Bridges’ leak source nar­rowed down

The Press - - News - Henry Cooke henry.cooke@stuff.co.nz

Speaker of the House Trevor Mal­lard has cleared him­self and all non-po­lit­i­cal Par­lia­men­tary staff of any in­volve­ment with the leak of Na­tional leader Si­mon Bridges’ ex­penses.

This makes it in­cred­i­bly likely that the leak of Bridges’ large limo bill to New­shub came from ei­ther a Na­tional MP or a mem­ber of their staff.

Mal­lard said on Wed­nes­day that a KPMG in­quiry into the leak that he com­mis­sioned found no ev­i­dence that any of non­po­lit­i­cal staff or the Speaker him­self had leaked the in­for­ma­tion.

The Speaker ar­ranged the foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion of staff in­volved in the prepa­ra­tion of the ex­penses, in­clud­ing his own of­fice’s staff and Par­lia­men­tary Ser­vices’ fi­nance staff – about 20 staff in to­tal.

These are the only peo­ple known to have ac­cess to Bridges’ travel bill be­fore their planned pub­lic re­lease, other than the 56 Na­tional MPs and pos­si­bly their staff, who were sent a mas­ter list of all of the ex­penses.

Mal­lard had can­celled a wider high-pow­ered in­quiry into the leak af­ter he and Bridges re­ceived a text mes­sage from the leaker say­ing they had se­ri­ous men­tal health is­sues.

Bridges then com­mis­sioned a sep­a­rate in­quiry into his own MPs and staff, car­ried out by PwC and Simp­son Gri­er­son.

Mal­lard said he wanted to make sure his staff were cleared of any pos­si­bil­ity of blame, but didn’t want to fur­ther in­flame the leaker, who he be­lieved had men­tal health is­sues, by mak­ing his new in­ves­ti­ga­tion pub­licly.

‘‘I was 99.9 per cent sure hav­ing read the text [from the leaker] that it was some­one who had a lot of knowl­edge that peo­ple on my staff wouldn’t have. But I just wanted to cover off that point,’’ Mal­lard said.

He said he told Na­tional of the re­sults of the in­quiry on Septem­ber 4 when it was re­turned to him.

Na­tional deputy leader Paula Ben­nett re­sponded to the news on be­half of Na­tional on Wed­nes­day night, say­ing the party’s sep­a­rate in­quiry into their own MPs and staff was not af­fected.

‘‘The Speaker’s in­quiry, which he had pub­licly stated he was not hav­ing, is a mat­ter for him. The Na­tional Party is con­duct­ing its own in­quiry and will com­ment on that once it has con­cluded.

‘‘The in­quiry only re­ceived the fi­nal set of rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion from Par­lia­men­tary Ser­vices on Fri­day,’’ Ben­nett said.

Bridges com­mis­sioned PwC and Simp­son Gri­er­son to carry out the leak in­quiry af­ter it was re­ported he had a large Crown limo bill days be­fore the ex­penses were of­fi­cially due to be re­leased.

He is pay­ing for the in­quiry from the Na­tional Party lead­er­ship bud­get, a tax­payer-funded pool of money for party lead­ers to use essen­tially as they see fit.

He has in­sisted the sur­prise de­ci­sion of MP Jami-Lee Ross to take a break from Par­lia­ment to deal with an un­spec­i­fied health is­sue has noth­ing to do with it.

Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern said it was im­por­tant the Speaker’s ‘‘im­par­tial­ity was demon­strated’’.

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