The National Party is in turmoil over the Jami-Lee Ross affair, with accusations and counter-claims of corruption, disloyalty and harassment. Claire Trevett looks at how the scandal unfolded.

A year after Jami-Lee Ross was elected to Parliament in 2011 he got his commercial pilot's licence. This week saw him execute one of the most dramatic kamikaze dives in New Zealand's political history.

The kamikaze was made infamous by Japanese pilots in World War II. The aim was to use an explosives-laden plane as a weapon to take out a target such as a ship, a suicidal mission for the pilot.

In Ross' case the ship in question is the National Party, the party he joined as a teenager. His explosives are like cluster bombs, stacked with allegations of corruption he is yet to provide any evidence for, and his own perfidy.


Ross' behaviour this week caught many of his colleagues by surprise. Fingered as the likely leak of National Party leader Simon Bridges' travel expenses, Ross hit back saying he had fallen out with Bridges, accusing him of corruption over a donation - something Bridges adamantly denies and which Ross has not proven but has complained to the Police about.

He quit National's caucus at the same time he was being expelled by all of National's remaining 55 MPs.

As the week went on the allegations started flying back against Ross. Some of the most damning were from four women who spoke to Newsroom about their relationships with Ross, one describing him as narcissistic and the sex as "brutal".

The biggest questions of the week have been why Ross suddenly imploded and once the allegations against him started coming out, just how he got as far as he did in the National Party - up to the post of Senior Whip under Bill English's leadership.

Ross is just 32, a baby in political terms. He entered Parliament in 2011 by way of a byelection in Auckland's Botany electorate after Pansy Wong resigned.

He was raised in Auckland by his grandmother, Sharron, in Papakura, then Pakuranga. Down the road in Pakuranga lived the local MP, Maurice Williamson, who took Ross under his wing.

Jami-Lee Ross holding his press conference outside the Wellington Central Police Station after his interview with detectives. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Jami-Lee Ross holding his press conference outside the Wellington Central Police Station after his interview with detectives. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In his maiden speech to Parliament, Ross said he was not the stereotypical National Party MP. He was born to a young mother and a father who was "nothing more than a faceless name that never stepped up to life's responsibilities".

Ross left school at 16 without any formal qualifications and was elected on to Manukau City Council in 2004 aged 18. He was also working in Williamson's electorate office.

Ironically, Williamson was also sacked for disloyalty, against Bill English back in 2002, but his stand was on low polling and party direction rather than the personal vendetta Ross appears to have taken against Bridges.


Williamson is now consul-general in Los Angeles but is understood to be horrified by Ross' latest antics.

Tales of confrontation are not restricted to recent years.

In 2005, soon after being elected to council, Ross' grandmother and aunt were evicted from their home for missing almost $20,000 in rent payments. That home was owned by Ken Yee, a National Party candidate and former councillor.

Ross, then 19, put it down to sour grapes for Yee's defeat in another council ward.

He reacted badly to Manukau councillor Sharon Stewart telling the Howick & Pakuranga Times she alerted Yee to the rent issue.

Ross made it on to Auckland Council in 2010 when he became co-leader of the right-leaning Citizens & Ratepayers grouping alongside former National MP and Auckland Mayor Christine Fletcher.


Fletcher said she did not work closely with Ross and he left the next year to stand in the Botany Parliamentary byelection.

"What was apparent to me was he was a very intelligent young man, very ambitious. But at the time I thought probably there is a benefit to going into politics once you'd had some life experience."

She was saddened by events this week and felt for Ross' family. "It brings politics into disrepute."

Jami-Lee Ross admits cheating on his wife. Photo / Michael Craig
Jami-Lee Ross admits cheating on his wife. Photo / Michael Craig

Ross was close to strategist Simon Lusk and Whaleoil blogger Cam Slater, both of whom became dynamite in National circles after Nicky Hager's 2014 Dirty Politics book exposed the bare-knuckle campaign tactics they deployed.

That included running negative attacks on rivals, even in selection contests where those rivals were in the same party.

Lusk was Ross' campaign advisor for the Botany byelection and Ross has confirmed he has been in touch with Lusk over the past week - although one source told the Herald Ross was not following Lusk's advice.


Slater said though he still considered Ross a friend, they had not had much to do with each other since Dirty Politics.

He had been in touch over the past week, saying he had his own battles with depression and was worried about Ross' mental health.

He was not backing what Ross was doing and said Bridges should have acted sooner. "I haven't been supportive of Jami-Lee on my blog. He's to my mind a duplicitous leaker."

He said Ross' political career was now over.

Ross plays politics hard.

Every selection was worth a wrangle, from his own battle with Maggie Barry to be selected National's candidate in the Botany byelection to his unsuccessful attempt to get his favoured candidate Dan Bidois into the Pakuranga electorate to succeed his old mentor Williamson.


Simeon Brown took out the seat; Brown and Ross are not friends.

