SFO investigating National Party donation

More problems for the National Party and Simon Bridges after a complaint made by ex-National MP Jami-lee Ross to the police has been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

This is an investigation, not a finding, but it doesn’t look flash for Bridges or National.

Newsroom: SFO to investigate National donation allegations

The Serious Fraud Office will investigate allegations of electoral donation fraud levelled against the National Party and its leader Simon Bridges by rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross.

Ross has claimed vindication over the news, but Bridges has expressed confidence his own hands are clean and called on party officials to fully cooperate with the SFO inquiry.

Police started looking into the allegations after Ross spoke to them last year, but now appear to have elevated the issue into specialist hands.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, police said they had referred a complaint they received last October to the SFO, “in relation to the disclosure of political donations under the Electoral Act”.

“The complaint has been referred to the SFO as they hold the appropriate mandate to look further into matters raised by the investigation to date.”

Police said they could not comment on their own investigation while the SFO was looking into the allegations.

Also from Newsroom: Jami-Lee Ross rides again

The former National MP accused of bullying and cheating during his time in Parliament has written to all his Botany constituents asking not to be judged “on a month where personal and health-related matters became a distraction”.

The Serious Fraud investigation was made public yesterday in a two sentence statement from police:

Ross held a press conference claiming he had been doubted repeatedly but each time in this controversy had proven his critics wrong.

He’s a bit premature there, nothing has been proven about the donation yet.

Police refuse to reveal any details of Dowie text inquiry

A police investigation into an alleged crime committed by a Member of Parliament is newsworthy – especially when the complainant or claimed victim is also an MP.

It’s common with major newsworthy crimes for the police to issue statements and have media conferences, with some outline and details of the investigation being made public.

But with investigations involving politicians they often if not always seem to prefer secrecy. There is no obvious reason for this, apart perhaps from protecting politicians from media mayhem.

David Fisher at NX Herald has used the OIA to seek information about an inquiry: Sarah Dowie and the text message inquiry – what the police won’t tell you

Police headquarters has pulled down the shutters on the investigation into the text message sent from National MP Sarah Dowie’s to Jami-Lee Ross.

Even basic details such as the date on which the complaint was laid and the part of the country where the investigating officer is based have been kept secret by police.

It came months after the end of their extra-marital relationship and included the words: “You deserve to die.”

Ross has previously said he did not make the complaint, which was received through the Crimestoppers freephone number.

Ross, 33, revealed the investigation just before his return to Parliament this year. It was a move which led to Dowie being named as one of the women with whom he had an extra-marital relationship while National MP for Botany.

Ross was obviously aware of the complaint and the means of making the complaint. It hasn’t been revealed whether this was due to contact with the police, or contact with the complainant.

Dowie said she was not aware of the complaint and had bot been contacted by the police.

Police headquarters had refused to make comment on the investigation, leading to the NZ Herald seeking specifics through the Official Information Act.

The sort of information sought was intended to place a context around the police inquiry involving a sitting MP – an unusual occurrence in any Parliamentary term.

Details sought included the date Crimestoppers took the complaint, when it was passed to police and where in the country the investigation had been assigned.

Other details included the rank of the officer leading the investigation, whether he or she worked in a specialised police area and the amount of time spent carrying out the inquiry.

Detective Inspector David Kirby, manager of the National Criminal Investigations Group, said: “The investigation is still ongoing and whilst the investigation is ongoing police is not in a position to go into specific details of the complaint.”

Kirby quoted the section of the Act relied on to refuse providing the information, which says OIA requests can be knocked back if doing otherwise would “prejudice the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences, and the right to a fair trial”.

Other areas police ruled out were the date on which Ross had been told there was an investigation, whether he had been interviewed – if at all – and whether Cabinet ministers had been told of the inquiry.

if the police had not been in contact with Ross when he revealed the complaint had been made it would indicate that Ross knew via the complainant. He has not said he had no connection to the complaint, just that he had not made the complaint himself.

It has prompted a former senior police officer to ask: “Why would this investigation be treated any differently to any other investigation?”

The blanket withholding of basic information, commonly released by police, was at odds with normal practice, said a former detective, who would not be named.

Do politicians get special treatment from the police? That’s how it appears. If so, why?

A basic tenet of our system is ‘open justice’. This sort of statement is comment in court judgments:

The starting point is the principle of open justice and the right of the media to report on decisions of court as reflected in s 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. The principle in favour of open justice should only be departed from in circumstances where the interests of justice so require, and only to the extent necessary to serve those interests.

See Erceg v Erceg [2016] NZSC 135, [2017] 1 NZLR 310 at [2]

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990:

Freedom of expression

14. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.

But that is often balanced against the right to a fair trial, and this was given as a reason by the police for secrecy in this case. Claiming a right to a fair trial is a common grounds for seeking name suppression,  but in this case the names of both alleged offender and claimed victim are already known – because the claimed victim Ross revealed it to media.

So Ross chose to go public for political PR purposes, but despite this the police are refusing to give out any information or context, as seems common with inquiries involving politicians.

