Moving on

I have decided to move on from political blogging so I can put more time into personal interests.

I started this blog in 2011 and have put up about 18,500 posts, so about two thousand posts a year on average over none years. I have mostly enjoyed doing this but it has taken up a lot of time. It also takes time monitoring comments.

At times it was like having a second full time job, albeit unpaid, but I have scaled things back over the last few months. I decided to move on a while ago but chose to hang in until after the election.

For a variety of reasons I now want to prioritise my spare time on other things.

I’ll be leaving Your NZ up for now at least. There are a number of reference posts on certain matters that I have done as a service to the public that I want to leave online. Posts from years ago keep coming up in reading stats.

I may post on things occasionally, but I will no longer do regular or daily posts.

I have enjoyed a lot of what I’ve done here, and appreciate the contributions of many commenters, some of whom have been participating here for years. Thanks very much for your input.

To be honest I have kept things going over the last year or so more for others than for myself, but I have decided to now concentrate on new and neglected interests.

I had hoped to contribute to our democracy and promote informed discussion and more positive politics. In reality this has really been just a drop in the political ocean.

I am happy to have had a go at taking part, but I feel now is the time for me to do other things.

Cheers

Claim that Peters was briefed on NZ First Foundation operations

Winston Peters has kept distancing himself and his party from the NZ First Foundation some connections have been obvious, and now it has been claimed that Peters was briefed on the operations of the Foundation.

ODT yesterday: Peters remains upbeat about election chances

Peters said the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation had not hurt the party.

“The SFO investigation was … forced to go public and say that not one New Zealand First member or party member wasn’t any way anything other than exonerated.”

The SFO did nothing like exonerate anyone. It stated that “neither defendant is a Minister, sitting MP, or candidate in the upcoming election (or a member of their staff), or a current member of the New Zealand First party”.

But Peters wouldn’t respond to questions about whether either of those charged had been party members. And there’s the obvious possibility that party members, MPs and even party leaders could have been associated with the alleged fraudulent actions but not to the level required for charges to be laid.

Also yesterday: Urgent appeal in New Zealand First Foundation donations case dismissed

RNZ, Stuff, NZME and TVNZ have – once again – argued the public have a right to know who the two defendants are ahead of the election polls closing this Saturday evening.

Last week RNZ, Stuff, NZME and TVNZ challenged an interim name suppression order sought in a series of court hearings the media was not present for that currently protect their identities.

The media argued there was compelling public interest in knowing who the accused are before the election is over and any secrecy around the identities impinged on the public’s right to be fully informed before they cast their vote.

The district court ruled against the media; finding one of the defendants had proved an arguable case for name suppression and granting both defendants interim name suppression until their first appearance on 29 October.

After hearing the submissions, Justice Jagose said he found the decision to grant interim name suppression in the case was the right one and dismissed the appeal.

Charging documents state the two defendants used more than $700,000 in a “fraudulent device, trick or stratagem” to pay expenses for the New Zealand First party.

They say the pair used deception to obtain control over $677,885 deposited into the bank account of the New Zealand First Foundation account between 21 April 2017 and 14 February 2020.

The defendants are also charged with using $68,996 deposited into a bank account of a company run by one of the defendants between 31 October 2015 and 20 October 2017.

Today revelations continue: NZ First Foundation financials presented to Winston Peters one year before scandal broke

NZ First leader Winston Peters and high-ranking MPs were briefed about the NZ First Foundation’s expenses and activities one year before it first made headlines, Stuff can reveal, contradicting Peters’ consistent claims the foundation had nothing to do with his political party.

Stuff has seen an internal party report that, according to a source familiar with the matter, was presented to Peters in November 2018.

The report, dated 21 November 23, 2018 [sic], was written by former party president Lester Gray. It is understood that it was hand-delivered to Peters’ home mailbox in Auckland on Sunday, November 25, ahead of a meeting about the matter.

The report referenced money in NZ First Party’s Kiwibank account as well as money in the Foundation’s ASB bank account. It totalled expenses incurred by the ASB account and classed them as party costs.

It is understood that Gray then briefed Peters, MPs Fletcher Tabuteau and Clayton Mitchell in Tabuteau’s office in Wellington on Tuesday, November 27.

