Thursday, 31 January 2008

NZ Election will come down to personalities

This year's General Election in New Zealand is likely to come down to a battle of personalities, rather than any substantial policy differences between the two largest parties (leaving the minor parties free to bargain for policy wins after the election).

National leader John Key has revealed plans to adopt yet another Labour-lite policy, announcing the party's support for the retention of interest-free student loans.

National strongly criticised Labour's last minute 2005 election bribe, labelling it irresponsible. Key says having lost the election, National's had to take another look at its stance, and says it's "unfair to play "ping-pong" with interest rates from election to election".

Key says they've made the u-turn because half a million New Zealanders now have student loans, and "many have made long-term financial decisions on the basis of the current policy".

However, National is offering people an incentive to pay off their loans faster. The Government would essentially offer a 10% bonus write-off for any voluntary lump-sum payments over $500.

National is still considering its long-term stance on the anti-smacking debate. John Key helped the controversial bill become law, after agreeing to a minor compromise with Green party author Sue Bradford.
However, the party's position is said to be wavering, following a 280,000-strong petition against the law, and the fact that a couple of parents have already found themselves in court over very minor cases of disciplining their children in public.

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Labour's next leader targeted by protest group

Labour MP Phil Goff is the latest target of protest group People Power NZ. The secretive group have claimed responsibility for an attack on Goff's Mt Roskill Electorate office, in what they say is a continuing protest against the Electoral Finance Act.

People Power described Goff as the "Labour-Leader in waiting", and a champion of the controversial legislation... "It is a mystery to us why the citizens of Mt Roskill would continue to vote for a local MP who actively restricts their freedom of expression".

Phil Goff (Labour) lost his seat to Gilbert Myles (National) at the 1990 elections, largely because he was closely identified with the neo-liberal reforms of Roger Douglas, in particular his support for deregulation and free trade.

Goff reclaimed his Mt Roskill seat in 1993, and was part of a group in 1996 that unsuccessfully tried to encourage Helen Clark to step down as Labour leader. He is seen by most political commentators as the leading leadership contender for the party, especially following the Parliamentary exit of Steve Maharey, and bad boy antics of Trevor Mallard.

People Power claim Goff is rarely in his electorate, and has a "tried and tested trick of getting one of his electoral lackeys to park his van in a Mt Roskill street, attach a sign that reads “visiting Electorate – back in 5 minutes”, when all the while Mr Goff isn’t even in the suburb at the time!"

* Scoop: Mt Roskill Electorate office makes it “Strike 3"

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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Reaction to PM's speech "as subtle as a brick"

Protest action group "People Power New Zealand" have claimed responsibility for a brick attack on PM Hillin Cluck's Mt Albert electorate office this morning.

(The lobby group also claimed responsibility for throwing a brick at the same office window on the 1st of January, saying their actions were the first protest against the controversial "Electoral Finance Act".)


(NB: Actual brick may differ in colour ;-)

The white brick was thrown on the morning of the PM's "State of the Nation" speech, which followed National Party leader John Key's own speech yesterday, targeting youth training and young criminals.

People Power New Zealand say their protests are in "active opposition to suppression of expression by the Labour Government of ordinary New Zealand citizens."

In a media statement, the group pointed to the shutting down of the “Don’t Vote Labour” website as "an action of citizen oppression more familiar to, and practiced within China, North Korea, Fiji, and Zimbabwe".

The white painted brick thrown at Labour's Mt Albert electorate office contained a number of protest slogans, including “Repeal the EFA”, “No to Fascism”, “Retrospect THIS”, and“Viva Le Referendum”.

Despite criticism from many quarters, People Power NZ are promising more acts of "active protest during election year, saying, "the time has come for active civil disobedience and resistance to increasing state control... Citizen apathy in New Zealand has paved the way to a growing totalitarian state".

* Scoop: Clark’s speech won’t save her, says People Power
* People Power (New Zealand) blog

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Tuesday, 29 January 2008

International outrage at Mankini Ban

The planned ban by Wellington fun Police on Borat-style "mankinis" at this weekend's Rugby Sevens tournament has created headlines around the world.

