Government

Jami-Lee Ross and the shadow of Dirty Politics

The careers of career politicians are meant to last longer than this, especially when it is all they ever wanted to do.

Jami-Lee Ross entered politics as a Manakau City Councillor at just 18 years old, and seven years later, in 2011, entered Parliament after winning the Botany by-election.

He was helped by significant figures on the right wing of New Zealand politics, who supported his selection as the National candidate for Botany after Pansy Wong resigned following allegations of improper use of international travel allowances. 

“One thing we know for sure, Jami-Lee Ross is not a pinko.”

Ross had worked for party grandee Maurice Williamson and his scathing attacks on Auckland Mayor Len Brown caught the eye of right-wing blogger Cameron Slater, who featured him in several blog posts on the Whale Oil site.

Slater was close to Ross, and still calls him a “good mate”, and a “friend” even as he is smacking down Ross for leaking.

Slater flew down to Wellington to witness Ross’ maiden speech as an MP in 2011. In a blog post from the time, Slater reiterated his praise for Ross. 

“One thing we know for sure, Jami-Lee Ross is not a pinko,” he wrote.

The return of Simon Lusk?

Revelations about the backroom dealings involving Ross’ selection and campaign formed one of the opening acts in Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics. 

Simon Lusk was one of the book’s key figures, and allegedly responsible for successfully engineering Ross’ selection as National’s candidate in the by-election.

Lusk wrote a post for Slater’s Whale Oil blog, which was published under Slater's name.

The post praised Ross’ selection and said he was likely to “have a long career as an MP” and spiked other candidates who ran, including Maggie Barry, Aaron Bhatnagar, and the latter’s political advisor Hamish Price - who Slater called “a nasty, offensive and divisive self important fool of a man that should be avoided at all costs by any candidate”.

In Dirty Politics, Hager alleged Lusk used Ross to improve his “reach” in Auckland. A message from Lusk to Slater said, “My reach in Auckland is improving a lot Sam [Lotu-Iiaga, a former MP] and JLR [Jami-Lee Ross] will help things. It’s a long game and I am going to outlast the others”. 

A National Party source told Newsroom that they believed Lusk to be once again advising Ross, saying his “handprints are all over this”.

Contacted by Newsroom, Lusk would not describe his past or present relationship with Ross or whether he was currently advising him. 

Signs of trouble 

People within the party claim they noticed Ross’ behaviour become erratic in early 2017. 

When Williamson stepped aside from his electorate in Pakuranga, Ross tried to have one of his allies selected to stand.

When Bidois eventually entered Parliament in the Northcote by-election earlier this year, he was warned by senior National Party figures to sever relations with Ross.

Pakuranga borders Ross’ seat of Botany. It’s believed Ross wanted to build a coalition of supporters across the two seats and eventually become a power broker in South Auckland. 

Conveniently, Ross' neighbour was Dan Bidois, who he backed to win the seat. Ross hoped Bidois would become his ally in the seat, but Simeon Brown won the selection instead.

When Bidois eventually entered Parliament in the Northcote by-election earlier this year, he was warned by senior National Party figures to sever relations with Ross.

Although elected with the support of those on the right wing of the National Party, Ross was a social moderate. He voted in support of Louisa Wall’s Bill to legalise same sex marriage in 2013, and voted in favour of David Seymour’s End of Life Care Bill earlier this year.

His rise was swift. 

He was appointed third whip in 2013, rising to senior whip in 2017. He was closely aligned to Collins, but he also hitched his star to Simon Bridges’ wagon. Ross was Bridges’ numbers man when the latter ran for the deputy leadership against Paula Bennett in 2017.

Ross also ran numbers for former Prime Minister Bill English when he ran for the party leadership. Other figures like Judith Collins had considered running. This shocked some within the party who had previously believed Ross to be in Collins’ camp, given their long relationship. 

But Ross saw English’s chances were greater and jumped ships.

Sources say he had been treated well, perhaps even indulgently, by both English and his predecessor John Key. Neither saw Ross as enough of a threat to take seriously. 

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