Newsroom, October 17, 2018
What should have been the end of the protracted Simon Bridges leak saga has led to further questions.
An explosive press conference from ousted National MP Jami-Lee Ross should have provided the answers to questions swirling since August, but Ross’ attack on Bridges only raised more questions.
PwC finds the Leaker
On Monday, October 15, 2018, Bridges released the findings of a PwC Report into the leaking of his travel expenses, and subsequent events. The Report was not conclusive, but on the balance of probabilities, found Ross was the leaker.
Ross has flat-out denied being the leaker and has gone down swinging, levelling serious allegations at Bridges, which included corrupt electoral donation practices.
While the remaining National MPs were in a crisis caucus meeting voting to expel the “lone wolf MP” from the Party, Ross was using a podium set up for Bridges to publicly announce his resignation and mount his next attack on his former ally.
With allegations flying and MPs resigning, here is a list of what we now know, and what is yet to come out in the wash:
Ross denies being the original leaker of Bridges’ travel expenses. The expenses were leaked to a Newshub journalist in August and the PwC Report commissioned by Bridges showed no correspondence between Ross and the journalist. The Report said the leaker had not been identified “with certainty,” but the evidence pointed to Ross.
Bridges and National MPs were firm on their belief that Ross was behind all the recent leaks, saying that there had been a “pattern of behaviour.”
There was also no alternative MP or staffer identified as the possible source.
Ross has admitted to being the leaker of the text from the person claiming to be the expense leaker (stay with us).
The text calling for the leak inquiry to be called off was leaked to a different journalist, from a different organisation.
Ross said that he passed the details of the text to the RNZ journalist because he disagreed with Bridges’ decisions regarding the leak saga, including his decision to push forward with an investigation despite the leaker revealing they had mental health issues.
The Report details 10 calls between Ross and the RNZ journalist, and nine calls between Ross and a Senior Police Officer in his electorate.
He says that the calls to the Police Officer were on an unrelated matter.
It seems no one in National, nor the Report authors, believe this.
Ross is also now facing allegations of harassing at least four women. He was confronted by Bridges, Deputy Leader Paula Bennett, and National Chief of Staff Jamie Gray about three weeks ago. They said that there were complaints from four women, and they were aware of a “pattern of behaviour.”
Bridges said that the women did not want to take the matter further.
Meanwhile, allegations regarding Ross’ behaviour in his Botany electorate have surfaced.
Issues were taken to the National Party executive by members of the Howick Local Board on more than one occasion. No action was taken.
Ross denies ever harassing a woman, saying that he was raised by his mother and grandmother to respect women.
He then strangely referenced the Brett Kavanaugh affair in the US, saying that a man who was accused of harassment these days found it almost impossible to clear their name.
Ross said that these allegations led to him having a “mental breakdown” and caused him to take leave. He said he was better now.
Last night Bennett told Newsroom that it was wrong of Ross to claim she and Bridges had raised allegations of sexual ‘harassment’ with him.
“We just put to him some form of inappropriate behaviour for a married man. We had a private conversation with him. It was sensitive, but it is him who has chosen to go public about it being around sexual harassment.”
Electoral return allegations
Clearly not one to go down without a fight, Ross levelled his own allegations at Bridges over his dealing with electoral returns.
Ross said that Bridges filed false returns for electoral donations. One of those was a $10,000 donation from an organisation called Cathedral Club, which Ross alleged was a front for Bridges’ friend.
Bridges said that there was a clerical error regarding two donations totalling $24,000, as they were listed as candidate donations, rather than Party donations.
The return was amended and resubmitted.
Allegation of donations
Ross also alleged Bridges had received $100,000 from Chinese businessman Yikun Zhang, which Bridges asked Ross to collect and split up so it could be filed anonymously.
The outgoing National MP said that he would be taking information regarding the alleged “corruption” to Police on Wednesday, October 10, 2018.
Bridges denied any corruption or wrongdoing and said he welcomed an investigation.
National Party President Peter Goodfellow said that the Party could find no proof of Ross’ allegations, which seemed “inconsistent with the donor information we have to date, including information previously supplied by Mr Ross.”
Jami-Lee Ross’ future
Ross has resigned as a Member of the National Party and as a Member of Parliament.
He will stand in the Botany by-election as an Independent.
National will also stand a candidate in the election, and it is unlikely that Ross will win.
At this stage, his future remains up in the air.
Simon Bridges’ future
Bridges’ handling of the leak saga, and his popularity both in and out of the Party, have been questioned during the past two months.
The Leader said that the Party was united and all 55 MPs had voted to expel Ross.
He also said that his leadership had not been discussed by caucus but the Party was united. He repeatedly referred to Ross as a ‘Lone-Wolf MP,’ who was ‘leaking,’ ‘lying’ and ‘lashing out.’
However, this will not be the end of the saga for Bridges, who may now be at the centre of an investigation into alleged electoral fraud.
He is in a stronger position than Ross at this stage but nothing’s a sure thing in politics.
Laura Walters writes about Education, Justice, and Immigration. The above article, which appeared in the Web Edition of ‘Newsroom,’ on October 16, 2018, has been reproduced here under a Special Arrangement.
Jami-Lee Ross stood at the podium set up for Simon Bridges and unleashed a barrage of accusations about Bridges’ leadership.
Photo: Lynn Grieveson (Newsroom)