The difference in this case is a politician claims to be the victim and has already publicised the inquiry. This is an unusual situation.

Politicians are usually subject to more scrutiny than the general public, but not when the police are involved.

JLR, the media and a difficult mental health question

There have been a number of puzzling aspects about how the health of Jami-Lee Ross has played out in public. One obvious one is that it has played out in public as it has – Ross has come newsworthiness as an MP, but people with mental health problems tend to deal with them as privately as possible. Ross is not the first MP to have mental health problems they have had to deal with, it is a very stressful environment to work in.

The media have reported on this as they should, and I’m aware of the trickiness of reporting on someone’s mental health, especially when attempted suicide is mentioned. But I am surprised how they have done it unquestioningly. They seem to have taken Ross’ word for how things happened and how it affected him.

And I was surprised to see media (2) jump in with coverage of a Ross tweet on Saturday where Ross replied to a tweet from Bridges, saying “Are you sure you’re the right person to be criticising others on the topic of mental health??”

Stuff: Jami-Lee Ross takes Simon Bridges to task over mental health tweet

Newshub: Jami-Lee Ross rips into Simon Bridges in mental health tweet

One could easily assume that this is exactly the sort of publicity that Ross was aiming for – helping him attack his former parliamentary colleague and leader, despite Ross claiming some time ago that he bore no grudges.

Stuff went to Ross for further comment:

Ross told Stuff on Saturday afternoon he would be using his platform as an independent MP to “raise issues which are important”.

“Mental health services in New Zealand urgently need more funding,” he said.

“The government Simon and I were part of let the sector down and let the system reach crisis point.

“We now owe it to patients and mental health practitioners to work with the government constructively.”

I think this raises an important issue – how much should the media assist Ross with publicity?

And a more important one – should they do this without scrutinising Ross and his mental health claims. Ross chose to go public on mental health, and he continues to use mental health as a way of criticising his former leader and party.

While the media seems to have avoided questioning Ross’s mental health claims, some questions have been raised at Kiwiblog before now, and again yesterday.

I’m happy to take the downticks but I call “bullshit” on jlr’s “mental illness”.

I am not “mental health expert” but have had a couple of mates over the years suffer from a mental issue and a couple of my eldest’s school friend as well. Some involving committal and if that tosser claims he was “committed” then released after 24 hours then he’s full of shit. Plus, it was over a weekend so there would have been less “professionals” on duty to assess, commit and release.

I wondered at the time about how quickly Ross was released from care after he was committed after claiming to have attempted suicide. It had seemed like a very rapid recovery. And it was followed by a sustained attack on Bridges, Paula Bennett and National – that seemed an unusual thing to happen when someone was suffering from a severe mental health problem.

And:

My mental health meltdown happened in early November 2017, and I have only returned to work on a part-time basis since December 2018. Unsurprisingly, I am sceptical about how quickly Ross has supposedly recovered.

I can understand that media would be cautious about what they report on with Ross for fear of precipitating mental health problems, especially with talk of suicide in the mix.

I find it more difficult to understand some media giving Ross publicity in his ongoing attacks, without looking further into what Ross has claimed.

For example, is Ross the right person to be criticising others on the topic of mental health? And is it fair for him to use his mental health issues as a weapon against others? Bridges has vowed not to respond to Ross’ ongoing taunts, which is wise, as he would be at risk of Ross using that against him as he has done with other things.

Cameron Slater was going hard out on Whale Oil presumably on behalf of Ross attacking Bridges and Bennett and National until Slater had his own serious health problem.

While Slater is no longer posting at Whale Oil it was perhaps of interest to see Juana Atkins post yesterday, ironically What a tangled web we weave, applauding the media attention given to Ross.

If Simon Bridges thinks that the Jami-Lee Ross and Sarah Dowie story is going to go away he is wrong. The media are not going to let it go away.

He told the caucus on Thursday that what Jami-Lee Ross said about his staff member being put up to talking to the media by Deputy leader Paula Bennett was all BS. He clearly hasn’t considered the possibility that Jami-Lee Ross may have taken very, very detailed notes. If he keeps repeating that assertion, he may live to regret it.

This is similar to claims and threats that Slater had been making. Slater has a history of making claims and insinuations of having damning evidence, but failing to front up with any evidence.  A trick he shared with Winston Peters was attacking people and making insinuations, and trying too get the media to find the evidence they claimed to have.

A smart journalist would hound Paula Bennett until she says again that she had no involvement in setting up the Newsroom hit job on Jami-Lee Ross. Her continued lying is going to get her and Bridges into an awful bind that will likely cost them their jobs when the truth finally comes out.

Smart journalists should be very sceptical about encouragement to take particular lines of inquiry in this.

Smart journalists should have been asking why Slater and Whale Oil and Atkins have been either working with or using Ross so much in their joint attacks on National.

And I think it would be fair for smart journalists to be asking about the actual mental health situation with Ross.  So far Ross has been able to dish out free shots with the willing help of some media.

