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Joyce to leave parliament; leaked letter shows anger

Joyce to leave parliament; leaked letter shows anger over Hooton NBR column

By Pattrick Smellie

March 6 (BusinessDesk) - The National Party's chief political strategist since the mid-2000s, Steven Joyce, has announced his decision to retire from Parliament after new leader Simon Bridges did not offer him the finance spokesmanship in a shadow Cabinet reshuffle.

His move clears the way for Nicola Willis, a former Beehive adviser to John Key, to enter Parliament. While Joyce was offered a front bench rank in the opposition Bridges didn't give him the finance role.

“I have had a wonderful time in this place over the last nearly ten years including nine years as a Minister, and have been privileged to be able to make a real contribution to the development of our country,” said Joyce in a statement. He said Bridges had offered him a front bench position.

The announcement comes after a tumultuous few days for Joyce, during which he threatened to sue the National Business Review for defamation after it published a damning column on his performance in both the Economic Development and Finance portfolios under Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English.

Written by public relations consultant and some time National Party apparatchik Matthew Hooton, the column was "replete with erroneous assertions of fact and defamatory imputations, including that Mr Joyce has engaged, or is likely to engage, in illegal, unethical and corrupt behaviour," says a March 2 letter sent to NBR publisher Todd Scott on Joyce's behalf by Minter Ellison Rudd Watts partner Zane Kennedy, and obtained by BusinessDesk.

In comments to media and in Twitter posts, Scott says he decided to fire Hooton as a columnist prior to receiving the threat of defamation action, although he only informed Hooton of his decision after receiving the Minters letter on March 2, the day of the column's publication, and then being contacted by the columnist on Saturday, March 3. Scott is reported as saying NBR will defend any action brought and that the decision to end Hooton's column was part of a wider cull of NBR contributors to "cut fat" from his business.

Hooton announced on Facebook this afternoon that he will be writing a weekly column for the New Zealand Herald.

The letter disputes the column's assertion that Joyce received only four votes in the party leadership contest won by Bridges, saying the claim was "simply untrue and deliberately understates the level of support for Mr Joyce in caucus", saying there was "no means by which Mr Hooton could ascertain the level of support for Mr Joyce in any event".

The Minters letter says the Hooton column conveyed "a number of imputations" including dishonesty, rudeness, and that he "considers himself superior to his colleagues in the National Party and is despised by them all" and that he was "incompetent and politically inept".

The letter claims NBR's decision to offer Joyce a right of reply prior to the column's publication "suggested a misguided belief that a response from Mr Joyce could in these circumstances provide an antidote to the defamatory statements made in the article(s). The courts have long rejected this contention by publishers."

By both informing Joyce of the forthcoming column and running it "despite sympathising with his position", NBR had "aggravated the harm to Mr Joyce's reputation," the letter says. "NBR has knowingly and willingly 'twisted the knife'."

Newshub has reported Scott as saying NBR would be neither retracting nor apologising for the column, and would subpoena senior National Party MPs if the issue went to court.

Willis, who left a senior position at Fonterra was ranked 48th on the National Party list and relocated to campaign in the seat of Wellington Central. She was two seats away from getting into Parliament on the final election result. However, the resignation of Bill English this month allows 47th-ranked Maureen Pugh to take up her seat, while Joyce's resignation clears the way for Willis.


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