Week in Review
New allegations surround MP Jami-Lee Ross
There's new political turmoil for the MP accused in 2018 of bullying and sexual impropriety, writes Newsroom investigations editor Melanie Reid
Controversial independent MP Jami-Lee Ross is again under investigation after misconduct allegations saw three of the four staff in his Botany office placed on special leave.
The latest complaints, understood to include bullying, are from the past year and relate to staff in the office he set up as an independent MP after his spectacular falling out with National.
Newsroom has been told the inquiry began after “staff members raised serious concerns about Jami-Lee Ross’ behaviour and conduct over the past year to the Parliamentary Service”.
Ross left National in late 2018 and became an independent MP after alleging corruption by his leader Simon Bridges, and facing bullying and sexual impropriety claims by numerous women, revealed by Newsroom.
The former National Party whip, was briefly detained under the Mental Health Act after going missing one night soon after Newsroom revealed he had bullied or harassed seven women – in two cases involving sexual relationships.
One woman said then that Ross targeted her for a relationship which evolved into controlling behaviour, “incoherent rages” and “brutal sex”, while another said she believed he used their affair to manipulate her for information about key National Party figures.
Three of the women said they had breakdowns, with two of them seeking medical help.
The allegations prompted the Speaker, Trevor Mallard, to order an inquiry at Parliament into bullying.
Despite the high-profile allegations of just 15 months ago, Newsroom understands three of Ross' four current electorate staff are now on leave as an inquiry is carried out on behalf of the Parliamentary Service, the employer of the two women and one man. It is not clear who is conducting the investigation, but one person with knowledge of the situation suggested an outside organisation had been engaged to lead it.
Ross is hoping to defend the Botany seat in the September general election against National's new candidate, former Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon. Ross has had billboards on prominent fences around the electorate since late last year and has his office on Botany Rd.
Serious questions are now being asked of the Parliamentary Service's level of care for the welfare and safety of its staff in offices around the country. One political source said the service seemed good at putting up processes with very little effectiveness in preventing poor behaviour in the workplace.
Ross did not reply late yesterday when Newsroom's political editor Sam Sachdeva asked, in an exchange of text messages, for his comment on the new inquiry into his conduct.
The Parliamentary Service would not discuss employment matters.
One Botany electorate office staff member remains working while the other three are on special leave.
The Mallard-directed inquiry last year found systemic problems, with a high-intensity culture and unusual employment arrangements contributing to the bullying and harassment – staff are employed by the Parliamentary Service but, in effect the MP whose office they work in is their boss.
The lack of oversight by the Parliamentary Service was heavily criticised by the women who accused Ross of bullying them when he was a National MP.
When Newsroom spoke to the same women yesterday, none were surprised by the news that Ross was facing new allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
"After so many vulnerable women came forward with their stories and experiences, it's simply unbelievable that Parliamentary Services could send more lambs to the slaughter. There has obviously been no reflection of the ordeals we went through while working for Jami-Lee Ross, and what they could have done to help us as our employer,” said one staff member.
Another said the current situation was predictable because the Parliamentary Service had failed to help her: “I went to them a number of times so they were fully aware of the bullying situation getting progressively worse. As far as I am concerned Parliamentary Services have a lot to answer for.”
Ross resigned from the National Party after an internal investigation outed him as the source of leaks about leader Simon Bridges' expenses.
Ross denied leaking the information to the media, and in a bombshell press conference accused Bridges and National of being involved in electoral fraud related to an alleged $100,000 donation from a wealthy Chinese businessman.
The Serious Fraud Office last month laid charges against four individuals following an investigation into the claims, but Bridges said neither he nor National Party secretary Greg Hamilton were among those charged.
Ross became an independent MP in late 2018, and after reuniting with his wife, Lucy Schwaner, he wrote a letter to his Botany constituents asking not to be judged "on a month where personal and health-related matters became a distraction".
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