Stuff has also seen a separate memo written by the party’s then acting treasurer, John Thorn, to the “board of directors”, dated May 5, 2017. It reveals that the foundation was originally proposed to be a “capital-protected fund”, meaning contributions would never be spent, only profits from the fund’s investments. It was originally meant to be operated “at arm’s length” from the board.

The memo states the foundation would be modelled on the National Party’s National Foundation, which is a capital-protected fund. It states: “there can be little doubt that the model is legally sound and is operated in a manner that meets all legal and ethical obligations”.

However, previous Stuff stories have revealed the New Zealand First Foundation actually operated as a party slush fund. The capital was spent on all manner of party expenses, including campaign headquarters, office furniture, wages and other campaign costs. Some donors who thought they were donating to the party were actually donating to the foundation.

This won’t be helpful for Peters or NZ First in the last two days of the election campaign, but it’s unlikely to do much more damage either at this stage.

National’s desperate attacks

National have had problems with bad polls and with MP candidates promoting themselves and not the party, and running nutty attacks like Alfred Ngaro – see National MP Alfred Ngaro accused of spreading ‘gross piece of misinformation’ on Facebook.

Judith Collins did something about that – Collins intervenes after controversial abortion post:

Collins said Ngaro’s views weren’t shared by the party.

“You know, he’s someone who passionately believes exactly what he’s put up there and I don’t and and neither does the party.”

Collins said MPs get help with their social media, and in this case it was his own views and shouldn’t have had National Party branding on it.

It sounds like a concession that Ngaro is running his own campaign. That suggests National have poor control over their campaign and their candidates.

On campaigning yesterday: Good day/bad day: The leader walking on sunshine

In the same town, National leader Judith Collins is being undermined by her own candidates. Former leaders Todd Muller and Simon Bridges have been going merrily off-message with full page newspaper ads and billboards showing their photos – but no mention of Collins. Strategy: two ticks for the local candidates

But Collins has taken to attacks in her campaigning as well. Perhaps she sees it as a last ditch effort to save her leadership, as National seems beyond saving this election.

Collins was even more off-message herself, with some provocative rhetoric in which she blamed the personal “weakness” of overweight people for the country’s obesity problems. And the day got worse: she compared exploratory gas drilling to a pregnancy ultrasound scan. That’s a metaphor too uncomfortable to contemplate.

RNZ: Obese people must take responsibility for ‘personal choices’

When told that some had called her comments heartless, Collins said: “Do you know what is heartless? Is actually thinking someone else can cure these issues. We can all take personal responsibility and we all have to own up to our little weaknesses on these matters.

“Do not blame systems for personal choices.”

To an extent Collins is right here, but this won’t win over many votes, and is more likely to lose some.

RNZ: Judith Collins says Jacinda Ardern ‘lied’ about Covid border testing

Collins began her morning campaigning with a transport policy combined with an attack on the Greens’ wealth tax in Grenada, but later turned her attention squarely on Ardern and Covid-19.

She told a public meeting at Waikanae Bowling Club that Ardern and her government had “let Covid in” and Ardern had “lied” about the testing of border staff.

“When she says she went hard and fast she went slow and pathetic, and actually the other thing she did was she lied to us about what was happening and I’m happy to say that on the record – she lied.

“Gee I hope she sues me for it. Happy to prove it.”

Support for Ardern and for Labour surged due too their handling of Covid so it’s hard to see what Collins is trying to achieve here.

RNZ: Judith Collins’ final week attacks ‘bizarre’, ‘desperate’ – pundits

“Her incentives to do that are, she’s looking at bleeding a fair few votes to other parties on the centre right, in particular ACT, and … it’s an attempt to inject some relevance and appear as if the contest is a one-on-one battle between the National leader and the Labour leader.”

“I think that when you start accusing a party leader we know has very high favourability ratings, very high trust levels, calling them a liar, that you’re not going for median voters, you’re not going for those centre voters there.

“You’re really trying to appeal to that base.”

The language being employed by Collins doesn’t “come from a position of strength”, he says.

The problem for Collins is the National base seems to have shrunk substantially. The essential swing voters are unlikely to be impressed by her attacks.

And trying to sound strong when you’re obviously in a weak position is unlikely to fool anyone.

Former United Future leader Peter Dunne thinks Collins’ comments were “a little bizarre”.

“I think they reflect the fact that National’s now not looking to win over uncommitted voters, so much as hold its own base in line, and I think this is what these comments were directed at.”

