Auditor-General rules out further Wong inquiry

08:01, Dec 14 2010

In a fast turn-around outgoing National MP Pansy Wong has made her valedictory speech in Parliament on the same day she announced her resignation.

It comes as the Auditor-General rules out an inquiry into National MP Pansy Wong's spending just hours after her resignation this morning.

» Click here to see an interactive timeline of the Pansy Wong saga.

» Click here to read her resignation.

Wong this morning resigned as an MP amid continuing questions over her use of the MPs' international travel perk. She had already resigned as a minister after it was revealed that she had witnessed a business contract signed by her husband Sammy during a trip to China in late 2008.

Mrs Wong continued to defend her husband Sammy and his business activities during her speech this afternoon.


She also thanked him for supporting her while she focused on her political career.

"It will forever weigh on my conscious how my continuing political pursuit has placed huge demands and constraints on my husband and I have decided this will no longer be the case," said an emotional Mrs Wong.

Her resignation would prevent her issues taking the focus off Government policy, she said.

"It is not acceptable to me that I have become a distraction to this very important focus."

Mrs Wong acknowledged the developments made in equality for ethnic people in New Zealand and she wanted them to be confident, equal and proud.

Mrs Wong received a standing ovation and hugs from ministers when she finished her speech.

But while Auditor-General Lyn Provost ruled out an inquiry she says the systems surrounding spending by MPs and government ministers need to be fixed "once and for all" to restore public confidence.

Labour leader Phil Goff said said Wong's resignation was a "cynical attempt" to avoid further investigation.

She said the resignation was her own decision, and Prime Minister John Key said he would have been happy for her to have stayed in Parliament.

In Parliament this afternoon, Labour raised fresh claims about Wong's business activities while visiting China on the perk.

Labour MP Pete Hodgson told Parliament that he had documents which showed Wong and her husband Sammy engaged in more than one business-related event during a trip to the city of Lianyungang in late 2008.

Mrs Wong has admitted witnessing a contract involving a hovercraft company Mr Wong was involved with, but said the deal was unplanned and incidental to a trip to the city for a flower show.

The couple also insisted to an independent inquiry ordered by Speaker Lockwood Smith that it was the only time they engaged in any business while travelling on her perk.

That inquiry found Wong's husband had abused her taxpayer-funded travel perk for a business trip to China but cleared her of more serious wrongdoing.

Parliament's rules expressly forbid conducting any private business while travelling on the perk, which in Mrs Wong's case is worth 90 per cent of all overseas flights.

Mr Hodgson said he had information that a cooperation agreement was signed during the Lianyungang visit between the local government and another company in which Mr Wong is heavily involved, New Zealand Pure and Natural Ltd.

Company Office internet records show Mr Wong is a majority shareholder in the company.

Hodgson said his information showed Mrs Wong was at the ceremony for the signing of a "cooperation framework agreement" between the city government and the company.

Mr Hodgson said a newsletter from the hovercraft company also suggested the Wongs' visit there was not inadvertent as the Speaker's inquiry, conducted by consultant Hugh McPhail, found.

The newsletter, obtained from a website that Hodgson claimed had since been taken down, included a photograph of Mrs Wong at the factory beneath a banner in Mandarin that read: "Warm welcome to New Zealand Cabinet minister to visit and inspect our company."

He said the newsletter also referred to Mrs Wong having inspected the company and encouraging the staff to be "innovative and brave".

Key scoffed at the revelation, noting it was not unusual for prominent people to be acknowledged when travelling in China.

"When one goes to China and one is an important person, often there are banners. I accept that that member [Hodgson] would have never had one other than 'Good bye and see you later', but on our side, we get lots."

He said there was nothing untoward in Mrs Wong wishing the staff at the company well.

He was not aware of the claims regarding NZ Pure and Natural, but he did not think it revealed anything that should be referred to Auditor-General Lyn Provost.

Goff said Hodgson's revelations raised serious questions about the full extent of the Wongs' business activities in China.

Key refused permission for Hodgson to table documents he said backed his claims.


Goff said Key had defended Wong to the hilt.

"The fact John Key didn't force her to resign weeks ago is an indictment on his leadership and shows he's been involved in a cover-up. Pansy Wong and John Key know there is proof out there that she's had her fingers in the taxpayers till and has been using hardworking New Zealanders money to help her husband boost his business profits.

"The Prime Minister has defended Pansy Wong to the hilt throughout this scandal. His staff and ministers abused Labour and journalists when they asked questions. He refused to take action when evidence of her wrongdoing was presented. He refused to refer the matter to the auditor-general. Just a few days ago, he went as far as saying she'd simply made an innocent mistake. Now suddenly, she's gone.

"This cynical political attempt at a cover-up won't work. The public know that Pansy Wong has abused their trust. John Key promised high standards but now Pansy Wong joins Richard Worth, Bill English and Phil Heatley on the wall of shame."


Wong said this morning that it was "my decision" and her resignation was effective from January 17 next year. She had not been asked to resign by Key or the party.

A by-election would be held on March 5, Key said.

Wong said: "I have not taken it lightly but I feel now is the right time for me to step down.

"Over the past month, I have felt that the allegations directed at me have been a distraction to the Government and have put undue pressure on my family and friends. I strongly refute these allegations and do not want to tie-up the Government's and my time continuing to do so."

Wong said it was a privilege to be the MP for Botany and she thanked her constituents for their support.

"The past 14 years have passed without me having time to stop and reflect. But the past three weeks have given me the opportunity to do so, and it will forever weigh on my conscience that my continuing political pursuit has placed huge demands and constraints on my husband. I have decided this will no longer be the case.

"It is also time for me to turn a new page in my life's journey to focus on personal and family priorities."

She had made the decision not to receive any salary or personal entitlements from 20 December.

"I have timed my resignation to ensure that the by-election will not impact on the holiday break of my Botany constituents, and I have also taken into account the work agenda of the National-led Government," Wong said.

"I am looking forward to spending more time with my husband Sammy, and my extended family, who have been a great support to me."

She said it was "quite a relief" to have made the decision and the impact on her family had "weighed on her conscience".

"I am looking forward to going home to Sammy."

Wong said she had thought about waiting until next's years election to stand down.

"But I believe that Botany, the best electorate in the country, deserve an MP who can be devoted 100 per cent."

Asked if she was sure her husband had conducted private business only once on tax-payer funded trips, she said: "I strongly refute all the allegations that have been out there."

She was not worried about any other details coming out. "No, that was not part of my consideration."

"I have no more information about what they [Labour] are going to drop," she said.


Key said he was sad to see Wong go, but he did not think her resignation would damage National.

"I think in the last 14 years, she's made a very good contribution, not only to the people of Botany, most recently, but also to the Asian community right across New Zealand. She'll be sadly missed by our caucus, but she's clearly indicated to me that for personal reasons, she doesn't want to go through any more of this. It's taken quite a toll on her family.

Key said it was Wong's decision to leave and he would have been happy for her to stay. "I think it's a regrettable situation but at the end of the day she's taken the decision that the toll on her family is too great.

"I would have been more than comfortable with her staying in our caucus."

Key said there was no new information that has lead to her resignation she had simply decided she would not return after the general election next year so it was best to go now.

Wong had raised resigning when the issue first came up but told Key on Friday she had decided to leave.

"I asked her to consider it over the weekend, she did so and formally told me on Monday she was leaving," Key said.

"She could go through a whole lot of accusations by Pete Hodgson and others over the next 10-12 months, she doesn't believe there's any basis to those, I don't have any information that would indicate that she needs to take this step but in the end these things always weigh heavily on the individuals and their families."

Wong won her seat with a 10,872 vote majority in the 2008 general election. Labour candidate Koro Tawa was runner-up with 6510 and ACT's Kenneth Wang on 4717.

The Botany seat was created shortly before the last election and was considered a safe National seat. It has a large Chinese population.


* Wong started to come under pressure after allegations surfaced that her husband Sammy conducted personal business while on a taxpayer-subsidised trip to China in late 2008.

* Last month Wong resigned from her ministerial portfolios and Speaker Lockwood Smith ordered an independent inquiry which was conducted by former senior public servant Hugh McPhail.

* The McPhail report was released earlier this month and found no serious misuse of the travel perk by the Wongs but said they should repay $237.06 each for one flight from Beijing to Lianyungang, China in December 2008.

* Since then speculation has continued with Labour questioning the veracity of the McPhail report and calling for the Auditor General to investigate.

* Labour was expected to release fresh information at question time this afternoon.

* Hekia Parata was promoted to minister to replace Wong but Prime Minister John Key has said he would not rule out having Wong back as a minister if National won the next election.