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.

National should be bold with a new leader

The latest poll by Newshub/Reid Research has confirmed that party support has been volatile, with National getting a similar result in the first poll of this year to the first poll of last year, and not far away from a poll in October.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_next_New_Zealand_general_election

National are doing fairly well for a party in opposition after nine years in Government.

But the poll confirmed again that Simon Bridges is not doing well as leader.  Why?

Kate Hawkesby: Exactly what is it about Simon Bridges that voters don’t like?

Another poll, another bad day at the office for Simon Bridges.

So what is it voters don’t like about Simon Bridges? Is it the voice? Is it his perceived weakness? Is it his inability to bat away Jami-Lee Ross?

Is it just bad luck being the guy who had to follow John Key? Is it that people still don’t know him?

Probably all of those things – and more. You can add to that a lurch right on issues like cannabis law reform, euthanasia, abortion, and a conservative Bridges looks out of touch with modern New Zealand.

Or is it just that National’s base likes strong sassy and old-school – in the form of a Judith Collins?

Some like Collins, but I’m far from convinced she is a good choice to take over. While there is some strong support for Collins in National circles, there also seems to be strong opposition. Twice she has put herself forward for the leadership and she hasn’t come close.

I see another problem with switching from Bridges to Collins. They are both from National’s last Government. The country has moved on from that.

After Helen Cl;ark was defeated in 2008 and stepped down Labour went through a few years of giving MPs a go who had been there for yonks waiting for a go (Goff, Cunliffe), and trying newer MPs who didn’t look new (Shearer, Little). They all failed.

National should face the reality that it will be difficult for them to get back into power next year. By 2023 Bridges or Collins will be even more old school and potentially stale and out of touch.

If National really wants to look ahead I think they need to seriously look at choosing a leader for the future, and accept that next years election is likely to be a learning exercise.

I have no idea who would be suitable. I just think it is likely to be someone not on the leadership radar at the moment.

National may simply be too conservative to make a bold move, but they have done it before, backing the inexperienced John Key, and that proved successful.

Choosing a relatively inexperienced MP now who has obvious leadership potential, targeting 2023, seems like a pragmatic approach. And if Labour fail to deliver and crash next year, there is enough experience in national’s ranks to help a new Prime Minister – they should be in a better position to do this than Labour were with Ardern.

We need strong leadership of at least the major parties. Bridges doesn’t cut it.

I would like National to be bold and look to the future, but they don’;t seem to be ready for this yet. They may need another election loss to hammer home the need for real revitalisation and modernisation.

Simon Bridges promoted as cartoon caricature

I really wonder who thought presenting Simon Bridges as a cartoon character was a good idea.

“Gidday, I’m Simon” sets a cringey scene.

It is unlikely to enhance his image as a serious political proposition. Probably the opposite.

And it has

Promoting a party leader and aspiring Prime Minister as a dopey cartoon character is a great idea…said nobody…ever.

The cartoon really does start with “Gidday, I’m Simon” – voice and subtitle. It continues “I know Kiwis are finding it increasingly difficult to get ahead…”

With this sort of cringe Bridges is likely to find it increasingly difficult to get ahead in political leadership.

 

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

Can National rebuild itself for the future?

The National Party seems complacent due to sustaining quite remarkable support in polls – probably more to do with their opponents not earning more support yet. More of the same old (party), with a new but more conservative leader failing to inspire, is not a good formula for future success.

E.A. Blair – KiwiFirewalker:

National can not get itself out of the political doldrums that they now listlessly drift in as leader or no the party is only marginally representative of the political landscape in NZ (and only the most idiotic believe that a new leader will change that around).

Simon Bridges cops most flak as leader but he is not the core problem, the National Party is what needs to change, significantly.

They could do with a major rethink and rebuild into a party of a future government, but they look little different to how they were when they failed to retain power in 2017 except having a less popular leader.

As leader Bridges should lead a revitalisation, but so far there is no sign of anything like that happening – if anything he is pulling National back to a more conservative party further out of touch with modern New Zealand.

Bridges may come back next year with exuberance and a grand plan for a modernised party of the future, but that would seem out of character for both Bridges and National.

 

Jami-Lee Ross gives proxy vote to National

After over a week of absence Jami-Lee Ross resurfaced yesterday with a notice that he has given his proxy vote to National. He is now an independent MP but hasn’t been in Parliament since he was hospitalised a week and a half ago.

