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Jami-Lee Ross speaking outside the Wellington Central police station  (Radio NZ, livestream)
Jami-Lee Ross speaking outside the Wellington Central police station (Radio NZ, livestream)

The BulletinOctober 18, 2018

The Bulletin: Ugliness exposed on Bridges-Ross tape

Jami-Lee Ross speaking outside the Wellington Central police station  (Radio NZ, livestream)
Jami-Lee Ross speaking outside the Wellington Central police station (Radio NZ, livestream)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Secretly recorded tape raises huge questions for National, Austrian company gets oil exploration extension, and govt won’t close ‘back door’ for Nauru refugees.

The question was asked yesterday – what fresh horrors await National? Well, we got our answer, with the release of a taped phone conversation between rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross and leader Simon Bridges. It’s fair to say that none of us would necessarily want some of our private conversations released publicly. But these two are both public figures, and the political damage that this call could cause is incalculable. Here’s a transcript/Soundcloud link, and a reminder – it is legal for Mr Ross to have secretly taped their conversation, but ethical? You be the judge.

One thing to make clear about the tape – it does not show that Simon Bridges broke the law. He was not recorded directing Mr Ross to split a $100,000 donation into small enough parts to hide it – according to Mr Ross, that directive came during another, unrecorded conversation. Here’s an outline from Radio NZ of Jami-Lee Ross’s statements made just after he had handed the tape into police, who will be investigating the possibility of a breach of the Electoral Act. As to where the donation itself is now, nobody seems to be able to track it down.

What it does prove is that Simon Bridges was fully aware of the donation from Chinese businessman Yikun Zhang. They discussed it in detail, with Mr Bridges even speculating on what it might be used for. Here’s a quote:

“I just think we want it for, uh, the advertisements and the like, you know? We want it for the things that we’re gonna need to do over the next year or so, sort of outside of the – not outside of the party but um, uh, you know, like I say we want to do some more attack ads – say we want to do another regional fuel one, say we want to do an industrial relations one. We just want to keep doing those things, right?”

In response to the tape being released, Simon Bridges hit out hard. Radio NZ reports he described Jami-Lee Ross as “a liar who has defamed me,” and that Mr Ross had tried to criminally blackmail him. “I don’t stand for that sort of nonsense, as leader of the National Party and 55 MPs agreed with my assessment, that’s why he’s gone.”

And if that was all that was said on the tape, it might be the end of the matter. But a lot more was said, and it was incredibly damaging for the integrity of both men, and the National party as a whole. Let’s start with the party. One of the things discussed was that the donor was keen to discuss candidacies, and in particular a candidacy for Colin Zheng, a manager at a construction company owned by Yikun Zhang, reports the NZ Herald. On Newstalk ZB around 4.45pm, political editor Barry Soper said it was “basically what was asked in return for the donation – to me that’s the most damning thing.” Soper expanded on those comments here. It’s fair to now ask if that’s how candidate selection works in the National party. Mr Bridges denies that was what was meant.

Analysing it for The Spinoff, Leroy Beckett writes that it shows the current system of political donations is broken and lacks transparency. And on the NZ Herald, David Fisher writes about how it brings to light some of the ways in which National has become a formidable money-raising machine, particularly through the courting of well-connected elements of the Chinese community.

As for the two men themselves, their discussions on the tape afterwards were equally unedifying, talking about the respective value that could be attached to the ethnicities of candidates. “Two Chinese would be more valuable than two Indians,” opined Mr Ross. “Which is what we’ve got at the moment,” replied Mr Bridges, in reference to MPs Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi and Parmjeet Parmar. Those comments were met with concern and fury in an editorial on the Indian Weekender.

They followed that up by discussing which list MPs should be pushed out to free up space, with Maureen Pugh in particular being given a particularly unprintable assessment. Mr Bridges later tweeted an apology for that one, and they’re apparently all patched up already.

What happens now? There are a few formalities to take care of, such as Mr Ross’s resignation from Parliament, and the triggering of a by-election. And there’s still a lot of strands here that we just haven’t been able to cover, for reasons of space. They’ll be picked up in the coming days, and besides, Jami-Lee Ross says there’s more evidence to come, more texts, more tapes. There’s very little respite from this horror week for National on the horizon.

