NZ First's three leading ministers – Shane Jones, Winston Peters and Ron Mark (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Another NZ First minister accused of using funding for votes

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Another NZ First minister accused of using funding for votes, police refer donation complaint up to Serious Fraud Office, and Ihumātao development opponents march.

Defence minister Ron Mark has appeared to pitch for votes from a veterans group, in exchange for funding he has secured them. The story, broken by Newshub’s Jenna Lynch, comes at a shocking time for the party, which is also under pressure in relation to provincial growth fund spending decisions made by minister Shane Jones.

The Ron Mark story comes off the back of a tape from a speech he made to the group No Duff, who run veteran support services. In the speech, Mr Mark admonishes veterans for not voting for his party. He also said that if all veterans and those in the wider Defence Force community voted for NZ First, they’d be up at 15%, but on present polling he’ll be out of parliament at the next election. Mr Mark completely denied that he had done that under questioning – he said he was merely stating the obvious to the group, rather than telling them how to vote. However, he acknowledged that he had been speaking to the group in his capacity as a minister.

Founder of No Duff Aaron Wood, said it was “not the kind of thing you expect to get from a minister of the Crown.” The group received $25,000 in government funding last year, as part of a 4-year funding package for veteran support worth more than a million dollars. Mr Mark – himself a veteran – fronted that announcement last year. The Whanganui Chronicle reported in 2017 that Mr Mark was the first defence minister to give No Duff a funding grant.

The tape itself has been edited, and the way it has been done so appears damning. It is cut so that Mr Mark says “No Duff got funding courtesy of me”, before jumping to him saying “so I’d like to think you recognise that, and I’d like to think you recognise the responsibility that comes with it.” The Taxpayers Union have called for the full tape to be released, and I have to say a bit more context around how those statements were framed would make a huge difference in knowing what actually happened.

National’s defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell seemed unable to contain his glee when asked to comment on the story, saying if it had happened under a National government the minister would have been gone. It isn’t the first time Mr Mitchell has scored a hit on Ron Mark, after last year accusing him of “using the Air Force as a taxi service and getting helicopter rides to his home in the Wairarapa,” as Newstalk ZB reported at the time.

The thing about this story though is that it plays into a perception of NZ First as engaging in using taxpayer money to buy support and votes. Many of the criticisms of Shane Jones’ handling of the Provincial Growth Fund, for example, have centred on the fact that many of the grants have gone towards Northland. As a region, it has received the 3rd biggest share of PGF money. And it’s a perfectly good candidate for that money, given the social and economic conditions of the area. But it’s also a region where NZ First has traditionally had an exceptionally strong base of support, and where they’re expected to target the winning of an electorate seat again in 2020.

Finally, speaking of Shane Jones, he’s been attacking journalists. And this is a dignified response from Stuff‘s Hamish Rutherford, who was subjected to insults from the minister over an accurate story. It’s both good humoured, and also steely about the more fundamental principles at stake. Mr Jones has so far not gone on to make whatever statement he had planned to make about Mr Rutherford under the protection of parliamentary privilege, which given who has been proven right so far in this story, is probably a wise course of action.


Remember all the Jami-Lee Ross/Simon Bridges stuff last year, how that thread about donations kind of got lost in the wash? For those who were hanging out for an update, worry no more – the police have referred a complaint up to the Serious Fraud office. Radio NZ reports claims from Mr Ross that Simon Bridges was offered a $100,000 donation, which was then split up so it could be hidden from disclosure laws. Mr Bridges, in turn, completely denies anything of the sort and says he’s done nothing wrong.

The overwhelming mood of commentary around it is that it will be the dreaded ‘bad look’ for Mr Bridges and the National party – for example, we’ve republished the smart and serious analysis from RNZ political editor Jane Patterson, who says it will completely derail the momentum Mr Bridges was making on tax. And we’ve also published me making some stupid jokes about the whole thing.