Making a point about ‘the maintenance of proportionality’ may be an attempt to thwart possible attempts to have him removed from parliament under the new waka jumping bill (Simon bridges recently said he has no intention of trying to invoke that at this stage).

 

 

Herald aids harassment of National and Katrina Bungard

Two publications from NZ Herald yesterday have unfairly applied extra pressure on the National Party and National MPS and employees over the Jami-Lee Ross issue. They also add to the stress faced by one complainant, Katrina Bungard, who issued a statement yesterday which says she was appalled a meeting between herself and the rogue MP has been “rashly speculated” upon.

The National Party has received a lot of criticism for the way it has handled Jami-Lee Ross over the years, and how they have handled the leak and the following train wreck which has resulted in the commitment of Ross into mental health care.

I have no doubt that in some ways fault will be found with how National handled it, how Simon Bridges handled it, how Paula Bennett handled it, and how party president Peter Goodfellow handled it. It was an extraordinary situation and will have been very difficult to deal with, and mistakes are certain to have been made, and ‘best practice will be open to question, That’s all fair enough.

What isn’t fair is misrepresentation in media that has aided what amounts to harassment of National. Bridges, Bennett, Goodfellow et al may not be suffering from mental illness like Ross, but this will have put them under stress. Their mental health should also be considered.

The media have also had a difficult job to do over the last week in particular. They have also made mistakes and on review should find that they could have done things better.

Yesterday I saw two NZ Herald publications that added to what I think is unfair criticism and pressure on people from National.

NZ Herald: Jami-Lee Ross ‘sectioned’ to mental health facility

In this the Herald included a quote from the National Party which made it look like they were involved in the ‘sectioning’ of Ross. This resulted in criticism on Twitter and elsewhere in social media, where people claimed that National had had Ross committed to silence him.

Like ‘WeTheBleeple’ at The Standard:

Sounds like someone stamped some papers to shut him up. Can’t make coherent statements pumped full of drugs.

This is very seriously scummy.

Dennis Frank:

A reasonable point of view, given the history of how mental health diagnoses have been used to eliminate political rivals in various countries. We need to wait & see how the media report that police got involved today. Media haven’t reported any diagnosis from his prior breakdown(s) as far as I know.

To their credit several challenged this (and other similar comments), like:

Nonsense the police and health professionals do not use their powers to behave in this manner, frankly I find your assertion offenssive.

But it didn’t stop, Half an hour later:

Sounds very much like National did it “Out of concern for his mental health”.

If that is so, the entire party should be disbanded as a corrupt criminal organisation and charges laid against anyone and everyone obstructing the truth and the law.

This is repulsive.

The Herald was challenged on Twitter:

Two hours later:

The Herald changed their story, deleting the dated quote and saying this:

It is understood the National Party is continuing to offer Ross support, though it is unclear it if was involved in Ross’ admission to the facility.

Too late, the attacks on National were raging.

Another article (‘Comment)’at the Herald which posted online at the same time this was raging – David Cormack: National needs to learn to care about people which started:

It has not been a good week for the National Party. It has revealed a craven history of enabling alleged harassment and bullying, making it unfit for governing.

Cormack promoted that on Twitter where he was receiving support for sticking it to National.

Cormack responded with a link to RNZ National aware of Jami-Lee Ross grievances for years whikch opens with:

The National Party has known for a couple of years about grievances regarding Jami-Lee Ross’ conduct, and got one complainant to sign a confidentiality agreement, sources have told Checkpoint.

I replied with: That says “got one complainant to sign a confidentiality agreement”, which could be quite different to “made the complainant sign a non-disclosure agreement”. I have seen no indication she signed it unwillingly. Have you?

Cormack has not responded since then, but someone else did: FFS Pete, stop dissembling and nitpicking. Those details just don’t matter.

I think that details like that do matter. National has been hammered over the non-disclosure agreement. I think that whether an agreement should have been signed or not us up for debate, but what those slamming it seem to keep ignoring is what the person who signed it thinks.

Katrina Bungard put out a statement yesterday (Stuff): National Party’s Katrina Bungard received no money at mediation

National Candidate for Manurewa, Katrina Bungard, said there “was absolutely no exchange of money, or any documents signed that would suggest any kind of compensation”.

One of a number of women allegedly harassed by Ross, Bungard said she was appalled a meeting between herself and the rogue MP has been “rashly speculated” upon.

People with #metoo and political agendas have been either ignoring Bungard while using her to attack National, or have misrepresented what she has said or worse, they have disputed her motives and statements. They have added to the pressure on her in order to promote their own agendas.

