We'll pay it back, pledge Greens

By Paula Oliver

In a move which ratchets up pressure on Labour, the Greens have joined the growing number of parties that will pay back any taxpayer money found to have been unlawfully spent on electioneering.

Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons yesterday unveiled her party's position in Wellington and said her MPs would not support legislation to validate unlawful spending.

"Despite the Auditor-General's interpretation of the rules being vastly different from ours and the other parties, the Green caucus has taken a decision that we will pay back whatever expenditure is ultimately determined to be unlawful," Ms Fitzsimons said.

"We want to make it clear that by doing this, we are not accepting any guilt - we are merely acknowledging that once there is a final legal ruling, we have to respect that."

The final amount would be split among the party's current MPs, and there would be a small contribution from the party.

Ms Fitzsimons revealed that the amount of Greens' spending originally under a cloud was $95,000, but that had been reduced by about $30,000 after talks with Auditor-General Kevin Brady.

She said Mr Brady had changed his mind about whether the Green Times - a regular parliamentary newsletter - was outside the rules.

The Greens' decision to repay any unlawfully spent money leaves Labour increasingly isolated on the election spending issue.

Since the Auditor-General's draft view was leaked last month, Labour has been heavily criticised over its use of taxpayer money to fund a $446,000 pledge card.

As many as 81 per cent of people in the Herald's most recent DigiPoll survey said parties should repay money found to have been illegally spent on getting elected.

Labour has talked about legislating to validate spending, and strategist Pete Hodgson has said the party would not be repaying any money.

In the meantime National has paid back more than $10,000 it says was questioned in the Auditor-General's draft view, and the Maori Party has repaid $53. Act is increasingly making noises that it, too, could follow that line after the final report is published.

New Zealand First and United Future have yet to take a final position on either repaying money or backing validating legislation.

National leader Don Brash yesterday said he was "very pleased" to see the Greens decide that the Auditor-General was the "appropriate judge" of what was appropriate spending of taxpayer money.

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