Ross has chosen to continue to go public using mental health as a political weapon. This deserves further scrutiny.

Something else that deserves further scrutiny (from Kiwiblog comments):

peterwn:

Interesting, Jami effectively has a ‘hot line’ to the media via his Twitter account since various journos ‘follow’ him. What do you have to do to get a similar ‘hot line’ to the media

Keeping Stock:

I suspect the “hotline” is not so much from Ross as from one of the people who is “advising” him.

And speaking of Ross; is there any truth in the allegation he had an extra-marital relationship with a journalist, and if so, isn’t it as much in the public interest for the journalist to be named as it was to name Sarah Dowie?

This is pertinent given that journalists have aided Ross with his attacks and claims from the start of this with the reporting of the leaking of Bridges’ expenses.

Journalists are still helping Ross with his attacks.

It’s not just Ross’ mental health that they are not questioning. It is also the complicity in Ross’ affairs of at least one person in their own ranks that they are sweeping under the carpet.

More important questions for National than ex-lover spat and personal revenge

The turning rogue of Jami-Lee Ross and the text of Sarah Dowie has been a big story for months now, but a part of the issue that has been largely overwhelmed by the social saga side is what this has exposed about the National Party. Some have recently written about this.

Graham Adams (Noted & Stuff) looks at and beyond Parliament’s star-crossed lovers who crossed each other, starting with Jami-Lee Ross’s maiden speech in Parliament 2011.

In his speech, Ross also quoted the school’s aim to produce “good and useful citizens”. Most people will conclude he isn’t good but he has certainly been useful already if you look beyond the narrow interests of the National Party to the wider interests of the nation.

Ross has given us insights into our political life that only an insider could know, including how donations are handled and how much influence some donors expect (or hope) to have over candidate selection in the National Party.

His disclosures about wealthy Chinese donors has also sparked increased interest in Professor Anne-Marie Brady’s research into how United Front activities run by those close to the Chinese Communist Party have infiltrated our political life.

And Ross could prove himself to be even more useful if he told us much, much more about how our politics are entwined with the push by the CCP to influence perceptions of China overseas and policy towards it.

For starters, he might enlighten us on the role of Dr Jian Yang — that mysterious figure in National’s caucus who was part of China’s intelligence community and a member of the Communist Party, and who refuses to speak to journalists (or at least English-speaking ones).

It would be entirely appropriate for Ross to perform this service, not least because in his speech he declared himself to be passionately opposed to socialism.

He should be very happy then to expose the deep links between National — the party purportedly of “individual freedom and choice” (number 4 on its list of values) — and the communist regime in China that is one of the most repressive and repugnant on the planet.

Some will think it’s the very least a man who professed in 2011 to be devoted to “individual freedom” and who in 2018 dedicated himself to exposing the “rot within the National Party” could do.

Fran O’Sullivan (NZ Herald): Bigger issues to deal with than emotive texts

There are more pertinent issues at play.

Despite the public front National has adopted on the donations issue, it has still not satisfactorily dealt with Ross’ claim that he was effectively asked to wash a $100,000 donation from Yikun Zhang by ensuring it was split into smaller amounts.

National Party apparatchiks denied there was a $100,000 donation. National Leader Simon Bridges said at the time a “large sum of money” came into the party from multiple sources through donations from Zhang and supporters through Ross’ electorate account in Botany in the first instance.

The issue here is one of “substance over form”.

Nor has Bridges dealt satisfactorily with the clear implication from the tapes that Ross leaked, of a prior conversation that suggested he favoured effectively trading positions for different ethnicities on National’s list, in return for donations.

These issues — which strike at the heart of democracy and business ethics — have been obscured in the general furore over Ross’ meltdown.

It is obvious that there is sufficient underlying truth to Ross’ claims on this score to have provoked senior National MPs to call for change.

Former Attorney-General and National MP Chris Finlayson was sufficiently exercised to use his valedictory speech in Parliament last year to say he was concerned over funding of political parties by non-nationals.

Finlayson called for both major parties to work together on party funding rules, saying it was his personal view that it should be illegal for non-nationals to donate to political parties.

“Our political system belongs to New Zealanders and I don’t like the idea of foreigners funding it … we need to work together to ensure our democracy remains our democracy.”

The issue has also festered with the long-serving veteran National MP Nick Smith who revealed to the Herald this week he also wants reforms to ensure the integrity of the NZ electoral system.

If Ross is of a decent mind he would chalk up a minor victory on this score as having focused National MPs’ attention on behind-the-scenes dealing in their party.

National is not going to wash its dirty linen in public but the allegations their former party
whip raised are of sufficient merit for police to finalise that particular probe.

I don’t think we can rely on Ross being ‘of a decent mind’, he seems more intent on personal revenge.

And we can’t rely on the Police to do a decent investigation of political funding, they seem to prefer to avoid political investigations.

Unfortunately I think that much of the media is more interested in the personal lives of politicians becoming public fodder.

