As it happened: Simon O'Connor hits out at media over Simon Bridges furore

  • 19/10/2018

It's been a rollercoaster week in the Jami-Lee Ross affair - what twists and turns remain?

Thursday saw the release of a blockbuster report claiming Jami-Lee Ross harassed and bullied his way up the ranks of the National Party. It was soon followed by claims the National hierarchy covered up complaints about his behaviour.

Mr Ross also released text messages he claims show wrongdoing on behalf of the party, but left legal experts scratching their heads.

Mr Ross is expected to formally resign on Friday, triggering a by-election in the Botany electorate. Earlier this week he promised to stand for re-election, but it's not clear if that's still the plan following Thursday's stunning claims.

Stay with us as we cover the latest from the saga that's dominated politics over the past week. Refresh the page for the latest updates.

2:05pm - National MP for Tamaki Simon O'Connor has hit out in a Facebook post at media over the way they have treated Simon Bridges.

O'Connor said in the post that he supports Simon Bridges as leader of the National Party and that he has been persevering in his role against "an unfair and unrelentingly hostile media".

He said he was relieved Jami-Lee Ross has left the National Party and that his behaviour over the past two days has been inexcusable. 

1:30pm - If you need a refresher on everything that's happened so far, here's Newshub's timeline - everything that's happened from August 13 to now. 

12:35pm - "Jami-Lee's full-throated attempt to kill Bridges politically will only have made him stronger."

Left-leaning political commentator Chris Trotter says if Jami-Lee Ross tries to win back the Botany electorate - assuming he does trigger a by-election - he will be humiliated.

"National's candidate will de elected by a huge margin, and Ross will lose the contest in the most humiliating fashion," he wrote on his blog. "At National's victory party, the winning candidate will be applauded - but nowhere near as enthusiastically as the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, who will be cheered to the echo."

This is the same Chris Trotter whom two weeks ago said Mr Bridges had the "smell of death" around him. This could still be the case if Mr Ross has better evidence he's given to the police, but not made public yet. 

Mr Trotter says if Mr Bridges has to go, so will too Paula Bennett, for using Mr Ross' private life against him.

11:20am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has batted off questions about whether there needs to be an independent investigation into National's donation scandal.

She said it's incumbent on all MPs to change the culture in Parliament.

"We want politics to be a place that good people come and serve… We all have a responsibility to change the nature of politics in New Zealand… I think things need to be different."

But she said the National Party has to deal with its own problems.

"Each of us just has to take responsibility for our own parties." 

She said she's open to a review on the thresholds at which donors' names need to be made public.

9:20am - A Canterbury University professor and expert on China's influence campaign in the West has criticised National for courting donations from Chinese nationals.

"The real threat that I'm paying attention to in this story is the failure of our political parties to prevent foreign Government interference… there's an opportunity here to face up to this issue and have a bipartisan response," Anne-Marie Brady told RNZ.

Dr Brady's house has repeatedly been broken into in recent years, which she believes is part of campaign of harassment aimed at silencing her.

In the recording released earlier this week by Jami-Lee Ross, he and Simon Bridges can be heard discussing donations from Chinese donors and whether that would mean having more Chinese candidates standing for the National Party. 

"The Chinese Communist Party is an elite party, and they have a tactic... to influence non-party members, and in the case of foreign policy, foreigners."

She says local politicians need to understand this better. 

8:15am - Judith Collins says National MPs have been too "busy" to piece together what Jami-Lee Ross has allegedly been doing to warrant complaints against him.

Mr Ross' alleged bullying goes back two years, according to the latest reports, during which he was promoted to senior whip for the party.

"I don't think anybody knew the full extent of all this," Ms Collins told The AM Show.

"I think too everyone's busy at work. They're just getting on doing their things, and they're rushing from one meeting to the other and select committees and the House, and no one's really sitting around saying, 'Let's all put everyone's stories together.'"

Asked if Simon Bridges would still be leader by the 2020 election, Ms Collins - a former contender for the job - replied that she was "very loyal to the caucus. I'm very loyal the National Party. I think that this in many ways has brought us all together."

6:55am - Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson says the current system of funding for parties need to change.

"It's become very, very clear that big, powerful interests are able to make large donations… and remain anonymous," she told Newshub. "It could be oil and gas."

She said the Greens sometimes reject donations.

"We will not accept, and we have refused in the past, any donations that don't sit with our kaupapa, with our charter, and aren't ethical."

Marama Davidson.
Marama Davidson. Photo credit: The AM Show

Ms Davidson wants parties to get more public funding and donation rules tightened, so there are no concerns about wealthy, anonymous donors having too much influence over parties.

This idea has been criticised by the Taxpayers Union, which said it would "entrench the position of incumbent political parties like the Greens, and suppress political start-ups that could challenge existing powers". It's also been ruled out by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who says the Government "is not in the throes of external influence in any way, shape or form".

"We made it very clear. But that's this Government. That's not the former Government," he said, reports.

6:30am - Massey University law professor Chris Gallavin says the text messages released on Thursday by Jami-Lee Ross don't prove anything on their own.

"At the moment without quite considerably more information, there doesn't seem to be any narrative of offending that I can see from what he's released so far," he told Newshub.

Prof Gallavin says if anything, it proves the party followed protocol.

"What they do seem to do is illustrate that officials of the National Party went to quite some lengths to ensure that they complied with their legal obligations."

He says it's possible Mr Ross has misunderstood the law.