21 Mar 2012

Smith resigns over 2 'serious errors' of judgement

5:12 pm on 21 March 2012

National MP Nick Smith has resigned all of his cabinet portfolios telling Parliament he made two serious errors of judgement relating to a friend who was dealing with the ACC.

He told Parliament he had made the errors, while he was ACC minister last parliamentary term.


Dr Smith was under pressure Tuesday to step down - or for the prime minister to sack him - after it was revealed he had used a ministerial letterhead to advocate for his friend Bronwyn Pullar and her ACC claim.

But Wednesday he said there was another letter in which he failed to declare a conflict of interest in the matter.

The letter was not to ACC, but to a National MP colleague who was advocating on Ms Pullar's behalf.

Both Dr Smith and John Key said on Wednesday that it was a step too far and Dr Smith's resignation from cabinet was tendered and accepted.

The Labour Party says the second letter is nowhere near as serious as the reference Dr Smith wrote and has just provided a convenient excuse for Mr Key to act.

Dr Smith has apologised to the prime minister, his caucus colleagues, his family and staff for his misjudgements.

He says he will see out this term of parliament as the MP for Nelson.

He held the Local Government, Environment and Climate Change portfolios.


Dr Smith wrote a letter of reference as ACC Minister in July last year on ministerial letterhead for a friend, Bronwyn Pullar, who has had a long-standing disagreement with ACC about its support for her.

The letter was sent to Ms Pullar's medical assessor, stating that prior to her accident she was well, capable and worked hard.

Opposition parties have called on Mr Key to sack Dr Smith, who they say has clearly breached the rules governing the way ministers conduct themselves.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister accepted an apology from Dr Smith, who admitted he made an an error in judgement. John Key says he does not believe the minister breached Cabinet rules when he wrote the letter.

But Radio New Zealand's political staff say Mr Key's comments on Wednesday indicate that he might now have a different view and take a tougher approach.

In August last year, Ms Pullar was mistakenly emailed details of thousands of confidential ACC claims by an ACC staff member.

The corporation has claimed Ms Pullar threatened to go to the media about the breach unless she was guaranteed a benefit for two years. Ms Pullar has denied the claim.

Smith should be sacked - Labour

Labour says Dr Smith should be sacked and is calling for an independent inquiry into the matter.


ACC spokesperson Andrew Little told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Wednesday that Dr Smith completely overstepped the mark and wrote the letter in a clear attempt to influence Ms Pullar's claim.

"That is just beyond the pale as a minister and for someone as seasoned and as experienced as him, it's beyond just an error of judgement

- it was a spectacular mis-judgement and shows him unfit to be a minister."

Mr Little does not accept Mr Key's response that it was an error of judgement, but not a particularly serious one.

"Why would a minister of Nick Smith's standing write a letter for an individual person, trying to influence their claim. How is it that claimant Bronwyn Pullar gets to have a meeting with two senior ACC managers?"

Green Party MP Kevin Hague says Mr Key should not dismiss the incident as minor.

"I consider it to be a fundamental breach of ministerial responsibility, it's clearly inappropriate. I think that it's important that he should be stood down from his Cabinet responsibilities while this matter is under investigation."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says the saga reads like a bad novel.