In Katrina Bungard’s own words:

“I would like to set the record straight regarding the so-called ‘agreement’ made between myself and Jami-Lee Ross”.

“The party was simply doing their best to facilitate a meeting to bring an end to a situation which I had brought to their attention that was troubling me.”

Bungard said when it became clear issues between her and Ross were not able to be resolved, National Party president Peter Goodfellow orchestrated a mediation meeting where the pair discussed their grievances.

Bungard said a document was signed by the two in which they agreed “we would do our best to move on from what had occurred in the past from our fallout in 2016”.

“Unfortunately, despite president Goodfellow’s best efforts, I don’t believe the meeting fully brought an end to some of Jami-Lee’s behaviour that he still managed to get away with behind the scenes,” she said.

“Although it certainly did lessen many of the more public blows.”

Bungard said she was grateful to the party for the way it handled her complaints.

“[I] believe that they acted in the best way that they could have with the information that they had at the time.”

Unfortunately she is being disbelieved and she is being used by people intent on promoting their own political agendas.

I hope that now Ross is in care many people step back a bit and think through what they are doing. In particular they should consider the stresses and mental health of those they are ignoring, using and attacking. There are many people under pressure here.

A big day for Simon Bridges

Yesterday was an awful day for Simon Bridges, and for the National Opposition, but I actually think Bridges handled the mess reasonably well, stepping up in difficult circumstances, showing he may have some leadership abilities after all. To me he came across ok at his media conference, speaking better than normal – having to speak off the cuff on important matters, and no lame scripted platitudes nor his normal boilerplate criticism of the government.

There were signs of solid support from other National MPs like Judith Collins and Maggie Barry. I can imagine most if not all National MPs being very pissed off at what Jami-Lee Ross had inflicted on them, their party, and on their prospects in the next election. It was a possible sign of real solidarity rather than feigned fawning.

How Bridges handles today may determine whether he survives as National leader or dives irrecoverably.

The National caucus will meet to consider what to do about Ross over what now looks like his very likely leaking of Bridges’ expenses (the original offence), him almost certainly being the MP who sent messages asking for the inquiry to be called off because of mental health pressures (was that real or was it a desperate attempt to escape exposure), and his very clear deliberate damaging of Bridges and the National party yesterday.

Bridges also referred to other matters:

I also discussed with Jami-Lee other matters concerning his conduct that have come to my attention and suggest, together with the leak, a pattern.

MP Maggie Barry gave more of an indication what this referred to:

What a disloyal disgrace this flawed & isolated individual has become. Having now read the PWC report I personally believe the unpleasant & bullying pattern of behaviour of Jami Lee Ross has no place in an otherwise united National Caucus under our leader Simon Bridges.

I think that Bridges and National caucus have no option but to dump Ross from the caucus, on his behaviour yesterday alone.

How Bridges manages this publicly will show his mettle as a leader. If he is as decisive as he is able to be it may end up enhancing his leadership prospects.

There are limits. Ross cannot be removed as an electorate MP by anyone but himself or the voters at the next election. He could continue to spit the dummy, causing ongoing problems for Bridges, but his credibility is wrecked and if Bridges does ok handling it then he may build his leadership mana.

From what I’ve seen so far I don’t think the stuff yesterday about donations is a big deal. MPs and parties (plural) fiddle their donations, usually within lax rules, and generally the public don’t care much.

Yesterday looked more like an attempted hit job on Bridges. That may not harm him.

Ross also claimed to have a secret recording of Bridges “discussing with me an unlawful activity”. As Judith Collins said, he needs to “put up, or to shut up”. It also raises the question of whether making a secret recording is an unlawful activity itself. It is certainly political career ending action or threat.

Bridges has a chance of coming out of this ok, of actually looking like a leader. There will be difficulties and repercussions for National, but that’s what leaders have to deal with. If Bridges does it well his job may be more secure.

On the other hand if he fluffs it he will be toast.

So it’s a crucial day for Bridges and his leadership, and also for the National Party.

There’s an old saying in politics that goes something like ‘it’s not the original issue that causes the damage, it’s how it is handled’. The same could apply here.

I think voters know leaders will find themselves in difficult situations dealing with difficult people. That’s politics. The key here will be whether Bridges steps up as a leader to sort things out or not.

There were glimpses yesterday that this  could be the un-wimping of Bridges.

Steven Joyce leaving New National

Steven Joyce is retiring from Parliament. He has been a list MP since 2008, and has been a significant part of  National’s leadership along with John key and Bill English.

