Jami Lee Ross vs Simon Bridges
Whatever drama is taking place before our eyes, one certainty should be borne in mind: this is not a story of Good vs Evil; Light vs Darkness; a lone battler for justice vs corruption in our highest political places. What we are seeing are two faces of the same coin at war with each other.
One is motivated by revenge – for ambitions thwarted.
The other is motivated by desperation – for pure political survival.
Jami Lee Ross has been associated with a small cabal of far-right political activists; Simon Lusk, David Farrar, Judith Collins, Aaron Bhatnagar, and Cameron Slater. (There are others, but they are bit-players.) More on this shortly.
Ross was better known for his Employment Relations Amendment Bill in 2013 which would allow businesses to break strikes by employing temporary scab labour during industrial action. Ross’s undisguised hatred for unions was apparent when, in June 2012, he released a vicious attack public attack on the Maritime Union (involved in a bitter dispute at the time with the Ports of Auckland management);
This is in fact a story of the Maritime Union biting the hand that feeds them. It is a story of industrial action that, if left to go on much longer, could have disastrous consequences for the Ports of Auckland.
For commercial users, it is a simple matter of certainty and continuity Union action, and the threat of further strikes, have put a serious dent in the Ports of Auckland’s ability to provide their bread and butter services Customers are now voting with their feet. The value of Ports of Auckland and the value of the investment that every Aucklander has in the company will continue to suffer if resolution to this matter is not swift.
Aucklanders can rightly be concerned at the increasingly rogue nature of the Maritime Union. However there are 500 men and women that work at the Port with even more skin in the game and a lot more to lose. The trade union movement evolved through a desire for workers to band together to protect their common interests. This is not a dishonourable goal. But when a union loses sight of its members long term interests and cavalier negotiating tactics start to backfire, the union itself begins putting its own member’s livelihoods at risk.
Unions still occupy a privileged position in New Zealand’s employment law; a relic of the last Labour administration which has not seen significant overhaul for some years. Few non-government organisations can boast clauses in legislation specifically designed for their benefit. Despite only 18 percent of the nation’s workforce being unionised, trade unions can look to whole sections of the Employment Relations Act written exclusively to aid union survival through legislative advantage.
Up until recently, cool heads and rational people sitting around negotiating tables have meant that little focus has been placed on the role that unions play in society. However, with the bare-faced mockery that the Maritime Union is making of civilised negotiations New Zealanders will soon begin to question what position unions should hold in the modern Kiwi workplace.
As the fight for Auckland’s waterfront reaches the tipping point, for ratepayers and workers alike this present stand off must come to an end. The city’s $600 million port investment and worker’s jobs are now on the line. Also on the line is the country’s acceptance of the role of trade unions. It can not be tolerable or acceptable for a union to demonstrate continued disregard for the economic consequences of their actions.
For Simon Bridges, he is better known for enabling legislation criminalising/banning protest action against deep-sea oil exploration;
The government is set to crack down on environmental protesters with fines of up to $100,000 or a year in jail for those who target offshore oil and gas operations.
Energy minister Simon Bridges today announced “stronger measures to protect offshore petroleum and minerals activity from unlawful interference”.
Individuals who intentionally damage or interfere with mining structures, like rigs, or vessels face a 12-month prison sentence or a $50,000 fine. Organisations face a penalty of up to $100,000.
Activists who break a 500-metre “no-go” zone around structures would be liable for a $10,000 fine.
The public will lose their right to formally oppose deep-sea oil and gas exploration from tomorrow.
A law change will see applications by oil giants go through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They will now be “non-notified” preventing members of the public lodging a formal protest.
Environment Minister Amy Adams said the new classification was the “pragmatic option” for exploratory drilling. She believed it provided regulation “proportionate to its effects”.
Neither men fit any notion of being “Champions” for public scrutiny and openess when it comes to political matters. Both are on record willing and able to curtail workers’ rights for collective bargaining, and public rights to oppose environmentally damaging fossil fuel exploration.
Furthermore, if we disregard the (now admitted) sexual shenanigans and the controversial (though not illegal) tape recordings by Jamie Lee Ross, there remain several questions that deserve far greater scrutiny.
