Mike Hosking: NZ First donation scandal kicks off wild election year

Author
Mike Hosking,
Publish Date
Tue, 11 Feb 2020, 8:48PM
Does it bother a voter that Winston could be associated with a foundation that isn’t allegedly quite inside the lines? (Photo / NZ Herald)

Mike Hosking: NZ First donation scandal kicks off wild election year

Author
Mike Hosking,
Publish Date
Tue, 11 Feb 2020, 8:48PM

The Electoral Commission’s move against New Zealand First is a disaster.

The donations were not properly transmitted to the party and not disclosed as required by the electoral act of 1993, so says the commission.

The commission also says it doesn’t have the power to investigate, which in and of itself is a concern. Surely we need a body that is independent and with enough power to give us all confidence that political parties are not gerrymandering the rules.

Yes, the police have power, but the police deal with gangs and P and murders. Whether they have the skills around the Electoral Act I would have thought might be questionable and that’s before you get to resource.

Which is why, thankfully, they came to the same conclusion and passed it on to the Serious Fraud Office.

Now, to be fair to the party, just because something ends up at the police station doesn’t mean there is the sort of fall out to cost a party a chance at the election In other words, it doesn’t mean charges are coming or charges that stick.

Charges have been laid around National's dealings with Jami-Lee Ross. Simon Bridges says it isn’t him or anyone in the party so things appear to not to be as explosive as they might have been.

But what we have with New Zealand First doesn’t seem all that complex, and it’s interesting to note the commission came to the same sort of conclusions we did.

Money to a foundation is not money to a party. Money to a foundation could be a loan, and if repaid doesn’t have to be declared, but the claim is the foundation money was paying for party expenses and that does need to be declared and it didn’t seem to have been.

When we talked to Peters about it last year, he had very few answers and appeared to suggest this was all a very arms-length operation that he had little to do with, far less any knowledge of, despite the fact the bloke in charge is his lawyer.

He also appeared to infer the foundation was set up to promote democracy, which is fine, but the singular recipient happened to be New Zealand First.

So there are two things at play here: the legals and the politics.

I doubt the legals will be sorted out before the election, and even if they are, and if charges were laid, none of it sees the light of day this side of September.

But to the politics: does it bother a voter that Winston could be associated with a foundation that isn’t allegedly quite inside the lines?

You could ask the same question, I guess, of National.

Could the Peters reputation built on “keeping them honest” take a hit? How does Labour deal with a coalition partner in trouble with the coppers, other than to say it’s their business, not ours, when patently it isn’t, especially if it goes pear shaped and charges get laid.

And that’s before you get to the others screaming blue murder if the thing isn’t settled before the election, leaving the punter unsure of whether they’re potentially voting for someone innocent or guilty.

My word, this is going to be an excellent year. Take in the polls that start this thing neck and neck, the fact it’s barely February, and this is going to be quite the ride.