MP who employed flatmate cleared

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 14:36 08/05/2014

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NZ First MP Denis O'Rourke did not break any rules in employing a staff member who shares his home, Parliament's speaker has ruled.

Speaker David Carter says he was been assured there was no misuse of parliamentary funds, but he will not release his determination.

Queenstown resident David Simpson sparked the investigation into the relationship between the Christchurch-based list MP and his staffer, Stephen James.

They share a home but O'Rourke says they are not in a relationship. MPs are banned from employed spouses or partners.

In a letter to Simpson, Carter said that according to a report from Parliamentary Service both O'Rourke and James denied they were in a relationship, but acknowledged they were once business partners.

Simpson had also questioned James' use of tax-payer funded travel. James' twice travelled to Wellington.

"Mr James' travel on both occasions was for Parliamentary business and was in connection with his job," Carter said.

"Based on the information made available to me, I have to accept that Mr O'Rourke and Mr James are not spouses or partners ... I have also been assured that there has been no misuse of parliamentary funds to meet the costs of Mr James' travel to Wellington."

A complaint about fake reviews were outside the scope of his responsibility, Carter added.

The Speaker said that without "further substantial evidence" Carter said he could not take the matter further.

But O'Rourke is still facing a police complaint over a fake review James posted on the website advertising the MP's classic-car hire business.

Simpson went to police with concerns about the testimonial.

He says James placed the comment on O'Rourke's website about the classic cars he leases in 2011, before O'Rourke became a MP.

"Such beautiful black cars - thanks for your great service for our wedding," James wrote.

O'Rourke replied: "Many thanks Steve. It was our pleasure."

The review has since been removed. But O'Rourke reportedly last week admitted knowing James had posted the reference and that it probably wasn't proper, saying it was "no big deal".

His refusal to apologise infuriated Simpson, who says he believes O'Rourke broke the law by publishing the statement.

"The reason that I laid the complaint is the man is a solicitor and he is a justice spokesperson for NZ First," Simpson said.

Southern district police last night confirmed the complaint was received and was being assessed.

Simpson has also complained to the Commerce Commission that the review breached fair trading laws. A spokesman confirmed the complaint was being assessed.

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Simpson also plans to report O'Rourke to the Law Society. The former lawyer and councillor, 67, entered Parliament in 2011.

O'Rourke did not respond to request for comment.

The Speaker is expected to conclude his investigation by the end of the week.

- The Press

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