Hard News by Russell Brown


Need to Know

Amid the courtroom drama of the yesterday's privileges committee hearing, and the subsequent explorations of Owen Glenn's hurt feelings, No Right Turn usefully points out what is actually at stake: unless Winston Peters can convincingly rebut the evidence Glenn provided yesterday, it will be seen that he "clearly violated both Cabinet guidelines and Parliament's Standing Orders on the declaration of gifts and interests - then lied about it afterwards to the public."

That's what it's about. Well, this part of it anyway.

There is no evidence, from Glenn or anyone else, to support Bill English's claim that Labour helped "jack up" Glenn's donation to Peters' legal fund: indeed, the evidence plainly says it didn't. There was no real incentive for it do do so anyway: the coalition deal was struck; all that was at stake in Tauranga was Winston Peters' pride. You might say that Winston Peters' pride has been a significant factor in this whole, sorry business.

But party president Mike Williams clearly at least knew in December 2005 that Glenn was considering such a donation. And it is unacceptable that it has taken this long for that fact to emerge.

If Helen Clark and her party suffer collateral damage as a result of the business, they only have themselves to blame. None of their dealings with Glenn have breached any laws or standing orders; that which ought to have been declared has been declared. Indeed, as John Armstrong noted in a February column whose conclusions still hold remarkably true, the party erred on the side of caution in its handling of a $100,000 loan from Glenn, declaring the foregone interest as a donation even though it was unclear that it was obliged to do so.

But when asked by journalists about dealings with Glenn since the 2005 election, Williams didn't volunteer information about the loan. It was left to Glenn to say. And even though a number of claims made by Glenn in the wake of his New Year honour (which I still think was well deserved -- he has been a generous benefactor of New Zealand tertiary education) were palpably bonkers, that one was true. If Williams had simply volunteered that information before Glenn did, he wouldn't have been offering his resignation back in February.

And he wouldn't have been right in the thick of it again. John Campbell's suggestion in the course of last night's extraordinary interview with Glenn that Clark was acting as she has to protect Williams is difficult to sustain: Williams hadn't done anything wrong, apart from being reticent with information it would clearly have been wise to reveal far sooner than he did.

It's conceivable that Williams didn't share the fact of his phone call from Glenn with the Prime Minister, certainly before it became an issue for the privileges committee: party presidents are expected to maintain a wall between party leaders and their donors (however often that actually happens), and Peters would have regarded Williams going to the press about New Zealand First's business as an unforgivable act of hostility. But he and Clark have become invested in the opposite act -- maintaining a silence to avoid damaging the credibility of Peters and his party.

They have been in an unenviable position. But it would be sadly ironic if they prove to have sacrificed their electoral fortunes for the sake of Winston Bloody Peters.

I think now we need to know the whole business. I think we need to know whether in fact the mystery figure who offered Tariana Turia a $250,000 enticement to go into coalition with Labour was indeed Owen Glenn.

This is a tricky piece of information, because that offer would have been a serious breach of the law on Owen Glenn's part. Labour didn't jack up Glenn's act to aid Peters' electoral challenge and I do not for a moment think it would have jacked up an offer to Turia -- they might be unwise, but they're not friggin' stupid. But I do think we need to know what happened. Glenn has previously denied making the offer. But if someone on the committee can't ask that question again, surely there's a journalist who can.

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