The $100,000 Donation (the real one, not the fabricated Donghua Liu/NZHerald version)
Was a donation of $100,000 made by Chinese businessman, Zhang Yikun?
According to Southland mayor, Gary Tong, who was on a recent business trip to China with the businessman, Mr Zhang denies ever making such a donation.
Assuming that a donation was made, where was the $100K deposited? In his now infamous recorded conversation with National Parliamentary leader, Simon Bridges, Jami-Lee Ross pointed to the amount being deposited into a “Botany electorate account”.
“What would you like done with it? It’s currently sitting in a Botany electorate account.”
In a follow-up text message to National Party president, Peter Goodfellow, Ross said;
In what form was it deposited – one lump sum, or in smaller amounts?
According to Ross – in the same text message – they were “all under $15,000”.
The following conversation between Bridges and Ross is suggestive that there is a question how the donation should be disclosed to Peter Goodfellow;
Bridges: The money’s fine sitting there in the Botany account. I don’t know what your arrangement is with Goodfellow or not, that’s all. I need to talk to him. I’m actually seeing him tonight, I wonder if I should.
Ross: I don’t think we can.
Bridges: I should wait and get the right words.
Ross: I don’t think we can raise tens of thousands and completely keep him out of the loop.
Bridges: No, no we can’t.
Ross: Maybe if you’re just honest with him about it.
Bridges: I think that’s right. I’ll raise it with him but we should probably just think it through. I mean, it can be in the Party but I do just want to make sure we’ve got that money to do those things. Don’t you think?
Ross: Donations can only be raised two ways: Party donation or candidate donation.
Party donation has a different disclosure which is fine, and the way they’ve done it meets the disclosure requirements…it meets the requirements where it’s under the particular disclosure level because they’re a big association and there’s multiple people and multiple people make donations, so that’s all fine. But if it was a candidate donation that’d be different. So making them party donations is the way to do it. Legally though if they’re party donations they’re kind of under Greg’s name as the party secretary.
Bridges: We need to tell them, I get that. I get that. I’m going to tell him…I think he’ll accept it I just need to explain to him what it is I want it for. Unless I get him to…leave it with me. I might talk to McClay as well; see what he’s got up his sleeve. Because Peter is going to be with me at this meeting in Wellington, is all. If I then brought him after that…good work though man, that’s a lot of money.
In the last highlighted extract Ross practically spells out to Bridges that the donation was made by “multiple people and multiple people mak[ing] donations“.
Tellingly, Bridges accepts Ross’s statement without question. He reconfirmed his acceptance of multiple donations/donors on Radio NZ’s Morning Report on 24 October. When asked by Suzie Ferguson if he had “found the $100,000 donation yet“, Bridges replied;
“We’ve established that the position is , it was some seven donations from eight people. I didn’t know that at the time – [inaudible].”
Ms Ferguson pressed the point by asking if it added up to $100,000. Bridges replied;
“Look, I think it’s something very much like that, yeah.”
Bridges’ claim he was unaware of multiple donors is at variance with what Jami Lee Ross told him during their recorded conversation;
“Party donation has a different disclosure which is fine, and the way they’ve done it meets the disclosure requirements…it meets the requirements where it’s under the particular disclosure level because they’re a big association and there’s multiple people and multiple people make donations, so that’s all fine.”
National Party President, Peter Goodfellow confirmed unequivocally that no “$100K” donation had been received by the National Party office;
“There was no such donation. The Botany Electorate of the National Party received eight donations, and Mr Ross declared eight donations to us.”
It will be a simple matter for Police to conduct a forensic accounting investigation. Once deposited into the Botany-National account the electronic money trail will be relatively straight forward to follow.
If – as Peter Goodfellow claims, and Ross outlined in his recorded conversation with Bridges – it was deposited in smaller amounts, again it would be straight forward to trace the source(s) and donor (s).
If dodgy dealings were involved and the $100k was split into “eight donations“, an electronic trail will reveal the donor(s). The Police probably have those details by now.
