24 Aug 2023

National MP Tim van de Molen stood down from all portfolios

4:34 pm on 24 August 2023
Tim van de Molen

National MP Tim van de Molen Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

National MP Tim van de Molen has been stood down from his portfolios for contempt of Parliament, after threatening behaviour towards Labour's Shanan Halbert.

National leader Christopher Luxon stood the MP down after Parliament's Privileges Committee found him in contempt and recommended he be censured.

The committee found van de Molen had threatened Halbert and impeded his ability to perform his duties.

Van de Molen was referred to the committee early this month after Labour's Rachel Boyack claimed he had threatened or intimidated Halbert during a Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee session in June.

He was accused of standing over Halbert, which prompting other MPs to surround the Labour MP, who is chair of the Transport committee.

The facts of the matter were disputed, however, and the committee brought in independent barrister Wendy Aldred to investigate.

The committee's report - relying on the barrister's findings and published on Thursday afternoon - said although van de Molen may not have intended to threaten or intimidate Halbert, his behaviour was "objectively threatening".

"Mr van de Molen's conduct in this case cannot be condoned as normal or acceptable. We accept that he considers he did not intend to threaten or intimidate Mr Halbert. But the combination of factors in this incident - Mr van de Molen's physical positioning, his words, tone, and failure to move aside when asked - justify a finding that his conduct was objectively threatening."

The committee said acting in a threatening manner towards an MP - particularly for a presiding officer, was serious and recommended he should be formally censured by the House.

The Privileges Committee is a group of high-profile MPs from all parties which considers and reports on questions of privilege relating to Parliament and MPs, such as breaches of Parliament rules. Privileges are powers and immunities which ensure Parliament is independent of the Crown and the courts.

Several MPs have been referred to the committee this year, including Education Minister Jan Tinetti, former transport minister Michael Wood, and ACT MP Simon Court.

Van de Molen will be censured by Parliament next week.


The independent review found van de Molen had become frustrated with a perceived unfairness over how many questions were being allocated during the select committee's hearing with the Transport Minister.

The report said van de Molen's conduct as a whole was aggressive, hostile and unprofessional.

"Early in this exchange he approached Mr Halbert and stood close to him (but did not 'stand over' him [as was alleged by Ms Boyack]), being about three-quarters of a metre away from Mr Halbert in the confined space between Mr Halbert's chair and the members' exit," the report said.

"Mr van de Molen told Mr Halbert 'stand up mate'. [The reviewer found] that he said that to Mr Halbert while he was standing within a short distance of Mr Halbert's chair, facing him, and that it was a challenge to Mr Halbert to rise to his feet. Mr Halbert reasonably took this to be a threat to his safety."

"Mr van de Molen stood between Mr Halbert and the members' exit and by not moving when asked to do so on a number of occasions, he effectively prevented Mr Halbert from leaving when he initially wanted to leave. This lasted about 30 seconds."

It said van de Molen's conduct had impeded Halbert's ability to perform his duties as whip, and to attend a debate outside Parliament later in the day, though it did not affect his ability to perform his duties as chairperson of the select committee.

Halbert claims complaint initially ignored by National

Halbert on Thursday told reporters the event had been "really intimidating at the time".

"I certainly did feel threatened at the time, I was seated and Tim was standing, but I've accepted his apology and I will work with him in the future.

"Certainly there's no place for that sort of behaviour - for threatening behaviour or intimidation in Parliament. It's not just about myself, it's about my colleagues that were in the room, and particularly the staff and the team of clerks at the time."

No caption

Photo: Dom Thomas

He said he had attempted in the first instance to resolve the matter personally with van de Molen in the following committee session, and raised it with National's whip, but it was not acknowledged.

"At that time they saw that there wasn't an incident," Halbert said, "I think the National Party certainly should have looked into it further at the time, understood if there was an incident and resolved it immediately - given staff were in the room at the time."

However, Luxon said the matter had not been raised with him until it was raised with the Privileges Committee.

"At that point I actually spoke to Tim van de Molen and asked for his interpretation of events. He felt there were some aspects of that, that had a different recollection of the incident, but quite rightly and quite appropriately the Privileges Committee went ahead and did its work."