“I think National now is in a hold-the-line mode, rather than a win mode.”

“This election is very unusual in the way it’s panned out. I think National has gone from earlier in the year, pre-Covid, looking more than likely to win the election, to now looking most unlikely to do so. And I think they’ve had some trouble adjusting to the change in public mood.

“That’s why some of the comments do sound pretty desperate.

The pressure of imminent and heavy defeat seems to be taking it’s toll.

University of Auckland politics lecturer Dr Lara Greaves says it’s been a long campaign and a “very” long year.

She says it’s hard to know if Collins’ negativity is a strategy or not.

“It’s kind of unclear exactly who she is trying to appeal to here. I mean at this point, around half of the voters have voted. It’s not clear whether this is something that a swing voter or fence-sitter would be that into.

“Potentially she is trying to look towards that National Party base, trying to take some voters from ACT, or some old New Zealand First voters from those segments that are a little more fiery and would view some of those comments she’s made today as a little more acceptable.”

She doesn’t necessarily think it will win over swing voters.

“I think realistically, she’s just trying to save the furniture, and it’s not really clear that this is a good strategy for that.”

National have had a poor term, a poor year and a poor campaign that seems to be a shambles. Those MPs who survive – they may lose up to a third of their MPs – will have a big job to do to repair the damage and rebuild next term.

More details on NZ First Foundation SFO charges

More details on the charges against two people in relation to NZ First Foundation handling of NZ First Party donations have been revealed, but the identities of the two people charged are still suppressed pending a reserved decision.

RNZ: Pair charged after SFO’s investigation accused of using ‘fraudulent device’

The pair charged after the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation are accused of using a “fraudulent device, trick or stratagem” to secure more than $700,000 then used to pay expenses for the New Zealand First party.

Two people have been charged with obtaining by deception after the SFO’s investigation into the foundation and its handling of donations.

Charging documents released to RNZ today show the two defendants used more than $700,000 in a “fraudulent device, trick or stratagem” to pay expenses for the New Zealand First party.

It was more than $740,000 of donations.

They say the pair used deception to obtain control over $677,885 deposited into the bank account of the New Zealand First Foundation account between 21 April 2017 and 14 February 2020.

The defendants are also charged with using $68,996 deposited into a bank account of a company run by one of the defendants between 31 October 2015 and 20 October 2017.

“Those undeclared funds thereby become available to [a company run by one of the defendants]/New Zealand First Foundation to use as the defendants saw fit, and were used to pay expenses of the party and to develop a fundraising database for the benefit of the party and [a company run by one of the defendants].”

The New Zealand First party took the SFO to the High Court last month seeking to suppress the announcement of the charges and the existence of their court action until after a new government has been formed.

The court ruled against the party, saying there was “a significant public interest in the New Zealand voting public being informed during an election campaign about criminal charges of serious fraud against people or organisations related to political parties”.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has said his party has been completely exonerated by the investigation and stressed the foundation and party are entirely separate entities.

Peters repeated his ‘completely exonerated’ claim in last night’s leaders’ debate but that looks ridiculous.

He also said last night:

“I have welcomed the Serious Fraud Office inquiry from day one, and I welcome its outcome. Let me tell you one thing – I’ve got rid of two former Serious Fraud [Office] leaders – two, not one – and I’m not concerned about this at all.”

That also sounds like nonsense to me considering the lengths the party went to to try to hush up any mention of the case.

Meanwhile Labour is having their own problems: Ginny Andersen tells voters she’s been cleared by Commission, but Labour hasn’t

Labour’s Hutt South candidate, Ginny Andersen, has been cleared by the Electoral Commission for any potential wrongdoing in a local electorate scandal.

However, the Electoral Commission is still looking into potential wrongdoing by the Labour Party which has not declared the very low rent it has received for its Hutt South office as a donation.

National wobbles

A bad day for National today.

This morning from Newshub – Leaked email: National MP criticises Judith Collins’ ‘highly problematic idea’ of reviewing Auckland Council

Newshub has been leaked an email showing National MP Denise Lee criticising leader Judith Collins’ plan to review Auckland Council as a “highly problematic idea”.

Collins announced on Monday a review of Auckland Council to the surprise of her Auckland Council spokesperson Lee.

Lee described it as a “highly problematic idea” in an email to her caucus colleagues. She also panned it as “another working group” and said it would be “a nightmare”.

