By Audrey Young



political reporter



The Government is in deep political trouble after a letter released late last night contradicted the Prime Minister's assurances that she did not discuss Tourism Board matters during a dinner with Saatchi and Saatchi supremo Kevin Roberts.

Facing a confidence vote in Parliament today, Jenny Shipley's credibility will be strained as she seeks to convince the House that she was telling the truth last week.

Serious doubt was last night thrown on Mrs Shipley's version of events by a letter written by her personal friend and the man at the centre of much of the controversy, Mr Roberts himself.

But last night Mrs Shipley was sticking to her story - and Mr Roberts backed her, saying he had got it wrong in his letter.

Deliberately misleading Parliament is traditionally a resignable offence. And under present circumstances, a Prime Ministerial resignation could bring down the Government.

Today she plans to make a personal statement to the House to try to extricate herself from serious trouble.

A letter Mr Roberts wrote to the former Tourism Board chief executive, Paul Winter, last September 8 was among the hundreds of pages of documents released by the Government last night in a vain attempt at damage control.

In the letter he refers to the dinner he had with Mrs Shipley a week earlier on August 31 last year.

He also refers to a planned presentation by Saatchi and Saatchi to the board at the end of the month on its promotion strategy for the board.

"I confirmed the above timetable during my dinner with the Prime Minister," he wrote.

Last Thursday Mrs Shipley told Parliament that party political matters were discussed at the dinner: "Tourism Board issues were not."

Later she said: "We certainly discussed my party and other political parties; we did not discuss the business of Government or Tourism Board business."

In the letter, Mr Roberts also refers to confirming the timetable at a previously unknown Beehive meeting he attended following the dinner on September 1 - again with Mrs Shipley, plus the Minister of Tourism, Murray McCully, the Deputy Prime Minister, Wyatt Creech, and the Minister of Social Welfare, Roger Sowry.

In Mrs Shipley's statement last night she said she did not "discuss any matter to do with the Tourism Board contract with Saatchi and Saatchi or any other Government business" at the private dinner.

She also said there was no discussion at the meeting with the ministers the next morning about "the contract between the Tourism Board and Saatchi and Saatchi."

Mr Roberts issued a statement from Argentina last night contradicting his letter to Mr Winter. He now says: "In a letter dictated en route from Shanghai to New York...it is incorrectly stated that I confirmed at the dinner that Saatchi and Saatchi's ideas for the Tourism Board would be ready by the end of September.

The letter got this wrong.

"In fact it was the September 1 meeting that I offered, in passing, the information that Saatchi and Saatchi were to present their creative proposals on tourism at the end of September."

The dinner has been part of the controversy dogging the minority National Government over Opposition claims of improper or apparently improper links with Mr Roberts, the head of Saatchi and Saatchi Worldwide, and the $30 million Tourism Board contract it won to promote New Zealand abroad.

The dinner was held at the Wellington home of Mr Roberts' public relations consultant Jane Vesty.

Mrs Shipley's office confirmed reports that Jane Vesty's company, Sweeney Vesty Ltd, provided a draft for a speech Mrs Shipley delivered in London in January.

Pictured: Prime Minister Jenny Shipley. PICTURE/ MARK MITCHELL