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.

Small party leaders’ debate

Five smaller party leaders had a debate on TV1 last night. It was for just an hour (the multiple Ardern v Collins debates are for one and a half hours) and with numerous advertising breaks there was probably just forty minutes for the five to try to swing some votes their way.

David Seymour – ACT Party (2017 election 0.5%, Sep-Oct 2020 polls 7, 6.3, 8, 8)

Seymour is now a practiced campaigner and usually spoke well. A funny moment was when he exclaimed that Peters )”said I am out of date”. While some of his policies probably be widely supported they will resonate with enough to have get votes. He has done well to lift ACT to current levels.

James Shaw – Green Party (2017 6.3%, Sep-Oct 2020 polls 6, 6.5, 7, 6)

This debate was Shaw’s turn (Marama Davidson did the Nation debate) and he should have pleased Green supporters. He spoke clearly and sensibly to more than the Green constituency), and even pulled the debate back on topic. A good performance that should help Green chances.

Winston Peters – NZ First (2017 7.2%, Sep-Oct 2020 polls 2.4, 1.9, 1.4, 2)

Peters looked out of sorts and out of place – not so much fish out of water but more like a crocodile in a pond of the past. He mentioned last century much more than what he do if re-elected. He tried to play as an underdog, perhaps hoping people will forget his top dog performance in installing the Labour-led government along with pork barrel policy funds that seem to have fizzled. He again claimed nonsensically that everyone in the party had been completely exonerated by the SFO prosecution of NZ First Foundation.

Peters has swung back to campaigning as ‘we the government have done well” rather than attacking Labour and saying he would restrict them (again), but didn’t look really that energised or optimistic, more aged, jaded and fading.

John Tamihere – Maori Party (2017 1.2%, Sep-Oct 2020 polls 0.9, 1.5, 0.8, <1)

Made some good points about education for Maori but waffled fairly aimlessly too much, or maybe i am just not his target market. Seems resigned to not getting into Parliament via the list, with all his party hopes on winning one or two electorates (reports are they are close in polls in at least one).

Jamie-Lee Ross – Advance NZ (2017 didn’t stand, Sep-Oct 2020 polls 0.8 NR, 0.6, 1)

Interesting that he fronted up, presumably due to his political experience, but he is tainted goods and is absence the charisma of Billy Te Kahika. Tried when he was given the opportunity to speak but won’t have impressed many, probably not even supporters of his composite party. Claimed that Covid was similar to the flu, that line has been discredited many times. Looks like a futile exercise with Advance NZ not rising above one in polls despite significant social media support.

So with just Shaw and Seymour looking good this fits with the likely outcome of a Labour, Green, Act and National parliament, with the Maori Party a long shot for an electorate seat or two.

Up until the debate last night over half a million people will have already voted. It’s hard to understand why this debate was held so late in the campaign. It looks like most people who might vote are already decided.

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.”

As their is a suppression order on the case anything posted here that I deem puts this site at risk may be deleted.

Looking grim for Peters and NZ First

Both poor poll results and also a lack of traction in media are pointing increasingly towards NZ First being dumped from Parliament this year, and with the lack of energy and lack of success for Peters this campaign that would likely mean the end of his long political career.

Peters first stood (unsuccessfully) for Parliament in 1975, and became a National MP in 1978 after winning a High Court electoral petition that overturned the election night result.

He left National in 1993 and retained his Tauranga seat as an Independent MP in a by-election, after which he established the NZ First Party.

Peters and NZ First unexpectedly enabled the National Bolger government in 1996, but he broke off the coalition, and NZ First were punished in the 1999 election, failing to make the threshold (they got 4.4%). The party survived through Peters retaining his electorate.

NZ First formed another coalition in 2005, this time with Helen Clark’s Labour government.

In 2008, NZ First was again punished by voters, coming short of the threshold with 4.07% of the votes. Poll results were relatively flat:

Peters also lost his Tauranga electorate (to Simon Bridges) so NZ First failed to make it back into Parliament.

NZ First made it back into Parliament in 2011 after a late surge in support, after Peters, aided by the media, made the most of the ‘tea pot tapes’ controversy.

In the 2014 NZ First increased their vote to 8.66% with support increasing during the campaign.

In the three months up to the election NZ First poll results ranged from 3.4 to 8.4% with most being over the threshold.

In 2017, up to when Andrew Little handed over the Labour leadership to Jacinda Ardern, NZ First were often polling over 10% and up to 13%, but they dropped off a bit ending up with 7.2%.

This time Peters keeps rubbishing the polls, but it’s unlikely they are all wrong. His big play last week, playing a well worn race card, failed to make much impression. That may have been his last chance to play a get into Parliament free card.

The poll trend looks bad for NZ FirstL

Splashing money around the provinces via the Provincial Growth Fund doesn’t seem to have helped. Money doesn’t seem to buy elections in New Zealand.

Shane Jones seems to have given up in the Northland electorate where a poll showed him trailing in third place. He has a reputation for not being a diligent campaigner anyway,.

