Shit you should care about … The Bridges and Ross Feud.
It’s been a wild week for New Zealand politics, rocked by allegations that sent the National Party scrambling to put out their own internal fire, leaving the rest of the nation scratching their heads and simply trying to keep up. As the drama of the last week winds down, I have put together a straightforward timeline of the most important events that have made up the Ross and Bridges feud.
Just in case New Zealand politics really doesn’t interest you or you have been finding it hard to keep up, the main players in this scandal are Simon Bridges and Jami-lee Ross.
Simon Bridges is the current National Party leader, appointed in February 2018. Jami-lee Ross was a National Party MP and the Botany electorate.
National Party Leader Simon Bridges’ expenses were leaked to Newshub. This revealed that Bridges has spent $113,973 on travel and accommodation in the months of April to June. $83,693 of that was spent on using a crown limousine to get around. This is considered much more than what MP’s would traditionally spend. For example, former Labour leader, Andrew Little spent around $35,000 less than Bridges on his travel in 2017.
Bridges said in response: “I’m working incredibly hard as Opposition Leader to get out there and understand what’s happening in New Zealand. I’m getting out and doing the hard mahi.”
Winston Peters however, was not convinced. “Is mahi a new Māori word he’s learnt? If he means hard yards, he hasn’t been doing it,” he said.
Questions began circling about who had leaked Bridges’ expenses information before the official list had been made publicly available.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that she and Bridges were confident neither of their MPs were responsible for the leak.
Bridges demands for an inquiry into the leak.
Speaker Trevor Mallard announced the inquiry, which would be carried out by a Queen’s Counsel.
“The inquiry will look at who forwarded [the information] to whom, and who else had access to the data which was very specific data at a very specific point in time and who did access it and for what purpose,” Mr Mallard said.
Anonymous texts were sent to Bridges claiming to be the leaker.
The author of the texts said they suffered with their mental health and pleaded the inquiry be called off as public exposure could push them over the edge, putting their life at risk.
The texts said Bridges’ expenses had been leaked because they disagreed with the National Party leader’s leadership style and wanted him to held accountable for how he was using taxpayers’ money.
Police apparently knew the identity of the leaker but would not tell Bridges in order to keep their privacy.
Speaker Mallad later that day called off the Queen’s Council inquiry. He spoke to the media:
“It has now been confirmed to me that the person who leaked the details of the expenses and the texter are the same person. He or she has details of events that it is unlikely anyone outside the National Party would be privy to,” Mr Mallard said. “The text is from someone who is clearly very disturbed and today’s publicity will almost certainly make that worse. My priority is to get appropriate support to them whether they are an MP or a staff member.”
National launched their own investigation into the leaks.
A privacy waiver was signed by all 56 of National MPs. They were each required to hand over all communications dating back to February.
Jami-Lee Ross stands down from his role of National MP due to personal health issues.
Bridges tells reporters,
“I’ve got to be honest with you, this came out of the blue. You think you know your colleagues very well, but you don’t always know everything that’s going on for what are personal, sensitive, perhaps embarrassing issues.”
Bridges did confirm that Ross’ decision was unrelated to the leak investigation and he had taken Ross for his word that he was not the leaker.
In the morning, Bridges was confronted by Duncan Garner on Newshub’s AM Show about further leaks. Garner said this was proof that members within the National Party wanted him gone. Bridges retaliated saying this was untrue, “the reality is I’ve got an incredibly strong caucus that is behind [me], we’re working hard, we’re holding the Government to account.”
Bridges held a media stand-up at 1pm revealing the findings of the leak investigation.
The National leader said the inquiry identified Jami-Less Ross as the most likely source of the leak.
“The caucus will be asked to consider all relevant matters including his membership of caucus, finally you will recall, Jami-Lee took leave from Parliament given personal health issues, this action is completely separate. I didn’t know what the investigation report would contain when the matters were addressed in recent weeks.”
Minutes before Bridges spoke to the media, Ross released a series of tweets claiming he was being framed.
