Greens rebuked for email tactic

SHELLEY ROBINSON
Last updated 05:00 09/09/2014
Brownlee
GERRY BROWNLEE: "It does tend to call into question many of the claims about public opinion made by the Green Party."

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The Green Party has been accused of "subverting the democratic process" by lobbying Environment Canterbury (ECan) on behalf of individuals without their knowledge.

Four people were surprised to receive emails from ECan thanking them for their submission on the region's proposed bus changes when they had not submitted.

A further 20 submissions, of the 165 submissions sent in by the Greens, were found to have incorrect email addresses.

ECan received 2357 submissions for its proposed bus changes.

All submissions from the Greens were a standard response asking for more investment in public transport and more services for elderly.

Emails given to The Press by ECan, with personal information removed, showed people were unimpressed.

"I nevet [sic] sent this email! How did this happen?" one said.

"I actually didn't give permission for the Green Party to send that submission on my behalf," another said.

Another questioned the ethics of the practice.

"It does not accurately represent my thoughts . . . I'm not sure I agree ethically with this practice."

Green Party MP Eugenie Sage said it was an "attempt to engage the public that had gone wrong".

According to the telephone script, those contacted were asked if their name could added to the Greens' submission.

"Some people may not have been aware that there was a submission being sent in on their behalf after the phone conversation," she said.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said it was disappointing a "democratic process can potentially be subverted by this sort of activity".

"It does tend to call into question many of the claims about public opinion made by the Green Party," he said.

A Greens spokesman said Brownlee was "scaremongering" over an "honest misunderstanding".

The emails were from an online submission form and others from a phone survey.

It was possible email addresses were taken down incorrectly, the spokesman said.

Sage said the emails were not checked before they were used.

"We were using a new method of public engagement, having people call people on our database to alert them to the submission process," she said.

It been abandoned in Christchurch because of the botch-up but would continue to be used elsewhere.

Sage said she had apologised over the phone to a person unhappy about the submission being sent on their behalf.

ECan director operations Wayne Holton-Jeffreys said the submissions had been removed.

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"It is important to us that we get a true reflection on what the community is thinking so wherever possibly we check the legitimacy of submissions to weed out those that might otherwise unfairly skew the result," he said.

- The Press

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