Newstalk ZB's political editor, Barry Soper, sat down with National Party leader Simon Bridges to discuss the report into the leaking of Bridges' travel expenses.
The exclusive interview discusses Jami-Lee Ross, the report and about how caucus will meet tomorrow and decide whether to suspend Ross.
SOPER: He [Ross] said after a falling out with you [Bridges], he's been internally questioning your leadership decisions and your poll ratings, he said this is your way of getting back at him. What do you say to that?
BRIDGES: Oh look, completely wrong. I think these are the sorts of things that he would say. I'm not surprised frankly, but the reality is this: The report today from PwC that I released, it makes things clear and it speaks for itself.
What it concludes is that on the evidence identified it points to Jami-Lee Ross as the anonymous text-message sender and then I've got a legal opinion that effectively says the same thing, both around the leak of the expenses and that text message.
A couple of things he said in a release is that, he said and I quote, "I confronted him with evidence that I had recorded him discussing with me unlawful activity that he was involved in. Working on his instruction he asked me to do things with election donations that broke the law". Did you?
Never, I would never do that. I think what's very clear here is we've got someone lashing out, an MP on their own, who now ... as I say these reports in relation to their activity. I think the only interesting thing there is he's confirming that he's taping colleagues and I'm sure that will be something that will be considered.
The thing is, if he was taping colleagues and you were suggesting something illegal, then surely that is exactly what he should be doing.
Well, that's all for him. I totally reject that.
He said also that it was your decision to push him out on medical leave a couple of weeks ago to silence him.
Well look, if that were true why would he do that? None of that makes sense. The reality is I took Jami-Lee Ross at his word in relation to the health issues and today I balanced those against the very clear public interest in this leak report.
So this is very shabby, it's a very shabby look for the National Party isn't it?
There's nothing about this that pleases me, Barry. What is true though, we have the report, I have to be and wanted to be as leader, open and transparent about it, that's why we've released it and look tomorrow, what will happen is all of this, the leak report, the QC's opinion and a wider source of conduct together with the leak will be discussed in full by caucus and decisions made in relation to Jami-Lee Ross. He'll have the right to be there and I suspect he will be.
Does he have the right to stay on given what he said publicly, not just about you but about the party itself? Does he have the right to stay on as a National Party MP?
Well I suppose the reality of that is these are now matters, well not just me, 56 members of Parliament, they'll be discussing that. Suspension is one of their options.
Is that your preferred option?
Look, I think it's definitely on the table. We will see where we get to once the facts and the opinions have been outlined and a full caucus has had the opportunity to think it over and to speak, including Jami-Lee Ross.
Of course this man can stick around like a bad smell because he can stay on as an independent MP.
Well look, that's true. There's obviously a range of things to consider here. I'm doing as leader of the National Party the things I think I can do. I'm putting out reports and people can assess that, I'm taking it to caucus tomorrow so the 56 MPs can form a view. We'll see where we get to and I'll make that clear at the end of that caucus meeting to the public through the media.
Can you survive as leader?
Absolutely. The reality is I feel very strongly that I have the confidence of my colleagues, what we've got here are the actions of sole, lone member of Parliament.
In a way are you quite relieved now this is out in the open, because at least you know where the dissatisfaction is coming from?
I understand what you're saying, I think the truth is we've had this investigation going for some time. No one would have liked it to go this long but the reality is they did a very thorough job and I think people that read the report will see that.
We've got to where we've got to that's out in the public and now we do get to deal with it and I hope I get some finality and move on.
Do you regret now ever having this inquiry?
No, and I hope people see the report and so on and see why that is so. I think this was important, both because once the speaker closed his inquiry there were members of Parliament who suspicion wrongly fell on, the fact we have to have a confidence in the parliamentary systems and their integrity. And also actually, we need to sometimes find the wrongdoing and deal with it.
Jami-Lee Ross clearly set out to undermine your leadership, do you believe he is the only one attempting to do that in your party?
Look, I'm not going to characterise what Jami-Lee Ross has done. In a sense now we've put the report out and this is about in the caucus room, caucus having their view ... I think that's sort of where this is at, I have no regrets, I think we're in the right space here and I've done the right thing at all times on this significant matter.
You might not like it but to give Jami-Lee Ross in his own words, he said, "Some months ago I fell out with Simon. I've internally been questioning leadership decisions he was making and his personal poll ratings which now show he's becoming more and more unlikeable in the public eye." Now is that view shared by just Jami-Lee Ross or others in your caucus as well?
I believe simply by one member of Parliament, Jami-Lee Ross. He's entitled to his views but all of that until very recently is news to me in terms of what he's saying. We dealt with some things a couple of weeks ago, of course we have a report, I've put it out there and caucus is going to have view on these things tomorrow.