National MP Todd Barclay will quit politics to take the heat off his party and Prime Minister Bill English with only three months until the election - but he isn't off the hook yet.
Police are assessing recently publicised information on allegations that Barclay made secret recordings of his former staff member Glenys Dickson, after a previous investigation found insufficient evidence to prosecute or seek search warrants.
It's illegal to intentionally intercept private communications you are not a party to.
Barclay confirmed yesterday that he wouldn't seek re-election as Clutha-Southland MP in September, saying it was in the best interests of the Government and National Party.
The focus shifted to the police investigation, and English's own actions after Barclay confided he left a dictaphone running in his electorate office and had recordings of Dickson.
Green Party co-leader James Shaw kicked off an energised question time by asking Police Minister Paula Bennett if she expected New Zealanders to believe police had not been influenced by senior National Party figures, including English.
"The police are independent," Bennett responded. "I kind of find it offensive to police, his insinuations."
Earlier, English told a large media huddle that Barclay had made the right call, and denied the controversy would hurt National with only months to go until the election.
"I don't think of itself it is damaging. These sorts of issues arise commonly in politics, and this one has been dealt with I think pretty decisively. Principally because of the decision by Mr Barclay to stand down."
Before Barclay became MP, Dickson had worked for English, who held the Clutha-Southland seat for 18 years before becoming a list MP.
Amidst rumours of secret recordings, former electorate chairman Stuart Davie last year texted English asking about the claims. English's February 21 response read: "He left a dictaphone running that picked up all conversations in the office. Just the office end of phone conversations. The settlement was larger than usual because of the privacy breach."
In a subsequent police interview, English confirmed the text, and said Barclay had told him he had recordings of Dickson criticising him, after he left a dictaphone on.
English's texts and statement were entirely redacted by police when they released documents to the Herald under the Official Information Act in March.
After the text was published on Tuesday by the Newsroom website, English said he couldn't recall who told him the recordings existed, but less than four hours later confirmed it was Barclay and released his police statement.
Opposition parties have accused English of being involved in a cover-up but he defended his actions yesterday, saying there was a confidential employment agreement between Dickson and Barclay.
"I don't accept the assertion nothing was done about it. I reported it to the appropriate party official . . . I reported it to the police . . . because it was under investigation I was unsure about what I could or couldn't say."
English's release of his police statement seriously damaged Barclay, who had that morning categorically stated he hadn't told English about recordings, and said he "totally refuted" the allegations against him.
That night he called a media stand-up and said he accepted English's police statement, and apologised for "misleading" statements. He didn't step down, and the controversy and questions about English's authority continued yesterday.
While some backbench MPs offered Barclay support when stopped by media, Cabinet minister Steven Joyce, when asked on Newstalk ZB if Barclay was a liar, said, "Well, I must say, his two statements yesterday didn't exactly match up, did they?"
Barclay was later spotted with senior party figures in the Beehive, and just before 1.20pm sent out a statement confirming he would see out this term before retiring from politics at the age of 27.