Furthermore, if seven of those “eight donations” were individuals who happened to receive an identical sum of, say, $12,500 from Zhang Yikun; and those seven individuals then donated precisely the same sum of, say, $12,500 to Botany National – then a prima facie case exists that an attempt was made to circumvent the Electoral Act 1993.
If it became known that Mr Zhang received that $100,000 from a foreign government – or state-sanctioned entity controlled by a foreign government – that would be explosive! It would cripple the National Party for years to come.
The bottom line is that a donation was made. The question is: how was it made? Both claims of a single $100k donation and “eight donations” cannot be reconciled.
Someone is lying. By now the Police probably have a good idea who.
Perhaps not quite so “insignificant?
All of which makes Bryce Edwards recent remarks questionable;
“The extraordinary National Party scandal currently unfolding before our eyes is undoubtedly high drama. It has it all – leaks, anonymous texts, threats, secret recordings and explosive allegations… At its heart, however, the scandal is empty. It contains nothing of significance for democracy and society.”
As a series of stories on Radio NZ’s Morning Report began to explore – whilst the prurient side-show of sex, tapes, and personality-plays dominated media headlines last week (15- 19 October) – the real issues of campaign donations is yet to play out.
Ross’s allegations may be the critically-needed spark that reviews our party donation rules by casting the glare of public scrutiny over ways the Electoral Act has been, and is, being rorted.
The Four Anonymous Women, What The Nats Knew, And When They Knew It
The issue raised by the story of four women allegedly harassed by Jami-Lee Ross was raised by independent media, Newsroom, on 18 October – three days after National party leader Simon Bridges held his press conference identifying Ross as the leaker of his travel expenses.
The story was written by Newsroom veteran journalist Melanie Reid and Cass Mason.
Initially, all four complainants were anonymous. Which made any similarities to the revelations by three women against US Supreme Court (then-)nominee, Brett Kavanaugh questionable. Those three women – Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, Julie Swetnick – came forward and made their identities public.
One, Christine Blasey Ford, appeared before a Senate Judiciary committee where she was subjected to intense scrutiny and questioning. Her demeanour and testimony was composed, compelling, and credible.
One day prior to the Newsroom story being published, National’s deputy leader, Paula Bennett accused Ross of unspecific “inappropriate behaviour”;
“He had gone out there and said we had been accusing him of sexual harassment of women and that’s not true, and we haven’t done that and he likened himself to Brett Kavanaugh, which was quite extraordinary in his hour-long stand-up, so I continued to be asked about sexual harassment and we hadn’t put sexual harassment to him, but we had put inappropriate behaviour to him.”
It was also in this story that Ross’s allegation that Simon Bridges had met with businessman Zhang Yikun was first confirmed by the National Party. Until this point, Bridges had been evasive in answering media questions on any donations.
All four women are apparently connected to the National Party. One has come forward – former National Party Candidate for Manurewa, Katrina Bungard;
Ms Bungard’s conflict with Ross began in 2016/17. Ross was campaigning vigorously to have his wife, Lucy Schwaner, appointed to the Howick Local Board.
This was National Party intra-politics with Ross allegedly threatening Ms Bungard for not supporting his wife onto the Howick Local Board. At one point, Ross had served a trespass order against Ms Bungard, to prevent her attending a National Party event. Far-right political operative, Simon Lusk, became involved on behalf of Jami Lee Ross.
Ms Bungard complained to the National Party hierarchy. Apparently, Ms Bungard was satisfied at the time with the National Party’s action addressing Ross’s alleged bullying;
“They helped me at a really stressful time and I am thankful for their assistance.”
Ms Bungard has stated that if Ross resigned , she would run for his Botany seat in the by-election.
As our American cuzzies put it, Ms Bungard “has skin in the game” – she would stand to benefit materially and politically if Jami Lee Ross resigned.
The other three alleged complainants remain anonymous and their stories cannot be scrutinised or verified.
