EXCLUSIVE: TDB interview with Jami-Lee Ross

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TDB’s mental health blogger, Hadley Grace Robinson-Lewis, sat down with Jami-Lee Ross to discuss mental health, harassment allegations and the politics behind his fight with National

 

Hadley: Why did you go to mental health services? And could you tell me the story of what happened recently in the public eye?

Jami-Lee: “It’s more than just saying I tried to hurt myself. There was a whole range of stuff leading up to it. The bottom line is I got into a place where the pressure of everything building up was just too much”

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Jami-Lee: “I was feeling really isolated from friends, family and colleagues. I felt fairly worthless and I felt quite a bit of shame. It was off the back of a challenging week politically but also off the back of a decision that was taken by the National Party to utilise personal indiscretions against me because I was, in the words of one of the women who apologised to me, (someone who) “the National Party wanted to combat and put back in a box”. Those were words that were told to me by one of the people that appeared with anonymous quotes in a news article against me.

 

Jami chose not to name the anonymous women. 

Jami-Lee: “She is a staff member and I know who they all are”. 

Jami-Lee: “I’ve made a lot of mistakes particularly in my personal life and I don’t agree in which the way Newsroom put the story together and the slant they put on everything but the bottom line is particularly with a number of staff members that have worked for me previously, I didn’t create an environment that they enjoyed working in, I didn’t know that at the time. I feel really awful about the fact that I created an environment they didn’t enjoy working in and I’m really sorry for that. I’m really sorry to my wife and kids for making big life mistakes, that have had an impact on them. I wish I could go back, do it all again and not hurt them in the way that they have been hurt publicly”

Jami Lee: “Just before Christmas and after Christmas one of the people who works for Simon Bridges who I had an inappropriate relationship with, she contacted me because she wanted to hear how I was doing, she also wanted to check that I was okay because obviously there had been a lot in the media about my wellbeing and the fact that I had ended up in mental health services and so she asked to meet with me. I explained to her that I wasn’t in a particularly good space and I hadn’t been having a good time. She ended up apologising to me in the way in which it all happened. She apologised at both meetings that we had and she’s apologised in writing to me as well. To cut two long meetings down to a very short summarised form, effectively she’d gone to the National Party last year saying I don’t think Jami-Lee is in a particularly great space, he’s saying some things that sound like he’s struggling, maybe he’s struggling with some mental health issues, I’m worried about him. 

Jami-Lee: “They asked her if I had run Simon Bridges down, she said he has but he’s also said positive things about Simon too. They asked her if she would hand over personal text messages between me and her that they could have a look at. She being an employee, didn’t feel that she had the ability or the right to say no and she felt like she had to. She told me she felt that she had to hand over the text messages. They discovered there had been an inappropriate relationship that had taken place”.

Jami-Lee: “In October when Simon Bridges and I had a very public falling out, where he had accused me of something that I didn’t do and didn’t have an opportunity to answer before he put it out in the media and then I went public with my view that he had acted inappropriately when it came to electoral donations. Around the time of the falling out, one of the women was asked by Paula Bennet if she would speak to the media and she didn’t feel that she had much of a choice again. She was asked about the National Party leadership if she would speak about her personal life to the media in an attempt by the National Party to combat me.”

 

Hadley: “So the woman did not go out on her own” In regards to her personal relationship with you? 

Jami-Lee: “She told me that when I was speaking out against Simon Bridges, it was obviously chaotic in the National Party at the time. In Parliament she said, is there anything I can do to help? And they asked her if she would speak publicly in the media to combat me. Paula Bennet asked a number of people and arranged the interview for a number of people to speak publicly against me. Paula has claimed that she has no involvement in it, and that the women spoke out by themselves but I’ve been told by the person who apologised to me that she was asked if she would do that. She had previously been asked to hand over her personal text messages which she felt she didn’t have the ability to say no to as well.

