National Party leader Simon Bridges has defended comments he made on the latest leaked recording on the Jami-Lee Ross saga.
The latest tape is 19 minutes long, and features a conversation between Mr Ross, Mr Bridges and National deputy leader Paula Bennett.
In the recording:
- the trio discuss what reason they're going to give for Mr Ross going on leave, eventually settling on medical reasons because it would mean the media would "back off"
- Mr Bridges tells Mr Ross if he sticks to the script he will never "never badmouth" him, and do "everything within my power" to keep the real reason for his departure out of the news
- Mr Ross claims to not know the nature of his alleged offending, and rejects claims of harassment
- Ms Bennett says if she told caucus what he's done, "that would be enough" to presumably expel him from the party
- Mr Bridges suggests if Mr Ross follows their instructions, he may even get a promotion.
Mr Bridges told The AM Show on Monday morning he was "dealing with an incredibly complex situation", and stands by his course of action.
"We had the inappropriate behaviour, we had the disruptive conduct, but what we also had was serious unwellness. We had medical specialist advice in relation to that. So I feel absolutely sure we did the right thing in the circumstances in the situation."
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He rejected AM Show host Duncan Garner's allegation he was trying to cover up the harassment allegations against Mr Ross.
"No. I don't accept that. I was dealing with immediate issues in the workplace in relation to this person's health that were particularly serious, and we would consider underlying matters after that. I was working on specialist advice."
In October, Ms Bennett told The AM Show there had been no formal complaints against Mr Ross - just suggestions of "inappropriate behaviour that is unacceptable from a married Member of Parliament". Mr Bridges confirmed that, saying he never used the word "harassment" to describe what Mr Ross had allegedly done, and the fact the women didn't actually lay official complaints made it "complex".
"We were dealing with things in accordance with women's issues. We didn't have complaints - four or five women who had raised matters. I would say inappropriate conduct. I'm not here, and I've been criticised on this show - possibly rightly - for breaching privacy issues in the past.
"What I can say to you is I was balancing those matters - disloyal conduct - with very clear, very serious - call it what you will - health issues, and on specialist advice. I think in that difficult situation, I got it right."
He said he was "never going to talk about Jami-Lee Ross' health issues, because that would be wrong". Garner reminded him he publicly called Mr Ross' issues "embarrassing".
"The very next day I made clear that I deeply regretted that. In fact it wasn't the next day. I think what you'll find is it was literally about 20 minutes after that tape. This was a difficult, stressful time for me as leader. I feel confident I dealt with it right, in the circumstances."
Mr Bridges says when the tape was made, he wasn't aware Mr Ross was the one who leaked his embarrassing expenses details back in August, as an internal National Party probe would later conclude. He says he'd just found out about the "inappropriate behaviour" in the previous 24 hours.
Previous recordings released by Mr Ross have included discussion of candidates' ethnicities and donations to the party Mr Ross alleges were made illegally.
Mr Ross was expelled from the party on October 16. He remains in Parliament as an independent.