Other Complainants come forward
David Collings, chair of the Howick Local Board, alleges that he also had a confrontation with Ross. On TV3’s The Nation, Mr Collings painted a grim picture of Jami Lee Ross;
“It got very nasty. He actually threatened, attacked my members, for support. For example, my deputy chair [Katrina Bungard] has aspirations – she’d be a great National MP… he’s used that over her to try and get his way. Threatening her – ‘you’re political career will go nowhere’ – other members of the board, even a sworn police officer, veiled threats about your employment.
Oh, it got very nasty.
I wasn’t even contacted. But obviously, I knew exactly what was going on, even was privy to… I think it was on the actual day of our meeting when we elected the chair. He called through – and I’ve said it before – in, like, a Darth Vader voice, ‘I can’t believe you’re willing to give up your political career.’ Sorry, I can do a better Darth Vader voice than that, but that’s what it was like. But like Freddy Krueger or something.
[…] I’m not sure if he said it was him, because I was actually going to try and get my phone to try and record it, so I missed the end of it. But it was on – what do you call it – a cell phone that was untraceable, sort of thing – no number.
We complained to the National Party, and Greg Hamilton – who was the manager at the time – was quite helpful. He said, ‘What you’re telling us is not right. An MP shouldn’t’ be getting involved in something in local government, particularly when his wife is involved.’ Greg was quite helpful, but it didn’t stop.”
Mr Collings went on to describe Ross as;
“Look, this guy – we’ve got a guy in our area that makes Todd Barclay look like an angel.”
National Party member, Katrina Bungard is Deputy Chair of the Howick Local Board.
TV3’s The Nation co-host, Simon Shepherd introduced David Collings as the chairperson of the Howick Local Board.
What wasn’t disclosed is that Mr Collings was elected on the right-wing ‘Vision and Voice‘ ticket; a local grouping of members that appears to be National Party-aligned;
John Spiller (formerly member of National-aligned)
Katrina Bungard (former National candidate)
Adele White (supported by Jami Lee Ross in a petition, 2013)
Lucy Schwaner (Jami Lee Ross’s wife).
As described in a Newsroom story;
Many on the Howick board are National Party types but the party doesn’t stand candidates directly.
It would appear that David Collings also “has skin in the game”.
Obvious questions should be raised as to why the complainants have only now made their stories about alleged harassment public. As Tim Macindoe, MP for Hamilton West, pointed out to Newshub;
“You’re jumping to a whole lot of assumptions about behaviour you don’t know about and I don’t know about.
There are allegations that have been made, but I think given the situation we’re now in, the best thing is for us all to just step back, allow authorities do the jobs they’re needing to do, and I don’t think it’s helpful for us to be involved in public speculation.
As I say we have some allegations that have been made, they may be wildly at variance from the facts.”
The conclusion that this is a “pile on” by National Party members and supporters cannot be easily ignored. Alleged bad behaviour is apparently tolerated by National as long as everyone ‘tows the party line’ and remains loyal.
National Party action over past harassment charges
Justifying Ross’s expulsion, an un-named National Party spokesperson said;
“What Jami-Lee has done and continues to do is unacceptable and the more that comes to light the more we know we made the right decision to expel him from the Caucus.
We are supporting those women who came to us as a result of Jami-Lee’s behaviour.”
However, many of the allegations made against Ross appear to have been recent-historical and have only now surfaced.
Whilst National was “supporting those women who came to us as a result of Jami-Lee’s behaviour” one complainant was encouraged (?) to sign a NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Signed two years ago, National Party president, Peter Goodfellow, denies it was a NDA;
“We haven’t used any NDAs. That matter was a private matter and they wanted confidentiality, so they both agreed that it would be kept confidential.
That’s the only instance that I’m aware of in my time as president that we’ve had an issue like that and it’s certainly the only time that the parties have requested confidentiality.
It was a matter that was raised by a couple of people and was dealt with – and actually to the satisfaction of the parties.
We acted quickly and helped them to resolve the differences and move on.”
According to Peter Goodfellow, the document was not a NDA but rather a “gentlemen’s agreement”. Which is a quaintly odd euphemism, as one of the signatories was a woman.
Despite the agreement; despite the complaints made over his alleged behaviour, Ross’s career continued to rise within the National Party. He rose to become National’s Senior Whip.
