NZ First silent in face of repayment pressure

By Audrey Young

New Zealand First MPs have ended the year not saying if they are going to repay the nearly $158,000 that the Auditor-General found the party spent unlawfully in the three months before last year's campaign.

Leader Winston Peters is refusing to answer questions about the matter.

"There is nothing Winston is willing to talk about right now," a spokeswoman said yesterday - 60 days after Mr Peters said he would be seeking legal advice about the Auditor-General's report.

The answer was the same last week.

New Zealand First is the only party of the eight parties in Parliament that has not either committed to paying back its share of $1.17 million of taxpayers money found to have been spent unlawfully, or that was cleared of wrong-doing.

The report does not require parties to repay the money.

Speaker Margaret Wilson recommended that parties did so but did not require it.

The day Auditor-General Kevin Brady released his final report, Mr Peters said he was putting together "a team" of lawyers and that he wanted to meet Mr Brady about his findings.

Mr Peters said the party had the money to pay and could put it in a trust account while it sought a declaratory judgment challenging Mr Brady's findings.

New Zealand First was found to have spent $157,934 unlawfully.

The New Zealand First party was particularly upset that the entire $90,000 cost of a general brochure it had printed earlier in the year for distribution over three years was included in its election spending.

It believes it was unfairly "slugged" for it because the invoice arrived at Parliamentary Service in the pre-election period.

Deputy leader Peter Brown said he hoped Mr Peters had been talking to lawyers but he had not heard.

"We are still in the same position."

He said there was no suggestion that the party was hoping the issue would just fade away.

National Party deputy leader Bill English said it was time New Zealand First made its position clear.

"Labour has made a commitment to the public and they will have to meet that.

"New Zealand First twisted and turned and tried to avoid making a commitment but the public expectation is clear - that they will repay it.

"Winston should be up front with the public about what he is going to do. He has been avoiding the issue now for several months."

Act leader Rodney Hide, who originally criticised the Auditor-General but repaid $17,300, said New Zealand First should pay it back with interest.

"I believe they should be paying penalty interest at the rate the IRD charges. MPs have to accept the Auditor-General's findings and cough up. Otherwise they totally undermine the Auditor-General and they totally undermine any other citizen that owes money to the Government."

If New Zealand First did not pay up, it could not expect members of the public to pay taxes or traffic fines.

* Based on late payment fees and interest rates, New Zealand First's debt would attract just over $20,000 in annual interest. Were it an IRD debt, the sum would have attracted penalty and interest payments of a little over $3600.

Mr Hide said Mr Peters was hoping the issue would just go away.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 24 Jul 2014 04:06:14 Processing Time: 1109ms