… in the present row, Peters’ reputation is being severely eroded by his refusal to give a clear and full account of the large sums paid to his party.
The circumstances of those transfers are so suspicious and the issues so significant that few people other than his most one-eyed followers would doubt that an explanation is needed. Without it, the impression is left that an important party and a main participant in the Government has been the beneficiary of secret payments, large in amount and made for unknown reasons and with unknown consequences.
We don’t even know what the Spencer Trust spends it money on. At least with the Waitemata Trust there is a clear paper trail that it makes donations to National and discloses them. There are no donors to the Waitemata Trust saying “Hey we though this money would get passed on and it wasn’t”.
Doing that will depend on Peters addressing fundamental issues: how much has been paid by various donors and which entities associated with the party have received it; who were the donors; to what purpose has the money been put; have the donations and their dispersal been legal?
It is probably unrealistic to expect the identity of donors to the Spencer Trust to be disclosed, but someone has to front up on why Winston and his personal staff were soliciting money for it, and how has that money been used.
Events, though, may be conspiring to derail his plans. The sense is that more disclosures will be made and the survival of the Government has been brought into play. That latter issue means the Prime Minister is a participant in the business, and she has it in her power to be decisive in deciding its outcome.
Helen Clark has managed to distance her party from the row, but the longer it continues, the more likely is Labour to be damaged. New Zealand First is a main coalition partner a connection that risks guilt by association in a nation already suspicious of Labour’s conduct of electoral matters.
Labour often attacks National on its former secret trusts. It will never be taken seriously on such issues again if it continues to sit there saying it has no issues with the NZ First arrangements which are far far less transparent.
And the Dom Post:
The labyrinthine funding affairs of NZ First need to be publicly unwound, The Dominion Post writes.
NZ First leader Winston Peters has campaigned long and hard against secret trusts and the role of big business in funding political parties, and for transparency. Now, when it is his own behaviour that is being questioned, he favours stonewall and bluster, rather than revelation and explanation.
And the notion that he knows nothing at all about a trust he solicits money for, named after his namesake, his staff collect money for, and his brother runs is insulting our intelligence
Mr Peters has, in the past, called for an investigation of a trust that gave the National Party $50,000, railed against the non-disclosure of donations and proposed legislation requiring that all donations above $500 should be disclosed.
As recently as last year he fulminated against the role of covert money in politics.
And it appears no party has more covert money than NZ First – in two weeks we have learnt of two secret trusts or funding sources which benefit either Peters personally or his party.
It also means doing more than simply calling the claims “unsubstantiated rubbish,” offering the view that Sir Robert’s memory is failing and protesting that he has no involvement with the Spencer Trust. These are serious issues that deserve a serious response, rather than the aggressively delivered but content-free dismissals that have been offered so far.
The people who should have the most pressing questions are in fact the NZ First Board and Caucus. It appears none of them had any knowledge of the Spencer Trust despite the fact the Leader’s staff was collecting money for it, and donors to it think by donating to it they are supporting NZ First.
Surely at least one of them is concerned enough about their own integrity and credibility that they want a decent explanation? Are they not concerned that possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars has gone into a private fund they know nothing about, and not under the party’s control? What if Peters died suddenly? Would any money in the Spencer Trust go to the party or go elsewhere?
Mr Peters argues that none of the claims made so far contain evidence that NZ First has acted outside the law, but he, more than any other politician, should know this issue is not just about the letter of the law.
It is also about whether a party with a leader who last year warned a Nelson audience of the dangers of “huge funds of secret money seeking to distort our democracy” and argued for “transparency and spending limits” on political spending is prepared to back its rhetoric with its actions. Unfortunately, Mr Peters so far has shown little sign of doing that. Instead his actions suggest he regards transparency as a virtue best practised by others.
Indeed do as I say, not as I do.
Nor can Prime Minister Helen Clark continue to treat the issue as one solely for NZ First. She must accept that Mr Peters is a minister in her administration, as well as the leader of a rival political party, and that it is not possible to fully separate the two roles. The questioning Mr Peters deservedly faced over the funding issues as he held a press conference with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice simply underlines that.
Her message to him today must be explicit: if you wish to continue as a minister, clear this up honestly, openly and quickly.
If Clark allows this to just carry on and on, them more fool her.