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The Bulletin: Ross saga splinters and spirals

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Ross saga flies off in half a dozen different directions, Wellington bus drivers vote on indefinite length strike, and a tragedy for DOC.

It’s not really clear what you’d call this story any more, because it’s now about half a dozen different stories. That follows another wild day, in which the National party moved a significant distance towards dispatching Jami-Lee Ross as a threat. But other strands that emerged will continue to play out for a long time, particularly when they’re episodes in a wider story. These summaries will be kept short so you can finish it all before your train gets to work, but the linked stories have stacks of background.

The texts about the donations 

Text messages were released yesterday between Jami-Lee Ross and National secretary Greg Hamilton, about the alleged donations in question. The texts show Mr Hamilton being informed that individual donors under the threshold couldn’t be tracked down – it’s now clear that it was multiple donations rather than one of $100,000. Mr Hamilton responded by reminding Mr Ross of the legal obligations around declaring donations, and suggested another way to track them down. Mr Ross then named Simon Bridges as the source of the donations, before again being reminded of the legal obligations, which Mr Ross said he’d handle. As Newstalk ZB reports, they reveal no apparent wrongdoing from National.

Jami-Lee Ross conduct allegations

This has turned out to be particularly concerning. Newsroom reported accounts from four women, who accuse Mr Ross of manipulating, bullying and harassing them. Two say they had affairs with Mr Ross in which he turned toxic. Radio NZ reported that the National party had been aware of complaints of the nature against Mr Ross for several years, and in one case President Peter Goodfellow allegedly got a complainant to sign a confidentiality agreement. As of this morning, National hadn’t responded to Radio NZ’s request for comment on that. Writing on The Spinoff, Morgan Tait argues that this raises serious questions about what sort of behaviour political parties are and aren’t willing to tolerate.

Another complainant alleges that Mr Ross, and his ‘friend’ – political campaigner Simon Lusk – made threatening phone calls to her. And a former National candidate has also come forward to the NZ Herald, alleging professional harassment from Mr Ross.

Simon Bridges and National’s standing  

Simon Bridges spoke with compassion towards the women who came forward at a press conference in Napier. But he also said he acted immediately as soon as he knew something, confronting him within the day. Now, Simon Bridges wasn’t the leader when the confidentiality agreement was signed, and there has been no direct evidence that he personally knew beforehand. But as the Radio NZ report made clear, senior figures within the party did know.

Regarding Simon Bridges’ leadership, it pays to think back to the distant past, a land called Tuesday, when the most explosive broad accusation was made against Mr Bridges – that he was a “corrupt politician.” None of the evidence released to date has proven that to any satisfactory standard. That is significant, but it remains to be seen if it will help him keep his job. His MPs have unanimously had his back, but with reportedly bad favourability ratings in internal polling, Mr Bridges might not want to leave that back too exposed.

Asian community responses

The fallout comments about the ethnicities of potential candidates will also be interesting to watch. Writing on The Spinoff, Sudhvir Singh said it was indicative of an attitude of tokenism, where broadly diverse groups could be ticked off in a crude way. Mr Bridges himself described the tape recording of him and Mr Ross discussing the respective value of potential candidates of different as a “blunt conversation.” There were also concerns expressed in the Indian Weekender that the Indian interests were really being squeezed out, with Chinese interests benefitting – to put it in the terms of Jami-Lee Ross – “two Chinese would be more valuable than two Indians.”

On that point, Politik reports that National’s MPs of Indian heritage have been deployed heavily across Indian media yesterday. They’ve been pushing the message that it was Mr Ross who said all the bad stuff on the tape – which while he had the most memorable line, is not strictly speaking true. Finally, there has been a lot of quoting of the Indian High Commissioner Sanjiv Kohli, who has reportedly fired up on twitter about the issue. It’s an unverified account though so it’s possible it’s not actually the High Commissioner.

The mayor and the businessman 

A subplot that we haven’t really got into at all here is the curious tale of Southland mayor Gary Tong. He’s been travelling with businessman Yikun Zhang in China, reports the NZ Herald, and has become something of an interpreter for Mr Zhang. Through mayor Tong, Mr Zhang told Stuff he’s not the donor, and he’s disappointed to have been dragged into the story. A reminder – there’s no suggestion he’s done anything wrong.  The ODT reported that the two men are friends, and the mayor had reportedly talked to Mr Zhang about a job as a business advisor. Four Southland District Councillors said that was the first they had ever heard of him.

Chinese government and money ties 

This is one of the stories that has deep ties to wider concerns currently being expressed. Mr Zhang, a well-connected businessman, has ties across the political establishment – it wasn’t just Mr Ross and Mr Bridges he was on good terms with. As Bernard Hickey argues, it brings to mind the steady building of influence being undertaken by the Chinese government in New Zealand, covering off a range of reasons why that case can be made. There will almost certainly be further stories in future down this avenue.

The Botany by-election 

National figures are now urging Jami-Lee Ross to reconsider standing, and while there’s self interest there, it’s also a pretty reasonable suggestion. It’s a safe National seat, and it seems inconceivable that those supporters will back the guy that spent a week tearing into the party. In a straight race with Labour, it’s almost inconceivable that National will lose the seat. So far, the only other confirmed candidate is New Conservative deputy leader Elliot Ikilei, who was briefly prominent during the various civil wars over visiting speakers. If there’s a bit of a protest vote, he could be where it turns.

