Simon Bridges defends Jami-Lee Ross promotion offer in leaked recording

National leader Simon Bridges has defended offering troubled politician Jami-Lee Ross a future promotion if he accepted the terms of leave put to him after his ”inappropriate and disruptive conduct”.

Mr Bridges told Morning Report that he was unaware of “more serious” allegations by women against Mr Ross – including claims of harassment – at the time he made his comments to Mr Ross early last month.

He also said he understood the four women who spoke to the party’s caucus over Mr Ross’ behaviour were different from the women who spoke to Newshub.

Extracts of a taped conversation between former National MP Jami-Lee Ross, party leader Simon Bridges and deputy Paula Bennett revealed the National leadership tried to keep their internal problems out of the public eye.

According to Newshub, the audio was recorded early last month as National was negotiating with Mr Ross over the terms on which he’d take leave from Parliament.

In the tape, Mr Ross was heard questioning what he had done. Ms Bennett responded by discussing disloyalty.

“You do know what the disloyalty stuff is, and that’s been put to you really clearly. If that was put to caucus, that would be enough,” Ms Bennett said. “We are trying to give you the lightest possible way out of this.”

Ms Bennett suggests to use either medical or family reasons for Mr Ross’ departure. The Botany MP then admits medical leave would be true.

“And it means that everyone will back off you too,” Ms Bennett says. “The media and all that sort of stuff, which I think is important.”

Mr Bridges gave Mr Ross an “100 percent assurance” that if he stuck with the statement along the lines discussed, he would never bad-mouth him in private or public.

Mr Bridges also told Mr Ross if he behaved well, he could be promoted in the future.

“We can get through it and you can get through and you come out the other side if your attitude after time out is good and positive – and you can be promoted again.”

Mr Bridges said he stood by the content of the recording and that he had sought to balance dealing with a serious mental health issue and “disloyal and disruptive conduct”.

When asked whether it was right to offer Mr Ross a promotion when allegations of inappropriate behaviour with women were known, Mr Bridges said he had acted appropriately.

He said four or five women had approached him with complaints against Mr Ross but subsequent, more serious allegations of sexual harassment against the MP that surfaced in the media were made by different women.

“I dealt with them very promptly,” Mr Bridges said.

“I was dealing with them in accordance with the women’s wishes and they seemed to be very clearly different to some of the more serious allegations that have been made in the media more recently.”

He said he had to balance “specialist” advice related to the health of Mr Ross with a need to discipline Mr Ross.

“It seemed to me that the right solution on all of that was significant leave, so that those matters could be dealt with … in the circumstances, I got it right,” he said.

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