Parliament’s privileges committee this morning released a letter from expatriate businessman Owen Glenn in which Glenn says he donated $100,000 toward Winston Peters’ legal expenses in 2005 in response to a personal request from Peters. This directly conflicts with the New Zealand First leader’s previous statement that he knew nothing of the donation until he was told last month by his lawyer, Brian Henry.
Peters’ response to this latest explosive development? Surprise, surprise – he suggests that Glenn’s memory is defective.
Discussing the latest bombshell on Kathryn Ryan’s programme this morning, Radio New Zealand political editor Brent Edwards said the privileges committee must now decide whose account it believes – Glenn’s or Peters’.
Not too difficult, I would have thought. They can start by asking a simple question: who has more to lose by telling the truth? Or perhaps I should turn that around and ask: who has more to gain by not being truthful? On the face of it, Glenn has nothing to gain by deceiving the committee. On the other hand, Peters is fighting for his life politically.
The latest disclosure well and truly puts the acid on Prime Minister Helen Clark. As Edwards pointed out, if Peters was a Labour minister he would have been sacked long before this. So far he has been saved by Clark’s insistence - which could be interpreted either as highly principled or utterly pragmatic - that she will take him at his word, at least until such time as she has compelling reason not to. As time passes and the doubts mount up, that stance becomes harder to sustain.
A disturbing sub-plot in the controversy is that the New Zealand First caucus meets today to decide whether to support Labour’s carbon emissions trading regime. This decision will have profound long-term economic consequences for New Zealand, and it calls for the most cautious and thoughtful deliberation. What chance of that when the embattled party leader and his increasingly insecure MPs have their minds on the much more immediate issue of their political survival?