The integrity of decision making in the Clark/Peters Government has been seriously undermined by two stories in the Dominion Post today. Firstly from the first story:
Money was paid to NZ First through former National MP Ross Meurant – who later accepted a job as a policy adviser to Mr Peters, private papers obtained by The Dominion Post show.
Mr Meurant brokered donations from Philip Vela, a senior member of the wealthy Vela family, before the 1999 election, when NZ First was in a coalition government with National, and after that time.
Mr Vela was told by Mr Meurant that he would have an opportunity to frame friendly policy in business areas to which Mr Vela was connected. The Vela family, worth an estimated $180 million, is involved in the fishing and horse racing industries.
So these documents detail the understanding that the Velas would donate to NZ First and in return have the opportunity to frame friendly policy in business areas of interest to them.
Some documents have parliamentary letterheads and include notes from a meeting at which Mr Peters said he had saved Vela interests “millions in tax liability”.
And in return they have donated hundreds of thousands it seems.
At the centre of the saga is Mr Meurant, who worked for Mr Vela and then worked as an adviser to Mr Peters from 2000 to 2004. In this job he received a taxpayer-funded salary – but he also sought a “top-up” from the corporate sector, including from Vela interests.
Mr Meurant told Mr Vela that he had “direct access” to Mr Peters “at all times”. His work included “major input” into Mr Peters’ speeches and he was “principally responsible for policy development in fishing and thoroughbred industries and `taxation’,” the documents show.
OK let us be clear on this. The staff member who wrote the party’s fishing, racing and taxation policies was being paid directly by corporates who happened to benefit from those fishing, racing and taxation policies.
When The Dominion Post revealed the scale of Vela donations to NZ First in July, Mr Peters said the money had no bearing on his party’s racing policy, which he said was written in 1993.
NZ First sources said the policy was introduced in 2006 – after Mr Peters successfully sought the racing minister portfolio in a support deal with Labour – and was substantially written by Mr Meurant while he was advising Mr Peters.
The Dominion Post revealed in July that the Vela family has donated at least $150,000 to NZ First or the Spencer Trust.
It is also worth remembering that $40,000 of that money paid off Winston’s debt to Bob Clarkson. This happened while Peters served as a Minister on Helen Clark’s Government. He needed her express permission to keep this donation. By not refusing permission Clark stands implicated as condoning this.
A box of documents sent to the newspaper this week shows that Vela interests made donations to NZ First as early as 1999. Mr Meurant suggested to Mr Vela that this provided the opportunity to give “input” into policy areas in which the family had business interests.
Mr Meurant sought money from Vela interests to travel as required in his taxpayer-paid job to liaise with Mr Peters, and for when he was “required to provide NZ First with material for debates in Parliament”.
He wanted help from Mr Vela “when required to show my face in Parliament to thrash out policy positions which I will have already developed with your people on taxation, fishing, thoroughbred with Winston’s bunch”.
The relationships between the Velas, Meurant and Peters sounds extraordinary. These documents make it sound like NZ First was the political arm of the Velas business empire.
In their second story:
Winston Peters repeatedly demanded that the Vela family provide him with a free helicopter to use for campaigning during the 1999 election, documents show.
And what if they did not obey?
On October 28 and 29, Mr Peters called Mr Meurant wanting the helicopter, the documents show. They include a transcript Mr Meurant made of the second call.
Mr Peters: Meurant, tell those bastards I need a helicopter. Don’t give me this crap about the machine needing repairs.
Mr Meurant: Come on, Winston, he has offered you his pilot. That’s a grand a week … he has personal reasons for not giving you his machine. He socialises with people who hate you.
Mr Peters: You gotta do better than that, Meurant. Don’t these people know how dangerous I can be [laughs]. [Mr Peters then says something to effect of Mr Vela having been saved millions in tax liability by Mr Peters.]
“Don’t these people know how dangerous I can be?” Sounds like a scene from the Godfather.
Mr Meurant: Come on, he is the only guy to give you funding.
Mr Peters: I have other funding. Don’t you worry about that.
But I thought Winston knew nothing about funding issues?
In December, after NZ First’s poor election showing, Mr Meurant advised Mr Vela to tell Mr Peters: “I have delivered. Two lots of 10 grand and the provision of a helicopter … it is time for you to produce something … make good on your commitment on Ross and engage him as your research manager.”
Which Winston then did.
Now remember that not only has Helen Clark not sacked Winston for any of his multiple misdeeds to date, she has explicitly said she will have him back in Government if NZ First makes it. Never mind the overwhelming evidence that he solicited the $100,000 from Owen Glenn, lied about it, and tried to get Glenn made Consul. Never mind the personal and party donations from the Velas and these documents showing the influence on policy it gained them.
Are there any people of conscience left on the left who think that putting Peters back into power would be a betrayal of everything they have railed against when it comes to money and politics? If so, how can you be voting Labour?
And once again the Greens refuse to say anything stronger than “we would have problems working with Winston” using the excuse their members would decide their bottom lines. That doesn’t stop them going much stronger and saying “The Greens Caucus has resolved to unanimously recommend to our members that we will not give confidence and supply to any Government that has Winston Peters in it”. They are keeping their options open because they will happily trade all their lofty rhetoric over political donations for some baubles of their own. By refusing to rule Peters out as strongly as they can, the Greens will be hypocrites if they ever try to lecture on political finance again.
John Key has ruled out Peters in Government. No ifs and no buts. As individual voters we can not affect whether or not 5% of the population will vote for NZ First and put Peters back into Parliament. But you can affect whether or not he gets to be a Minister again, by voting only for National, ACT or United Future. Any other vote may put Peters back into the Ministry.Tags: Dominion Post, Greens, Helen Clark, political donations, Ross Meurant, Vela Family, Winston First