By AUDREY YOUNG, political editor
Former MP turned consultant Ross Meurant has resigned as a part-time policy adviser to Winston Peters, saying he does not want the New Zealand First leader to be unfairly tainted with the perception of a conflict of interest over the scampi inquiry.
But National MP David Carter, who complained to Parliament's Speaker about a potential conflict involving Mr Meurant and Mr Peters, and another about Mr Peters allegedly having a free meal at a restaurant owned by Simunovich Fisheries principals, said the resignation made no difference.
When the primary production select committee met today, he would still try to persuade other MPs on it to back a privileges committee inquiry - a decision Speaker Jonathan Hunt will announce tomorrow when Parliament resumes.
"I don't think the Speaker has got any choice now for Mr Winston Peters' sake but to ask for the matters to be clarified," Mr Carter said.
Mr Meurant worked for both Mr Peters and Simunovich Fisheries, a key player in last year's parliamentary inquiry into the allocation of scampi fishing permits.
In his resignation statement, Mr Meurant also said he worked for another key player, and Simunovich protagonist, Neil Penwarden of Barine Developments.
"I have respect for these men and irrespective of the contemporary polarisation of their views, still regard both as friends," Mr Meurant said.
"Mr Peters knew that I was acquainted with both men but had no knowledge of my commercial involvement with either."
Mr Meurant said his business relationship with Peter Simunovich, of Simunovich Fisheries, began in 2001, but none of their business activities were in New Zealand.
"I have no interest or involvement in any fishing operation in New Zealand whatsoever.
"During this same period I also had a business relationship with Neil Penwarden of Barine Developments in that we were well advanced in a comprehensive pilot study involving their parties to take advantage of heavily subsidised aquaculture in French Caledonia."
Mr Meurant said an earlier "financial gift by Mr Penwarden to me to assist with the costs of major surgery to my former partner did not influence me in any way to display favouritism in my analysis of the documentation made available to me".
In his role as researcher to Mr Peters he had discussions with a wide range of people in the fishing industry, "but was scrupulous in maintaining a separation of my personal business interests from the inquiry".
"Mr Peters, as always, made his own decisions about what he presented and said at the select committee and each member of that committee had the option of rejecting or endorsing the contribution made by Mr Peters."
Mr Peters would not say last night whether Mr Meurant had prepared his response to the committee's draft report - an issue also believed to concern Mr Carter.
Mr Peters: "The reality is a political leader and his caucus, no matter who prepares them, if they sign them off , it's theirs. That's the proper line and chain of responsibility."
Mr Carter also said he had recently remembered that during the inquiry, he had visited one of the submitters to the inquiry - Sanford chief executive Eric Barratt - in his capacity as National finance spokesman.
But he said it could not be seen in the same league as his complaint against Mr Peters.
"In retrospect it would have been far better not to go to any submitters at all during that time. But I honestly had forgotten that they were even a submitter."
* Ross Meurant, while working as a policy adviser for Winston Peters, also worked for Simunovich Fisheries, a key focus of the scampi inquiry.
* Mr Meurant also did work for Neil Penwarden, of Barine Developments, another firm involved in the parliamentary inquiry.
By AUDREY YOUNG, political editor