Legal action threat gets candidate on to stage

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 08:04 11/08/2014
WATERED DOWN: Activist Penny Bright.
LOUD AND CLEAR: Penny Bright.

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Organisers of a political event in rural Auckland tonight have relented and agreed to let veteran political activist Penny Bright speak after she threatened legal action if she was refused.

Drawing parallels with Conservative Party leader Colin Craig's successful action to be included in a TV3 minor party leaders' debate on Saturday, Bright said she was being supported by Graham McCready, who successfully brought a private prosecution that led to the resignation of former ACT MP John Banks.

The event organiser, local businesswoman Holly Ryan, said she would have preferred to simply ignore Bright's threat and find out what the consequences would be but the Baptist church hosting the meeting did not want the adverse publicity so she had agreed to add Bright to the speakers' list.

Tonight the prime minister is due to stand alongside the likes of Laila Harre and Hone Harawira in the Kumeu Baptist Church for a chance for locals to meet candidates in the Helensville and Te Tai Tokerau electorates.

The rules of engagement are such the candidates are not meant to even mention each other by name or talk about other parties, with the event designed only as a means of explaining policy.

Ryan has warned that those who breach the rules may be kicked out.

With parties allowed to bring support people along, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, Craig and NZ First MP Andrew Williams will also take the stage, making it one of the highest level events outside of the major leaders' debates ahead of the September 20 election.

But Bright, who has been arrested a number of times and who ran a lengthy campaign against the Auckland Council's rates, was excluded from the debate.

Although Bright says she will stand in the Helensville electorate as an independent, Ryan said she did not qualify for the Kumeu meeting as it was only for candidates linked to political parties.

Last week Bright made a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, claiming she was being excluded from the meeting because of political bias.

In a last-ditch attempt, she threatened to seek an injunction to stop the meeting going ahead. Ryan said last night she wanted to call Bright's bluff but representatives of the church said they would prefer Bright be allowed to attend.

"The church said they did not want to be embroiled in media or political spats," Ryan said, prompting her to write to Bright confirming she would be allowed to speak at the event.

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"I very much did not want to bend and it disturbs me to do that," Ryan said.

Bright said the decision was a "victory for democracy" after she threatened "to do a Colin Craig".

While she accepted that event organisers could choose who they invited "to a point", she said the meeting was for candidates in an electorate in which she was standing and she had a real chance of winning.

"I believe I have an excellent chance of taking John Key's electorate off him on the basis that why would you waste your electorate vote on John Key when he's number one on the [National Party] list and will get in anyway," Bright said.

In 2011, Bright stood as an independent candidate in the Epsom electorate and won 124 votes.

Key, meanwhile, won the Helensville electorate in 2011 with a majority of more than 21,000 votes. Bright said she understood the strict rules for the Kumeu event and would respect them.

"I know when you're inside there as a candidate, I know how to do things in a lawful and proper way," Bright said.

"Give me my five minutes, I will have my say and all will be well."

- Stuff

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