Is it a potential case of deja vu?
New Zealand First has been linked by journalists to a New Zealand First Foundation, which is thought to have been used as a possible slush fund. The fund, which appears to have been controlled by people with strong links to the party including a former Party President and a lawyer may have up to $500,000 in it.
But those dollars are not so much the problem as how they were handled, in that whether the Foundation is part of the party or not, can determine the potential offences committed. If the N.Z.F.F. is not part of the party then the likely offences are corrupt or otherwise illegal practices. If the N.Z.F.F. IS a part of the Party then the Party Secretary could be accused of offences around the maintenance of records or failing to declare donations.
These are damning allegations.
This is not the first time that such allegations have been made. In 2008 New Zealand First was the subject of a Serious Fraud Office investigation after $100,000 donation from billionaire Owen Glenn, which Mr Peters said was used to cover legal fees. It was not reported to him and Mr Peters said it did not need to be disclosed. The charges were dropped by the Police after the Serious Fraud Office concluded no offences had been committed.
Despite that, New Zealand First exited Parliament at the 2008 election with a 4.07% of the party vote and no Parliamentary seats.
The party has long had what has been viewed as an archaic internal organization, which one might surmise to be the result of a fusion of 20th Century thinking in a 21st Century political environment. Fundraising has long been a haphazard exercise that at election time would often freeze up and down the country as the party focused on what it views as key electorates. At each annual convention there would be questions in the general question time scheduled about membership, donations and fundraising – perhaps these were common topics at the annual conventions of all major parties, but looking back at those conventions I attended in 2010, 2012-16 there seemed to be a certain stubborn inability and/or unwillingness
And when this was challenged as much to make sure that the Party was compliant with the Electoral Finance Act as anything else, the response was always the same. Those brave enough to raise a hand in defiance were shut down and/or subject to internal disciplinary procedures and/or made to move on from N.Z.F.
So, maybe one should not be so surprised that New Zealand First has got itself into another pickle. Whether it can get out of that pickle and whether or not it was of New Zealand Firsts making, given the 2008 election result and the substantial anger in certain parts of the New Zealand political spectrum at Mr Peters having chosen Labour over National, I am quite confident of two things now:
- This will come to some sort of conclusion – as one person said to me, should the journalists following this look for the cause of all of that smoke, they will find the fire
- The enemies of New Zealand First will seek to cause as much damage as they can with it – especially any party officials are found to have been non compliant with the Act
Can New Zealand First find a way out of this or is there a price to pay for failing to address the issues when challenged by delegates at annual conventions? If the answer is the latter, what will that price be?
*The author was a member of N.Z.F. between 2002-2006 and 2010-2017