National leader Simon Bridges adamantly insisted today that he never intended to “weaponise” infidelity allegations against ousted MP Jami-Lee Ross last week.
“That was an unprecedented week - the toughest week in in Parliament I’ve seen for a party, and for me as leader,” Mr Bridges acknowledged during an appearance on Breakfast today.
“I think, personally, dare I say it, I have done the right thing at every point in time by the women affected and by Jami-Lee Ross, and I think ultimately for New Zealanders.”
Last week began with Mr Bridges accusing Mr Ross of leaking his expenses to the media, followed by a vote to oust Mr Ross from the party. Mr Ross fired back with allegations that Mr Bridges had committed campaign fraud. During all that, Mr Bridges had expressed concerns for Mr Ross’ mental health. The Botany MP had been put on mental health leave earlier in the month.
That’s why he didn’t immediately make public allegations by women who accused Mr Ross of bullying and harassing them, he said today.
“We know that Jamie Lee-Ross has been unwell,” Mr Bridges said. “I confronted him. I then talked with medical specialists. As a result of that he went on health leave.”
But as the chaotic events of last week unfolded, Deputy Leader Paula Bennett suggested that Mr Ross had been involved in behaviour that was inappropriate for a married man, effectively publicising the women’s allegations against him, Breakfast host Jack Tame pointed out.
“You said that you didn’t publicise the allegations at first because you were concerned about Jami-Lee Ross’ health,” Tame said. “However, once Jamie-Lee Ross came out in public and started criticising you, those allegations were effectively made public. So I’m wondering if you’ve weaponised those allegations.”
Ms Bennett “didn’t get everything perfect”, Mr Bridges responded. However, he refused to answer Tame’s question about whether he knew ahead of time that Ms Bennett planned to reference the allegations.
“I’m not going to get into what I knew about what she said, what Jami-Lee Ross has said and so on and so forth,” he said.
“There’s been no weaponising,” Mr Bridges added. “It’s been pretty simple. I’ve been concerned about disloyal, disruptive conduct, about inappropriate conduct and about a whole lot of leaking. And we have dealt with that decisively.
“I’m not here as some moral police or some such. But I want to make sure National’s a safe place where women feel confident to come forward.”