the rules'. In the absence of saying what the rules are, that don't help much.

On another note, I think the Nats, now their unremitting 'pay it back' chant appears to have been accepted, will look dumb and malicious if they aren't satisfied. Not saying they won't have a point though, and I have repeatedly shown I'm not a representative sample of the public.

Posted by Lyndon : 10/13/2006 09:41:00 AM

Lyndon - and c) National had already spent their money on electioneering in the period just *prior* to the AG's infamous "line in the sand".

Don Brash did a pretty piss poor job of *not* spending tax payer's money in 2005/6.

What I cannot understand is that if the relevent legislation (not rules) was the same in 2002 how did the AG credibly sign-off those accounts?

As I have said before, once the political scope of the report expanded the AG *should* have referenced previous spending for the sake of fairness. Even if he believes the spending was wrong then it should have been included and analysed to give us a clearer picture.

One final aside, David Blumsky's electoral agent for the last election is doing a sterling job on vilifying labour. As Blumsky was one of the only National MPs to have misspent parliamentary funds one wonders just how clear that agent's understanding of the rules were at the time...

Posted by Anonymous : 10/13/2006 10:12:00 AM

Insofar as political parties have policies to convince people to vote for them, why doesn't the Auditor General just rule illegal spending public money on promoting anything but shouting in Parliament?

But now it all makes sense: promoting Labour policy is "corrupt" :P

Posted by Anonymous : 10/13/2006 10:49:00 AM

We know National spent their PS fund in 2005/6. Perhaps National could tell us what they spent it on, or is that another dirty little secret that DB does not want us to know about.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/13/2006 11:13:00 AM


Pardon me if I have very little sympathy for any politicians who gets hung on the *ahem* strategic ambiguity they so carefully built into the system. I don't know how many times it needs to be repeated for the benefit of Noddy et. al., but Kevin Brady is the Auditor-General and Controller, an officer of Parliament. He is not a member of Parliament, and he was extremely careful (and properly so) not to re-write legislation or regulations on the fly, no matter how many people self-servingly claim otherwise.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 10/13/2006 11:15:00 AM

Kevin Brady's interpretation of the rules is so narrow and out there that it makes him a maverick abberation hiding behind the "impartiality" of his role. As has been noted by evertyone across the political spectrum, with the exception of the as-per-usual smug hypocrites on the right, his interpretation makes a nonsense of common sense.

Posted by Sanctuary : 10/13/2006 11:32:00 AM

"he was extremely careful (and properly so) not to re-write legislation or regulations on the fly, no matter how many people self-servingly claim otherwise."

Craig, that quote contradicts the AG himself. He actually admits that the PS interpretation of the rules are different from his own interpretation. If *that* is not changing the rules I don't know what is.

Like Labour and the rest I respect the AG and his office but disagree with the scope of his report which is, I believe, unfair on all parties except National, who it has been claimed have no audit trail of their PS spending.

This is different from National who seem to believe the police are corrupt for following due process after the election.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/13/2006 11:38:00 AM

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. Posted by Sanctuary : 10/13/2006 12:00:00 PM

Haven't read any reports, but I think if you want to blame you should look to the Solicitor-Gen for the interpretation of what was legitimate rather than the AG for applying it.

Posted by Lyndon : 10/13/2006 12:01:00 PM

By far and away the most brilliant last word analysis is up over at publicaddress, I would reccommned I/S reprints it in full on this site as well if thats allowed.,

Posted by Sanctuary : 10/13/2006 12:02:00 PM

... although Brady's decription of his 'warning' does not indeed seem to match what he actually said.

Posted by Lyndon : 10/13/2006 12:04:00 PM