Little avoids stink and Ardern questions

Andrew Little has avoided answering questions about Labour MP Jacinda Ardern’s father being involved as a trustee owner of the resort in Niue that Little was very critical of, having said the deal stinks.

NZ Herald had reported in NZ Labour questions $101,000 National donation and Niue resort management contract links:

Labour leader Andrew Little said the close timing of the donation to the awarding of the contract “stinks to high heaven” and he had asked the Auditor-General to investigate whether it was above board.

“New Zealand money, which was earmarked as aid for the island nation, has instead been given to upgrade a resort run by a National party donor.”

He said it was Mr McCully’s personal appointees on the trust which awarded the contract. “We must have questions answered on how the tender process worked, who knew about links between donations and the tenderer and whether Niuean people will ultimately benefit from the resort’s funding. The perception of propriety is key.”

But…

The Matavai is owned by the Niue Tourism Property Trust on behalf of the Government of Niue, which owned the resort before then. That arrangement was put in place in 2011 to ensure oversight of the aid investment New Zealand was putting in.

Mr McCully appoints the trustees who are Ross Ardern (NZ’s High Commissioner to Niue and father of Labour MP Jacinda Ardern), Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy secretary Jonathan Kings and former High Commissioner Mark Blumsky, who was formerly a National MP and now lives in Niue.

One News reported tonight: Answer the question Mr Little: Labour leader gets repetitive, won’t answer straight on Ardern link

It emerged today that the father of Jacinda Ardern, Ross Ardern, is a trustee owner of the resort, and would have helped appoint the hotel’s board of directors, who organised the contract tender.

Mr Little was asked repeatedly by ONE News if his accusations reflected badly on Mr Ardern, but he wasn’t biting, giving the same stock answer every time.

The interview (with One News edits):

Jessica Mutch: How do you think the trustees were involved in this, one of them obviously the father of one of your front bench MPs? How do you think he’s implicated in this?

Andrew Little: Well the issue isn’t the trustees, I don’t care about the trustees, what I care about is the fact that somebody who donated over a hundred thousand dollars to the National Party one month later gets a contract to run a hotel and then several months later gets seven and a half million dollars. That’s got to be investigated.

Jessica Mutch: You’re saying that you don’t care about the trustees but yesterday you did say that you’ve got all the trustees appointed by the Minister, you were questioning their position of being there. Has that changed now that the attention has come that it is Jacinda Ardern’s father ?

Andrew Little: There is only one issue here and that is a large donor to the National Party…

Jessica Mutch: How do you feel about indirectly implicating and some would say smearing the father of one of your front bench MPs?

Andrew Little: Well apart from that being one of the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, I would be failing in my duty as the leader of the opposition if having seen a large donor to the National Party…

Jessica Mutch: You did say though that the deal stinks, do you not think that that reflects poorly on him?

Andrew Little: The fact that a large donor to the National Party donated over a hundred thousand dollars…

Jessica Mutch: Was it an oversight, did you forget about the link with Jacinda Ardern’s father? Did you know about it yesterday when you came out so strongly and spoke about it?

Andrew Little: I would be failing in my duty as the leader of the opposition if I didn’t actually draw attention to and ask for an assurance about a donor to the National Party donating…

Jessica Mutch: Isn’t it messy though that Jacinda Ardern’s father is involved in this?

Andrew Little: New Zealanders are entitled to an assurance from this Government when one of their biggest donors gets a Government contract a month later…

Yes it does have the perception of messiness.

And regardless of whether a family of a Labour MP MP is involved or not Little was  over the top with his suggestions that the trustees were involved in something that “stinks to high heaven”.

Ross Ardern is currently New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Niue, so any implication he is in some way connected to a stinky deal is quite a big deal.

It’s fair enough questioning whether contracts given to New Zealand companies are fair and proper, if there’s good cause to question them.

It’s not fair to say deals involving companies and trustees and places like Niue stink to high heaven without good cause.

And if Little wants to remain squeaky clean on perceptions of favours for supporters he will need to be very transparent about any Labour policies that could be seen to favour the unions that had the deciding votes on Little becoming Labour’s leader.

There’s a good reason why stinky smears and demands for inquiries need to be carefully researched to ascertain whether there is good cause to shine a spotlight on them.