Jami-Lee: “Earlier in the year I had started to notice that I was struggling with some issues, as we also know I had an inappropriate relationship with Sarah Dowie a National MP that was getting a bit challenging. I was getting emotional about things that I shouldn’t have or normally wouldn’t have. I wasn’t feeling particularly great, I never asked for help though. I was doing the whole kinda brave person look, I didn’t seek help. When things got particularly difficult with Sarah Dowie, who was also my friend, when she sent me that particularly nasty message which incited me to harm myself. It caused me serious emotional distress at the time. 

Jami-Lee: I needed help, I contacted a counsellor the very next day after she sent the text in the middle of the night. He referred me to a psychiatrist, who I now see regularly. 

Jami-Lee: “Simon and I were pretty good friends for years, I helped him on his leadership campaign. Throughout the year I had been questioning some of the leadership decisions he had been making. I questioned whether we were doing enough because his personal poll rating was dropping. Simon isn’t someone who likes having someone question him too much so he viewed it as disloyalty, I viewed it as me trying to be helpful by saying hey, Simons personal popularity is dropping here, we need to do something because in election year we are going to want him to go head to head with Jacinda Ardern and say I’m capable and I’m worthy of being Prime Minister. If Simon is becoming more and more unlikeable as people get to know him then that is not a winning formula. Questioning the strategy and direction, led to Simon becoming more and more unhappy with me. In late September 2018, he wanted to demote me for disloyalty. They also threw in there behaviour that Paula subsequently described as, ‘unbecoming of a married member of Parliament’. Parliament is very good at keeping quiet, many personal relationships which would probably not pass the Paula Bennett conduct of being a married member of parliament test. It’s never been used against an MP, certainly not in recent times but they used that as the reason to try and push me backwards because Sarah Dowie had also gone to the leadership to say that I was not in a particularly good space. I don’t know for sure but it’s highly likely she also disclosed an inappropriate personal relationship between her and I”.

Jami-Lee: “My accusations and complaints to the police about Simon falsifying his electoral return and also my concerns around the $100,000 donation which, Simon knew about that led to the National Party leadership to combat me. The Newsroom website did an anonymous story with anonymous quotes from people. I know who they all are and I know every single story, I have a very different view about them but it was too late by them, they successfully launched with Paulas instigation against me, to try and combat me. The “combat me” quote is from the person who apologised to me. 

 

Hadley: “Will the anonymous person who made anonymous statements about you ever come out to the media?”

Jami-Lee: “I don’t know, it’s her choice. When she apologised and indicated she was concerned for my well being, she asked if she could do anything to help me. I said well, you guys successfully created an image of me which, you know is untrue. You’ve asked to meet with me, you’re sitting her willingly at your request meeting me. You’ve made it sound like in the media though that I’m this terrible person that you have to stay away from. I said if there is anything you could do, you could correct the perception that you helped to create. That’s her choice though if she ever wants to do that.”

Jami-Lee: “By the Saturday, the pressure was very heavy on me, I was struggling anyway. The police had searched for me two times prior because family members had alerted them to concerns for my wellbeing and by the Saturday it was all too much, I was feeling worthless. These two searches took place in that hellish week in mid-October. While the media circus was happening around me, behind the scenes Police had need to search for me twice. I was also visited by emergency health services in the middle of the night while I was in Wellington.”  I asked my wife if I could see the children because they are great little happy kids, who I love immensely. She did not think I was in the best space to see the kids, she was doing what any mother would which is caring for the children, she did not think it was good for them to see their father in the emotional state that I was. I felt well, I don’t have anything left here and I considered doing something dumb”. Then on that Saturday a phone call was made to emergency services. They sent an ambulance and a police car to my house, I wasn’t at my house, they started searching for me and my wife assisted with the find my iPhone app. They deployed a police helicopter, dogs, ground support and they stopped the trains. Fortunately they found me and I’m really thankful for them for finding me. I went to Waikato Hospital first, not straight to Middlemoore. I was also help compulsorily. I wasn’t there on a voluntary basis. I don’t blame mental health struggles for any hurt that I’ve caused people, but it is context that’s important when looking back at that week”.

Hadley: “How are you feeling now?”

