Key Points:

What do you know, there is a Santa after all. For the Falun Gong marching band anyway. In an email late on Wednesday, Wellington City Council lifted its ban on the group's participation in Sunday's Wellington Farmers Santa Parade.

If the council Grinches were hoping the very short notice would catch the Chinese "spiritual" group unready, they were wrong.

The Falun Gongsters are shining their cymbals for action as you read this. Their northern cousins are also hoping the decision might have sent a rush of Christmas spirit to the heart of Santa's little helper in Auckland, Chamber of Commerce chief and Auckland Regional Council deputy chairman Michael Barnett, persuading him to lift his ban on their participation in the following Sunday's Auckland parade.

With Mr Barnett's case against Falun Gong participation reading like a carbon copy of the abandoned Wellington stand, his argument now sounds even thinner than ever.

Particularly so when Crackerjack Promotions, the event organiser enforcing his ban in Auckland, is also the event organiser that has welcomed Falun Gong to the Wellington parade.

The change of heart in Wellington seems to have been triggered by top human rights lawyer Tony Ellis filing for a judicial review in the High Court of what he says are four major breaches of the Bill of Rights Act.

Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean denies the link but admits "if we can keep this out of the courts it would be great. We don't want to spend ratepayers' money on courtroom battles over these sort of issues."

You might recall how for the past seven years Mr Barnett and his Auckland Santa Parade Trust have resolutely refused to welcome the Falun Gong into the parade for political reasons.

Last year they almost squeaked in when Crackerjack Promotions welcomed a 60-piece ensemble calling themselves the Divine Land Band into the parade, offering them $250 for expenses.

Later, the organisers realised they were Falun Gongsters in drag and booted them out, saying they did "not fit with the Santa Parade" because they didn't meet trust deed requirements to "turn children's fantasies into reality".

This year it was the same, with general manager Pam Glaser of Crackerjack Promotions banning Auckland Falun Gong, saying the parade "is not a platform for organisations to use to get messages out there".

Ironically, this week her Crackerjack colleague, Liz McCrae, wrote to the Wellington Falun Gong announcing their participation had been approved.

As for Mr Barnett, he made it plain his opposition was because the group openly campaigned against the persecution of its members in communist China, or in Mr Barnett's quaint phraseology, they "attack a country that New Zealand has a relationship with".

In Wellington, it was the same story. Earlier in the year the city banned Falun Gong taking part in any city events because it was a "political group" that was upsetting the Chinese Government.

As Mr Ellis pointed out when he filed the High Court documents two weeks ago, a religious and spiritual group has as much right to join in the parades as the council itself does, "which is plainly a political organisation".

The Auckland Falun Gong are hoping Mr Barnett will be shamed by the Wellington example into changing his mind.

If only it was that simple.

Unfortunately, Auckland's Santa Parade, as a private trust, is a law unto itself. Like a private club, it can discriminate and get away with it.

Unlike the Wellington City Council, it is not subject to human rights legislation.

Nevertheless, Chief Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan recently approached Mr Barnett informally to propose mediation on the issue.

She got the bum's rush. Mr Barnett told her it was too late for new entries into this year's parade, but that he was willing to talk to Falun Gong in the new year.

Falun Gong say he's been saying that since 2001.

But just because he can dictate who goes in his parade and who can't, and get away with it, doesn't mean he should.

As a powerful Auckland politician and business leader, a little respect for the rights of others wouldn't go amiss.

All around the world these Chinese exiles have delighted crowds with their exotic sounds and dress.

They promise to leave their politics at home for the day. If they can, why can't Mr Barnett?