Wellington Police and organisers of the Sevens tournament have announced a ban on "skimpy and potentially offensive" costumes, including the popular fluorescent green v-string swimsuit made famous by Borat (British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen).


Aucklander Mark Hansen as Borat at last year's Wellington Sevens

Newspapers and news websites across Australia, the UK, USA, South Africa, and India have filed stories on the by anti-fun campaigners. The news has sent headline writers into overdrive... "Borat mankini in crack down", writes the UK's Sun newspaper... "Prudish police ban Borat's mankini", writes London's free commuter daily, Metro.

Wellington cops claim the ban on "revealing costumes" at the Sevens rugby tournament (including but not limited to Borat's one-piece skimpy swimsuit) was to "protect kids' innocence". "It's a family event and there will be children there," Mr Cop-boss-man said.

Police say they'll turn away fans who don't follow their new dress code, and arrive this weekend at the Westpac Trust Stadium in "inappropriate" costumes.

Dressing up has always been a big part of the fun around Rugby sevens competitions, with previous controversial "team" costume themes including Fiji's Military, Terrorists complete with weapons (fake and/or water pistols), Steve Irwins, David Bains, and Babies in nappies.


* Stuff: Borat ban makes headlines in UK, Australia

* Dominion Post: Borat banned - stadium clampdown (+pics)
* NZ Herald: Police crackdown on costumes for sevens tournament (+photos)

* 3 News: Video - Borat swimsuit banned from Wellington Sevens

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Monday, 28 January 2008

First New Zealand website killed by anti-Free Speech Law

The anti-Free Speech legislation passed late last year in New Zealand by the Labour Party and its friends has claimed its first casualty.

Christhurch man Andy Moore has been forced to pull down his highly publicised anti-Government website - dontvotelabour.org.nz - after threats of legal action by the Electoral Commission.

The Commission told the 21-year old his website was classed as "election advertising", and breached election rules by not including his name and address.
"You are advised that your website (don'tvotelabour.org.nz) is election advertising and must display an authorisation statement in order to comply with the law. It is an offence not to do so."
Andy Moore says he was forced to take down his site, because he couldn't afford to hire a lawyer, or to pay the potential fine of $10,000 if he was prosecuted in court.

He was also unwilling to comply with the legal requirement to list his residential address on the website, arguing it would place his family and house as risk.

Moore's website now features an explanation of what he was forced to take down his old pages, which urged people not to vote for the Labour Party. However the new homepage does link to a general discussion forum focusing on politics.

* DontVoteLabour.org.nz website

* 29/1 UPDATE: The Electoral Commission's threats have bred two new websites... *

* A UK-based registrant has set up a copy of Andy Moore's old "Don't Vote Labour" website at a new address, www.dontvotelabour.net (I'm very intrigued see how the Commission deals with this one... Do their big brother powers stretch to London??)

* Meanwhile, Stan Blanch has launched a Don't Vote Labour Cartoons Gallery website, featuring his favourite anti-Labour political cartoons...

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Monday, 21 January 2008

Toon Army welcomes Kevin Keegan back to St James' Park

Kevin Keegan has been welcomed back to Tyneside, 11 years after his first stint as manager of Newcastle United. "King Kev says he's determined to bring "attractive winning football, and silverware" back to St James' Park.

Newcastle currently sit 12th in the Premier League, and have been flirting with the relegation zone. Keegan has ambitious plans to transform the club, and believes it can start challenging the top four teams within a short period.

Former Newcastle strike Les Ferdinand is also expected to be part of the new-look coaching staff, and he's still keen to speak more with the club's all-time leading scorer Alan Shearer about some sort of role within the club.

Keegan was previously the manager at Newcastle from 1992-97, taking the team from the brink of (the former) third division to runners up for the Premier League title two years running.

Despite speculation that Keegan would want to offload striker Michael Owen as soon as possible, he chose to make him captain. In Owen's autobiography, the footballer described his time in the England team under Keegan as a "dark phase", and that he began to resent him as a manager.
But Keegan says Owen is the right guy to lead Newcastle United, "and that tells you what I think of him". Owen for his part insists he's more committed than ever to staying at Newcastle following the return of Kevin Keegan.

