Two mayors under SFO investigation over donations

The Serious Fraud Office, already prosecuting four people including MP Jami-Lee Ross over donations made to the National Party and investigating  donations made to the NZ First Foundation, has announced two more investigations, one into Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel, the other into Auckland mayor Phil Goff.

Stuff: Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel under scrutiny as expenses complaint referred to Serious Fraud Office

Pressure is mounting on Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel after police referred a complaint about her election expenses to the Serious Fraud Office.

The SFO said police passed on the matter of Dalziel’s expenses on Tuesday, the organisation receiving the file on Friday.

Dalziel, who defeated Darryll Park and John Minto in October to win her third term as mayor, was criticised for failing to identify donors who made significant contributions to her campaign.

Minto made the complaint to electoral officer Jo Daly in December after Dalziel’s election return listed only her husband, lawyer Rob Davidson, as a donor at a campaign fundraiser in July.

But after coming under public pressure she revealed the names of six people who donated more than $1500 at the dinner by buying auctioned wine for prices higher than market value.

All six have connections with Davidson, and many have links to China.

The mayor has also previously declined to release details of her 2016 election campaign donations, despite the timeframe for any prosecution having expired.

Dalziel is not the first mayor to have difficulties with election expenses. This month the SFO revealed it has seen a 40 per cent increase in cases involving public officials, central and local government, in the past five years.

Stuff: Auckland Mayor Phil Goff referred to Serious Fraud Office over election expenses

The Serious Fraud Office has received a referral from police in relation to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff’s election expenses.

The SFO said it would be assessing the matter and had no further comment at this time.

Electoral law dictates candidates can accept anonymous donations under $1500, but must disclose the names of donors who contribute more than that sum.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said he had “no knowledge of a complaint being referred to the SFO nor of any irregularities”.

In September, Auckland’s electoral officer, Dale Ofsoske, passed on to police a complaint about Auckland mayor Phil Goff’s 2016 election expense declaration.

Goff’s $366,000 fundraising auction declaration did not specify individual donations or purchases, which included the sale at an auction of a book for $150,000. The book had belonged to Goff, a former minister of foreign affairs, and had been signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Police made “a number of inquiries” before the timeframe for any prosecution expired in December, rendering them unable to progress the matter.

Ofsoske told Stuff at the time the complaint was under section 112D of the Local Electoral Act 2001, ‘Filing a false return of electoral donations and expenses’.

Pressure is increasing on changing electoral laws on donations. The problem is, the parties who benefit the most from donations decide on what the rules should be.

The Press Editorial:  It’s time to end the secrecy over political donations

There are now questions over the funding of two of our major political parties, including one that is in Government, and the mayors of our two largest cities, both of whom are former Cabinet ministers.

Even if the process is not corrupt, the secrecy and the manipulation of the rules risks eroding public trust in our democracy.

Is there a better way to fund elections? Dalziel’s mayoral challenger, John Minto, who brought the complaint about Dalziel’s donations to the electoral officer, has suggested an overhaul of donation rules within wider electoral law reform. Minto argues that all donors giving over $50 should be identified, individuals should be named rather than companies and donors should be identified at least one week before the election.

Informed voters could make their choices accordingly.

But in Christchurch, neither Dalziel nor candidate Darryll Park was prepared to do the same. Minto volunteered that he had just one donation over $1500, from the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa.

Banning donations and publicly funding candidates and parties instead is not the answer. Rather, New Zealand voters must now start to demand greater transparency.

Listener editorial: A simple way to clean up the political donations mess

The Greens have an idea for cleaning up political donations, starting with “an independent citizens’ assembly” because, they say, “it’s clear that Parliament is incapable of [making] meaningful reforms to itself”.

Here’s a different idea for cleaning up political donations, which is simpler and more cost-effective than the Greens’ proposal: obey the law. Everyone else must, whatever their line of work, and political parties should, too.

Just because parties and individuals sometimes fall foul of electoral law does not automatically mean the law needs “reform”…

Good call. It just means that the current laws need to be applied.

The current prosecutions and investigations are likely to have a significant impact on potential donors as well as parties and politicians. They have been warned.