Van de Molen acknowledged to reporters that "in hindsight" he should have worked with Halbert to resolve it when it was first raised and apologise.

"Yes, in hindight ... yeah, sure, like I mean - as I've said - I didn't understand the impact of my actions at the time, now I do and I've apologised for it.

"Our whip and Tim had had an engagement, a discussion of the incident. And the whips from both parties as I understand had an engagement as well. And they thought there was some form of resolution emerging there - and the reality was that wasn't the case.

"It is frustrating but the point is I've tried to deal with this issue as quickly as I can, as decisively as I can, and I think we've got appropriate and proportionately severe consequences."

Christopher Luxon

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Van de Molen apologises

Van de Molen made a broad apology during a personal explanation in the House on Thursday afternoon.

"I've fallen short of my own expectations and the expectations of the House. No one should feel threatened in the workplace and it was certainly not my intent to threaten Mr Halbert. Regardless, my conduct was not appropriate and it should not have happened."

The National MP said although he had a "different recollection of some aspects of the incident", he "completely" accepted the findings of the committee.

"I apologise to all those who were in the room but specifically to Mr Halbert who was most impacted by my conduct.

"I am horrified at the thought of my conduct having been perceived as threatening. This is not at all in my nature."

He also gave a specific apology to the select committee members present and "to all members of this House for the impact my actions may have on the perception of parliamentarians and of this House".

Speaking to reporters later on Thursday, van de Molen said he had spoken to Halbert personally that afternoon to convey his apology.

"Obviously in this instance I've fallen short of my own expectations and the expectations of this House ... my conduct was not appropriate and it should not have happened."

"I've clearly got it wrong in this instance, so I've apologised for that. In hindsight my behaviour wasn't appropriate."

He said he did not consider resigning over it, however.

"No, I didn't. I've reflected on it and as I've said it wasn't appropriate and I've apologised for that."

His view on events had changed after reading the Privileges Committee's report, he said.

"At the start, as I've said, I didn't understand the impact of my conduct. Having seen the report now, I absolutely do, and so I've apologised for that."

"I won't get into all the details of what's happened, obviously the reality is we're here now, it was unacceptable, and I've apologised."

"In hindsight, absolutely, it is threatening."

Luxon responds

Luxon fronted to media separately, saying he had made clear to van de Molen that he would not be in his first Cabinet if National won in October.

"He is not going to be a minister in the next government, he has lost his portfolios, and he needs to undertake coaching support."

Asked why - considering he had demanded Kiri Allan, Stuart Nash and Michael Wood be sacked before they had even been investigated - he had not done the same with van de Molen, Luxon said he did not "think that would be proportionate".

"The findings are not debatable ... or under any discussion. They are real, and we fully accept them.

"I think I've acted proportionately - literally within a day it starts off with the privileges committee process, and I have to respect that process because actually ... none of us in Parliament actually pass judgement on an issue before the privileges committee."

He said it did not meet the threshold for removing van de Molen from the caucus.

In an earlier statement, Luxon said van de Molen's behaviour was not up to the standard he expected of his MPs.

"I have made clear, both to National MPs and to the New Zealand public, that I expect high standards of behaviour and will hold my team accountable for their actions. I mean it," Luxon said.

"Following a discussion with Tim this morning, I have removed all his portfolio responsibilities - namely Defence, Veterans, Building and Construction, ACC."

National Party leader Christopher Luxon

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

He said van de Molen had be through a difficult year personally.

"But that does not excuse any MP indulging in the behaviour described in the report. Tim accepts all the findings and has publicly apologised. He has also committed to seeking coaching support to ensure this doesn't happen again.

Van de Molen remains on National's party list at number 58, and is the party's candidate for Waikato.

"Everyone makes mistakes, and there is a path back for Tim - provided he can demonstrate to me, the wider National caucus, and himself, that he has learnt from this incident and grown as a result," Luxon said.

His Building and Construction portfolio was handed to Andrew Bayly, Defence and Veterans to Gerry Brownlee, and ACC to Simon Watts.

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