New Zealand First's run of bad luck and messy sentiments has spilled over into cyberspace, with its own Web site becoming a magnet for accusations and arguments over racism in the party, the role of Michael Laws and even an alleged tax scam.
When the party lost researcher Rex Widerstrom, it also lost most of its Internet savvy. Widerstrom, who had become a popular figure in local newsgroups, helped set up the Web site, including its built-in bulletin board. If the messages had been occasionally prickly when Widerstrom was present, they became positively toxic after his departure.
In his absence--and facing some very hostile correspondents--someone who would identify himself (or herself) only as "NZ First" removed messages from the bulletin board "to save disk space". While the cries of "censorship!" were still ringing, a correspondent reposted an entire thread on racism which had been deleted.
Meanwhile, another correspondent was suggesting that New Zealand First's financial membership structure amounted to a tax scam. New members of the party are required to pay a single dollar to join--on which the party pays 12.5% GST, because it is a mandatory payment. They are then encouraged to donate a more substantial amount--on which, as a donation, GST is not payable.
"So much for honesty and accountability," raged the writer "This party is committing tax fraud."
It could hardly have gotten any worse for Peters--and, indeed, the saving grace of the whole affair has been that, ironically, the site was difficult to reach for much of past week because of a mysterious DNS problem on the host system at Voyager. Most people become agitated when no one can reach their Web site. New Zealand First was probably feeling deeply relieved.
Widerstrom, meanwhile, is said to be alive and well but suffering network silence, his Parliamentary Services PC having been seized in a "raid" on his office by Peters and Laws. Widerstrom needed a lawyer and the help of Parliamentary Services in order to get to the PC and reformat the hard drive before it could be inspected by his erstwhile colleagues.