Over the weekend an 8-page taxpayer-funded advertisement for the National party arrived in our letterbox (I've tweeted a picture). Page after page laid out in National's party colours and font, bursting with photos of the PM, and of MPs Hekia Parata and Chris Finlayson. Also someone called 'Paul Foster-Bell' is prominently pictured in it, but goodness only knows who he is.

Headlines claim "We're on the right track", "Keeping Kiwis safer...", "Health targets are delivering better results", and other imaginary facts that don't pass scrutiny.

There's even a big blue box informing me about "National's priorities." Not the government's priorities: National's. At the bottom of each page it carries the slogan National is "Working for Wellington." (This slogan is presumably ironic? At least there is humour).

The newsletter is an election ad. No question about it. It is a blue taxpayer-funded ad designed and distributed for the purpose of encouraging constituents to vote National in three months.

I'm pretty relaxed about the principle of parliamentary parties using their budgets to tell voters what they believe and what they have been up to. I think it's important for MPs to send newsletters like this to constituents. But most people are less impressed. And National in particular has made a song and dance about use of taxpayers' money to fund messages like this in election season.

Here's Gerry Brownlee in 2008:

"[t]his parade of taxpayer-funded material puts any challenger who is not in Parliament at a distinct disadvantage because they are allowed to spend only $20,000 for the entire year."

He was talking about a booklet sent to voters by Labour MPs in 2008 that informed over-60s about public services available. The booklet contained not one word of advocacy. Nothing telling voters 'we did this', or 'we will do that.' Nothing saying "Labour is working for New Zealand." Just 50 pages of facts about services. Good constituent MPs were providing the information as a service to their electorates. The party printed and sent out about 60,000 of them at around a dollar each. Even Gerry Brownlee admitted it didn't solicit votes, stating, 

"It's the sheer volume of material this close to an election that will have the public scratching their heads." 

At budget time back then, the Herald went big on "Labour ... dipping into taxpayers' money to produce leaflets on the May Budget."

In 2011 National-aligned blogger David Farrar attacked Labour for using taxpayer funding in election year:

"The advertisements are legal under parliamentary rules, but as usual with Labour they push the rules to the absolute boundary. They have combined parliamentary and party ads and sites so they have the same look, slogans and feel. It is as close as you can come to have the taxpayer actually fund advertisements saying “Vote for Labour”. They’re doing it in an slightly indirect way. All parties fund material from their parliamentary budget which is “political”. You can’t easily draw a line between political and parliamentary. But this current campaign is around 1% parliamentary and 99% political campaigning."

Here's Cameron Slater in 2011:

"More taxpayer-funded election advertisements from Labour. They’re spending up large on the taxpayer before the three month ‘election period’ starts."

So, here is National doing the same thing a hundred days before the election. Sauce for the goose.

Comments (10)

by Kat on June 16, 2014

Paul Foster Bell hails from Northland where he grew up on a beef farm. A true blue Nat and monachist, has been a list MP since 2013 and former pastoral care tutor. Most likely knows all about political phamleteering, especially during the Brash years..

by Andrew Osborn on June 16, 2014
Andrew Osborn

Josie, after today's revelations in the Herald over Labour's illegal $15,000 donation and your subsequent disembowelment on 1ZB over this issue, aren't you suffering from more than a little cognitive dissonance?

Your faith in the Labour Party is cetainly touching but you need to face the fact that this bunch can't be helped. (Points for effort though!)

You can shill all you like for Labour but they will shoot themselves in the foot faster than you can spin it.



by Lee Churchman on June 16, 2014
Lee Churchman

I guess you must live in a well-heeled area, Josie. No such missive found it's way into the mailbox of my more modest abode.

by Kat on June 16, 2014

Interesting thing at the moment is the political prevalence of 'spin' in the media. Must be election year and hence the battle of the 'spin'. What actual 'spin' voters go for in the end will be the winning card. This election is sure to be a close contest between the 'spin' and the 'spun'.

Somewhere though amongst all the 'spun-spin' are facts. My bet is whoever is the best at revealing the facts and are able to get the media to present those facts will win the election.

Crosby Textor ahead, by a nose, a this point.


by Kat on June 16, 2014

But then again depends which side of the political spectrum one is on. So caled 'facts' need to be verifiabile otherwise they are just poisonous thoughts.... especially in election year.

by Alan Johnstone on June 17, 2014
Alan Johnstone

I also had a very nice letter from John Key, explaining everything they've done.

The quality and presentation of it was excellent, it's election advertising, but some of the best I've seen. Miles ahead of the recent  labour material


by Lee Churchman on June 17, 2014
Lee Churchman

Somewhere though amongst all the 'spun-spin' are facts. My bet is whoever is the best at revealing the facts and are able to get the media to present those facts will win the election.

Since when do facts still matter in contemporary politics? ;-)

by Peter Black on June 20, 2014
Peter Black

Josie, you seem to be so bitter for one so young. Can you imagine the devastation that would have befallen NZ if Labour had had thier hands of the tille of the NZ economy over the past few years. Whilst I understand it's your role to spark debate by being contentious, you seem to be on another planet if you tink there is a credible alternative residing in NZ at the moment to National & it's grown-up politicis & economics. Please, please, please don't insult us or our intelligence with this nonsense. Mind you, if that's all you've got to moan about, the Nats are home safe!

by Kat on June 20, 2014

@Peter Black

Labour = nine years straight surpluses

National = five years straight deficits

Bill English on record in 2008 thanking out going Labour Govt finance minister Michael Cullen for paying down debt.

Nothing like the real facts eh Pete?

by stuart munro on June 23, 2014
stuart munro

I'm afraid Pete, that the Gnats aren't really up to much economically speaking. Bill English's only real qualification is like the hobbit's: you know what he thinks on any subject without the bother of asking him. It's not so much 'grown-up' politics as a collection of prejudices which, if looked at critically, do not stand up.

It makes you wonder about NZ education though - that gross underperformance is normalised in this way. We older folk remember better governments - Muldoon for a start, was a freaking genius compared to the pitiful collection of samfs Key calls a government. And Muldoon had the soul of a tyrant.

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