Election 2020: Winston Peters, David Seymour, Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins in heat of spotlight
The main parties had vowed they wanted a clean election. Fifty-eight days from polling day, political casualties are piling up after a Covid-19 patient leak, a sex-text scandal, a leadership resignation and an "inappropriate relationship".
And in one of a number of personal-attack sideshows, Act leader David Seymour today described NZ First leader Winston Peters as "delusional" and "nasty" after Peters accused Seymour's former partner of being involved in the leak of his superannuation details.
"Someone described him as a cornered rat," Seymour told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking today.
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Seymour compared Peters with his hero, former Prime Minister Rob Muldoon, in his later years. "He's become quite delusional, nasty and ultimately sad. I think he should move on and retire with some dignity if that's possible."Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
Seymour says Peters' behaviour in Parliament yesterday was an abuse of privilege.
"Not so much me but to attack a number of members of the public including my former partner is an abuse of Parliamentary privilege. But it's the voters who decide who gets Parliamentary privilege and it's pretty obvious what the voters need to do to Winston Peters. And according to the polls they're already pretty set up to do it," he said.
Seymour said it would be very unlikely Peters would repeat the allegations outside the House. "I think that's all the proof you need to know he's making it up. It's pure unadulterated fantasy."
Asked by Hosking if the spat was getting personal, Seymour denied it was, before getting personal.
"I have absolutely no time or respect for the guy. He's been in Parliament for 40 years, he's left no lasting legacy and the reason for that is because it's all about him."
Asked if Seymour expected to end up in court like former National ministers Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett over the leaked superannuation information, he responded: "I certainly hope not. There's no case to answer as far as I'm concerned. Apparently 42 people knew about it and I'm not one of them."
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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sacked Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway from Cabinet yesterday after an affair with a former staffer member was revealed.
It's shaping up to be a tit-for-tat election campaign, with the departure hot on the heels of National MP Andrew Falloon's resignation after it emerged he sent porn to a young woman.Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
Meanwhile, heated scenes erupted in the House between two minor party heads as Peters alleged Seymour's former partner was the source of the leak of his superannuation details.
It came after a story about Peters sending two friends on a taxpayer-funded trip to Antarctica - which Seymour said was the motivation for his claim in the House.
Ardern booted Lees-Galloway out of Cabinet and stripped him of his ministerial portfolios after he admitted to an extramarital affair.
The 12-month relationship was with a staff member in one of the departments he headed and Lees-Galloway – who is married with three children – admitted he acted "completely inappropriately".Today's New Zealand Herald front page with an illustration by Rod Emmerson.
Ardern agreed, telling media in a press conference yesterday morning that his position as a minister was now "untenable" and the relationship was "entirely inappropriate".
That staff member in question used to work in Galloway's office, Ardern confirmed.Advertisement Advertise with NZME. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaving her press conference at Parliament after announcing she has sacked Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Ardern was clear yesterday that the affair was not necessarily the sole reason she kicked him out of Cabinet.
Rather, Lees-Galloway's position was untenable because he was the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, and he had opened himself up to accusations of improperly using his power.
"He has not modelled the behaviour I expect as a minister in charge of setting a standard and culture in workplaces," Ardern said.
In a separate statement, Lees-Galloway apologised to his family for "letting them down".
"I accept the Prime Minister's decision and apologise absolutely."Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
Ardern said Lees-Galloway had shown a "lack of judgment" in undertaking the relationship – a relationship which opened him up to "accusations of improperly using his office".
"His actions have led me to lose my confidence in him as a minister," she said, adding that he had "paid the ultimate price" for his indiscretions.
Ardern said she believes Lees-Galloway's relationship with the staff member ended several months ago.
The next step, Ardern said, is for Ministerial Services to investigate whether any public funds may have been used to sustain the relationship.
"If there is anything that has financial implications then I would have no hesitation asking for that to be dealt with," she said.
Ardern's emergency unscheduled press conference yesterday came just hours after National Party leader Judith Collins told media that she had made the Prime Minister aware of a "tip-off" from a third party about a Labour minister.Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
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Collins was asked by a MediaWorks host if she had "received anything about Labour ministers or Labour MPs".
