12 Aug 2022

Hamilton West MP Gaurav Sharma accuses Parliamentary Service of stonewalling bullying claims

11:00 am on 12 August 2022

A Labour backbencher has launched an extraordinary broadside, claiming MP-on-MP bullying is rampant within Parliament and facilitated by those supposed to prevent it.

MPs back in the debating chamber for the first sitting day of 2021

(File image) Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Hamilton West MP Gaurav Sharma has published a column in the New Zealand Herald in which he accuses Parliamentary Service of working hand-in-hand with the offices of party whips and leaders - including the prime minister's office.

Hamilton West MP Gaurav Sharma.

Hamilton West MP Gaurav Sharma Photo: Supplied / NZ Parliament

"Politicians especially at top of our current system and from parties across the political spectrum often talk about "changing the system" and "kindness," but as the saying goes "charity must start at home"," he wrote.

Sharma wrote, in his experience, when MPs raise serious concerns about colleagues' behaviour, Parliamentary Service stonewalls the conversation and throws them to the party's whip.

He also said the Whip's Office then went on to gaslight and victimise the complainant with the intention of threatening them about their long-term career prospects.

"With the way the current Parliamentary Service is run, you can go weeks and months before getting a reply to urgent issues and when they do have an answer it is seldom in writing and often from behind the desk of the party whips who - in my opinion, and based on what I have seen in my time in Parliament - use the Parliamentary Service to bully and harass their MPs "to keep them in line"."

Parliamentary Service chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero dismissed allegations the service worked with parties to disrupt complaints processes.

Rafael Gonzalez-Montero, head of parliamentary services, is questioned by a select committee

Parliamentary Service chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero Photo: RNZ / DOM THOMAS

"The Parliamentary Service works alongside whips from all parties. This has included working closely with the Labour Whip's office over the past year to address employment matters with Dr Sharma.

"We do what we can to support all our MPs, and we acknowledge the triangular employment relationship at Parliament is complex."

It was important to make clear the service could not direct MPs what to do and how to act, Gonzalez-Montero said.

"MPs are elected representatives of New Zealand's citizens and that would impinge on New Zealand's democracy, and the free right of MPs as elected representatives of New Zealand's citizens," he said.

"It is our responsibility to promote a healthy and secure culture within our workplace, and we have made significant progress on this following the 2019 External Independent Review into Bullying and Harassment in the New Zealand Parliamentary Workplace."

In a statement, Labour Whip Duncan Webb confirmed his office had been working with Parliamentary Services and Gaurav to address employment matters in his office.

"We had been working to provide support for Gaurav and find a solution. We're committed to reaching an outcome everyone is happy with."

Leaving Parliament today, Labour MP for Papakura Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki said the column had come as a complete surprise and she wished Sharma had approached her for support.

Labour MP for Papakura Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

"I'm saddened that that's his experience. I'm his office neighbour and I'm really saddened that that's his experience," Kanongata'a-Suisuiki said.

"It did come as a surprise to me and I'm just sad he didn't share. As a neighbour, I felt that I could be someone that he could confide in."

When asked if she had ever experienced bullying herself, Kanongata'a-Suisuiki said: "No, absolutely not."

Labour MP for Ilam Sarah Pallet said Sharma had "always been a friend" of hers and he had never confided the allegations raised in the column with her.

"I think the important thing is that it's not been my experience. I've had a lot of support and that's really all I have to say about it.

RNZ has contacted Sharma and the prime minister's office for comment.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs