Peters fuming at Horan's 'time-wasting'

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 12:13 07/07/2014
Winston Peters
Fairfax NZ
NZ FIRST LEADER: Winston Peters.
 Brendan Horan
Fairfax NZ
INDEPENDENT MP: Brendan Horan.

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The NZ First staffer at the centre of allegations made by one of its former MPs resigned from the party last week.

The Parliamentary Service dismissed independent MP Brendan Horan's complaint about spending at NZ First, the party revealed earlier today.

The allegations, which Horan claims were backed up by leaked NZ First AGM minutes, were that the party had breached rules that stipulated that Parliamentary Service staff should not be engaged in party membership or fund raising activities.

"NZ First is disappointed that both it, and Parliamentary Service, have been forced into an extensive, time-wasting exercise because of baseless claims by a disgruntled member of Parliament, Brendan Horan," the party said in a statement.

"NZ First's parliamentary staff has been put through unnecessary scrutiny, because of these claims," Peters said.

Today Peters confirmed that Api Dawson, the party's director of operations, had resigned from its Parliamentary team. The resignation is understood to have taken place last week.

Peters insisted that Dawson had been "annoyed and upset" after his name was raised in the media. He repeatedly refused to say whether Dawson still worked for the party in any capacity.

He said that Parliamentary Service had sympathised with Dawson.

"They did sympathise with him as to the impropriety and the difficulties caused by allegations being made against, in particular him."

Peters said Dawson had had a "gutsful" following the episode.

"He said some time ago that he would stay until this matter was cleared but he'd had a gutsful of being treated that way by the media and others and the allegations were baseless. I utterly understand," Peters said.

The NZ First documents included a memo purportedly written by Dawson advising on how the party should reform its fund raising strategy to one in which members were asked to pay a monthly donation. It was written to address "poor party financial structure and inadequate funds to support the party and to run a campaign".

Horan also alleged that New Zealand First was using taxpayer-funded software, named Vanguard, to recruit members and raise funds.

Using parliamentary privilege back in May, Horan alleged that the party had "paid tens of thousands of dollars out of the Leader's Budget to develop this software and has their Parliamentary staff are working to run the programme for election year. This is a clear breach of Parliamentary Service guidelines".

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Horan said that other parties had similar systems, but funded the software themselves and operate it independently of Parliament.

Today, Horan said he was "unapologetic" about raising the concerns.

"I stand by my decision to bring this matter to the Speaker's attention. While I accept the Speaker's findings, there are anomalies that are remain unexplained," Horan said.

According to Horan's office, a letter from Speaker David Carter said that Vanguard was not yet operational but "it could be used for a legitimate parliamentary purpose when it becomes operational".

Horan was expelled from NZ First in 2012 over allegations he may have misspent his mother's money. He has never been charged over the allegations and denies wrongdoing.

Today the Taxpayers' Union said that the public deserved answers as to how party's used their funding.

"It's time for the Parliamentary Service to come under the Official Information Act so the public can know what's going on. In no other government agency would this level of secrecy be tolerated. We are still none the wiser as to whether taxpayer money was used to fund the Party's Vanguard software, or whether redundancy payments were made to keep disgruntled staff quiet," Jordan Williams, the Taxpayers' Union's executive director said.

Parliamentary Service is yet to respond to questions about its findings.

Meanwhile Peters says that the Government should issue it an apology, on the basis that it had given some of its allotted time in Question Time to Horan to enable him to make the claims.

"NZ First's parliamentary staff have been put through unnecessary scrutiny, because of these claims," Peters said.

"This has been a disgraceful abuse by an MP of the process around parliamentary funding, and NZ First is concerned at the undue media attention and time this MP's abuse of process has been given."

- Stuff

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