So the campaign has been left to Peters. He has been busy touring the country but has just failed to fire.

Even Grey Power seem to have tired of Peters.

Stuff: Collins goes on the offensive at public meeting in Nelson

National Party leader Judith Collins went on the offensive at a packed public meeting in Nelson, taking aim at the Government’s “tremendously stupid” decision-making.

The event was organised by Grey Power, with most of those in attendance belonging to the older demographic.

Since getting 3% in a Roy Morgan poll in March NZ First has been under that, and got only 1% in the latest Colmar Brunton poll, down from 2.4% last week. In between those polls they were 1.9% in a Reid Research poll.

It’s possible a miracle may happen but time is running out for Peters to find something to grab the limelight. And history is against NZ First, as they have done poorly after being in Government twice in the past.

Peters will have to try something a lot more positive than ‘we’ll stop Labour doing stuff’, but it looks like he simply can’t compete with Ardern’s popularity that he has in part enabled.

Peters complains about polls in warts and all coverage

Winston Peters has been busy touring the country in his bus trying to build back support for NZ First. He is usually good at extracting publicity from media.

As usual he is complaining when the coverage he gets isn’t favourable, and he is complaining about the polls. And he is attacking journalists, clashing a number of times with Katie Bradford from 1 News.

Last time NZ First were in Government, in 2005-2008, they ended up being thrown out of Parliament by voters after failing to make the threshold, getting just 4.07%, and Peters failed to hold his Tauranga electorate.

Polls from a month before the election weren’t far from the mark.

1 News Colmar Brunton: 2.6%, 2.1%, 3.0%, 2.4%
Herald/Digipoll: 2.1%, 3.9%
Roy Morgan: 4.5%, 4.5%
NZ First election result: 4.07%

So overall the polls weren’t too far off, allowing for the margin of error and late shifts in support.

Last election NZ polling a month before the election was actually often better than their election result.

1 News/Colmar Brunton: 10.0%, 9.0%, 8.0%, 6.0%, 4.9%
Newshub/Reid Research: 9.2%, 6.6%, 6.0%, 7.1%
Roy Morgan: 11.5%, 6.0%
NZ First election result: 7.2%

This election (up to a month before election day):

1 News Colmar Brunton: 1.8%, 2%, 2%
Newshub/Reid Research: 2.0%
Roy Morgan: 1.5%, 2.5%

So while polls are just a rough indication of voter support for parties at the time they are taken, it’s fairly obvious that NZ First have hit a rough patch.

And Peters is getting grumpy.

1 News: ‘Boring, laughable, ridiculous’ – Winston Peters goes on attack after another poll puts NZ First out of Parliament

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has once again gone on the offensive when quizzed about his party’s consistently low polling in the lead up to next month’s election.

“Geez, Kate, could you get off your boring narrative about the polls, so to speak?” an exasperated Peters said to 1 NEWS reporter Katie Bradford during a media conference in Kerikeri today. 

“I hope on election night that you’re going to fly a white flag and resign because of countless questions you’ve asked on this silly question.”

He said he knew the National and Labour parties “seriously believe that New Zealand First is going to make it,” asking, “What do they know that you don’t know?”

Of course Peters could be just making that claim up. National and Labour won’t be counting NZ First out, but I doubt they “seriously believe that New Zealand First is going to make it”.

National’s Curia polling had NZ First on 3% at the end of July, and UMR who poll for Labour had NZ First on 3.9% at the end of August.

Leading into the 2017 election UMR had NZ First on 8% (1–8 Aug 2017) and 9% (11–16 Aug 2017), and Curia had them on 6% 20 Sep 2017 with NZ First getting 7.2%.

“You can’t write us off when there’s thousands and tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of forgotten New Zealanders whose only hope is New Zealand First,” Peters said.

He said he “didn’t bother to see” last night’s poll.

While New Zealand First has ranked poorly in political polls in the past, Peters has long been an opponent of what he called “rubbish.”

“I don’t like rubbish. I don’t like rubbish and I don’t like rubbish pollsters,” he said.

“Katie, with the greatest respect, you owe New Zealand First better coverage than this.

“To come along every day and talk about your boring polls is actually risable, it’s laughable, it’s ridiculous and it’s contemptuous of a fair coverage of a political party this campaign.”

Peters said people “deserve better coverage on your national TV than the bias” of 1 NEWS.

This is just Winston-speak for him wanting favourable coverage and no unfavourable coverage.

Peters expressed concern over a Labour-Greens government, saying they “don’t have the experience.”

They have just spent the last three years in Government (with NZ First), so that’s experience.

The popularity of Jacinda Ardern, who is not much more than half Winston’s age (she was born after Peters first became an MP in the Muldoon era), suggests that a lot of voters have moved on from old school politics.

He was also against a National-ACT government, telling Bradford to “do the mathematics.”

“You’re the one that’s always banging on about the polls. Do the mathematics, Katie, and be consistent for five seconds.

