The Nation had Clayton Cosgrove on this morning, with the news summary being:
Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove says he is a long standing friend of a property developer who donated $17,500 to his campaign at the last election.
The donation came after Mr Cosgrove drafted a private members’ bill which would have allowed the developer, Mike Dormer, to go ahead with a development stopped by the Christchurch District Plan.
Speaking today on TV3’s “The Nation”, Mr Cosgrove said, he was a longstanding friend of Mr Dormer.
“We go back about 12 years,” he said.
“He’s a friend of my family, I know his family well.
“He’s a respected person, I’m proud to say I’m a mate of his.”
In 2008 Mr Dormer’s company, Independent Fisheries, bought 22ha of land at Styx Mill, north of Christchurch Airport and in Mr Cosgrove’s then electorate of Waimakiriri with the intention of developing it for houses.
But the company became frustrated at restrictions on the development imposed at the behest of Christchurch Airport.
Other landowners in the same area were also concerned at the tight noise boundaries around the airport which prohibited residential development.
In June 2009 Mr Cosgrove convened a public meeting about the boundaries and announced that he was preparing a private members’ bill to counter them.
His Bill would have required landowners within the noise boundaries to forfeit any right to object to airport noise. In return residential development would get a go ahead.
Mr Dormer described the bill as “win win” and “outstanding”.
And five months later, in November 2009, Independent Fisheries donated $2500 to
I had discussion with all landowners. We set up a group of landowners across the board who had legal support, some who didn’t. I was leading negotiations on behalf of over a 100 constituents with the International Airport and others, for years on this.
After the Christchurch earthquake in September 2010, Mr Cosgrove withdrew his bill from the private members’ list of bills in Parliament.
In June 2011, Mr Cosgrove got another donation from Independent Fisheries. This time it was for $15,000, making a total of $17,500, one of the highest sums given to any individual MP at the last election.
And in August 2011, Mr Cosgrove issued a press release advocating passage of his Bill as a way of freeing up land for desperately needed sections in Christchurch.
But he vigorously denied that there was any connection between the Bill and its obvious benefits for Independent Fisheries Ltd and the donations.
“I’ve never accepted a donation with any preconditions and I have never been offered a donation with any preconditions,” he said.
Mr Cosgrove rejected the suggestion that it could appear that he had a conflict of interest.
There would have been a conflict of interest from any person, and I have people donate money to me in support from all political persuasions.” he said.
“There would be a conflict of interest if it came with preconditions, and by the way every MP receives donations.
“There would be a very bad look and a lack of judgement if those donations were hidden and not declared.
“There is transparency here, and the reason you can question me is because I declared them.”
Mr Cosgrove claimed the report on “The Nation” had been “shopped around” by Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee, in an attempt to smear him.
But Nation presenter, Rachel Smalley, said that no one from Front Page, the production company which produces “The Nation” had spoken to Mr Brownlee or anyone from his office.
Independent Fisheries is one a number of parties who have a legal action against Mr Brownlee on this issue currently before the High Court in Christchurch.
I have included the transcript of the show after the break, so people can see it in context.
I would make four observations.
- I accept absolutely that there were no conditions attached to the $17,500 donation (in two parts). I also accept that Cosgrove genuinely sees the change he advocated as desirable. Just to be absolutely clear I do not believe this was a case of “purchasing policy”.
- I do think it is somewhat inappropriate for an MP to promote legislation via the member’ ballot which would allow developments, not allowed under a local authority plan.
- I think it is unwise of any MP, including Cosgrove, to lobby for something that is of huge financial benefit to someone he describes as a long-standing friend.
- Accepting such a large donation from someone whose interests you have promoted legislation for, is also unwise. $17,500 is ten times the disclosure level for candidates and represents over half the $25,000 you can spend on a campaign during the regulated period. Donations should be based on general support for a party’s policies, or belief that a candidate is the best local representative. When the MP has advocated a law change that your company is the biggest beneficiary of, then I don’t think it is a great idea to donate.
The full transcript is below.
Rachel Friday afternoon we got a statement from Mike Dormer at Independent Fisheries who was prepared to give us some answers despite his legal advice. First he pointed out that Independent Fisheries started discussing the issue of land near Christchurch Airport with Clayton Cosgrove in 2008 with a large number of other landowners. Second he said the Christchurch Airport Protection Bill was not initiated by Independent Fisheries, nor did it make any payments to Clayton Cosgrove in connection with that bill. Independent Fisheries also told us it has a long history of funding political parties and doesn’t put any preconditions on funding support, and no preconditions were placed on the support provided to Clayton Cosgrove’s campaign. Clayton Cosgrove is with us this morning, thank you for coming in Mr Cosgrove.