But a proper examination of funding methods and of possible Chinese influence in the National Party is where journalist attention should be focussed

Who could trust Jami-Lee Ross now?

Could any woman trust Jami-Lee Ross to be faithful and honest in a relationship?

Could any woman trust Jami-Lee Ross to not reveal private communications if a relationship turned sour?

Could any MP or politician or party official or party member or voter or colleague trust Jami-Lee Ross to be faithful and honest  as an MP?

Could any MP or politician or party official or party member or voter or colleague trust trust Jami-Lee Ross to not reveal private communications if a relationship turned sour?

Could anyone trust Jami-Lee Ross not to secretly record communications for the purpose of using against you in the future?

Trust is probably more scarce than votes would be if Ross stood for re-election.

The only ones who appear to be standing by Ross are those who seem to think he can be used for their political purposes. Such as Winston Peters and NZ First.

Cameron Slater was full on using Ross before that abruptly ended when he had his stroke, Simon Lusk was also involved – he is known to have worked with both Slater and Ross in the past. And is on record as getting a thrill out of trashing people’s careers and or lives.

I think that whoever is involved in the current operation to return Ross to parliament and keep him in his electorate there is very little that can be trusted about them.

And – isn’t a bit coincidental that at the same time as Ross is accusing someone of inciting him to suicide, Whale Oil has been doing exactly the same thing in relation to Slater?

The Sarah Dowie media dam has burst, as has her political career

After Sarah Dowie was named by the Herald yesterday as the MP who had an affair with Jami-Lee Ross and who sent the text that is now revealed to be the subject of a police inquiry, the dam has burst in mainstream media, who had held back from naming her since October, despite Ross naming her on radio and being named frequently in social media.

Also revealed openly yesterday is that Dowie was one of the women who featured in Newsroom coverage of four women who claimed to have had bad experiences with Ross – see Profile of a narcissist in Four women speak out.

Fran O’Sullivan (via Facebook):

“Is the unnamed person in this Newsroom story Sarah Dowie? If so, I would suggest the police investigation is misdirected.”

But accepting one side of a relationship breakup is fraught with potential problems. There is often blame on both sides.

And there’s an issue when an MP makes serious anonymous accusations through the media, as Jock Anderson says:

Why does the media accept such allegations without naming the person making them??? They name the person against whom the allegations are made…

If a source is a primary complainer/alleger it is unsafe to give them anonymity…Otherwise they could say whatever they liked…And if it is good enough to name one it is good enough to name the other…

It’s up to any newsroom to talk the complainer round so they can be identified, otherwise what credibility can be put on what they say??? It’s far too easy to let unidentified complainers simple rabbit on without any checking or corroboration of what they say…When people are identified they are more careful about what they allege…It’s basic journalism…

Dowie may (or may not) solely be a victim of Ross, but she has done a number of things that I think it’s valid to question – like having a relationship with another MP which complicates (and potentially compromises) doing her job enormously, like sending the text, like biting back anonymously through the media, like not fronting up and outing herself.

This article by Graham Adams at Stuff is harsh on Dowie, but it may in the main be a fair enough critique: Parliament’s star-crossed lovers who crossed each other

It’s always an interesting — and often sobering — exercise to reread the maiden speeches of MPs years after their debuts in Parliament and to compare their stated values and ambitions with how they have fared since their first foray into the heady realm of national politics.

Dowie’s career as an MP is now severely compromised. If she doesn’t resign or stand down at the next election there will be a lot of pressure on National to stand her down. It looks like she has already lost a lot of support.

One thing that Dowie’s speech in 2014 made abundantly clear was that no one would ever be able to accuse her — the first female MP for Invercargill and a graduate in both law and environmental science — of modesty, despite her mentioning the virtues of humility.

She began by congratulating herself on her decisiveness in seizing the opportunities that had come her way on her path to Parliament. “I am mindful of the journey that I have travelled to be here. I am reflective on the definitive decisions I have made, the key opportunities I have seized, my discipline, my faith in the end goal…”

She went on to speak in favour of self-determination and making your own luck. She believed that you “reap what you sow” and that you should “play the hand you’re dealt” as well as you can, and “with hard work and perseverance, eventually things must go your way”.

Above all, her speech appeared to be designed to show her parliamentary colleagues that she was a true-blue Nat. She was one of them. They could count on her.

Four years later, it seems that her emphasis on personal responsibility was merely a handy slogan used to impress her House mates and not a guide to live by.

We now know that she thought it was a good idea to launch an anonymous hit-job on Newsroom against her former lover and fellow MP Jami-Lee Ross, in which she implied she was a victim and that she was sucked into the relationship by a very bad man who had pursued and flattered her.

So much for personal responsibility and self-determination you might think — or her avowed principle of fighting “hard but fair”. A fair fight would have seen her identifying herself as one of the authors of the Newsroom mugging at the time it was published.

It would also have included the fact that she was, like him, a married MP with two children, and that she was 10 years older than him and an experienced lawyer.

How different that anonymous attack would have appeared if readers had been given all that information at the time the article was published. Her casting herself as a victim would have seemed to many to be far-fetched and extremely self-serving.

While Ross clearly looks bad she doesn’t look very good herself in this.

Mike Houlahan (ODT): Dowie’s reign as Invercargill MP looks to be over

Sarah Dowie’s short-lived political career looks all but over.

The Invercargill MP from 2014 is almost certain not to be a National Party candidate in the 2020 election – assuming she does not resign beforehand.

Well-informed sources said the affair had caused turmoil in National party circles in Invercargill.

Several members of Ms Dowie’s electorate committee had resigned in recent months, their departures due to Ms Dowie’s behaviour and conduct.

”It doesn’t reflect the values of the National Party,” one source said.

The Otago Daily Times understands several members of Ms Dowie’s staff have also resigned. She is advertising for staff to work in her Wellington office.

Her political future looks bleak.

National have been let down badly twice now in Southland by new MPs, with Todd Barclay also crashing and burning in Clutha-Southland (his replacement has started promisingly though).

While the police complaint over the text could feasibly force Dowie out if she is charged and convicted I think this is unlikely, as the charge looks weak and motives behind it highly suspect, as does Ross’ claims around it.

But Dowie has more immediate problems to deal with. While she may be able to lay some of the blame on Ross and his dirty politics associates she also has to take responsibility for her actions and her predicament herself. Her position as an MP looks untenable to me.

 

Media finally report on Sarah Dowie in relation to JLR

For some reason there was blanket media silence on the identity of the National MP who had had a relationship with ex-National MP Jami-Lee Ross, and had sent him a text that had been reported widely and is now the subject of a police investigation.

But now the dam has burst. This had to come out in public. It was widely known anyway.

NZ Herald:  Police probe text allegedly sent from phone of MP Sarah Dowie to Jami-Lee Ross

Police are investigating a text message, allegedly sent from the phone of National Party MP Sarah Dowie, to her former colleague and ex lover Jami-Lee Ross.

https://sarahdowie.national.org.nz/

The police investigation is said to focus on whether the text message – which came after the break-up of their extra-marital relationship – constituted an incitement to self-harm, which is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Ross, 33, has previously named Invercargill MP Dowie, 43, as one of the women with whom he had an extra-marital relationship while National MP for Botany.

The text message included the words: “You deserve to die.”

Ross has claimed that is an incitement to suicide, even though he claims to have considered or attempted suicide a couple of months after receiving the text.

Ross initially received the message in August but has claimed reading it two months later led to considering self-harm. He was taken into mental health care shortly after.

The text message raised questions over whether there was a breach of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, passed under National and voted for by Dowie. The law regulated digital communications, including text messages, making it illegal to urge someone to self-harm.

The fact of the police investigation was revealed by Ross during a television interview. It was apparently sparked by a call to the Crimestoppers hotline. Ross said he did not lay the complaint.

Ross didn’t say if he knew who laid the complaint, or if they were associated with him.

Asked if Dowie had been aware of the investigation, the National Party leader’s office said she had not.

A spokesman said National Party leader Simon Bridges had also been unaware of the investigation.

This suggests that the police had not progressed the complaint as far as talking to the alleged offender.

Ross and Dowie were understood to have been in a relationship for more than two years. It is believed to have ended around May.

During that time, Dowie and Ross were both in marriages with children each. Dowie and her husband later separated.

Usually the private lives of MPs has been a no go subject for the media, but Jami-Lee Ross has forced this to become public.

This makes things difficult right now for Dowie, but it is remarkable that it has taken it this long to hit the media headlines.

I posted in November:  The non-naming of the National MP raises media issues. For some reason this post got a number of hits overnight.

Dowie should have pre-empted this instead of waiting for a media frenzy.

More (from Barry Soper): Sarah Dowie, the police inquiry, and the text from her phone

We have decided to name her following the police decision this week to investigate a text allegedly sent from her phone to her 33-year-old former lover during the early hours of a Saturday morning last August.

The decision to name Dowie in no way countenances the behaviour of Ross towards the women who have anonymously made claims of harassment and bullying against him.

It’s not the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s job to protect MPs when a police investigation is under way.

The text sent to Ross said: “Before you interpret this as your usual narc self – don’t. Interpret it as me – you are a f***ing ugly MF pig. Shave that f***ing tuft of hair off your f***ing front of skull head and own your baldness – you sweaty, fat, toe inturned mutant. You deserve to die and leave your children in peace and your wife out of torment – f***er!”

Ross says the text was one of the things that triggered a mental breakdown in October.

After re-reading it, he allegedly sent it to Dowie telling her “you get your wish,” before turning his phone off. After being alerted, the police found him south of Auckland.

Ross claims the police recently approached him about the text.

What Ross claims deserves further investigation, as does his current motives.

JLR: “…didn’t get everything right. I am sorry. I will do better.”

Closely following being given a platform on Newshub Jami-Lee Ross has posted a lengthy statement, including an apology of sorts, on Facebook.

