6 Jul 2022

Mayoral candidate Paul Eagle on putting new billboards after taking down the last lot

7:02 am on 6 July 2022

Wellington mayoral candidate Paul Eagle has removed digital billboards over the weekend after being asked to do so, but has put up billboards on new sites and says it is legal.

Paul Eagle billboard on The Embassy Theatre

A new and brightly coloured billboard with the words 'Vote Eagle' sits above Wellington's Embassy Theatre. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The Wellington City Council wants them to be removed until the official hoarding period starts but concedes there is little more it can do given its rules on election signage are not enforceable.

A new and brightly coloured billboard with the words 'Vote Eagle' sits above Wellington's Embassy Theatre.

"That went up on Monday," Paul Eagle said, and it is not the only one.

"The new billboards have gone up as part of the campaign. Given that I have confidence in my legal advice we're continuing with my original plan which is to use commercial billboards," he said.

Complaints prompted the council to investigate and they told him to remove the signs until the official hoarding period begins on 27 August.

The Labour MP believes the council has got that wrong.

"They are applying hoardings rules to billboards and just getting it plain wrong, so let's get that clarity.

"What I am not okay with is being the sole candidate who is singled out who is complying with the law and they are saying that I'm not," he said.

Local councillor Paul Eagle says the community has gentrified and may not understand the marae philosophy.

Paul Eagle said he was confident that in his legal advice and planned continuing to use commercial billboards (file picture). Photo: RNZ/Daniela Maoate-Cox

Wellington City Council spokesperson Richard MacLean confirmed the authority was still unhappy with the latest billboards.

"We would like the billboards to be pulled down because they are being displayed outside the six-week period preceding the upcoming election," MacLean said.

Members of the public were still complaining about the signs, MacLean said, but he conceded there was nothing more the council could do.

"The problem being that the policy doesn't have teeth so what we have generally relied on in the past is candidates just to abide by it."

The council would examine the possible loopholes in its election sign rules, MacLean said.

"Obviously we are concerned and that's why we will be looking at the situation via the review of the district plan so that is probably our best avenue for introducing rules that will be enforced," he said.

Tory Whanau is the only other candidate officially in the race for the mayor so far. She is concerned that the weak electioneering rules create an unfair playing field.

"I would like to see a fairer policy enforced," she said. "There are those of us in this race who do not have the same access to resource that Paul does and, for me, that is not creating a truly democratic race. So, I'd certainly like a review and in future elections, a higher level of enforcement."

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster - who is yet to announce whether he will stand again - has his own concerns about the Paul Eagle billboards.

"They're very big, they're trying to make up for his lack of visibility over the last few years and it's curious we have got billboards talking about him as an independent at the same time we've got billboards that clearly have him branded as a Labour MP," Foster said.

Auckland Council said it had also received four complaints about election signs being displayed prior to the permitted period.

"Compliance staff are currently working through these complaints, and the appropriate action will be taken to rectify the breach of the bylaw," team leader regional compliance team Karen Smith said.

University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said the best way ensure candidate advertising was fair was to extend rules on campaign spending.

"For the three months before an election, there are limits on how much candidates can spend. Outside of those three months under the law, candidates are welcome to do whatever they want, to use as much money as they want, to do as much advertising as they want," he said.

'"If we really want to create a kind of more level playing field, then the way to do it would be to revisit the Local Electoral Act and create a longer restricted period in which candidates can spend their money.

"Individual councils [are] trying to do it through bylaws that restrict only a limited amount."

For now, both of Wellington's mayoral candidates agree they want to stop talking signs and start debating the city's issues.

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