Though the National hierarchy had been aware of complaints about Ross’s alleged behaviour, at least one woman who complained was silenced through a non-disclosure agreement – and in the meantime Jami Lee Ross continued his rise through the National hierarchy. He was rewarded, whilst complainants were silenced.
His promotion makes a mockery of the sanctimonious utterances of both Simon Bridges and his deputy, Paula Bennett;
“I am in admiration of the courage of these women for what had happened. As soon as I was aware of inappropriate conduct, I acted immediately I knew nothing before the leak investigation about any of these sorts of things … within a day of knowing about them I confronted Jami-Lee Ross about this.” – Simon Bridges
“I think there are bound to be other women, at various degrees, he was grooming. I feel a sense that people deserve to feel safe and particularly from someone in power. I think those women are incredibly courageous and strong to have spoken out. I’m sure when you are dealing with that potentially narcissistic personality, then any kind of position of power would feed into that.” – Paula Bennett
Simon Bridges denies any knowledge of Ross’s alleged bad behaviour. This seems unlikely in a ‘pressure-cooker’ political environment where people talk to each other and gossip runs rampant. Bridges’ claim of not knowing is simply not credible.
In Parliament, people talk. Especially staff. And often that chit-chat gets back to politician’s ears.
The culture of the National Party seems geared toward rewarding brutal politics and hiding away the victims of those who wield the power. This fact has been made abundantly clear to the public.
Sectioned into care?
On Sunday 21 October, the media reported that Ross had been taken into “mental health care“.
There were suggestions he had been “sectioned” – admitted under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act. This usually involves psychiatrist reports and a decision before a sitting judge. A Court Order is made for compulsory treatment. It takes time to be “sectioned” and is not an easy process;
For the first month, the patient must accept treatment. From the second month onwards, the patient is not required to accept treatment unless they give informed consent, or treatment is considered in the interests of the patient by an independent psychiatrist (not being the responsible clinician), or the patient needs emergency treatment and it is not possible to get their consent.
Two days later, on Tuesday 23 October, Ross was discharged from care.
According to David Fisher at the NZ Herald, the “friend” assisting Ross after his “discharge was none other than – Cameron Slater;
It is believed Slater has been personally supporting Ross since the weekend and his assistance extended to helping the MP in his release from Middlemore Hospital’s mental health facilities yesterday.
In the two days that Ross was in “mental health care”, the media spotlight went from the beleaguered rogue MP facing numerous allegations of “bad behaviour”, harrassment, extra-marital affairs – to National Leader Simon Bridges.
Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘ on Tuesday 23 October focused on interviews and hard questions put to Bridges, the National Party, campaign donations,mental health, and workplace harassment. Anything but Jami Lee Ross;
- 6:37 Mental Health Foundation warns over Jami-Lee Ross coverage
- 7:10 Parliament after Ross saga – political analysis
- 7:27 Jacinda Ardern defends political donations system
- 7:40 Mental Health Foundation urges greater care over Jami-Lee Ross
- 7:52 Sectioned MP Jami-Lee Ross uncharted territory for Parliament
- 8:10 National Party president could go following Ross saga – Edwards
And more the following day on ‘Morning Report‘;
- 6:40 Parties wouldn’t need to fundraise in ideal world – Ardern
- 7:10 National slips behind Labour in latest political poll
- 7:14 National slips, Bridges drops in poll – political analysis
- 7:40 National Party inquiry to ensure staff ‘feeling safe’ – Bridges
- 8:10 National Party culture review – political analysis
- 8:23 Greens urge political donation reform
All of a sudden, the blow-torch of media attention was off Ross and on Simon Bridges and the National party in most instances.
If Ross really was admitted into “mental health care” – it was a timely coincidence.
If not, it was a strategic master-stroke – whoever planned it would fit the role of a Bond villain with perfection.
Which leads us to…
The Dirty Politics Cabal
Conspiracy of cock-up? Jamie Lee Ross’s recording of conversation(s) with Simon Bridges was either a shrewd decision to cover his back-side as he fell from grace with his Leader – or something far more calculating and sinister.
