Prominent anti-vaccination lawyer Sue Grey believes her political party may lose election campaign funding if it joins forces with Brian Tamaki and his newly-established party as planned.
A trio of “freedom parties” have launched a High Court challenge against the Electoral Commission, claiming the Crown entity’s allocations for electoral advertising are unfair.
Grey is the co-leader of the Outdoors and Freedom Party which stood in the 2020 election, garnering 0.1 per cent of the country’s vote.
At last year’s Tauranga by-election where she stood, Grey received almost 5 per cent of all votes.
The party has indicated it will join Freedoms NZ, an umbrella political party founded by Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki.
Vision NZ, led by his wife Hannah Tamaki, has already signed on, as have multiple other smaller parties - some unregistered.
Grey told NZME that Freedoms NZ would have some policies and a party list agreed upon by all component parties. But she intended for Outdoors and Freedom to conduct its own campaign with its own policies, too.
Freedoms NZ, Vision NZ and the Outdoors and Freedom Party are all registered parties.
Under the Broadcasting Act, each registered party is entitled to a taxpayer-funded allocation for TV and radio advertising during the campaigning period.
Parliament set aside $4.14 million for the 2023 election, which the Electoral Commission divides among parties based on criteria that include their previous election result, membership and current polling.
But the Broadcasting Act also contains provisions for funding allocations to be delivered to a “group of parties” instead of each distinct party, if the commission deems those parties have joined forces.
An allocation can’t be made to an individual party if it is to receive an allocation as part of a group of related parties.
In the allocations released earlier this month, Vision NZ was denied funding due to its relationship with Freedoms NZ. The Outdoors and Freedom party was granted $66,332 - the same amount allocated to every party that gained fewer than 1 per cent of the vote in 2020.
But Grey alleges the Electoral Commission has told Outdoors and Freedom that following reports saying it had joined forces with Freedoms NZ, it was “likely” it would no longer receive its allocation.
NZME asked the Electoral Commission if it had proposed to withdraw the party’s advertising allocation but a spokesperson said it couldn’t comment as the matter was now before the court.
Grey claimed on Wednesday that no formal arrangement had been reached with Tamaki’s party and Outdoors and Freedom had hit pause on plans to join the umbrella party following news from the commission.
“We’re working closely with Freedoms NZ, with a view to becoming a formal component party,” she said.
“But we haven’t signed anything.”
Now, Grey and the Tamakis are heading to the High Court, seeking a declaration that losing the funding would be unlawful.
Vision NZ, Freedoms NZ and the Outdoors and Freedom Party are jointly seeking an urgent judicial review before the regulated advertising period begins three months ahead of polling day on July 14.
The statement of claim alleges the definition of “group of parties” in the Broadcasting Act is not clear.
It states the Electoral Commission has not published its criteria for how it concludes distinct parties have joined to form a group.
It asks the court to consider whether or not the Outdoors and Freedom party’s original allocation could be added to that of Freedoms NZ upon the commission deeming the parties have joined forces, rather than lost entirely.
The challenge also goes a step further, alleging the way the Electoral Commission determined the total funding for each party was flawed.
The claim states the allocation made for the Outdoors and Freedom Party was too small and will affect its ability to campaign fairly against parties with larger allocations.
It adds the commission failed to consider the parties’ social media following and membership numbers, as well as by-election results.
Grey told NZME that a decision had not been made on whether the Outdoors and Freedom party would remain separate from Freedoms NZ if the challenge didn’t land in their favour.
“Allocations for advertising are very important.”
A date for when the case will be heard is yet to be set. Grey herself will represent the parties.