I have been following this story with some interest.
The original story, that Simon Bridges had spent heaps of money on his tour of the country so that he could meet and greet ordinary kiwis was almost laughable. How could he not understand how bad it would look?
The splash of information was funny. Of course the left used it. National’s born to rule inclinations were to the fore again. But the information was going to come out a couple of days later. It was no big deal.
But the muscular testosterone full response ever since has been pretty weird.
Like the decision to call for an inquiry that was going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to find out who leaked information about a limo and hotel spend of hundreds of thousands of dollars a couple of days earlier.
Then there was the finger pointing. National blamed Labour without a shred of evidence. And to call their bluff Mallard offered and then ordered a full blown inquiry.
Then we had Friday’s news suggesting that the leak had to be from within National’s ranks. Either that or someone was running a pretty way out false flag operation.
But the texts and the disclosure of the issues to Bridges, Mallard and to O’Brien happened 8 days ago. So how did each of them handle the disclosure?
Well on Monday the 20th Bridges said he was confident that it was not any of his MPs. He also said that we had a Government that was trying to distract although to be fair he may have been talking about his dispute with New Zealand First. Of course he did not intend to create confusion by merging together comment about two different matters at the one time …
And remember this comment was made the day after the Police had told him they had identified who the sender of the texts was.
No wonder Politicians are held in such low regard. Because when you consider what Radio New Zealand came out with on Friday you wonder about how rubbery the words are that Simon uses.
Just to recap:
Sources have told RNZ Mr Bridges and the Speaker Trevor Mallard both received an anonymous text message last week from a person claiming to be responsible for leaking the information to Newshub.
The author of the text warned they suffered from mental health problems in the past and said being exposed publicly could push them over the edge and put their life at risk.
The appeal came after Mr Mallard launched an inquiry into who leaked the expenses and promised to name and shame the person responsible.
The text, which RNZ has not seen, detailed a number of conversations and pieces of information from National caucus meetings over a period of weeks in an attempt to prove the author was a National MP.
In the message, the author said they had leaked the expenses because they disagreed with Mr Bridges’ leadership style, describing him as “arrogant”, and wanted him to be held to account for his spending of taxpayers’ money.
Of course the news was incendiary. National’s attempt to blame Labour and the public service was shown to be a whole load of kaka. And National had a certifiable leaker, maybe two.
After the news was released there were interesting developments.
Simon Bridges gave a stand up. He went from we have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to find out who did it to the police know who sent the text to him and probably did the original leak and he did not want to know. As if.
We had the dance of a hundred veils. He had not questioned his caucus about it. Although no doubt others had. But his conclusion was clear:
The text made clear to me that it was from the leaker … [and that] the leaker was in the National caucus.”
Then we had to put up with more politics. I can tell you that it is pretty clear to me and a few others who the leaker is. I support leaving them in peace.
Trevor Mallard agreed. He decided to call the inquiry off on the basis that it was an internal National Party issue.
But they could not abide by this. From Lucy Bennett at the Herald:
National has criticised Parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard for pulling the pin on an inquiry into who leaked details of leader Simon Bridges’ expenses to the media.
Bridges and Mallard have both expressed concern for the mental health of the leaker who sent a text message last week to both and to a media outlet asking them not to pursue the inquiry because of the impact it would have on their mental health.
National MP Gerry Brownlee, who is shadow leader of the House, questioned what had changed in the 24 hours between Mallard yesterday announcing the appointment of Michael Heron QC to lead the inquiry, and today’s decision to discontinue it.
“The Speaker … was happy to appoint Mike Heron but today it’s all off because he’s decided that all the guilt lies with our caucus. That’s a pretty unacceptable position for a Speaker to put themselves in,” Brownlee told the Herald.
“Clearly there is a duty to find that person. I think he’s obfuscating his duty as a Speaker, quite frankly, if it turns out to be a staffer, [Mallard] is the head of the Parliamentary Service and he has a duty of care to every person who works in that place, and he’s walking away from that.”
