Lisa Owen interviews National MP Maurice Williamson
Lisa Owen interviews National MP Maurice Williamson
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Lisa Owen: How are you holding up Mr Williamson?
Maurice Williamson: It’s been a really gut wrenching time. It’s been really bad for my staff who have been really loyal and worked for me. Two of my staff have worked for 27 years for me. For my wife and my family it’s pretty awful. I’ve let a lot of people down and I’ve had to make a lot of apologies to them. It was never my intention to cause such disruption.
Now let’s unpack this. You have repeatedly said that it wasn’t your intention to interfere, correct?
That you didn’t intend to complain to the police, that it wasn’t a complaint –
It wasn’t a complaint. It was not a complaint. It was not. And I can tell you the police have never made the claim that it was a complaint.
And you didn’t ask for a review –
No I did not. What I asked for was to find out what the status of the case was, or the issue was and was it going to proceed or not, because there was doubt about that.
So in your mind this was a number of calls that you made to advocate for -
In my mind at the time it was very much like a number of constituency calls that I would normally make. So if you think about – no just think about this: I have people coming to me all the time with an issue, with a problem. It will either be with the ACC or with the local DHB and so on. In many cases I’ll look at it and say ‘I think you’ve been treated badly’. That’s what a member of parliament should do. It’s not because they’re a wealthy donor. I’ve had people that are as poor as a church mouse come to me and want help. And in my electorate if you go and do a survey, if you go and ask people on the street, you will find thousands of people who over the years I’ve helped. And I’ve gone to hell in a hand basket for some people. So this particular case seemed quite simple. If he was going to be –
So I accept that. We accept that. Accepting that then, given all those things, why did you have to go then?
Well because there is a line here and it’s the prime minister’s view that just making the phone call I have crossed that line. Now when I phoned the police, and fortunately it’s in their email which has been disclosed under the OIA, I said as my very opening sentence, I know this and they said it: he started off by saying I’m not in any way trying to engineer an outcome here or change the direction of this, I’m just enquiring about the status of this. And now that the claimants have withdrawn, because it was to do with the two people that were making the claims of being abused and were now wanting to withdraw those claims. And I was told by the interpreter that would probably mean that it won’t proceed. Now I said I don’t think that’s now it works in New Zealand. I’m aware of domestic –
I’m just interested in your choice of words. You use the word perception a lot and you have done over the last few days. And you said then that the Prime Minister thinks this, he thinks it was a mistake, he thinks I crossed the line –
He says sorry. Ok. He says.
So has the Prime Minster treated you fairly?
Ah yes. Yes, I think the Prime Minister has acted completely properly. He has had a look at this. His advice would have come from the Cabinet Office. His advice is a member of parliament, and I never called as a minister, it is wrong you say it’s a minister calling; you have got to have several hats on in my job.
But at the same time you don’t seem to think that you have done anything wrong? Are you owning this? Are you taking responsibility?
Yes I am. Yes I am. Yes it’s my - yes I made a mistake. I have said that on, I just saw your preliminary introductory clip, could hardly now deny it. I made a mistake. I should have in this case said no this is a matter that’s still proceeding it would be wrong for me. Maybe if I’d got staff - now one of the things I regularly do in my constituency when any issue with any government agency, not just with police, ACC, the DHBs, even the IRD, if it’s a low level issue I’ll just say to my staff ‘can you get in touch with our contact?’ We have contacts at those, ask them about the issue: have they looked at it properly? Are they confident that what they have replied is ok? If my staff make no progress on them, they then escalate it up to me, they say ‘they are still refusing, ACC is still refusing’. Now Lisa, again I want you to know, I have got people in my electorate who have said ‘I’ll never vote for the National party in a million years. I hate you guys.’ But I’ve still gone to hell in a hand basket on behalf of them because my job is to represent everybody and when I think I can do something to help. I thought finding out and going back, which I went back to this interpreter and said ‘the police have made it clear they want to proceed with a prosecution, they are going to proceed. And you need to tell this man to get good legal advice’ [interrupted].
