Report from RNZ by Rosie Gordon
Wellington mayoral candidate Paul Eagle removed his advertising from digital billboards over the weekend after being asked to do so, but then placed advertising on new sites and says they are legal.
The Wellington City Council wants them removed until the official hoarding period starts, but concedes its rules on election signage are not enforceable.
A new and brightly colored advertisement with the words ‘Vote Eagle’ has been seen on the new digital billboards above Wellington’s Embassy Theatre.
“That went up on Monday,” Paul Eagle said, and it is not the only one. “The new billboards have gone up as part of the campaign. Given that I have confidence in my legal advice we’re continuing with my original plan which is to use commercial billboards,” he said.
Complaints prompted the council to investigate and they told him to remove the signs until the official hoarding period begins on 27 August.
The Labor MP believes the council has got that wrong. “They are applying hoardings rules to billboards and just getting it plain wrong, so let’s get that clarity.
“What I am not okay with is being the sole candidate who is singled out who is complying with the law and they are saying that I’m not,” he said.
Wellington City Council spokesperson Richard MacLean confirmed the authority was unhappy with the latest billboards.
“We would like the billboards to be pulled down because they are being displayed outside the six-week period preceding the upcoming election,” MacLean said.
Members of the public were complaining about the signs, MacLean said, but he conceded there was nothing more the council could do. “The problem being that the policy doesn’t have teeth so what we have generally relied on in the past are candidates just to abide by it.”
The council would examine the possible loopholes in its election sign rules, MacLean said. “Obviously we are concerned and that’s why we will be looking at the situation via the review of the district plan so that is probably our best avenue for introducing rules that will be enforced.”
Mayoral candidate Tory Whanau is concerned that the weak electioneering rules create an unfair playing field.
“I would like to see a fairer policy enforced,” she said. “There are those of us in this race who do not have the same access to resource that Paul does and, for me, that is not creating a truly democratic race. So, I’d certainly like a review and in future elections, a higher level of enforcement.”
Wellington Mayor Andy Foster – who is yet to announce whether he will stand again – has his own concerns about the Paul Eagle billboards.
“They’re very big, they’re trying to make up for his lack of visibility over the last few years and it’s curious we have got billboards talking about him as an independent at the same time we’ve got billboards that clearly have him branded as a Labor MP,” Foster said.
University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said the best way to ensure candidate advertising was fair was to extend rules on spending campaign.
“For the three months before an election, there are limits on how much candidates can spend outside of those three months under the law,” he said. “Candidates are welcome to do whatever they want, to use as much money as they want, to do as much advertising as they want,” he said.
‘”If we really want to create a kind of more level playing field, then the way to do it would be to revisit the Local Electoral Act and create a longer restricted period in which candidates can spend their money.
“Individual councils [are] trying to do it through bylaws that restrict only a limited amount.”
Have WCC officers not read their own definition of election signage? pic.twitter.com/otHaUeeiVc
— Brian Dawson (@BrianDawsonWgtn) July 5, 2022