“You know that they’re 40 per cent shy of even making it, and if you’re going to bang on about the polls, try and be consistent about it, but I don’t believe in those sorts of polls because New Zealand First, our voter base, has never been fairly represented by them.”

Typical Peters, asking a journalist to be consistent while demonstrating his inconsistency.

Actually it appears that 1 News have been providing a range of good and not so good coverage of Peters campaigning. Over the last week:

That seems like a reasonable range of coverage.

Peters attacking journalists is normal for him. I think it is his way of trying to bully or coerce them into giving him better coverage.

But he has a real problem competing with Ardern’s niceness approach to politics.

And he is also competing for support with a resurgent ACT Party, and also with other parties seeking niche votes like New Conservatives and Advance NZ.

Peters has promoted NZ First as the anti-government party with some success in the past, but that’s difficult for him this time having just enabled the Labour led Government for three years.

He may still find some issue with which he can strike a chord with voters, but with Covid and Ardern dominating he is running out of time.

NZ First may hang on, but if they do they will likely be a lot weaker next term. Labour probably won’t even need them to form a Government.

Kudos to Katie Bradford. She has been in close contact with Peters on the campaign trail and she has the gumption to ask him difficult questions, and to report on Winston warts and all.

Peters attacks Labour

The Government lasted nearly three years lasted nearly three years trying to portray the three party arrangement as solid and working well together.

But with the election looming and the fear of failing to make the threshold rising Winston Peters is attacking both the Greens and Labour. This post is on the Green target.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters takes swipe at Labour over response

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters relaunched his election campaign at a brewery but instead of taking a swig, he took a swipe at his Government partners.

He wrapped up the morning visit by saying the Auckland outbreak of Covid-19 was because Labour ministers were in charge of the key areas of the response.

“We could have done better on Covid-19. That’s a fact. If we could compare ourselves with Taiwan, we haven’t done as well as we could have done. We let our guard down.”

“Too many things fell through the traps, or the holes so to speak, that were deliberately left there by the bureaucracy … The fact of the matter is that the Labour ministers are the only ones in charge of all that.”

“I’m pointing the blame, but we’ll never get anywhere if everyone thinks we’ve done the best job in the world. We haven’t done as well as we could have done.”

Peters seems to be trying to claiming credit for ‘we’ doing the best job in the world but Labour Ministers stuffing up.

Peters said there were mistakes made and “it’s better to own up to them” – though he sits around the Cabinet table and is in Zoom meetings with Labour ministers when many of the important decisions are made. He will be in a Cabinet meeting on Friday morning.

He said if NZ First MPs were in charge, they would have brought in the military much sooner.

“Don’t keep on gilding the lily and saying everyone’s fine when it wasn’t going fine.

“The testing wasn’t going on, the surveillance wasn’t going on, the oversight and scrutiny that should have been done by the military was not happening. And masks were not used.”

Similar criticisms have been made by others including National, but this is one coalition partner taking swings at another.

It is also worth pointing out that Peters is doing this now as he launches into campaign mmode, not while the decisions were being made – by the Cabinet he and other NZ First ministers were a part of.

In fact, Peters has implemented a “no mask, no ride” policy on his NZ First campaign bus – but it apparently doesn’t apply to the party’s leader or deputy leader Fletcher Tabuteau who climbed aboard with their faces uncovered.

Peters may have thought that Labour should have made the plebs wear masks but that shouldn’t apply to him.

But the pair did make the effort to scan CovidTracer QR codes.

Tabuteau logged into every business and Peters at least opened his app at the first venue, but didn’t appear to actually scan in.

A politician ‘rules for others, not for me’ trick.

Ardern has responded – It’s a ‘disservice’ to say New Zealand hasn’t done well with Covid-19, says Prime Minister

The Prime Minister has hit back at Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters for saying New Zealand was “gilding the lily” about its response to Covid-19.

Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand had done “exceptionally well”.

“I think we do a disservice to every single New Zealander whose been part of that team effort if we don’t acknowledge that.

“I think we need to take into account, relative to other countries, how well New Zealanders have done and the results that have been generated.”

Peters did take that into account in saying the Government had done relatively well, it was just the Labour part of the Government that had stuffed some things up.

I’ve seen quite a bit of speculation about how National may have managed Covid if they had been in Government, from much the same as Labour (which is probably close too the mark) to killing thousands of people in order to allow businesses to make money (from the type of people who said similar of National pre-Covid).

But if the Covid response was negotiated just after an election with Peters holding the balance of power how well would we have done?

We would have still probably done fairly well with a few mistakes.

Peters seems a bit annoyed that he and NZ First haven’t had a lot of influence in the Covid response, with Ardern and Labour ministers getting most of the attention coming up to an election, but that is largely because the Prime Minister led the response and Labour ministers held the key portfolios of Finance and Health.

The military was called in but Minister of Defence, NZ First MP Ron Mark, got little exposure for that.