Jami-Lee: “I now know that it’s okay to ask for help. The people working there were great. They supported me hugely. I later found that in my facebook messages account there were hundreds of messages from people supporting me which I’ve now started slowly getting around to replying to. I thought the whole country was against me and I didn’t think there was much worth living for.

 

Hadley: “Did you feel misunderstood?”

Jami-Lee: “I felt that the National party deployed everything they possibly could to stop me and they turned dirty and nasty. They were doing all they knew how to with the skill set that they had. We talk about mental health awareness every week and every year when it comes to mental health week in parliament. When it comes to supporting others, they had a choice to help someone who wasn’t in a good state of mind at the time or viewing me as an enemy. They did what was best for the political party. I guess that’s Paula’s job to defend Simon Bridges and to do what she has to do for the political party. I don’t blame them for doing what politicians always do. The hatred and bitterness that I felt last year, I’ve pretty much moved on from that. I just want to focus on doing the best in my job but people ask what happened, they want to know the context. I don’t blame mental health struggles for any hurt that I’ve caused people. 

 

Hadley: “Did you ever receive support and help from your colleagues?”

Jami-Lee: “I should have taken my mental health more seriously. I should have made sure that I was reaching out for help and taken responsibility myself more. When someone asks if you’re okay, sometimes it’s worthwhile being honest with people about how you’re feeling instead of bottling it up. I don’t blame anyone in Parliament. There are still friends who asked how I was and still ask how I am and I’m thankful that they care enough to ask. I should have taken it more seriously myself. I never expected that it would be deployed against me by political party leadership in an effort to combat me when they didn’t like what I was saying. I should have realised that Simon doesn’t like criticism and I could have avoided falling out with him. I could have just shut my mouth and not participated in the way that I did. I value self responsibility and I didn’t enough at the time, I need to now. People with mental health issues need to take responsibility for themselves but we should also help people be more aware and support people more. I don’t blame anyone for how I was because there was a whole range of factors that played a part including the fairly nasty text message from an individual which I once cared about. The police are now following up on a complaint from a third party (regarding the text message). I take responsibility for not seeking help.

 

Hadley: “How could leadership in the National Party improve?”

Jami-Lee: “I’m not going to criticise the leadership. It’s a high stress and high level environment but I think we can be kinder. I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is a relatively senior police officer, she said I wish someone pulled you aside and said shut-up (Jami said with a laugh), what she was saying was why didn’t everyone just sit back, calm down and talk about it quietly. We all would have ended up in a really different position. I was a part of the national family, I was a colleague, I should have asked and accepted support more and earlier. 

 

Hadley: “What are your views on Jacinda?”

Jami-Lee: “She’s a thoroughly likeable person. I think she’s doing her best, I like her as an individual. I spent a couple of years doing morning TV with Jacinda and I think she’s a real genuine person. The people want someone they can look at, believe in and has their best interests at heart. Anyone who appears to be there for themselves or the pursuit of power, they fail the blink test of the public they wont go very far. She is a very capable individual who I think earlier on didn’t get taken seriously enough but she’s a formidable politician and someone that connects well with New-Zealanders. I don’t agree with all the policies that the Labour Party/ NZ First and Greens”. In regards to spending and taxes. “My political philosophy is more in line with the National Party. I was there for a long period of time, most of my adult life”. Jami-Lee said that he believes John Key is a great leader as he connected with the people and the people believed in him”.

 

Hadley: “What would you say to people in mental distress?”

Jami-Lee: “Ask for help. In politics you train yourself to present an image to be as perfect as you can be, where your capable of anything and everything and you mask over your flaws. I was trained to do that for a long period of time. Had I asked for help with my struggles, I probably wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in now, and what happened last year probably wouldn’t have taken place”. Jami said that he wished he asked for help and he now takes full responsibility for his actions. “Be honest with your friends, family and loved ones about how you are feeling”.

 

Hadley: “What were the mental health professionals at the DHB like”?

