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Election bill "legal highway robbery"

Published: 9:00AM Wednesday October 18, 2006 Source: Newstalk ZB

The Maori Party is describing the government's bill to validate election overspending as "legal highway robbery".

The bill is now in the committee stage where it is debated part-by-part.

The party is not supporting the retrospective legislation, and MP Hone Harawira has delivered a stirring speech during urgent debate on the legislation.  He says walking your talk is the first principle of genuine leadership and that cowering behind the facade of legislation is the domain of thieves and scoundrels.

Harawira says Labour's $800,000 overspend was a deliberate and calculated act, and a conscious decision to ignore the Auditor General's advice.  He says Labour got snapped with its fingers in the cookie jar.

Parties also against the bill are National and Act.  Those in favour include Labour, New Zealand First, United Future and the Progressives.  The Greens have abstained all the way through.

Brethren claims re-surface

Now Labour is attempting to bring the relationship between the Exclusive Brethren and National back into the election overspend debate.

Deputy leader Michael Cullen told parliament that National was involved in push-polling with the religious group at the last election, and the relationship remains dubious.

Cullen has questioned what National was doing in bed with what he has labelled as "a bunch of fruitcakes".

The debate has drawn strong emotions from all sides of the House and will continue under urgency on Wednesday.

Nats: Public won't forgive validation

National is telling Labour the public will never forgive it for passing retrospective legislation to validate its overspend at the last election.

MP John Key says the electorate will not wear it and will punish Labour at the polls come the next election.  He says Labour cannot even bring itself to apologise for rorting taxpayers.

Key says Labour needs to say when it expects to pay all the money back.

The party also says it is appalled that the legislation will make Labour's pledge card lawful.

Leader Don Brash says part of the bill which validates parties' pre-election overspend, will re-define the term "electioneering".

He says under Labour's new definition, electioneering will be defined as explicitly asking for votes, membership or money.  Brash says that means Labour's pledge card would be legal, which he finds outrageous.

NZ First: Brady favoured Nats

New Zealand First has had a lash at Auditor General Kevin Brady, hinting he favoured National over the misspending row.

Deputy leader Peter Brown says Brady did not open his doors to all parties.
He says Brady did not even advise Parliamentary Service of what he was thinking.

Brown says the Auditor General told National he was going to take a tough line on the issue, but at no point spoke to New Zealand First.

He says his party will pay back what it "rightfully and lawfully" owes, which is not a firm commitment to repay the $160,000 Brady says it misspent.

He says the legislation being debated is absolutely necessary.

Brown says the bill is essential to clarify the circumstances MPs operate under.

Further action not ruled out

The leader of the Libertarianz Party is not ruling out further legal action against the government.

Bernard Darnton admits his high court case attempting to declare Labour's pledge card spending illegal has little chance of survival.  He says the bill will likely spell the end to the action.

But Darnton says he will be looking for other avenues to take.

He says changing the law to escape charges against them is something he would expect from a third-world dictatorship.

Implications for NZ's reputation

Meantime, a constitutional law expert says Labour's retrospective legislation has implications for New Zealand's reputation.

Bill Hodge says it should not be attempting to validate its election overspend.

He does not trust the government and believes Labour could use the legislation to avoid paying back the money it owes.

Hodge says it is bad for the government to bring parliament into the debate as it besmirches the legal system and makes New Zealand look like a banana republic.