Gaurav Sharma expelled from Labour caucus, Jacinda Ardern pivots to defend use of OIA

Spotlight Live: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern comments on Sharma’s eviction.Video/New Zealand Herald

Labour’s rogue MP Dr Gaurav Sharma was sacked by the Labour caucus at a meeting on Tuesday morning.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Sharma saga is over as far as the Labour caucus is concerned. She said he continues to be an elected MP.

She said there was a “sad” feeling. However, the caucus rules are very clear and need to focus on important issues – and that means not discrediting the party.

“We need to be able to trust each other, and it’s clear that trust has been lost.”

She said they had not completely ruled out waka jumping to remove Sharma from parliament, but it was not an immediate measure.

It will now be up to Labour to consider whether to expel him as a party member.

He will now enter Parliament as an independent MP. Sharma remains a member of the wider Labour party, although now he is likely to be sacked as well.

The Labour caucus has referred the matter to the party’s governing board, which will decide whether to expel him from the party entirely.

Ardern said by-elections were best avoided as much as possible because of their cost and disruption.

If he is sacked by Labour, he will no longer be eligible to be elected as Labour’s candidate at the next election – although the chances of Labour picking him again are already slim.

She said Labor would appoint an MP as caretaker west of Hamilton to look after voters who did not want to go to Sharma.

Ardern said the new system for dealing with MPs with staffing issues would now be reviewed to see if it could be improved. One of the problems, she said, was that it was a very long process.

Sharma said he fought the whip for a year and a half. Ardern said the new conduct commissioner could help in such cases in the future. The Speaker has declared Lynn Provost the commissioner.

Ardern said Sharma had friends in the caucus until two weeks ago, so she wasn’t surprised to abstain

Ardern said Sharma was fired for “repeated and willful violations of caucus rules over the past 12 days”.

Ardern said the party was initially concerned about his well-being and offered support after Sharma decided to go public with the bullying allegations.

Sharma was suspended from the caucus meeting on Tuesday, but Ardern left the door open for him to return if he changed his behavior. She said the caucus would reconsider the suspension in December.

“We gave him a way to mediate and come back,” Ardern said.

However, Sharma insisted and leaked a secretly recorded phone conversation saying his suspension was “scheduled” by the caucus, and claimed the Prime Minister had said his suspension was not scheduled at a secret meeting of Labour MPs the night before lie.

“Despite offering an opportunity to address his issues and rebuild trust, he has repeatedly shown that he no longer wishes to be part of the caucus. His consistent and persistent breaches of caucus rules have resulted in a complete loss of his trust as a Labour MP,” Ardern said .

The motion to suspend Sharma last week was unanimous, but the vote to expel him was not.

Of Labour’s 65 caucus, 62 MPs voted. One MP voted against the eviction and another abstained. The rest voted yes. Sharma was allowed to vote.

“There’s definitely something to be learned from this episode, but none of that justifies Gaurav’s recent actions,” Ardern said.

Labour is considering backing MPs who are temporarily unable to hire staff, as well as ways to resolve disputes between MPs.

Sharma chose to attend the meeting. He skipped last week’s meeting to suspend his work.

Sharma said Ardern, who chaired the meeting, gave him the opportunity to speak first, which he accepted.

After the other MPs spoke, he spoke again.

Sharma said other MPs respectfully expressed their views. Former chief whip Kieran McCanuti, who is at the heart of Sharma’s accusations, has not spoken.

When asked if he had apologized at any point, Sharma said if he broke people’s trust, he apologized for it, but it was a result of what he felt he had been through.

“It’s not easy to get into a situation like this. But at the end of the day, I have nothing to hide. I want to make my point,” Sharma said.

Ardern’s office moved quickly to refute Sharma’s allegations that ministers had been avoiding the Official Information Act (OIA).

Sharma claimed backbenchers received guidance on how to pose questions to ministers as Labour MPs and party spokesmen rather than government ministers. MPs and political parties are not bound by the OIA, while ministers are.

Ardern’s chief of staff Raj Nahna wrote to chief ombudsman Peter Boshier after Boshier asked for more information on Sharma’s allegations.

Nana said Sharma “misrepresented” the coaching meeting.

“The workshop is part of a series of regular development opportunities for MPs on a range of issues including voter access, parliamentary processes and engagement with the media,” he said.

Nana said the meeting was “not specific” to the Home Office, but about the roles of the Labour leader’s office and the minister’s office and how both can help MPs.

A member of Congress had asked what information the OIA covered and what was not, Nahna said. This question was answered by an example of a member of parliament sending a message to the Minister’s Office, which was published in the OIA. The example is used to show members of Congress how to “manage sensitive information from their constituents.”

Nahna said the government was committed to meeting its obligations under the OIA, citing figures showing that despite a 110% increase in the number of OIA requests since 2016, 97.3% were completed on time, compared to 91.1% in June 2016.

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