The National Party’s General Manager has admitted the party has broken its own rules over selecting a new candidate for the Auckland Central electorate.
Consequently, the selection meeting has been deferred until August 10.
The rules were broken by a pre-selection panel including the party president, Peter Goodfellow.
However, even the revised plans the party hierarchy put in place to remedy the original problems were last night falling apart.
Under its rules, a party pre-selection committee is required to reduce nominations for a candidacy to five candidates to go before the electorate selection meeting.
But the Auckland Central pre-selection panel reduced the list to only two.
The two candidates were Emma Mellow, a communications manager at the ANZ Bank with a background in the Young Nats and Nuwanthie Samarakone, a Sir Lankan born consultant who was already the party’s candidate in Manurewa.
Among those who missed out were at least one former candidate and members of Auckland City local boards.
One unsuccessful nominee emailed the party General Manager, Greg Hamilton, drawing attention to what appeared to be a breach of the rules by selecting only two names to go forward rather than five.
“The party’s rules provide (rule 98) that the pre-selection committee is to reduce the number of applicants “to five” (if there are more than five) and then to “exclude from further consideration in the selection process those nominees who are considered unsuitable to be National Members of Parliament,” the email said.
“My concern is that the implication of rule 98 in this case is that, there having been more than five applicants but only two put through, only those two were considered by the pre-selection committee as suitable to be National Members of Parliament.
“Consequently, the remainder of the applicants (myself included) were considered unsuitable to be National Members of Parliament.
“As someone who still entertains ambitions of becoming a candidate for the National Party, this concerns me,.
“It is not clear to me why I was suitable at the time I applied for (electorate name redacted) but unsuitable now.”
The email was sent to Hamilton last Wednesday then on Friday evening Hamilton responded with an email to Auckland Central members saying the process wasto be delayed and three extra nominees named.
“The Pre-selection Committee, despite collective best intentions, has not followed the letter of our rules concerning pre-selection,” he wrote.
“We have heard the feedback from our Party members and the mistake made has been acknowledged and the intention now, per our Party values, is to take responsibility and make right the error.”
And so three names were added to the original two — but POLITIK understands that by last night two of that three had pulled out, leaving only one additional name, believed to be Waitemata Local Board member, Rob Thomas.
The addition of Nuwanthie Samarakone to the shortlist has also been controversial.
She had already been appointed by the party’s board to be the Manurewa candidate. There is some disquiet within the party about her abandoning that to seek the Auckland Central nomination.
Party members critical of her candidacy have also been circulating a racy image from her Facebook page which was there when she sought the North Shore nomination in March but has now been taken down.
The Sri Lankan-born, Auckland-educated business consultant, was recruited into the party by Paul Goldsmith and owns a company called ICE which designs strategic people programmes “relevant to the world of work today that provide strong core competencies; ideal traits and characteristic development.”
But the central issue is the four board members (the President, Peter Goodfellow; Auckland regional chair, Andrew Hunt and board members Alastair Bell and pat Seymour) breaking the party’s own rules.
In his explanation on Friday, Hamilton said: “The Pre-selection committee only put forward two candidate nominees based on the circumstances that they saw for the electorate in at the moment (sic), mainly a very short lead time between the selection and e-day.
“We all fully acknowledge and respect however the democratic rights of our voting delegates to have the fullest of say in determining our candidate.”
It is important that we adjust the schedule for the meet the nominee meetings and the final selection meeting to give everyone enough time to prepare. This will put our final selection back by four days but we will still be ready to hit the ground running with our new candidate.
The party, meanwhile, was also facing problems in Parliament where its newly appointed strategy and communications advisor, Matt Hooton, resigned on Saturday.
“It was time for me to move on now,” he said on Facebook.
“I can’t justify the impact on my family and other personal and professional responsibilities for another seven weeks.”
But his departure leaves some unanswered questions.
National had been developing a series of policy discussion documents under the leadership of Nelson MP, Nick Smith.
These were posted on the party’s website, but at the start of the Covid lockdown, they were taken down.
When Todd Muller replaced Bridges in May, Amy Adams was appointed to head up a series of policy development teams.
POLITIK understands Adams’ teams have yet to produce any policy and what policy the party has produced has come from the campaign director, Tim Hurdle.
Hooton has also been involved along with his other job of speechwriter.
But political professionals are surprised that the party is only starting to develop its policy seven weeks out from the election.
The party does have a new policy website which has 14 infrastructure policies (all transport projects) three long-standing education policies and nothing else.
The leadership changes, the sudden resignation of three MPs, the lack of policy and the controversy over the Auckland Central selection suggests that the party may have some difficulty justifying its billboard claim to “strong leadership” over the next week or so of the election campaign.
From an overnight email to Auckland Central delegates from Nuwanthie Samarakone:
“I understand that there are a few National Party members from other electorates who are unhappy with the Auckland Central selection process and have decided to attack the reputation of successful nominees through misrepresentation and untruths. I understand that some delegates have been sent a photo of me taken while I was competing in the fitness realm a few years ago, making utterly false and defamatory claims about what that photo represents.
“I am always up front and transparent. Yes I am committed to being fit and healthy, and am proud of the discipline I bring to my work and my personal life. I was a ballet dancer for 17 years under the Royal Academy of Dancing (UK) and retired hurt. Fitness, dance, hiking across our beautiful New Zealand walks and general well-being is a huge part of my life. I am disciplined, fit, resilient and train hard for the events in which I have participated. I proudly own ail those experiences which have given me the strength, the resilience and the tough mindset to withstand the pressures of politics.
“However I have no tolerance for people who seek to bring others down through personal attacks, and who damage the integrity of the National Party in the process.”