PM won't sack Peters without 'devastating' evidence

Prime Minister Helen Clark indicated today that unless there was "devastating" evidence at tomorrow's privileges committee hearing Winston Peters will not be sacked.

But a poll out tonight shows the public thinks she has been too soft on him.

Miss Clark told reporters this afternoon that she would be following closely tomorrow's hearing where Mr Peters' lawyer Brian Henry is to give further evidence.

"They'd have to be some devastating development, but absent that I think processes should go on."

The committee is considering whether Mr Peters should have declared a $100,000 donation from billionaire Owen Glenn. Mr Peters says he didn't know about it but Mr Glenn says he personally solicited the donation.

The Serious Fraud Office, police and Electoral Commission are scrutinising other donations to NZ First.

Mr Peters stood down from his ministerial roles, including foreign affairs, until the SFO inquiry is completed.

A poll on One News tonight showed that most people thought Labour should rule out working with NZ First in future - a decision National made last month.

Of the 1007 people surveyed between September 6 and 11, 63 percent thought Labour should rule out working with Mr Peters, 26 percent disagreed and 11 percent did not know.

There was 68 percent support for National's decision while 24 percent disagreed with the stance, 8 percent did not know.

Only 3 percent of those surveyed thought Miss Clark had been too tough on Mr Peters while 58 percent thought she'd been too soft, 28 percent she had got it about right. The don't knows came in at 11 percent.

National voters - 75 percent - were more likely to believe Miss Clark had been too soft on Mr Peters. About half Labour voters thought her handling about right.

Of those surveyed only 9 percent thought Mr Peters had been honest about donations to his party, 78 percent thought he had not, while 13 percent did not know.

Asked about the poll, Miss Clark did not think she had been too soft.

"Perhaps it tells you that I have been managing it in a way which is based on principle; which is that a man is going through a process, he's been stood aside from his job as happens in many employment situations of this kind, and we await the outcome."

Miss Clark did not think the controversy would negatively impact on Labour and disagreed with National leader John Key's view that Labour and NZ First were "joined at the hip".

"I think that with the election campaign called, the date named, people are now going to be focusing on who they trust to lead the government for the future ... this is a side show."

Miss Clark did not believe National would stick to its position on NZ First should it need the party to govern.

"They would be wooing Mr Peters and his colleagues faster than you could say jump."

A TV One poll last night showed a widening gap between Labour on 35 percent support and National on 53 percent. NZ First fell below 2 percent.

At tomorrow's hearing Mr Henry will have to try and explain how an email from him to Mr Glenn in which he provides bank details and refers to a phone call between Mr Glenn and Mr Peters minutes earlier does not prove Mr Peters solicited a donation.

Mr Henry has repeatedly said the "my client" referred to in the email is another client, not Mr Peters.

But faced with phone records linking the email to a call between Mr Peters and Mr Glenn, Mr Peters acknowledged to the privileges committee last week it was possible it was him.

Also disputed was Mr Glenn's evidence that Mr Peters thanked him for the donation at a lunch at Karaka on January 31, 2006.

Peter and Philip Vela have signed affidavits about the lunch and they were released to media today. In his affidavit Peter Vela said he was not present. Philip Vela said Mr Glenn was at a lunch in the Pencarrow hospitality area. It was hosted by Vela group director Donald McIlwraith. Mr Peters was at another table hosted by David Ellis.

"I did not join Mr Glenn for lunch and Mr Peters was not seated at his table at any time," Mr Vela said.

Horse trainer Paul Moroney has said that Mr Peters thanked Mr Glenn for his donation before the lunch started.

The committee has said it will report back next week.

Miss Clark was also asked about a trip Mr Peters took to Las Vegas to see a boxing match. Miss Clark said she checked it out a fortnight ago and officials assured her Mr Peters paid for the trip and all costs.

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