Written By: - Date published: 8:22 am, November 5th, 2018 - 141 comments
Categories: Dirty Politics, jacinda ardern, labour, national, paula bennett, same old national, Simon Bridges, spin, trevor mallard, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags: jami-lee ross
Labour had its annual conference on the weekend. The mood was upbeat and Jacinda delivered a tub thumping speech. Delegates were very happy. New policy was announced and was warmly received by the population at large. The golden rule of Jacinda became a little more real.
But over at National they are not in a happy place. Just when they may have been thinking the worse was over a new Jami-Lee Ross tape has popped up. And this one will cause a lot of disruption.
From Dan Satherley at Newshub:
Secret recordings of a conversation involving Jami-Lee Ross, Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett have been leaked to The AM Show.
The clip features Mr Ross talking to the National Party leadership ahead of his decision to take personal leave at the start of October.
The comments on the tape suggest the National leadership team was trying to cover up the wrongdoing by Mr Ross. They discuss what reasons they will give for his leave – medical or family. Ms Bennett says medical leave would be better, as it would reduce media interest.
“So it would be for medical reasons?” asks Mr Ross.
“Is that what you want?” asks Ms Bennett. “I think either medical or family.”
“Medical is true,” says Mr Ross.
“That’s right,” says Mr Bridges. “There’s no shame in that.”
“And it means everyone will back off you too – the media and all that sort of stuff,” says Ms Bennett.
The tape then records how the parties discussed disloyalty and harassment of staff.
Ross’s request for clarification of the allegations made against him was declined. It was recorded in this part of the discussion:
“Simon told you all about the disloyalty stuff Jami-Lee, and quite frankly if that was put to caucus, that would be enough,” replies Ms Bennett.
“The stuff around harassing staff which I reject, that is the worst. I don’t even know what that is,” says Mr Ross.
“Well you do know what the disloyalty stuff is, and that’s been put to you really clearly. If that was put to caucus, that would be enough,” says Ms Bennett. “We are trying to give you the lightest possible way out of this.”
The tape would have been recorded in early October and before the results of the inquiry into the leak was announced. Bridges will need to explain what he said a couple of weeks later on October 18 about the Newsroom article which detailed allegations of inappropriate behaviour that Ross was accused of. As set out in this Radio New Zealand article:
“I’m gutted about the story and everything that it’s about. I am in admiration of the courage of these women for what has happened here.”
Mr Bridges said he first heard claims of inappropriate behaviour towards women in recent weeks. He didn’t know whether they were the same women as those quoted in the Newsroom report.
“I knew nothing before the leak investigation of any of these sort of things. It’s only in very recent weeks,” he said.
“Within a day of learning about these things, I confronted Jami-Lee Ross about them and have made sure… he is no longer part of our caucus.”
Mr Bridges refused to go into any detail about the claims or who made them, saying he respected privacy.
“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind, I dealt with things in the right way.”
Mr Bridges said he was “completely unaware” that Mr Ross was capable of the alleged behaviour.
“In totality, what we’ve got here are lies, deception, inappropriate conduct, leaks… I am really glad we’ve seen the back of this man.”
One possible interpretation is that Bridges knew about the allegations at the time the tape was made but did not tell this to the public when confronted. And it is startling that he was prepared to say that he could rehabilitate Ross and return him to the fold. It is noteworthy that the allegations only came out publicly when National decided to counterattack after Ross’s stand up conference in Parliament. Ross’s mental health was not a significant consideration for them at that time.
In this morning’s Radio New Zealand interview Suzy Ferguson put this to Bridges. I found his answers to her questions unconvincing.
I do not envy Bridges in the situation that he found himself in, dealing with someone who was ill. Clearly Bridges was walking on egg shells. But I cannot understand why he concluded publicly that Ross was the information leaker. The report was inconclusive. It relied on contact with a reporter (not Tova O’Brien), Mallard and a police officer. Mallard has explained how the contact with him was accidental. The other contacts appear to be innocent. Unless there is further information that is not in the public domain yet the result seems flimsy.
The worst thing for National is that this particular series of attacks shows no signs of going away. Their only option is to use the waka jumping law to get Ross out of Parliament. Clearly they are struggling with a decision to do that. But they don’t really have any other options. Other than tolerate death by a thousand cuts of Bridges’ leadership.