Thursday, August 23, 2007

Going after Key

Ouch. After attacking John Key's honesty over his flip-flopping and equivocation on Iraq, the government has upped the ante, alleging that he made fraudulent statements in official declarations under the Companies and Electoral Acts - something which, if proven, could see him kicked out of Parliament, or (more likely) significantly embarrassed. The core of the allegation is that Key made conflicting statements in a series of official declarations in 2002 and 2003:

- In March 2002 he declared he was living at Orakei Rd, Remuera for the purposes of the Companies Act.

- In October 2002 he declared to the Chief Electoral Officer that he was living at Waikoukou Valley Rd, Waimauku, Helensville.

- In April 2003 he again declared he was living at Orakei Rd, Remuera for the purposes of the Companies Act.

Now, it's perfectly possible that Key indeed moved several times in 2002 - 2003, though I doubt it - the government wouldn't be raising this if it was that easily explained (OTOH, assuming basic competence of politicians may be a mistake). Instead, it's more likely that he engaged in the long and honourable tradition in New Zealand of carpetbagging - that is, of standing as an MP in an electorate you don't actually live in. It's certainly what he's doing now: Key lives in Parnell, which is some distance from the Helensville electorate he officially represents. And legally speaking, this isn't actually much of a problem. While the Electoral Act requires that voters and electorate candidates register in the electorate they live in, it is actually surprisingly flexible about what that actually means. For example, s74 (1) (c) (i) says that people can only register in an electorate when it is

the last in which that person has continuously resided for a period equalling or exceeding one month
However, s72 clarifies this, by saying that where people live isn't changed by occasional or temporary absences, or even absence for any period due to occupation, employment, or study (or for that matter being an MP). The upshot is that, for the purposes of the Electoral Act at least, where you live doesn't have to be where you live - you can effectively register in any electorate in which you have a residential address (but only one, mind; registering in multiple electorates is a crime). And while someone's registration can be challenged on the basis that they don't actually live where they say they do, this doesn't actually affect their ability to stand as a candidate or serve as an MP.

So, the Electoral Act side of this is a bust; Key can have been "living there" even if he wasn't living there. The Companies Act stuff is more serious, but they'd need more to back it up than just a registration in a different electoral district. So this whole thing looks like a damp squib.