By HELEN TUNNAH, deputy political editor
Speaker Jonathan Hunt has decided New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters will not face parliamentary scrutiny over allegations that he compromised an inquiry into the scampi industry.
Mr Peters said last night that corruption claims levelled against him on Television New Zealand and referred by National MP David Carter to Mr Hunt, were baseless.
"It was a smorgasbord of nothing," Mr Peters said of the allegations.
"The reality is two groups, TVNZ news and the National Party leadership, both tried to raise their ratings, and they were bound to fail."
National has rejected any suggestion it was involved in the One News accusations screened over recent weeks, although Mr Carter was interviewed as the broadcaster raised corruption fears.
Mr Hunt yesterday rejected Mr Carter's separate complaints to him about Mr Peters and Mr Peters' role as an MP on the scampi inquiry, and his relationship with a key player in the industry, Peter Simunovich.
Mr Hunt is not obliged to outline the reasons for ruling Mr Peters had not broken any of Parliament's rules, which means there is no need for a privileges committee hearing.
However a complaint has to establish a case against an MP. Mr Hunt consulted Clerk of the House David McGee before reaching his decision.
The corruption claims centred on a dinner Mr Peters ate at an Auckland restaurant owned by Peter Simunovich, one of the key players in the year-long parliamentary inquiry into how the rights to the scampi fishery were allocated.
While Mr Peters admits Mr Simunovich paid for the dinner, both men say it was repayment for a previous overcharge of $145.
One News and the Holmes show say they have affidavits from three present or former staff who say Mr Peters regularly ate there for free. Mr Peters denies that, and has rubbished the claims of one manager who said it was between "three and 10" times.
The inquiry, conducted by the primary production select committee, followed claims made by Mr Peters in Parliament in 2002 about corruption in the fishery.
Last December the committee unanimously cleared Simunovich Fisheries of any wrongdoing but recommended compensation payments of almost $3 million be paid to several rival companies.
Mr Peters was an MP on the inquiry, but was also asked to give evidence to it. Mr Carter's complaints about Mr Peters centred on the "free" dinner, but also on concerns raised by Simunovich rivals that Mr Peters might have leaked a copy of the inquiry's draft report, possibly to that company, or had help writing his submissions to it.
Mr Carter said yesterday that he accepted the Speaker's ruling.
"I am still concerned, but as a member of Parliament I must accept the decision of the Speaker. I've raised some matters of concern with him, he has made a decision which I must accept."
Mr Carter at the weekend remembered he had met one of the fishing companies that made submissions to the inquiry, despite having told the Herald three times he had not met any. The primary production select committee yesterday decided it would stand by its inquiry findings despite the claims swirling around Mr Peters.
Mr Carter was asked to step aside as committee chairman while it discussed Mr Peters. The committee decided there was nothing in the television claims which should be referred by it to Mr Hunt.
The acting chairwoman, Labour's Janet Mackey, said no evidence or facts had been presented. "We would simply be guessing."
The scampi case
* Speaker Jonathan Hunt has determined that no question of privilege was raised by allegations that Mr Peters received a free dinner from one of the central players in the scampi industry.
* Questions had also been raised over work by one of his advisers for associated fishing companies.
* Privilege refers to the rules that govern MPs and the rights they have as a result of their job.
* The primary production select committee that held the scampi inquiry washed its hands of the affair and said the allegations were none of its business.
By HELEN TUNNAH, deputy political editor