The National party staffer described by Leader Simon Bridges as a “junior” is, in fact, a former Ministerial press secretary who has played a crucial role in the party’s agricultural and environmental policy areas.
POLITIK has learned that he is Brian Anderton who was worked for the National Party in Parliament for six years.
But he is now on leave and the subject of a Parliamentary Services investigation because he unilaterally took down an anti-immigration petition from the National Party website on the night of the Christchurch mosque shooting.
However, over the weekend after the shooting Bridges’ media team told journalists the petition had been deleted before the shooting.
POLITIK was told over the weekend by one National Party source that the petition had been deleted “a week go”.
However on the Tuesday after the shooting, Bridges said he understood it had been deleted as a matter of “routine activity”.
“What in fact happened, I learned this morning, was that a junior staffer who was incredibly emotional on Friday night and took it upon themselves to delete it.”
Those comments have angered some caucus members.
In the background, within National’s caucus, there is support for Anderton and concern at the way the whole issue has been handled by the leader, his office and his closest MP advisors.
From outside the caucus, but still obviously with contacts within it, former National MP Jami Lee Ross tweeted yesterday on the matter.
“They (the staffer) are not junior, having served senior ministers and MPs for far longer than many in caucus have been in Parliament,” he said.
“They earned respect through their service, knowledge and good judgment.
“They should not have been casually scapegoated in the media by the leader.”
Anderton is well known to National MPs and respected by them.
(A reference to Anderton having been Paul Goldsmith’s press secretary has been removed because though he was a National Party staffer in the last government, he was not Goldsmith’s press secretary.)
Most recently he was at the Blue Greens conference in Raglan where he functioned as a key aide to Environment spokesperson, Scott Simpson, over the release of the party’s policy paper on the environment.
He also worked closely with Agriculture spokesman Nathan Guy over National’s response to the Mycoplasma Bovis issue.
National’s leader Simon Bridges refuses to comment any more on the issue because he says it is now an employment matter being handled by Parliamentary Services.
The petition at the heart of the matter has been a controversial political move by National, probably devised by Bridges’ key strategy advisor Todd McClay, to drive a wedge into New Zealand First over immigration.
The UN Compact on Immigration is a non-binding declaration which has been opposed by the United States and Australia along with a number of hardline European nationalist governments like Hungary.
But it has been supported by most European and Asian states.
The UK delegate to the UN Marrakech conference last December which ratified the compact, Alastair Burt, Minister of State for International Development said: “The Global Compact for Migration is not legally binding.
“It will support international cooperation on migration without affecting the sovereignty of all countries to manage their own borders and to implement migration policies which respond to their national context.”
Despite that, Bridges has continued to maintain that “the Compact could restrict the ability of future governments to set immigration and foreign policy and to decide on which migrants are welcome and which aren’t.
“While National is the party most open to immigration, we cannot accept this.”
National has been supported in its promise to withdraw from the Compact by a group of extreme right organisations; Right Minds NZ, the NZ Sovereignty group, One NZ and the New Conservatives.
At a rally organised by the groups in Christchurch in February, New Zealand Sovereignty speaker, Troy Allan called for NZ First leader, Winston Peters, to be charged with treason because he supported New Zealand’s signing of the compact.
That was precisely what Bridges wanted.
But any suggestion that National might back off its stand would risk it losing the support of what it believes will be disillusioned NZ First voters who oppose the compact.
That would seem to explain why he has come down so hard on Anderton – despite Anderton’s years of service and loyalty to the National Party.