Week in Politics: For Labour's sake, Nash must go

6:34 pm on 31 March 2023
Stuart Nash

As long as Stuart Nash remains in office, the opposition will chip away at the government. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Analysis - The Stuart Nash scandal has the potential to damage Labour's election chances and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins needs to shut it down; Marama Davidson's "white cis men" creates controversy and Auckland gets a nice surprise - its second harbour crossing will be built earlier than expected.

The best thing Stuart Nash can do for his party is announce his resignation from Parliament, effective 11.59pm on 15 April.

As long as he's there the opposition will chip away at the government, and the scandal has the potential to damage Labour's election chances.

It's not so much what errant MPs do that causes the problem, it's the perception that a government or an opposition party is so embroiled in its internal problems that it isn't focused on what really matters to voters.

We've seen it before, and the latest display of turmoil was National's leadership convulsions before the last election - which it lost very badly.

Nash was sacked from the cabinet on Tuesday, a few hours after Stuff revealed the existence of an email he sent to businessmen donors in 2020 which contained confidential cabinet information.

All the details are in RNZ's report headed Fresh revelation of Cabinet rule breach leads to Stuart Nash's sacking.

Hipkins described it as inexcusable, and he was right. It strikes at the core of the democratic principle that donors can't gain advantage by paying for it.

That didn't happen in this case. The donors didn't do anything wrong and didn't gain anything. In fact Nash had failed to get what he wanted in cabinet - the issue was commercial rent relief during the pandemic - and told them why.

Luxon says Nash must go immediately

Christopher Luxon

National Party leader Christopher Luxon says Nash should leave Parliament immediately. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

National's leader, Christopher Luxon, called for Nash to leave Parliament immediately, regardless of the fact that there would be a by-election in Napier if he did.

"I think Stuart Nash needs to leave this place - last night, today - because essentially he's actually breached trust on a serious issue," he said.

It won't cause a by-election if he resigns from 15 April because that makes it too close to the general election, which is why Jacinda Ardern has chosen it for her resignation.

There is one step that would have to be taken to avoid a by-election - Parliament has to vote not to hold one, with a 75 percent majority required.

It's usually a formality, but if National was determined to force the issue it could vote against the motion. As it has 34 seats, the 75 percent threshold wouldn't be reached.

It's very unlikely to do that. Although National would like a by-election because it would probably win it, forcing it to be held would be seen for what it was - a political ploy.

At the time of writing Nash's latest comment was that he would remain MP for Napier "for now".

Hipkins must know that as long as he remains an MP, National will do its best to keep the scandal going and won't let up on demands for his resignation.

Email revelations make matters worse for government

Making matters even worse was the disclosure by Hipkins on Wednesday that the prime minister's office knew about Nash's email in 2021 when it was included in "consultation around an Official Information Act request", RNZ reported.

Hipkins said it was deemed to be outside the scope of the OIA request so was not made public.

Neither the then prime minister Jacinda Ardern, nor her chief of staff, were alerted to the email's existence, Hipkins said.

Details of what happened were released on Thursday, and showed that two staff members, deputy chief of staff Holly Donald and a senior adviser, were aware of the OIA request that was made to Nash's office, and it was discussed with the minister's office on three occasions.

Nash emailed them and included the email he sent to the donors.

It was not escalated by the staff member's in the prime minister's office, or released at the time, because Nash claimed it was sent in his capacity as an MP, not a minister.

The OIA was put in by a journalist writing for Newsroom, and asked for "all written correspondence and details of the nature and substance of any other communication since the start of 2020" between Nash and 19 of his political donors.

Newsroom has covered it all in a report under the headline Evidence Stuart Nash breached official information laws.

Chris Hipkins.

Chris Hipkins announcing Stuart Nash's demotion and giving him a last warning on 17 March. Photo: Katie Scotcher / RNZ

National's deputy leader, Nicola Willis, said it proved the prime minister's office was trying to cover up official information.

