Campaigner vexed by sign rules

KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 13:00 27/11/2013
Carl Horn
Fairfax NZ
GREEN CAMPAIGNER: Carl Horn with his sign that the Nelson City Council has requested he take down.

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The convener of the Nelson branch of the Green Party says the Nelson City Council is limiting democracy with inconsistent campaign regulations about the asset sale referendum.

The council asked Carl Horn to remove a sign he put on the fence of a residential property on the corner of Kea St and Main Road Stoke.

Mr Horn said he had seen a campaign poster for mayoral candidate Brian McGurk in the same place during the recent local government elections. "I thought, ‘Oh well, if Brian McGurk can have a sign here, we can put a sign up here, too."

He asked the property owners for permission, and they were happy for him to put the sign on the fence.

The council then phoned him and asked him to remove the sign, saying it was illegal, because signs advertising the referendum could only be placed in allocated areas at Bishopdale and Miyazu Reserve.

The council said there were no clear rules about campaigning during a referendum, but "as a gesture of good faith and compromise", it had made a special dispensation. It had advised political parties that they were allowed to put up one sign each at the allocated sites, to avoid "a proliferation of signs".

Mr Horn said he understood the need for regulations so the public were not bombarded with signs, but the regulations for elections and a referendum needed to be consistent.

"It would appear the rules for a referendum are different than those for an election, and I can't understand why that might be.

"They are both for political activities, and it seems to me that a group of people who have a particular view they wish to promote in respect to the referendum should have the opportunity to at least put up a sign."

Mr Horn said the Green Party signs promoted a particular stand on the issue, but they were also put up to draw attention to the referendum and remind people to vote.

He said he thought the rules limited the democratic process. There were also constraints on the sign sizes, which had to be smaller than those used during elections.

"There shouldn't be any difference. What we can do in an election, we should be able to do in a referendum."

Mr Horn said pro-asset sale groups also had the right to advertise, but he hadn't seen any such signs. "What they do is call us up and say we have our signs in the wrong place, we have illegal signs."

The Electoral Commission said local authorities were responsible for regulating when, where and how signs, including election signs, could be displayed. Different rules applied for referendums and local elections because the Department of Internal Affairs was responsible for local body elections, while the commission was responsible for referendums.

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