This isn’t a surprise after Joyce missed out on becoming leader after English’s retirement.

This leaves Simon Bridges to establish a ‘new generation’ leadership and a new look National Party before the 2020 election. That’s an opportunity that may or may not work out well, but they can have a go at it.

National:  Bridges pays tribute to Steven Joyce

National Party Leader Simon Bridges has thanked retiring MP Steven Joyce for his service to New Zealand and the National Party.

“Steven has made a huge contribution during his 15 year political career, including in the last decade in Parliament. In that time he has proven an exceptional minister, colleague, advisor and political strategist.

“As a minister, Steven has played a major role in helping create a stronger New Zealand, particularly in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis.

“Among his many successes, he oversaw the rollout of the ambitious Ultra-Fast Broadband programme, ensuring New Zealand is one of the most digitally advanced economies in the world.

“As Science and Innovation Minister he worked with the private sector to substantially lift investment in R and D, helping pave the way for some of the world leading science and business initiatives we are seeing and benefiting from today.

“And as Transport Minister he helped make New Zealand’s roads safer and more resilient, through initiatives like the Roads of National Significance.

“He was someone both John Key and Bill English turned to for advice and to get things done. That meant he was given some tough tasks but he consistently rose to those challenges. And I will also continue to use him as a sounding board as the National Party looks to 2020.

“He played a major role in rebuilding the National Party, leading the past five elections and helping turn National into New Zealand’s largest and most popular political party.

“Steven is a huge loss to Parliament and to the National Party and I want to thank him for his immense contribution to New Zealand, and his wife Suzanne and their children for sharing them with us. We wish him all the best.”


One observation with reaction to this news – I am again shocked at how petty and nasty many people are in politics. Joyce has played a significant and successful role in governing New Zealand over the last decade. Some people just don’t seem to be able to help pissing all over people with different political leanings.

Simon Bridges, new National Party leader and LOTO

Simon Bridges is replacing Bill English as National Party leader and Leader of the Opposition (some media and politicians say that is the hardest job in politics but I call bull on that, PM, Ministers of Finance, Health, Social Welfare, Corrections all have far more difficult jobs).

Just two ballots were required. That suggests that Bridges was close to having the numbers in the first vote, and picked up enough after the least supported candidate dropped out to get a majority on the second vote.

Paula Bennett was chosen to stay as deputy leader – not a big deal position unless the leader quits just before an election.

I wasn’t a fan of either Bridges or Bennett, but that’s who the national caucus have chosen, so I’ll give them a chance to see if the step up, especially Bridges, who has a couple of years to make a mark before the 2020 election campaign.

This puts a very different look on the National Party after the John Key/Bill English era which began when Key rose to the top of the party in 2006, just over 11 years ago.

One think I will give the National caucus credit for is their willingness to try a quite different looking ‘new generation’ leadership. They haven’t fallen into the trap Labour made falling back on an uninspiring ‘same old’ Phil Goff replacement for Helen Clark (and followed that with three more unimpressive middle aged males, Shearer, Cunliffe and Little).

Bridges fronted up ok yesterday after taking over the leadership, he looked much better dealing with PR and media than he did when he started his leadership bid, and he did a good job in his first sting in Parliament as LOTO – see Simon Bridges versus Jacinda Ardern: round 1.

Now Bridges needs to get up to speed with broad issue and policy knowledge, he needs to earn the confidence of his caucus, and he needs to hope that National won’t dip in the polls too much while he finds his feet and becomes known to the general public.

This will take time and effort, and perhaps a bit of luck.

Bridges needs to be visible holding the Government to account without overplaying his hand, opposition politicians often have difficult avoiding barking dog/passing car syndrome.

He also needs to be smart in picking policy battles – his main aim will to be to appeal to the large centre, and to not bother to much about the griping from the right fringes and the perpetually dissatisfied.

The single most important piece of advice I would give Bridges (or any political leader) is to be himself, back his intellect and knowledge and sound like his brain and his mouth are connected.

Many leaders fall into a trap of sounding like their ears and mouths are connected with little input from their own thoughts. They get pushed into poliparrot palaver by PR coaches, and the resulting bland recitals probably turn more voters off than anything in politics.

Bridges needs to be himself, good attributes and  warts and all, and sell his abilities to the country, because that’s what most voters want to see from a leader.

It will take a few months to see how well Bridges steps up, and what the polls decide about this National Party change of leadership and change of guard.

As with any new leader I’m prepared to cut them some slack and give them a fair go.