Allegations of “dirty politics” have emerged from a National Party candidate selection, with one would-be MP claiming “concocted fabrications” and “half-truths” surround his bid for Parliament.
The candidate, David Elliott from Hawke’s Bay, pulled out of what he has called a “manipulated contest” designed to “tilt the field” in favour of former TVNZ reporter Catherine Wedd.
The vote to select National’s candidate for Tukituki is to be held this month. With Elliott’s withdrawal, Wedd is the only remaining candidate.
The regional fracas has spilled out of Hawke’s Bay, with upset members writing to party president Sylvia Wood, asking she intervene. Others have raised the issue with party leader Christopher Luxon.
It has also seen accusations of meddling levelled at former Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater and Hawke’s Bay political operative Simon Lusk, who lives in the Tukituki electorate.
Wood, responding to allegations being pushed about those vying for selection, said: “Underhand tactics playing out in Tukituki by a small number of individuals and their proxies”.
“There is no place for this kind of behaviour in National Party selections and it will not be tolerated. We are ensuring that the Tukituki selection process is fair to all involved and follows National Party rules.”
Elliott, a former Royal NZ Air Force pilot, was preparing for a run in the Tukituki electorate after having stood for National in Napier in 2017. He has now pulled out, with a heartfelt email to members in which he attacked rumours he said had been circulating.
“In a world where people spin stories to create facts under cloaks of half-truths and hearsay, the actual truth is always the simplest form of defence and without fanfare.
“To be clear, I have not engaged, paid, nor requested anyone to investigate or ‘dig stuff up’ on anyone else – ever. Any person that tells you otherwise is being deliberately deceitful for their own purposes.”
Neither Elliott nor Wedd responded to requests by the Herald for comment on the selection contest. With Elliott’s withdrawal, Wedd is the sole remaining candidate.
Tukituki’s current MP is Labour’s Anna Lorck, who took 45 per cent of the candidate vote in Tukituki, beating National’s Lawrence Yule, who won 41 per cent of votes.
When Elliott stood in 2017, he gained 41 per cent of the Napier vote but lost to Labour Cabinet minister Stuart Nash who claimed 54 per cent of votes.
Wedd’s contest for Tukituki saw her seek a special dispensation from the party to be a candidate, having not met the required six months of financial membership to qualify.
According to Elliott’s email to members, the local party meeting to choose the 60 members who would vote to select the candidate was stacked with a “large, organised and well-briefed block” which was “formed for the sole purpose of nominating and voting for delegates that would favour their candidate”.
In his opinion, Elliott said: “They did not break the rules, just the boundaries of ethics and fairness: something we all hoped had been left behind after 2020.”
Elliott also spoke to “similar machinations” in 2017.
Elliott told members: “We can only assume this manipulation was organised because they needed to ‘tilt the field’ to secure victory. In this goal, they were successful.”
He said he believed the full voting delegate list showed “it would no longer be a legitimate contest of personalities”.
“Refusing to add a veneer of authenticity to a manipulated contest, and on the same day as the delegate list had been released, I withdrew my name from the selection process.”
Elliott said he did so with “much disappointment and despair”, but would not continue with a selection he considered “no more than a harmful illusion”. He said “integrity and legitimacy of candidate selection […] is paramount” and he had no choice other than to pull out.
In his email, Elliott said he wrote to thank those who had contacted him to learn his reasons for withdrawing and sharing their own concerns.
He said those who had called had told him of the stories they had heard, and it was “disturbing for me to hear how off the mark and clearly fabricated some of these are”. He said he had a history of “ethical conduct” which meant “never engaging in any form of dirty politics”.
“I just ask that you work with the facts and be aware of second-hand information floating around that may not always be truthful.”
National’s leader Christopher Luxon said he had no involvement in candidate selection.
“That’s an issue for the party and I’ve got every confidence in the president of the party, and our processes will work its way through any selection process.”
National Party electorate chairman for Tukituki, Kevin Trerise, said the party was “working through a process” and was meeting on Sunday as part of resolving issues which he would not discuss. “It is the business of the party, and we will let you know the outcome when we have one.”
The Herald has spoken to those in Tukituki who have pointed to political operative Lusk’s alleged role in Hawke’s Bay politics and his close links to Slater, who has been drip-feeding hints on Twitter over an emerging National Party scandal. Lusk lives in the Tukituki electorate.
Just weeks before the 2014 election, the book Dirty Politics described Lusk and Slater’s connections reaching as far as the prime minister’s office. Slater was accused of unethically using the Whaleoil blog to drive political outcomes, with examples cited of him posting articles written by Lusk under his own name. Lusk did not respond to requests for comment.
Slater responded in an email which made unverified claims about Wedd and in which he offered the Herald advice on how to report the story.
“I’m not a member of the National Party, and haven’t been for 10 years. I am not being paid, I am simply telling the truth.”
Wedd is a former business partner of Lorck, the incumbent Labour MP. Lorck said she would not comment.
“It’s a matter for the National Party.”