Bridges' expenses: Time for leaker to come forward and get help

by Tim Watkin / 24 August, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Bridges

National Party leader Simon Bridges talks about the leak of a text on the person behind an earlier leak on his expense spending. Photo / Rebekah Parsons-King

The Bridges expense leak inquiry will have to balance the wellbeing of someone who might have mental health issues with the integrity of the parliamentary system. One way or another, it's all rather sad, writes Tim Watkin.

Well, that's as clear as mud. And, one way or another, rather sad. We now know that last Thursday both Opposition leader and Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard received a text from someone claiming to be a National MP and taking responsibility for the leak to Newshub of Simon Bridges' travel expenses. In a detailed text that Mr Bridges later shared with police, the person claimed to be suffering from mental health concerns.

Speaking at parliament this morning Mr Bridges, in echoes of Labour's youth camp debacle, said he took expert advice on how to deal with the mental health issues claimed by the texter. Presumably, he took legal and political advice from his colleagues as well.

Responsibly, he forwarded the text to police and they investigated. They reported back that they had identified the person, that while there were "wellbeing issues" those did not extend to "safety issues" and they expected the parliamentary investigation to proceed.

It may seem odd to many that the police will not tell Mr Bridges or Mr Mallard who sent the text. But police operations are properly independent of parliament and the person's privacy must be respected by police.

That does not mean Parliamentary Service is bound to stop its work. As Bridges says, the second issue alongside the person's wellbeing is "the integrity of the parliamentary system".

Legitimate questions should be asked about why a QC-led inquiry was needed in the first place. This was the most minor of leaks - public information released just a few days before it was to be made public anyway. The inquiry is a mallet being used to crack a nut and risks a chilling effect amongst those who may feel honour-bound to leak more serious information.

But, seemingly unintentionally, the person who sent this text has now raised the stakes. They told Mr Bridges they had leaked the information because they found him "arrogant"; so it's now clear the motivation was political and personal, not in the public interest.

Now, there are only a couple of options in terms of what really happened. One, this is someone impersonating a National MP. That is cynical politics if so and would reflect very badly on that person and who they represent. To play the mental health card if it is not genuine is in the worst taste; the seriousness of mental health issues have been underlined in the days since this text was sent with Greg Boyed's death.

National Party caucus. Photo / National Party

If, however, the police are correct and mental health issues are at play here, then the person must be protected, as Mr Bridges has said. His emphasis on that is to be commended and shows how far we have come on these issues in the past decade. That does not mean the person necessarily escapes investigation, however.

Scenario two is that this is a National MP. If so, it raises serious questions for Mr Bridges' leadership and can only undermine him. The case of Chris Carter comes to mind and his anonymous letter in 2010 attempting to destabilise Phil Goff's leadership of Labour. A loyal Clark supporter, he couldn't move on to the new leadership team and ultimately left parliament.

It's interesting to note that Mr Carter, in the days after being caught and exposed, said, "I guess in a way I was wanting to get caught".

If this is a National MP and they are revealing such mental health issues, then they need a break. They are in no fit state to be representing people in parliament and need some time to take care of themselves. Of course, they will essentially reveal who they are. But that now seems inevitable.

It's time for the person who sent the text to step forward, account for their actions and get the help they need.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

This article was originally published by RNZ.

Latest

Naseby's chilliest night means a rare opportunity for curling
96697 2018-09-25 00:00:00Z Sport

Naseby's chilliest night means a rare opportunity …

by Guy Frederick

Weather conditions have to be perfect for an outdoor curling match – last winter, for the first time in seven years, Naseby delivered.

Read more
Students walk out of Hamilton high school over principal's truancy comments
96723 2018-09-24 14:06:35Z Education

Students walk out of Hamilton high school over pri…

by RNZ

More than 100 students walked out of a Hamilton high school in protest after the principal said truants are more likely to wind up being a rape victim

Read more
Colin Craig drops damages claim against former press secretary
96717 2018-09-24 13:10:01Z Politics

Colin Craig drops damages claim against former pre…

by RNZ

Colin Craig has withdrawn his claims for damages against his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor but is still suing her for defamation.

Read more
PM in New York: Ardern's first speech focuses on lifting children from poverty
96691 2018-09-24 07:54:36Z Politics

PM in New York: Ardern's first speech focuses on l…

by Chris Bramwell

Jacinda Ardern has used her first speech in the US to recommit the government to making New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child.

Read more
Give Kate A Voice: Bringing Kate Sheppard's speeches to life
96352 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z History

Give Kate A Voice: Bringing Kate Sheppard's speech…

by Noted

Famous Kiwi women read the powerful words of Kate Sheppard, who fought for the right for women to vote.

Read more
Ladies in Black – movie review
96686 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Ladies in Black – movie review

by Russell Baillie

This nicely nostalgic female coming-of-age tale set in a Sydney department store almost sings.

Read more
A Southern man goes for gold in Garston growing hops
95518 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Small business

A Southern man goes for gold in Garston growing ho…

by Mike White

Nelson and Motueka are well known for their hops but Garston hops are starting to be noticed by brewers.

Read more
How to lower your exposure to potentially toxic household products
96525 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Health

How to lower your exposure to potentially toxic ho…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Alexx Stuart advocates changing one thing a week. With personal-care items, she says the place to start is body lotion.

Read more