Fran O'Sullivan: Time to unite and call for a royal inquiry

If our politicians have nothing to hide they will join forces and call for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to get to the bottom of the growing pallor of sleaze that has enveloped last year's dirty election.

Maori Party leader Tariana Turia's revelation that her party was offered $250,000 from a wealthy overseas individual to support Labour (which she refused) is the latest allegation of what is clearly prima facie bribery and corruption to surface. The list of allegations is now so serious that the integrity of the 2005 election is at stake.

Only a Royal Commission under the stewardship of a trio of judges, who have the confidence of all the major political leaders, will suffice at this stage to investigate the prima facie allegations of illegal behaviour that are on the table.

If any illegal conduct is disclosed, it must be exposed, and where appropriate met with legal action to ensure our so-called corruption-free reputation is maintained. Such a step would take enormous courage on the part of New Zealand's political leaders and party officials, some of whom will no doubt prefer the whole issue were swept under the table, particularly as there will be more unpalatable revelations in the pipeline.

But only a Royal Commission has the power to deal with the following:

* The revelation by a gutless police force that it refused to take legal action over Labour's breach of electoral spending limits because it was concerned at the constitutional effects of a prima facie case. * The delays which ensured that police decision not to take court action against Labour or Beehive officials, because they were concerned about the integrity of last year's election, was not disclosed until just days before the six-month expiry period under the Electoral Act. Thus the police basically cut off any chance for concerned citizens to mount a private prosecution in respect of the alleged corrupt practices which, if proven, could have resulted in jail sentences.

* Bullying of Auditor-General Kevin Brady over his audit into the misappropriation of parliamentary funds by party leaders, particularly Labour's Helen Clark who accused him of smear tactics, which must be seen as an attempt to cower Brady into changing his draft findings.

* Allegations that National made corrupt cash-for-policy deals with the anonymous donors that stumped up 92 per cent of the party's election funds. Prime Minister Helen Clark has alleged insurance companies were promised policy deals around changes to ACC. Who were these companies - if any? - that tried to bribe National.

* Allegations that the Exclusive Brethren religious sect ran a parallel advertising campaign with the connivance of National Leader Don Brash to dish the dirt on National's opponents and thus given his party a $1.2 million hidden campaign spending boost.

* Allegations that the Exclusive Brethren, not content with the election result, tried to get NZ First MPs to break away from their party and force a change of government. And, when spurned, turned their attention to Labour by hiring private investigators to dig dirt on Cabinet ministers from the Prime Minister down.

Clark has ordered the diplomatic squad to investigate the Exclusive Brethrens P.I.s. But this is not an independent investigation. Their allegiance is to Clark.

* The Royal Commission also needs to inquire into whether interests associated with Labour put P.I.s on to Brash and investigate whether those same interests stole personal emails from his parliamentary computer.

* Allegations by the Prime Minister of conspiratorial behaviour by everyone who belongs to "golf clubs, accountancy firms, law firms or business circles" in spreading libellous rumours to bring her husband down and vilify their marriage.

* Allegations by NZ First Leader Winston Peters that merchant bankers Fay Richwhite, the subject of an insider trading action over dealings in Tranz Rail shares, have contributed campaign funds with strings.

In Parliament two weeks ago Peters claimed that two big New Zealand corporates had bought themselves "political protection" through major donations to the National Party.

"That same party was involved in a long protection racket in respect of Telecom, and that is why it was given free Telecom services and took $1 million," he said.

Peters wants the Ministry of Justice to look into the "$1 million paid by Fay Richwhite to the National Party in order to buy it absolute protection against proper investigation", which he clarified related to the Bank of New Zealand bail-out and the Winebox inquiry into tax dodging.

* Turia's refusal to disclose which Labour supporter tried to bribe her party.

The Ministry of Justice is reviewing the electoral finance regime which is focused on electorate expenses. Cabinet minister Steve Maharey says the Government also wants the ministry to look into whether ceilings should be imposed on advertising expenditure, appropriate restrictions on electoral advertising, third-party advertising, approportionment rules, and whether more controls on donations are needed.

But frankly this is closing the stable door after the horse had bolted. The Phillip Field affair is child's play compared with what is on the table after a month of hardball national politics. Public pressure forced the Prime Minister's hand on that score - now it's time for a bigger push.

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