Heat on missing-in-action National MP Todd Barclay to quit and front up to police inquiry
Prime Minister Bill English says he's expecting MP Todd Barclay back in Parliament next week.
The temperature has been turned up on the National Party's MP this weekend, with mayors in his Clutha-Southland electorate saying he should either show up to work or quit – and he should front up to a police inquiry.
Despite claims from Barclay and senior Government whip Jami-Lee Ross that Barclay had been hard at work, the only time he's been seen in public since announcing his resignation was when he was spotted at the Pig and Whistle pub in Queenstown last week.
Police want to talk to him about allegations he secretly recorded the phone conversations of his electorate staff member Glenys Dickson, in an ugly falling out.
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According to a Stuff source, phone records show Dickson was in constant contact with English as she prepared an employment grievance against Barclay.
She had previously worked for English when he was the local MP, and the two are said to have communicated by phone or text message up to 10 times a day as relations with Barclay deteriorated.
Dickson received a settlement paid in part from then Prime Minister John Key's leader's budget, on condition she stayed silent. But after English revealed last month that he had been told of the covert recordings, Barclay announced he would step aside as an MP at September's general election.
From the day he flew out of Wellington through to election day, September 23, he will run up an estimated $90,431 in salary and allowances, including three months' gardening leave for retiring MPs.
In addition, he will continue to charge his flights, taxis and accommodation back to the taxpayer.
Our reporters on the ground have documented Barclay's electorate work since June 21. He has not returned to Parliament, he did not turn up to the National Party conference, he has not turned up to any of his scheduled public events in Southland, he has not been sighted at any of his three offices in the large electorate, he has cancelled his local newspaper columns, and he has spoken publicly only three times – each time through a spokeswoman or by text message.
The third occasion was to Stuff for this article.
"I remain the MP until the 2017 Election and, until then, I'm committed and passionate about being actively engaged in issues, looking out for the people of Clutha-Southland's interests and advocating on their behalf," he said.
"As for whether I return to Wellington or not, I still haven't made a decision. Bearing in mind there are a number of other MPs every day who have leave from Parliament, some for extended periods, for a wide range of reasons. So it is not unusual."
But the excuses rang hollow in his electorate. Aileen Clarke, who owns the Catlins Cafe in Owaka, said resentment was building in their community, and that taxpayers shouldn't be paying Barclay's salary when he didn't seem to be doing anything.
Barclay hadn't visited the town since the day before the scandal broke. "He's always been a Queenstown person. And we feel that he wasn't representing us."
"I think the best thing to do under the circumstances would be to resign and stop getting the money."
Clutha District mayor Bryan Cadogan said Barclay should do the "honourable thing" and make a statement to the police.
Southland mayor Gary Tong said he had not seen Barclay at any events recently, and would like to talk to Barclay face-to-face about whether he should resign or return to Parliament.
"I've got to be honest and say I don't know what he's up to out in the community."
Barclay's only defender was Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult, who said he had spoken to Barclay "a couple of times" since the MP announced his resignation on June 21.
"From where I sit, he continues to do his job and do his best for the people of our district."
As the Government faces mounting anger over continuing to pay Barclay's salary for no apparent return, senior whip Jami-Lee Ross said Barclay had made no decision on whether to return to Wellington for the final sitting weeks of Parliament.
He said he was assured Barclay was working on constituency business and had been into his electorate office.
But challenged on whether he's seen any evidence of Barclay doing any work, he admitted: "I don't audit what MP do in their electorates. I take them at their word."
The Prime Minister returned home to Invercargill this weekend. Again, there was no sign of Barclay.
Despite Barclay and Ross's insistence no decision had been made about a return to Parliament, English was firm about his expectations.
Asked whether he expected Barclay to return to Parliament after the school holidays recess, English said yes. "I assume he will turn up at some stage."
He had advised Barclay to co-operate with the police investigation, he reiterated.
The MP was committed to continue working for his constituents, English said. "But, as I said, as we get closer to the election the focus will pretty quickly shift to the new candidate once they're selected."
Mark Patterson, a disillusioned former National Party electorate committee member who is now running for NZ First, claimed Barclay's denials had been enabled by the National Party and the police.
"Todd should stand down immediately as he has no credibility to carry on. It will be extremely difficult for him to execute his duties with any effect. He will be lame duck receiving a generous salary and expenses."
HITS AND MISSES: WHERE'S TODDY?
The MP has missed many public events in the past month, including MP's visits to his electorate, and has been absent from the House and select committees. Allowing for a pay rise backdated to July 1, Barclay will be paid at a rate $170,000pa plus a $17,000 expense allowance during his final three months in Parliament.
Weds, June 21: Parliament was sitting and Barclay was in Wellington when he announced his resignation following revelations of the alleged taping of a staffer, which also engulfed PM Bill English.
Thurs, June 22: Parliament sitting. According to his media diary, the last his parliamentary office posted, Barclay was to have hosted Tourism Minister Paula Bennett in Queenstown and attended the Queenstown Winter Festival opening. He was to have met with tourism stakeholders and community leaders.
Fri, June 23: He was to have continued hosting Bennett, attended the winter festival, a business lunch and facilitated an Otago-Southland mayor's meeting, and gone on business visits to Glenorchy. Mirror and Clutha Leader community newspapers were informed that delivery of Barclay's periodic column would be postponed.
Weekend, June 24-25: National Party Conference. He didn't show.
June 26-28: Movements unknown.
Thurs, June 29: Expected to accompany Prime Minister Bill English when he spoke to the Property Institute conference in Queenstown. The Prime Minister's flight was cancelled due to poor weather and there was no sign of Barclay.
June 30-July 1: Movements unknown
Sun, July 2: Housing Minister Nick Smith was in Queenstown to sign a new Housing Accord. No sign of Barclay, but was quoted in a press release welcoming the $50 million infrastructure boost.
Mon, July 3: The last confirmed sighting at the Pig and Whistle pub in Queenstown, on Monday afternoon.
Tues, July 4: Movements unknown.
Weds, July 5: Did not show at the Education and Science Committee, of which is deputy chairman.
Thurs, July 6: Movements unknown.
Fri, July 7: Absent from a National Party fundraiser in Queenstown, which deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett attended. Senior Government whip Jami-Lee Ross said Barclay "had been away for the last couple of weeks".
July 8-10: Movements unknown.
Tues, July 11: Replied to an email from a Stuff journalist, expressing disappointment at the Clutha District Council's lack of engagement.
Weds, July 12: An unconfirmed sighting of his vehicle was made at the Gore electoral office, but no sign of him. Barclay sent texts to a Stuff reporter expressing his disappointment at the reporting of the Tourism Infrastructure Fund and Clutha District Council issue, and how he felt he was portrayed.
Thurs, July 13: Movements unkown.
Fri, July 14: Southern Dairy Hub opening; Bill English was to have opened this but flight was diverted. No sign of Barclay there, but he replied by text message to questions from Stuff.
- Sunday Star Times