Newsroom Pro's 8 Things: Bridges seen ahead, but race open; Fresh Russell McVeagh claim

In this morning's email we checked out the state of play in the National leadership contest, and detailed further complaints about sexual conduct between staff and law students at Russell McVeagh.

1. Bridges ahead, but race open

The big political event this week is National's leadership contest on Tuesday, with the race being still very open, albeit with Simon Bridges seen as being in pole position.

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva took some soundings over the weekend and reports the contenders were working the phones frantically yesterday, with several camps insisting the race is still up for grabs.

Bridges is believed to have a slight edge, although the extent of that is disputed by some and he appears short of a majority on the first ballot, which means anything could still happen as candidates drop out.

His camp have a sense they are close to the 29 votes needed for victory.

However, that may not come on the first round of voting, and with the uncertainties that come from contenders dropping out - and where their votes may go - it would be foolish to predict the outcome yet.

The belated entry of Mark Mitchell and Steven Joyce into the race late week led to a few days of contemplation as National MPs took stock, before activity revved up again by the end of the week.

A managed outcome over a ballot seems unlikely, but there is an expectation among some that a winner will pick up the necessary numbers without the need for a full four rounds of voting.

As for Judith Collins, her campaign aimed at the grassroots members and wider public seems set to be rewarded, albeit not with the leadership, with MPs taking note of her ability to take on the mantle of opposition.

2. Russell McVeagh cases piling up

The sexual misconduct claims continue to swirl around Russell McVeagh this morning, despite its attempts on Friday to both quieten down Newsroom's reporting and to launch a review to put a line under the incidents.

Newsroom's Melanie Read and Tim Murphy reported this morning a university law lecturer has revealed new details of historic sexual misconduct at law firm Russell McVeagh - this time involving Māori women students being invited to the firm's bar and included in binge-drinking and sex in a boardroom after a seminar.

The lecturer, Khylee Quince, took complaints from a senior woman student at the University of Auckland to Russell McVeagh after the incident, but was told the sex was consensual and the two 19 year-old women involved were adult and needed to take responsibility for their own drinking.

She spoke exclusively to Newsroom after posting details of the incident and the firm and university's lack of follow-up on her Facebook page.

Russell McVeagh issued a statement yesterday acknowledging incidents of "poor behaviour involving consensual sexual events, including on our premises" over the past 20 years.

For the first time it accepted such misconduct had occurred at partner level. The statement said sexual misconduct allegations of this type had been resolved by "termination of employment or a partner departing" describing that as "action appropriate to the severity of the misconduct."

The incident Khylee Quince has detailed occurred in the early 2000s in the firm's Auckland office and is one of six separate incidents involving Russell McVeagh male lawyers that Newsroom has been informed of and is investigating. These involve several men who have gone on to achieve high prominence or influence in the law.

See Melanie and Tim's full report on Newsroom.

3. 'It may do more harm than good'

Meanwhile, two lawyers specialising in legal ethics and employment law, Kathryn Dalziel and Stephanie Dyhrberg, examined the wisdom of Russell McVeagh's review in a piece for Newsroom.

They argue the review could do more harm than good for both the complainants and Russell McVeagh's remaining staff.

Their article is a useful examination of the HR, legal and reputational issues facing any such large firm in the middle of such a crisis.

4. Speaking of doing more harm than good...

On Friday, Russell McVeagh instructed Auckland QC Adam Ross to write to Newsroom upbraiding us on our reporting of the allegations about the sexual abuse and harassment on its summer clerk programme two years ago.

His letter says the scandal has presented a "very difficult situation for the firm" and claims Newsroom's informants have "other agendas they are not disclosing to you".

The letter wrongly claims Newsroom has published material without knowing its validity, or knowing the unspecified "circumstances with the firm" of anonymous sources whom Russell McVeagh is trying to identify. It questions the practices and fairness of our investigations. Newsroom rejects these claims; our team has been painstaking and meticulous in its research and confirmation of material.

This is a story of abuse of power and as such those providing information wish to distance themselves from further abuse of power. That is why we fiercely protect sources, but we would not run a story without them. It is why, in a story such as this, confidentiality is necessary.

Here's Newsroom's report on the letter, which includes the letter republished in full, along with our response.

5. Briefly in the political economy...

Pushing and jumping - EQC Chair and former DPMC CEO Sir Maarten Wevers resigned on Friday afternoon and Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods appointed a special advisor to the minister. Newsroom's South Island reporter David Williams reported on the bureaucratic pushing and shoving that led to the resignation. Woods told Wevers she was appointing a special adviser on Wednesday. Wevers resigned on Thursday, effectively seeing it as a vote of no confidence by the minister.

Fund ahoy - Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Gisborne on Friday to announce the details of the first investments from the $1 billion Regional Development Fund. Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw reported the fund's first projects focused on trains, trees, and tourists.

Unintended consequences - Newsroom's Thomas Coughlan reported in detail on the risk that the ban on foreign investment in residential property could accidentally take out plans for hotel development that depend on foreign investors buying unit titles in the hotels room by room. There remains some confusion, given a letter to a developer saying the practice would be allowed. See Thomas' full story on Newsroom Pro for the details.

6. Coming up...

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is scheduled to hold her post-cabinet news conference at 4 pm today.

The Parliamentary parties are scheduled to hold their weekly caucus meetings tomorrow. National's will be a special one with its leadership vote expected to start in the morning at 10 am.

Parliament resumes at 2 pm on Tuesday for the final week in a three-week sitting block before two weeks off. Parliament resumes again on March 20.

Statistics NZ is scheduled to release its environmental economic accounts on Tuesday, along with merchandise trade figures for January. Migration and international travel figures for January are also scheduled to be release on Tuesday at 10.45 am. Building consent figures are due on Friday.

ANZ is scheduled to release its monthly Business Outlook survey of business confidence at 1 pm on Wednesday. ANZ is scheduled to release its monthly consumer confidence survey at 1 pm on Friday.

Barack Obama will visit New Zealand on March 22 speak at an event hosted by the New Zealand-United States Council in Auckland.

7. One fun thing...

This picture of a US protest featured on 'You had one job' made me smile: "He's cool with it."

8. This morning's political links

These are available in the morning subscriber email.