In  particular he seems to be working on getting some support from the Botany electorate of which he is now an independent MP who is unlikely to be re-elected.


Leaving bitterness and hatred behind

The last time I actively took part in public debate, over three months ago, I found myself at the apex of a mental health crisis that became a life and death situation. My absence from Parliament and the media since then has understandably raised questions. I hope to now answer some of them.

I’ve been to hell and back. I almost lost everything, including my own life. I just can’t be driven by hatred anymore, or the pursuit of getting even with Simon Bridges, Paula Bennett or anyone else in the National Party. Life is too short for that. My time and energy needs to be focussed on doing everything I can for my family, my constituents and my country.

If I could go back in time, my biggest wish is that I could have spared Lucy from this painful experience. She never deserved any of this, and politics is always harder on those loved ones in the background, than on the MPs themselves.

I can’t spare Lucy that pain or take back any hurt I have caused. But what I can do is dedicate myself for however long I have left in public life to making those around me proud of the good work that I can, and will, do.

My plea to the 70,000 people living in my electorate is that I hope they are willing to judge me on the decade and a half I have spent serving Botany and the wider Howick area, and not that one challenging and confusing month where things fell apart for a while.

I am still the same person that has always worked hard for them, that has never been afraid to speak up for them, or knock on their door and front up to them face to face. The only difference is that my life has been laid bare for all to see now, and I happen to be a flawed human being.

Last year showed me that I need to be a better husband, I need to be a better boss, and I needed to be honest with myself about my own mental health struggles a lot earlier. I have been working really hard on these things in the past few months.

Had I known at the start of last year what I know now, all this could have been different. I was recognising in myself early in the year that things weren’t right. I wasn’t feeling myself. I was privately becoming emotional over things I wouldn’t normally have. And I was hiding how I was really feeling from everyone around me.

I should have been honest with myself and asked for help earlier. It wasn’t until another National MP sent me that now infamous text message telling me to kill myself that I finally cracked and I sought help from an old friend and counsellor that worked with me when I was a teenager. He quickly realised that I was in need of actual medical assistance, and so I was being treated by a psychiatrist for the later part of last year.

The normal rules of politics say I should do everything I can to hide my own health. But it’s no secret I eventually end up being sectioned to Middlemore Hospital’s acute mental health facility in October. We don’t always see positive stories of the country’s mental health services, but I can’t speak more highly of the people working there.

I am so thankful for the amazing individuals that save lives through our mental health system. I am also grateful for the dedicated men and women that work in our emergency services. They displayed to me the kindness of human nature at a very difficult time when I was so emotionally distressed that I had tried to harm myself.

I hope to add my voice to those trying to educate New Zealanders, particularly young people, that it isn’t weak to speak up about how you are feeling. I’ve learnt the hard way that it is okay to not feel well, it’s okay to ask for help, and that there is usually a huge amount of kindness and compassion out there in the community.

I don’t have hatred or animosity towards Simon or Paula anymore for the way they treated me. At the time they were doing all they knew how to do with the skill set they have.

But I still take responsibility, because it wasn’t fair on them. It wasn’t fair on Simon and Paula for them to be put in a position where they had to choose between helping someone with a health issue, or to put that person under more pressure because it was the better political move to make.

I do want to say thank you to the people that tried to help. I have subsequently learnt that at least two of the four women in the October 18 Newsroom story first spoke to the National Party leadership because they were concerned about my health and wellbeing. They identified that I was struggling and they were doing what they thought was the right thing. I want to thank them for caring.

Should the National Party’s response have been to send them out to talk to the media? Probably not, but people don’t always do very rational things in the heat of a political crisis when they are under pressure.

I have received a personal apology from one of the women that was sent to the media by Paula. I am grateful for her apology, but I more feel sorry for her that she was put through that traumatic experience. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her to have her boss request she hand over all her personal text messages. Then to also be asked to talk about her personal life so National could “combat” me during that week – it can’t have been easy.

I also know the National MP that sent me that text message has been suffering a lot of personal pain and family heartache in the last year. She was once my best friend in the caucus – there must have been a lot of personal stress in her life for her to end up sending me a late night text message inciting me to commit suicide.

We shouldn’t have hurt and betrayed innocent parties in the way we did. I obviously wish she hadn’t given an anonymous interview to the media, but I know how hard it can be when the leadership is pressuring you in to doing something.

One of the things that I have been coming to terms with is the comments in the second Newsroom story from some of my ex staff members and how they were so unhappy working for me. That was so terrible to hear. Clearly I was not a good boss, but worse than that I didn’t even realise. I never knew they felt that way. I didn’t realise that my actions were creating such an unpleasant workplace. How terrible is that?

I thought I was a good boss and that I had mostly good relationships with my staff. That clearly wasn’t the case and reading about how I made some of them feel was gutting. I am so ashamed about this and I have been working with my psychiatrist to make sure that never happens again.

I wondered why Parliamentary Services never brought this to my attention at the time, so I asked – turns out it’s because they had never received any formal complaints about me and never had need to investigate me like they have other MPs. But even so, people that worked for me have obviously felt hurt by the working environment I created, and for that I am sorry.