Collins said: "I have actually," before saying she had passed the information on to Ardern.
Ardern said this was the first time she had heard the allegations.
Later, Collins said she deliberately refused to receive details, after she received the tip-off. Instead, she said she took the information directly to Ardern, who thanked her for passing it on.National leader Judith Collins at full cry during the General Debate in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Collins said she spoke to Ardern after question time on Tuesday afternoon.Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
NZ First leader Winston Peters used parliamentary privilege to unleash "dirty politics" allegations at people in National and Act, who he claimed were behind the leak of his superannuation details in the lead-up to the 2017 election.
But the six people targeted by Peters have all poured scorn on the allegations, and Peters refused to oblige when he was challenged to repeat his comments yesterday without the protection of parliamentary privilege.
Peters was then accused of trying to distract from headlines about whether he had improperly arranged for two people to travel to Antarctica on the taxpayer dime - a claim Peters has rubbished.Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters. Photo / Mark Mitchell
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The Deputy Prime Minister spoke in the House during the general debate yesterday, alleging former National press secretary Rachel Morton was behind the leak which led to a political hit job orchestrated by National and Act.
He claimed Morton heard about the details of his case because she was in the ministerial office when former minister Anne Tolley told Paula Bennett.Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
Peters claimed Morton then told Act leader David Seymour, who she was in a relationship with, and Seymour told Taxpayer Union director Jordan Williams who passed it on to John Bishop, the father of National and Hutt-South MP Chris Bishop.
Peters alleged the information was then passed to Newsroom editor Tim Murphy and blogger David Farrar.
"It was an Act-inspired hit job to damage me politically in collaboration with a National Party staffer, Rachel Morton, who was the source of the leak and the source of Jordan Williams weaponising the information during the election campaign," Peters told the House.
"Every last one of them - Morton, Seymour, Williams, Bishop, Murphy, Farrar - played dirty politics to breach my inalienable right, and the inalienable right of every New Zealander, to privacy."
Peters said that Seymour couldn't claim the limelight as it could expose Morton as the alleged source.Act leader David Seymour leaving the House under the Speaker's orders. Photo / Mark Mitchell
"The collusion between the National Party, Act and these grubby figures in and around politics is what turns people off politics. The characters in this story of my super leak view dirty politics as their religion - it's the worship of jackals by jackasses."Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
Chris Bishop spoke in the debate after Peters and said the NZ First leader was "fabricating things, alleging things without foundation".
"Will Mr Peters repeat those statements outside this chamber ... and mention all the names - my dad, David Seymour and Rachel Morton? My bet is he won't.
"We all know why it's happened - because of the Antarctica NZ story that broke this morning on RNZ. Forty years he's been doing this, and he'll continue to do this as long as he's in this Parliament."
Seymour, given a National Party speaking slot, then told the House that Peters' accusation was "categorically untrue" and described it as a "disgraceful, sleazy, innuendo-fuelled speech".
He was later ejected for calling Peters a liar, and then had to return to the House to withdraw and apologise.
Under the Parliamentary Privilege Act, politicians are not liable for anything they say in the House, and Peters wouldn't oblige when asked to repeat his claims outside the chamber.Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
Seymour told reporters outside the House that Morton did not give him information and he did not pass on any information.
"The reason this accusation is being made is we were in a personal relationship – he's abusing that fact and I think that's a new low for New Zealand politics.
"[He's] finished and is now trying to drag other people down with him ... Winston Peters is a desperate man making it up and, in this case, telling lies."
Last week the High Court ordered Peters to pay nearly $320,000 in costs after his failed court action over the leak of details of his superannuation payments.
In April the court found that Peters' privacy had been deliberately breached to cause him harm, but his case fell short because he couldn't prove who had leaked the information.
Peters, 75, had asked for damages against former government ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and its former chief executive Brendan Boyle.Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
Peters had been wrongly paid the single person's pension for seven years despite being in a long-term relationship, but later repaid the $18,000 difference.
The details were made their way to journalists in August 2017, a month before the general election.
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