There was his involvement in his wife Lucy Schwaner's unsuccessful bid to be chairwoman of the Howick Local Board, which precipitated a complaint against Ross by Katrina Bungard, another board member and National Party candidate.

Katrina Bungard, National Party candidate for Manurewa.
Katrina Bungard, National Party candidate for Manurewa.

Then there were the leadership contests. Two MPs told the Herald Ross had to be reined in for what was said to be the negative overtones of his campaign to persuade people to back Bridges over Paula Bennett for the deputy leadership in 2016. Bennett won that.

National Party stalwart and pollster David Farrar has known Ross for years. He pointed to Ross' attacks on former Manukau and Auckland Council Mayor Len Brown, including a credit card scandal.

"Politics has been pretty all-consuming for him since he left school.

"He's always enjoyed the political game. There are some people who don't play the game, they just do what they need to, but he's always loved the game."


Ross would not have been an obvious candidate for what had happened this week, and Farrar suspected he had not intended things to go as far as they had.

"You can be very good at playing the political game against your opponents but when you do it in your own party it's much more dangerous."

The game playing did indeed take a toll.

In Parliament, MPs tend to cluster in year-groups, based on which election they were first voted in.

Ross was adopted by the 2008 group despite not entering Parliament until early 2011. Though he did not seem to have a tight group of friends, he did have friendly relations with many MPs.

He is 10 years younger than Bridges but they were close.

A photo taken in 2006 shows them with the so-called Cathedral Club - a group that Farrar says was made up of younger party members who met to talk politics.


Farrar was part of the club, as was Bridges' friend and donor Aaron Bhatnagar.

When Bridges went for the deputy leadership in 2016, it was Ross who lobbied his colleagues for support. Bridges lost to Paula Bennett.

When Bridges went for the leadership after Bill English stepped down early this year, Ross stepped in again to "do the numbers".

Bridges eventually won, courtesy of Bennett persuading Mark Mitchell to swing his support behind Bridges.

National Party leader Simon Bridges during his press conference over allegation made by Jami-Lee Ross. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National Party leader Simon Bridges during his press conference over allegation made by Jami-Lee Ross. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Among National MPs, there was a great deal of surprise at Ross' antics this week.

When one was asked who Ross' friends were, they replied, "well, I thought I was one". Asked whether he had known Ross well, another said, "I thought so, but clearly not". A third believed Ross had always been "big for his boots" but nobody expected this.


All were appalled, describing Ross' attacks on Bridges and drip-feeding of information as gross breaches of trust and disloyalty, not only to the leader but to the party.

Even older hands said they had not seen anything of this scale before.

If Ross had no core of close friends in Parliament, he had enemies. He was not the only one settling scores this week.

Maggie Barry, his beaten opponent for the Botany candidacy and now North Shore MP, was one of the first - and most ferocious - to attack him, tweeting, "What a disloyal disgrace this flawed & isolated individual has become."

Second out of the blocks was Judith Collins, once something of a mentor to Ross. She held the nearby electorate of Papakura, liked to foster younger MPs and was also close to Maurice Williamson.

Ross, she said, was also given a lot of help by former leaders John Key and English who saw him as up-and-coming. "They really put a lot of effort into him." Key and English would not comment.


The relationship with Collins soured. The final blow was when Ross, then whip and Bridges' supporter, publicly rejected Collins' claim that caucus had decided MPs would not publicly take sides in the leadership contest.

Ross had also helped English's leadership bid after Key resigned - when both Jonathan Coleman and Collins had believed he was on their side.

He and Todd McClay then supported Bridges for the deputy leadership, which was won by Bennett.

When Ross did the numbers again for Bridges after English resigned, it surprised those who had assumed he would stick with Collins.

NZ Herald reporter Kirsty Johnston spoke to Jami-Lee Ross regarding his latest bombshell allegations against the national party.

Collins now has no time for him and says she did not know about his alleged behaviour with women.

"From what I've seen this week I feel like I have never really known this person."


As events escalated, so did the rumours of intimidating behaviour and infidelities.

Those were finally publicly hinted at by Bennett after Ross said she and Bridges had accused him of harassment.

Bennett responded that the accusation was of inappropriate conduct for a married MP, not harassment.

She was criticised for raising the possibility of affairs.

After Newsroom published details from the interviews with the four women, it became clear Bennett had been concerned about more than a simple extra-marital fling.

It was not the affairs per se, but allegations about the nature of his conduct that had disturbed National's leadership.


One of the four women spoke of "brutal sex" and misogynistic, controlling behaviour.

And 2017 National Party election candidate Katrina Bungard spoke to the Herald about bullying by Ross when she was on the Howick board in 2016 and 2017, including trespass orders, that resulted in a complaint to National's hierarchy.

There was the news that party president Peter Goodfellow arranged a confidentiality agreement in 2017 to keep one complaint quiet.

Ross yesterday apologised to the four women who spoke to Newsroom for the "hurt" he had caused them, although he disputed the way the allegations were presented. He also apologised to Bungard for the way he treated her.