Bridges denied what Ross had said, saying Ross was “lashing out”.
“Look I think he would say those things, given the situation that he is in, I am not surprised frankly by the false comments that he’s making.”
Ross held a press conference at 11am.
He said he would step down from National, resigning his seat.
Ross claimed Bridges had asked him to collect a donation from a wealthy businessman of $100,000 which could not be made public. He said the donation was then split into smaller amounts so they were under the $15,000 declaration threshold. This is a serious claim, which if true is unlawful activity that breaches the electoral act.
He spoke of four women who had apparently approached deputy leader Paula Bennett with allegations of harassment from Ross. He fiercely denied this, maintaining that he was the target of a campaign to push him out of the party.
He said he would release photo proof of a meeting between Bridges and the businessman later that day.
In a National party meeting, all 55 of their MPs voted to expel Ross from their caucus.
Bridges said Ross’ claims about the donation were “baseless, false but serious allegations.” Bridges urged Ross to take these matters to the police, saying he hoped this would be dealt with quickly as “I have done nothing wrong.”
Ross later releases photos to his twitter which he claims is proof of the meeting between Bridges and the businessman.
Speaking to the Morning Report, Paula Bennett says that Bridges did in fact meet with the businessman in Ross’ photo and they may have discussed supporting the party:
“[Mr Bridges] said he certainly had conversations with [Mr Zhang] and with others that have wanted to support the National Party.”
Bennett was hesitant to comment however, as she didn’t want to misrepresent anyone.
She also told the Morning Report that, “At no point was the matter of sexual harassment ever put to Jami-Lee Ross.”
Ross visits Wellington’s Victoria Street police station to file a complaint on Bridges. Ross says he will later publicly release a recording of Bridges discussing the donation split. He says he recorded the phone call to protect himself.
Ross later posts the phone call audio to Facebook. In his caption he says it confirms the $100,000 donation. “Simon Bridges says I’m lying – this is part of the evidence I gave to police today.”
The audio’s most important parts:
Bridges and Ross discuss an $100,000 donation from two Chinese guys and how they plan to use it. However, the recording does not explicitly state how the donation was made.
They mention the donors wanted another Chinese candidate. Bridges says this depends on polling but two Chinese would be nice. Ross responds, “Two Chinese would be more valuable than two Indians, I have to say.”
Bridges and Ross then go on to discuss which current National MPs they would prefer to leave the party. Bridges lists David Carter and Chris Finlayson, then calls Maureen Pugh “fucking useless.”
Bridges addresses the media saying he listened to the recording. He firstly sends his heartfelt apologies to Maureen Pugh, “I’m mortified, there’s no excuse.”
He says it was blunt, private conversation.
Bridges states that Ross has deliberately tried to set him up with attempts to criminally blackmail him.
‘He has defamed me and he is a liar’ – Simon Bridges
Newsroom releases a story that features four anonymous women discussing their relationships with Ross, and how they were “groomed, used for access to information and power, and abused.” The article had been a year in the making by Newsroom journalist Melanie Reid who has been investigating into Ross’ close relationships with four women.
One woman she their affair was her “biggest mistake”, saying their sex turned “brutal and misogynistic.”
Another woman said Ross had “100 percent groomed her.”
Sources reveal to Checkpoint that the National Party has known for a couple of years about Ross’ mistreatment of women. In 2016 a female National Party MP complained to National Party President Peter Goodfellow about Ross’ bullying. In response, Goodfellow facilitated a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ which required the woman to not speak publicly about Ross’ behaviour. This was before Bridges was appointed as the Party’s leader and he apparently did not know about the complaint.
Ross releases text messages which he claims demonstrates party malpractice. However, many legal experts were unconvinced.
Massey University law professor Chris Gallavin says the text messages released on Thursday by Jami-Lee Ross don’t prove anything on their own.
“What they do seem to do is illustrate that officials of the National Party went to quite some lengths to ensure that they complied with their legal obligations.”