In the email, Lee says bypassing her altogether was “incredibly poor form and displays a shockingly bad example of poor culture”.

Collins sighed when asked if the policy had been made on the hoof, and said it had been planned for weeks, despite Lee knowing nothing about it.

“Actually Jenna, it’s been prepared for a couple of weeks,” she said.

Collins spoke about the policy during an interview with Newstalk ZB on Monday morning, and cited it as the reason why Lee was not aware of it.

“Because I was doing the radio show,” she told Newshub.

This is the first overt display of caucus dissent we have seen from National on the campaign and it’s a doozy – criticizing the decision-making of Collins and the culture she’s created.

This afternoon: National MP Denise Lee now ‘accepts’ Auckland Council policy she criticised in leaked email

Lee, who is the Opposition’s spokesperson for local government in Auckland, also took issue with Collins bypassing her altogether during the decision-making process. She described it as “incredibly poor form” and “a shockingly bad example of poor culture”.

Lee wasn’t the only MP upset by it; another National MP contacted Newshub on Monday to say Collins is consistently “making up policy on the hoof” and “creating division” within the party.

Lee says she spoke to Collins after the email was publicised.

“Yesterday I sent an email to my fellow MPs which was intended for internal purposes only. I completely disagree with the actions of the person who leaked the email and have since spoken with our party leader Judith Collins,” Lee said in a statement on Tuesday.

“I accept the leadership’s decision about the policy announcement which acknowledges that Auckland Council needs to lift its performance.

“I remain focused on winning the seat of Maungakiekie and unreservedly support Judith Collins as leader and future Prime Minister.”

1 News: Nats MP Denise Lee says she ‘unreservedly supports’ Judith Collins after leaked email criticising leader

Judith Collins denied a division in her party when questioned by media today.

Collins said “one of the joys” of being party leader was that she makes the decisions.

“I’m not making up policy on the hoof, so number one leaders do make decisions, that’s part of leadership,” she said.

“During campaigns, sometimes the leader just has to go out and make that announcement and that’s the way it works.

“I understand that the MP involved, it’s her first time campaigning as an MP. The thing is that that’s what leaders do, Miss Ardern calls it the captain’s call, I call it the leader’s call.”

Lee is not inexperienced at campaigning as implied by Collins. She campaigned for National last election, she has campaigned for Auckland Coumcil and was elected in 2013 and 2017, and for United Future in the 2008 general election. She is the daughter of ex-MP Graeme lee.

And a Twitter spat:

Auckland Covid alert level

Covid hasn’t been getting as much attention here in New Zealand lately, with most interest in the US and President trump in hospital having caught the virus.

Most of the country has been at Alert Level 1, which means life as more or less normal.

But Auckland is still on Alert level 2. A decision will be made on whether that will be changed today.

Meantime Australia opening up some areas to travel from New Zealand, but there’s a complication – if you travel to NSW or NT you will still have to do 14 days isolation when you come back to New Zealand. If you go to Aus on holiday, who pays for your stay in Hotel Isolation when you come back? I don’t know if that has been addressed.

UK – Covid effects

From Missy in the UK:


As with most of the world COVID has been the main story and the way the Government has dealt with it. This week however came stories that are starting to show the non-economic impact of the Government’s lockdown and concentration on COVID.

It is now estimated that there will be at least 75,000 extra (preventable) deaths from cancer due to the NHS stopping all ‘non-essential’ treatments (what that meant in the early part of the year was non-COVID treatment), and therefore removing not only treatment but diagnosis for cancers. At least 1 million women have missed breast cancer screening, previous statistics suggest this will translate into 8,000 positive tests for Breast Cancer, meaning these women have missed out on early diagnosis and early treatment, increasing their chances of dying, if there are similar numbers for other cancers then it truly is scary.

On top of that on two separate occasions we have had thousands of people removed from the official death figure from COVID, and it is expected that only about .01% of the COVID deaths are not from those with pre-existing conditions, many of whom possibly would have died this year anyway.

We are staring down the barrel of a possible further lockdown for winter, though the politicians keep saying they don’t want that, however, it is hard to believe them as it is no different to what was being said in March just before the lockdown.

The threat of new lockdown is in place despite very few cases and hospital admissions, deaths from COVID are currently about 5 times lower than flu deaths – which are about average.


