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Labour MP email scandal – stuff up or cover up?

Stuart Nash
In brief
  • Stuart Nash was sacked from Cabinet after revelations he’d breached confidentiality in emails to campaign donors in 2020. 
  • A 2021 OIA request brought the emails to the attention of the PM’s office, but they weren’t released.  
  • Guarav Sharma, previous Labour insider, had accused Labour of just this sort of thing.
  • Stuff up or cover up?

Breakdown of events

Labour MP for Napier, Stuart Nash, has been kicked out of Cabinet and stripped of his ministerial duties after his latest scandal involving inappropriately sharing privileged information. Nash had recently resigned as  Minister of Police following an inappropriate communication with Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. 

In 2020, two businessmen involved in commercial real estate, Troy Bowker and Greg Loveridge, donated to the former Cabinet Minister’s election campaign. Nash subsequently sent an email to those men detailing inside information of discussions and decisions in Cabinet relating to the Property Law Act. The email violated Cabinet rules. 

In 2021 a journalist from Newsroom requested copies of emails between Nash and 19 political donors through an Official Information Act (OIA) request.

Staffers in Nash’s office withheld the email in question. They reasoned they weren’t legally required to relinquish it because they played lawyer and made a distinction between Nash in his capacity as an MP and not as a minister. However, allowing others to look at it and form their own opinions, as has now happened, there seems to be no question the email should have been released.

In declining to release the email, Nash’s staff communicated several times with staff of then PM Jacinda Ardern’s office, including deputy Chief of Staff Holly Donald and another senior advisor. 

Donald was key in deciding the explosive email was “out of scope” of what was being sought through the OIA request. 

Labour MP email scandal - stuff up or cover up? - Centrist
In 2022 Dr Sharma said Labour was coaching MPs on how to get around OIAs. – Image by NZ Labour Party

It’s being claimed by Prime Minister Hipkins, who was responsible for open government at the time, that it was “human error” and a “stuff up”. This is referring to Donald not informing either the PM or the Chief of Staff. 

Former MP Dr Guarav Sharma had named Holly Donald back in August of 2022 as the person coaching rookie MPs on how to circumvent OIA requests. 

Hard to believe

It’s hard to believe that Donald both decided the email wasn’t within the scope of the OIA’s request and failed to alert her higher-ups about the email. 

According to political commentator David Farrar, the questions raised are as follows: 

Was Donald incompetent to not understand the duty to release the email to the media, let alone report it to her superiors? 

Did Donald suppress the email on purpose to protect her superiors and allow them plausible deniability? 

Did Donald, in fact, tell her superiors of the email and there is a cover up as National is alleging? 

PM Hipkins has called for an inquiry. Tova O’Brien on the now defunct TodayFM network called it “appalling” that Hipkins refuses to comment further now that the matter is under investigation. However, the PM’s has since announced moves to rein in the lobbying industry.  

Nash will not contest his seat and will be retiring from politics after the election.

Words like “stench”, “rottenness”, and “corruption” are being used.  

Stuff up or cover up? Voters will have a chance to weigh in with their opinion when the election is held  on 14 October 2023. 

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