Keegan has revealed privately that he has "a bottomless pit" of funds at his disposal to bolster his squad, thanks to billionaire owner Mike Ashley. But he'll have to act quickly, with just less than a fortnight remaining on the current transfer window.

However former Newcastle United manager (now LA Galaxy coach) Ruud Gullit isn't convinced Keegan can revive the club's fortunes. "He won't do it. It is not realistic," said the Dutchman. Gullit believes the Toon boss will struggle to make an impact in his second spell as manager, and claims "Newcastle are not a big club in the Premiership anymore".

Keegan himself admits he faces a long and difficult task to breath life back into the Magpies, and is aware of the high expectations of the Toon Army. It's been 53 years since the club last won a major domestic trophy (the FA Cup in 1955).

* Newcastle United FC: Official club website

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Sunday, 20 January 2008

How to Spin a $47m Whitewash. By Labour.

It's been revealed the Labour-led government spent a whopping $47 million dollars on "spin doctors" over the last 5 years (to July '07). Government communications staff increased to a massive 448 workers (including 37 ministerial staff).

The Sunday Star-Times points out this is more new staff hirings than all the journos at TVNZ, Radio NZ, Sunday Star-Times, and the Dom Post put together! (And that's without including the many thousands of new "public servants" employed in the Capital at great expense by Labour over the last few terms.)

Gerry Brownlee, National's State Services spokesman, believes Labour is planning to use the massive publicity machine they've created in this year's re-election campaign. "This is an extraordinary expansion of the government's ability to deliver its message. This must make Labour the most spun government in history," he said.

The Electoral Finance Bill limits advertising by political parties and spending by "third parties", but puts no restrictions on communications spending by Government departments.

Labour's Duty Minister of the moment, Rick Barker, was too busy to be interviewed by the SST newspaper, getting one of his many "spokespeople" to respond for him.

Top of the list for spin-doctors was the Ministry of Social Development (under the wing of MP David Benson-Pope), with 54 communications staff and contractors. 159 people earn over $160,000 a year (just 6 people were paid that much in 2002), and 21 earn more than $200,000.
(The SST notes that makes it bigger than Radio New Zealand's entire reporting staff). The organisation has tried to justify the large number, by pointing out that the Ministry is the "biggest government department, with 10,000 staff" (Ouch!?!)

Less surprising is that the biggest spender in pure financial terms was the Ministry of Education, which spent $6.6 million (with 70% on contractors).

National's Katherine Rich recently raised concerns about out of control salary spending at the Ministry of Education. As of last July, there were 46 employees earning more than $130,000 a year (just 13 were paid that much in 2002).
The number of staff earning between $110,000-$120,000 at the Ministry of Education also tripled over the same 3 year period, without any improvement in the country's education system.

Head of Journalism at Canterbury University, Jim Tully, said the number of PR staff was growing as newsrooms were shrinking. "The growth is indicative of a much greater determination to put the best possible spin and to influence the media generally," he said.

* Sunday Star Times: Spinning govt yarn costs $47m
* Scoop: MSD top-band salaries increase more than 546%
* Scoop: Labour 'most spun' Government ever

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Friday, 18 January 2008

Subway riders strip down for No Pants 2k8

New York’s 7th Annual No Pants! Subway Ride (aka No Pants 2k8) was held last weekend, with similar events held in 8 US cities, including Boston, Chicago, Portland, and Washington DC... as well as in Toronto, Canada and Adelaide, Australia.


The annual "prank" is organised by NYC-based group Improv Everywhere, who are famous on the internet for their public improv stunts (Improv Everywhere's motto is "Chaos and Joy"!).

Group founder Charlie Todd encouraged riders to behave normally, and stick to the standard story that they'd "just forgotten their pants today".

Around 900 pant-less people took part in this year's event in NYC, spread across three subway lines...

And CNN's report on participants in Boston...


Unfortunately there's no subways in Dunedin, or I might be tempted to join in ;-) Maybe rail commuters in Auckland could join in the fun next year??