A robust democracy needs political parties to be sufficiently funded to actively participate in elections. That is not cheap and parties rely on donations to foot it in an election campaign. If the $15,000 limit above which a single donation must be declared – and the $40,000 from one donor in a year – is considered the wrong level, then parties can make a case to set it higher or lower. Whatever the limit, the incentive to give just under the cut-off point will always apply to those who would prefer, for whatever reason, not to have their names disclosed.

The ability to solicit donations is a reasonable way for parties to pay for their activities, and the ability to donate is, equally, a reasonable way for New Zealanders to support their preferred party. The alternative is state funding. Nothing suggests that would find favour with the public.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigations involving National and NZ First, perhaps all parties need to reconsider the training they provide to MPs, staff, officers and volunteers about the laws affecting donations.

I think the biggest problems seem to be at the top of parties and campaigns.

It’s hard to know whether the sudden splurge of SFO investigations is a sign of more questionable donation dealings, or more complaints, or more response to complaints by the SFO. It should at least serve as a warning too parties and candidates in this year’s election.

Applying the current laws may be all that is needed to ensure far better compliance.

What’s the point on declaring a climate emergency?

Auckland City Council have jumped on the climate emergency declaration bandwagon “with encouragement from young activists”.

Stuff:  Auckland Council declares climate change emergency

Auckland Council has joined other cities in declaring a climate change emergency.

Mayor Phil Goff said he didn’t want to leave future generations the “rotten legacy” of climate heating.

“We have an obligation to act, and it would be irresponsible and reckless, not to act,” Goff told a council meeting on Tuesday.

While the declaration is largely symbolic, it signals the start of a more urgent and focussed approach by councillors to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The council separately agreed to seek public views on an “action framework” that could lead to costed initiatives in next year’s budget.

A symbolic declaration that ‘signals the start of a more’ and will seek public views that could lead to something next year sounds nothing like how a council should act in a real emergency.

The only action Goff and Auckland councillors seem to be intent on is pandering to votes in anticipation of the elections later this year.

emergency
noun
a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action

While it is arguably serious there is nothing unexpected about the current climate change concerns, they have been expressed for decades.

One of the only things these climate change declarations do is add political hot air, and are not being backed up by immediate action of any substance.

Running around shouting ‘the sky is heating’ is likely to fall on deaf ears if it is nothing more than political opportunism.

Auckland rail link budget jumps $1 billion

The same day it was announced that a means of getting additional tax revenue was being ruled out – the CGT backdown – another announcement that a a project committed to will cost another $1 billion more than budgeted.

RNZ: Billion-dollar increase in cost of Auckland’s City Rail Link

The cost of building Auckland’s City Rail Link project has risen from $3.4 billion to $4.4b, it has been confirmed this afternoon.

City Rail Link chief executive Dr Sean Sweeney said a revised cost envelope for the 3.45 kilometre-long train line has been submitted to the Crown and Auckland Council for approval.

“The $1 billion cost increase on the previous $3.4 billion estimate made in 2014 reflects significant changes impacting the project in the past five years,” said Dr Sweeney.

“No-one could have foreseen the competitive pressures that have occurred in the construction industry over the past few years and the impact that has on costs, particularly for a project the scale and complexity of the City Rail Link.

“Last year, a decision was made to increase the scope of the project to accommodate longer, nine-car trains at stations. Planning today for a city that will be much bigger in the future reinforces the benefits the City Rail Link City will deliver to the way people travel, work and live in Auckland.

No one could have foreseen that increasing the scope of the project might increase the cost?

The extra cost will be split between the Government and Auckland City.

City Rail Link is now being constructed by the so-called Link Alliance – a group of six companies including Tonkin + Taylor and Downer NZ.

It said the revised higher cost came from four areas:

  • Contingency and escalation costs ($310m)
  • Construction costs ($327m)
  • Accomodating longer, nine-car trains ($250m)
  • Non-direct cost ($152m)

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said tighter financial management will help fund the additional $500 million requested by City Rail Link Limited.

Like the tighter financial management campaigned on in the last election? Tighter still now?

The scissors bros – Phil and Phil

“We’re opening up Queen Street to people!”

