Politics

NZ First to cast Jami-Lee Ross’ proxy vote

New Zealand First has agreed to exercise Jami-Lee Ross’ proxy vote to maintain "the democratic right of expression" after National rejected the offer of his vote.

The rogue MP was expelled from National's caucus after a bizarre series of events stemming from the leaked expenses of Simon Bridges’ travel costs, earlier in the year.

Following Ross’ public break-up with the party, which included him accusing Bridges of electoral fraud and Bridges, deputy Paula Bennett and a handful of women accusing him of inappropriate behaviour and harassment, the Botany MP said he would retain his seat as an independent.

At the end of last month, Ross wrote to National senior whip Barbara Kuriger to assign his proxy vote to the National party whips to be exercised in support of the National Party - an offer the party rejected.

He then turned to New Zealand First, writing to Winston Peters and the party’s whip Clayton Mitchell on November 3, asking the party to ensure his proxy vote was exercised in support of the vote of the National Party.

On Thursday, Peters – who spearheaded the party-hopping legislation to give parties the power to expel people in situations like this – said his party accepted Ross’ proxy "on the grounds that the electors of Botany gave a clear expression of their will at the 2017 general election when they elected him with a significant majority".

In a letter formally responding to Ross' request, Peters said that while the party "strongly believe[d]" he should resign his seat and stand in a by-election, it had accepted his proxy "until such time as you revoke it" and would use it in support of National.

"New Zealand First does this to ensure that all New Zealand voters continue to receive representation in Parliament."

"The spirit of the law, in case you missed, it was about representation as evoked at the last election - that simple, that's the plainest part of it."

Speaking to media about the decision, Peters said the caucus decision to accept Ross's proxy had been unanimous, although there had been a discussion about the potential problems in doing so.

He denied the move went against the spirit of the party-hopping law, saying the party's decision was about "maintaining the democratic right of expression from the voters of Botany". 

"The spirit of the law, in case you missed, it was about representation as evoked at the last election - that simple, that's the plainest part of it."

While he disagreed with Ross's rationale for not contesting a by-election, Peters said the alternative to accepting his proxy was "the prospect of no voice at all for the people of Botany".

“What we could do is have the National Party get down off its high horse and exercise the provision provided in that bill which in our view...are extremely sound.”

Peters said he had not consulted with Labour before making the decision, saying it was for New Zealand First's caucus to decide and nobody else.

Peters also attacked one journalist for the use of the term "waka jumping", saying: "I don't know where you get this waka jumping idea from, because most of the people who have jumped are not waka users, they've been sort of old colonial ship users."

His party's coalition agreement with Labour, as signed by Peters, includes a requirement that it "introduce and pass a 'waka jumping' bill".

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