Labour MPs told to pay Brady bill

By Audrey Young, Ruth Berry

Labour's 50 MPs will be asked for next week for $435,000 to pay for illegal election spending, which many blame on top Prime Ministerial adviser Heather Simpson.

The sum is just over half the $824,524 which Labour must repay.

And the Greens yesterday set a deadline for their bill, saying they would repay it by June 30 next year, whether or not any legal challenge had been concluded by other parties.

Labour MPs will brace themselves to approve payment next Tuesday, and are expecting to be faced with a one-off levy of five per cent of their annual salary.

That means Prime Minister Helen Clark will write a personal cheque for $17,350, and Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen one for $12,250.

A backbench MP will have to pay $5900.

The levy will be on top of the 4 per cent levy already taken from MPs' salaries for Labour's coffers.

Heather Simpson, Helen Clark's long-time chief of staff, is believed to have insisted on producing the party's $447,000 pledge card for last year's election, despite the misgivings of members of the party's council.

She and Labour minister Trevor Mallard met Auditor-General Kevin Brady at his request before the last election, when he warned parties to be careful with their spending.

There is also resentment in some caucus quarters at the way Heather Simpson and Helen Clark have handled the issue.

They are annoyed that the Prime Minister waited so long to commit to repaying the unlawful spending when MPs were daily coming under pressure from their electorates to give the money back.

No MP who wants a future in the party would dare to publicly criticise Heather Simpson. She is "untouchable", as one MP put it yesterday, because of the complete confidence Helen Clark has in her.

And it is apparent that the greater resentment among Labour MPs is against Mr Brady, who is being privately pilloried by senior MPs.

Mr Brady found that almost $1.2 million of taxpayers' money - including the cash used for the pledge card - was wrongly spent by parties.

Party strategist and minister Pete Hodgson had said the party would not pay back the money, but Helen Clark told TV3 this week that "Mr Hodgson was not under any instruction or encouragement to make that statement, and that statement was wrong".

Labour Party president Mike Williams believed the party could raise between $400,000 and $500,000.

He said he would contribute $5000, but it could not be more because he was now a "former millionaire".

Political staff would be asked for contributions.

Mr Williams rejected the suggestion there was resentment in the party about Heather Simpson pushing the pledge card.

"That pledge card was a collective decision made in 1998."

And he said: "Heather doesn't do anything that Helen doesn't tell her to do, and Helen is very committed to the pledge card."

Heather Simpson is nicknamed "H2" because of her close working relationship with the Prime Minister.

Mr Williams believed there should be another pledge card next election, paid for by the party.

Planning for fundraising activities will be made on Sunday when Labour's national council holds a telephone conference to approve a five-month fundraising programme.

It will include levies on Labour electorate committees, setting targets for sector councils including the union council, and asking wealthy supporters for help.

The Green Party now says it will repay by July the money the Auditor-General says it spent illegally.

It says it will not await the results of a legal challenge floated as a possibility by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, whose party has a bill for $157,934.

The Greens were stung with a bill for $87,192, more than they expected.

Last month, co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said she believed the $95,000 identified in Mr Brady's draft report had been reduced by $30,000.

Party whip Metiria Turei said after the report's release on Thursday that "the six MPs and the party will pay back any money that is ultimately found to have been outside the rules".

She said: "At this stage it is still unclear whether there will be any legal challenge to the Auditor-General's report from other parties which could result in him having to amend his findings."

Her statement made no commitment on repaying the full debt established by Mr Brady, and suggested that the party did not consider Mr Brady to be the final arbiter.

Three weeks ago, Ms Fitzsimons also refused to commit to repay the debt finally established by Mr Brady.

But the party yesterday promised to pay. "We've been presented with a bill for $87,192, and that's what we are gearing up to pay," Ms Turei said.

"We identified that there might be a legal challenge following the release of the Auditor-General's report which could ultimately affect the amounts owed by all the parties.

"We are not waiting on the outcome of such proceedings."

The Greens could not afford to pay the money outright and would start fund-raising with the goal of paying "as soon as we are able and certainly before the end of the financial year".

What Labour MPs will pay

$17,350: Prime Minister Helen Clark
$12,250: Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen
$10,800: Cabinet ministers and Speaker Margaret Wilson
$9150: Ministers outside cabinet
$6500: Asst Speaker Ross Robertson
$6500: Asst Speaker Ann Hartley
$7450: Senior whip Tim Barnett
$6500: Junior Whip Darren Hughes
$6500: Select committee chairs
$6100: Select committee deputy chairs
$5900:Ordinary MPs

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