ACT's The Letter: Monday 28 June 2004
Monday 28 June 2004
MONEY IN THE BAG
ACT MP Ken Shirley last Wednesday told parliament of an affidavit making claims that, if true, mean the end for NZ First. The following is an accurate full transcript of Ken Shirley’s speech.
Hon Ken Shirley: On 16 October 2001 Winston Peters, the leader of NZ First party, issued a press release. It was titled: “Gross incompetence in fisheries. Heads need to roll.” He was calling for a dismissal of the chief executive of the Ministry of Fisheries, and he claimed that the Ministry was guilty of gross incompetence, faulty allocation of scampi quota, wanton disregard for due process, and unlawful treatment of fishers.
He called on the Minister of Fisheries to invoke an immediate inquiry. He said that the allocation of scampi was to be taken away from the Ministry, as it could not be trusted. Those were very serious allegations, and some even called them reckless.
It was classic Winston Peters’ innuendo. Six months later on 24 April 2002 in the general debate – this very debate we are having now – Winston Peters lambasted the Minister of Fisheries for not taking action. He accused the Ministry of Fisheries of condoning corruption, aiding and abetting corruption, and involving itself in that corruption. Winston Peters said: “I will produce evidence that the Ministry knowingly condoned ...” that corruption. He went on further to say, “In the next few weeks I intend to demonstrate with voluminous evidence and affidavits why this Minister should be removed from his job and the Serious Fraud Office asked, belatedly, to do its job.” Eventually, a parliamentary inquiry into the scampi allegations was instigated by the Primary Production Committee, following a very high-profile Assignment programme that screened on television. One would have expected Winston Peters, having made those allegations, to rejoice at having got that inquiry but, oh no, he gave not a whisper, not a murmur. He quickly replaced Doug Woolerton, the permanent NZ First member on that select committee, and then spent his time focusing on narrowing and closing the terms of reference for the committee. It was all rather curious, one would say.
The Primary Production Committee sat for several months, consumed an enormous amount of parliament’s time, and reported on 2 December 2003. Winston Peters produced no evidence to support those reckless allegations he had made, and he certainly did not table the “voluminous evidence” he had promised to table. He was as quiet as a lamb, with barely a whisper. Last night on television further allegations were made, and reference was made to a sworn affidavit. The functioning of this parliament and its processes was raised, and the programme focused on a former member of this House – perhaps one of the most savoury members who has passed through this House – a Mr Ross Meurant.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Unsavoury.
Hon Ken Shirley: Certainly unsavoury. It seems that a former member of parliament, Ross Meurant, was engaged by Siminovich Fisheries as an adviser and a lobbyist. Concurrent with that, of course – and a lot of people do not realise this – Mr Meurant was also hired by the NZ First party and paid for on its payroll; actually the taxpayers’ payroll through Parliamentary Services. We were told that Mr Meurant attended several meetings, together with principals of Siminovich Fisheries, and Mr Meurant’s former partner of some nine years, Yvonne Teresa Dossiter, swears that Ross Meurant met at the Siminovich’s olive farm following the infamous Kermadec restaurant meal, and the proposal was put that the payment of $300,000 to Meurant would be a good investment for the Siminovich business.
It is alleged that the deed was done and that the money would be available from an Australian bank account. Subsequently, it is alleged that Mr Meurant boasted to Yvonne Dossiter, who has sworn an affidavit, that the money was paid and that Meurant indeed had it in a brown paper bag. This is an extremely serious allegation, and it does bring into question in the public’s mind the functioning of our representative democracy. What we have to realise is that Winston Peters was there with him.
Comment: To take a bribe is a breach of privilege. To falsely allege an MP is corrupt is a breach of privilege – so these facts would indicate either Ross Meurant or Yvonne Dossiter or Winston Peters has committed a serious breach.
John Howard may call an election as early as 7 August; the first date he can get a senate/lower house election. The Liberal party is in full election mode. The parallels with NZ are striking. The Liberals, like Labour, targeted families. The Australian media are full of advertisements saying that from 1 July, families are entitled to $600 per child. A new announcement a day. The latest, a la Merv Wellington – every school to qualify for federal funds must have a “viable” flagpole. Encouraging for NZ Labour, Howard’s handouts seem to be working. While the family budget at first appeared, like NZ’s, to fail in the polls, now some polls put the Liberals ahead. Like in NZ, it is going to be close.
ACT intends making tax cuts its principal issue. Rodney Hide, in his second speech as leader, pointed out that National by ruling out cutting the top rate of tax has the same tax policy as Labour. The top rate is the investment rate. If NZ wants to return to the top half of the OECD it must cut the 39c tax rate, see http://www.act.org/taxspeech.
THIS WEEK’S POLL
Last week's Letter poll divided people more than usual. 31% thought National shouldn't have ruled out Winston as a coalition partner, while 69% thought he was better left to Labour. This week’s question: Should the Speaker refer the Yvonne Dossiter affidavit to the privileges committee? http://www.act.nz/poll - we will send the result to the Speaker.