To people without cars. This could make Auckland’s Queens Street a more attractive destination. Perhaps it is targeting tourists more than suburban Aucklanders.

I have no idea what downtown Auckland is like these days, I have avoided going there since getting charged over thirty dollars for a few hours parking over a decade ago.

Maybe it will revive and thrive as a pedestrian mall, as long as there are plenty of bike stands or cruise ships.

What is ‘free speech’ in a New Zealand context?

There has been a lot spoken and written about free speech in New Zealand lately, sparked by the visit of Canadians Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern. Most people seemed to see them as extreme-ish agenda driven attention and money seekers,  with many people supporting their right to speak here but not agreeing with what they said or did much.

The cancellation of a political event at Massey University this week that as going to feature Don Brash was widely (not quite universally) condemned. Brash got far more publicity over that and a at a debate at Auckland University on Thursday than he would otherwise have got.

But what is free speech in New Zealand?

Lizzie Marvelly has a go at explaining (it’s a column worth reading, one of her better ones in a very mixed portfolio) in Why can’t I escape Don Brash?

What has become overwhelmingly clear in the midst of the tide of hysteria and hyperbole is that there are many people who don’t really grasp the true meaning of free speech. Having the freedom of speech just means (with a few exceptions, such as in matters of national security and hate speech) that the state doesn’t have the right to prevent citizens from expressing themselves or punishing them if they do. It can’t throw people in jail for speaking out against the Government, or to prevent them from speaking out.

Free speech doesn’t mean everyone has the right to speak in whatever venue they please. It doesn’t mean that people who disagree with a speaker can’t argue or protest. It doesn’t mean that people can say vile, violent and inflammatory things without fear of prosecution. As the person who wrote to Massey’s Vice Chancellor alluded to, just because we have the right to free speech, it doesn’t mean we won’t face consequences for what we say.

This doesn’t address the issue of a politician like Phil Goff trying to dictate whose views could be expressed at an Auckland Council owned venue. Nor does it address the considerable concerns over Jan Thomas deciding which ex-politicians should be effectively banned from speaking at a Massey University student political society event. But those issue shave been well covered already.

Dr Oliver Hartwich (NZ Initiative): Freely speaking

Since New Zealand just had to discuss the meaning of free speech, perhaps it is worth defining what free speech is. And what it is not.

Absent a written constitution, let us turn to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for guidance. It states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

As strong as this sounds, this provision only confers an individual right to hold and express opinions. It compels no one else to share, promote or publish them. And this, more than anything else, is the fundamental misunderstanding in our recent debates.

Again this doesn’t address Goff’s apparent involvement in deciding who could use a venue based on what he thought they might say.

Even Massey University’s banning of Don Brash’s speech is, strictly speaking, not a case of restricting free speech. Within hours of being uninvited, Dr Brash’s manuscript was published on the Herald’s website, and he could explain himself on radio and TV. That is hardly a case of effective censorship. And universities, too, can lawfully determine how their resources are used.

The real scandal of banning Dr Brash lies elsewhere. By uninviting Dr Brash, Massey University has not been true to its own values. Massey’s Charter commits it to promoting “free and rational inquiry”. That is what the very idea of the university is all about.

If universities cannot tolerate dissent and the free exchange of heterodox views, they cease to be universities. It would make them indoctrination camps.

In short: Freedom of speech is important. Not every restriction of expression is objectionable. And universities must remain true to ideals of academic inquiry.

Everyone is free to speak to themselves by their own means. Beyond that there is no guarantee others will listen or will provide a means to speak.

But there is a need for politicians and universities to be impartial and unobstructive when making decisions on who can speak in their domains, and to do that they need to risk erring towards allowing speech. They cannot know what will be said in advance of an event.

here at Your NZ free speech is very important, but not absolute. I need to make decisions to protect this site from legal actions, and I also choose to protect speakers here and targets of opinions from unnecessary abuse and attacks. It’s imperfect but well-intentioned for the good of both speech in general but also of the community here.