Given what you are telling me, you sound like a man who has been hard done by. Given what you are saying.
I did what I thought. If I could go back to the day of making the phone call, I wish I could change everything, because it’s been one cataclysmic explosion in my life which I’d never expected to happen. I mean if I do something bad I’d expect to go down for it, but I didn’t [interrupted].
Are you being hard done by?
Ah no. I accept my punishment fully. The Prime Minister believes that it’s not possible to stay.
So do you think then that the Prime Minister is applying the same set of standards to you in this case that he is to other ministers?
I think that the Prime Minister would be applying the same set of standards right across the board.
Well so Judith Collins yesterday said that MPs know that they should never ring Police about operations matters, you clearly broke the rules [interrupted].
She said what?
She said that MPs know you never ring the Police about an operational matter and that you had to go because you clearly broke the rules. But she didn’t break the rules. That is what she said. Is that a fair analysis?
Well I can’t make any comment about a quote I have not seen or heard. But I know that Judith Collins, having been a minister of police, and Anne Tolley, having been a minister of police, who is now the minister of police, will know that MPs do call them up. Now the difference is, let me give you an example, if there is a rowdy party in my electorate on Saturday night, this has happened many times over the years and the locals have had bottles thrown at their front yard and so on. They will come and see me in the week to follow and say we called the police and they wouldn’t even answer. No Lisa it’s important to get. I will phone the police and say I’ve got constituents who felt really let down that they were getting bottles pelted at their gate, they made a call, you didn’t come, could you please explain?
So is that the same in your mind then to ringing up about a case where a man is currently making his way through court on domestic violence charges? Is that the same as ringing up to advocate that ‘why didn’t you come to the noisy party’?
Well obviously it’s not and I should have thought more about it. But if I had been calling up to say look ‘I’d like for this stopped’ or ‘you need to go easy on him’ I should be dead, I should be gone from the planet. But if I call and say ‘look I make it really clear that I’m not in any way trying to influence’, the police have said that in their email. But what was interesting was the last sentence the police officer gave to me [interrupted]
I’ve heard you say this and I just want to ask you-
No I want this on air. The policeman’s last sentence-
You were professional and you were polite is what they said -
No, that’s not his last sentence. His last sentence said to me ‘well thanks Mr Williamson and if there’s anything more you’d like to know please don’t hesitate to call’. So at the time I did not feel I was crossing a line. Obviously in hindsight [interrupted]
So are you gone because Judith Collins hasn’t gone? Are you the fall guy?
No I’m gone because I made a mistake and the Prime Minister is right to think so. I didn’t hesitate when he said to me ‘I think you’ve made a mistake, I’d like you to offer your resignation’. Lisa, I didn’t even say for one minute, I said ‘if you want me to offer my resignation, you have got it’.
But I want to explore this more. Judith Collins, she’s friends with some wealthy Chinese business associates, as you were friends, well associates with a man, a wealthy businessman-
I’m an associate of him
Her husband is a director in the company that she is now being questioned about. She has come into conflict with that relationship and her role as a minister. So even the cabinet office said there was a perceived conflict of interest in her case. So what is the difference between her behaviour and yours? And why are you gone and she is not?
Well it would be really churlish of me to start deciding about why other ministers keep their job.
You must have a view on it though.
Well I’m certainly not going to express the view here on public television. The Prime Minister called me [interrupted]
Is she getting an easy ride compared to you?
I’m not going to express an opinion about the way any other matter is handled. The Prime Minister called me and said ‘I believe you have crossed the line, I would like to you step down.’ And I think it’s the right thing to do.
But do the public now have a perception that higher ranking National MPs are available to do favours to their mates, especially ones who give donations?
Well again I want to really nail that point. I’ve been 27 years an MP. I have never even asked the political allegiance of people that come to see me, they have actually volunteered it. I have had people look at me in the eye and say ‘I will never vote for the [interrupted]
But is that the perception now?
