Hard News by Russell Brown

89

A plot point is reached

I've been struggling as much as the next guy to stay with the sprawling Winston Peters scandal (I think, with three different investigations in motion, it can fairly be called that), but clearly, with Owen Glenn jet-setting in to address the privileges committee in person, we've reached an important plot point.

I've been surprised by how many people still seem to think that Peters will walk free, his maverick reputation enhanced by the allegedy vicious and unwarranted media beating he has endured.

The very best he can hope, it seems to me, is to emerge as a screaming hypocrite whose party handled donations in ways designed to obscure their nature and source, even as he sermonised about others doing the same. But that would be a stretch.

The Herald clearly has access to damaging correspondence, that makes Peters look like a liar, or worse, and he and Peter Williams' assurances that it will all become clear and uncontroversial sound hollow.

But the perfectly legal means by which, according to Audrey Young's Herald story, $80,000, probably from the Vela family, was split into eight chunks and channelled through linked companies to avoid declaration, does demonstrate quite what could be got away with under the old electoral law. You can easily enough make the case that the Electoral Finance Act is a mess, but the old way of doing thing was indefensible.

The people who decried Glenn as a filthy foreign honour-buyer at the beginning of the year and now hail him as a good man done wrong by the evil power-lesbians of Wellington will doubtless be glued to proceedings, and hoping that what muck flies up will stick at least partially to Helen Clark.

If last week's Roy Morgan poll is to be believed, the public isn't seeing it that way, and if Glenn says he merely gave Clark a passing assurance that he'd dealt with Peters over his donation to the legal fund, that might continue to be the case. Glenn, as we’ve noted here before, was saying some strange, and palpably untrue, things at the time. But if he drops her in it -- and he might -- the few days' dawn of the Morgan poll will be over.

It seems to me there are a number of interesting dimensions to this story that warrant covering. I have been of the view that Clark wasn't obliged to bring down her government in January by refusing to give her foreign minister the benefit of the doubt. Peters serves at her pleasure, but not in the same way that a Labour minister does. Does this have implications for MMP governments, or is Peters just a special case?

And with the revelations of The Hollow Men, and now this, it seems reasonable to ask whether the racing industry has anything else it would like to tell us. Because the big money that swings around there seems like a malign influence on the body politic.

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