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Referendum File 2: Can They Be Trusted?

2 comments | 12:51 am | top |
In Referendum File 1 we looked at the claims and the logic found in a letter which was sent by Larry Baldock to his supporters. In Referendum File 2 we are going to take a look at the petition itself and ask the question, "Can we trust the Campaign for Democracy with the personal information they are collecting from people around New Zealand?"

The petition is a vast improvement on Larry Baldock and the Kiwi Party's last petition sheet which had two petition forms on one A4 sheet, one asking for a referendum on the legality of corporal punishment, the other asking for a referendum calling for a Royal Inquiry into the wider causes of domestic violence. On 17 December, 2009 the phrasing and format of the new petition which asks,

“Should Parliament be required to pass legislation that implements the majority result of a citizens initiated referendum where that result supports a law change?”

was approved by the clerk of Parliament. It is clear to see that the petition layout has borrowed a lot from the UNITE Union's current petition for a Citizens Initiated Referendum which was launched on 11 June 2009, seeking to have the minimum wage raised to $15 per hour. (The $15/hr minimum wage is also a policy of the Kiwi Party). Instead of squashing 20 signatures onto each page as was the case with Baldock's last petitions, the new petition has space for ten signatories. "If they can't read it, they won't count it!" is written in bold capitals at the top of the sheet - something left off the last petitions, and which Baldock subsequently requested petitioners to say to people as they signed. Illegible signatures were a real problem when collecting, causing between 2 - 5% of the collected signatures to be disqualified by the Clerk. A freephone 0800 number, website address, and logo of the organising group have been added at the bottom of the sheet - all similarities with the UNITE petition which preceeded it.

bottom, right-hand-corner of petition form
The most notable difference between the last petition sheet and the new one is the Optional Contact Info section on the right-hand-side of the form. This again, is a direct adaptation from UNITE's petition which has the same thing, with almost identical wording. In the bottom right-hand-corner, the following claim is made,

"This information is to keep you informed about our campaigns. We won't give your details to anyone else."

The UNITE petition makes the same promise to signatories. And while Baldock's last two petitions did not bear this reassuring privacy information, Baldock instructed petitioners (myself included) to inform people signing, that their details would not be passed on to a third party, and that the only people seeing their signatures would be the Clerk and those assistants who would help count the signatures. I draw your attention to this claim made by the Campaign 4 Democracy, because, quite frankly, I struggle to believe it. Because in the lead-up to the 2008 general election, the Kiwi Party cast aside the assurance it had given to signatories, and breached their trust by emailing out photocopied petition forms to Kiwi Party supporters, asking them to post Kiwi Party promotional material to the signatories in an effort to increase their Party Vote. Below is my summary of this incident which I wrote shortly before the 08 election at the ChristianVote website.

Letter to be sent to 300,000+ who signed petition. In a staggering breach of trust, The Kiwi Party have announced that they intend to send an individual letter (click here to read the letter) to every single person who signed the petition calling for the wider causes of child abuse and family violence to be addressed (click here to read the email they sent out). I and many others have personally assured many hundreds of people signing the petition that under no circumstances will they receive any mail, and that the address is purely for the purpose of establishing that they are who they say they are. And now The Kiwi Party is sending out PDF documents (click to view an example) containing between 200 and 1,000 home addresses to its members, so that they can then send out letters calling for donations and a party vote for the Kiwi Party. "You can help guarantee the referendum is binding by giving your Party Vote to the Kiwi Party." the letter erroneously claims. The Privacy Act states that "An agency that holds personal information that was obtained in connection with one purpose shall not use the information for any other purpose".

Pro-family advocacy group Family First which had backed the petitions the whole way promptly responded to the actions of the Kiwi Party with a press release in which they stated,

"Family First NZ is distancing itself from attempts by the Kiwi Party to write to the more than 300,000 people who signed the anti-smacking petition, encouraging them to vote for the Kiwi Party at the upcoming Election... Family First... is concerned that NZ’ers who signed the petition may not want to be personally contacted by a political party and did not provide their information for this purpose. But then again, they’re not the only political party using private addresses to push their case.”

Baldock of the Kiwi Party then responded in an email to supporters, denying any wrongdoing:

“What I [have] in my possession are the petition forms in my name which asked the question, “Should the Government give urgent priority to understand and address the wider causes of family breakdown, family violence and child abuse in NZ?” Unfortunately although we collected just over 300,000 signatures, the Clerk deemed there were insufficient to trigger a referendum and the forms were returned to me, their legal owner. In keeping with sound legal advice, I will ensure these addresses are not used for any purpose other than the original intent, namely to repeal the ‘Anti-smacking’ law and address the real causes of family breakdown, family violence and child abuse. Most of the signatures on this second petition were also signatories on the first and are interested in both objectives.
...I believe most will look at our final objectives and accept our sincere motives.

Baldock's line of reasoning is unsound, pragmatic and highly reprehensible. In his original email to supporters in which he asked them to volunteer to receive photocopied petition forms and then send Kiwi Party promotional material out, Balock wrote excitedly, "We have over 300,000 names and addresses of the people who signed the petition and our goal is to write to every one of these concerned Kiwis..." I don't know about you, but I find his attitude towards the full names, signatures, residential addresses and date of births of 300,000 New Zealanders to be unacceptable.

Even Baldock himself stated that he told signatories that the peition would not be used to send them mail. Below is an excerpt from a rebuttal written by Baldock, in response to my report on the Kiwi Party's actions (download here):

Whenever I told people that they did not have to worry about the petition being used to send them mail said it there was usually in the context of someone concerned about the Government getting access to the names of who signed the anti-smacking petition. That is what people were concerned about. A few were concerned about the possibility of receiving junk mail as a result which does happen. The letter we are sending could not be considered marketing junk mail since it is consistent with the purpose of the petition.

Again, here is the pragmatism coming through strongly again. Baldock first acknowledges that he told people that their details would not be used to send them mail, then he attempts to justify the decision to send them mail by saying that it "could not be considered marketing junk mail since it is consistent with the purpose of the petition". The Kiwi Party received 0.54% of the vote at the 2008 general election. I believe that if they had have been considered a more major player, gaining say, 5%+ of the vote, that the media would have held the spotlight to the Kiwi Party, and exposed these dubious activities.

It must be made quite clear that the group that is running the Campaign for Democracy is the same group that organised the last two petitions. When the Campaign was first launched it was named the "Kiwi Campaign for Democracy". The word "Kiwi" was dropped from the campaign name several months into preparations for the campaign launch. In the first few months of the build up to the campaign launch, a large proportion of the material on the Campaing for Democracy website was simply cross-posted from the Kiwi Party website. And incidentally, you'll notice that the colour-schemes for both the Kiwi Party and the Campaign for Democracy are essentially identical.

In summary, we come back to the initial question: "Can the organisers of the petition be trusted with the information they are gathering?" I would love to think that we can trust them. However, I don't know. What I do know is that I will not be signing the petition.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

it amazes me that you will not be supporting something that you believe in because you don't want to be friends with some Larry Baldock...honestly man, this is why 'christians' are so hard to deal with...too busy crossing the road all the time

8:11 pm, March 10, 2010 
Blogger Andy Moore said...

My reasons for not supporting the campaign are clearly laid out above; they have nothing to do with how I feel about Larry as a man. Tell me which road I've crossed...

12:01 pm, March 11, 2010 

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