"They will faithfully and impartially perform the duties of their office"

Last Tuesday, 1 November, Toby Manhire, who is running The Listener's live election blog noted that "the National Party website makes no obvious distinction between government announcements and campaign statements" and contacted the Electoral Commission to find out whether that was breaking any rules.

He later posted the reply that he received from the Commission:

The National Party website is subject to the rules in the Electoral Act 1993 including the requirement for all election advertisements to contain a promoter statement. The website appears to comply with these requirements. 
The fact that the party’s website contains both party political campaign statements and copies of Government announcement media releases does not breach any of the rules in the Electoral Act. 
Ministerial Services and the Parliamentary Service can advise you on the rules that are in place regarding the use of ministerial and parliamentary websites. However, party websites are not subject to these rules.

So it seems that there's nothing objectionable about National mixing Government announcements in with Party ones on their website.

I'm not sure that I'm entirely comfortable with that, but I appreciate that the distinction might be difficult to draw and that it doesn't really make a huge amount of difference. So I just got over it.

Until today, that is. Just now the following tweet appeared on my feed:

Now there's been some confusion over a parody Twitter account @NZNational, but that one above is official. The link is to a release on the National Party website ( in the name of the Attorney General, Hon Christopher Finlayson.

Forgive me for the large screenshot, but I think it's important to put this into context. This is what the page looks like:

As you can see, there's an election campaign going on. We've got a picture of John Key; National's campaign slogan "building a brighter future"; a link to National's anti-Labour website "owe our future"; links for donations and support; and links to other National-affiliated websites.

In the middle of all that there's a Government press release. But not just any Government press release - this one's about the appointment of lay members of the High Court. For those who don't know, these are effectively judges of the Court who sit on the bench alongside the regular justices for cases brought under the Commerce Act. As the release points out, they are appointed under the provisions of that Act.

If we take a look at the Commerce Act 1986, we see that these appointments are made under s 77:

Note that, as we would expect for an office of this nature, lay members of the Court are appointed not by the Hon Christopher Finalyson, and not by the National Party in any capacity, but by the Governor General. It is of course the norm for powers such as this that the Governor General merely rubber-stamps the recommendation made by the Prime Minister (which in turn I imagine in this case is simply a rubber-stamping of the recommendation of the Attorney General), but there is an important symbolic separation imposed between the Government and the Courts by this procedure, and it is one that must be respected.

I'm not suggesting in any way shape or form that there has been any impropriety in the selection or appointment of these individuals, who I am sure are highly qualified and competent. My concern is that, by making this announcement on the National Party website and through the National Party's Twitter account, the incumbent Government risks politicising judicial appointments. Under our constitution, that is simply wrong.

If they want to announce Government announcements like "broadband and access and warnings on safe use of fireworks" (which are the examples cited by Manhire) through Party communication channels as examples of how the Government is achieving things, then I can get over that. But when you start mixing Party policking with Government activities and Judicial appointments, the line has been well and truly crossed.

This is a Government that has consistently shown their disregard for the niceties that keep a somewhat constitutionally unstable nation like New Zealand functioning, and this is simply another example of their disregard for the correct role of Government. Particularly during an election, I expect better.


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