29 Apr 2016

Mayoral candidates defy billboard bylaw

5:09 pm on 29 April 2016

Two Auckland mayoral candidates are defying a bylaw on election advertising, saying it breaches the Bill of Rights.

One of mayoral candidate Victoria Crone's billboards.

One of mayoral candidate Victoria Crone's billboards. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Vic Crone will resume her billboard campaign, which the Auckland Council banned last month, while activist and mayoral candidate Penny Bright will ask the government to rule that the bylaw that led to the ban is unlawful.

The moves raise questions about the policing of advertising in one of the country biggest elections.

Bylaws on election signs in Auckland have changed since the council was formed in 2010, and for this election extend to cover all signage, even on private property.

The council told Ms Crone last month that advertising she had put up on permanent commercial billboard sites breached the bylaw, which banned anything going up earlier than nine weeks before October's election day.

Ms Crone said she now had a legal opinion showing that stance breached the Bill of Rights Act, which allowed freedom of expression except where limits could be "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society".

"I've been targetted in terms of restricting political speech around my campaign in an unfair manner, and the reason given for that is public safety. There is no more danger in my billboard than Dan Carter and his boxers," she told RNZ News.

The legal opinion takes a similar view to that expressed on RNZ News last month by Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis, who later wrote a more detailed column.

Since the Bill of Rights question was raised last month by RNZ News, a response has been sought from either the Auckland Council, which enforces the bylaw, or its agency Auckland Transport, which created it.

Victoria Crone confirms her bid for the Auckland mayoralty at a news conference on 14 December 2015.

"There is no more danger in my billboard than Dan Carter and his boxers" - Vic Crone Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Auckland Council until today declined to comment, but a short time ago released a reply sent to Ms Crone, saying the bylaw was valid and enforceable, and any determination by the Minister was awaited with interest.

Earlier, the Auckland Council had deferred all comment to Auckland Transport.

The agency replied after three weeks with a three-line statement:

"The Auckland Transport Election Signs Bylaw was adopted in 2013 following full public consultation.

"The bylaw remains in force and will continue to regulate election signage through the upcoming election period.

"Following this election period, Auckland Transport proposes to review the bylaw in light of any issues identified. Any proposed changes will proceed through full public consultation again."

Ms Bright has joined the fray, telling the council she will petition Transport Minister Simon Bridges to declare the bylaw - which comes under his portfolio - illegal.

She will seek support from other candidates and interested parties, and has urged candidates to defy the bylaw, by advertising from private property before the nine-week election period.

Auckland Transport's election bylaw noted that it considered Bill of Rights issues, and believed it complied.

Ms Crone said any thought of legal action would come further down the track, and she had contacted the council today asking it to review its stance.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said he had sought legal advice on the bylaw, as well as his powers as Transport Minister to disallow transport-related bylaws.

He said he had written to Auckland Transport asking them to clarify the original purpose of the bylaw and to advise how they believe the bylaw was consistent with the Land Transport Act 1998 and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

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