It has not been a good week for the National Party. It has revealed a craven history of enabling alleged harassment and bullying, making it unfit for governing.
Jami-Lee Ross is now in a mental health facility, getting the help he clearly needs.
I've read columns on whether this whole episode has been good for Simon Bridges, whether he'll emerge from this in a stronger or weaker position. Which is a weird way to look at it. If you come out stronger when it's revealed that a key member of your senior team is accused of repeated harassment and your party covered it up and then promoted him after the events occurred then I think we need to take a look at the culture of the organisation.
The accusations of bullying and harassment were brought to the attention of the top-brass of the National Party. And what did they do with that information? Did they get rid of the alleged abuser and make sure he wouldn't be in a position of authority so he couldn't do it anymore? Did they get him support or help if he needed it? No. They allegedly made the complainant sign a non-disclosure agreement so they wouldn't be able to go public. Then Ross was allowed to be re-selected for his Botany Electorate Seat. Then he was promoted to the front bench after Bridges became leader.
In retaliation for Ross then going on the warpath and making accusations of corruption, National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett went running off to the press gallery to say that Ross had behaved in a way that was improper for a "married" MP. There's only one reason you'd include the word "married" in that statement, and that's to imply marital infidelity - which Ross has subsequently admitted. Bennett then went on TV and denied this was an accusation of harassment, but one of impropriety. This action broke the rule of "keeping family out of it". A fragile code that has existed between parties and was never expected to be used intra-party.
Subsequent tapes revealed by Ross showed that it was harassment he was accused of, not just impropriety. And again instead of ending Ross' position as an MP, he was sent off on mental health leave with Bridges saying that the door was still open for Ross to return once he was "refreshed and well". What about the victims? Are they refreshed and well? Not a lot of concern was shown to them.
Now Ross is receiving treatment. But this doesn't mean the National Party should be excused for a culture where this allegedly happened, was reported and got covered up.
It's a demonstration of the National Party having no real internal value sense other than power at any cost.
We shouldn't be surprised. In 2014, Nicky Hager wrote Dirty Politics, revealing the revolting tricks that the National Party would play to ensure they stayed in power. There was a flutter of outrage but the only person who seemed to face any culpability was John Key's staffer, Jason Ede. Most of them are still hovering around. In 2005, Nicky Hager wrote The Hollow Men about National Leader Don Brash's rise to power and the use of blind trusts to fund him. Brash stood down but very little changed.
I'm not so naive to think that all political parties other than National are squeaky clean, but nothing like this has been laid bare. And recent indiscretions by Labour Party Ministers were dealt with publicly. Not covered up.
John Key was clearly papering over some pretty despicable people. The MPs who have put all their filth on display were all present when Key was there.
One former National Party member and wonderful rank-and-file soldier said to me that they would be not be renewing their membership. They said that they feel "like the centre of the party is rotten, or rather it probably always was." They went on to say that "because of Bridges' Broacracy, National is presumably going to lose support from anyone with a vague sense of decency."
After stepping down, Key was asked what his biggest disappointment was as PM. It wasn't the increasing inequality, or the large numbers of people sleeping in cars, or the housing crisis that locked young people out of home ownership. It was the failure to change the flag. They don't seem to care about people.
- David Cormack has worked for the Labour and Green Parties and interned for Bill English while studying
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.