After fighting the election together, The New Zealand Public Party and Advance NZ are now fighting each other. Mark Jennings reports.

The marriage of convenience has turned into a nasty divorce. Billy Te Kahika’s NZPP and Jami-Lee Ross’ Advance NZ joined forces in July and campaigned under the Advance NZ banner. They received less than 1 percent of the vote and on October 25, Ross announced that Te Kahika had quit as co-leader.

“Billy decided he wanted to go and do his own thing and that’s his right,” Ross said at the time.

It was at this point, things “started getting weird,” says NZPP director Michael Stace.

“On November 6, Billy and NZPP received a letter from Jami-Lee stating that the policies that the parties co-wrote were in fact owned by, and the copyright of, Advance NZ and NZPP had no right to them whatsoever.”

Stace says many of the policies that are listed on the Advance NZ website were taken directly from the NZPP website’s “What we stand for section,” which had existed since June 2020.

“The animal rights policy was taken, verbatim,” says Stace.

In the same letter Ross warned Stace and Te Kahika not to use his colour scheme on their website, or social media pages.

“In particular I am referring to the use of the following which I’ll refer to as “the JLR branding”: the unique cobalt blue layered flag effect background with lightning bolt and the red and blue rectangular block name design with the Advance NZ star design.

“The JLR branding now forms part of the unique Advance NZ “get up”. It was commissioned by me in 2019 and enjoys protection under our copyright and fair trading legislation as well as protection against passing off at common law.” I authorised the use of the JLR branding by Advance NZ and it has become a valuable asset for our party in which we have built up considerable goodwill and reputation.”

Before the election the two parties signed a memorandum of understanding that included: Section 5: Campaign Investment and fundraising – Both parties will co-invest in agreed joint marketing and campaign expenses.

According to Stace, the Auckland lockdown meant a new bank account couldn’t be opened.

“Jami-Lee said not to worry, he had an ASB one ready to go and I could be added as a signatory.”

On August 25, the New Zealand Herald ran a story headlined,” Advance NZ receives year’s second biggest political donation.” The article referenced a $65,000 donation from a newly set up company under Billy Te Kahika’s name.

Billy Te Kahika, outside Parliament, in happier times.  Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Stace says the money came from NZPP’s bank account.

“It was not a donation, but was NZPP transferring the money to the ASB account, what we understood to be a joint account, but the Electoral Commission rules do not cover the transferring of money between parties. Thus it had to be called a donation.”

Stace says he found himself locked out of the ASB account when he went to pay two bills related to the election. One for extra tables hired for an election night party and one for pre-election advertising in Christchurch.

“I went to log-in, but my access was denied. When I called the bank to see what was going on, they said I was no longer a signatory to the account.

“I said to the bank ‘this can’t be right’ and they told me that Jami-Lee Ross was the actual owner of the account and there was nothing they could do.”

Stace says he emailed Ross on November 13 asking for half the funds in the account to be transferred to NZPP’s own BNZ account.

When he didn’t hear back from Ross, Stace says he asked police to investigate because he believes under the memorandum of understanding, Advance NZ owes NZPP close to $30,000.

When Newsroom approached Ross for comment we were emailed a copy of a letter sent to Stace, later that day, from Advance NZ’s lawyer, Graeme Edgeler.

Edgeler dismissed the idea that NZPP is owed any money.

“The claims made by you that the bank account is a joint account containing funds of both Advance NZ and the NZ Public Party is in error. The funds in that account are Advance NZ funds, and the NZ Public Party is not owed any of the funds from the account, In particular, no theft has occurred, and any suggestion otherwise is false.

“The bank account in the name of Advance NZ existed prior to the NZ Public Party being notified as a component party of Advance NZ, and prior to the Memorandum of Understanding agreed between Advance NZ and the NZ Public Party. It is not, and never was, a joint account, but rather it is the account of Advance NZ that donations were paid to and expenses paid from.

“No agreement was entered into (either at the time the NZ Public Party became a component party of Advance NZ, or at the time NZPP ceased to be component party) for any payment to be made to NZPP from Advance NZ’s funds.”

Edgeler said Advance NZ would agree to pay the two invoices, “as a show of good faith” provided that payments constituted full and final settlement of matters raised in Stace’s email of November 13.

Stace says the merger between the two parties was never a particularly happy one.

“They [Advance NZ] wanted Billy as a centrepiece, but they wanted to control him. We weren’t allowed to discuss our policies on abortion, 1080, 5G or fluoride.”

Stace said he started to notice a change in Ross when the result of the election became clear. Advance NZ got 0.9 percent of the vote, well short of the 5 percent needed to enter parliament. Ross had earlier chosen to withdraw from the contest for Botany, the electoral seat he held as a National MP, saying he wanted to concentrate on lifting Advance NZ’s party vote.

“As soon as the election ended Jami-Lee started growing a beard like Billy. He started using phrases like Billy uses. I’m a private investigator and I notice things.

“We have a mole leaking information from inside our place. Billy had been talking about going back on the road and visiting the venues that he spoke at during the election campaign. Suddenly, we find Jami-Lee Ross is going on the road to all the same places.

“He has also been using the merged database to contact our NZPP members.”

In a message posted on his party’s website Ross says Advance NZ is now focused on the next election.

“This is not the end of our party – we are all only beginning the work we need to do now, to plan, prepare, and work towards Election 2023.”

“In the coming months we will be completing the review that was started a few days ago. The plan for the future will see a special general meeting held early next year, and a reconstituted party, with a new nationwide structure, continue in preparation for 2023.

“We will be in touch again soon.”

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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