* Improv Everywhere - Official website

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Thursday, 17 January 2008

I gotta get me a fridge like this ;-)

Here's a great viral advert about a bunch of college flatmates in the United States with a "Magic Fridge"... ;-)


Now if only the magic fridge offered a beer that was actually drinkable!... something like Speights, Amstel, or Oranjeboom perhaps?

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Cullen encourages Tasman drift

Labour Finance Minister Michael Cullen has decided the best way to reduce his enormous surplus is to encourage more of New Zealand's taxpayers to move to Australia.

Late last year, a Bay of Plenty businessman John Middleton emailed Cullen a link to a news report noting that the number of people moving to Australia had hit a 19-year high.

Far from acknowledging the problem and suggesting possible solutions that the Labour-led minority coalition Government were considering, Dr Cullen's reply to Mr Middleton was simply to "Please join them".

Middleton sent his email the day after Labour and its cronies managed to get their "Electoral Finance Bill" passed into law. Cullen, a 'champagne socialist', made headlines just a few weeks earlier, for calling National Party leader John Key a "scumbag" and "rich prick" in Parliament.

National's Finance spokesman Bill English said the response shows Cullen doesn't have the interest or patience to find a solution to the problem of people moving to Australia.

"It's just a response that shows that he's given up caring... The trouble is that New Zealanders are leaving the country in plane loads, and Australians are coming here in kayaks."

* NZ Herald: Cullen tells emailer to join NZers in Aussie

[ Right now I'm listening to:
^ Daughtry - Feels Like Tonight (Dr Luke/Max Martin/Shep Solomon)
^ Joana Zimmer - Hearts Don't Lie (Bacharach/Kristian Lundin/Andreas Carlsson) ]

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Wednesday, 16 January 2008

NZ & Australia vye for Darwin Award Honours

The Darwin Awards for 2007 were recently announced, but it seems a few New Zealanders and Aussies are doing their best to get in early (albeit tragic) nominations for the 2008 awards...

1. The Dunedin man who gave his son and son's friends a "quick ride around the block" in the boot (ie. trunk) of his car. They were flung out of the (closed) boot when the car collided with another vehicle. The man's 11 year old son was thrown through a wooden fence and died at the scene.

2. A Dargaville man who was charged with "driving a lawn mower while drunk", after being stopped by Police on Monday night. 52 year old Richard Gunn was found to have a breath alcohol level of twice the legal limit for drivers. He admitted he'd been using the lawn mower to get around town since losing his driver's license.

3. The Australian teenager dubbed the "MySpace Party Boy" who will face court charges and a A$20,000 bill, following his self-organised "Best Party Ever". The story of Melbourne teen Corey Delaney has made headlines around the world, after Police battled over 500 unruly youths, many who had received invites via the internet site MySpace.com.


Over 30 officers were called to the Delaney's family home (his parents were on holiday in the Gold Coast), as well as a Police Helicopter and a dog squad.

Far from being repentant for hosting the wild party in his parent's absence, Delaney is enjoying the media spotlight. His fashion sense has been a major topic of discussion, and he refuses to be photographed or interviewed without his "famous" yellow-framed plastic sunglasses.


This interview is awesome... Leila McKinnon from Channel Nine's A Current Affair gets a bit flustered when some of Corey's responses don't go as she'd hoped... ;-)

* News.com.au: Aussie Party Boy Photo Gallery

* Hat tip: Whale Oil

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Pick a Flag, any Flag...

A lecturer at Otago University has completed a fascinating study into the world's flags, rating them from best to worst. By the methodology used by Josh Parsons, the small African country of Gambia came out on top (with 90%, an A+ grade).

Bottom of the class in his study was the Northern Mariana Islands, which is apparently located in the western Pacific Ocean (2%, an F Grade).

Parson notes the republic's flag "appears to have been constructed from clip art. Truly awful."

New Zealand gets a 55% and a C grade by his rankings. I don't mind our flag, but I can never be sure when I'm overseas whether I'm looking at the NZ one, or whether it's the Aussie one instead.

I remember a few years back, when I was with a couple of English and Canadian friends outside the Houses of Parliament in London, which has a ring of flags around the outside.
We decided to take photos underneath each of our country's flags...
I spent about 5 minutes going between the NZ and Australian ones, debating which was which.