Austrian oil company OMV has been granted a two year extension to their permit to explore for oil and gas in the Great South Basin, reports Interest. That’s in contrast to the oil and gas exploration ban pushed through by the government earlier this year – though that too had a few holes and caveats.

Greenpeace have absolutely hammered the decision, with NZ executive director Russel Norman calling it “profoundly disappointing.” By the way, does anyone else remember that climate change report that came out a whole two weeks ago? You know, that one that said we’re doomed if the world doesn’t take immediate action to slash emissions. It’s tricky to see how this decision could possibly help with that.

Winston Peters say the government won’t change the law to ‘close the back door’ that would allow refugees on Nauru to be resettled here, reports Stuff. Australia won’t let them off the island, because they fear that New Zealand will just be used as a staging ground to then get to Australia (why a refugee locked up for five years by Australia would want to go there is apparently beside the point) Winston Peters says changing the law would create “second class citizens” who don’t have the same rights as other New Zealanders, which he couldn’t abide.

The film industry working group report has finally come back, and with it, a recommendation to allow a return to collective bargaining, reports Stuff. The report, which was commissioned by the new government after industrial relations changes in 2010 which favoured big studios, argues that different occupations (actors, technicians, key grips etc) should be able to club together.

There’s a different angle on the report on Radio NZ, which is that the Hobbit laws themselves will be kept and amended rather than repealed, as well as the fact that film workers without a written agreement still won’t be treated as employees.

Senior National MPs Chris Finlayson and David Carter have confirmed that they won’t be standing for election again, reports Stuff. Mr Finlayson held a range of important portfolios under the last government, and Mr Carter served as Speaker. They were both named on The Tape as MPs who could be shuffled on, but both say the tape had nothing to do with their decisions to publicly confirm they won’t be staying on past this term.

The Bay of Plenty’s Kiwifruit industry could be at serious risk from stink bugs this season, reports the Bay of Plenty Times . Despite the name, it’s really not a funny prospect for the region, which could be hit hard economically if the critters became established. Right now is the risk season for stink bugs trying to hitch a ride over in cargo ships from Europe, and there’s been a big increase in the number found and stopped at the borders.

A follow up to the story about the Whanganui family that was about to be evicted, with nowhere to go: The Whanganui Chronicle reports they will now now be allowed to stay, with the new property investor owners renovations to take place around them.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Look, apologies for how serious the lead story was today, so to lighten things up Madeleine Chapman has made some memes. Ben Fagan writes about the entertaining but much maligned art form of Poetry Slam. And to celebrate National Bosses Day, Comrade Emily Writes collected a range of stories about the country’s worst bosses.

This is a really interesting ghostwritten piece from one of Hollywood’s modern survivors, Nicole Kidman. Published on The Cut, it details the experiences that have shaped her as a person, and in particular covers some of the hidden scandals and toxic culture in Hollywood that has been exposed in recent years. Here’s an excerpt, which begins with her talking about marrying Tom Cruise.

“I got married very young, but it definitely wasn’t power for me — it was protection. I married for love, but being married to an extremely powerful man kept me from being sexually harassed. I would work, but I was still very much cocooned. So when I came out of it at 32, 33, it’s almost like I had to grow up.

Of course I’ve had #MeToo moments — since I was little! But do I want to expose them in an article? No. Do they come out in my work? Absolutely. I’m open and raw. I want to have my well of experience and emotion tapped into, used — and I’m not just talking about sexual harassment. I’m talking about loss, death, the full array of life. But it has to be by the right people so it’s not abused again. I’m making a movie with Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie about Roger Ailes.”

The Silver Ferns have a chance to draw the Constellation Cup in Wellington tonight, in the 4th and final game of the series. Under a new coach, and coming off a horrific couple of years, winning even a single game against Australia wasn’t looking likely before the series started. But now the Australians are on the back foot, with Radio NZ reporting that they’ve got concerns about the refereeing in the game they lost. As all New Zealand sports fans know, it’s only fair to complain about the ref when we’re doing it. Tip off is at 7.45.

From our partners, Vector’s sustainability manager Karl Check explains why the company is pushing for more urban forests, despite recent storms in Auckland bringing trees down on powerlines, and cutting electricity to parts of the city.

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