The NZ First initiated and run Provincial Growth Fund was diverted into the much larger Covid Recovery Fund, which shifted the handing out from Shane Jones to Labour ministers.

But Peters is limited in how much he can attack the Government he is a part of.

He hasn’t yet targeted Ardern herself, and I think that’s unlikely as that would likely be a political fools errand.

Peters came into the current Government seemingly positioning himself as virtual Prime Minister, seeing his long experiencing easily overshadowing the inexperienced leader Ardern.

But Ardern has stepped up big time on the big issues, the Christchurch mosque murders, the Whakaari eruption and now Covid. She has been widely praised for her leadership, leaving Peters looking like a barely relevant and fading sidekick.

Peters will probably keep attacking Labour but without being able to go head to head against Ardern without great risk his past it’s prime brinkmanship may overshadow his statesmanship.

Peters has been out-leadered by Ardern, and he has another problem that may be insurmountable – Ardern represents a new generation of politics, while Peters is a cranky political grandfather with more grate than gravitas.

I think NZ First’s political future may be largely out of Peters hands. They seem to be largely reliant on whether voters decide for themselves whether to moderate Labour’s power – we haven’t had a one party majority under MMP – and whether voters desert or come back to National.

Covid still dominates the news and public concerns. Peters can’t compete with that.

Similar to last election the Greens have managed to grab attention by shooting themselves in both James Shaw’s feet. When Metiria Turei gambled and lost support for the Greens slid, but so did NZ First support when Ardern stepped up for Labour.

Peters never reached great heights in preferred Prime Minister polls but he now barely gets a mention.

And NZ First don’t have a plan B if plan Winston isn’t working. Shane Jones has never win an electorate so winning an election seems something he can’t even buy. Who is the NZ First deputy?

It could be a tough campaign for them.

Peters attacks the Greens

The Government lasted nearly three years lasted nearly three years trying to portray the three party arrangement as solid and working well together.

But with the election looming and the fear of failing to make the threshold rising Winston Peters is attacking both the Greens and Labour. This post is on the Green target.

Newshub: NZ First and Greens fighting for survival, trying to kill each other off amid Green School debacle

The James Shaw political pile-on is off the charts after Newshub revealed he strong-armed ministerial colleagues to get funding for the controversial privately-owned Taranaki Green School.

NZ First leader Winston Peters is calling it one of the worst things he’s seen in his political career and is warning of “repercussions” over the funding, while National says the Greens should be ashamed and that Shaw must resign. 

Labour, NZ First and the Greens almost held it together an entire term, but as the election drew near, the raw disdain between the Greens and New Zealand First bubbled forth.

Peters said in July his party “opposed woke pixie dust”, while Shaw described New Zealand First as a “chaotic and disorganised” partner in Government.

“You can almost see the advertisements, can’t you? New Zealand First – you can stop progress,” Shaw joked in his adjournment speech last month.

But ironically Shaw has now been caught out holding his ministerial colleagues to political ransom, stalling progress to get his own way.

Newshub revealed on Tuesday Shaw’s office emailed his ministerial colleagues strong-arming them with an ultimatum, refusing to sign off on projects in a $3 billion infrastructure fund unless he got dosh for the controversial Green School.

Shaw told Newshub on Wednesday he “didn’t hold anybody to ransom”, but Peters sees it differently.

“If you can’t win by logic and by reason and by the soundness of your proposal then that’s no way to behave,” the NZ First leader told Newshub.

“It’s pretty bad. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Maybe it has happened but not in that naked, inexperienced way.”

It’s funny to see Peters attack someone else over naked political ransom, but there is a difference with how he does it, he’s very experienced at it.

The Prime Minister said there will be different views in a Government of three political parties.

That’s the line that’s been spun throughout the term when there’s been differences, and it is accurate enough, there should be differences between three parties. But how those differences are being expressed has changed markedly.

“Obviously as a coalition Government working with three different parties, there will often be different perspectives,” she said on Wednesday.

You can say that again – Shaw has made it clear he thinks Peters is a handbrake on progress.

Peters responded, “Well, a handbrake on stupid ideas is not a handbrake on progress.”

Stupid to Peters. The difference between NZ First and the Greens is that the Greens didn’t do much handbraking on NZ First’s stupid ideas.

Shaw said Peters will say anything to get re-elected.

“Winston Peters is fighting for his political survival and so he will say what he says in order to try and ensure he’s back in Parliament after the election,” he told Newshub.

Thanks to Shaw, the Greens are now fighting for their political survival too.

Last campaign Labour and the Greens, and to an extent NZ First, promoted their intent and ability to be able to work together.

This campaign looks like being a lot more combative.

Greens have been polling close to the 5% threshold (except for Roy Morgan polls) but have tended to get less in elections than in polls so will be worried, especially with the popularity of Ardern competing more for votes.

Both Shaw and Marama Davidson have admitted that the current Green School mess will make things even harder for them to survive.

NZ First have been polling at under half the threshold. Peters has pulled rabbits out of campaign hats in the past and will be looking for the same sort of opportunity this time.