Jami-Lee Ross says his relationship with an MP was quite volatile. Photo / Michael Craig
Jami-Lee Ross says his relationship with an MP was quite volatile. Photo / Michael Craig

Seemingly, Bridges inherited the problem without knowing about it - he said the first he knew of complaints about Ross' behaviour toward some women was three weeks ago.

It is understood that was after one woman approached the party leadership team to advise them she believed Ross was the one who had sent an anonymous text to Bridges, Speaker Trevor Mallard and a Newshub reporter, urging them to drop an inquiry into the leaking of Bridges' expenses.


Bridges and Bennett then moved quickly to send Ross on leave, saying at the time that it was not related to the leaks inquiry.

In his maiden speech in 2011, Ross spoke of his reasons for joining National and delivered a promise: "For as long as I am a National member of this Parliament I will be an ardent advocate for the National Party."

At the time, it was just another platitude in another maiden speech. But the time limit on that is now notable.

Ross is now an independent MP and his promise has clearly lapsed.

Timeline of a scandal

August 13 Leaked details emerge of National Party leader Simon Bridges' travel expenses.

August 15 Speaker Trevor Mallard orders an inquiry to find the leaker.


August 16 Bridges, Mallard and a Newshub reporter get an anonymous text from someone claiming to be a National MP, pleading for the inquiry to be called off because of mental health issues.

August 19 Police tell Bridges they have identified and contacted the texter, but do not reveal who it is. They say the person is getting support.

August 24 Mallard cancels the inquiry, saying it seems clear the leak was from within National and citing the mental health concerns.

August 28 National sets up its own inquiry using PwC and Simpson Grierson. MPs provide privacy waivers to allow access to phone and email data. Secretly, Mallard also asks Parliamentary Service to use KPMG to check his office and Parliamentary staff with access to the travel expenses.

September 4 Parliamentary Service reports KPMG found no evidence of a leak from their end.

October 2 Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross announces he is taking a few months' leave to deal with "personal health issues". Bridges says it is unrelated to the leak inquiry, describing it as a "very private and personal" matter and "embarrassing". Speculation mounts Ross was behind the leak, which Ross denies.


Monday Bridges releases PwC report finding that Ross was most likely the leaker based on phone calls made. Just before its release, Ross tweets that he is about to be blamed, criticises Bridges' leadership and accuses him of unlawful actions relating to donations. Bridges denies any unlawful behaviour.

Tuesday National Party MPs meet and vote to expel Ross from the caucus. At the same time, Ross holds a 53-minute press conference in which he resigns as a National MP, alleges Bridges acted corruptly over a $100,000 donation from Chinese businessman Yikun Zhang and strongly criticises Bridges' leadership. Bridges denies any wrongdoing, but will not talk about the donation.

Wednesday Ross lodges a complaint with Police over the donation and releases a secret recording of a phone conversation with Bridges. The recording appears to contain nothing incriminating about the donation but includes Bridges criticising some of his MPs and discussing the value of Chinese candidates compared to Indian candidates. Bridges claims lack of evidence of wrongdoing shows Ross has defamed him and tried to blackmail him. Ross also alleges Bridges and deputy leader Paula Bennett accused him of harassment of women. Bennett says she and Bridges had confronted Ross with complaints about behaviour inappropriate for a married man, but not harassment.

National MP for Botany Jami-Lee Ross starts his
National MP for Botany Jami-Lee Ross starts his "kamikaze dive" during Tuesday's press conference at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Thursday Newsroom reports allegations from four women about Ross' behaviour. They include claims of intimidation and threats. One woman said sex was "brutal". Ross says he is seeking legal advice. Former National candidate Katrina Bungard speaks to the Herald, accusing Ross of bullying and intimidating behaviour to her in 2016 and 2017 that resulted in a complaint to the National hierarchy. Bridges says he was not aware of the allegations until soon before Ross was sent on leave. Ross releases texts between himself and National official Greg Hamilton about the donations, again which appeared to contain no incriminating information. National says the $100,000 donated by Yikun Zhang was made up of eight separate donations.

Yesterday Ross admits affairs with two women and says there will be "challenging times ahead" in his marriage. He says he will not resign from Parliament.

Jami-Lee Ross:

• 32 years old
• Married to Lucy Schwaner, who dramatically quit Howick Local Board soon after being elected in 2016
• Has two young children
• Raised by grandmother, left school at 16 without formal qualifications
• Member of National Party since 2003
• Worked as electorate secretary to former National Minister Maurice Williamson
• Elected to Manukau City Council in 2004, aged 18
• Elected to Auckland Council in 2010 in Howick ward, co-leader of Citizens & Ratepayers
• Entered Parliament in March 2011 after winning Botany byelection following Pansy Wong's resignation
• Appointed junior whip in 2013 and Senior Whip in May 2017
• Simon Bridges' 'numbers man' in leadership contest after Bill English quit
• Client of controversial strategist Simon Lusk who helped Ross win Botany byelection