Eventually I settled on one and stood under it ready for my photo, when my mate noticed that the country names were actually listed on little signs below each flag... Duh! (And yes, I was happily standing underneath the Aussie one! ;-)

Anyway, obviously our "down under" flags aren't the worst in the world... Here's a few of my highlights, mostly from the "D" Grade pile!...


Nothing says the Falkland Islands quite like a sheep, an island,
and a tall ship...


It looks like Guam used an ancient 80's computer to write their country name on the flag. (Josh Parsons gave it a few extra marks "because it would actually make quite a nice tea towel" ;-)


The AK-47 Assault Rifle welcomes visitors to the
Republic of Mozambique...
A competition was held in 2005 to design a new flag. A winning entry was selected, but for some reason the flag remains the same...

This is the official flag of Libya... Yep, Seriously!
It is apparently the only national flag in the world with a single colour and no design, insignia, or other details. (They probably spent too much time thinking of a name for the country... It's officially called the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya". Try saying that five times ;-)


Just in case you get lost when you're flying over European Union,
Cyprus have kindly put a map of their country on the flag...


This flag will be familiar to many people, since Eastern European journalist Borat put the country on the world map in his movie,
"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit
Glorious Nation of
Kazakhstan"


* Hat tips to David Farrar's Kiwiblog and Tyler Cowan at Marginal Revolution for their original posts which tracked down the study.

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Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Shark tale details twice as important

Residents and visitors in the Ocean Beach area, just south east of Whangarei, have become alarmed about a number of shark sightings in the last week, with reports describing it as being over 2 1/2 metres long.

TV3 duly set out to investigate, putting 3 News reporter Rebecca Wright on the case. A local lifeguard the cameras tracked down believed the shark was likely to be a longfin Mako shark.

However, a shark expert interviewed for the story disagreed, saying it was quite unusual to see mako sharks close to shore. He believed it was more likely to be a bronze whaler or a juvenile great white... an important point the reporter emphasised by repeating the information twice in her story.

She was also impressed to discover a "lesser known fact" about sharks, that they are often attracted to fluorescent yellow, particularly people wearing the bright colour.

Here's a snippet from the recent news story...

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Sunday, 6 January 2008

Like some Cat Poo with your Coffee?

I like my Starbucks Caramel Java Chip Coffee as much as the next fella, but I don't think I'll be switching to this variety anytime soon...

A coffee shop in Rockford, Michigan is serving up a rare brew of coffee, made from Indonesian roasted 'Kopi Luwak' beans.

The beans are first fed to a kind of cat - the luwak civet - and are then collected when they, you know, pass through the other end. Coffee connoisseurs around the world are apparently willing to pay big money for the unique flavour.


The Indonesian luwak (also known as the Asian Palm Civet) instinctively picks the best coffee berries, and fans of the brew say the feline's stomach acid and poo give the beans an unrivalled flavour.

Owner of the Herman's Boy coffee shop, Floyd Havemeier, insists the coffee beans are safe, despite having passed through a cat's butt...

“It will be very sanitary, probably more sanitary than some other things we consume”, he says. “The bean is protected as it goes through the digestive system. The acidic part of the stomach creates some unique flavors.”

Less than 1,000 pounds of the unusual Kopi Luwak coffee is released on the marketplace each year, with the brew normally selling for up to US$50 a cup.


More Lolcats pictures at Icanhascheezburger.com

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Friday, 4 January 2008

Huckabee wins Iowa; Paul beats Giuliani

Former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee has beaten his high-spending rivals to top the Republican vote in Iowa. The state is the first caucus vote in the contest to choose the party's 2008 presidential candidate.

Huckabee topped the Iowa Republican caucus with 34% of the vote, ahead of closest rival Mitt Romney on 25%. Romney is a former Massachusetts governor-turned venture capitalist, who has been heavily hyped in the media, and has been spending up big to try and win the Republican nomination.