UK totals from Worldometer as at 1 October 2020:

  • Total cases – 453,264
  • Cases per 1 million population – 6,668
  • Total deaths – 42,143
  • Deaths per 1 million population – 620

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/uk/

Judgments – NZ First v SFO

Published judgments in the legal wrangling between the NZ First Party and the Serious Fraud Office.

JUDGMENT OF PALMER J (24 September 2020)

Summary

The Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) intends to issue a public
statement announcing that the SFO has filed a criminal charge of “obtaining by deception” against two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation (the Foundation) electoral funding case. The two defendants are not Ministers, sitting MPs, candidates at the election or members of their staff. The New Zealand First Party (NZ First) applies for orders prohibiting the Director from issuing the statement until after a government has been formed following the General Election on 17 October 2020. NZ First also applies for this application and all matters relating to it to be suppressed until the same time.

I do not consider NZ First’s case for judicial review is particularly strong, on the basis of the evidence and information before me. There is no evidence before me that the Director’s decision to issue the public statement was influenced by political considerations or that the timeframe she announced for the investigation’s completion was set because of the election. I accept there is a risk of confusion and a negative impact on its electoral prospects. However, I consider there is a significant public interest in the New Zealand voting public being informed during an election campaign about criminal charges of serious fraud against people or organisations related to political parties. Ultimately, I consider the public interest in transparency outweighs the inconvenience of the announcement to NZ First. It will be up to the political system including the media, rather than the judicial system, to ensure the transparency of the announcement is not obscured by confusion and misinformation.

Result

I decline the application for interim orders. Costs of the application will lie where they fall, given the urgency with which the application was dealt with by all parties and the seriousness of the interests at stake.

Mr Pilditch indicated, if the decision went against NZ First, he would need time to consider the decision and get instructions, including about whether to continue to seek suppression of the application and, I infer, whether to appeal. For that purpose, he requested that the existence of the application be suppressed for a few days after my judgment. Otherwise, the right to appeal would be rendered nugatory. Mr Dixon agreed that suppression of the existence of the application should lapse within 48 hours to allow Mr Pilditch to obtain instructions. But that period would fall over the weekend.

I accept suppression of the application and this judgment for a brief period is warranted in order to allow NZ First to consider the judgment and its position. But the urgency and significance of the issues, the conclusion I have reached, and the interests of NZ First and the public in allowing as much time as possible for clarification of the situation before the election, suggest a slightly faster timetable than counsel proposed. I make an interim order suppressing this judgment, the application and all matters relating to it, which lapses at 5 pm Friday 25 September 2020 unless the Court otherwise orders.

ORAL JUDGMENT OF PALMER J (25 September 2020)

Should voters have known about NZ First Foundation charges?

Winston Peters is justified in feeling annoyed about the timing of the SFO announcement that they had “filed a charge of ‘Obtaining by Deception’ against two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation electoral funding case”.

The charge was filed on 23 September but the announcement was delayed due to a flurry of legal actions taken by lawyers acting for NZ First.

Tim Murphy covers the legal proceedings here – NZ First’s desperate flurry for court secrecy

As the Serious Fraud Office prepared to announce charges against two people in its New Zealand First Foundation investigation, the New Zealand First political party and one of the accused were so desperate for secrecy they launched a blizzard of legal action claiming to involve three courts at once.

Even the courts and judges appeared to struggle to keep up with applications being sought, withdrawn, granted, appealed and delayed as New Zealand First and Co tried to stop the news of the “obtaining by deception” charges, which carry penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment, from being made public.

In the end, the public’s right to know such information in the lead-up to the election won the day.

While the timing is tough on Peters and NZ First, do voters have a right to know about the charges? Suppressing this information from voters until after the election may have been a worse option. Murphy also tweeted:

With Peters and NZ First so heavily involved in this it is impossible to separate the Party from the Foundation.

Peters has attempted to do this, saying “today’s decision by the Serious Fraud Office exonerates the New Zealand First Party of any electoral law breaches”. It doesn’t exonerate anyone.

As the people being charged aren’t current MPs or candidates it seems fair to suppress their names for now, but it’s ridiculous claiming it has nothing to do with the Party. The Foundation was set up by the Party for the Party.

Andrew Geddis via RNZ: NZ First Foundation arrangement ‘unprecedented’ – law expert

The New Zealand First Foundation arrangement with the New Zealand First Party “is completely unprecedented,” law expert Professor Andrew Geddis told Checkpoint.

