19 Aug 2022

Sharma's suspension not predetermined, Labour Ministers say

5:44 pm on 19 August 2022

Suspended Labour MP Gaurav Sharma has - sadly - made things very difficult for himself, Minister Chris Hipkins says.

Labour MP Chris Hipkins

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

He and fellow Labour Cabinet ministers have pushed back against his claims Dr Sharma's suspension on Tuesday was predetermined at a secret meeting the previous night.

Dr Sharma has turned up the heat on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, accusing her of lying and again calling for an independent investigation into his accusations of bullying by party whips - and into the complaints about his own office.

He broke his silence last night, saying he had secretly recorded a 55-minute phonecall with a senior Labour MP on Monday night following a meeting the entire caucus - apart from him - had been invited to.

In that conversation, he claims, the MP told him several times the outcome was predetermined in that meeting. He told Newshub last night there was "something very big going on here and there is a cover-up". Sharma says the senior MP was not aware he was recording their conversation, but now does not have an issue with it.

Sharma was suspended from Labour's caucus on Tuesday, after an hours-long meeting he declined to attend which ostensibly was to decide his fate.

It had been framed by Ardern as a final warning for Sharma, an olive branch giving him a chance to remain in the party after he repeatedly breached caucus confidentiality and brought the party into disrepute.

She said the caucus felt he had broken their trust - the very reason for excluding him from the secret meeting on Monday, as MPs feared he would record the meeting being held via teleconferencing - and he had to earn it back.

His latest statements and the publicisation of the phone recording represent yet another breach, and arguably proof the caucus' concerns about his confidentiality were justified. The caucus will meet again next Tuesday to vote on whether to expel him permanently.

Hipkins said the outcome was disappointing.

"I mean - never like to see these sorts of things happen, he's clearly a bright and talented person who had a lot to offer, and I think it's unlikely now that he will have the opporutnity to offer that because of the actions that he himself has taken.

"I think that's quite sad ... I think he's made it very difficult for himself."

In Dunedin today, fellow Cabinet Minister David Clark denied the outcome was predetermined, and said the reason Sharma was excluded had been made clear.

"I think it's been publicly pretty clear that a lot of people didn't feel safe asking questions about his conduct," Clark said.

"We're unified as a caucus, and we stand behind our leader on this. I don't think there's really anything more to say."

Tourism, Forestry, Small Business and Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash - also in Dunedin - stridently rejected Sharma's claims.

"No, not in any way shape or form. Not a caucus meeting, it wasn't predetermined at all."

Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty - a minister outside Cabinet and previously the chief whip - has been the main subject of Sharma's complaints of bullying but today has been busy dealing with natural, rather than political, disasters.

He also denied the claims Sharma's suspension had been predetermined.

"The mood of the room was very clear, but it certainly wasn't predetermined."

What does seem predetermined now is Sharma's expulsion from the party next week. He could remain as an independent for his Hamilton West electorate in the same way Jami-Lee Ross did after his exit from National, but Labour could also choose to make use of the waka-jumping legislation.

Under that law, a letter sent to the Speaker of the House would guarantee Sharma's removal from Parliament entirely.

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