Even though the Prime Minister’s 2011 cup of tea with then-Act Leader John Banks was clearly party political business and part of an election campaign, he says Parliamentary Services have footed the legal bill so far over the defamation claim of cameraman Bradley Ambrose who Key accused of deliberately recording the conversation.
The “cup of tea” was intended to send a signal to National voters in Epsom that they should vote for ACT Leader, Banks, rather than the National candidate, Paul Goldsmith.
That defamation case was settled yesterday with what amounted to a concession by the PM that he was wrong.
A statement from the PM’s office yesterday said: “Mr Key and Mr Ambrose have met to discuss the events of that day. Mr Key now accepts that Mr Ambrose did not deliberately record the conversation, or otherwise behave improperly. “
As a consequence Mr key has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to Mr Ambrose.
At his post Cabinet press conference yesterday, the PM said that the rules had been pretty clear for a long period of time and that was that party leaders could use the leader’s fund allocated by Parliamentary Services to pay legal expenses for anything that involved them as party leader.
He is now asking Parliamentary Services whether they will pay the remainder of his legal expenses plus the “pragmatic” payment that he has agreed to make to Mr Ambrose.
This year National is expected to get a grant from Parliamentary Services of $16.936 million to fund “its Leader’s office, support staff, research operations, Whips’ office, communications, administrative and support services for members.”
But Leader’s office grants have a long record of controversy in Parliament.
- New Zealand First was cited by the Auditor-General as misusing $158,000 of parliamentary resources
in the three-months leading up to the 2005 general election. The party refused to pay the debt back, and after a year of obfuscation then argued that the debt to the Parliamentary Service was annulled by the fact that the party had made a secret payment to a number of unnamed charities.
- In 2008 National had defend charges from author, Nicky Hagar, that it used Leader’s offices funding to pay its Australian campaign consultants, Crosby Textor.
- In 2006 then-National leadr Don Brash told Prime Minister Helen Clark to “pay the money back” when Labour allegedly used Leaser’s office funding to pay for its campaign pledge card.
Mr Key repeatedly made the point yesterday that he was acting as National Leader when he had his cup of tea; not Prime Minister.
Had he been acting as Prime Minister, Crown Law would have paid the expenses.