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Peters lashes at committee

Published: 7:35AM Thursday August 21, 2008 Source: NZPA

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has accused Parliament's privileges committee of running a hearing on Monday night that was intended to discredit his party.

The privileges committee, comprised of 12 senior MPs, sits as Parliament's court and it takes itself seriously.

But Peters said he wouldn't have been surprised if a gallows had been erected for the inquiry into the $100,000 donation from billionaire Owen Glenn.

"It was more like the Spanish Inquisition or the Salem Witch trials than a reasoned hearing by the so-called highest court in the land," he said yesterday in a speech prepared for a Grey Power meeting.

"The whole purpose was to discredit New Zealand First and marginalise Winston Peters."

The hearing was about the $100,000 cheque Glenn apparently thought was going to NZ First but went towards paying the legal fees of Peters' lawyer, Brian Henry.

Henry told the committee he solicited the money after the 2005 election to pay his fees for a petition Peters launched in a bid to unseat Bob Clarkson, who won the Tauranga seat for National.

He confirmed he did not tell Peters about it until July this year.

The committee wanted to know whether it should have been declared by Peters as payment of a debt against him, but Henry said he never sent bills and therefore no debt existed.

Questions were also asked about the $40,000 awarded to Clarkson, and against Peters, after the petition was lost.

Henry said he paid the costs himself with a personal cheque, which raised further questions about whether that should have been declared by Peters.

But in his speech today Peters said he reimbursed Henry, which cancelled out any reason for declaring the payment.

"He checked his records yesterday and found this was indeed the case," Peters said.

But ACT leader Rodney Hide, who laid the complaint the committee is hearing, said he did not believe the story.

"I think Winston has lost all credibility and he is making up a new story every day to fit the facts," Hide said.