Jami-Lee: “They were great, lovely and I had people in my room at all times. I was never out of their sight. They are just great human beings. I’m very thankful to them”. Jami-Lee couldn’t praise the DHB staff enough and thinks they saved his life. “I’m better now at identifying my mental health and telling those around me when I’m not feeling great. I owe it to other people too to show others that you can be in a high profile role, fall down and get back up again. My message would be when you’re feeling better tell people that there is light at the end of the tunnel. When you’re in that position you only see doom and gloom. I was at a point where all I was thinking of was myself, I now know that there are far more important things. No political point scoring is worth hurting other people around you. I wish I realised that at the time, now I do. Coming out the other side after being so low gives you a different perspective”. Jami-Lee believes he has learned a lot. 

Jami-Lee: “I hope I’m judged on those 15 years of work for the Botany community. Not that one week or month where everything fell apart. My desire is to prove to people that I am capable of doing my job. I can be a constructive member of parliament for Botany. I’m there for good purposes”. Jami-Lee wants to focus on things that are important “my wife, my kids, my personal health and serving my constituents”

 

Hadley: “What are your views on the anonymous sources and the Newsroom story”?

Jami-Lee: “Anonymously sourced quotes lacked context about who they are and which politicians they work for. That didn’t allow the public to make up their mind around a range of things and motivations”.

“One of the anonymous individuals has since apologised and one is under police investigation, for a message that is potentially a criminal offence. I’ve done lot’s of thing wrong but context for the public is important and transparency is important”.

 

Hadley: “Do you feel compassion for Sarah Dowie”?

Jami-Lee: “Yea, I do. She would have been going through a difficult and emotional time herself. For a backbench MP, for the leadership to be asking you to speak to the media, that’s a lot of pressure that very few people could not buckle under. I wish she hadn’t spoken to the newsroom anonymously in the way she did, with descriptions that I have a very different point of view on. She would have been put under immense pressure herself. She will now be going through a lot of turmoil. What nobody ever considered in all of this is the collateral damage. I didn’t consider it, Sarah didn’t consider it, Paula didn’t consider it. The collateral damage done to innocent family members and children, when Paula was convincing Sarah to talk to the media she was not thinking of the families. Sarah was assured of anonymity but given the text message that she sent and the potentially unlawful nature of that there is always a risk that the collateral damage I’ve experienced, she is now experiencing as well. I feel immense sorrow for Sarah, that she is in a positron that she didn’t expect to be. Had she not been put in that position then she would not be suffering. Sarah and I made mistakes, we hurt our families and friends. When people make personal mistakes like that it’s rare for it to be played out in a public way where innocent parties for hurt”. I feel sorrow for Sarah that she was misled by people who claimed to protect her. I know what it’s like, I feel sorry for her, I hope she has the right support and if she needs help I would always be happy to talk to her”. 

 

Hadley: You have stated several times that you were not the source of the original leak on Simon’s expenses, who do you believe did leak it?
“I don’t know and don’t really want to speculate. To do so would run the risk of attaching the same “embarrassing” label that Simon did to me. That’s hardly fair”. 

 
 

Hadley: Should New Zealander’s be concerned that a Chinese Businessman attempted to influence the Party List? 
“I’ve never described it that way. Its also been reported that the individual has received a NZ honour, so by definition he must be a NZ citizen as well. Individuals that are citizens or residents are entitled to donate to a political party. The transparency requirements in the electoral act are there so we can all judge how parties are being funded”. 
“A party leader with a strong desire that a donation he was verbally offered should be made in such a way that it is not required to be disclosed – that’s what people should be concerned about”. 

 
 

Hadley: What do you believe will be the outcome of the Police investigation into the $100 000 donation?
“I’m leaving it to NZ Police to do their work in relation to this issue. I’ve provided them with as much information as I can”. 

 
 

Jami-Lee Ross returns to Parliament as an independent MP for Botany in 2019. Despite media rumours, he is still with his wife and their two children.

