17 Oct 2018

'He has defamed me and he is a liar' - Simon Bridges

7:35 pm on 17 October 2018

Simon Bridges has hit back after Jami-Lee Ross released a recording a phone call in which Mr Bridges called MP Maureen Pugh 'f***ing useless'.

Mr Bridges told media he listened to the recording, and began by sending his heartfelt apologies to Maureen Pugh.

"I'm mortified, there's no excuse."

In the recording, the pair speak about potential Chinese candidates that had been mentioned at their dinner with businessman Zhang Yikun.

He said assuming the two candidates mentioned at the dinner did get through candidate's college, they can make some decisions further down the track with what they want to do.

"It's like all these things, it's bloody hard, you've only got so much space, it depends where we're polling, you know, all that sort of thing," said Mr Bridges on the recording.

"Two Chinese would be nice, but you then know would it be one Chinese and one Filipino, or you know, what do we do."

Mr Ross replied, "Two Chinese would be more valuable than two Indians, I'd have to say."

"Yeah, which is what we've got at the moment, right?" replied Mr Bridges.

He said this would cause problems with the list MPs.

"It's a pretty mercenary cull," he said.

Mr Bridges said they could end up getting rid of some list MPs to bring in the new ones.

"I reckon there's two or three of our Mps, who not picking up obvious ones, like Finlayson or Carter, but actually we just want them to go."

He went on to say, "Maureen Pugh's f***ing useless."

Mr Ross replied "yeah, I know" and then said "Carter, Finlayson, Nicky Wagner, they don't really need to hang around."

"Yeah, but we don't want them to go this year though... we probably wouldn't want them all to go though, we want to do it well and we just want to think it all through," said Mr Bridges.

Chris Finlayson told Checkpoint he's not the slightest bit concerned about the comments and he's focused on doing the right thing for his party.

"Anyone who has ears to listen knows that I have been doing a number of things in preparation for the future," he said.

"The fact that he wants me gone happens to coincide beautifully with the fact that I want to go."

He said he hadn't spoken to Mr Bridges after the audio was released.

Speaking to media, Mr Bridges said this has been a "big and hard lesson" for him and that he values his MPs.

He said National needs to reflect the mutlicultural society New Zealand is.

For National to be representative of that, there is a strong argument for opening it up to more Chinese members of Parliament, he said.

"We want to make sure we're getting the right mix of candidates of quality, whether they're Indian or Chinese, or Filipino, to represent the mix of New Zealand. That's the right thing to do."

He said it was a blunt, private conversation.

And Mr Ross deliberately tried to set him up and attempted to criminally blackmail him.

"I don't stand for that sort of nonsense, as leader of the National Party and 55 MPs agreed with my assessment, that's why he's gone."

He said he's glad Mr Ross is no longer part of his caucus.

On whether he would take Mr Ross to court for defamation, he said it's hardly worth the effort.

Mr Ross, who resigned from the party yesterday as the caucus was expelling him, handed his recording over to the police earlier this afternoon.

On the call Ross mentions the $100,000 donation being "in" which Simon says is "fantastic".

"I promised them that we'd have dinner at my place, you should come, might as well make a bit of fun of it," Mr Bridges said.

"We should make good on that because otherwise I've lied to them because I've said it a couple times now."

Mr Bridges told media he thinks Mr Ross made it clear on the tape that the donations were from different people within the organisation.

"I'll tell you why I didn't explain it yesterday, because I'm a lawyer, I'm a cautious person who takes things seriously..."

He said he takes these things "bloody seriously".

Mr Bridges said Mr Ross has been recording him for months, which is a "monumental breach of trust".

"That's on top of the many other things that he has done."

He said the tape doesn't back Mr Ross' "lies" over the past 24 hours.

"The reality is, on 14th May, I had a dinner with Mr Zhang and that was because Jami-Lee Ross knew him very well and was incredibly keen that I do that.

"On the 21st of May I attended a fundraiser for Paul Goldsmith and there Mr Zhang was present, he told me that he and his supporters wanted to donate a large sum of money, I think around $100,000 and I thanked him and I made clear, that's something that Jami-Lee Ross should deal with.

"I then, that evening, let Jami-Lee Ross know that because of his friendship with Mr Zhang the fact that he knew him very well and also because of his deep experience, I would argue, expertise in relation to electoral matters, in relation to collecting and organising a lot of money, fundraising for himself and for the National Party over the years."

Mr Bridges has consistently and strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Releasing the audio on Facebook, Mr Ross said it proved too difficult to release the audio on Twitter.

He wrote: "This audio confirms Simon Bridges and I discussing a $100k donation on 25 June. Simon Bridges says I'm lying - this is part of the evidence I gave to Police today."

The police have confirmed they have received Mr Ross' complaint regarding the disclosure of political donations under the Electoral Act.

In a statement they say the information will be assessed by a Detective Senior Sergeant at Police National Headquarters to determine what further steps may be required.

It will be progressed as quickly as possible, saying the police take any complaint regarding alleged Electoral Act offences seriously, they say.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs