Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8 am: Barclay goes, but the pressure on English stays

English says his main regret over the Todd Barclay affair was that “people I know well fell out so badly”. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email we detail the events around Parliament yesterday as Todd Barclay finally accepted he had to go.

1. Barclay goes, but pressure stays

It took more than 18 hours longer than it should have, but National MP for Clutha-Southland Todd Barclay finally relented just after 1 pm yesterday with a statement to the media announcing he would not stand for re-election.

Why he did not go on Tuesday afternoon after Bill English revealed the Parliament's youngest MP had not told the truth to media and his electorate is not clear.

Barclay's reading out of a statement in front of media on Tuesday evening, asking for sympathy and another chance after it was clear he had secretly recorded an employee and then not told the truth about it, will go down as one of the more bizarre performances I've seen around Parliament.

His written statement yesterday also included no acknowledgement of not telling the truth or apology to his staff or voters.

"I don't want the issues that are important to Clutha-Southland and all of New Zealand to be distracted by an employment dispute," he said.

"This has been a hard decision to make, but it is in the best interests of our government and the National Party," he said.

Extending Barclay's political life into another news cycle was painful enough, but his departure from the debate has not ended the pain for Prime Minister Bill English and the National Party.

2. Regrets, but too few to mention

English held a news conference in Parliament shortly before question time yesterday to announce Barclay's departure and to take questions about what he knew and when.

The key question was whether he had any regrets about not doing more at the time he found out Barclay had secretly recorded a staff member. English told the police about it, but stood by as Barclay refused to talk to the police himself and went on to be re-selected.

English said his main regret was that “people I know well fell out so badly”.

“It’s a shame that it’s ended up in this situation and I hope now that, with the issue resolved, at least this aspect of the issue resolved, that we can get on with both the business of the government but also representation of the people in Clutha-Southland who I know well.”

He denied he had not done enough once Barclay had spoken to him, or that the situation had been covered up, saying it was up to police to do what they could with his statement.

“I don’t accept the assertion that nothing was done about it - I reported it to the appropriate party official, that’s on the record, the electorate chairman who in our system is the main party official who works with an MP," he said.

“I reported it to the police, because there was the allegation of an offence having been committed, so that was passing on the knowledge to the appropriate authorities to deal with it as they saw fit. So there was no element of knowledge of some action that was hidden -it was in fact communicated openly and in fact the allegations around this have been in the media for 18 months to two years."

The problem with this argument is that English's statement to the police was withheld during the release of the redacted police file earlier this year. The key pieces of information missing from the public debate over the last two years was that English knew about the recording, had texted the electorate chairman about it, and had given a police statement.

That only emerged in Newsroom's investigation published on Tuesday morning.

3. So what changed?

The other key question for English and Barclay was what had changed in the time since English knew of Barclay’s recordings to force the MP’s resignation.

"What’s different is I think the statement yesterday morning which Todd acknowledged himself was untrue, and secondly his understanding of the whole situation and how it was affecting him and his credibility and his prospects," English said.

English said he had not asked Barclay to resign, but was aware he had spoken to “senior colleagues” before making the decision to step down.

4. Barclay now faces Police

The police confirmed yesterday it was looking again at the case, which it had closed in December.

Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers said yesterday that police were "assessing the information that has been discussed publicly in recent days in relation to any impact on the findings of the original Todd Barclay inquiry."

Barclay will now have to face any re-opening of the police investigation and make a decision about whether to cooperate. He refused to be interviewed last year, despite having earlier told media he would cooperate.

5. A grilling in Parliament

English then went into Parliamentary question time to face questions about his integrity and calls for his resignation.

Slumped in his seat for much of question time, a grey-faced English tried to defend his actions and lack of actions, but ended up being pummelled over why he had known of Barclay's illicit recordings and tolerated his re-selection and a payout to keep it quiet.

Simon Bridges' attempted to stifle questions from all three Opposition leaders with points of order, but simply delayed the inevitable and made English look even weaker.

Labour Leader Andrew Little began by zeroing in on English's comments on Radio New Zealand on March 1 last year when the then Finance Minister said he was not aware of any specific problems between Barclay and his staff.

We now know that, at the time, English was aware of Barclay's illicit recording of his electorate agent Glenys Dickson and had texted electorate chair Stuart Davie days earlier about it, saying: "Everyone unhappy."

Little asked if it was an acceptable moral standard for the Finance Minister to mislead the public.