One important point about the by-election made by Stuff though – it hasn’t actually been triggered or a date set yet. There’s still the possibility Mr Ross will change his mind about resigning from Parliament, because honestly at this stage, anything is possible.

Finally, it’s Friday. To paraphrase a former PM, we’re at the end of the day. And with the end of the week, the news agenda will likely turn again. Things that have happened this week will continue to ripple out in all sorts of ways, but the urgent, massive press conferences a couple of times a day will slow down, as will the speed of developments. It will have been a testing time for those in the press gallery reporting on them up close, but they’ve done, and will continue to do a fantastic job of it.


If you’re fed up with changes to the Wellington bus network, don’t worry, soon it might not be running at all. Radio NZ reports that some drivers have announced they’re going on a strike of indefinite length. They’ll only be those working for Uzabus and Tranzurban – drivers from Mana Coach already had a collective agreement, and there’s a vote today to ratify an agreement between NZBus and Tramways Union members. Uzabus operates services up the Kāpiti Coast, and Tranzurban operates routes across the region.


DOC is mourning a tragedy, after the crash of a helicopter killed two staff and the pilot yesterday, reports the ODT. It happened near Wanaka, and the staff were on the way to take part in the tahr cull. The cause of the crash is unexplained, and the helicopter has broken up in the crash, with the tail section strewn a long way away from the rest of the vehicle. It also crashed well clear of any obvious hazards.


Simon Bridges says National would hold onto an open immigration policy if the party were to partner with NZ First. The news comes from an interview on the front page of the Multicultural Times (pdf) in which the topic of immigration was covered extensively. He was asked whether he thought immigration was about the ‘3 C’s’ – culture, cuisine, and celebrations – and answered that he also thought there were significant economic benefits. The interview was conducted before the events of this week, in case you’re wondering.


Sky TV offered no 2019 financial guidance at their annual general meeting yesterday. In fact, as Chris Keall from the NZ Herald notes, there wasn’t much information about anything. There was no update on who would replace long serving CEO John Fellet, no update on subscriber numbers, and no comment on rumours the network might get bought out by American giant NBC Universal. But they did take a shot at Spark, the telco who have secured the rights to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, noting that internet delivery of sport is notoriously difficult.


Forecasted numbers of secondary school students are expected to make the teacher shortage worse, reports Radio NZ. If no action is taken, the shortfall in secondary schools could be more than 2000 teachers by 2025, according to new figures from the ministry of education. By contrast, primary school enrolments are forecasted to stop increasing next year.


The government has proposed a date of October 2019 for when overseas retailers selling online into NZ will have to pay GST, reports Interest. They’re working with a formula that will mean consumers won’t necessarily end up paying more, because GST added will be offset by removal of tariffs and border costs.


Proposed Auckland stadium plans have been revealed by a consortium of private investors, reports Radio NZ. It would be on the waterfront, seating 50,000, and would replace Eden Park. The consortium’s spokesperson Mike Sage said one of the reasons the stadium was needed was because it would be covered, and that people are no longer wanted to watch rugby in the rain. I’d be willing to bet that people wouldn’t have wanted to watch the Blues this season if the stadium had free beer, let alone a roof.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Steven Moe writes about the coming of age of the social enterprise sector. Hayden Donnell writes a love letter to the old Big Fresh animatronic fruit and vegetables that many others found frankly terrifying. And to give you some drinkspiration for the weekend, Alice and Henry have a beer and wine of the week.


So this is a story that has absolutely rocked media organisations around the world, even if other things have been more pressing back here. A complaint has been made against facebook for knowingly overestimating the video views on its platform by as much as a whopping 900%. Here’s an excerpt from a story on Intelligencer about it:

“For all of its faults, and there are way too many of those at this point, the one thing that Facebook has generally been pretty good at is making money. Facebook makes gobs and gobs of money every second. This is what Facebook’s defenders often fall back on: Yes, Facebook’s revenue model is predicated on invading users’ privacy, but it helps businesses find customers and build their brands. Facebook itself often trumpets this point. In front of Congress in April, Mark Zuckerberg told the Senate that “more than 70 million businesses” use Facebook. The company often highlights small businesses, which now have a digital megaphone that used to only be available to larger firms with larger budgets.

The one thing Facebook could always use to justify its practices, and its very existence, was its benefit to advertisers — the site’s most important users. It can no longer even do that. What happens to Facebook when it loses the trust of its actual customers?”

So that’s advertisers covered off, but what about media organisations? Many journalists have been noting (especially on rival platform twitter) that newsrooms laid off writers, in favour of pivoting to video to try and capitalise on such stonking video view numbers. What if that was all for nothing, and all they achieved was alienating their staff and existing audiences, who just wanted something to read? On a number of fronts, it’s very damaging to the credibility of facebook.


Normal service resumed last night in the netball, with the Silver Ferns going down 58-47 to Australia. Stuff reports that coach Noeline Taurua says it was an unsatisfying way for the series to end, despite the Silver Ferns managing to get one win that seemed unlikely at the start of it.

Finally, come on Tonga this weekend. Mate Ma’a Tonga will have a sellout crowd to cheer them on against the Kangaroos, and it’s a fair bet that any neutrals out there will also be going for them. It would be awesome to see them get up at Mt Smart.


From our partners, Vector’s sustainability manager Karl Check explains why the company is pushing for more urban forests, despite recent storms in Auckland bringing trees down on powerlines, and cutting electricity to parts of the city.


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