 
 

ABOUT HADLEY GRACE ROBINSON-LEWIS: Hadley is based in Ōtepoti. Her iwi is Ngāi Tahu. She is an RN, social activist and vice chair for NZNO/TR nursing union in the southern region. Hadley is passionate about psychotherapy, philosophy, charity, social activism and Māori health. Her greatest achievement was raising $25,000 for a women’s refuge in Auckland with Habitat for Humanity. Hadley is currently studying a postgraduate diploma in health sciences endorsed in bioethics at Otago University and is the co-owner of The Fighters: a suicide prevention movement.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Jamie-Lee, I am pleased your mental health is better but please return to angry, destroy-the-National-Party mode.

  2. Its always depressing that Politicians (and especially, though not exclusively, Tory politicians) can only feel sympathy around an issue as and when it affects them directly, immediately and today.

    All we need now is for our Labour and National politicians to become homeless and working on call at their local call centre and we’ll be well on the way to sorting out our rising inequality.
    (Though we’d have to move quickly..as a few Nats have shown us, growing up poor in a State house with a single mother doesn’t bless one with empathy. Same with all our Labour and National mp’s who benefited from Free University, cheap rents and well paying ‘unskilled’ work..)

  3. After reading the e-mail from Sarah Downie I have to question how fit she is to be an MP. Her language and vitriol seem to be of a lower class of education, yet she graduated as a lawyer!!! The Nats really need to scrutinise their members more before pushing them into the forefront of politics. This is a very embarassing state for the nations political scene to have politicians of this low calibre.

    • to succeed in the legal profession you have to be a scumbag June. Also all it takes to pass law is an above average level of comprehension of the English language.
      A lack of ethics and an arrogant attitude are also very useful.
      I have never found any lawyer I have dealt with in my 60 plus years to be possessed of any greater intelligence than myself.
      They are a bunch of con artists with a highly inflated sense of their self worth, they also do not like to work very hard.

      • Oh Shona. Have you found no environmental scientists to be possessed of greater intelligence than you too ? Dowie is also a qualified environmental scientist – and we all know what John Key said about environmental scientists. And to the BBC.

        You’ve got me a bit worried now. What about dentists ? I’d be unhappy to go to a dentist dumber than me. I guess that I should approach one and ask her her IQ outright. Airline pilots ?

        • June was talking about Dowie’s Law Degree. She referred to her law education nothing to do with her science education Snow White.
          Margaret Thatcher had a Masters of Science degree and we have her to thank for the Rio Earth Conference and the IPCC. However Thatcher was an economic illiterate just like Key. Key as a lackey for Fonterra was obliged to disrespect the overwhelming environmental evidence of the destruction of NZ’s waterways by Dairying, much like Thatcher who was a pawn of the City Of London was obliged to do their bidding. I have had many dealings with lawyers of many stripes some are old friends from Uni. I know what I am talking about so up yours Snow white.

          • I beg to differ. If all lawyers were lazy con artists, I don’t think that they would survive long in legal practice in NZ.

            Nor is Dowie’s occupation necessarily relevant to her current issues; using the situation in which she now finds herself to disparage all lawyers is no more logical than would be using it to disparage all riveters, were Dowie a riveter.

  4. This man should henceforth be kept well clear of the levers of power. Some other employment well away from politics. No crocodile tears from me.

    • How could you be so certain that with a decent mental health service that people couldn’t be mended and sent back to work? Do we just discard JLR because he was a bit edgy, where does it stop? Don’t think it’s very good to be discarding people off emplement states the moment they receive a comital order. I’m actually coming to the conclusions a good chunk of kiwis are losing faith in kiwi values.

      • You’ll get this kind of thing when a sitting government is openly celebrating corruption with no consequences. For example we didn’t just wast $100 million on myth testing hysteria it was used as cover for billions of state house sell offs.

  5. What a toxic environment to work in. I read the article on JLR & Sarah Downie that one of TDB posts said was very revealing. It was excellent. I’ve been anti Bennett forever, this drama underlines how vile she is. Bridges comes over as pathetic. More voters should read TDB so they learn what’s behind the headlines.

    Hadley meanders around what happened, drawing out the emotion from JLR really well. I hope his return to Parliament isn’t too distressing for him.

  6. He gets print time Rosielee, because the story reveals so much about the underbelly of Gnats operations. Not nice, but that’s the point.

