Politics can be fast-moving, especially in the lead-up to an election. Last week, the Labour caucus was left reeling after senior MP Shane Jones’ sudden resignation; this week, it was National MP Maurice Williamson’s turn to experience just how fast fortunes can change, even for senior ministers.
Mr Williamson resigned as a government minister on Thursday after it was revealed he contacted police about their investigation of Donghua Liu, who was facing domestic violence charges. Mr Liu had previously donated money to the National Party after Mr Williamson supported his citizenship application.
Mr Williamson answered questions about his conduct on Nine to Noon on Friday. He told Kathryn Ryan he thought he was being helpful by contacting police, given the “real language difficulties” they were experiencing in their dealings with Mr Liu.
He said he would not have made the phone call if he had known it was going to end his ministerial career, though Radio New Zealand’s political editor Brent Edwards says it “beggars belief that Mr Williamson believed it was appropriate”.
Yesterday, Police Minister Anne Tolley refuted the Opposition’s claims that she had known Mr Williamson had contacted police for a full two weeks.
Police Association president Greg O’Connor said police frequently received calls from public servants and politicians seeking information on investigations, and that officers were finding it increasingly hard to be free of political interference as the lines governing what was appropriate blurred.
Though he has resigned as minister, Mr Williamson plans to contest the Pakuranga seat he has held for 27 years in the upcoming election.
Mr Williamson shot to notoriety last year with his marriage equality speech, which resulted in an invitation to appear on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show, and speculation that he might run for Auckland mayoralty. But in a nearly 30-year political career, the MP has been no stranger to controversy, with Edwards noting that Mr Williamson’s “quick tongue” occasionally landing him in trouble.
Labour and the Greens have said the incident is another example of declining standards in the National-led Government, with Opposition leader David Cunliffe citing John Banks, Peter Dunne and Judith Collins as other ministers who have made headlines for conflicts of interest or misconduct in the past. (The Herald has a rundown of eight politicians who were forced to resign.)
Prime Minister John Key dismissed the attacks, pointing to his prompt acceptance of Mr Williamson’s resignation as evidence of the Government's high standards. He refused to comment on Collins’ involvement with Oravida.
But in Power Play this week, RNZ political editor Brent Edwards said there were similarities between Mr Williamson and Ms Collins, who is accused of giving milk exporting company Oravida favourable treatment because its Chinese owner is her personal friend and generous National Party donor.
As Edwards points out, the Opposition are continuing to “draw links between National and its support of what they call its ‘rich mates’”, and that line of attack has the potential to shift public sentiment against the Government, with the election only 20 weeks away.
Edwards warns we can “expect plenty of fire in the House next week”.