MPs want to call Owen Glenn to give evidence to the privileges committee.
Committee chairman Simon Power would make no further comment last night. He could not say whether the committee had the power to compel Mr Glenn to give evidence, if he chose not to appear.
And John Armstrong isn’t confident that Peters will be censured.
If you were a betting person, you would have to put the odds on Winston Peters escaping censure by Parliament’s privileges committee after watching last night’s hearing.
Put that down to the unorthodox relationship between Peters and his lawyer Brian Henry. Much depends on what Owen Glenn says if he accepts the committee’s invitation to give evidence. But with his testimony – given by video-link – Henry knocked the stuffing out of the charge Peters had failed to declare a $100,000 donation from the wealthy expatriate in the register of MPs’ pecuniary interests.
Boiled down, it ran like this. Henry rang Glenn and asked for the donation to meet the costs of Peters’ legal bid to overturn the result in Tauranga in the 2005 election. Peters was not told. It was Henry’s practice not to bill Peters for his work. In fact, since becoming Peters’ lawyer in 1991, Henry had never billed Peters for his work. Because he did not bill Peters, there was no debt that Peters ought to have declared.
Perhaps you have to be a lawyer to understand this especially when:
The committee heard from Peters that he had reimbursed Henry to the tune of hundreds and thousands of dollars over that period, but without knowing how much he owed. So it seems Henry did not charge Peters – but he still got paid.
Does that make sense? There was no bill and so no debt but Peters and other people paid Henry anyway.
In forthrightly arguing his case, Henry nearly managed to upstage his client – something rarely done. When Henry refused on the grounds of legal privilege to name the person who had suggested he ring Glenn for a donation, he got into a lengthy argument with National’s Gerry Brownlee, who accused him of being obstructive.
There had been doubts beforehand about how tough National’s questioning would be, given the party might have to negotiate with Peters after the coming election. But Brownlee and his colleague Wayne Mapp did not hold back. Sparks also flew during their exchanges with Peters.
I am relieved to learn this. If the MPs had trod gently it would have been a travesty.
Regardless of the fear they may be forced into coalition with New Zealand First after the election, those on the committee have to ask the tough questions and do everything in their power to not only get answers but also get the truth.