I do want to say though – while I have been a bad boss and I must do a lot better in that area – I was led to believe by the leadership that there were allegations of sexual harassment. I have never sexually harassed anyone, and never had any complaints made about me of that nature.

I know people are naturally wondering how Simon and I went from close friends to political adversaries. It’s true, less than a year ago I was doing everything I could to help him achieve all his own personal goals. And I was proud to be doing so. Somewhere along the way our friendship sadly deteriorated.

Simon has had nearly a year as leader and he’s tried his best. You can’t blame him for trying. But I was in his leadership team and I was one of about half a dozen that saw the full polling we were doing each week – the detailed polling report that the rest of the Caucus isn’t allowed to see. It didn’t matter how much we tried to do, each week Simon’s personal favourability kept going backwards further and further.

This was frustrating. And I was feeling frustrated because when I was questioning Simon’s personal polling and what we could do about it, more and more I felt squeezed out of the inner circle. Some leaders welcome those that challenge them, others close up and listen to the voices they like the sound of. I wasn’t one of those voices.

My mistake was I took my feelings and started sharing them with other MPs. And this was viewed, probably rightly, as me being disloyal. And Simon treated my dissenting voice as something he felt he needed to jump on. And he jumped pretty hard.

So when you saw me go on medical leave in early October that was actually me being pushed out for the rest of the year for disloyalty. And this is where my mental health struggles and my disagreements with Simon started to converge pretty heavily.

A colleague that’s still in the caucus and leadership team rightly observed that if you back a wounded animal into a corner they’ll either curl up and wet themselves, or they will bite back as hard as they can.

I clearly wasn’t thinking straight at the time. I clearly wasn’t coping. And I was in a sort of hate fuelled daze. And so when I was put under immense pressure, with my whole personal and professional life threatened, I decided to bite back as hard as I could. These weren’t the actions of someone in a good state of mind. But it’s where we got to, and the whole country was watching.

I’m happy to put my hand up and say I should have reached out for help a lot earlier. Maybe we could have avoided that whole saga had I done that. We probably could have avoided the collateral damage too.

I feel so sorry for people like Maureen Pugh, who is nothing but a lovely person, who had to hear what Simon thought of her in a taped conversation. That wasn’t nice. And those incredible public servants like Chris Finlayson and David Carter – they shouldn’t have had to hear me and Simon discussing their careers so flagrantly. They all deserved better.

I’m also sorry for the hurt I caused the good, hard working, National MPs, most of whom were my friends. What normal person goes and hurts the people they are closest to? These people weren’t just colleagues – they were my political family. My friends. There are some great people in that caucus and they deserve to have the chance to be back in government one day.

I’m deeply sorry for my actions that have hurt people. And I have a lot of repairing to do. But I also know I was put under enormous pressure too. When that PWC report was released to the media, I had only been told of it about an hour earlier. I hadn’t had a chance to read it, to understand it, or to seek advice on it. To this day the full report with the QC’s opinion hasn’t been released to me.

I didn’t know at the time that Simon and Paula talked to the media (because I hadn’t read the report) that it never actually identified wrong doing on my part. It never identified me as having done anything. What it did was draw together communications, which were unrelated, and formed a view that should never have been able to be formed, as well as saying that the evidence was not conclusive.

After everything that’s happened I struggle to feel any animosity towards him anymore, but I do wish Simon would have given me the opportunity, like I pleaded for, to at least read the report and talk to the Caucus before it was released publicly. I reckon we could have avoided this whole situation had he not refused my request for natural justice. But that’s all history.

My focus now is on the future, and being positive. My health is considerably better and I am working on greater resilience. I am still the MP for Botany and I owe it to many people to do good for them. I also think it is important not to run away from this difficult time. As the highest profile New Zealander in recent years to have attempted suicide and survive I want to use the platform I have as an MP to do what I can to help other New Zealanders like me who have had a temporary breakdown but remain good people.

I also want to go back to being the type of representative I was earlier in my career, free from political party posturing, to just speak up for the people that voted for me.

I wish as a National MP we had done more to cut red tape and regulation to fix the housing crisis that means young people can’t afford to buy a home. We should have put more in to the country’s underfunded health services and public transport systems. And we should have realised that we let the Auckland Council get out of control and that’s costing Aucklanders more and more each year.

These are the type of issues I want to get back to speaking up for on behalf of my constituents. We spend too much time in Wellington fighting with each other over petty things when we should be focussed on what will improves lives and what helps a family’s back pocket.

But as well as returning to being the best MP I can be for my community, I also need to be a better husband and father. In those dark moments when I felt there was no hope and no way forward – when my world had crashed down around me so much that I found myself standing on train tracks thinking I had no option but to end everyone’s pain – it was the vivid picture in my head of three year old Charlotte’s little happy face that stopped me from actually going through with doing something dumb.

