National candidate: I was harassed by Ross

Katrina Bungard. Photo: NZ Herald
Katrina Bungard. Photo: NZ Herald

A National Party candidate has spoken about a campaign of harassment by rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross which became so severe she sought medical help and intervention by the party hierarchy.

Manurewa candidate Katrina Bungard told the The New Zealand Herald  Ross had harassed her in 2016 and 2017.

She said Ross began the campaign to get wife Lucy Schwaner appointed as chair of the Howick Community Board in east Auckland.

Ross, east Auckland's Botany MP, has denied harassing women - an accusation levelled against him by an aggrieved National Party leadership reeling from accusations of corruption and revelations of secret recordings.

The week has seen extraordinary drama as Ross flamed out of a central role in the National Party after being identified by an inquiry as the likely person to have leaked leader Simon Bridges travel expenses.

The drip-feed of daily shocks continued today allegations of Ross harassing women and having relationships outside his marriage.

Ross also released text messages about donations over which he had made a complaint to police. He refused to comment on allegations about his personal life. "I am considering my legal options," he said.

Jami-lee Ross has quit the National Party. Photo: Getty Images
Jami-lee Ross has quit the National Party. Photo: Getty Images

Bungard - a teacher - said her experience of harassment by Ross had led her to complain to National Party hierarchy.

"He gets away with just behaving a certain way around people without anything being really solid.

"They did what they could, which is talk to him. There wasn't enough evidence of anything extreme."

However, Bungard said her personal experience led her to a definite perspective. "I thought it was extreme."

Bungard said the public had seen evidence this week of how Ross presented to the National Party when complaints were made.

She said he appeared "cool, calm, collected" and "says everything is everyone else's fault and not his".

"He's a very manipulative man."

Bungard said the fight for the chair's role on the local board was a brutal campaign which did not stop even after Ross' wife was defeated. Having failed to become chair, she quit in late 2016.

"It was like House of Cards," she said.

Ross had wanted Bungard - and others on the board - to support Schwaner and he had enlisted so-called political strategist Simon Lusk to assist.

"(Lusk) rang me and told me I could have a great career in politics, that he would get me this job and that job.

"Then he said he can only do these things if you're in a good place with Jami-Lee. If you fall out, I can't do anything."

The emergence of the operative - who advertises himself as someone who can remove politicians - added to the pressure on Bungard.

"You know it's not a good day when you're getting calls from Simon Lusk."

Lusk did not respond to a request for comment.

Bungard said the harassment had been ongoing for a few years.

"It's been a pretty hard time for me. I had to get medical help. I was off work, working on my Master's thesis. I had to get an extension on the thesis and medical note saying I had been under a lot of intense pressure.

"I was concerned for my own family. I had phone calls where he was 'going to war' with me and my family."

Bungard said the campaign shifted after she voted for David Collings, as did the majority of others on the board.

Collings had complained to National Party general manager Greg Hamilton about Ross' behaviour over the vote for the chair's role.

Collings said: "He was being a dickhead and a bit of a prat and I wanted him to stop. Greg said he would have a word to him. But it carried on."

Bungard said the campaign then became one which was a result of her refusal to do as Ross had wanted.

It included being served a trespass order when she tried to attend a National Party morning tea for senior citizens.

She had arrived at the meeting in the electorate - for which she was electorate secretary at the time - to be presented with the trespass by the electorate chair.

"I didn't even get in the door." She said she asked for the grounds and was told it was "because I had fallen out with Jami-Lee and he had been ordered to trespass me and I wasn't welcome at any event Jami-Lee was hosting".

Bungard complained to the National Party - the organisation, not the political wing - which resulted in president Peter Goodfellow stepping in. The Herald understands National Party board member, and northern regional chairman, Andrew Hunt was also involved.

"They've called him in and he's got a serious talking to. He did back off after that."

Bungard said she believed the party had done what it could but it was difficult when the harassment included constant low-level incidents over which there was no physical evidence.

"Greg and Peter Goodfellow did what they could at the time given the evidence they had to go on. But it was one person's word against another. I've been a long-time supporter of the National Party and there was nothing they could do.

"I don't hold National responsible for his behaviour at all."

Bungard said deputy leader Paula Bennett had called during the week - and again this morning - to check on her and offer support.

"Simon, Paula - none of them knew about this. Paula has been really supportive."

In a statement, Goodfellow said: "Any issues that we were aware of that were raised, were dealt with at the time. We have nothing further to add at this time."

Board member Andrew Hunt, who was also part of the intervention, said he was unaware of the extent of Ross' behaviour, which has expanded to include bullying and harassment of a number of women, including two with whom he had affairs.

"I'm horrified by what I have learned. If I knew then what I know now ... I personally find it abhorrent. Hindsight is a wonderful thing."

Goodfellow has presided over one of the most successful periods in the National Party's history.

His longer leadership now includes two distinct blemishes.

Not only did Goodfellow know of issues with Ross, but he and other board members allowed former MP Todd Barclay to go ahead for a second term despite being aware of the scandal over allegations he had bugged his staff.



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