Brownlee at lawsuit meeting

By Claire Trevett

National MP Gerry Brownlee took part in the closed-door meeting which decided to allow MPs to be reimbursed for lawsuits against them, despite being party to a case at the time.

The Parliamentary Service Commission, a grouping of MPs from each party, agreed to the new provision at its meeting in November 2001 - two years into a civil assault case against Mr Brownlee by environment activist Neil Abel.

Mr Brownlee confirmed he was at the meeting as a substitute for National's usual representative, Roger Sowry, but said he had not sought the change and had no role in earlier discussions about it. His case had not been discussed at the meeting.

Mr Brownlee said he did not recall considering absenting himself from that part of the meeting. Because he was filling in for Mr Sowry, he was unlikely to have had much notice of agenda items before attending it.

"It was the first item of business, but to get that far on the agenda there clearly would have been discussion prior to that, I imagine."

A letter leaked to the Herald reveals that one month after the meeting, Mr Brownlee wrote to National's then leader, Bill English, seeking reimbursement for $10,447.99 in legal costs and mentioning the PSC decision.

His request was eventually rejected.

The provision allows reimbursement for lawsuits taken against MPs when acting in their parliamentary capacity, with the approval of the Speaker and party leader.

A spokesman for Parliamentary Services said the records showed Speaker and chairman of the PSC Jonathan Hunt had put the issue on the agenda as a "policy matter", and no specific case was mentioned in relation to it.

Mr Brownlee sent further invoices to Mr English in May 2002 after his court hearing.

The action by Mr Abel followed Mr Brownlee's attempts to eject him from National's 1999 election campaign launch. Mr Brownlee was ordered to pay $8500 in damages to Mr Abel and a further $5000 in costs.

Mr Brownlee's first letter to Mr English mentions that former leader Jenny Shipley and the National Party executive had agreed he should not have to personally cover the legal costs and that the National Party had agreed to pay for any settlement up to a confidential amount.

The Parliamentary Service Commission is a group of MPs from each party which considers the rules for MPs, including spending. It is chaired by the Speaker. Any recommendations must be approved by the Speaker to take effect. Its meetings are confidential and no minutes or agendas are publicly released.

- NZ Herald

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