Do you remember how NZ First said the illegal election advertisements in Tauranga were put up by an over-enthusiastic supporter? Well it seems the property they were put up on, is one of Winston’s closest friends and a parliamentary staffer of his.
Phil Kitchin investigates:
A NZ First staffer likely to face police scrutiny in a test of new electoral laws has received hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for a job many in his party know almost nothing about.
Tommy Gear, a close friend of party leader Winston Peters, is expected to be questioned by police following an alleged breach of the Electoral Finance Act.
The case is the first under the controversial new law governing political party advertising to have been referred to police by the Electoral Commission.
Mr Gear is likely to be questioned about NZ First banners that were strung from the remains of his property in Maxwells Rd, Tauranga, in April.
Mr Gear has been employed by the Parliamentary Service, which administers Parliament, from as early as 1998.
I’ve never heard of Mr Gear before I have to say.
He has occasionally used his black Mercedes to chauffeur Mr Peters and carry his bags – but what else Mr Gear has done for a salary in some years of up to $50,000 is a mystery to many party officials.
Mr Peters often stayed with Mr Gear and his wife at their former million-dollar Maxwells Rd property. Mr Gear occasionally stays with Mr Peters in Wellington.
Sources say many NZ First officials have little or no idea of what Mr Gear has done for a salary that has fluctuated between $19,000 and $50,000. Mr Gear was seen in Parliament only a few times a year, a source said.
“He’s a mystery man.”
Parties are free to hire whomever they want from their parliamentary funding, but normally they are listed in the parliamentary directory.
The National Party complained to the Electoral Commission about the NZ First banners because they had no promoter’s name or address.
One banner said: “Keeping them honest.”
When NZ First failed to respond to a “please explain” from the Electoral Commission police were asked to investigate.
A breach of the Electoral Finance Act, a law NZ First strongly supported, can incur a fine of up to $40,000.
Mr Peters said this week that the banners were the work of an “over-enthusiastic supporter”. NZ First would cooperate with the police inquiry even though the party was “not certain” the law had been breached.
If the over-enthusiastic supporter is on the NZ First parliamentary payroll, that puts a very different light on it.
Contacted yesterday, Mr Peters would not answer repeated questions about whether Mr Gear worked for NZ First.
“Print one thing wrong, sunshine, and I will sue you,” Mr Peters said before hanging up.
Phil Kitchin has been threatened with lawsuits more often that most people have had hot dinners I suspect, so I doubt he was worried by this threat.
In Mr Gear’s early years working for Mr Peters, his job was to maintain relationships with local authority leaders and to deputise for Mr Peters when he was away from his electorate.
But former Tauranga mayor Noel Pope said he never met or spoke to Mr Gear about briefings. Mr Pope met Mr Peters each month. “Tom is a mate of [Mr Peters] … He is his minder.”
Current mayor Stuart Crosby said he had only ever seen Mr Gear acting as a driver for Mr Peters.
In February 2000 Mr Gear was fined $500 after being clocked at 168kmh driving Mr Peters to Auckland airport.