“The NZ First Party has tried to draw a distinction… between its foundation and the National Party, which has a foundation as well. But the National Party foundation is run completely in line with electoral law, and is simply a way of gaining long term donations which are then invested,” Professor Geddis said.

“This was a foundation where people would put money into the [NZ First] foundation rather than give it directly to the party. Because it was put into the foundation it wasn’t being declared to the Electoral Commission as the law required, and then the money was being spent on New Zealand First Party activities rather than the party spending its own money.

“So it was like a shadow parallel funding structure that paid no attention to electoral law, even though it ought to have.

“It’s very hard to say how these two things can be separate, when it was the New Zealand First Party that decided it wanted to set this thing up, and the NZ First Party benefited from the NZ First Foundation paying all its bills,” Professor Geddis told Checkpoint. 

“So I don’t care what technical legalities you throw at it, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably a duck.”

In response to Peters’ warning the case cannot be discussed as it is sub judice, Professor Geddis said: 

“We can’t talk about the people who has been charged, we can’t speculate on that because there’s name suppression, but in terms of discussing the outline of the case, discussing the background facts and so on, those are all in the public record. 

“Sub judice is something people throw around when they don’t want to talk about an issue. It doesn’t mean you can’t talk about anything to do with the case.”

Obviously it doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the case (except for what is suppressed). Peters had his say at the media conference yesterday and in his statement, and closed saying ““Neither I nor any other party is allowed to make any further comment on this matter because it is now sub-judice.”

That’s just an attempt to stop questions being ask, or is an excuse to not answer questions.

But predictably it hasn’t stopped comment.

Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): Winston Peters’ smoke and mirrors fails to hide the truth

The news amounted to a validation of an investigation by Stuff journalist Matt Shand published last November, and subsequent reporting from RNZ’s Guyon Espiner, reporting that financial records showed donations to the foundation had been used to fund an array of campaign and political expenses, but with the donors’ identities not disclosed.

Not that you would have learned as much from the first few minutes of the New Zealand First leader’s remarks.

The party had been “fully cleared”, Peters claimed – largely ignoring the fact that two people had been charged, and instead leaning on the SFO’s clarification that neither of those was a sitting MP, staffer, candidate, or current party member.

Of course that doesn’t exclude people who may have been any of those things at some time in the past.

He claimed “a James Comey-level error of judgement” had been perpetrated against his party, harking back to the former FBI director’s ill-fated decision to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server on the eve of the 2016 United States election.

But that analogy crumbles at the merest examination. The primary problem with Comey’s decision was that Clinton had already been investigated and cleared over the matter earlier in the year, with the FBI director publicly reopening the matter against official guidelines only to reach the same verdict.

The SFO has clearly found enough evidence to feel a prosecution is worth pursuing, and while the accused are certainly entitled to a presumption of innocence, a decision not to lay any charges whatsoever would have been another matter altogether.

The New Zealand First leader has habitually sought to distance himself and his party from the foundation’s operations, a strategy he turned to on Tuesday: “The foundation is an entirely separate entity [from the party] but that distinction will be lost on some, and deliberately confused by others.”

At a superficial, technical level, Peters is correct. But that ignores the broader truth: that the foundation appears to have funded a number of the party’s activities in recent years, from a guest appearance by boxer Joseph Parker at its 2017 conference to legal advice for an MP and a swish new website and donations platform.

The specifics of how foundation money was spent have yet to be tested at trial, but New Zealand First has not contested that it benefited financially from the trust – merely that it believed the foundation’s structure was legal, and in any case was separate from the party.

But separate does not mean independent, and if the party has benefited from the foundation it seems fair for it to take some responsibility for any wrongdoing, even if not in a strictly legal sense.

But Peters continues to distance himself from any involvement or responsibility.

Technicalities may make a difference in a legal Court, but not so much in the court of political opinion, and that seems to have had a say in polls through this year.

While the February announcement of the SFO investigation may have played some role in its electoral decline, it is nobody’s fault but the foundation’s if (as the agency has concluded) it has a case to answer in court, while there are myriad other unrelated factors that have hobbled the party. 