Bridges, as the leader of the house, tried twice to prevent English from having to answer the question on the grounds it related to a member of the caucus, rather than English's role as a minister. Ministers only have to answer questions relating to their responsibilities, rather than caucus colleagues. But Speaker David Carter over-ruled Bridges twice and forced English to answer.

His answers were unconvincing and jeered by the Opposition.

"At the time the matter was under investigation and, in fact, the facts of it had not been established," English said.

"Some of them were covered by a confidential employment settlement to which I was not a party and they were under investigation by the police, and at the time I was not sure what I could or could not say about that," he said.

6. 'I cannot recall'

Little then sought to expose English's comments to then Prime Minister John Key about Barclay, which Key mentioned in a Radio New Zealand interview on March 6. Had English told Key about Barclay secretly recording his staff?

Bridges then tried in vain again to shield the Prime Minister. Eventually, the 'can't recall' phrase cropped up in response, much to the derision of Opposition MPs.

"I am sure I would have talked to the former Prime Minister about matters that were relevant to the management of the caucus, but I cannot recall either the discussion or the content of it," English said.

Little went on to suggest English might have not have disclosed the recording to Key, effectively covering up the evidence from his own Prime Minister.

Finally, English went on the counter-attack.

"Allegations of a cover-up are ridiculous. The statements made to me regarding this were reported to the relevant party official—that is on the record—and then to the police. It is a weird world when the Labour Party says that reporting a matter to the police is a cover-up," he said.

The trouble for English is that, in the 16 months after hearing directly from Barclay about the secret recordings, he did nothing to make Barclay talk to the police and sat by as Barclay was re-selected in a bitterly contested process that tore his own National party apart in his home electorate.

Barclay's decision on Wednesday not to stand again has not changed those facts, or that English initially could not recall the now famous face-to-face conversation with Barclay - even though he gave a police statement on it in Dipton in April last year.

7. Winston wants resignation

But the inquisition was not over for English as potential coalition partner Winston Peters attacked the Prime Minister personally and called for his resignation.

The New Zealand First Leader also suggested in Parliament that English himself may have committed a crime.

"Is it not a fact that he deliberately did not tell the truth when first questioned yesterday because he himself was deeply complicit in trying to avoid legal action, with taxpayers' hush money, and he knew full well that a confidential agreement or contract to cover up a crime is an illegal contract?" Peters asked.

English replied that he was not a party to the settlement and "did not know what the dispute was or how it was settled."

Again, the problem for English is that his text message to Stuart Davie suggested he was at least aware of the dispute and that the settlement had been topped up from the National leaders' fund.

English told Davie in the text the "settlement was larger than normal because of the privacy breach” and had to be “part paid from the Prime Minister’s budget to avoid potential legal action."

Peters took an unusual step with his next question, given he may have to negotiate the formation of a Government with English is just over three months.

"When it is clear to every independent commentator that this Prime Minister is complicit in a cover-up, why does he not resign?" Peters said.

English rejected Peters' assertions.

"The fact that he wants to keep on saying it does not make it true. My statement to the police stated what I knew of the circumstances, and I would have thought that making the statement to the police was not a cover-up."

The public will now make up its own mind about whether English did enough by telling the police and no more. It will also find out more about whether National party officials obstructed justice by trying to stop Glenys Dickson from lodging a complaint with the police.

The inquisition for English and National is far from over.

National Party board member Glenda Hughes has refused to answer questions about her attempts to get Glenys Dickson to withdraw her police complaint, which legal experts have said could be seen as an attempt to obstruct justice.

There is also an ongoing investigation by National's rules committee into allegations of branch stacking and irregularities selecting delegates during the re-selection process in Clutha-Southland.

8. Numbers of the day:

Now for some light relief and to get back to the economy for a moment, here's a few numbers of the day.

$1.84 billion - The total value insurance claims for the November 14 Kaikoura earthquake as at 31 May 2017, as reported by the Insurance Council. Nearly 43,000 claims have been made, including 31,000 for residential properties. Claims for commercial losses were $1.36 billion, while claims for residential losses were $460 million.

0.6 percent - The rise in online job advertisements in May from April, as measured by MBIE in its Jobs Online monthly report. The growth rate was down on the 0.9 percent monthly average seen since May 2015. Jobs growth was strongest in semi-skilled and unskilled jobs, with hospitality and construction driving the fastest increases.