Free speech papers filed in Auckland court

The Free Speech Coalition was formed after Auckland mayor Phil Goff said he wouldn’t allow two right wing Canadians to speak at any council owned venue, and Auckland Live cancelled their booking. $50 thousand was raised, and now papers have been filed in court.


The Free Speech Coalition has now filed proceedings against Mayor Goff and Auckland Council under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

This came after the Coalition presented the Mayor with an open lettersuggesting he avoid the cost of litigation by reopening discussions with the promoters of the event in question.

The open letter outlined:
• The Council declined to discuss security concerns with organisers or Police prior to Phil Goff’s tweet.
• There was no time pressure justification for the Council’s sudden, uninformed decision.
• So far no privately-owned venues in Auckland have been found to be available or suitable in such a short time frame.
• In Australia, all but one of the venues hosting the speakers are owned by local councils or state government. There is no reason for Auckland to be an outlier.
• The Council has left the Coalition with no other option but to seek urgent judicial relief.
The Coalitions gets the impression the Mayor is eager for the Police to say they can’t uphold their duty to keep the piece and protect free speech – a sad contrast with Australia that we never expected.

Coalition member Melissa Derby says, “The Council’s arbitrary and uninformed decision making process suggests bias, prejudgment, and indifference to the fundamental freedoms outlined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. It’s regrettable to see the Mayor digging his heels in when we have given him every opportunity to reconsider and avoid litigation costs.”

David Cumin, a member of the Coalition and also a plaintiff in the proceedings, says, “Despite his earlier tweets, Mr Goff now claims it wasn’t about banning the speakers because of their political views, but about safety. What he risks is delivering a ‘heckler’s veto’, where potential protesters get to decide who Aucklanders can hear from or associate with.”

“This action is to ensure that politicians and officials aren’t allowed to discriminate against views they dislike when it comes to ratepayer-funded venues, regardless of how broadly ‘unacceptable’ the views might be.”

The plaintiffs in this action are:
• Axiomatic Media – the promoters of the Southern/Molyneux event.
• Malcolm Bruce Moncrief-Spittle – a bookseller living in Dunedin.
• David Cumin – an Auckland ratepayer and member of the Free Speech Coalition.

The defendants are:
• Regional Facilities Auckland (Auckland Live)
• Auckland Council
• Mayor Phil Goff

The statement of claim and application for urgency and interim orders are available here and here.


There is plenty of counter ammunition being found in relation to members of the Coalition having dubious free speech positions in the past, but that shouoldn’t preclude them for championing principles of free speech now.

There is an interesting legal point here – whether a democratic local body should choose who can’t use public facilities based on opinions on what might be said in the future.

It can also be argued that it’s a waste of money, especially council money, taking it to court, but legal action is an option in our relatively free society, so that’s a choice open to whoever wants to do it – at risk of costs being awarded against them if they fail.

Q+A: Phil Goff on funding infrastructure and free speech

This morning Phil Goff will be interviewed on Q+A.

Goff says that one way of dealing with local government funding problems is to have the GST on rates returned to councils for them to do as they wish with.

On free speech, Goff says that he has a responsibility to ensure Auckland is an inclusive city – by excluding some speakers?

Goff intervenes, Auckland venue banned, speaking tour canned

Two Canadians reported to be promoters of controversial far right views planned on visiting and speaking in New Zealand, but after mayor Phil Goff banned them from an Auckland city venue they canned the tour.

I haven’t heard of them or seen or heard anything they’ve said, so can’t judge them on their views.

NZH: Mayor bans controversial Canadian pair from talking in Auckland Council venues

The promoter of a controversial Canadian pair accused of hate speech has cancelled their tour of New Zealand after Auckland Mayor Phil Goff denied them access to city venues.

Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux hold far-right views on topics ranging from feminism and immigration to Islam.

The Canadian couple had been due to speak next month at the council-owned Bruce Mason centre on Auckland’s North Shore.

Pressure had been mounting on Immigration NZ to deny the pair entry with members of New Zealand’s Muslim community and the Auckland Peace Action publicly among those expressing concern.

This seems to be a growing problem around the world – campaigns to block non-liked views or peoeple with particular reputations.

This could well be a slippery slope against free speech.

