In a dramatic turn of events, the National Party expenses leak has suddenly turned about a thousand times more toxic. What the hell is going on?
In a series of four tweets, National MP Jami-Lee Ross has detonated a bomb under the leadership of Simon Bridges. Just a few minutes before the National leader began a media conference announcing results of the inquiry into his expenses leak, Ross accused his party leader of directing him to break the law, saying Bridges was about to unfairly pin the leak on him.
Here are the tweets, in reverse order.
It’s a hugely dramatic turn of events, after Jami-Lee Ross went on medical leave at the start of the month. At the time, there was speculation the Botany MP may be the leaker, following reports some weeks ago that the leaker had sent a text asking for the inquiry commissioned by the Speaker, Trevor Mallard, be called off, as they were suffering from mental health issues that might be exacerbated were they to be exposed. Mallard did decide to call off the inquiry, but Bridges responded by commissioning an independent probe by PWC.
Bridges continues to insist that Ross’s medical leave is unrelated to the leak inquiry. But he did, when announcing Ross’s leave, describe his reason for a departure as “embarrassing”, a slip of the tongue for which he later apologised.
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In the tweets, Ross implies, without quite explicitly stating, that he isn’t the leaker. And Ross was right – Bridges did very clearly put it on him in the press conference. That was suggested in the report by Price Waterhouse Coopers.
But there was another leak today, released on the AM Show. That was about a donation return, which was originally filed with $14,000 and $10,000 donations under Simon Bridges’ name, which was then changed to being general National Party donations. What was that all about? “A clerical error,” says Bridges. But as for who the donations were from – there could be, uh, some issues there.
This morning, @simonjbridges was asked if he knew the Currie brothers, who run the company Cubro which donated $14,000 to him which he then hid in National Party election returns.
“Do you know the Currie brothers?”
“Not at all”
Here he is with Logan Currie opening his office: pic.twitter.com/PazsnLsFCA
— Reed Fleming (@reedfleming) October 14, 2018
So what does it all mean now? Is Jami-Lee Ross goneburger? That’s a question for the rest of the party, said Simon Bridges. “The caucus will be asked to consider all relevant matters, including his membership of caucus.” That could mean suspension, or it could mean expulsion from the party altogether. You might recall the waka-jumping bill was passed recently. Simon Bridges opposed the legislation, but refused to rule out the possibility that he might use its powers.
And as for the allegations Ross made against Bridges? Well, he would say that, Bridges countered, absolutely rejecting the allegations. “I’m not surprised he’s lashing out.”
To the best of his knowledge, Simon Bridges said, he hasn’t been recorded discussing anything illegal, which is probably one of those things that you’d want to be sure about. Wouldn’t it be easy to prove one way or another? Well, as political commentator Matthew Hooton often points out about political scandals, when there’s a rumour of a tape, it almost never actually surfaces.
And how about Bridges himself – is he goneburger? “I’m not sure, I’m not going to get involved in speculation there,” said Bridges, on the question of whether he thought Jami-Less Ross was preparing a leadership challenge. Could it be that Ross was working as part of a wider caucus cabal? “I will let you draw your conclusions on that,” said Bridges.
From here, the attempted framing of the issue will be frantic from all concerned. Simon Bridges will be desperate to make it clear to all concerned that this is nothing but a single member of parliament who bears a massive grudge. Jami-Lee Ross says he’s going to start speaking out more publicly. Whatever that means will be fascinating to watch, particularly if he can produce any evidence.
And there are still so many questions! What was the “other conduct” brought up in the press conference? What does it mean to “become expendable?” Is Simon Bridges really becoming “more and more unlikeable” as Ross alleges? The explosive allegations will also be a signal to the press gallery as a whole that it’s all on within the National Party. That means for everyone else on the sideline, keep popcorn in stock, because there’s a chance we’re about to see the highest polling party in the country tear itself apart.