Stuart Nash has been sacked from Cabinet after disclosing confidential information from a Cabinet meeting to two businessmen, both former donors.
Nash was on his final warning after a string of scandals before the latest misstep came to light, but Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the most recent scandal was “inexcusable” and this incident alone would have seen Nash sacked.
He described the call as “black and white”, but he was still “gutted” to see Nash go.
“I’ve worked with Stuart for a long time. I’m absolutely gutted to be quite frank,” Hipkins said.
Hipkins suggested Nash may no longer contest the seat of Napier at the 2023 election - and confirmed that he had asked Nash to reflect on his position.
“I’m sure Stuart will be reflecting on his position over the next while, I will leave him to make further comment on that,” he said .
Were Nash to leave Parliament after mid-April he would be able to depart Parliament without triggering a byelection.
Asked whether Nash could even leave Labour’s caucus, Hipkins said “that’s not something I’m in a position to make any comments on”.
“I imagine there will be further conversations. Stuart will himself be reflecting on his position,” he said.
The new scandal relates to a pandemic-era commercial rent relief package.
In the leaked email to Troy Bowker and Greg Loveridge, Nash wrote “I am as annoyed (and surprised) about the final outcome of the ‘commercial rent relief package’ as you are”.
The email detailed Cabinet discussions and noted Nash’s personal disagreements with Cabinet colleagues and the positions they took.
It noted that Andrew Little was keen on an arbitration model of rent relief and that Nash had “got Parker across the line on th 50:50 proposal) [SIC]”.
It notes the support of another part of the policy proposal as being backed by Ministers Winston Peters and Shane Jones.
The Cabinet Manual, which governs the conduct of Cabinet Ministers, states “discussion at Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings is informal and confidential” and members of Cabinet are bound by collective responsibility and must not detail who took what position on an issue.
Bowker had donated $10,000 to Nash for the 2020 campaign, Loveridge had donated $5000 via a company, GRL Holdings.
Both men, who Hipkins said had done nothing wrong, were also involved in the property industry.
“They are also commercial property owners who had an interest in the Cabinet decision.
“That crosses a line that is totally unacceptable to me,” Hipkins said.
Nash had already had to distance himself from Bowker after a 2021 incident in which he accused animation entrepreneur Sir Ian Taylor of “sucking up to the left Māori loving agenda”.
Back then, Nash said he wouldn’t be “taking any more donations from Troy”.
National leader Christopher Luxon called on Stuart Nash to resign from Parliament immediately, triggering a byelection.
Luxon said the crime was “akin to insider trading”.
“He needs to leave Parliament tonight,” Luxon said.
“We have standards here, this is a senior minister it’s his fourth contravention of the Cabinet Manual, Chris Hipkins finally faces up to it tonight, it is a serious and egregious issue, he needs to be gone tonight,” Luxon said.
Act leader David Seymour said Nash’s offences didn’t necessarily disqualify him from being an MP and he also questioned calls, like those from Luxon, to have a byelection, doubting whether it would be a worthy use of time for the people of Napier, who were among the hardest hit by Cyclone Gabrielle earlier this year.
“With everything New Zealanders are facing at this point in time, how will having a byelection make the boat go faster when actually we’re going to have an election for the whole country including Napier in just over six months’ time?”
Asked whether Luxon’s demand for Nash’s resignation prompting a byelection was hypocritical given National’s criticism of the Government’s spending habits, Seymour said his concern was less about the roughly $1.2 million needed for a byelection but the time it would take given the proximity of the general election.
“I wouldn’t jump on the fact that a byelection costs money, I’d just ask with everything New Zealand faces; people trying to pay their bills, wondering why their dairies are being robbed again, and to then say what New Zealand really needs right now is a byelection ... doesn’t really seem like the most pressing need of the people of Napier and New Zealand right now.”
Victoria University law professor Dean Knight said the key issue over Nash’s sacking was whether Hipkins could continue to have confidence in his minister.
“Constitutionally, the lifeblood of Cabinet ministers is confidence. Confidence of their ministerial colleagues. Confidence of their colleagues as expressed by the Prime Minister. The political judgment about whether collegial confidence remains or has been burnt up is also influenced by political heat — whether the confidence Parliament and electors have in the government risks being eroded by the actions of a minister.
“It’s no surprise the PM has finally drawn a line under it all to ensure the relationships of confidence that support govt don’t tumble down. It’s important to recognise that the question of confidence is more important than the individual missteps and their intrinsic gravity or otherwise. These are, ultimately, political calls,” Knight said.
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