Green party link to billboard attacks

OUTED: Jolyon White, a keen rock-climber, called himself Jo Henky.
OUTED: Jolyon White, a keen rock-climber, called himself Jo Henky.

The man who coordinated the vandalism of 700 National billboards says it was an attempt at "freedom of expression."

Jolyon White has resigned his Greens membership and his partner Anne Heins has been stood down from her role as co-leader Russel Norman's secretary.

White told TVNZ Heins was not really involved.

"She knew about it at the start, but said because of her involvement it would be really bad idea for her to know anything about it or be involved in it," he said.

"I think it would be a little bit unfortunate if something that was a humorous attempt at freedom of expression if the National Party had a little of enough sense of humour to get the police over it. I actually don't think they'd do that."

Greens spokesman Andrew Campbell said fellow co-leader Metiria Turei lodged an official complaint about Jolyon White's role in the orchestrated action on Sunday night.

When White was told today he faced an internal Greens process he offered his resignation.

Heins, Norman's executive assistant, was now the subject of an investigation by Parliamentary Services, Campbell said.

The Prime Minister John Key has said there "could be" action by police over the billboard attacks.

Norman announced this morning that White co-ordinated the campaign which added ''The rich deserve more'' and ''Drill it, mine it, sell it'' stickers to signs around the country.

"I believe the defacing of the billboards is vandalism and condemn these actions," Norman told reporters at Parliament.

"I am incredibly disappointed about what they have done."

Key said it was "extremely disappointing and frustrating" for candidates.

He said Norman had offered to help clean up the billboards and he would take up the offer.

"There is no room for negative campaigning in New Zealand."

Key said he accepted that Norman would not have known about the vandalism and he accepted his apology.

It was "somewhat concerning" that Norman's EA had known of the campaign for two months and not told him about it.

The vandalism was quite a "sophisticated" campaign 

IT'S ABOUT THE ISSUES

White hoped the campaign would not hurt the Green Party.

He told The Press he did not personally take part in Sunday's raids on National Party billboards. The stunt, which involved 50 people, cost $500, which White paid himself.

White said he had no association with Norman - rather, he was in a relationship with someone that worked for him.

''It would be a shame if it had blowback on any political party.  I would really love this to stay about the issues rather than about personality politics,'' he said.

''In the lead-up to the election, a slogan like 'For a brighter future', at the moment, simply is not for everyone.''

Asked if the stunt had backfired, he said people should move on from who was involved in the stunt to talking about the issues.

''Even on some of the right-wing blog sites there's people arguing and debating about whether or not the slogans are even fair or accurate - if that conversation is happening then it hasn't backfired.''

White is a social justice enabler for Anglican Care.

''I'm involved in the lives of a number of families that are just finding it so incredibly difficult out there and things are not looking like getting better for them.

''They struggle to have a voice and election time comes round.''

Norman said he was contacted by several party members who heard White talking about the billboards on Radio New Zealand this morning and recognised his voice.

The protesters issued a statement yesterday saying they were making the billboards "more honest".

"The Prime Minister believes in transparency. He says he doesn't lie. We're happy to help."

The statement was sent out under the false name of Jo Henky, seemingly a play on National leader John Key's name.

Norman also apologised to National members who had donated their time to erect the billboards.

"I know how many volunteers' hours go into putting up and maintaining billboards having done much of it myself."

The Greens had notified the Electoral Commission and offered to assist with any inquiries they undertake.

The party did not support the actions and were not aware that White was behind them until this morning, Norman said.

Norman said his executive assistant had known about her partner's plans for about two months and he was disappointed with her for not mentioning it.

It was an employment issue but the party had not spoken to Parliamentary services about the matter.

Norman said of all political parties, the Greens were the most acutely aware of the impact of such activities, seemingly a reference to a leaflet smear campaign against the party in 2005 by the Exclusive Brethren.

"It is my deep wish for this election to be fought clean and fair on the issues that face New Zealand."

- Fairfax NZ