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Bright accuses council of picking on her as rates court saga continues

Bright hasn't paid rates since 2007

Victoria Young
Thu, 23 Oct 2014

A District Court judge has reserved a decision on whether Penny Bright's home can be sold to fund unpaid rates, meaning the self-described anti-corruption campaigner's house can be marketed for sale until the judgment is released.

Auckland Council had persuaded the High Court to sell Ms Bright's house to retrieve in excess of $30,000 in unpaid rates.

While Ms Bright had last week obtained a stay against enforcement, that expired this morning.  

Today in the Auckland District Court Judge Simon Menzies said a substantive hearing about Ms Bright's unpaid rates could continue another day but today asked both parties to address him on the issue of whether enforcement of the unpaid debt should continue. 

Ms Bright last paid the council $63 for rates in 2007, and a council letter dated August this year says she owes about $13,000 along with a further $20,000 in interests and penalties.

The campaigner has said she won't pay until the council is more "transparent." 

Today she represented herself in court and said while she had not studied the law relating to whether the District Court had power to grant a stay, said the issue was "unprecented" and she was "being picked on."

She told the court there are opportunities for other citizens to have up to 80% of imposed rates delayed. She added that the council has billions and does not need her $30,000. 

"For Auckland Council to proceed with the sale for my freehold house for which I worked very hard and which I have had for 15 years and used to fund my anti-corruption campaigning is unfair," she said.  

She emphasised that once the house is sold it cannot be undone.

The judge had to interrupt Ms Bright several times as she addressed matters relating to the substantive case and not the issue before the court. 

Auckland Council in-house legal counsel James Hassall’s position was that Ms Bright did not raise a substantial defence and there has been no miscarriage of justice.

"It  has been a long process for the council. Ms Bright last paid rates in 2007. At any point between then and before a sale takes place, it has been and is still open for Ms Bright to either pay her rates or to enter discussions with the council as to how payment might be effected.

"The judgment was entered in 2012 and the council has to be model litigant, which I take seriously – and if there were real issues then I would no have problem delaying but Ms Bright's own affidavit says she has no intention of paying."

Mr Hassall said legally the court cannot grant a stay because it only has power to defer if a person is unable, as opposed to being unwilling to pay. He says Ms Bright's home is worth $530,000 and records indicate it is mortgage free.

The judge reserved his decision on the stay and directed the council and Ms Bright to timetable a one-day hearing on the substantive case to be heard as soon as possible. 

Last resort
Earlier, Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town said the court action was a last resort

Auckland Council took court action to secure payment from Ms Bright. Council chief executive Stephen Town said it was a last resort.

“Ms Bright has made wild and inaccurate accusations about the council and its probity and is using this as the basis for not paying her fair share to the ongoing running of Auckland,” he said earlier this month in a release.

The council has confirmed similar court action is being initiated for a total of eight cases of long-standing unpaid rates.

In Auckland there are currently approximately 179 ratepayers who are being reviewed, with a total of approximately $2.5 million outstanding rates, the council says.

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Victoria Young
Thu, 23 Oct 2014
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Bright accuses council of picking on her as rates court saga continues