National rejected Mallard’s assertion that the leak could only have come from within the National Party.
“While that is possible, that is not his decision to make nor can he categorically make it based on the evidence,” Brownlee said.
“The facts have not changed following publication of parts of the text message and the Speaker has no new information than when he announced the appointment of a QC to lead the inquiry yesterday.”
National would continue to search for the person who leaked the information ahead of its publication to both ensure their wellbeing and to protect the integrity of the role of the Opposition, he said.
How a Parliamentary Services staffer as opposed to a National Party staffer could have been at the caucus meetings is not explained.
Can someone reconcile Bridges’ statement with Brownlee’s statement? And do National really want the investigation to continue? Can’t they just decide? Either they are sympathetic to someone having personal issues or it is all Labour’s fault. Both don’t work.
And WTF Brownlee. Why continue with the political games. If someone is vulnerable how about all politicians decide to shut up about the issue and agree to forgo the seeking of political advantage.
Tova O’Brien was scathing about National’s behaviour.
I was sent the same text message Simon Bridges and Trevor Mallard were sent last week by the leaker of Bridges’ expenses.
It was desperate and devastating – a clear plea for help.
The inquiry was called because there was concern about a leak from within the parliamentary system – a weakness which could undermine the sanctity of the parliament and therefore our democracy.
The leaker’s message was simple, in their words:
“There is no security breach in the parliament or problem to be fixed in the system.”
They wanted the inquiry called off:
“Just say you know there is no security breach”.
They shared anecdotes from National Party caucus meetings that only National Party MPs would know in an attempt to prove that they’re an MP, and that the leak shouldn’t be dealt with at a Parliamentary level overseen by a Queen’s Counsel or High Court judge.
This is a National Party issue that should be dealt with by the National Party. As the Speaker just made clear by calling off the inquiry.
Bridges should have got in before Trevor Mallard and requested the inquiry be called off himself.
Having received that same text as Simon Bridges I was surprised that he not only chose to push on with the witch hunt, but suggested the person should be named and even called into question whether the message was genuine.
Some of the media comment has been weird. Bryce Edwards thinks that having a leaker in Caucus and demanding a very expensive inquiry over not very much is an advantage for Bridges.
Stacey Kirk thinks the investigation should continue and that it was more probable than not that the leaker came from within National’s ranks. How about 99% more likely? And how about since the Speaker’s office is no longer realistically implicated in the leak the expense is not justified?
Tracy Watkins had an even more bizarre take on the issue:
Except Stuff has been told the text was by no means incontrovertible evidence of an inside job – and while some of the information supplied by the texter could suggest they were a National MP, that information could also have been picked up or deduced by a wider circle of people, including staff.
We have not been shown the text, so there is no way of verifying that.
But Bridges has now been left in the worst of all worlds.
Having called for an inquiry, he was obliged to stick to his guns on the issue, even after it appeared that he might not like the answer should it turn out to be a National MP.
That would have suggested a concerted campaign to destabilise his leadership.
But having now been informed by police that the person concerned has mental health issues, Bridges has no way of knowing for sure whether that might be one of his MPs, a staff member, or even someone from the Speaker’s office.
An inquiry might have allowed Parliament to find that person and put support around them if necessary. Alternatively, it might have found that the text was a smokescreen.
So let me get this straight, staff from the Speaker’s Office attend National caucus meetings? And accepting National sourced spin on texts you have not seen?
The Herald has been more staunch on the issue. Audrey Young correctly asked why Bridges would call for an inquiry when he did not know how it would end up. Any experienced court lawyer will tell you that you never ask a question you do not know the answer to.
An editorial summed up the situation perfectly:
Thus an investigation that started over a triviality may leave the country wondering which National MP might have a serious mental health problem. This is what can happen when a leader over-reacts to a slight. The consequences can be worse than the offence.
The best advice I can give to National is stop digging. Put this particular episode to rest. And hope that its caucus rifts are repaired. And that its caucus members are well.