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22/10/2018 — Economics, Politics and Government
National’s poor dealings with Ross issues
By Dene Mackenzie

The New Zealand National Party is proving itself rotten to the core. The party my grandfather once proudly served as a long-time MP and as a minister of agriculture has disappeared from view.

In its place is a misogynist and apparently racist party, one which is paying lip service to the word diversity.

The failure of the party to discipline rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross when it first found out about allegations of philandering, bullying and generally abhorrent behaviour is a disgrace. It has been claimed details about Ross’ bad behaviour became known two years ago, during the last leadership.

Current leader, Simon Bridges, was a senior minister in the previous government and must have been aware.

Certainly, president Peter Goodfellow was aware and is said to have brokered a “gentleman’s agreement” to stop one of Ross’ alleged female victims of abuse and bullying from going public.

Goodfellow, a wealthy Auckland businessman, has been a divisive president of the party – once called a broadchurch party. However, the rot set in much earlier.

Several of people in powerful positions in the National Party started as Young Nats in the early 1980s. They are still in the background calling the shots.

Ross was kept on as an MP after revelations about his behaviour came to light in 2016. Until last week, he was ranked seventh within the party. The only complainant who has been named, Katrina Bungard, claims she was harassed to the point she sought medical treatment and help from the party’s executive. Bungard has expressed her satisfaction with the way her complaint was handled by Goodfellow.

It is likely the name of the female MP who had an affair with Ross will become public soon. The name of the woman is being bandied around on social media, a disgraceful but expected change in the way social media has crept into the lives of so-called celebrities.

Members of Parliament, journalists and parliamentary staffers have been having affairs for years but the details have been kept strictly in-house. Until now, when Ross burst out of the blocks.

With New Zealand’s MMP system bringing in list MPs, the practice of buying a winnable place on the list has become rife in both National and Labour.

For all of Labour’s faux outrage, it is just as guilty as the rest of sexual affairs and taking cash for influence on its list placings.

National has always had the support of big business and Labour has, until recently, enjoyed undying support from major trade unions. Looking at the backgrounds of MPs gives some idea to voters of where loyalties lie.

Changes to New Zealand’s political donation declarations have led to a practice of breaking up larger donations into smaller amounts from several donors. Anything above $30,000 has to be declared to the Electoral Commission within 10 days of receipt.

For foreign donors, amounts above $1,500 must be declared, making the latest claim by Ross of large donations going to National from influential and wealthy Chinese a cause for concern.

National has an opportunity tomorrow to use the Waka Jumping Bill to get rid of Ross by the end of December.

Though Bridges hates the legislation, it may be his saviour.

There are two types of MPs in Parliament – the electorate MP, which Ross is, and a list MP who is dependent on how many votes the party received enter Parliament

Once they have got their seat in Parliament, they are officially a Member of Parliament and vote and speak in the house on equal footing. But if an electorate MP decides to leave their party, there is no requirement to also leave Parliament.

The Waka Jumping legislation changes that, saying the defecting MP will have to give up their seat. If they want to keep their seat they have to go back to the people who voted them in and win the seat again.

National has a huge job ahead of it to win back the trust of its long-serving loyal members who donate in the tens or hundreds of dollars, not the many hundreds of thousands.

Dealing with Ross, then assuring party members women are safe in National, is the start of the journey.

*Dene Mackenzie is a Dunedin political commentator.

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