Winston Peters takes court action over election complaints

  • 12/10/2015
Winston Peters takes court action over election complaints

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has gone to court to challenge the lack of action over complaints made during last year's election campaign.

Mr Peters went to the Electoral Commission over two election advertisements - an ACT Party one, in which he said he was deliberately misquoted, and a Conservative Party one, which he said was misleading and misrepresented NZ First's position.

But the Electoral Commission looked into them and decided not to take any further action.

Mr Peters thinks the complaints should have been taken more seriously and he's seeking a judicial review of the Electoral Commission's response.

In the High Court at Wellington today, Mr Peters' lawyer Brian Henry argued that the publication and broadcast of the advertisements should have been considered a "corrupt practice".

Under New Zealand's electoral laws, someone who knowingly publishes false material, with the intention of influencing voters, in the last two days before the election is guilty of a "corrupt practice".

"It's the ultimate call-out in electoral law," Mr Henry said.

"It still remains the most serious misconduct that anyone can do in the electoral system."

Mr Henry thinks the Electoral Commission got it wrong when it said to fall within the scope of that section of the law, the advertisement had to first be published within those two days.

He told the court the ACT advertisement continued to be broadcast on a Chinese language television station during those two days, even though there were errors in it.

In addition, the Conservative Party pamphlet remained unchanged, despite a ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority that it was misleading and should be changed.

However, there's a question mark over whether the commission's decisions are even subject to judicial review.

The commission's lawyer Peter Gunn told the court there was no statutory obligation for action, like a police referral, to be taken.

He also said a broader interpretation of the issue of the timing of the publication could have a "chilling effect" and could have unintended consequences.

Justice Jill Mallon has reserved her decision.