In the race for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama beat out John Edwards (2nd) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (3rd) to win the first contest in Iowa. Neither Huckabee or Obama were picked to be the winners by the polling companies used by most of the media in the leadup to Iowa.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Ron Paul won a respectable 10% of the vote, to pick up 2 delegates in Iowa.
Paul scored more than double the support of Rudy Guiliani, the high-profile former Mayor of New York City (4%, 0 delegates), and finished not far behind John McCain (13%, 3 delegates) and Fred Thompson (13%, 3 delegates).

Ron Paul told supporters he's happy with the result, saying “I am more encouraged than ever before”. Iowa wasn't a major target for Dr Paul's campaign, and the Texan is now focusing on the next contests, with the New Hampshire presidential primary next Tuesday, January 8th.

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Thursday, 3 January 2008

Late 8 for 2008...

Okay so I'm a tad bit late with this, but after being tagged by Clint Heine, here's my 8 for 2008 Wish List...

1. For Finance Minister Michael Cullen to decide that taxes are "a bit of a silly idea really", and to start making amends by slashing personal taxes to a flat rate of 10% in his 2008 Budget.


2. For Helen Clark to decide she's "a bit bored with the whole being-the-PM-thing", and call the NZ General Election for June.

3. For Winston First and the Red/"Greens" to fail to win 5% or a seat, and to be completely wiped out of Parliament.

4. For the Electoral Commission to be run off their feet following up thousands of "big brother" investigations into alleged breaches of the Electoral Finance Act.

5. For the NZ and international "mainstream media" to finally wake up and realise how much of a complete load of bollocks the whole theory of "Man-made Climate Change" really is. (Kudos to Whale Oil)

6. For National to get a spine and some innovative policies, and for ACT to bring some talented MPs to the Beehive.

7. For Taco Bell to set up shop in New Zealand, and for Mars to start selling their amazing Milky Way Midnight dark chocolate candy bars here.

8. For a New Zealand television network to screen the world's greatest musical event of the year, the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest

[ Right now I'm listening to:
^ Amy Diamond - Stay My Baby (Max Martin/Kotecha/ Tysper)
^ David Jordan - Sun Goes Down ]

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Tuesday, 1 January 2008

First 2008 Brickbats for PM...

A new group calling themselves "People Power" have claimed responsibility for throwing a brick at the window of PM Helen Clark's electorate office in Mt Albert.

The group say their actions were the first protest against the controversial Electoral Finance Act, which was rushed through before Christmas by Labour and friends, and has been slammed as suppressing free speech.


(A brick, but not the actual one ;-)

People Power (New Zealand) say the brick was aimed at getting Ms Clark's attention, and that it will engage in "other acts of civil disobedience between now and this year’s general election."

The group have dismissed media reports about an alleged witness Sheree Taylor, who claims to have seen a person on a motor scooter throw a brick at the window. Taylor says she tried to get the registration number of the scooter, but was attacked by a cat and screamed.

People Power have also denied the request of Barry Wilson, President of the Auckland Council of Civil Liberties to "come out of hiding". They've challenged Wilson to publicly affirm his allegiance to the Green Party and "the radical far-left of the political spectrum."

People Power say the brick was "double spray painted (black, then white)" and featured the following messages...
“Repeal the E.F.A.”

“Hey Helen, does this qualify as a terrorist act?”

“Electoral Finance Act: R.I.P. Democracy 2007”

“Register this as a third party”

“To: Labour, NZ First, Greens, UFNZ, Progressive, From: People of NZ”


Meanwhile, an unrelated group have also set up a website, under the unapologetic name of Don't Vote Labour.

The group is promoting the following "badge" image, which they are encouraging bloggers and website owners to use to "spread the word"...
www.dontvotelabour.org.nz
The owners say they "are are not supporting any other party - just saying to you "Don't Vote Labour"... Labour is now in it's 9th year of Government and is taking it for granted. They blatantly ignore the voice of the people, and instead pursue their own socialist agenda."

David Farrar at Kiwiblog notes that it is "clearly an illegal election advertisement under the Electoral Finance Act as it advocates against a party, and does not have a name and address of its promoter on the site."

* 3/1 - UPDATE: The creator of the "Don't Vote Labour" has been revealed as Christchurch man Andrew Moore. He says he didn't set up the website to purposely break the law, but admits he is expecting to hear from the Electoral Commission.

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