No amount of political point scoring is worth hurting other people, or crushing the happy face of my little girl. We all got in to politics to try to make the world a better place for the boys and girls of the future. In October we forgot that. And we let many people down.

I am reminded at this time of a famous Mandela quote from his time leaving prison on Robben Island: “as I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

I am still the same person that has been proud to work hard for Howick and Botany for a decade and a half. But I can admit, last year, I didn’t get everything right. I am sorry. I will do better.


“that now infamous text message telling me to kill myself” – that’s his interpretation, but I think open to debate. The text said the MP wished he was dead. That, arguably, is not telling him what to do, it’s expressing a feeling.

There are a number of things he says that suggest mixed motives or intent, with some backhanded swipes.

Mixed messages from Jamie-lee Ross

Newshub gave Jami-lee Ross top billing on their news tonight with an exclusive interview.

He gave mixed messages, saying that he didn’t want to throw bombs or be vindictive, but he wants to put his side of stories forward, which targeted Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett, who both disputed his assertions.

Ross also raised a police investigation of the MP who he had had a relationship with and who texted him saying she thought he deserved to die, which is apparently being investigated as possible incitement to self-harm.

Ross also said that the people of the Botany electorate ‘didn’t deserve’ the cost of a by-election, but clearly a by-election wouldn’t cost them anything. Ross won’t want a by-election as it would likely mean the end of his career as an MP.

This doesn’t look like the end of the Ross saga, but he has a lot to do to get some credibility as an MP back. His return to Parliament in a few weeks is likely to be quite awkward for him.

It is notable that the journalist who started the unravelling of Ross, Tova O’Brien, was the one who secured this interview. her role in all of this has been justifiably been questioned.

UPDATE: Ross has followed up this news spot with a lengthy statement on Facebook. See JLR: “…didn’t get everything right. I am sorry. I will do better.”

‘Sick’ – Simon Lusk comes out at WO

It was unusual to see two posts from Simon Lusk at Whale Oil yesterday, he has fed content to be posted under ‘Cameron Slater’ for a long time but doesn’t often put his own name to it. This coming out may have been necessitated by  Slater having a break from posting, thought to be due to illness.

The Lusk posts revived attacks against the leadership of Simon Bridges after the Jami-Lee Ross debacle that backfired, probably bolstering bridges’ position as leader for the time being at least. Lusk was trying to stir up National MPs against Bridges.

His attempt at interference probably went down like a cup of cold sick in the National caucus, where it is thought that Lusk, Ross and Slater are politically toxic.

The first post: National’s polling released to caucus today

I think that is a regular part of National’s polling and caucus meetings so is hardly news. Lusk tried to suggest what the internal polling would show, but I would be very surprised if pollster David try to topple Bridges. So I think it is reasonable to assume that Lusk was guessing.

But apart from some of the usual sycophant and sock puppet type responses in comments, Lusk referring to a National MP as ‘sick’ (he repeated it three times) went down like a cup of cold sick at Whale oil.

ExPFC: Ok Simon. I guess maybe I’ve missed something so here goes anyway. Why “sick” Todd?

spanishbride: It is a silly ‘in’ joke. It is a criticism of his taste in something.

Jayar: “Silly” is the word. It’s demeaning and doesn’t seem to be deserved.

Cogito Ergo Sum: Yes, all A bit tiresome Mr Lusk. Riddles don’t add to the story. Neither does constant demeaning of people.

The ‘sick’ label can’t be passed off as a silly joke. Using ‘joke’ as an excuse for smearing name calling is an old trick.

The follow-up post: Polling advice for National MPs

An obvious overt attempt to influence National MPs. And to publicly promote dissent. And an attempt to get to pressure them – “Whaleoil readers should send a link to their local National MP”.

In this post Lusk repeated the ‘sick’ label five times. On this post the WO dissent cranked up straight away:

pisces: Why is he called ‘Sick’ Todd? I was under the impression this site didn’t nicknames etc

I think that nicknames are frowned on at Whale Oil except when Slater/Lusk/SB/Nige want to smear people – a typical double standard.

Terry: The repetition of such a demeaning nickname says much more about Lusk than it does about McClay.

Jayar: Absolutely agree!

Kaimai6: Thought exactly the same. The story could have been told without the use of the demeaning language. A bit pathetic really for a supposed political whizz kid.

The Lusk/Slater playbook is often pathetic, and impotent post ‘Dirty Politics’. Dirty attack politics is increasingly being seen as being as appealing as cold sick.

Talking of sick, Slater seems to have sufficiently recovered from his illness to start commenting again. Since his sudden silence three weeks ago, apparently suffering one or more strokes but not admitted in WO, Slater had posted (in comments) a couple of lame product promotions, but yesterday tried to bolster Lusk’s attacks. Weakly and poorly supported – there was far more support of the criticisms of Lusk.

While it still supports an active (but significantly smaller) community, as an activist attack blog Whale Oil is ailing.

Why has Lusk come out into open smear-mongering now? With Ross sick, and Slater sick, he may have had little option to dish up the cold sick himself.