A statement from the prime minister's office said both staff - who were still employed there - had apologised for their "error of judgment" in not recognising the significance of the email and escalating it at the time.

Hipkins said he did not believe it had been deliberately covered up.

Luxon did believe it had been covered up.

"It's a cover-up because you've actually got an email exchange between the prime minister's office and Stuart Nash's office… clearly people inside the prime minister's office were aware of the issue. What kind of culture is it if you don't actually flag those issues higher up the chain," he said.

Hipkins has ordered a review to find out whether Nash breached cabinet confidentiality on other occasions. He expects it to conclude well before the election on 14 October.

Luxon wants a wider review looking at all correspondence from Nash since 2017.

That would be good for National because it would take longer and make the scandal last. Ideally, for the opposition, it should be in full swing right up to the election.

Until the Nash scandal broke another of Hipkins' minister was holding centre stage.

Davidson clarifies 'white cis men' comment but refuses to apologise

Marama Davidson

Marama Davidson was forced to clarify her comment regarding violence and white cis men. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Marama Davidson, Green Party co-leader and Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence, apparently wasn't thinking clearly when she said: "I know who causes violence in the world - it is white cis men".

If she hadn't said "white" she would have got away with it.

This caused a great fuss, which inevitably involved Hipkins and took up nearly all of question time at his post-cabinet press conference on Monday.

Shortly before that Davidson had issued a statement clarifying what she had intended saying.

It happened when she was leaving the aborted rally held by anti-trans activist Posie Parker, and after Davidson had been knocked over by a motorbike.

In her statement Davidson said she had been in a state of shock. "I should have made clear in my comments that violence happens in every community," she said. "My intention was to affirm that trans people are deserving of support and to keep the focus on the fact that men are the main perpetrators of violence."

Davidson said she made the "white cis men" comment when she was approached and questioned by "conspiracy theorists Counterspin", and RNZ found out more about that.

"Davidson, when approached on the street by Counterspin media host Hannah Spierer… was asked about Parker being violently assaulted," it reported.

"Spierer and her husband Kelvyn Alp are far-right activists, and their network Counterspin has previously been linked to Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former chief strategist who also ran far-right website Breitbart News and was connected to the Cambridge Analytica scandal."

At his press conference Hipkins confirmed that his office had suggested to Davidson's office that she should issue a statement clarifying what she meant.

He clearly knew what was coming, and he was able to tell reporters that he accepted Davidson's explanation.

It didn't end there because opposition parties were gunning for Davidson. National wanted an apology, David Seymour and Winston Peters demanded her resignation.

Neither got what they wanted. Davidson told RNZ's First Up she wasn't going to apologise to cis men.

"I don't move away from what I was trying to highlight in the fact that the biggest threat to women is definitely not trans people," she said.

Government unveils five options for second Auckland harbour crossing

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Transport Minister Michael Wood speak to the media after announcing five options for a second Auckland harbour crossing and that work on it would start in 2029.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Transport Minister Michael Wood speak to the media after announcing five options for a second Auckland harbour crossing and that work on it would start in 2029. Photo: RNZ / Screenshot

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Transport Minister Michael Wood speak to the media after announcing five options for a second Auckland harbour crossing and that work on it would start in 2029.

If Hipkins was looking for something that would shift attention, or some of it, away from Nash, he got it with the announcement that Auckland was going to get a second harbour crossing and that work would start in 2029.

Previous planning was for the project to start in the 2040s.

Five options were unveiled: tunnels, bridges, or a combination of both. The preferred option will be confirmed in June.

"The second harbour crossing has just become real," Hipkins told media.

The massive infrastructure mission would "become the backbone of a modern, integrated transport system that can compare with the best city transport networks anywhere in the world."

The Greens called for a rail only option.

"A new road tunnel would be a climate and congestion disaster," MP Julie Anne Genter said in a statement.

"Aucklanders deserve options that will reduce congestion, not make it worse."

*Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament's press gallery, 22 years as NZPA's political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.

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