19 Oct 2018

Ross recording exposes 'cash for candidacy' policy - Peters

6:24 am on 19 October 2018

The National Party has opened itself up to the accusation that influence in politics can be bought, says Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

Winston Peters speaks to the media as acting Prime Minister

Winston Peters says the recording's contents created a meltdown of a kind he had never witnessed before. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

In the phone recording Jami-Lee Ross released this week of a conversation he had with National leader Simon Bridges, the pair discussed a relation of a wealthy Chinese businessman going through candidacy school.

This followed talk about a $100,000 donation the businessman Zhang Yikun allegedly gave them, which is now at the centre of a police complaint made by Mr Ross.

Mr Bridges denies involvement in anything illegal. Mr Peters however, has called it "cash for candidacy".

"It's clear from those tapes that the National Party's got a cash for candidates policy, and it's a pretty sad day. I've never seen a meltdown like this in my time in politics," he said.

"But I suppose if you go back to Crosby Texter in 2005 and the National Party's black ops brigade - then this is what happens in the end."

In the call, Mr Ross tells Mr Bridges that a $100,000 donation from a wealthy Chinese businessman has come through.

Bridges: Good work though man that's a lot of money.

Ross: Yeah, they're good people. Now there's no catch or anything to it, you may recall at the dinner they did discuss candidacy and another Chinese candidate.

Bridges: Two MPs, yeah.

Ross: Colin Zhang the younger one, he's put his name in for candidates college. And so I assume he'll get through candidates college and we'll just make some decisions as a party further down the track.

Mr Peters, Parliament's longest-serving MP, says the matter of money for political influence was not confined to the National Party.

"Well, I saw one party for example take money from the Chinese to mount the legal case against a Member of Parliament, on the promise that their candidate would win if she went out by reason of the law case," he said.

"Now that was done by the ACT Party, so it's pretty sordid."

However Mr Peters denied his own party's involvement in any such matters.

ACT leader David Seymour rejects the criticism of his party's ethics.

"If Winston Peters on the one hand can do everything he does in politics and accuse other people of corruption and taking money in return for policy - well he certainly knows how to ride two horses at once and that's why he's in the political circus," he said.

The recording has raised to the fore the question of whether there's a place at all for large donations to political parties, or by people who don't necessarily want their name attached to money they give.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson said there was room for neither.

"We want anonymity removed. We want powerful, vested interests out of politics and that would include for example removing anonymity for anything over $1000," she said.

"And actually putting a cap on individual donations of $35,000. And that's why we'd also like to see more public funding for political campaigns."

But Mr Peters wasn't keen on any changes to the donation declaration rules, while Mr Seymour believed the right balance had already been struck.

"No I don't think the threshold's too low in the context of how much money you need to run a real political campaign in New Zealand," Mr Seymour said.

National's spokesperson for electoral law reform Nick Smith refused to comment.

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