Rachel Why did you accept a donation from Independent Fisheries after you drafted that bill, knowing that Independent Fisheries stood to financially benefit from it, if it went through.
Clayton Cosgrove – Labour MP
Well let’s cut to the chase. What TV3 has just accused me of is that I accepted donations in return for proposing legislation that Independent Fisheries would have benefited from if that legislation had gone through. So Rachel my question to you is – is that the accusation that TV3 is making?
Rachel We’ve made no accusations at all. Did you though accept a campaign donation from Independent Fisheries knowing that they would ultimately financially benefit from this bill that you had drafted?
Clayton Yes I accepted campaign donations from Independent Fisheries and I’ve accepted campaign donations from a variety of people of all sorts of persuasions. My bill though, what your story doesn’t talk about would have benefited literally hundreds of people from Kaiapoi to right down northwest Christchurch, because what it would have done is got their property rights back for them, not just Independent Fisheries. I represented over a 100 people, constituents, as a Member of Parliament, collectively, not individually, to enable them to get their property rights back.
Rachel Did you have any discussions with Mike Dormer or Independent Fisheries about the issues that they were facing at the Airport, before you drafted that?
Clayton Mr Dormer told me that he’d bought some land, the company had bought some land I think in August 2008. He told me that when I held a public meeting in August 2008, which about a 100 landowners mostly from Christchurch, all had the same issue, and that’s why I was aware of it. But again Rachel you seem to be coming back to accusing me of taking a donation for proposing legislation for a company so they’d have a beneficial interest. This legislation would have benefited probably hundreds of land owners, mum and dads, B&Bs, entities and organisations, right through Kaiapoi and right down at the northwest side of Christchurch.
Rachel Mr Dormer said, the CEO of Independent Fisheries, he said – he told the press, and I’m just confirming the date here, on June 24th, that he thought the bill was quote “outstanding”. He said that on June 24th 2009. In June you said you were drafting the bill.
Clayton I’ll just check my chronology. I announced I’d prepared that bill in June 09, it went into the ballot in July 09, and it was announced publically, and I talked to a lot of landowners right across Christchurch. In fact when I announced that I was doing this I got people from all over Christchurch, even outside my electorate, who were in the same boat, and again I come back to it. Your question seems to be again Rachel accusing me of taking a donation in direct relation in return for legislation that a company would have benefited by. Is that true, because that legislation would have created a win for all those people, and by the way Christchurch International Airport. It was a unique moment in politics where everybody would have won by this.
Rachel The bill you were drafting as you said in June 2009, that’s the same month that Mike Dormer said he thought it was outstanding.
Clayton Well a lot of people said it was outstanding actually.
Rachel Why would he be familiar with it at that stage?
Clayton Because everybody was familiar with the proposal that I had. I talked to mayors of the then Mayor of Makariri, Councillors about it, the idea I had that we could say to landowners if you release your land, if we can release your land and noise is not an issue, the Airport gets total security, and landowners who had had their property rights taken away from them, would have had that land released.
Rachel Did you ask Independent Fisheries for a donation?
Rachel Did Independent Fisheries in those discussions that you had about the bill, did they ever suggest that they would make a donation?
Clayton No and I’ve never accepted a donation with any preconditions and I have never been offered a donation with any preconditions. Independent Fisheries by the way, and Mike Dormer who is a hugely respected business person, philanthropist, donate to charities, many political parties, and by the way they donate heavily to the National Party.
Rachel Okay did they ever raise with you the issue that they may consider donating to your campaign?
Rachel Okay, what contact did you have with Mr Dormer, or any executives for that matter from Independent Fisheries between June 2009 when you drafted the bill, and November of that same year?
Clayton Oh Mr Dormer and I are old friends, we go back about 12 years. He’s a friend of my family, I know his family well. He’s a respected person, I’m proud to say I’m a mate of his. I had discussion with all landowners. We set up a group of landowners across the board who had legal support, some who didn’t. I was leading negotiations on behalf of over a 100 constituents with the International Airport and others, for years on this.
Rachel So do you meet this man socially?
Clayton Yes. I’m proud to say I do.
Rachel And do you have discussions about the issues that he was facing at the Airport?
Clayton I’ve had discussions with all the landowners and Mr Dormer of course.
Rachel Because you drafted the bill in 2009.