But NZ First and Greens going hammer and tongs against each other is a questionable strategy, as they hardly compete for their own votes. These spats are more likely to just reduce votes for both, it’s unlikely to attract support.

What both parties will be hoping for is that they survive and are in a position to form a coalition with Labour without a third party competing for baubles and slush funds.

Shaw publicly apologises but pressure continues over Green School handout

Yesterday James Shaw fronted up to media at midday and apologised and apologised for the $11.7 million funding of a private Green school in Taranaki, but the hits kept coming, possible from within the Government.

Later in the day from Newshub: Green co-leader James Shaw refused to sign-off on $3bn of infrastructure projects unless Green School was included

Newshub has obtained an email that went to Government ministers and the Treasury from Shaw’s office and it included a stark ultimatum.

That sounds like someone with access to Government emails has given it to Newshub.

“Minister Shaw won’t sign this briefing until the Green School in Taranaki is incorporated.”

The email said Shaw discussed the ultimatum with the Education Minister. 

“Minister Shaw has also discussed this one with Minister Hipkins.

“Sorry to be the spanner-in-the-works, but if we can get the project included, he’ll sign everything this afternoon,” the email said.

This could be a spanner in the works for Shaw trying to put this behind him and the green campaign.

Newshub asked Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson if she recognised that it may have jeopardised the Greens’ chances of returning to Parliament.

“It’s very clear, there’s no denying that already we were hovering around 5 percent,” she said.

But Shaw seems confident he will stay on.

“I don’t think this is a resignation level event,” he said.

Shaw said if he was making the same decision on the Green School funding he would not support it.

With a deep sigh, he said: “I feel terrible about the way that this has played out.” 

I’m sure he does feel terrible about it.

From the earlier apology media conference from The Spinoff:

James Shaw has apologised for his decision to support a controversial “Green School” in Taranaki, but hurled criticism at the previous National government for underfunding schools that need help.

“The decision to support this project was an error of judgement. If I was making the same decision again I would not support the project.”

“So again, I apologise. I apologise to parents, to teachers and unions. I apologise to Green Party members who… have felt demoralised by this decision. I apologise to the schools in Taranaki who quite rightfully want the best for their children. And I want you to know, all of you, that I have listened to your concerns,” Shaw said.

In response to a question from a reporter, Shaw said the New Plymouth mayor, Neil Holdom, introduced him to the couple who started the school. “Ironically, one of the things I said to them was ‘are you sure you want to come to the Crown because often government money is more trouble than it’s worth.’ They were clear at that point that the project would not proceed, and the mayor was quite keen for it to proceed.”

This is an ongoing problem for Shaw and the Greens but could also impact on the Government.

The leaked email “said Shaw discussed the ultimatum with the Education Minister”. That was confirmed in Question Time yesterday, but the email wasn’t disclosed.

7. NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Minister of Education: Was he or the Ministry of Education consulted about any aspect of the application by Green School New Zealand for funding prior to its announcement; if so, did he raise concerns about providing Government funding for this project?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): I had a conversation about the application with James Shaw towards the end of July and I gave him feedback that from an educational portfolio perspective the school would not be a priority for investment.

Nicola Willis: Was he aware of Treasury advice that “… it would be inappropriate to announce or provide government funding for a project that does not yet have the necessary education approvals”, and has the Green School met the legal requirements for registration?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, I wouldn’t have seen that advice because I was not one of the Ministers involved in approving the project.

Nicola Willis: Has the Green School qualified for legal registration as a private school, including meeting all requirements around suitable tuition standards and staffing standards?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I’m not aware of that. Of course, private schools have an application process that they have to go through. As Minister I don’t make that decision. That decision’s made by the Ministry of Education.

Willis followed that up with questions to Shaw:

8. NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Associate Minister of Finance: Does he stand by the entirety of his press statement on 26 August confirming $11.7 million in funding for Green School New Zealand, and on what evidence did he base each of the claims made in that statement?

Hon JAMES SHAW (Associate Minister of Finance): Yes, I stand by my statement based on reports provided to me by the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group (IRG). That being said, understanding the depth of feeling in the community about this funding, were I to make this decision again, I would come to a different conclusion.

Nicola Willis: Is a contract in place for the Government’s deal with the green school, and has he taken any legal advice about his options for unwinding his mistake?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Well, Ministers cannot get involved in the contracting between the Crown and the various projects.

Nicola Willis: Did the Minister get involved in making clear his expectation that the green school should achieve legal registration as a school prior to receiving taxpayer money; and, if not, why not?

Hon JAMES SHAW: I don’t believe I did.

Nicola Willis: Did he meet with anyone involved in the green school prior to or during the application process for shovel-ready funding; and, if so, who?

Hon JAMES SHAW: On 18 May, the Mayor of New Plymouth, Neil Holdom, came to see me in my office and introduced me to the people who’ve started the green school. He was quite keen that we support the project.