Jacinda Ardern says National needs to deal with their own problems rather than launch an independent investigation.
“We want politics to be a place that good people come and serve… We all have a responsibility to change the nature of politics in New Zealand… I think things need to be different.”
Newstalk ZB airs a recording of Bridges discussing Ross’ sexual misconduct.
Ross then takes to twitter to admit to two ‘consensual relationships’ he had while in office, apologising to his wife. He also wrote that he would not be resigning his Botany seat but will continue as an independent MP.
The High Commissioner of India says he is “deeply disappointed and very hurt” by Ross and Bridges’ comments in the phone recording.
Ross was picked up on the early hours of Sunday by police and taken to the mental health unit of Middlemore hospital. A friend to Ross who wanted to remain anonymous described this as a “very real situation.”
On Tuesday afternoon Ross left the hospital and is apparently staying with a friend out of Auckland.
The Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson told the Morning Report that the language being used by politicians and media commentators towards Ross’ actions were stigmatising mental illness which could stop others from speaking out.
Bridges responded to criticism that he mishandled Ross’ mental health problems, saying he “acted entirely consistent with the specialist medical advice at every step of this.”
Bridges also ordered an inquiry to ensure National Party female employees feel safe in the workplace.
It was revealed to Checkpoint that a female National Party MP sent Ross a long and abusive text message in August which included “you deserve to die.”
A One News poll showed that Bridges was down to only seven percent as New Zealand’s preferred Prime Minister Ardern on the other hand hit her highest rating of 42 percent. The National Party also dropped two percent to 43 percent while the Labour Party is up three percent to 45 percent. The poll was taken last week as the Bridges and Ross drama unfolded.
Bridges told the Morning Report that last week was the “toughest, worst week for National I can remember for any leader.” However, he defends his leadership, saying he has “come through the fire stronger.”
So, what happens now?
Are Ross’ allegations against Bridges true?
It is up to the police to decide if Ross’ allegations against Bridges are legitimate and qualify as criminal behaviour. This could apparently take up to a couple weeks.
University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said that if Ross’ claims about the donation are true, this is “potentially career-ending stuff” for Bridges, as it’s against the Electoral Act. However, he says that none of Ross’ evidence have given proof of this.
Geddis said: “In the recording that Jami-Lee Ross then released, it sounded like what happened was an association of Chinese business people got together… and each individually gave money to this bank account, each of them individually under $15,000 so it didn’t need to be disclosed – all of which would have been completely illegal.”
Wellington lawyer Hayden Wilson told Nine to Noon that if Ross’ allegations are true, Ross also had implicated himself. Wilson said that by participating in the process Ross could potentially be party to an offence.
What is going to happen to Bridges?
Whether Ross’ claims are true or not, as the polls demonstrated the past week has proven damaging to Bridges and the National Party.
Sudhvir Singh a guest writer for The Spinoff wrote about the phone call recording and how Bridges’ and Ross’ dismissive tone towards Chinese, Filipino and Indian MPs is only “the latest example of the tokenistic approach New Zealand politics has to Asian New Zealanders.” Singh argues this is driving division between New Zealanders despite the Kiwi Asian community making up over 12% of the population. He calls for politics to better reflect New Zealand’s rich diversity.
RNZ’s political editor Jane Patterson said the scandal may cause feelings of anxiety amongst voters whose ethnic communities were the target of Bridges’ and Ross’ comments. She noted the wide support the National Party receives from Asian communities. To hear the party leader speaking so dismissively about them is likely to make some donors hesitant before offering up further financial support.
Last Thursday, Duncan Garner called for Bridges to step down as National leader. “He is not so much dead-man-walking but dead-man stumbling in the dark, surrounded by a giant snake with a killer bite that multiplies by the second,” Garner said.
This story is far from over and is looking more like a lose lose situation for both Ross and Bridges with every new announcement. We shall keep updating the timeline as it unfolds.
Banner image courtesy of Nick Perry