The Jami Lee Ross affair now threatens the career of the President of the National Party, Peter Goodfellow, as more details emerge of how he kept allegations of harassment against Ross secret.
POLITIK has learnt that not only did Goodfellow not brief Bridges on what he knew about Ross but he didn’t even tell the party’s board.
Board members, some of whom are said to be furious, will confront Goodfellow at a meeting in Wellington today.
Only last night Ross was upping the ante by agreeing to more of his texts being made public; RNZ Checkpoint broadcast details of one in which the National MP he had an affair with texted him saying she wished he was dead.
The release of the text is being seen by her colleagues as an attempt to blacken her name.
It is Ross’s relationship with women that lie at the heart of the concern within the party about him.
But that concern has now shifted to what appears to be anger on the part of some senior members at the actions of the party President who is accused of covering up Ross’s activities.
In 2016, the party’s former Manukau candidate and the secretary of Ross’s Botany electorate, fell out with the MP over her refusal to back his wife in a bid to become chair of the Howick local board.
She says he harassed her verbally with phone calls and messages and had her trespassed from an electorate function he was attending.
Goodfellow brokered a peace settlement between Ross and Bungard.
Goodfellow says both wanted it kept confidential.
Goodfellow went to extraordinary lengths to do that, and POLITIK has learned that he did not even tell the party’s board about the incident.
He also did not tell Leader, Simon Bridges, when Bridges promoted Ross to the party’s front bench earlier this year.
Goodfellow told reporters yesterday he facilitated mediation the 2016 incident.
The party’s Auckland President, Andrew Hunt and its General Manager, Greg Hamilton, were also involved.
Goodfellow said both Ross and Bungard wanted to sign confidentiality agreements.
“That’s the only instance that I’m aware of in my time as president that we’ve had an issue like that, and the only time the parties have requested confidentiality,” he said.
Asked if he should have told Bridges about the complaint before Bridges became leader and then promoted Ross to the front bench, Goodfellow said: “That was an issue that had been dealt with at the time, so no.”
Goodfellow’s actions been drawing criticism from senior party members over the past week.
“Party members are going to want renewal after this,” one senior member told POLITIK.
But there are bigger questions in the background.
The party organisation will be asking itself whether the events of the past week have confirmed that the organisation and the Parliamentary Party have been on different tacks as the week unfolded.
And that may point to a distance which has been growing between the two since National lost Government last year.
Whereas the Caucus, and particularly, Bridges, has been open and willing to discuss the Jami Lee Ross situation, the party has clearly been less open.
Goodfellow’s actions and the growing backlash against them raise questions about the party’s constitution.
The seven members of the board elected by the party’s annual conference must first pass an interview test administered by sitting members of the board.
The party’s rules say “the Board Appointments Committee shall interview each candidate for membership of the Board and shall conduct such other investigation and shall obtain such information as shall be necessary to satisfy itself as to the suitability of each candidate for election to hold office as a member of the Board and shall certify to the Board as to the candidate’s suitability, in its discretion.
“Such certification shall be a pre-requisite to the entry of the name of a candidate upon the Ballot Paper.
“A candidate will be excluded who is a bankrupt, has a criminal record (other than a traffic offence), who is disqualified as a director under the Companies Act, or whose candidacy in the opinion of the Board Appointments Committee, would be detrimental to the Party.”
The criticism is that board members become self-perpetuating.
“It’s just an old boys club set up by Steven Joyce and Murray McCully,” one well-connected party supporter told POLITIK last night.
Historically the National Party membership elected the party president at its annual conference, but after changes led by Steven Joyce and Murray McCully in 2003, the election is now confined to the members of the board.
Labour maintains the same system National used to have; it elects its president at its annual conference.
That gives the Labour President a power base which enables them to check and, if necessary, challenge their Party Leader.
National’s President does not have the same authority.
It is likely that the party will try and find ways to rebalance the relationship between the Parliamentary Party and the organisational wing — possibly under a new President.