Internal Affairs minister Mark Burton has invited the board that runs the government Website to reconsider its policy of accepting paid banner ads.
Although the new advertising policy of New Zealand Government Online (NZGO) has been no secret - it is promoted on the NZGO homepage and is highlighted in the current NZGO newsletter - it last week left Burton scrambling for answers and National IT spokesman Maurice Williamson declaring "an outrageous conflict of interest."
The decision for NZGO to carry advertising appears from both government agencies and the private sector to have been approved by the Internal Affairs minister in the last government, Jack Elder. Elder also oversaw the appointment of the NZGO board, which is chaired by Len Cook from Statistics NZ and includes several public sector CEOs.
Not only the policy but the implementation was in motion before the November 28 election. The home page graphic which invited visitors to "click here to find out about advertising on NZGO" is date-stamped November 22. The graphic was removed over the weekend.
Burton says the decision to seek advertising revenue "was an operational decision taken by the board during the final days of the previous Government. That decision was seen by the Board as being consistent with National Government policy.
"While it remains an operational manner, I have passed on my view that it would be desirable for the Board to revisit the decision made last year to allow advertising on the site. Clearly the long-term funding arrangements for this site need full and careful consideration."
Williamson was on the attack last week, highlighting what he said was a conflict of interest in running paid banner ads from Clear when the government was embarking on a telecommunications inquiry.
"It begs the question whether a review is worth having if Clear have already got the new government in its pocket," he said.
"Were all companies given the right to have slots on that spot? My understanding at first look is that Telecom don't believe they've been asked or approached about it. So what was the protocol for allocating the space? Was it a transparent process? Those are questions that are still yet to be answered."
Williamson also claimed that allowing advertising on the site showed the government was hypocritical.
"I know very well that if we'd gone ahead with advertising we'd have been bagged as this dreadful right-wing Tory government, putting ads anywhere they can - yet here's a government that comes out and promises they're going to get rid of advertising and cut it on TV for kids programmes.
"And yet here's a site you would really expect to be impartial and it's going to be littered with ads."
Williamson said the advertising was not a part of the NZGO relaunch he presented along with former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley in the run-up to the election.
Clear spokesperson Rochelle Lockley said the NZGO advertising was part of a broad campaign.
"We're an advertiser. It's up to the governmenmt to decide what advertising is acceptable for its sites. We're advertising on about 20 different Websites and obviously we pick the ones with higher traffic.
"We're doing a lot of advertising at the moment around our mobility offering with Vodafone and around Clear Net, so the obvious place to advertise is on the Internet."
Lockley declined to comment on Williamson's suggestion that Clear had the new government "in its pocket".
Williamson said he had no problem with Clear advertising aanywhere it wants: "There's no problem with Clear doing it. If they can advertise on the Pope's Web site, they should go to it."