Nicola Willis: Does he agree with Minister Hipkins that the Green Party had advocated “quite strongly” for the green school; and, if so, why did he reject the Minister’s advice that the funding should not go ahead?

Hon JAMES SHAW: It wasn’t the Green Party; it was me because it was a ministerial decision and not one that was shared with caucus, because, of course, as a budget confidential decision, Ministers are unable to share that outside of their offices. So I would say it’s not accurate to say that the Green Party advocated for it, but I did personally.

So Shaw says he didn’t share the decision with the Green caucus, he did it alone. Perhaps he will now be asked if he shared with the caucus his ultimatum to not support the whole $3 billion unless the Green School funding was included.

Nicola Willis: Did any Ministers other than Minister Hipkins raise questions or concerns with him about the conditions for this taxpayer funding to the green school; and, if so, what steps did he take to address those concerns?

Hon JAMES SHAW: I’m not aware of specific points that were raised. There was a very iterative process over a number of months of the whole IRG process, and many projects came and went during the course of that time.

The funding process may also get more scrutiny. Shaw has criticised the process – last week he said A number of ‘shovel ready’ funding decisions “made in haste” and “not high quality”.

Stuff: James Shaw fesses up, but put all future Covid projects at risk

James Shaw’s apology for the Green School fiasco was full, frank and a lot more than what you usually get from a minister that has made a mistake.

He owned it, and took personal responsibility. When asked, he also said that it was “an error of judgement on my part”, but “not a resignation level event”.

However, the most interesting part of his remarks revolved around the internal pressures he clearly felt when assessing Projects for the Government’s Covid shovel-ready fund. This goes back to earlier in the year when the Government released its $12 billion “New Zealand upgrade” package of infrastructure spending on rail, cycleways, but mostly roads. Although the Greens were privately irked about the direction of travel of the package, which was driven by Finance Minister Grant Robertson, they publicly celebrated the small wins that they had.

At the Green Party Annual General Meeting, held over Zoom in July, it is understood that the Green Party leadership faced a lot of questions about why there were more green projects in that New Zealand Upgrade package.

And so yesterday, Shaw effectively said yesterday that he felt the pressure after the New Zealand upgrade to ensure that the Greens influence the $3 billion worth of Covid infrastructure projects as much as they could.

He also said, perhaps ominously for Labour, that there were “many ironies and stories I may tell about this one day”.

Shaw’s comment yesterday revealed what has been apparent for some time: that the COvid fund, in common with NZ First’s baby the Provincial Growth Fund, has always has the potential to get politically favoured projects over the line. The very nature of the fund’s goal – to get money out the door and into projects as quickly as possible – lends itself to projects of dubious value being approved. There is a reason why Governments take time to approve dungeons to build infrastructure.

Perhaps that was why when Shaw was asked whether or not, given that this Green School was approved while he was keeping an eye on 40-50 other projects, other dodgy projects could get up James Shaw simply looked worn out and replied, “Look, I couldn’t, I couldn’t say”.

Media are having more to say about all this.

Newsroom: Shaw’s sorrow crystal clear as Greens face heat over private school

Between lion’s gate abundance ceremonies and crystal planting, the Green School in Taranaki has enough unconventional extracurricular activities to last a lifetime.

But should they be looking for an additional option, James Shaw offered up an impeccable lesson in ritual self-flagellation on Tuesday afternoon.

Speaking about his decision to grant $11.7 million in Covid-19 infrastructure funding to the private school for an expansion, the Greens co-leader all but begged for voters’ forgiveness over “an error of judgment for which I apologise”.

It was difficult to watch and presumably even more difficult to deliver, but clearly Shaw and his caucus felt the highly public display of contrition was necessary after days of bad publicity with the election looming ever closer.

On the one hand, it feels as if the issue has stayed in the news cycle longer than it probably merits due to the strange period we find ourselves in, with Parliament barely going through the motions as politicians wait for the election campaign to pick up full steam.

But with the Greens precariously close to the five percent threshold, even a minor drop in support could prove fatal.

Nor is the issue likely to disappear off the radar entirely; Government ministers have said it is too late to withdraw the funding from the school, although Shaw has mooted the idea of turning it into a repayable loan.

Winston Peters is also joining the political flogging: James Shaw may get some reprieve if Green School funding treated as ‘loan’

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and Shaw have had increasingly fractious public exchanges in recent months, and this week was no different.

Peters says this is a “mistake of bad fiscals, bad understanding of the marketplace, and worse still of a very, very uncertain applicant”.

It was Shaw’s “number one priority” to get the funding through, says Peters, and this is a case “where the blame stops with the person who’s now saying he’s sorry that he did that”.

And he put the decision down to Shaw’s lack of political experience: “You cannot go on making mistakes in this business … we’ve stopped things that were a silly idea and promoted things that are good idea.”

Many will see the irony in Peters criticising someone else for funding pet projects, but the difference is that Peters and Shane Jones have had far more money at their disposal to dish out, and Peters doesn’t apologise for anything.

major concern of Treasury in opposing the funding was it did not yet have the full education approvals needed for a private school.