But promoter David Pellowe said the tour was instead cancelled when Goff moved to bar the pair access to Auckland Council venues.

So Goff decides who should not be able to speak at Council venues?

Free speech isn’t an absolute right. Private venues can choose who hire their facilities and speak at them.

It’s a bit different with publicly owned and managed facilities. And especially with mayors deciding who can’t use them.

This makes them too vulnerable to speech bans by pressure group and adverse publicity – politicians too often do what they think is best for themselves, rather than for the greater good and fundamental speech rights..

Nine councillors express ‘no confidence’ in Mayor Goff

The Herald reports that nine Auckland City councillors have signed a letter of no confidence in mayor Phil Goff, but Goff says he did not know anything about the letter, would not comment on it, but that he was ‘was not particularly concerned’ about the stadium issue (that seems to have led to the loss of confidence).

NZH: Auckland councillors pen letter of no confidence in mayor Phil Goff

Nearly half of Auckland councillors have penned a letter of no confidence in mayor Phil Goff.

The Herald understands the letter relates to Goff’s handling of the recent controversy for a new downtown stadium for Auckland and his refusal to give councillors full and open access to a $923,000 report by PwC on the matter.

It is believed the councillors plan to release the letter publicly at midday tomorrow.

Goff said tonight he had not received any letter from councillors, did not know anything about it and could not comment on something he had not seen.

Why has the Herald received a copy of the letter before Goff? That seems a crappy way to do things.

A source said the nine out of 19 councillors who signed the letter are John Watson, Wayne Walker, Greg Sayers, Mike Lee, Cathy Casey, Efeso Collins, Chris Fletcher, Daniel Newman and Sharon Stewart.

Watson, Casey and Collins have asked the Ombudsman to review the decision by Goff to release the report only under strict conditions.

Goff played down any possible vote of no confidence in him, saying he had just received unanimous support in glowing terms for his 10-year budget, unlike former Mayor Len Brown’s last 10-year budget, which was passed with a bare majority.

“On what matters to Aucklanders I have received strong support,” he said.

Goff said he was not particularly concerned about something – the stadium issue – that is an irritant to some people but not critical to what he is setting out to achieve.

The mayor said he believed councillors had had access to the pre-feasibility stadium report, but he had been disappointed from time to time when confidential material was released to other parties.

The leaking of confidential information is a serious issue – but so is the suppression of information from councillors by the mayor.

The letter highlights growing frustration among a group of councillors about Goff’s leadership style. The frustration has been simmering since a minor committee reshuffle last December.

There is a feeling that Goff operates a Cabinet-style A team, marginalising a group of councillors who regularly vote against his initiatives.

Goff denied there was any tension between him and a group of councillors, saying generally he had a very amicable relationship with councillors as a whole and operated an open door policy.

Sounds like bullshit from Goff. The leaking of the letter indicates a lot of ‘tension’. And is claiming he has an ‘open door policy’ a joke? Probably not intentionally.

This from Newshub three weeks ago: Phil Goff under investigation over alleged Auckland stadium secrecy

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is under investigation after allegedly keeping a $1 million report secret from councillors for months on end.

Auckland councillors put in an official complaint over the secrecy surrounding the report, which discusses the pros and cons of building a new $1 billion stadium.

The proposal for the new build in Auckland’s CBD has been kept under wraps by Mayor Phil Goff for a year, according to some councillors – a claim Mr Goff denies.

But the pre-feasibility report from PwC, which has already been done, cost nearly $1 million – and Albany ward councillor John Watson told The AM Show many of his fellow councillors are yet to see it.

“The only way councillors can get to see this report is to go into the mayoral office with mayoral staff like security guards watching over us as if we’re like KGB spies.

“Some councillors have put in a complaint to the ombudsman given the notion of elected representatives being denied access to a $1 million document. And I would suggest it’s not a particularly well-spent million either.”

The letter suggests Goff has been unsuccessful in dismissing concerns over his stadium report.

And this doesn’t look like partisan political side taking, as the named councillors appear to be spread across the political spectrum.

If councillors are claiming they are being shunned by Goff for not supporting him this won’t help.

Goff has a major problem, and publicly at least seems in denial.