Clayton I’ll just say this Rachel. These questions are interesting because again you seem to be coming back to accusing me of taking a donation from a company to draft legislation. I said that is not true.
Rachel Okay and we take that, and that is on the record. You’ve said that you’ve had contact with them from June 2009 when you drafted the bill, and then November of that same year. On the 3rd of November that year, Independent Fisheries made a donation, how much was that donation on November 3rd.
Clayton On the 3rd of November, if I can check my chronology, 3rd November $2,500.
Rachel $2,500 okay. Were you surprised by receiving a donation?
Rachel No surprise whatsoever, okay.
Clayton I received donations from all sorts of people throughout the parliamentary term.
Rachel Did you realise there was the potential though for a conflict of interest knowing that Independent Fisheries wanted that area of land, so they could develop it and get over the hurdles they were facing at the Airport? Did you recognise there was a conflict of interest then that somebody stood to financially benefit? Was donating to your campaign, when you were putting forward a bill…
Clayton And by the way, I have declared all those donations. That’s something that’s failed in your story. The reason we’re talking about this now actually, and quite rightly you’re questioning me and that is appropriate, is that I was transparent and open and declared every donation as the law required appropriately. In fact in my last electoral donation I declared donations I didn’t have to, I even declared the wood for my hoardings. So that is open.
Rachel Okay, let’s come back to this scenario here. Did you recognise there was a conflict of interest though by this donation coming through.
Clayton There would have been a conflict of interest from any person, and I have people donate money to me in support from all political persuasions. There would be a conflict of interest if it came with preconditions, and by the way every MP receives donations. There would be a very bad look and a lack of judgement if those donations were hidden and not declared. There is transparency here, and the reason you can question me is because I declared them.
Rachel Sure, in 2011 you received another donation from Independent Fisheries, how much was that?
Clayton Fifteen thousand dollars.
Rachel Okay in total you received $17,500 from Independent Fisheries.
Clayton All declared.
Rachel Yes absolutely. That is the third largest donation from one company to any individual MP. It’s a sizeable amount of money. Why do you think Independent Fisheries were so generous?
Clayton Well Independent Fisheries have had a history of donating to charities, and donating to political parties, they heavily fund the National Party. You’d have to ask them.
Rachel Why are they generous now though?
Clayton Well maybe, maybe, they’ve got a history of supporting me, maybe they think that I’ve worked my guts out for my constituents over 12 years, and maybe they think I’m a good MP, but again I ask you, your question leads me to believe that you are accusing me of taking money from a company in direct return for legislation. That is not true.
Rachel That’s not it at all. I’m trying to establish whether you think that there was a conflict of interest there?
Clayton No I don’t believe so because there was no preconditions. I’ve never accepted a donation in my life with preconditions, and one has never been offered to me in my life with preconditions, and of course Independent Fisheries as I say have funded the National Party heavily, they’ve already said to you that they don’t put preconditions on any of their donations.
Rachel You have said though it is a large donation as we’ve mentioned here. When it came in at that size, that last one 2011 of $15,000, so $17,500 did that not flag up to you though that there was a potential conflict of interest, because you came out and pushed ahead with that bill again.
Clayton No, actually that’s not true, that’s not true. The bill last went into the ballot on the 9th of September 2010. The donation as made on as you say in November. I wrote to Mr Brownlee on the 22nd of August on that year, because Mr Brownlee as your show shows, said he wanted land released, and I said here’s an opportunity to do it. What this is about, the National Party have got their fingerprints all over this, they’ve been trying to shop this around for weeks. Can I just say this to you. Mr Brownlee a number of coincidences – in the court case he attaches a copy of my bill to his affidavit. Okay it’s not about me or the Airport, your reporter just happens to be in the studio and Mr Brownlee just happens to be overseas ….
Rachel Front Page has had no contact with Jerry Brownlee.
Clayton Well the National Party have tried to shop this around and smear me and smear one of the most respected business people in the community, a person who has given money to the Salvation Army, supported youth groups. Mr Dormer does not deserve to be smeared and nor does Independent Fisheries. This is the old story. Mr Brownlee’s backed into a corner in a court case where people are fighting for their property rights, and Mr Brownlee has decided he’s going to lash out as has the National Party. It’s a good old fashioned smear, and all these declarations, all these donations were declared openly, transparently and honestly as the law requires, and that’s why you can question me about them, as you should today.
Rachel And I appreciate you coming in and allowing us to do that. Clayton Cosgrove thank you for your time this morning.