Advice obtained by RNZ from around July said without full private school registration, it would be “inappropriate” to give Green School government money, but even then it opposed the grant.

Green School has provisional registration, says the advice, but it would it be still be some time before it was a fully registered private school, as Treasury says the “Education Review Office (ERO) is planning to visit the school in 2021, so if they are successful in receiving full registration this is unlikely until mid-2021”.

Grant Robertson kicks Shaw while he’s down:

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told the House 1900 applications were initially received and Crown Infrastructure Partners shortlisted that down to just over 800.

“Ministers were then responsible for refining that down further to the around 150 projects that have been put in place … Minister Shaw is on record for his strong advocacy of the particular project in question here.”

Robertson says he does not see a backlash for Labour or New Zealand First as a result of the decision-making.

“I think everybody in the situation is clear that it was Minister Shaw’s strong advocacy that saw the Green School (succeed), and he himself has acknowledged that.”

And it continues.

The Green School embarrassment is likely to come up in Parliament again today.

Farrar, Morton have denials of accusations by Peters put on record

On 22 July Winston Peters made allegations against several people in Parliament about what he claimed was “the truth about the leak of my superannuation”.

In 2017 he had taken allegations against different people, including National Ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley (as well as heads of Government departments), to court and failed to provide evidence. He conceded that Bennett and Tolley had not leaked the information. Substantial costs were ordered against him.

The allegations in a General Debate in Parliament last month:

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): Today, I am going to outline the truth about the leak of my superannuation. There have been news reports about the case. The matter is not sub judice. But a source totally connected to both the ACT Party and the National Party has revealed that the leak was one Rachel Morton.

Morton heard about the case because she was present when former Minister Anne Tolley told her ministerial colleague Paula Bennett about it—not outside by the lifts, but in a ministerial office. Ms Morton then, thinking it would be kept in confidence, told ACT Party leader, David Seymour, but, desperate for any sort of attention, Mr Seymour contacted Jordan Williams of the wage subsidy – receiving taxpayer union fame. Williams—no stranger to dirty politics—told John Bishop, father of National MP Chris Bishop, and the details were then leaked to Newsroom’s Tim Murphy.

Williams also told another dirty politics practitioner, National Party pollster David Farrar. Farrar tried to shut it down, seeing the risk it exposed to the National Party, but then went along anyway, although he later tried to steer the story away from National’s guilt, which is its usual modus operandi.

Peters versus everyone he hasn’t already lost in court against

Both Rachel Morton and David Farrar have had responses to these allegations recorded in Parliament.

Application for response to be incorporated in the parliamentary record

  1. On 22 July 2020, David Farrar applied for a response to be incorporated in the parliamentary record under Standing Orders 159 to 162.
  2. The application relates to references made by Rt Hon Winston Peters during the general debate on 22 July 2020.
  3. The speech is reported at New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 748, pp. 19678 – 19679.
  4. The applicant was referred to by name.
  5. Having considered the application, I have determined that a response submitted by David Farrar should be incorporated in the parliamentary record.

Rt Hon Trevor Mallard

Response presented under Standing Orders 159–162 on application of David Farrar relating to references made by Rt Hon Winston Peters on 22 July 2020

The Right Honourable Winston Peters on the 22nd of July 2020 stated in the General Debate that I was told by Jordan Williams about Mr Peters’ superannuation and that I was involved in breaching Mr Peters’ right to privacy.

The statement by Mr Peters is incorrect. I did not discuss or disclose, in any way or form, details of his superannuation prior to reports appearing in the media about it. I know this for a certainty as I was totally unaware of there being any issue around Mr Peters’ superannuation until it was reported in the media.

Application for response to be incorporated in the parliamentary record

  1. On 31 July 2020, Rachel Morton applied for a response to be incorporated in the parliamentary record under Standing Orders 159 to 162.
  2. The application relates to references made by Rt Hon Winston Peters during the general debate on 22 July 2020.
  3. The speech is reported at New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 748, pp. 19678 – 19679.
  4. The applicant was referred to by name.Having considered the application, I have determined that a response submitted by Rachel Morton should be incorporated in the parliamentary record.

Rt Hon Trevor Mallard

Response presented under Standing Orders 159–162 on application of Rachel Morton relating to references made by Rt Hon Winston Peters on 22 July 2020

The Right Honourable Winston Peters on the 22nd of July 2020 stated in the General Debate that I gave details of his superannuation to Act Leader David Seymour and that I was involved in breaching Mr Peters’ right to privacy.

Mr Peters claims I was aware of this information because it was discussed in a meeting that I was in with Hon Anne Tolley and Hon Paula Bennett. I was never in a meeting with Mrs Tolley and Mrs Bennett where this was discussed, and I never gave any information to Mr Seymour.

The statement by Mr Peters is categorically not true.

Election date – what’s best for the people?

