by Chris Tobin
Shock, disbelief and disgust were among reactions to first-term National MP Andrew Falloon’s sex-text scandal, which blew up on Monday and could reverberate through to the general election in September.
Mr Falloon has been accused of sending unsolicited explicit images to a number of women.
Jo Goodhew, who held the Rangitata seat for National for four terms from 2005 until she retired in 2017 when Mr Falloon (37) stepped in, said she was shocked by the events.
Asked if the scandal would damage National’s election chances she said: “Election day will tell. It’s just an extremely difficult time for everybody concerned.”
She understood the process to find a National candidate would start immediately but had no idea how many would be interested in “putting their hand up for a wonderful seat”.
She dismissed any possibility of standing herself.
National could face a stronger challenge from Labour in the seat.
Mr Falloon won in 2017 with 19,994 votes against Labour list MP Jo Luxton, who is based in Rangitata, who got 13,663 votes.
Billboards have gone up around Timaru promoting Ms Luxton as the Rangitata Labour candidate in which images of leader Jacinda Ardern are more prominent than those of Ms Luxton.
The electorate includes parts of South and Mid Canterbury.
Ms Luxton would not comment on Mr Falloon, an electorate spokeswoman said.
Mr Falloon’s fellow National MP Jacqui Dean, whose Waitaki electorate includes parts of South Canterbury, said she was shocked and appalled to hear of her “former colleague” Mr Falloon’s behaviour and subsequent resignation.
“I am deeply concerned for the welfare of the young women involved.
“This is a professional workplace and a high standard of behaviour is expected from all MPs.
“His actions are not acceptable or expected in the party and the decision to resign immediately was the right one.
“As a party we remain strong and will move forward from this and find a robust candidate to represent the Rangitata electorate in the upcoming election,” Mrs Dean said.
Comment was sought from other National Party officials, Canterbury-Westland chairman Roger Bridge and Rangitata chairman Colin Truman, who headed Mr Falloon’s 2017 election campaign, but they did not respond.
Mark Oldfield, part of Mr Falloon’s 2017 campaign team, declined to comment.
Mr Falloon’s Facebook page, on which he made almost daily posts, was shut down late on Monday after the announcement was made he would not be standing in the general election.
Thereafter confusion reigned.
At first the public were led to believe mental health issues were the chief cause for his resignation until it came to light the main reason was alleged sexual misbehaviour.
Mr Falloon cited the loss of three close friends to suicide and the recent death of another friend to suicide, which had brought on unresolved grief.
The day before this announcement he took part in Timaru’s midwinter swim at Caroline Bay and the day before that, attended the Mackenzie Half Marathon in Fairlie.
There was a hint in his statement that other factors could be involved when he added: “I have made a number of mistakes and I apologise to those who have been affected.
“Recent events have compounded the situation and reminded me of the need to maintain my own health and wellbeing. I have again been receiving counselling,” Mr Falloon said.
After this announcement, National Party leader Judith Collins said: “Andrew is suffering from significant mental health issues and his privacy, and that of his family, must be respected.”
Several hours later it was revealed Mr Falloon had sent a sexually explicit image (of a woman) to a 19-year-old woman. Mr Falloon’s version was that someone must have sent the image when he left his cellphone unattended.
By Tuesday morning another woman came forward to say Mr Falloon had sent her sexual images.
After this, Ms Collins said it was in Mr Falloon’s best interests to resign immediately.
She urged other women who could have received images to notify her.
Mr Falloon then resigned from Parliament effective immediately.
Things escalated further when Ms Collins said police were likely to reinvestigate the case, adding she was “absolutely appalled”.
More young women had advised her of “uncalled-for communications”.
There were claims Mr Falloon lied to police after initial inquiries.
Deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said he was disgusted.
By noon on Tuesday, four women had come forward with allegations against Mr Falloon.
Last week, The Courier contacted Mr Falloon for comment on the upheaval within National after Todd Muller stepped down as leader a few days before, followed by veteran MPs Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams quitting politics.
In an email to The Courier Mr Falloon said: “I’ve talked to Judith several times since she was selected as leader and expressed a desire to keep working in the new portfolios I was given a couple of months ago.
“On top of those, Judith has also asked me to step into the economic development portfolio to assist my colleague Todd McClay.
“It was a tough week. I really feel for Todd [Muller] and his family – it’s a difficult thing to go through. I’ve known Judith for many years and I know she’ll do a superb job.”
Allegations against Mr Falloon emerged last Wednesday when a complainant approached the Prime Minister’s office. Ms Collins was advised by the Prime Minister’s office on Friday.
Mr Falloon grew up in Ashburton and was a boarder at Christchurch Boys’ High School.
He studied political science and economics at the University of Canterbury. Before becoming an MP he worked in Parliament for three ministers, Rodney Hide, Phil Heatley and Steven Joyce.
In his parliamentary maiden speech he mentioned the suicides of his friends.
“I’m sorry that I couldn’t do more for them.
“It’s a feeling that doesn’t go away. I was fortunate that it was about this time, when I was at university, I met someone who helped me through it.
“I wouldn’t be here without her.