17 Mar 2023

Stuart Nash demoted to bottom of Cabinet, now on his 'final warning' - Hipkins

4:48 pm on 17 March 2023
Stuart Nash

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Stuart Nash has been demoted to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings and is on his "final warning", Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed this afternoon.

Hipkins said Nash had last night raised with him a third situation where he had "short-cutted the rules".

In September last year acting as the MP for Napier he had contacted a senior official at MBIE to ask them to look at an immigration case of a health professional in his electorate, not using the established process.

"There was an appropriate channel that Stuart Nash could have followed in the immigration case and that is what he should have done."

He said advice from the chief executive of MBIE showed the immigration case had been "snarled up" in its processing.

"It's a medical professional who met the criteria ... but the case had effectively been stalled in the process and that his intervention - as would be the case of an MP or a minister raising it with the associate minister - meant that case then got to a decision-making point."

Hipkins said in all these previous cases, Nash had been trying to do his best for his constituents.

"It's clear from his pattern of behaviour that Stuart is not acting to achieve personal gain from his actions. The cases in question represent his desire to get things done in his portfolios and on behalf of his communities.

"This latest instance though does demonstrate a pattern of behaviour which does not reach the standard that I expect from ministers.

"Stuart does on occasion speak in a more colloquial manner that reflects the sentiments of many people in the community but he does need to take greater care to ensure that what he says and how he says it uphold the standards of a Cabinet minister."

He will move to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings, at number 20, Hipkins said.

"We had a conversation including about whether resignation or dismissal was warranted, so both those things were on the table.

"His actions reflect poor judgement but the specifics of each instance do not warrant dismissal from his ministerial post altogether."

He said he had weighed the events up carefully against similar previous cases.

"There have been previous instances of ministers criticising court decisions where the consequence of that is they have received a public reprimand by the prime minister but they have not lost their ministerial warrants as a result.

"There's certainly the case of Judith Collins where she did it a number of times during her tenure as either minister of justice or as minister of police."

He said Nash had also raised a few instances when Nash was an opposition MP which would not meet the standards of a Cabinet Minister, but "I suspect that there are many in the parliament, including many of the current opposition, that if you ran that ruler over them they'd never be able to be ministers in the future either. I'm not going to set the bar that low".

Chris Hipkins.

Photo: Katie Scotcher / RNZ

Hipkins said Nash had raised the latest situation with him of his own accord.

"I've asked him whether there are other issues that I should be aware of ... he cannot recall or he doesn't have any recollection of others. I know that he has spent some time in the last 24 hours thinking about that."

Nash was on his final warning.

"These are past instances, and I certainly won't be tolerating any future ones.

"One of the conversations that I've had with Stuart today - and I've made it very clear to him - is that I expect that if there are any other previous instances that I should be aware of that he would have brought those to my attention."

Nash had not indicated he planned to withdraw from the coming election, he said.

Pattern of behaviour

Nash resigned from his police role on Wednesday after that morning revealing he had spoken to the Police Commissioner two years prior about a court case, and criticised the judge's decision.

The move had breached the Cabinet Manual which requires MPs to avoid influencing - or perceptions of trying to influence - police prosecutorial decisions, or commenting on individual court judgments.

Nash initially refused to back down on his comments about the judicial decision and said the conversation with the commissioner was just him "chewing the fat" with a "mate", but by the time Parliament began sitting at 2pm, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced Nash had resigned from the portfolio.

Hipkins at the time said that was proportional punishment, and Nash would be holding on to his other roles: Oceans and Fisheries, Forestry, and Economic Development.

The next day Nash was showing contrition - admitting he had "stuffed up". Hipkins then said he had confidence in Nash to perform his other roles, and he had been assured the mistake would not be made again.

That evening however, more news came to light of a previous event in which he had been warned against commenting on court cases by Attorney-General David Parker.

Hipkins said he had spoken to Parker, who said he had told Nash at the time words could have been chosen better, which satisfied both the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General.

Nash had assured him he did not recall the conversation with the Attorney-General, he said.

"I accept him at his word that he did not recollect it, I however would have an expectation that he would recall something like that."

He said Parker had not appeared to remember the incident either.

Opposition targets 'weak' Hipkins

National's Police Spokesperson Mark Mitchell said he had done a radio show with Nash for three years and considered himself a friend, but Nash had shown poor judgement - and the punishment was ridiculous.

"I think like probably a lot of the country I'm scratching my head and just wondering what's going on. There's got to be something more going on behind this.

National Party MP Mark Mitchell

Mark Mitchell Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"I mean, you've got a minister that's breached the Cabinet manual three times, and he's still in Cabinet? It's ridiculous, I mean it's completely consistent with what we've seen in New Zealand more widely around no consequences for actions.

"The prime minister comes out and says 'I've taken firm action' [but] he's left a Cabinet minister in Cabinet ... he's put him down to 20 - what does that mean? They don't lose any of the powers that they have, they're still sitting around the executive table making decisions."

He said Hipkins was showing himself to be very weak.

"You know, if it wasn't so serious it'd be laughable, but it's obvious that being reprimanded by Chris Hipkins is like being mauled by a mouse.

"It's great for Stu, I don't know how he's done it but he's somehow been able to survive in Cabinet when just about any previous administration or government he would have been well and truly gone."

He said there was no way Nash should still be a minister.

"He can remain an MP and he can go back to the election this year like we all have to do, and test and see if we've been working enough and retain the support of the people that elect us to represent and serve them - but he should definitely not be a minister."

ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden said leaders in Cabinet needed to show integrity, and "clearly that's not Stuart Nash".

"This is showing a clear pattern of behaviour. You could accept it if it was one time but he's made error upon error and shows a lack of integrity by breaking the Cabinet manual, boasting about it, and showing a lack of remorse.

"If this is the standard that's acceptable to Chris Hipkins of his Cabinet ministers what does that say about the rest of them?"

Brooke van Velden

Brooke van Velden Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

She also said Hipkins was weak.

"Chris Hipkins is a weak prime minister who's unable to hold his ministers accountable. what does a ministers need to do to get sacked from Cabinet?" she said.

"Voters should do what the prime minister can't and turf them all out when it comes to the election."

Hipkins told reporters he was not worried about being perceived as a weak leader, and he thought New Zealanders would expect him to treat ministers fairly.

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