    So right Siobhan, but not just politicians but people I went to Naenae College with back in the 50s, doing very well but denying others the advantages they got.

  7. Sarah Dowie. Not Downie.

    This is an a absolute litmus test for New Zealanders on how they vote in 2020.
    Greed? Empathy? Fairness? Equality?

    How low a national party will stoop to achieve the power to influence Kiwis’ lives and futures?

    2020 is more about whether Kiwis care about fellow Kiwis in business, in welfare, in health, in mental health, in transport – public or otherwise, in education for all with no disadvantage to poverty or even whether it is OKAY to have POVERTY?

    • under this current government all these markers are getting worse. 2019 see the year start 600 teachers short and strikes looming and more kids going to school hungry .
      Plenty of hand outs for middle class families going to university or wanting to buy a house through the disaster that is kiwibuild but the poor get left further behind.Money for the Shane’s mates but not trainee doctors. Thank goodness 2020 is only 18 months away

      • Seriously, ‘Trevor’, what do you expect to get from national? There was already loss of home ownership. Key was telling Kiwis that they should rent and that foreign owners could be their landlords.

      • @Trevor. The govt said it would get worse before it gets better. The strikes are a result of the previous government and just because the govt changed it doesn’t make the many issues under National suddenly disappear or get resolved in just 1 year. More people are coming forward to get the support that was denied them under the previous National govt.

      • Trevor, you’re unreasonably expecting quick miracles after 30 years of ingrained liberalism? Any progressice govg needs to step softly and slowly lest it gets the attention of establishement wealthy forces and its deep state allies. Venezquela is a case in point.

  8. Agreed @ Louis, 9 years of mis-mangement and greed cannot be fixed in a day. And even if it is same old, same old, at least it’s being done with a little more heart.
    I certainly dont agree with everything the coalition have done so far, TPP and rights for water bottling companies, to name a few, but there isn’t the plain mean arrogance of National. The soulless party.

  9. Yes, very interesting. JLR has taken up quite a lot of rote comments on responsibility etc that you have to wade through, and I don’t agree with the way he put the spotlight on Dowie’s clearly emotionally crazed midnight text, she was certainly pretty mad about something! However she should not be judged by that, it was never supposed to be a public moment and anyone who hasn’t lost it in some form or other in a private relationship oughta not throw stones. It was not an incitement to kill himself either, so why is JLR saying it was. Rubbish. He is just pushing his own barrow here, and casting blame. The fact he did need mental health care still doesn’t give credence to him saying she knew he was vulnerable, because she apparently went to the leadership to say he was, he tells us, thereby implying she was inciting him to suicide by sending an angry text. He is a slippery fish alright and belies the concern he says he feels for her. Hmm. Very interesting indeed and what a buch of rotten apples the National party individuals really are, him included.

  10. Since this article on TDB we have since been informed that Sarah Dowie will remain an MP for Invercargill.

    The actions by Simon Bridges this week in regards to Sarah Dowie has bought up faults within the NZ National Party. These faults being that National are condoning bullying behaviour even in a text message. National believe whatever laws they passed during their time in government does not apply to any of their current serving MPs.

    If all this happened between two Labour MPs then I am sure National will be howling and baying for the offending Labour MPs to resign.

    But for Simon Bridges and National they just keep even an offending MP on. My question to this is WHY? Is National now so fragmented within that Bridges is clutching at straws in an attempt to give the illusion National are still in ‘glory days’ and everyone is still ‘unified’? Or are they running scared and worried that another Drop-out by an MP will irrevocably permanently ruin any chance of National ever being government again let alone Simon Bridges having any chance of being a Leader by the next election?

    Out of all this I admire Jami-Lee Ross. What he has gone through has been alot. He has challenged National head-on and that is brave of him. I think he has proven National is not all pure and honest to New Zealanders.

    I think it also proves that contrary to John Carter claiming National do not have a dirt file as stated in this NZ Herald article from 2004:
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=3555809&pnum=2 that in fact National do have a dirt file and will use it when it suits the whims of their Leader at the time.

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