Nov 4, 2008

Dominion Post Editorial A Must Read

We agree fully with today's Dominion Post Editorial, so much so we repeat it in full:

NZ First leader Winston Peters is still grinning and still excoriating critics who dare to question his integrity. But the grin is forced and his tongue-lashings lack their customary sting. He is a man under siege, The Dominion Post writes.

In addition to having to explain why the party of the ordinary bloke solicited donations from big business and failed to declare them in accordance with electoral law, he now finds himself under pressure to explain the nature of his relationships with businessman Philip Vela, whose family has substantial fishing and horse racing interests, and with lobbyist and former National MP Ross Meurant, who worked as a policy adviser for NZ First from 2000 to 2004.
Private papers obtained by The Dominion Post show Mr Meurant advised Mr Vela that his company could influence NZ First policy by giving money to the party. The same documents show that Peter Dunne's UnitedFuture Party was offered $5000 on behalf of the Vela family days after agreeing to oppose United Nations plans to tighten international fishing restrictions. Mr Dunne has confirmed receivng a donation from the Velas, but says money was not discussed when he met Mr Meurant to discuss fishing matters.

That is a plausible, if not particularly satisfactory, explanation. New Zealanders pride themselves on living in a country in which MPs operate in the national interest rather than in their own or their party's interests.
The more is learned of the relationship between politicians and big business, the more naive that view appears. But at least Mr Dunne has given an explanation. Mr Peters wants the public to take him on trust.

"Have you seen me flying around in helicopters?" he thundered after being asked about a conversation in which he reportedly told Mr Meurant to "tell those bastards [the Velas] I need a helicopter". The answer, readers of The Dominion Post know, is yes. In 1999, he used a helicopter to campaign on the East Coast. Just a few months beforehand it had been registered to a PM Vela. In 2005, he again used a helicopter for a campaign trip.
In Mr Peters' defence, it should be pointed out that the papers obtained by The Dominion Post do not conclusively prove that NZ First traded policy for cash, but they do show that Mr Vela was advised it was to his advantage to donate money to the party.

In July 1999, Mr Meurant told Mr Vela that "another" $9999 would help secure a meeting with Mr Peters' "backroom advisers". In December the same year Mr Meurant suggested Mr Vela lobby to have him appointed as NZ First's research manager. If appointed, he said he wanted to continue working for Mr Vela and would give his projects priority. Later that month he warned the businessman that, without someone from his side driving policy and cajoling NZ First's MPs ("demonstrably lazy bastards"), he could not be certain of achieving the desired outcome. In March 2000 he told Mr Vela that Mr Peters was keen to fight tax issues of concern to Mr Vela.

These are matters that strike at the heart of public confidence in the democratic system. It may be that Mr Peters can explain them away, but with the election just days away, he is running out of time to do so.