16 Jun 2023

Stuart Nash did not share confidential information with other donors, probe finds

2:58 pm on 16 June 2023
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Stuart Nash. Photo: Dom Thomas

A Cabinet Office report has cleared Stuart Nash of further confidentiality breaches but also flagged "lower level" concerns about the government appointment of one of his high school friends.

The disgraced Labour MP was sacked from Cabinet in March over an email he sent to two donors in 2020 that breached rules set out in the Cabinet manual.

The Cabinet secretary has now reported back on a review into Nash's communications with other donors to determine if there had been any further breaches of the rules.

"I did not find any instances [other than those that led to his dismissal] in which Nash shared information with declared donors in a manner that was inconsistent with the Cabinet Manual principles of Cabinet confidentiality, collective responsibility or conflicts of interest," the report read.

The review does identify a conflict of interest in the government appointment of a donor and close associate (high school friend) Phil McCaw, who donated $6500 to Nash's 2020 election campaign.

There was no suggestion in the report of any wrongdoing by McCaw.

In May 2022, Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods appointed McCaw as the chair of the Startup Advisors Council, a body which supports the Minister for Regional and Economic Development and other ministers as appropriate.

At the time of the appointment, Nash was the Minister for Regional and Economic Development.

The Cabinet Office found Nash managed his conflict of interest with McCaw by identifying the need for the appointment to be made by another minister but failed in the continued management of the conflict of interest.

"The relationship between the chair and Nash as minister was an ongoing one, and the terms of reference stated that Nash continued to have responsibility for further decisions around McCaw's reappointment or dismissal. Nash's friendship with, and the donation from, Mr McCaw conflicted with this ongoing responsibility."

The Cabinet secretary's report stopped short of criticising Nash for suggesting McCaw as a candidate, saying he had disclosed a close association and it was in the context of names that officials should consider, but said there were perception risks.

"A member of the public seeing the announcement of McCaw's appointment, and the terms of reference for the council on the MBIE website, could well assume that Nash had appointed Mr McCaw as chair of the council.

"Having reviewed all the material, I am satisfied that is not the case, but it demonstrates the perception risks that may arise where conflict management is not carefully stepped through and recorded."

The Cabinet secretary said this finding was at the "lower level" in terms of inconsistency with Cabinet Manual principles.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the report was a helpful reminder of the importance of ministers making sure their conflicts were fully managed.

"When I asked for this review, I wanted to satisfy myself there were no other instances where confidential Cabinet information was shared with donors. I'm pleased that there were none.

"Stuart Nash has already paid the ultimate price for his actions by being removed as a minister."

Speaking at the opening of the Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway in Auckland this morning, Hipkins said sacking Nash had not been an overreaction.

"I think it was the right thing to do. Obviously, the report that's released today doesn't deal with those particular issues. The specific brief of the Cabinet Office was to look wider and see whether there were any other issues that needed to be addressed. People can form their own conclusions based on the report but it's highlighted for me that there isn't any further action that's required."

Hipkins said the review had assured him Nash had not "shepherded" McCaw's appointment though he accepted the MP had fallen short on managing the conflict in other ways, such as being involved in the announcement of it.

"I think Stuart is a really honest and decent person and I think that all of his motivation was good. I think he clearly didn't follow the rules as he should have in some areas and he's paid a price for that.

"He's not a minister and he's standing down at the election."

Nash, who is retiring later this year, issued a statement, wishing his colleagues all the best at the upcoming election.

"Whilst never shying away from accepting responsibility for the actions that led to my Ministerial demise, I am now hopeful that the Cabinet Office report will draw a line under this issue.

"It's thorough and does not identify any further instances in which I shared information with declared donors in a manner inconsistent with the Cabinet Manual."

But the National Party said the review of Nash's dealings with donors showed the government was not managing conflicts of interest appropriately.

"We've had minister after minister, whether it's Michael Wood, Kiri Allan, Stuart Nash, others, who have time and again ignored the rules," public services spokesperson Simeon Brown said.

"It appears they think they're above the rules. Well, I'm sorry we're all equal under the law and they need to operate in that fashion so that New Zealanders can have trust and confidence in how decisions are being made by the government."

Brown said an Ombudsman investigation into whether or not Nash withheld information under the Official Information Act was also still outstanding.

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