Stuff article on the Postcard debacle

By MAGGIE TAIT - NZPA Thursday, 03 July 2008

Postcards highlight law problems - Nats

National deputy leader Bill English says an anti-privatisation postcard campaign has been orchestrated to avoid breaching the Electoral Finance Act but may still do so.

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (Cafca) emailed out a postcard to be sent to MPs saying they did not want education, health or transport privatised. It gave details of how to make bulk orders for hard copies.

Cafca did not put their details on the card and did not think they needed to under Electoral Finance Act requirements.

The law requires advertisements to have an authoriser's name and address and sets limits for how much can be spent on campaign advertising.

Cafca organiser Murray Horton said there was no need to put the organisation's details on the card as the people who sent them to MPs gave their names, addresses and phone numbers.
Mr English said Cafca had a right to express its views but appeared to be carefully designing its campaign to avoid running into legal problems.

"Unfortunately the Electoral Finance Act appears to have driven this kind of campaigning underground. It may breach the Act it may not, some expert will have to take a look at it," he said.

"It does look a bit like a coordinated campaign with the Government's attacks on the same issues – that too may raise some legal issues about whether Labour have some role in being responsible for it."

Mr Horton said Labour nor the Green Party had any involvement. Mr English said that was something that could be tested in the courts.

He said Labour may not have anything to do with the campaign but could find it charged against its campaign spending cap if the postcards were judged to be an advertisement.

"It's interesting that the people who supported the Act as a way of stopping political campaigns are going to find that it's a constraint."

Mr English said people who ordered the postcards, for instance unions, could run into trouble.

"They need to get legal advice because its quite possible if they are handing out the cards they do count as an election advertisement and they may have to count them against Labour's campaign funding. "All of this is ridiculous. We should be free to express any opinion we like in an election year because that's the time when our opinion might matter."

Mr Horton said the card was not aimed at any specific party.

"It doesn't say anywhere on the card `do vote for or don't vote for' . . . it simply says `I'm not going to vote for a party that advocates (privatisation)' . . .

"I can understand why National is feeling sensitive about it right now, but these things have been going out for a couple of weeks."

National's position on opening ACC up to competition was highlighted yesterday.
Mr Horton said the postcard could easily be sent to Labour MPs over public private partnerships, for instance in relation to Auckland roading projects.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union and Maritime Union of New Zealand had ordered postcards.
An Electoral Commission spokesman said it had not received a complaint. However, the postcards would not count as being published under the Electoral Finance Act if they were sent to membership or people the group knew.

An example of when they would be considered published would be if they were handed out on the street.

Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said she could see no problem with the postcards.

"I don't see that there's anything wrong with sending a party a postcard saying `we don't like what you are doing'. That happens to us, that happens to all parties," she said.

The Greens were the subject of an anonymous campaign before the last election.

"I don't see any parallel, the Exclusive Brethren distributed information to the public which was inaccurate about Green Party policy and didn't say who they were.

"This is a postcard to the National Party, not to the public, signed by individuals and not making claims about them but saying `we don't want privatisation'. I see it as totally different."

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