Police are assessing a complaint alleging Julian Batchelor’s Stop Co-Governance booklet breaches electoral laws.
The booklet has been described as “racist” and “rubbish” by a Māori historian who lodged a complaint with the Electoral Commission.
Batchelor, organiser of the controversial Stop Co-Governance roadshow that has attracted protests around New Zealand including three Mount Maunganui meetings last month, says 120,000 copies of the booklet have been distributed in the wider Tauranga area.
An Electoral Commission spokesperson previously confirmed it was investigating a complaint about whether the booklet authored by Batchelor should contain a promoter statement.
In a notice published on its website last week, the commission said it had made a referral to police on August 18 “relating to a publication distributed by an individual without a promoter statement”.
The commission declined to comment further, including on whether the subject of the referral was Batchelor’s booklet or how many complaints it had received about the booklet.
The Bay of Plenty Times has seen correspondence, however, between a complainant and the commission where it confirmed a complaint about the booklet had been referred to police, and linked to the published notice.
Police also confirmed to the Bay of Plenty Times that a referral had been received from the commission of this nature and it was being assessed.
A copy of the 28-page booklet distributed in central Tauranga last week had a flyer stapled to the front headed “Stand With Us” and giving dates for three public marches to be held in Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington next month.
In the back of the booklet, it stated: “Don’t vote for any political Party which is going to continue with co-governance to any degree. Scrutinise their policy statements carefully.”
It continued: “Vote for the political party which is going to completely abandon (not partly abandon) co-governance, scrap the Waitangi Tribunal, repeal the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, and all race based legislation.”
The booklet claimed co-governance was “a code for the takeover” of New Zealand by private tribal companies and their representatives, and the “end of democracy”.
It encouraged readers to order and distribute more copies.
Batchelor told the Bay of Plenty Times on Thursday that about 120,000 copies of the booklet had been distributed in the wider Tauranga area.
He said there were no plans to hold public marches in Bay of Plenty next month.
Batchelor said he was “unconcerned” about the complaint to the Electoral Commission about the booklet.
He said he and his supporters intended to “keep going” right through to the election and beyond.
In a welcome on the Stop Co-Governance website, Batchelor said he was “not representing any political party at this point” and would back the one with the clearest policy for ending co-governance.
He refused to comment further when questioned about the booklet’s content and hung up. The Bay of Plenty Times has attempted to contact him for further comment this week, including about the referral to police.
Historian and former Waitangi Tribunal director Buddy Mikaere told the Bay of Plenty Times he lodged a complaint about the booklet with the commission last week.
It was his opinion, the material “clearly” breached the Electoral Act.
Mikaere said he was “angry and very disappointed” about anyone promulgating and distributing this, in his view, “racist” and damaging material: “It’s full of misinformation and half-truths, and it’s a rubbish publication, to be frank. I don’t know how people can take it seriously.”
Mikaere, who protested at a Stop Co-Governance meeting in Mount Maunganui last month, said he believed those distributing this material were “preying on people’s fears and anxieties” about the future rather than allowing voters to make up their own minds.
Mikaere said he had urged the commission to refer his and any other complaints to the police for investigation.
“I can’t believe this is even happening at a time when the country needs stability and togetherness not divisiveness of the worst kind,” he said.
The commission defines an election advertisement as anything that “may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote or not vote for” a candidate, party, or “type of candidate or party the advertisement describes by referencing views they do or don’t hold”.
Election advertisements must clearly display a statement with the name and address of the person or authorised representative of a group promoting the advertisement.
A commission spokesperson said it regularly received inquiries about election material, mostly questions about compliance with rules such as the promoter statement or written authorisation.
“When we receive a complaint, we look at whether, in our view, there has been a breach of the Electoral Act, and whether or not it requires a referral to the police.”
If a referral was made, it was up to the police to decide whether to investigate the matter or take further action.
The spokesperson also said under the Electoral Act, if a person creates a publication found to be in breach of the act and encourages others to distribute it, the author of the material was still the “promoter” of the material.
Breaches of election advertising rules were an offence and could attract a fine of up to $40,000.
Election Day is October 14. Candidate nominations close on September 15 and overseas voting opens on September 27.
Sandra Conchie is a senior journalist at the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post who has been a journalist for 24 years. She mainly covers police, court and other justice stories, as well as general news. She has been a Canon Media Awards regional/community reporter of the year.