Sharks in the water

Winston Cooper holds a copy of his book 'Skill and Crossbones: The 125-Year History of the...
Winston Cooper holds a copy of his book 'Skill and Crossbones: The 125-Year History of the Pirates Football Club'. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Winston Peters might well have posted on the wall of his office that famous aphorism of the late British politician, Alan Clark: "There are no true friends in politics. We are all sharks circling, and waiting for traces of blood to appear in the water."

Is there a trace of Mr Peters' blood in the murky water of political party donations?

As a sideshow, the story of New Zealand First and the Monaco-based billionaire, Owen Glenn, is an amusing distraction from the much more sombre political news that seems to have been the daily diet for most of this year.

Quite as entertaining as the "did he, didn't he" aspect is the sub-plot of "hands off" disinterest from both the Labour Party and the Opposition.

If any party is going to try to make capital out of the story, it is not going to be either of them.

Mr Peters has repeatedly denied the claim inferred by The New Zealand Herald when it published private emails suggesting that the biggest private donor to the Labour Party (Mr Glenn) had also given money to NZ First.

But one of the emails purportedly had Mr Glenn disclosing that he did give to the party.

Curiously, the NZ First list MP and former party president, Dail Jones, also earlier disclosed that an anonymous donation ("closer to $100,000" than $10,000) had been noted in the party's accounts late last year.

Mr Peters has said this was an aggregation of smaller donations.

It has not stopped speculation of a link.

In May, NZ First filed a return reporting "nil donations" - electoral law allows that anonymous donations of less than $10,000 do not have to be disclosed.

Mr Glenn, it will be recalled, said when in New Zealand in February he was hoping to be appointed New Zealand's honorary consul in Monaco, a post which has been vacant since 1996 and not one, we would think, for which there is either a rush to fill or much in the way of need.

A decision on the matter would normally be the task of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, namely Mr Peters, although such an apparently sensitive post might also require the interest of the Prime Minister.

Mr Peters, it is fair to say, does not personally delight in a confident appreciation of the news media; these days he generally starts from a viewpoint that everything published about him not written by his own hand is likely to be "malicious lies" - his description of the reports of the party donation.

But nagging away in the background are reports describing Mr Glenn as not denying giving money to NZ First.

None of this would be of the slightest interest were political parties not currently so sensitive about who pays their bills and, by implication, who might be favoured as a result.

It was, after all, Helen Clark and her Labour colleagues who painted so black a picture of the National Party and its 2005 support group, members of the Exclusive Brethren, and to a very large extent it is she who raised the issue of who might be beholden to whom.

On the matter of NZ First donations, however, she has been as shy as a prospective bride: "The buck stops somewhere else on that one."

And National Party leader John Key has merely expressed a belief that Miss Clark should "step in and clarify matters".

This may be because, with an election a few months away and post-election coalition negotiations likely, every politician might need to be friends with Mr Peters.

Mr Glenn appears to have implied he did give a donation of some kind to NZ First.

Mr Peters says he did not.

Not long ago, Mr Peters declined to tell taxpayers to which charities his party had given the $158,000 it had wrongly spent during the 2005 election campaign.

More recently, he also declined to clarify the status of his friend Tommy Gear, said to have been paid a great deal of money by Parliamentary Services for work done for NZ First.

Mr Peters has reportedly given "private assurances" to Miss Clark, who has noted the appointment of Mr Glenn as honorary consul-general in Monaco was at best "most unlikely".

That may make the matter tidy from her perspective, but Mr Peters has claimed the email in which Mr Glenn implies a donation was "fabricated".

But by whom, and to what purpose? It would help everyone if he could get past his usual tedious bluster and "clarify matters" publicly, if only in the interests of fulfilling his long-standing desire for transparency and accountability, which he so often demands of others.


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