Polls have fluctuated quite a bit for NZ First through this term, but have been low a number of times prior to the February 2020 announcement. here are some:

  • February 2018 – 2.6% (CB)
  • May 2018 – 2.4% (RR)
  • January 2019 – 2.9% (RR)
  • February 2019 – 3.0% (CB)
  • March 2019 – 2.3% (RR)
  • May 2019 – 2.8% (RR)
  • January 2020 – 2.5% (RR), 3.6% (RR)
  • February 2020 – 3.3% (CB)

The highest NZ First polled in 2018 was 5%. The highest they polled in 2019 was 4.3%. So they were struggling before the SFO investigation.

National and Labour have also been connected to SFO investigations this term. It would have been unfair on them if NZ First had their connections to an investigation and charges suppressed until after the election.

NZ First may even benefit from the current publicity, something they have been struggling to get much of this term.

SFO files charges in relation to NZ First Foundation donations

A media release from the Serious Fraud Office:

Published 29 September 2020

The SFO has filed a charge of ‘Obtaining by Deception’ against two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation electoral funding case. The charges were filed on 23 September.

The defendants have interim name suppression and so cannot be named or identified at this time. We note, however, that neither defendant is a Minister, sitting MP, or candidate in the upcoming election (or a member of their staff), or a current member of the New Zealand First party.

The SFO has no further comment.

Media release from NZ First:

New Zealand First Fully Exonerated Of All SFO Charges

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters says today’s decision by the Serious Fraud Office exonerates the New Zealand First Party of any electoral law breaches.

Having fully investigated the allegations the SFO has cleared the New Zealand First Party, all of its Ministers, all sitting members of the New Zealand First party, all candidates standing for election and all party employees of any wrongdoing.

“It is a relief after months of this cloud hanging over the party that we have been fully cleared,” stated Mr Peters.

“Unlike the recent National Party donation scandal, no party member has been implicated or charged by the SFO.”

Notwithstanding the cloud being lifted, New Zealand First’s leader also expressed his dismay at the timing and conduct of the SFO decision.

“Whilst the SFO has confirmed that no New Zealand First Minister, parliamentarian or party member broke any electoral laws, the timing of its decision to lay charges against the Foundation constitutes a James Comey-level error of judgement,” said Mr Peters.

“It’s an appalling intrusion in a period when the people begin to think seriously about the shape of their next government.

“It has been amply demonstrated that FBI Director Comey’s groundless findings impacted on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Allegations were made about me in 2008 which the SFO found to be baseless.

“While we respect its independence, the SFO cannot justify the timing of its decision.

“It is quite shocking for any who believe in fair elections that the SFO, one day from overseas voting and four days from advance voting beginning, would interpose itself into the General Election in this poorly conceived fashion.

“The Foundation is an entirely separate entity from the New Zealand First Party but that distinction will be lost on some, and deliberately confused by others,” said Mr Peters.

“The way in which this investigation has been conducted raises serious questions about the conduct of the Serious Fraud Office.

“In my opinion, the SFO has acted unreasonably and without justification both in the way in which the investigation has been conducted and in public announcements the SFO has chosen to make about the investigation in breach of the Serious Fraud Office’s own written policy of not commenting on investigations until the first appearance of any accused facing charges,” stated Mr Peters.

“As a result, the New Zealand First Party has instructed its lawyers to issue proceedings in the High Court against the Serious Fraud Office seeking declarations that the Serious Fraud Office has amounted to an abuse of its statutory powers and has been unreasonable.

“Compounding the SFO’s poor judgement are three other matters. First, the SFO’s still incomplete investigation of foreign money flowing into the National Party. We know they were provided significantly more serious information about the pernicious foreign influence campaign that penetrated the National Party. Yet only a portion of those electoral breaches resulted in charges. Why?

“Second, if voters need to hear from the SFO before the election where are its findings about Labour’s mayoral electoral funding in both Christchurch and Auckland?

“Third, what about the SFO’s investigation into donations made to Labour in 2017?

“How is that fair? It is not.

“Voters will judge for themselves the fairness of the SFO’s actions.

“Notwithstanding today’s exoneration by the SFO, taxpayer-funded and other journalists, those who have spilled litres of ink in trying to destroy New Zealand First, must now confront the truth that not one Minister, MP, or party member has been anything other than fully exonerated,” stated Mr Peters.

“The point also needs to be repeated to those same journalists attempting to smear me and my party, that New Zealand First is completely separate from the Foundation.

“Neither I nor any other party is allowed to make any further comment on this matter because it is now sub-judice.”

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