Bridges claims that he believes Ross have may been planning and executing his strategy for a considerable period of time;
“I think he has been recording me, and potentially many other members of Parliament, for a very long time.”
So obviously not a spur-of-the-moment, rash-impulse kind, of thing by Ross.
As the Ross/Bridges crisis unfolded since 15 October, several names began to show up – names which feature prominently in Nicky Hager’s expose, Dirty Politics:
- Simon Lusk – currently advising Jami Lee Ross. Don Rowe wrote an insightful backgrounder on this right-wing operative for The Spinoff.
- Cameron Slater – running a series of articles deriding Simon Bridges’ leadership as “weak” and expressing subtle sympathy for Ross. In one piece, Slater calls into question and rubbishes assertions made by Bridges and Paula Bennett. Slater reportedly assisted Ross after his ‘discharge’ from mental health care.
- Aaron Bhatnagar – the person behind the so-called “Cathedral Club” which was listed in National Party election finance returns as donating $10,000. Ross claimed “that Bridges signed off an election return which included a $10,000 donation from the “Cathedral Club” even though he knew the identity of the donor”. Was this a set-up to ‘prove’ the National Party leader to be “corrupt”, as Ross alleged?
Assuming – for a moment – that the most machiavellian planning has gone into destroying Simon Bridges as the leader of the National;
- Who would benefit?
- What would be the likely outcome for the Party?
In answer to question one, the likely successor to Bridges being deposed would be Judith Collins. Ms Collins featured recently in the TVNZ-Colmar Brunton polls, just marginally behind Simon Bridges;
Jami Lee Ross’s full scale assault has inarguably destroyed his political career. He may even be unemployable in the private sector, as Kiwiblogger David Farrar, and former MP, Tau Henare, pointed out recently.
But his attacks on Simon Bridges has also undermined his leadership – perhaps beyond repair.
If National falls any further in polling; and Bridges’ popularity drops further; and Collins’ popularity rises – the inevitable would happen. Bridges would be rolled and Judith Collins installed as the new leader.
In answer to question 2: National would lurch hard-right. New Zealand politics would suddenly become more partisan; more divisive – in short, more like Australia. The hard-right warriors Simon Lusk, Cameron Slater, Aaron Bhatnagar, Jami Lee Ross, et al, would have their new leader and National would become the vehicle for their political agenda and aspirations.
Jamie Lee Ross would eventually be “rehabilitated” politically and would be appointed to various SOE boards as Collins’ ‘head kicker’.
Far-fetched conspiracy la-la stuff? Perhaps… though even David Fisher seemed compelled to write in the NZ Herald;
“It’s impossible to know exactly when Ross took a step down what he sees as a righteous – and what Bridges calls treacherous – path. It’s also difficult to know where it ends. Ross’ actions have shown clear signs of strategy.”
Scoop media: Jami Lee Ross – Union biting the hand that feeds
Newstalk ZB: Ross saga – Businessman denies making $100k donation
Fairfax media: Environmental protesters’ Govt crack down
Fairfax media: Law will hit deep-sea drilling protesters
Legislation: Electoral Act 1993
Newsroom: Jami-Lee Ross: – Four women speak out
New York Times: The Women Who Have Accused Brett Kavanaugh
Auckland Council: Contact Howick Local Board
Scoop media: C&R Howick Announce Local Board Team
Talking Southern Auckland: Honesty and Integrity Part Two
Newsroom: Nats have a long Jami-Lee agenda
Scoop media: TV3 The Nation – Chris Simpson and David Collings
Fairfax media: Vision and Voice dominate Howick Local Board
Fairfax media: Toxic relationships with Jami-Lee Ross reported
Radio NZ: Morning Report – 23 October 2018
Radio NZ: Morning Report – 24 October 2018
Twitter: Jami-Lee Ross – 15 August 2018
Kiwiblog: The terrible personal cost
Chris Trotter: Questions, Questions, Questions
Martyn Bradbury: Could the Spinoff be possibly wrong about JLR? Maybe?
The Standard: Bridges loses connection with reality
The Standard: Nothing to worry about
Previous related blogposts
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