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PM Jacinda Ardern to face questions ahead of protests, Gaurav Sharma, Nelson and KiwiBank buy-out

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to face questions on tomorrow’s protest at Parliament and the Labour Party’s caucus meeting to consider whether to expel MP Gaurav Sharma at her weekly press conference. Video / Mark Mitchell

Labour MP Gaurav Sharma has shared what he claims is a text message from a Government minister to the party’s caucus – urging members not to share written correspondence before speaking to senior members first.

Sharma, who will be invited to address the caucus at tomorrow morning’s meeting ahead of a vote on whether to expel him, sent the Herald a screengrab of what he says is a message from Cabinet Minister Kiri Allan sent in February to a group chat that included all MPs, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and some senior members of the party.

Asked in what context the message was sent, Sharma said it was a one-off message without a discussion on the topic before or after it was sent.

Labour MP Gaurav Sharma has shared what he claims is a text message from Government minister Kiri Allan to the party's caucus in February. Photo / Supplied
Labour MP Gaurav Sharma has shared what he claims is a text message from Government minister Kiri Allan to the party’s caucus in February. Photo / Supplied

Sharma claimed the message contradicted Ardern’s recent comments about how her Government was committed to honouring the spirit of the Official Information Act (OIA).

“There is a problem here with accountability, with transparency,” Sharma told the Herald.

Sharma was suspended from the caucus last week after making a string of public statements alleging bullying by Labour’s whips over staffing management issues.

He was warned that he would be expelled if he continued his attacks.

The message purported to be from Allan says it is “less than desirable” when written correspondence is shared without discussing issues first.

“Hey team – reminder to have a chat with your ministerial colleague before sending correspondence.

“All correspondence is OIA-able and if we are being lobbied on issues by colleagues, especially where we haven’t had a yarn, things unfolding through OIA process less then desirable [sic].

We are a team, you can talk to us directly (read: should talk to us directly before sending letters). Cheers!”

The move to a vote on expulsion came after Sharma released a recording of a conversation he had with another Labour MP about a secret meeting of the rest of the caucus last Monday night.

Over the weekend, Sharma also did several more media interviews, including claiming MPs were being coached on how to get around the requirements of the OIA.

He has repeatedly called for an investigation into the claims he made about staff, his treatment by the party, and into the claims against him – but Ardern has said there is not sufficient evidence to warrant such a probe.

Sharma had not taken part in last week’s online meeting in which he was suspended by a unanimous vote, saying later that was because of his concerns the outcome had been pre-determined in a secret meeting the Labour MPs had about him the night before.

PM addresses Sharma screengrab

Speaking about the screengrab at today’s post-Cabinet press conference, Ardern said “what you can see there is a minister who as a decision-making minister, she needs to be sure nobody can compromise that decision-making”.

Ardern said Allan could not be seen as if she was being influenced by lobbying from an MP: “There’s nothing inappropriate about reminding MPs” about that.

“We take our job seriously, We can be judicially reviewed on the basis we make those decisions,” Ardern said.

She said it was important to be sure other MPs also knew what was appropriate and what was not.

Allan was Minister of Conservation at the time of the message.

Ardern said the Allan message was not aimed at evading the OIA by holding verbal conversations rather than writing letters – but to give a minister the chance to tell an MP if the lobbying they were planning would compromise the minister’s decision-making ability.

Sharma explusion ‘a decision for caucus’

Ardern would not say it was certain Sharma would be expelled after caucus meets tomorrow.

“It’s a decision for caucus.”

She said Sharma would be given the opportunity to attend and speak. However, until now Sharma had not taken part in previous meetings or in the independent mediation she had proposed.

She ruled out holding another pre-caucus meeting of the MPs, saying that had been partly because MPs had not faced such a process before and it was to explain how it worked and what the options were.

Ardern said there had been no basis to the claims Sharma had made and there should be a threshold before a formal inquiry was called because of its cost and strain on those involved.

Ardern said: “I don’t want to get into a tit for tat over a secret recording” when asked if she was going to try to find the other MP in a phone call recording with Sharma revealed to Newshub last week.

She said she believed that MP could have been trying to help Sharma.

Ardern said what Sharma had portrayed about the briefings on the Officil Information Act had “completely misrepresented” the nature of those briefings.

‘Not my intention’ to engage with protesters – PM

Ardern said it was “not my intention” to engage with the protesters coming to Parliament tomorrow.

Parliament’s security and police have today bolstered defences ahead of the protest led by the Freedom and Rights Coalition – including closing roads and putting concrete blocks over entry points to stop vehicles moving in.

Ardern said Parliament had long welcomed peaceful and lawful protest and wanted to see that continue.

On the extra security measures being taken, Ardern said the grounds still remained open and that was a “balance” between allowing protest, while taking “extra assurances” after the cost the 23-day occupation of Parliament’s grounds had caused.

“We are really imploring people: peaceful and lawful.”

She said that was the way to ensure democracy without imposing on the lives of those at Parliament and in the nearby vicinity.

“I’m not entirely sure of the purpose of the protest, either, but that’s up to them.”

Brian Tamaki told the NZ Herald today that his group had no intention of occupying Parliament, he expected it to be over by about 2pm and he and his supporters did not want any violence. However, he said he could not be held responsible for what other groups tagging onto the protest might do – members of Voices of Freedom and others who took part in the earlier protest are also in Wellington.

The protest is due to start marching down Lambton Quay from 10am.

$300k fund for flood-affected areas

Ardern said Cabinet discussed what comes next for the Nelson and Malborough regions after the devastating flooding, saying they were only just hearing the impact for those cut off from usual transport routes.

After discussion with Emergency Response Minister Kieran McAnulty, Cabinet had agreed to open the Mayoral Relief Fund with an initial injection of $100,000.

It was also boosting another package of funding by another $100,000 – taking the full amount to $300,000 so far.

Ardern said the Mayoral Relief Fund was highly discretionary and aimed at getting money quickly to areas it was most needed.

Kiwibank buyout

Finance Minister Grant Robertson discussed today’s announcement the Government would be buying KiwiBank for $2.1 billion under a proposal to acquire 100 per cent of Kiwi Group Holdings – the parent company of Kiwibank and NZ Home Loans.

The transaction needs Reserve Bank approval first – KGH is currently 53 per cent owned by New Zealand Post, 25 per cent by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, and 22 per cent by the Accident Compensation Corporation.

Robertson said the paths of NZ Post, ACC and the SuperFund had diverged from when they initially took on shares.

He said SuperFund’s wish to take on a majority share had not aligned with the Government’s wish to keep the bank in 100 per cent New Zealand ownership – something that would be the case with the Government buy-out. He said it would be independently governed and run at arm’s length from the Government.

He said the change would be business as usual for the staff and customers of the bank.

Ardern and Robertson are fronting for the post-Cabinet press conference after Ardern’s visit to Nelson this morning.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister has confirmed Sharma will be invited to address the caucus at tomorrow morning’s meeting ahead of a vote on whether to expel him – although Sharma told the Herald today that he did not know whether he was expected to attend Tuesday’s caucus meeting – or whether he would take part if he was invited to attend.

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