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Not unreasonable to call off inquiry

Opinion Piece

The curious case of the leaking of the expenses of National leader Simon Bridges seems to be developing a life of its own, but the decision of the party to hold its own investigation seems to be questionable politically.

To backtrack, someone leaked Bridges’ quarterly travel and accommodation expenses this month, a few days before they were to be released.

Between April and June these came to $113,973 of which $83,693 was on a Crown limousine, mainly for his New Zealand-wide tour to meet grassroots supporters and help people get to know him.

At National’s request, Speaker Trevor Mallard announced there would be an inquiry headed by Michael Heron QC. But the next day Mallard called it off, saying he and Bridges had received a text from the leaker pleading to have the inquiry stopped, for the sake of their mental health.

Details provided in the text indicated the person was either a National MP or a staff member — they also said they disagreed with Bridges’ leadership style and wanted him held to account for his spending of taxpayers’ money — so the Speaker also saw it as an internal issue for the party.

National is furious, saying Mallard called the inquiry off because of comments by the Prime Minister. But on the face of it, if the person has mental health issues and has shown they are with the National Party and not with Parliamentary Service or the Speaker’s office, it is not an unreasonable decision.

In a curious side issue, police know the identity of the texter but have declined to release it for privacy reasons.

This all raises questions as to what National hopes to gain from its inquiry, apart from rooting out a disgruntled insider — at some risk to that person’s health.

Bridges is in a difficult situation. National’s polling, at 45 percent, remains high for a party that has just gone into Opposition but Bridges’ personal polling remains low. If that continues or, worse, if National’s polling begins to fall, Bridges will be vulnerable.

His courtroom experience should have told him it is never wise to ask a question if you do not know for sure what the answer will be.