Dirty politics, Russell McVeagh and Winston Peters. The bizarre story of two high priced dinners
By Richard Harman (author)
One of the key players in the 2014 National Party “dirty politics” allegations appears to have become involved with NZ First.
The Hawke’s Bay political consultant, Simon Lusk, attended two recent NZ First “business networking” evenings with NZ First Leader, Winston Peters.
Lusk featured prominently in the “dirty politics” allegations along with his close associate, Cameron “Whaleoil” Slater.
Lusk would not comment on his connection with NZ First when this was put to him by POLITIK yesterday but said he would respond today.
Peters was joined at the functions by NZ First MPs Shane Jones and Fletcher Tabuteau and Clayton Mitchell apparently attended the Wellington function.
The news of Lusk’s involvement comes at the same time as one of his longest term clients, Jami Lee Ross, has announced that he will give his proxy vote to NZ First but that they will cast it with National.
National rejected an earlier proposal that they hold his proxy however sources connected to senior levels of the National Party were last night suggesting that there is now reason to believe that because of the Lusk involvement, Ross may have been leaning towards NZ First for some time.
The networking evenings bizarrely, were hosted in Wellington and Auckland by the top-drawer law firm, Russell McVeagh and drew around 60 prominent business people and industry lobbyists at each venue.
Among the attendees in Wellington, is believed to have been Business NZ CEO, Kirk Hope.
Some of the attendees are believed to have made substantial donations at the $300 a head functions to the party.
That Peters would agree to the law firm hosting a party function would surprise many people.
Though he once worked for them, the firm acted for Ray Richwhite, one of Peters principal targets during the "wine box” allegations he made about tax dodging by some big New Zealand corporates.
He has frequently been critical of them since.
A spokesperson for the firm, Joanna Commerford, confirmed yesterday that the events had taken place.
“NZ First held two recent business networking events at our premises in each of Wellington and Auckland,” she said.
“They were NZ First events, and we provided our facilities for them as we have done for political parties from time to time when they wish to engage with business audiences.”
The attendance of Lusk at the events seems to confirm what has been rumoured around politics for some time now; that he was assisting New Zealand First.
POLITIK has spoken to two business people who attended the functions.
They both said Lusk appeared to be very busy during the events in some sort of administrative role.
But Lusk is much more than an administrator.
In material that was leaked in 2013, he proposed soliciting funding from the US for New Zealand politicians so the United States could count on the New Zealand vote in international organisations.
In 2011 along with Slater and David Farrar he ran a seminar at a Puhoi lodge owned by the father of National MP, Mark Mitchell, to train people how to win party selections.
He is believed to have advised National MPs Mitchell, Nicky Wagener, Sam Lotu Iiga, Louise Upston and Ross on their bids for selection.
He has continued to associate with Ross.
The former National candidate Katrina Bungard, who fell out with Ross over her refusal to support his wife’s bid to become chair of the Howick local board said she received a threatening phone call from Lusk.
"(Lusk) rang me and told me I could have a great career in politics, that he would get me this job and that job,” she told The Herald.
"Then he said he can only do these things if you're in a good place with Jami-Lee. If you fall out, I can't do anything.
"You know it's not a good day when you're getting calls from Simon Lusk."
Ross has said that Lusk has been advising him during his current mental health and political crisis.
But it is Lusk’s negative work that attracted the attention of Nicky Hagar during his “Dirty Politics” investigation and which even features on Lusk’s website with a page on how to remove politicians.
“Simon has a track record of running successful third party campaigns, especially for local government elections,” it says.
“It is almost always far cheaper and easier to remove councillors who are getting in the way of your project than it is to go through consenting processes that councillors are using to block your project.”
He also co-authors an online magazine, “Incite” with Slater in which he is harshly critical of National Leader, Simon Bridges.
“National MPs have a big decision to make," he writes.
“Do they leave in place a dud leader who has introduced himself to the NZ public and the public have said, “We don’t like you”.
“Or do they act ruthlessly and dispatch a failing leader who will pull them down on Election Day because he is so unlikable.”
What is unclear is whether Lusk had any role broking the agreement for New Zealand First to cast Ross’s proxy vote while he is away from the House.
The NZ First statement – authorised by Peters --- said: “New Zealand First received a letter from Jami-Lee Ross on 3 November, asking the party to hold his proxy vote.
“The New Zealand First caucus strongly believes that in terms of the Electoral Integrity Amendment Act, that someone in Mr Ross’ position should resign his seat and test his mandate with the electors of Botany and we urge him to do so.
“That said, after careful deliberation New Zealand First is able to confirm that it has accepted Mr Ross’ request.
“The party wishes to make clear that its decision to accept Mr Ross’ proxy, until such time as he revokes it, is done solely on the grounds that the electors of Botany gave a clear expression of their will at the 2017 General Election when they elected him with a significant majority.
It is on that basis, and that basis alone, that the New Zealand First Whip will use Mr Ross’ proxy–to be exercised at all times in support of the vote of the National Party–as a temporary delegate for the electors of Botany.”
Ross tweeted: “While I remain on leave on medical advice, it is important my constituents in the Botany Electorate continue to have a vote cast on their behalf in Parliament. I appreciate NZ First supporting Botany by accepting my request to cast a proxy vote.
But regardless the move is yet another that draws Lusk, Slater and New Zealand First closer together.
There is one additional connection.
Peters and Slater share the same lawyer, Brian Henry who is also the NZ First constitutional officer who chaired the lengthy debate about re-writing the constitution att heir conference.
The impression must now be that Lusk and Slater are supporting New Zealand First and that Peters appears to go along with that.