National and David Seymour had already suggested the election should be delayed due to the Covid level 3 lockdown in Auckland.

Then yesterday Winston Peters went public with a letter he has sent to the Prime Minister asking for a delay in the election:

Newsroom: Peters calls for election delay over Covid-19 outbreak

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has joined calls for a delay to the September 19 election following the country’s new Covid-19 outbreak, claiming there is “no ability to conduct a free and fair election” in the current environment.

However, Peters has shied away from disclosing whether his party would back a vote of no confidence against the Government, should Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern forge ahead with the original date.

Ardern is set to reveal her own views on the election date and dissolution of Parliament at a press conference on Monday morning. However, her coalition partner and Deputy Prime Minister chose to pre-empt the announcement on Sunday afternoon, in what appears an attempt to force Ardern’s – or even the Governor-General’s – hand. 

Justifying an election delay, Peters said there would be only six days for parties to campaign if Auckland moved out of Level 3 and the rest of the country out of Level 2 on August 26, with overseas voting beginning on September 2 and advance voting five days later.

“There is now no ability to conduct a free and fair election if the Prime Minister decides to hold the General Election on September 19,” Peters said.

He also cited concerns about the preparedness of the Electoral Commission and NZ Post to deal with “an unprecedented deluge of special votes” in a timely fashion, noting the significant increase in voting ahead of Election Day in recent years. 

“Voters are sovereign and when and what day they vote must be their choice, not the Government’s.

“Any proposed staggering of their vote in the election across several weeks is a weakening of and serious interference in our democracy,” Peters claimed.

Speaking to media, the New Zealand First leader repeatedly refused to state whether his party would join National and ACT in a vote of no confidence in the Government should Ardern decline to change the election date – an extreme option available to him should he choose it.

“I’m here to alert the people of this country, dare I say it my friends in the media, to the realities of what we’re facing right now, and I think people are entitled to know all the permutations and ramifications of political behaviour.”

Peters released a letter he sent to Ardern on August 14 to convey New Zealand First’s concerns, saying he had since spoken to her about the issue.

“New Zealand First believes we risk undermining the legitimacy of the election result, creating an awful precedent which could be abused by the Prime Minister’s successors.

 “People will be driven to the conclusion, in the absence of any empirical evidence to the contrary, that the election date choice is being forced from a minority position to achieve a certain outcome.”

Peters said the party was releasing its letter to Ardern “for the sake of transparency, and because we believe the Governor-General of New Zealand needs to know that the majority in the House of Representatives favours an election delay.”

While I don’t really care about what politicians and parties might prefer, especially those who are doing poorly in polls like NZ First and National.

What is important is what is best for the people in a democracy. And wit a lockdown in Auckland running through the key part of the election campaign is a problem.

Also important is what the priorities of the Government parties are, particularly Labour. They have a lot to do right now dealing with the Covid outbreak in Auckland and shouldn’t be distracted by an election campaign.

So I think a delay in the election looks inevitable. Jacinda Ardern will make an announcement on this this morning.

I do wonder whether Peters is just grandstanding a bit here again. If Ardern announces a delay he will perhaps claim to have influenced the decision, but being deputy Prime Minister he can talk to Ardern any time he likes about things.

But regardless of Peters posturing Ardern needs to make a decision based on what’s best for the Government, for our democracy, and especially for the people.

Of course a new delayed election date may also have problems if the current outbreak lasts for a few weeks, or if we have another outbreak. So be it, whatever happens in the future will just have to be dealt with.

One problem with a delayed election is we will effectively have a drawn out campaign, that’s probably not what most non-political people would prefer but most people are adept at ignoring most politics most of the time.

Ardern will make her announcement at 10 am this morning.

More from Newsroom: Parliament a possum in the headlights as Ardern mulls election date

Wellington lawyer Graeme Edgeler has ably outlined the possible ramifications on Twitter: should it become clear Parliament had indeed lost confidence in the Government, Reddy could refuse to dissolve Parliament as is currently scheduled to take place Monday.

The House could then sit for the Government to move a high-stakes motion of confidence: if that passed, Parliament would dissolve, but if it failed the Governor-General could allow a period to see if there was confidence in either Ardern or another MP to form a government.

If the parties could come to agreement, then Prime Minister Judith Collins (or, dare we say it, Prime Minister Peters) could command the majority of the House for just long enough to schedule a new election date. 

If that was not possible, then it would be for Reddy to use the reserve powers of the Governor-General and set an election date, possibly with the input of the Chief Electoral Officer.

It is worth noting that the process for resolving such a constitutional conundrum is contested, with no clear instruction manual.

University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis believes it would take a majority of the House throwing its active support behind a new leader, rather than simply withdrawing its support in Ardern, for the Governor-General to reverse course on the dissolution of Parliament and election date.

With Peters publicly confirming Ardern still has the confidence of New Zealand First, Reddy could accept the Prime Minister’s request to dissolve Parliament on the grounds she enjoyed its confidence at the time the decision was made, even if that was to change afterwards.