One evening in a bar in Hong Kong, where I was covering celebrations of the fifth anniversary of the city's hand back to China, I asked the bartender what he most noticed had changed.

"The corruption," he said and shook his head. He said it quietly with suppressed anger and there seemed to be no more to be said. He was Hong Kong Chinese, western in his way.

It's strange that communism has left mainland China and Russia so deeply corrupt. It didn't just fail economically, it failed to instil in its populations the essential level of trust that allows trade and contracts to be made between strangers at face value.


When private enterprise was permitted it adopted, by all accounts, the sleazy back-scratching caricature of capitalism those populations had been fed in their state propaganda for so long.

That bartender comes to mind every time I read about wealthy Chinese immigrant donors to political parties in New Zealand. We don't know what they expect beyond a chat and a photo with somebody important and maybe a medal in the honours list.

I doubt there is much more they can get from our governments. Probity is deeply ingrained in New Zealand business and politics, especially in the kind of economy we run now, which doesn't give governments many favours to dispense.

But you always wonder when these investment-class immigrants, or nominal immigrants, are posing with party leaders, what are they getting?

I found the covert recording of Simon Bridges played to the nation by his would-be nemesis, Jami-Lee Ross, this week immensely reassuring.

Here was a party leader being set up to discuss a donation quickly and candidly. A phone call from a supposed confidante to ask, "What shall we do with a $100,000 donation sitting in my electorate's account?"

Bridges started thinking aloud about its possible uses for attack ad on chosen issues this year, then recalled he had agreed to have the donor to dinner and talked about when they might do that. Ross brought him back to the money and suggested they had to report it to the party president, they couldn't leave him "out of loop". No, Bridges agreed.

Granted, he was hesitant, possibly pondering options right and wrong, but hell, he was trying to think of everything quickly, talking off the cuff and privately, he thought, to someone on his team. And the only obligation that came to his mind in that situation was to have the donor to dinner at his home. Dear, dear New Zealand. How I love us.


Then Ross reminded him "they" wanted another MP. That was interesting. Mainland Chinese might not be aware they have no need to pay to get representatives on a major party's election list. Their voting weight nowadays is enough. Both big parties want their votes and since Asian immigrants are generally hard working, enterprising and acquisitive, they are more likely to be National voters.

If wealthy donors do not know this and think they have to grease a party's palm to get their people into Parliament, is there any harm in National accepting their donation? There could be if they effectively get to choose the candidate to be given an electable position on the list and we get MPs who owe their position to a particular donor.

But Bridges did not sound like he felt the party was obligated to bring in more Chinese MPs. He was not keen on the idea, saying it would depend on their polling, and he thought a Filipino MP would be better for their ethnic spread. Ross suggested Chinese would be better than Indians and Bridges, to his subsequent regret, agreed.

What a slimy piece of treachery we have witnessed this week. You have to hand it to National, when one of them goes feral they make it worth the media's attention, unlike Labour's recent embarrassments, a minister having fairly innocent off-diary chats and that poor woman who has been suspended for strong-arming a press secretary. Politics has become so gentle and vegan it is almost a relief to get some red meat.

Ross set out to take down his party leader, like that long forgotten National MP, Brian Connell, who confronted Don Brash over suggestions he was having an affair. Connell did so inside the caucus and was suspended, but Brash didn't survive as leader much longer. Can Bridges?

It's a pity Bridges was willing to even discuss what should be done with a donation, there's supposed to be an, ahem, Chinese wall between MPs and money. And he still has questions to answer over the handling of the $100,000 donation that somebody diced into pieces to avoid the donor being identified, as does Ross.

But if that's what we call corruption in this country, how lucky we are.