Well hang on a second I want to get this out, ‘I would never vote for the National party in a million years. I hate you guys. But I have this serious problem with an ACC injury and I can’t get...’. And I have said to them ‘I don’t care about your political affiliation’. I could get people in my electorate to prove this. And after I have solved the problem for them and gone back to them and said I’ve got it, I have actually had them with tears in their eyes say ‘I’ll vote for you in future because of the work you’ve done, but I’ll never vote for your party’.
But the difference with this case Mr Williamson, the difference with this case, you suggested this man might like to buy a bach right next to yours; you did work on that bach for him. You went to dinner; he paid for them. The guy makes some donations; you advocate for citizenship. The Prime Minister and you open his development. Isn’t that the difference? Cash for access isn’t it?
No, I don’t think so. No, I’ve been to dinner with lots and lots people over my years that don’t give a cent to the National Party. In fact I’ve been to dinners with a number of people who I know actually fund other political parties. I can’t see why the dinner thing is an issue
You’re saying that we need lots of foreign investors in this country. That’s your view.
Oh we do. Lisa, Lisa, we desperately do.
Let me finish. Are you being naive then because if we need lots more foreign investment, is building the kind of personal relationship that you have with Mr Liu, is that just part of the deal if you want these people to come here and invest?
I think taking an interest in what their plans are, and he’s not the only one by a long shot that I have met with, and not just Chinese. The biggest of the overseas investors, what makes me very angry is the sort of racism associated with the Chinese investment. Other countries rank much higher on the list of foreign investors. I mean James Cameron buys a massive tract of stuff in the Wairarapa and it’s almost like he’s not a foreigner, but he’s from Canada. That’s like [interrupted]
But do governments need to go a bit further for these guys, a bit extra?
I think attracting big foreign capital that will invest in things that will benefit all New Zealanders is important. I really do. And I don’t have a problem with - when countries need [interrupted]
So is helping with citizenship part of that then?
Well again let’s deal with that one because I think that’s been raised.
No, if you could just give me a straight answer?
I’m going to give you a straight answer. I’m going to give you a straight answer.
Is helping with citizenship part of that?
It’s one of them because I’ve done a number of citizenship ceremonies in my electorate office for people who have come to me wanting it. And many of them weren’t wealthy investors. I did one for a Chilean family who didn’t speak any English.
Ok but this one was. So I’m wondering if your commitment and personal desire to see more foreign investment: did that cloud your judgement in this case?
No, my commitment to helping people goes right across the board. I repeat again. I have done -
I’m not asking whether it goes across the board, I’m asking whether it clouds your judgement in this particular case because this is a man [interrupted]
Well are you suggesting to me that if a poor Chilean family come to me, they only speak Spanish, I should help them with their citizenship. But a rich person comes to me that I should help and I say no you’re too wealthy -
I wonder if this man got a bit more attention because he was bringing a lot to the table.
No. No. No. No. What I did in terms of advocating on his behalf is, I thought he would make a valuable contribution to New Zealand. Look remember this too, here’s a point that keeps getting missed, he got his residency to live in New Zealand, which is a much higher test, you have got to go through all your police clearances and your health checks and financial wherewithal, he got that under a Labour government.
So could you clarify for me why you told the police that he was – why you thought it was necessary to tell the police that he had all that money?
I’ve had a think about the phone call and I think the way it came about, and of course it’s hard to remember back to January the exact wording, but what I think happened is the police officer speaking to me said the assault actually took place in the Boulevard Hotel, which this Mr Liu owns. And I said ‘yes that’s right he owns it’. And I said ‘he actually owns a big chunk of land around it as well’. He said ‘that’s right, but he owns the hotel where it occurred’. It wasn’t like ‘cause he’s so rich, don’t do anything’. But I wasn’t even asking whether they could do anything or not. I was asking ‘are you going to proceed?’
Ok well thank you very much for joining us.