Opponents of the Ihumātao development marched to parliament yesterday, to demand the government return it to mana whenua, reports Waatea News. They say the land was confiscated from Māori in 1863, after it had been occupied for hundreds of years previously, and they want it protected as a green space, rather than having it turned into housing. The protesters were supported by Russian activist band Pussy Riot, on of whom, Masha Alyokhina, outlined her reasons for getting involved on The Spinoff.


Wellington’s local government leaders are backing a call for central government to step in and sort out their bus system debacles, reports Stuff. It comes from local National MP Nicola Willis, and has been supported by Wellington mayor Justin Lester. More than 30 buses a day have been cancelled over the last four months from with severe driver shortages, and it follows in the wake of an unpopular revamp of services last year.


The mayor of Christchurch’s husband’s company has withdrawn an offer to lobby on behalf of a controversial water bottler, reports Stuff. Big protests have been held against Cloud Ocean Water’s consent to take millions of litres. Law firm Davidson Legal sent an email to Cloud Ocean offering political lobbying services, with Rob Davidson initially denying his company had done so, before later acknowledging that had in fact happened – Mr Davidson says without his knowledge. Mr Davidson is married to mayor Lianne Dalziel, who says her husband has never tried to lobby her.


Greenpeace have called on the Super Fund to divest completely from fossil fuels, reports the NZ Herald. Currently, the fund holds about $550 million in shares for 130 oil and gas companies, out of the fund’s $40 billion in assets. Greenpeace says the investments fuel climate change, and so “directly threaten the future they are saving up for.” The Green Party used to have this as a policy, and Greenpeace is calling on them to bring it back.


A challenger has emerged to take on the longest serving mayor in the country – Invercargill’s Sir Tim Shadbolt. The ODT reports that current deputy mayor Rebecca Amundsen has put her hat in the ring, saying she’s “ambitious for our city – and for everyone who lives here”. Sir Tim was previously looking likely to be running unopposed, and has pretty much always enjoyed comfortable majorities throughout his tenure.


A correction to the Wellington insurance story yesterday: This one was a genuine typo that put the wrong company in the story. So, to clarify, the owner of State and AMI is IAG, not AIG. And an update here too – Radio NZ reports confirmation that IAG is refusing to take on new property business in Wellington, along with declining new customers for contents insurance.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Jess Berentson-Shaw demolishes the false balance of doing ‘both sides’ reporting when it comes to vaccinations. Teuila Fuatai gets introduced to the most dangerous stretches of road in the country, and finds out what is being done about it. Adam Goodall takes a deep dive into whether the popular video game series Hitman has written Judith Collins into the plot. And Sam Brooks ranks the subsequent solo careers of all five Spice Girls.


Here’s something on a slightly different tune today – we’re going to highlight a music feature. The Guardian have interviewed two of the members of Booker T and the MGs, about the story behind their song Green Onions. Even if you don’t know the name, I can almost totally guarantee you’ll know the tune. There are some really interesting insights in the piece about what life was like as a working band in the early 60s. Here’s an excerpt from Booker T Jones’ section.

So I started playing another bluesy riff I had. This was how Green Onions began. That band – Al Jackson on drums, Lewie Steinberg on bass, Steve Cropper on guitar – was a once-in-a-lifetime unit. We clicked because of our devotion to simplicity. The bassline was basic 12-bar blues. Al was a human metronome on the drums. Lewie called this doodling jam Funky Onions, but Jim’s sister said: “We can’t use that word.” To laced-up, deep-south conservative America, it sounded like a cuss word. So we retitled it Green Onions.

We were a racially integrated band before civil rights. One white person and three black people – one of whom looked white! Nobody realised this until we started performing in public. We had problems with things like segregated eating, but we survived.

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In the sport section today, rather than do a news update, I want to share this fascinating first person article. It’s on the Players Tribune, and it’s by NBA star Steph Curry. Now, if you know anything about him you’ll probably know that he wasn’t rated much of a chance of making any waves, let alone winning multiple championship rings. But it’s the extent of how deeply he was underrated – by pretty much everyone too – that really comes out in this piece. Steph Curry and the Warriors are once again leading the NBA’s Western conference, with the playoffs starting next month.


From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.


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